The Touch of Evil

From a final scene in The Thin Red Line

What’s this war in the heart of nature ? Why does nature vie with itself? The land contend with the sea? ls there an avenging power in nature? These are some of the existential questions posed by the mystical Private Witt in the opening scenes of The Thin Red Line, Terence Mallick’s great meditation on war and man’s descent into the barbarity of military conflict. He was trying to come to terms with man’s savage replication of inanimate nature’s ebb and flow. Looking for an answer to them is ever an urgent task. Indeed, it is a perennial task confronting generations of mankind from time immemorial. Today its urgency forces itself upon us yet again.

I know he meant something more subtle than it sounds, but to many ears it was a soundbite too far. The end of history, Francis Fukuyama declared in 1989, was upon us. His first outing with the idea was in an essay. This caused such a stir that it was expanded into a book entitled The End of History and the Last Man. The occasion for his prophetic utterances was the demolition of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellites, bringing about the end of the Cold War.

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.

— Francis Fukuyama, “The End of History?”, The National Interest, No.16 (Summer 1989)

Well, well, well? So much for wishful thinking. It was a little ironic to hear – on Bari Weiss’ Common Sense platform – Professor Fukuyama, discussing our current world crisis with historians Niall Ferguson and William Russell Meade, where the consensus was that we were now indeed entering Cold War II. Cold War I got its baptism of fire in the Korean War. Cold War II was now getting its hot war initiation with the Russian assault on the Ukraine.

Aside from the fact that historical narratives are about much more than the rise and fall of empires and ideologies, history will end when the human race has run its course on this earth. In the meantime human beings will forever need to struggle with the powers behind the forces we now see unleashed in Eastern Europe – the forces of evil, mysterious and malign, which take possession of our hearts and wreak havoc as they do. This is what we keep forgetting – at our peril. We have done it before and are now once again scrambling to try to make sense of it. 

T.S. Eliot more than hinted at our folly in  Four Quartets when he confessed,

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river

Is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable,

Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;

Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;

Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.

The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten

By the dwellers in cities—ever, however, implacable.

Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder

Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated

By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting.

The river has long been a metaphor for man’s troubled journey in this world, sometimes more, sometimes less, mixing good and evil. Rivers in Ukraine are not only metaphors but real players in its current struggles.

Kiev on the banks of the Deniper

Our current incarnation of the implacable strong brown god bursting his banks is Vladimir Putin. This century has already had two other gods of different hues which have destabilised our fragile existence – the god of greed who ravaged the world economy in the first decade of the new millennium, and then the crowned monster – still of uncertain human origin – who cut short the lives of almost 6 million of us and inflicted pain an estimated 500 million more – and rising. All three of these are in different ways manifestations of  mankind’s capacity for evil. From time immemorial, to inflict pain and suffering on our race, a capacity which has been in evidence since evil first entered the heart of Cain, driving him to slay his brother Abel.

In their exchanges with Bari Weiss, these three aforementioned remarked on our failure to learn anything from history. That certainly is part of the problem. We keep forgetting the ogre slouching in the shadows, waiting for the moment  to come out and devour us. History, if studied and reflected upon with any wisdom, will lead us towards the overwhelming question, “why?”. Any honest grappling with that question will lead us further to consider the problem of evil, its origins and the need to mount defences against it. There is a mystery surrounding evil that material science will never fathom – and political science does not make much of a fist at it either. We do not like mysteries – except when they entertain us – because they ask us to be humble. Humility in turn nudges us to perhaps acknowledge that a God more powerful than the brown god – or gods of any other colour – may be needed to help us cope with what assails us in the greater and lesser onslaughts we suffer here in our earthly sojourn. 

But we also need to go even deeper, lest we adopt a holier-than-thou posture in all this, letting ourselves off the hook on the question of complicity in those things which have brought woe on our race. We need more than humility. We also need an honest self-awareness and a capacity for contrition. The greed and carelessness of the many compounded the exorbitant greed of the relatively few who triggered the financial crash of the last decade. The mystery of the origins of the viral forces which ravaged the world economy in this decade is still unresolved – but until the CCP gets itself a higher standard of honesty and openness, the jury will remain hung on that one. It is in this context that it is worth reflecting on the recent words of Philip Johnson, columnist with the Daily Telegraph.

He reflected on the  extraordinary reverence the French have for Napoleon Bonaparte, whose monument sits within an open circular crypt beneath the golden dome of Les Invalides in Paris, conveying the unambiguous message that here lies a ‘great man’ of history. He notes that we are fascinated by such people, even though they are brutal, ruthless and despotic. They seem to weave a spell over the millions prepared to follow them, sometimes to destruction. But, he asks, to what extent do individuals determine history?

In War and Peace, Johnson reminds us, Tolstoy sought to debunk Thomas Carlyle’s theory that events are shaped by “great men” like Napoleon, seeing them instead as “involuntary instruments of history.”

The invasion of Ukraine, he argues, is being personalised as “Putin’s War” or the adventurism of “Mad Vlad”, thereby divorcing the event from its context by making it entirely a projection of one man’s derangement. 

But to what extent are the Russian people willingly swallowing the justification given on state-controlled media that Russian troops are merely engaged in a humanitarian operation in eastern Ukraine to protect their ethnic brethren from fascist death squads and genocide? Johnson cites Putin saying  that without helping the insurgents in the Donbas there would be “another Srebrenica”. “The fact this is preposterous is irrelevant if it is believed in Russia.”

Johnson again: “The so-called great men of history never act alone. Napoleon was followed by his Grande Armée into Russia and to miserable retreat because until then he had, by and large, been a winner, extending the boundaries of France, even egged on by “progressive” European thinkers. 

Putin visited a reenactment of the battle of Borodion, presaging the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte. Will the siege of Kiev presage another downfall?

Putin, puny as he may be, shares something of the trajectory of Napoleon. Like Napoleon, after the mayhem of the Terror, he pulled his country together again after the messy collapse of the Soviet experiment. Now for reasons so far unfathomable to most of us he also has set his sights on a new Empire. To help him along this path he has also become a dictator, has created a phony sense of national grievance, and manufactured an enemy in the West to generate  paranoia in his people. 

What now remains to be seen, even as this is written, is whether the Russian people will buy the lies he feeds them and cooperate in the evil which he is unleashing on them and a sovereign neighbour which simply wants to determine its own way in the world and find its place in the community of nations.

How this all ends is alarmingly uncertain.  It may be the end of Vladimir V. Putin, it may be the extinguishing of the independent State of Ukraine – but one thing it will not be is the end of history.

American crisis

I’m neither an admirer nor a hater of the man – but I think this makes a good deal of sense:

American crisis: the life and death struggle against the totalitarian enemy I call “woke communism.” The “woke comms” have seized every political, cultural, and economic center of power in the country from where they ruthlessly push their agenda. That agenda rests on the conviction that America is thoroughly bad (systemically racist) and must be destroyed.

That quote is from Thomas D. Klingenstein in The American Mind.

When all is not as it seems

Last month the world was yet again enthralled by another spectacular Olympic opening ceremony – the Winter Games in Beijing. Well, maybe not the whole world.

Reporting on the spectacle, Chinese state media declared after the ceremony that twenty year-old Dinigeer Yilamujiang, lighting of the Olympic cauldron, had “showed the world a beautiful and progressive Xinjiang” with her “smiling face and youthful figure.”

Did the millions watching across the world see it this way, or did they see it as a cynical if foolish whitewashing by the Chinese Communist Party of its appalling treatment of Yilamujiang’s Uyghur people? On top of that, did they have an uneasy feeling that this was a gross manipulation of an innocent young woman?

Amy Qin, writing in the New York Times a week later asked what the athlete herself made of it all? So far, she said it has been impossible to know. “Since her star turn in the Bird’s Nest Stadium” she wrote, “Yilamujiang has kept a low profile.” She went on to describe how Yilamujiang hurried through the press area after her first competitive event but did not stop to talk. At another competition later in the week, she had failed to walk through a mixed zone with reporters after her race, in apparent contravention of I.O.C. guidelines. She has appeared only in Chinese state media reports since the Games started, describing her joy about her role opening the Games.

“That moment will encourage me every day for the rest of my life,” Yilamujiang told China’s official news agency, Xinhua, on Sunday. “I was so excited when I found out we were going to place the torch. It’s a huge honour for me!” Poor girl, scripted to the last superlative?

But this is all part of a bigger picture, a much bigger and even sadder picture. A strange and sometimes terrible thing seems to happen to ideologues when they cease to be outsiders and become insiders. This seems particularly so when they are political animals. History is full of examples of this uncanny metamorphosis. 

Seemingly idealistic freedom movements slouching to their goal, when once they reach it, become replicas of the very monsters they formerly fought, tooth and claw. Alternatively, they morph into  fellow travellers and complacent onlookers of regimes perpetrating the very evils they formerly raged against.

Modern republicanism probably begins with what we, rather too comfortably, accept as the “Enlightenment”. Its first political incarnation flowered in the American Republic, after which it descended into the maelstrom of the French Revolution. The reluctant revolutionaries of the thirteen British colonies were bred more out of a pragmatic response to a frustrating contre temps with a myopic British parliament and a somewhat disturbed king,  than out of political ideology. The French version was similar in some ways but was fatally laced with an ideological potion which for a time led it down a path of puritanical savagery. Its terror reigned until eventually it became another kind of tyranny under the aegis of the practical but megalomaniac genius who was Napoleon Bonaparte. 

The French conflagration was the first of a long line of “enlightened” ideologies in modern times to lead a people into murderous utopias. The latest example of this degeneration is the People’s Republic of China.

In the late eighteenth century the Irish patriot, Theobald Wolfe Tone was in France earnestly if somewhat naively seeking to enlist the forces of the French Revolution to help liberate Ireland from the draconian laws imposed on it by the British Crown and its oligarchic parliament. Unlike Edmund Burke, Tone saw no hope of reforming the system which had imposed Penal Laws on Catholics and manipulated an exclusively Protestant land-owning class in Ireland as its willing tool in maintaining the status quo.

Moving forward more than two centuries, it is hard to read accounts today of what the people of Xinjiang province are experiencing and not hear echoes of the suffering of the Irish of the eighteenth century. These were set upon and oppressed by the victors of England’s own “Glorious Revolution” of the late seventeenth century, another movement claiming freedom as its goal but then morphing into an equally woeful tyranny as far as Catholics and the Irish were concerned. 

Wolfe Tone, the acknowledged father of Irish republicanism, succeeded in getting French help. His and their efforts were, however, a miserable failure. He was captured, convicted of high treason and condemned to death by hanging. He asked to be shot as a soldier and when this was refused, died by his own hand. Nevertheless, he lived on as a potent symbol of Irish liberation and for the eventual republic which Ireland became.

The late Seamus Deane, novelist, poet and literary critic, in an essay on Wolfe Tone (now published in Small World – Ireland 1798-2018), examines what motivated this Irish Protestant. 

At the heart of Tone’s politics was his acute analysis of what he saw as the slave-like condition of Ireland and the Irish. Deane quotes Tone’s own words: that “to be dependent on the wish, caprice, or undelegated authority of someone else is to lack autonomy and to be a slave. It is corrupt and corrupting, especially when sustained by violence and an endless bombardment of propaganda and threat.” This, Deane says, is what permeates all republican theory, this whole concept of dependence and slavery. This was Ireland’s condition. Is it not also the condition of Dinigeer Yilamujiang’s persecuted people? 

Such, history shows, is the ground in which so many ideologies bent on achieving freedom for peoples are nurtured. But what can explain the subsequent degeneration of so many of these to a condition where they now tolerate and cooperate with perpetrators of the very oppression they fought against so heroically? Or worse, how can so many of them perpetrate on their own people the injustices they once raged against?

Mao Zedong was a hero for his people – and for a time in the West, to young idealists, seemed also to be a hero. But he then turned into – and turned his Republic into – a cauldron of death. Xi Jinping can only be described as a worthy successor. What is happening in Xinjiang province, documented now in increasing detail, can only be described as slavery.

Ruth Ingham, in a recent post examining the Uyguar’s plight, quoted Geoffrey Cain, author of The Perfect Police State. In that book he detailed how China’s access to an arsenal of intrusive novel technologies has enabled the state to monitor the minutiae of everyday life of each one of its citizens. With these weapons the CCP, in its war on its insurgents, are spying on fifteen million or so potential “terrorists” and “extremists” among the Turkic peoples of its North Western Frontier. Cain explained how these people are spied on “from the moment they leave their house, whether from the back or the front door, whom they meet, whom they might text or call on the way, what they might download on their phone and who might have sent it.” 

All is monitored. And that is just the spying operation. The “re-education” atrocities come afterwards. These means are nothing more or less than the modern equivalent of the cadre of informers Lord Castlereagh used to dismantle Tone’s insurgency in eighteenth century Ireland.

But the CCP manipulation has a much wider field of operation than the mind of one young athlete, or the re-education of and ethnic minority which just wants freedom of religion. Its tentacles seem to embrace the entire globe – even our own little Irish Republic.

Wolf Tone’s Ireland took 150 years to complete its journey to full republican status. Today he must be turning in his grave. The Irish Republic not only turns a blind eye to the atrocities in China, it actually cozies up to its leaders. It builds Confucian institutes on its university campuses which serve as apologists for the very evils Tone railed against when he died an ignominious death in a Dublin prison.

Alexander Dukalskis and David Farrell, political scientists in University College Dublin, in an Irish Times piece, put in focus the threats to academic freedom in Irish universities posed by China. Charles Moore, in the Spectator and in the Daily Telegraph, has been highlighting what he sees as the sad and dangerous manipulation of Cambridge University by the same kind of fellow travelling.

Dukalskis and Farrell tell us that “In February 2021, the Irish Times reported that the head of Huawei Ireland wrote privately to Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney, regarding an academic article by our colleague Dr Richard Maher about the Chinese telecoms giant. The letter said that academic freedom was a “two-way street” and requested the Minister’s “full support in mitigating the damage that has been done”. He secured a meeting with the Secretary General of Coveney’s Department to discuss the matter. When the School of Politics and International Relations privately informed the university president, he is reported as describing their concerns as “an overreaction”.

Carl Minzner of Fordham University would not think so. Within China, as part of its “comprehensive reassertion of control”, Minzner writes, listing among its strategies: the party-state has focused on the social sciences to strengthen political training for faculty and standardise reading materials; student informants and the placing of CCTV in classrooms to monitor teaching have increased; “Xi Jinping Thought” research institutes have proliferated. 

“Xi Jinping Thought” is now part of the national curriculum. Should we be concerned that Ireland’s own Department of Education agreed in 2019 that this regime was a suitable partner to influence Ireland’s own Chinese language curriculum? Should we worry that Chinese students in Ireland, by virtue of the 2020 Hong Kong “national security law” are effectively criminals if they speak out against Xi Jinping.

That the Republic of Ireland, tracing its inspiration back to the man who suffered and died to liberate a people from the most abject oppression is now cooperating with Marxist oppressors in East Asia should dismay Irish people. Sadly, it does not seem to do so. That this Republic, and certain of its established state-funded institutions are now hand in glove with one of the planet’s great oppressors should be seen as a gross contradiction of everything in the inspiration which was of its essence. Sad metamorphosis indeed.

This article was first published in the March edition of Position Papers Review.

City of God, city of men

Joseph Ratzinger’s, Introduction to Christianity, is an extraordinary book. Reading it, one fully understands why some regard him as an Augustine for our age – or like St Augustine himself, for all ages.

Just as St Augustine in his City of God gave us a vision of the world as it was and as it should be, so did Ratzinger in his Introduction to Christianity. Written in the mid 1960s, and reflecting his thoughts from earlier in his career as a theologian and teacher, it was republished in the 1990s. Hardly a word had to be changed. It is not simply an introduction to the Faith embodied in Christianity; it is a portrayal of that Faith in the context of the world which God, in his providence, love and mercy chose to redeem.

But Ratzinger’s portrayal of the co-redemptive challenge facing Christians today contrasts with the world laid before us by Augustine in an important way: his is a text for an age in which a fatal rupture has arisen between these two cities, ideally complementary, in which mankind has its abode on this earth.

St Augustine was writing for us at the dawn of Christendom, within a century of the Roman Empire having given Christianity its stamp of approval. This might have seemed to some to be the arrival of the New Jerusalem. It was not. The City of God, among other things, spelled out how and why it was not. But from that date, while there were two cities co-existing uneasily, sometimes more, sometimes less, they were not pitted against each other as mortal enemies. The Heavenly City was God’s eternal kingdom, one in which all mankind could be citizens of on this earth while awaiting entry to a definitive and eternal citizenship in Heaven. While on earth the human race had a God-given privilege and responsibility to play its part in the Earthly City.

Ratzinger notes that believers in our age are sometimes said to look a little enviously at the Middle Ages, the height of Christendom. Then, it appeared, everyone without exception was a believer. But he suggests that historical research will tell us that even in those days there was a great mass of nominal believers and a relatively small number of people who had really entered into the inner movement of belief. History, he says, will show us that for many, belief was only a ready-made mode of life. In other words, for many, faith was a shallow thing. 

Nevertheless, we would argue, despite the evil deeds perpetrated by them, the evidence of so many who sought repentance and did penance for their unfaithfulness suggests that faith abided in them, even though it were but like a grain of mustard seed. The Emperor Frederick II, thought by some to be an atheist and an antichrist, received the last rites on his deathbed and was interred dressed in the habit of a Cistercian.

So what has happened? How has “Western” civilisation, once called Christian, evolved to become one in which God is either denied outright or is accepted in forms of belief so laced with deceit that the reality of sin is denied?

Ratzinger asserts that part of the reason is our loss of our vision of all that is real, that we have come to see reality as the totality of what we can see, touch and feel, or prove by scientific experiment. God for “modern” man has ceased to be a “practical” God and is at best accepted as “just some theoretical conclusion of a consoling world view that one may adhere to or simply disregard. We see that today in every place where the deliberate denial of him has become a matter of principle and where his absence is no longer mitigated at all.”

Mankind’s folly in all this has led us into illusions about ourselves. At first, he writes, “when God is left out of the picture, everything apparently goes on as before. Mature decisions and the basic structures of life remain in place, even though they have lost their foundations. But, as Nietzsche describes it, once the news really reaches people that ‘God is dead’ and they take it to heart, then everything changes.”

The change, Ratzinger says, is evident all around us today. It is evident on the one hand, in the way that science treats human life: man is becoming a technological object while vanishing to an ever greater degree as a human subject. “When human embryos are artificially ‘cultivated’ so as to have ‘research material’ and to obtain a supply of organs, which then are supposed to benefit other human beings, there is scarcely an outcry, because so few are horrified any more.”

Then there is the cult of progress which, under the cloak of noble goals like the pursuit of health and happiness, demands that aberrant services be available. But, he asks, if man, in his origin and at his very roots, is only an object to himself, if he is “produced” and comes off the production line with selected features and accessories, what on earth is man then supposed to think of man? How should he act toward him? What will be man’s attitude toward man when he can no longer find anything of the divine mystery in the “other”, but only his own know-how? 

Well, anyone who wants an answer to that question should read Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World.

What is happening in the “high-tech” areas of science, Ratzinger continues, is reflected wherever the culture, broadly speaking, has managed to tear God out of men’s hearts. Today there are places where trafficking in human beings goes on quite openly: a cynical consumption of humanity while society looks on helplessly. For example, organized crime constantly brings women out of Albania on various pretexts and delivers them to the mainland across the sea as prostitutes, and because there are enough cynics there waiting for such ‘wares’, organized crime becomes more powerful, and those who try to put a stop to it discover that the Hydra of evil keeps growing new heads, no matter how many they may cut off.”

He then tries to bring us back to an acceptance of a broader sense of reality, a sense which does not exclude God and the supernatural simply on the basis that our human comprehension is challenged by it. He has no doubt that the alternative cannot but conjure up a horror scenario, only some of which he has laid before us. As an antidote to our delusions he simply asks us to just wonder whether God might not in fact be the genuine reality, the basic prerequisite for any “realism”, so that, without him, nothing is safe.

Karl Marx has played a central role in the disintegration we are looking at. Marxism is to Ratzinger what Manichaeism was to Augustine – a fatal misreading of humanity and its destiny. “Anyone who accepts Marx (in whatever neo-Marxist variation he may choose) as the representative of worldly reason not only accepts a philosophy, a vision of the origin and meaning of existence, but also and especially adopts a practical program. For this ‘philosophy’ is essentially a ‘praxis’, which does not presuppose a ‘truth’ but rather creates one.”

The fall of many of the communist regimes which blotted the history of the twentieth century did not, sadly, result in the disappearance of the Marxist philosophy which was at their foundation. Their bankruptcy was by many naively blamed, not on their Marxist roots but on a human misreading of those roots. Marx’s dialectical materialism asserted the primacy of politics and economics as the real powers that can bring about salvation and determine the future as it should be, keeping us all on “the right side of history”. 

This primacy meant, above all, Ratzinger argues, that God could not be categorised as something “practical”. “The ‘reality’ in which one had to get involved now was solely the material reality of given historical circumstances, which were to be viewed critically and reformed, redirected to the right goals by using the appropriate means, among which violence was indispensable.”

This is the philosophy underlying the progressive culture and politics of our age. And the violent option? Yes. Evident for example, as Sohrab Ahmari and others point out, to give a specific instance, in the neutral, if not approving, stance of America’s progressive establishment of the murderous violence perpetrated in the aftermath on the killing of George Floyd. This contrasted with the same establishment’s exaggerated horror at the so-called insurrection of 6th of January, 2021. 

From the Marxist and progressive perspective, speaking about God belongs neither to the realm of the practical nor to that of reality. The figure of Jesus in the progressive scenario is now no longer the Christ, but rather a heroic embodiment of all the suffering and oppressed calling us to rise up, to change society. 

In the initial stages of this flight from God and from visions of the divine, God was not explicitly denied. Ratzinger says that God simply had nothing to doThe question of God was just not a practical one for the long-overdue business of changing the world. Has not Christian consciousness, he asks, acquiesced to a great extent – without being aware of it – in the attitude that faith in God is something subjective, which belongs in the private realm and not in the common activities of public life where, in order to be able to get along, we all have to behave now as if there were no God. In the public arena we now no longer have room for, in Ratzinger’s words, the “God who judges and suffers, the God who sets limits and standards for us; the God from whom we come and to whom we are going”. 

All this is the context in which Ratzinger introduces us to the Credo by which Christians set out to live. It is deep – and difficult enough – but battling with its difficulty is truly rewarding. It is a text which makes it clear that the hope of our redemption rests with our assent to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth of each and every article it lays before us.

(Published originally in February 2022 edition of Position Papers Review)

Foolish expectations

If more of us had the common sense that Jeremy O’Grady of THE WEEK displays here, there would be a lot less fractious debate and consequent anxiety produced by this wretched pandemic. There would be a much healthier public square as well.

In the current issue he writes in his Editor’s Letter:

In the endless dingdong between Us (the people) and Them (the Government), it’s always Them as carries the can. Yet I wonder. If departments of state are dysfunctional, the same is surely true of the public. It isn’t “fit for purpose”: its expectations of what ministers can feasibly be expected to do are out of whack with reality. We blame Them, for instance, for lacking the foresight to equip health services with sufficient resources to cope with a pandemic. But see what happens when They do. In anticipation of the H1N1 flu epidemic predicted for 2009, France’s health minister did put her nation in readiness: years before it struck, she procured billions of top-quality masks and drew up a plan to impose social distancing. Alas for her, the epidemic never materialised, and as Theodore Dalrymple relates in Law & Liberty, she was then widely derided for wasting public money. So much for fore­sight. When a pandemic does strike, however, a similar misalignment of expectations occurs. All too aware of what we expect of them, the politicians can’t afford to let us in on the extent of their own ignorance and uncertainty over how to deal with it. They can’t level with us because they’ve a myth to sustain: that there exist relatively painless solutions to all our problems and that They alone can deliver them. It’s not their myth, though: We invest in it even more than They do. We vote in the poli­ticians who are best at boosterism, best at selling optimism. Then, when their solutions turn out to be painful and the myth exposed, we rage. The wisdom of the electorate? Pah!

Jeremy O’Grady

Pulling the wool over our eyes

Gript’s recent post on education pressure groups reveals more about the shenanigans of politicians who are trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

We should be grateful for this platform which helps us keep our feet on the ground on matters that matter.

David Mullins takes on this cadre of so-called social warriors who maintain that

Most parents are only a hair’s breadth away from storming local Board of Management meetings in a wave of progressive protest at the ‘stranglehold’ of religious ethos on the teaching of sex-ed at primary and secondary school level.

He writes:

That is not true, of course.

But that still hasn’t stopped a majority of politicians, particularly those on the left, from hyperventilating on the issue in recent years or from seeking to position themselves as the semi-messianic voices of ‘oppressed’ parents and radical sex-ed advocacy organisations.

But the reality is different

During the ten-year period from 2011 to November 2021, a mere 60 ‘communications’ have been received by the Department of Education which feature complaints involving “a perceived restriction on the teaching of Relationships and Sexuality Education as a result of the ethos (or characteristic spirit) of schools.”

60 ‘communications’ on ‘perceived’ restrictions because of ethos. In a decade.

Not quite the ideological storming of the barricades that we have been led to believe is happening, is it?

This information was revealed as part of a series of replies to parliamentary questions from the Rural Independent TD for Laois-Offaly, Carol Nolan. Deputy Nolan also happens to be a member of the Oireachtas Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.

As things stand at present, The Education Act 1998 provides “that boards of management of schools shall manage schools on behalf of patrons while upholding the characteristic spirit of the school as determined by the cultural, educational, moral, religious, social, linguistic and spiritual values and traditions which inform and are characteristic of the objectives and conduct of the school.”

It is now clear, that most ordinary parents have no problem whatsoever with this.

In fact, if anything is an actual issue for parents it is the attempt to do away with this vital provision that allows for the teaching of a compassionate and well-grounded age-appropriate curriculum based on a faith informed vision of human dignity.

All of this reflects the insight put forward last week by Carol Nolan’s colleague in the Rural Independent Group, Michael Collins, during a debate on the Social Democrats rehashed version of a People Before Profit/Solidarity Bill on ‘objective and impartial’ sex education.

Here is what Deputy Collins said:

“We are forever discussing issues in this Dáil that are never raised with me as issues in my constituency. When it comes to the education of our children, this debate is a prime example of that. We are discussing this Bill instead of discussing the lack of special need assistants and teachers in our classrooms and how will schools fill their oil tanks. Schools have to face those challenges on a daily basis. I am on a school board of management and I know difficult it is to get funding to address these issues.”

The Cork-South West TD went on:

“We should be discussing how funding will be secured to fix a school roof where State funding has not been given. Instead, we waste our time discussing the Social Democrats’ agenda seeking that young people and children can access sexual education. The Social Democrats similar to its sister party, the Labour Party, has gone on to attack religion in our schools with a whole load of blah blah blah, as similarly happened during COP26, where it is all talk and has no solutions.”

Now, thanks to the work of genuinely in-touch constituency TD’s like Carol Nolan, we know that these are also the priorities of most parents.

A similar issue was reflected this week when it emerged that a paltry 4% of Trinity College students engaged in the entirely self-regarding ‘referendum’ on boycotting the Irish Times because of its apparently transphobic editorial stance.

Which is to say, that away from the megaphone politicking and advocacy on these and similar issues, most parents just want their child to be educated with common-sense and dignity even if that involves (horror of horrors) learning about such things from a Catholic or denominational perspective.

The push to marginalise faith schools, to ‘get them out’ or to liberalise and fundamentally reshape the sex-ed curriculum from junior infants up, is not coming from parents.

It is being driven by the radical ideological positions favoured by most Irish political parties and versions of international law as interpreted by the left. We now have strong indicative evidence to support that.

Read more here.

What Greta should do next…

Poor Jeremy Clarkson. I’m sure he is very upset this morning – after the barrage of abuse he has received for his very reasonable suggestions to Greta Thunberg as to what she should do next in her campaign to cool us all down. The main outrage is about what he though her parents should be doing about her – because what he proposed is against the law in most of those countries which have converted themselves into interfering nannies.

This is what Jeremy proposed in his Times Newspapers (London) column:

If Greta and her pals really want to get results, they should try protesting in Tiananmen Square Greta Thunberg is now kayaking back to the Swedish port where she left her bicycle, having spent the week outside a conference centre in Glasgow, swearing a lot and being interviewed by BBC journalists who fawned like they were soap stars being introduced to the Queen. They didn’t call the annoying little bucket of ego: “Your majesty”, but you could see they were thinking it.

I simply don’t get the Thunberg phenomenon. She has no knowledge of how the world works, no manners and no letters after her name because instead of going to school, she’s been busy sailing round the world so she can be mardy and abusive to grown-ups. What she needs is a smacked bottom.

Rod Liddle calls her the “Swedish doom goblin” which is, of course, brilliant, but she’s worse than that. She’s a pest. A 4ft maypole around which the deranged and the weak and the unemployable can dance and chant and make a nuisance of themselves. However, she did come up with one idea last week that struck a chord. In essence, she said that there was no point listening to whatever the f*** the Cop26 politicians were saying inside their important meetings because the people outside knew what had to be done and could just get on and do it.

Absolutely. I already know that I should not buy palm oil or products that come with unnecessary plastic packaging, and that I should not use wet logs in my wood-burning stoves. I also know that if my journey’s less than a mile, I should walk rather than use the car and that I should make more of an effort to understand what goes in the recycling part of my bin and what doesn’t. I don’t need Joe Biden to wake up from one of his naps and tell me.

So here’s a tip, Greta: lecturing me on what needs to be done is pointless. It’d be like standing in my bedroom every morning ordering me to wear clothes. I know already. What you should be doing instead is cycling to countries where people are perhaps less well aware of what should be done. China for example. That I’d like to see. Greta standing outside Zhongnanhai with her parka and her Glastonbury backpack and her microphone, lecturing the leaders about their policies on coal and trees and so on.

Maybe she could be joined by those Extinction Rebellion halfwits who go to the middle of London to tell Barnes people in Teslas to be more green, rather than going to the slums of Calcutta where two million people, living in poverty, cook their supper every evening on chulha stoves, which blanket the city in a thick yellow fog. These are the people Tarquin and their sexually ambiguous mates should be targeting. But they’re not.

I saw a map, last week, of where the world’s methane is coming from. And let me tell you that billions of tons of the stuff is pouring into the skies from India and China. And not a single hairy person in Liberal Democrat shoes is over there with a placard complaining about it. Because they’re all here, moaning about how my cows burp too much and how there’s a turd in the River Evenlode.

It’s the same story with the loft insulation protesters. There was a photograph in my newspaper on Friday that showed them blocking the path of a lorry that was actually delivering loft insulation. So again, they’re inconveniencing the lives of people who are already doing their best. They too should be in China because I’d dearly love to see that. Especially the footage of the Chinese police ungluing the hands of a vicar from the tarmac in Tiananmen Square. “Oh no, Reverend. All your skin’s come off.” And now you’ve hit your head on the police car. I’d also like to see them daubing the words “racist” and “murderer” on statues of Chairman Mao, but of course, this would never happen because they know they would not be treated with respect and reverence by China’s news crews. And neither would they be invited with Greta and the Lib Dem vicars round to President Xi’s for some nuclear free vegan peace food.

This is why they’re not protesting in countries where protest might do some good; because they’re timid and wet. Greta turns up in Glasgow so she can bathe in some adulation for a few days, rather than getting sent to a labour camp for a few decades. That’s what these protesters need to get through their knitted hats and into their thick skulls; that if you want to get something done, and I mean really done, you’ve got to be uncomfortable. And you’ve got to be surrounded by people who don’t like you, not those who do. You’ve got to talk to Fox News, not CNN or the BBC. Look at Gandhi and Mandela. They were prepared to undergo unimaginable hardships to further the cause in which they believed.

Thich Quang Duc was prepared to go even further. Had this Buddhist monk stepped out of his Austin A95 and glued himself to the road to protest about the South Vietnamese government, it’s virtually certain that no one would remember his name. And I wouldn’t have been able to recall what sort of car he had. But he didn’t glue himself to the road. Instead, he set himself on fire and sat there, in the middle of a busy intersection, until he was dead. Then you have Emily Davison who, to further women’s rights, leapt under the king’s horse at the Derby and was killed. And the Tolpuddle Martyrs, and William Wallace. I think it’s safe to say that if the blue-faced agitator had fought for Scottish independence by gluing himself to a tree, Mel Gibson would have been less inclined to make that film.”

Crusader Clint

The latest edition of an interesting review, Church, Communication & Culture, published by the prestigious academic publishers, Routledge, has now been posted online. This is the academic review of the Communications School of the Pontifical University of Santa Croce in Rome, which specialises in studies related to dialogue between religion, communication and culture.

That all sounds a bit po-faced – but a look at its list of contents suggests that it is anything but. For example, is that where you might expect to find a learned article on the cinema of Clint Eastwood. But there it is. Not only about Clint but about Clint’s oeuvre and the daunting task of “absolving American guilt”, finding forgiveness and purification.

In this piece Antonio Sánchez-Escalonilla explores the guilt-ridden characters who stride through film after film in Eastwood’s cinema. Why, he asks, is the guilt-ridden character a recurring premise in Clint Eastwood’s films, recognisable in the inner conflicts of the protagonists of iconic titles, such as Unforgiven (1992), Mystic River (2003), Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Gran Torino (2008)? 

A double purpose is suggested. On the one hand, it highlights the purification sought by the protagonists and its relationship with the Christian moral context in which the characters arise. On the other side of the picture you see him exploring the extension of this on the social level in the context of that fragile entity, the American Dream.

Another article related to film culture takes a look at a recent pope’s impact in this regard. It is entitled ‘Promoting culture and spirituality in an audiovisual society: Pope Saint John Paul II’s teachings on cinema’. It suggests that this pope’s teaching combines respect and admiration with critical analysis, trust with warnings, the defense of freedom with the call to social responsibility for film industry professionals as well as for viewers. 

The author, Alejandro Pardo, hopes that his initial work may open the way to future studies on the relationship between cinema and society, also on the links between the transcendentals of being (beauty, truth, goodness) and the artistic, socio-cultural and industrial approaches to cinema.

And as if all that was not enough we also have an article on popes and the wider popular culture. ‘Pop goes the Pope: religion and popular music in Italy’ by Paolo Prato tries to find common ground between pop and rock culture and the Christian world. He enriches his analysis with three case studies representing different points of view. One might be tempted to say, ‘Good luck with that’. 

Finally, in the context of Pope Francis’ latest media outing this morning on BBC’s  ‘Thought for the Day’ we have Jasbeer Musthafa Mamalipurath leading a discursive analysis of Pope Francis’ TED Talks – ‘Postsecular rhetoric of the Pope’. 

The review is edited by Prof. Enrique Fuster and can be accessed at

A whistleblower we foolishly ignore

I have just watched, belatedly, a GB News interview and panel discussion with Dr. David Thunder, broadcast on 8 October. I was deeply impressed. I have been a bit of an ostrich in all this. And I’m not saying that ostriches are necessarily always stupid. Sometimes it is sensible to do just what you are told when you can trust the people telling you to do it. In this case – Covid – I have, up until now, found myself secretly wishing that all those in the Resistance would go away and just let us grin and bear our travails while they lasted. David, whom I know personally, was one of those who kept me aware of his resistance. I was of the view that he was squandering his considerable talents on a nine-day-wonder.

I was wrong. Here is what convinced me.

I am now grateful to him for his rational voice and am appalled at his treatment by the various media platforms which have denied him the freedom which we need him to have. He has suffered for us.

He has told me all about it.

“It’s been a difficult and stressful experience to be marginalised and shut out of newspapers (I am now persona non grata at The Irish Times, can no longer even publish in my local regional newspaper on anything critical of Covid measures), Twitter (for speaking out against vaccinating the young with no net benefit to them), & occasionally Youtube (my account remains open but I now veer away from direct statements against their politics). My blog is on a largely uncensored platform, substack, and I’ve also opened a Telegram and Rumble channel for sharing uncensored commentary.”

What is alarming about this experience goes far beyond our current crisis. It is that an entire media and scientific establishment has so readily imposed on our society a blanket gag on speech and thought. Who, in the months and years to come will join David Thunder in trying to pick up the pieces of our freedom and put them together again.

Trust matters

Words which Joseph Conrad once wrote about his motives as a writer might well be taken as a manifesto by any serious and responsible journalist – or we might wish that they would.

“Art itself”, he wrote in the preface to The Nigger of the Narcissus, “may be defined as a single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe, by bringing to light the truth, manifold and one, underlying its every aspect”. He accepted that his task should be this: “by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel – it is, before all, to make you see!” Success for him would be that  “you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm – all you demand; and perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask”.

More than a hundred years later we still look for these high standards from writers, journalists included. Do we reach them? This was what Pope Francis was looking for when in his recent book, Let Us Dream, he spoke about the role journalists have played in helping us to cope with the woes inflicted upon us by the latest visitation to our world of the horsemen of the Apocalypse. 

Journalists have had a key role in helping us to make sense of what was happening, to balance and assess different accounts and opinions. The best reporters took us to the margins, showed us what was happening there, and made us care. This is journalism at its most noble, helping us to conquer our existential myopia, and opening up spaces for discussion and debate. 

But a role is one thing and the execution of a role another. The evidence to be found in the agencies whose chosen and vocational job it is to bring to us our “deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm – and that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask” show that all too often, they fail us, succumbing to what the Pope calls their pathologies.

But the media also have their pathologies: disinformation, defamation, and a fascination with scandal. Some media are caught up in the post-truth culture, where facts matter much less than impact, seizing narratives as a way to wield power. The most corrupt media are those that pander to their readers and viewers, twisting the facts to suit their prejudices and fears.  

He writes that the media in this way cease to mediate and become intermediaries – presumably meaning that some in the media have  ceased to try to stand apart and have just become the mouthpieces of vested interests or loudspeakers for whatever bubble to which they happen to subscribe, obscuring our view of reality. For him, categorically, reporting that rearranges the facts to support ideology for financial gain is a corruption of journalism that frays our social fabric.  

But it is encouraging in some way to realise that the public is not fooled all of the time and that in the detritus of bad journalism which surrounds us there may lurk the seeds of redemption. While it has been said, with some accuracy, that no one ever lost money underestimating public taste, bad products do eventually self-destruct.

A Reuters Digital News Report published last year gave us the results of a survey of 2,000 people in the Republic of Ireland. It found that 48 per cent agreed they could trust most news most of the time, the same percentage as in 2019. That’s not a high level of trust. It is just about a pass mark in most people’s books.  But elsewhere, it got worse. In the UK findings showed trust levels in the news there to have fallen from 40 per cent to 28 per cent. In the US, trust levels dropped three points to 29 per cent. In the UK trust levels have plunged most among news users who lean to the political left, while in the US, it is right-leaning people who are much more likely to mistrust the news. This Reuters Report showed that the international average was 38 per cent, down four percentage points since 2019.

The question is how low can you go before you implode? We can only hope that sooner rather than later someone will shout “stop!’ and that glimpses of the truth are not going to cease to be part of the human experience.