Making history and unmaking humanity

A war for the heart and soul of Ireland is currently waging and the battle for the right to life of the unborn is revealing a divide in its people of the most fundamental kind. The very nature of humanity is at issue.

It is amazing that what Maria Steen points out here needed to be said in a public debate. The Marxism implicit in the determinism of those who tell us we are on “the wrong side of history” is frightening.

We are a free people and we make history. History does not make us. History is the record of our greatness and our folly, of our capacity for good and our dreadful capacity for evil. To surrender ourselves and our freedom to ‘History’ as some blind force is to abandon our humanity. To surrender ourselves and our freedom to ‘History’ without questioning the human choices which made it what it is have left us is to is to abdicate moral responsibility. To define our freedom as simply a matter of making choices without asking ourselves about the good or evil character of what we choose is the way to a hell on earth.

 

Stop this trivial pursuit

Well said. Brendan O’Neill hits the nail on the head again. We are being badly served by the politics of rage. This is what makes our world a really dangerous place.

It’s a year since Trump was inaugurated and, amazingly, the world hasn’t ended. The West hasn’t been plunged into 1930s-style extremism, the American constitution hasn’t been trampled under goose-steps, and Muslims haven’t been marched off to camps. That’s what we were told would happen. Cast your mind back to early 2017: liberal circles fizzed with warnings of a ‘New Hitler’, even whispers of another Holocaust. This spectacularly irresponsible posturing against Trump had two terrible impacts. First, it trivialised historic events like the rise of Nazism, chasing historical accuracy and reason itself out of political debate. And secondly it made criticising Trump more difficult. The Trump of Guardianistas’ rash nightmares came to dominate public discussion, making the real Trump – the man who is politically problematic but not Hitler – more difficult to see, and analyse, and oppose. This year, can we please park the shrill historical illiteracy and get back to grounded debate?

Coping with digital guilt

A little bit of irony (or is it?) from The Spectator’s agony aunt, Mary Killen.

Q. Further to your advice to F.B. (9 December) regarding the annoyance of people getting out their smartphones during lunch, may I pass on a tip? The person I most enjoy having lunch with is 20 years older than me but knows how addictive smartphones can be. During a lull in conversation, she will say: ‘Shall we have an iPhone break?’ and the two of us will spend guilt-free minutes scrolling through messages and Instagram likes that have piled up. We then put our phones away and enjoy each other’s company, free of the anxiety that (regrettable but true) builds up after no ‘screen time’.

-— M.B., Florence

A. It is appalling that your advice needs to be taken seriously. However it presents a reasonable compromise in this age of addiction where so many people feel anxious if they can’t monitor their screen. We need look no further for the reason behind the drop in church attendance figures.

Response to Iran uprising: shallowness or wilful hypocrisy?

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(Reuters)

Brendan O’Neill in Spiked.com once again exposes the shallowness – where it is not simply blatant self-serving hypocrisy – of liberal progressive (what misnomers they are) media in its response to the Iranian uprising. The Islamist mullahs seem now about to crush resistance to their regime as ruthlessly as soviet communism crushed the uprisings in Hungary and Czechoslovakia in the Fifties and Sixties respectively – while the rest of the world just looked the other way.

This is O’Neill’s take on our latest perfidy:

‘Where is the world media?’, asked Iranian-heritage actress Nazanin Boniadi this week as people across Iran continued to confront the theocratic authorities. It’s a good question. Iran has been rocked by brave, liberty-demanding revolts, and its Islamist rulers have responded with severe, fatal repression, yet much of the Western media has looked the other way. Liberal hacks in Britain have been too busy poring over Toby Young’s tweets from eight years ago to think about Iranian women fighting for the right to wear what they want and live as they please. Some media outlets, including the HuffPost, have churned out protester-shaming reports that could have been authored by the Ayatollah himself. We are now seeing the extent of Western observers’ disdain for the idea of democracy in this era of Brexit and Trump: they’ve become so convinced that politics is better done by wise, expert cliques, rather than by grubby, ‘low-information’ little people, that they are unmoved, and probably a little horrified, by ordinary Iranians’ democratic revolt against the theocrats and the Guardian Council and the Assembly of Experts. Having demeaned democracy at home, they cannot cheer it overseas.

The great manipulator strikes again

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In spite of all the blustering tweets, conservatives in America – and indeed across the world – probably feel that President Trump hasn’t actually done anything to harm us yet. The tone of his regime is bit of a problem but our culture is probably robust enough to recover its decorum. The rawer end of mainstream media, Hollywood and elements operating in social media bear far more responsibility for the coarsening our our discourse that the Donald has.

The rhetoric of his foreign policy is hopefully very different from the actual policy being pursued. As rhetoric, it is pretty unerving. For the people across the world who took the risk of pinning their flags to his mast, he has not – as yet – done anything to really make them regret doing that. He kept the Clinton dynasty out of the White House and for that alone they are still happy to live with a bit of risk.

Fraser Nelson in today’s Daily Telegraph puts the whole Trump project in a sensible context. As he sees it, Trump just wants to keep people talking about the things which he feels they need to talk about. The most recent twitter outrage is one perpetrated to get Europe thinking about an immigration problem which no one – with the exception of Douglas Murray – seems to accept for what it really is – an invasion.

Fraser’s assessment should allay the worries which some might have – for another few months at least. He also estimates that the Trump risk may be something that all of us will have to live with for another seven years. Fasten your seat belts. He writes, in his concluding remarks:

A few weeks ago, I met an American fund manager who calculated that his father – who quarried sand in Long Island – would be paid 45 per cent less today if he was still working. This, he said, was why Trump won: because globalisation, immigration and automation are conspiring against the ordinary American and no one else (other than the vanquished Bernie Sanders) seemed to care. The aim of the Trump project, from the get-go, was to convey this anger, a sense that they understood the desperation (a word that those around Trump often use) of the American working class.

Team Trump’s other working assumption is that partisanship now governs American politics. That the Reagan era was the last one with politicians who fought in wars together, and were bound together by a shared experience. Today, it’s tribal – and the winner is the one that best enthuses their core supporters. Much is made of Trump’s low national approval ratings but among Republicans they’re pretty high: 81 per cent, at the last count. So it’s probable that he’ll be a two-term president.

It’s very rare for any American president, no matter how unpopular, to lose a bid for reelection in a growing economy – and even now, there are no signs that the Democrats will find a decent candidate to pit against Trump. He might tire of the job, fake an illness or implode for some other unthinkable reason. But we might well have to live with The Donald for another seven years. The trick will be to take him seriously, but not literally – and as far as is decently possible, ignore those tweets.

Stranger Things – an even more daring interpretation

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This is a far more daring – and much more interesting interpretation of the Netflix series which is shaking up the world than I offered a few days ago. If the range and depths of possible interpretations is a sign of a masterpiece then perhaps we do have one on our hands.

It comes from Donna Provencher,  a writer, actor, director, toddler wrangler, caffeine enthusiast, and recent Catholic revert originally hailing from the Washington, D.C. area.

In the week in which someone in this world has paid $450 million for Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi this interpretation seems to make even more sense. Great Art continues to be wonderful and mysterious – still challenging our vain pretences that we know everything.

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“Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of the bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon. Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him . . . to the idea that . . . limitless terrors [have] a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.” –G. K. Chesterton.

It’s no surprise to anyone that I love Stranger Things. Like, a lot. Probably too much.

I initially resisted the phenomenon, believing the show to be more sci-fi (which is not my jam) than horror (which is). But I eventually let myself be talked into sitting on my then-boyfriend’s couch in northern New York and binge-watching Season 1 in one fell swoop over the course of several days. And I was hooked.

I was also a “happily” lapsed Catholic at the time, a self-proclaimed agnostic and secular hedonist, so I was simultaneously in love with the show and repulsed by my own love for it, for reasons I could not articulate. With each subsequent episode, I felt more and more afflicted by uncomfortable truths – truths I pretended to have forgotten, but had forgotten I remembered. All my life I have been haunted by God, as Dostoevsky and Dorothy Day before me have said – and the summer of 2016 was no different.

Spoiler alert: I started talking about coming back to the Church about three months after the show premiered on Netflix and finally came back in September 2017.

“In reading Chesterton,” C.S. Lewis writes in Surprised by Joy, “as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.”

I wasn’t careful enough in my viewing habits. Stranger Things was God playing fast and dirty with my soul – a private gamble that, although I lost, I still took home the winnings.

THE THEOLOGY OF STRANGER THINGS

Eleven, the waffle-loving heroine of Stranger Things who has so captured our cultural consciousness, is the most conspicuous Christ figure in modern art since Aslan first breathed on Narnia. The similarities are unmistakable: Everything from Eleven’s mysterious origin story to the nickname, “El” (“God” in Hebrew), that the boys affectionately bestow on her, to the ultimate sacrifice she makes for Will’s friends while battling the Demogorgon in the Season 1 finale, to her long-awaited resurrection in Season 2, looks suspiciously Christlike upon examination. She even bears a stigmata of sorts in the form of a tattooed “011” on her wrist – a visible manifestation of the suffering she has endured.

Despite the debt of ‘80s childhood nostalgia Stranger Things owes to E.T. and the Stephen King oeuvre, writes Thomas P. Harmon in “The Strangeness of Stranger Things,” Eleven is no impish, whimsical Spielberg alien: she is a child abuse victim.

She is tortured, exploited, cast out, rejected by society, betrayed by her own friends, descends into hell (the ultimate Upside Down) to free the souls entrapped there, sacrifices herself for the good of humanity, and rises again. O Death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (1 Cor. 15:55)

“Eleven would get it. She always did,” says Mike in Season 2. “Sometimes I feel like I still see her. Like she’s still around, but she never is.”

And yet she is: Lo, I am with you always: even to the end of the world. (Matthew 28:20)

It is equally hard to miss the Marian imagery surrounding Joyce Byers, flawed though she may be. One can easily imagine the Blessed Mother pleading with her own Son on Calvary – much like Joyce Byers as Chief Hopper performs CPR compressions on Will – “I love you so much, please, please come back to me,” and the fleeting frames of Joyce cradling Will after his “resurrection” resemble nothing so much as a Pieta for the 21st century. That scene in particular – as well as the moment in Season 1 where she holds and comforts Eleven, who has never known a mother, after a particularly brutal experiment trying to contact the Upside Down – give us a show a little too Catholic for comfort: a show about a Mother’s love that conquers even death.

Donna writes for the San Antonio Express-News and is a former columnist for the Watertown Daily Times in northern New York. Her work can also be found on Scary Mommy, XOJane, and the Stop Abuse Campaign. She invites us to check out the inside of her brain over at www.donnasguidetothegalaxy.com.

“Write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

Read her full post on Stranger Things here.

 

 

Curiouser and curiouser – “Stranger Things” and the Culture Wars

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(Spoiler alert if you have not seen the series yet)

Past ages, and the institutional powers of other ages – spiritual and temporal – were much less tolerant of free interpretations of influential texts in our culture. Our freedoms now are more respected.

However, as one cultural critic (Michel de Certeau) has observed,

“Today, it is the socio-political mechanisms of the schools, the press or television that isolate the text controlled by the teacher or the producer from its readers. But behind the theatrical décor of this new orthodoxy is hidden (as in earlier ages) the silent, transgressive, ironic or poetic activity of readers (or television viewers) who maintain their reserve in private and without the knowledge of the masters.”

It is with this freedom, and in this spirit, that I have watched and been enthralled by Matt and Ross Duffer‘s runaway Netflix success, Stranger Things.

What we read, hear and see in the artefacts of our civilization depends not only on the genius of the creators of those artefacts. It is also often determined by our own experiences and by the power, character and developed state of our own creative imaginations.

What Alice in Wonderland, Animal Farm or Lord of the Rings says to us is not only what their authors’ intended to say but it may also be elaborated and enriched for us by what our own thoughts, sensibilities and experience of life bring to the creative table.

Stranger Things is, I think, one of those artefacts which is giving us much more to think about than we realise. Before you shout out in outrage, be assured that I am not – yet – bracketing this contribution to popular culture among the great artefacts of our civilization. It has its flaws but it also has its great moments.

After the first series of Stranger Things was streamed on Netflix last year, the Duffer brothers, its creators, had a conversation with Dawn Bonker, a senior writer on the website of their alma mater, Chapman University.

It’s about much more, they say, than the story of a small town turned on a tilt when a young boy named Will disappears, a strange little girl (Millie Bobby Brown) arrives and a paranormal mystery unfolds. Tantalisingly, and disappointingly, Bonker does not explore what that “much more” might be – with the exception of an observation by Ross that the story is about friendship.

As the plot unfolds the boys teach the little girl, called “Eleven” – because all they know about her is that she has 11 branded on her wrist – how to be a friend, how to trust people, and that “friends never tell each other lies”. The truly sinister and deeper layer of meaning of the story centres on the origin and treatment of this little girl and her mother. Their persecutors are the genetic and mind-bending scientists at work in the government laboratory on the edge of the town. “Eleven” has been raised in this laboratory, manipulated and physically abused. The boys she stumbles across when she escapes from her murdering manipulators help her on the road back to normal humanity.

Ross: There’s something so innocent and sweet about how central friendship is to them. When you really boil it down, that’s what really matters. It’s those very simple life lessons – being a good friend can go a long way.

Matt: On television there’s been this huge avalanche of shows with antiheroes. A lot of our characters are goodhearted people. And they have a lot of compassion.

Bonker asks, was that your universal truth, or a theme you were trying to convey?

Ross: I hope so.… Even when there’s darkness, people leave the show feeling a bit of hope there.… It’s about these friends that are there for each other no matter what, that there’s this mom (Winona Ryder) that’s there for her son no matter what. And to us there’s something both universal, and hopeful, about that.… That’s where we wanted to go.

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

On the surface these are natural forces manipulated by humans. Netflix, not quite accurately in its promotional material, speaks of supernatural powers. But in fact what we are shown is the work of vile  power-hungry people and their mal-functioning experiments. The preternatural evil may emanate from the Father of Evil but if it does it does so like most of the evil in the world – through the medium of mankind.

Back in the 1950s we had the Red Scare. This in its turn spawned the monster of McCarthyism. We look back on that now and see it all as so much paranoia. But as the old joke goes, just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they are not out to get me. McCarthyism revolted us and was essentially an instrument as capable of perpetrating injustice as what it railed against. More effective antidotes of the age were the fables and fictions which countered the threat – ranging from those of Orwell, Huxley and others, to the productions of Hollywood’s own fable-factory – like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), described as one of the greatest science-fiction films of all time. The original version (there have been several remakes) captures better than any other film the fears of that era.

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

There are two strands of evil at work in the US Department of Energy’s Hawkins National Laboratory. In what way they are connected or were originally connected is not clear. I does not matter. One has resulted, through the manipulation of mothers and their children, in the development of human beings with super powers which the super State clearly intends to use for its own ends. The other has resulted in the creation of a super virus which controls carnivorous dog-like monsters and which can also take possession of humans. The scientists in HNL have lost control of the virus and now it is threatening to overrun the planet, leaving us with an “upside-down world” as terrifying as anything Cormac McCarthy laid out before us in The Road.

The dystopia of Stranger Things may be read as a metaphor for many things: a world wrecked by man-made climate change; a world destroyed by the genetic manipulation of our food supply; a world mirroring that in which the laboratories of Planned Parenthood trades the body parts of human babies it aborts “for the good of humanity”. Take your pick.  It may also be a warning that the nonsense of gender ideology and the attempted manipulation of our biological selves is destroying the very essence of our humanity. This indeed is, for me, the most compelling interpretation and seems to be underlined by the fight-back of two of the characters who are among HNL’s victims – Eleven and her sister – as well as the mother who fights for the body and soul of Will who has been possessed by the virus to end all viruses.

It seems to be further supported by the juxtaposition of the murdering evil men and women of HNL with the semi-innocent adults and the wholly innocent dungeons-and-dragons besotted twelve-year-old kids of a sleepy Midwest town.

For anyone with the slightest trace of paranoia about malign cultural forces running amok in our society, this speaks volumes. Is there a day, certainly not a week, which goes by without some new grim warning about what our gender-bending ideologists are asking the scientific and medical community to do for them. Take just one example from a recent Daily Telegraph headline, “Sex change regret: Gender reversal surgery is on the rise, so why aren’t we talking about it?”

The accompanying article spelled out a disturbing scenario and related allegations of cover-up and manipulation surrounding it. Echoes from Stranger Things were loud and clear.

In it we are told that around five years ago, Professor Miroslav Djordjevic, the world-leading genital reconstructive surgeon, received a visit at his Belgrade clinic: a transgender person who had undergone surgery at different clinic to remove male genitalia – and since changed their mind.

That was the first time Prof Djordjevic had ever been contacted to perform a so-called gender reassignment “reversal” surgery. Over the next six months, another six people also approached him, similarly wanting to reverse their procedures. They came from countries all over the western world, united by an acute sense of regret.

But these stories are taboo, they are not being heard. Over a week ago, it was alleged that Bath Spa University turned down an application for research on gender reassignment reversal because it was a subject deemed “potentially politically incorrect”. James Caspian, a psychotherapist who specialises in working with transgender people, suggested the research after a conversation with Prof Djordjevic in 2014 at a London restaurant where the Serbian told him about the number of reversals he was seeing, and the lack of academic rigour on the subject.

Djordjevic’s real nightmare is this: while the World Professional Association for Transgender Health guidelines currently state that nobody under the age of 18 should undergo this surgery, he fears this age limit could soon be reduced to include minors.

Were that to happen, he says, he would refuse to abide by the rules. “I’m afraid what will happen five to 10 years later with this person,” he says. “It is more than about surgery; it’s an issue of human rights. I could not accept them as a patient because I’d be afraid what would happen to their brain and mind.”

Add to that, the story, also in the Telegraph (November 13), that the Church of England has issued advice for teachers in church schools, fully supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury, which said that primary school-age boys and girls should be allowed to dress up in whatever they choose, regardless of their gender, including a “tutu, princess’s tiara and heels and/or the fireman’s helmet, tool belt and superhero cloak”.

Rev Nigel Genders, The Archbishop’s Chief Education Officer, speaking about advice says: “Our guidance is practical. It says that children should be able to explore their identities as they grow up.

“For smaller children this may involve getting the dressing box out. For older pupils it might mean having informed conversations to grow in knowledge and respect for each other.”

I haven’t seen anything yet about a third series of Stranger Things coming down the tracks. The Duffer Brothers ended series two… Well, I better not say anything. But there seemed to be a nod to something ominous, suggesting that the “upside-down world” hadn’t gone away.

Indeed it hasn’t – and from news like that above it seems that the Archbishop of Canterbury might even be leading us there.

The practice of (biased) journalism

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The Radio Times, the BBC’s mass circulation listings magazine, promotes a programme on the issue of abortion this week with the following introductory paragraph.

There are few topics as delicate or contentious today as abortion. From Donald Trump’s global gag rule, which sparked international outrage earlier this year, to Ireland’s forthcoming referendum on whether to repeal its abortion ban in 2018, it is one of the most polarising issues of our time

The word “delicate” is ok. I think we can all accept the objectivity of “contentious” as well. But when we move to Trump’s “global gag rule” we begin to feel a little unsure of our ground. No one likes being gagged and people who gag others are generally objectionable. Then there is “international outrage”. Was there no support for his policy move? The final blow to our confidence in the BBC’s honesty, fairness and integrity comes with the Irish reference.

The Irish are not going to the polls next year to repeal or not repeal an “abortion ban.” They will be deciding whether or not to continue to vindicate and defend the right to life of the unborn, whether or not to remove from their constitution the article which says:

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

Am I playing wth words? No, I am trying to do what the BBC is failing to do – use words as objectively as I can, stating the facts without the colour of my opinions attached. My effort at trying to describe what the BBC programme is hoping to do would go something like this.

There are few topics as delicate or contentious today as abortion. From Donald Trump’s policies on Planned Parnthood funding, which sparked international outrage among pro-choice supporters earlier this year, to Ireland’s forthcoming referendum on whether to repeal its law on the right to life of the unborn  in 2018, it is one of the most polarising issues of our time.

No matter what your personal opinion on the issue might be I would hope that you would be reasonably comfortable reading that ‘intro’ to the subject. You might still detect something of my personal opinions there but I would also hope that you would detect something of my respect for your right to an opposing opinion. The Radio Times simply  clobbers me over the head with its strident language. Sad.

On reading that opening paragraph in the magazine who could have any expectation that what this programme will present will be anything other than another apology for abortion on demand?

And sadly this is just one small example of the rampant abandonment by so many journalists of any effort to present facts dispassionately when they at the same time proclaim a commitment to that very ideal. The consequence of all this is that they not only destroy our confidence and trust in a great public institution but they undermine the strength and value of their own opinions. If we cannot trust them to give us the facts honestly then we cannot place much value on the opinions which they are calling on those “facts” to support.

 

Things might be better than we think they are

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The culture war is getting more intense not less so. Both sides are indulging in an orgy of recrimination, each telling the other what a mess they have made of our world. And yet, in many respects, as Harold Macmillan, the British Prime Minister of the day, reminded the British people back in 1957, “most of our people have never had it so good”. Mind you, while some chuckled at that, others were outraged.

In our time President Trump is expanding the culture wars, pouring more fuel on the fire every day. It’s like a boxing match without a referee as he lands punch after punch on the institutions that he views as liberal, elitist or both. It is so relentless that we are left wondering will it ever stop and whether he is doing it out of conviction or just to keep himself amused and keep his base alive.

In The Hill, Jonathan Easley observes that “With his agenda stalled in Congress and his poll numbers sagging, Trump has kept his base engaged and the left inflamed by escalating feuds with key figures in sports, entertainment, tech and media, effectively dragging politics into every corner of public life.

Easterly says “Trump’s aim is straightforward: To convince voters that there is a privileged class that scoffs at their patriotism and cares more about political correctness and diversity than ordinary Americans, their traditions and their economic plight.”

But is all this about the real world? Is there not something suspiciously unreal about everyone getting worked up about footballers gesturing on a pitch. Why are we paying such attention to entertainers using their narcissistic photo opportunities to spout their ad hominem invective at us. Not to mention the new phenomenom of celebrity colonialism.

On one level, Victor Davis Hanson, writing in the National Review, sees all this as a recycling of the crisis of the 60s and 70s which broke out across the globe in 1968. In that iconic year, the United States seemed to be falling apart, he says.

“The Vietnam War, a bitter and close presidential election, antiwar protests, racial riots, political assassinations, terrorism and a recession looming on the horizon left the country divided between a loud radical minority and a silent conservative majority.”

The concerns of that time seem a good deal more real than much of what is preoccupying most of these celebrities we have to listen to now.

“The United States avoided a civil war. But America suffered a collective psychological depression, civil unrest, defeat in Vietnam and assorted disasters for the next decade — until the election of a once-polarizing Ronald Reagan ushered in five consecutive presidential terms of relative bipartisan calm and prosperity from 1981 to 2001.”

In Europe the students set out to upset every apple cart in sight and already in China the mayhem of the Cultural Revolution had been set in motion by Mao in 1966 and continued for ten brutal years up to his death.

So is it a case of what goes around comes around? In America, after the stability of those conservative and semi-conservative years came the Presidency of Barack Obama, the would-be apostle of peace and unity who split America in two. The East and West coasts were at daggers drawn with Middle America by the end of his two terms. All this was documented by Michael Kirk (without and “e”) in his superb two part PBS documentary, The Divided States of America.

Britain had a relatively peaceful 1968. The London Times did not have much time for students who thought they were more important than they were. It ran an editorial under a heading reminding us that “A student is a student is a student.” But it is not a little ironic that her troubled exit from Europe is to a large extent being made more troublesome by the generation of Marxist revolutionary street-rioters of ’68. They eventually calmed down and then proceeded to nurture and indoctrinate those running the European bureaucracy today.

But Hanson fears that in America this time the divide is far deeper, both ideologically and geographically. It is also more 50/50, with the two liberal coasts pitted against red-state America in between. The same percentages seem to be prevailing in Europe. In Britain the more radical pro-Europe young are at loggerheads with their elders, so much so that with Brexit negotiations staggering along some feel the whole process might be reversed. If that happened who knows what the unintended consequences might be?

As Hanson sees it in America, politics – or rather, a progressive hatred of the provocative Donald Trump – permeates almost every nook and cranny of popular culture.

“The new allegiance of the media, late-night television, stand-up comedy, Hollywood, professional sports and universities is committed to liberal sermonizing. Politically correct obscenity and vulgarity among celebrities and entertainers is a substitute for talent, even as Hollywood is wracked by sexual harassment scandals and other perversities.

“The smears ‘racist,’ ‘fascist,’ ‘white privilege’ and ‘Nazi’ — like ‘commie’ of the 1950s — are so overused as to become meaningless. There is now less free speech on campus than during the McCarthy era of the early 1950s”

Yet for all the social instability and media hysteria, life in the United States quietly seems to be getting better. The same is true in most parts of Europe.

The fact is that across the West – and in the East as well – economies are growing. The lessons of the last recession may or may not have been learned. There is no doubt but that a good deal of the public distaste for the warring political class stems from a public memory of how they fell asleep and allowed it to happen.

Hanson wonders if “the instability is less a symptom that America is falling apart and more a sign that the loud conventional wisdom of the past — about the benefits of a globalized economy, the insignificance of national borders and the importance of identity politics — is drawing to a close, along with the careers of those who profited from it?”

As we watch the spectacle of identity politics unfold and the political elites consume their energies on their palpable hatred of one another – while the media cheers on one side at the expense of the other – we wonder whether the real world is just getting on with the job of living while they squabble like adolescents suffering from arrested development.

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.