Chesterton

Norm Macdonald and the humorless evangelical atheists

While I enjoyed some of Norm Macdonald's work, I could never be described as "a fan."  That is to say, I never sought him out or purchased anything related to him.

Still, I found him quite amusing and very surprised that he had been quietly battling cancer for years and never said anything about it publicly.  Celebrities typically shout their illness and hardships in their desperate and unending search for attention.  Macdonald was a noted exception.

He was also a man of faith.  He did not market himself as such, but when the topic came up, he was blunt and open about his beliefs - and not afraid to take on atheists.

Indeed, his passing seems to have caused the evangelical atheists to get rather worked up.  G.K. Chesterton has lots of things to say about them, and apparently strident annoying atheists date back to his time, the chief difference being that now they are more prevalent and powerful.

The crusader within me wants to smite these unwitting allies of the devil, but the thinking Christian mourns their despair.  They have no faith and it drives them mad to see other people with it living happy lives.  Note, that the lives need not be prosperous - in fact, nothing seems to set them off like seeing a devout person happily praying their way through a terminal disease.

As I've noted before, the fanatical devotion to healing rituals (masks, lockdowns, vaccines) is because these people have a deep fear of death.  It is the worst thing that can happen to them and so the rage at anyone who they think might steal a single second from them.

Macdonald not only kept his faith, he kept other people laughing.  Rest in peace.


Rebelling in the name of tradition: G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy

I finally finished G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy.  It's an amusing read, has lots of great quotes in it and essentially lays out a relentlessly logical case for Christianity.

It speaks well of Chesterton's intellect that he chose to take his battle into the heart of enemy territory and fight the skeptics on the ground of their choosing.  In a series of related essays, he maps out the conventional secular and quasi-religious sentiments of the day and then destroys them.

What's interesting about his approach is that he doesn't confront them with direct rebuttals.  Instead he rhetorically gets out of their way and lets them wreck themselves.   Much of the book consists of him taking various tropes and platitudes and following them to their logical conclusion.

This is a powerful persuasive tool, and devastatingly effective against people who claim that objectivity, logic and facts are all on their side. 

The greatest weakness of the book is that I don't get many of the contemporary references.  There needs to be an annotated version in which the various thinkers, philosophers and politicians are explained in better detail so we know what exactly they wrote that Chesterton is addressing.

The best part of the book is of course his wit.  The man can turn a phrase and he's very similar to Evelyn Waugh in being able to slice someone apart in unexpected ways.  There's a passage where he addresses evolution and the neo-Darwinist concept of "higher forms of life" and notes that a German Philosopher mouse might well disagree that the cat is higher, and that life is so hateful, being eaten as soon as possible is actually a better outcome.

There are many ways to help people understand faith, and Chesterton is clearly going for the self-important crowd who are full of their own sense of intellectual superiority.  He absolutely wrecks them, and many of the claims he demolishes in this book are regrettably still being spread around by credentialed idiots who think they are the first people to come up with it.

In the present circumstances, it's essential reading.

I've also ordered his Heretics, which was the precursor to OrthodoxyHeretics is more of an attack, while Orthodoxy is technically an apologetic, outline the story of Chesterton's own conversion.  As noted, much of his conversion seems to be reactionary - he gave the popular viewpoint a try, and because it was so weak he knew it had to be wrong and the religious types deserved a closer look.

This is very similar to my experience with not just religion but many other beliefs.  In my zeal to defend my position, I study it closely enough to realize that it's spectacularly weak. 

Perhaps because its a refutation and pure attack, Heretics is less popular, but it was the genesis for Orthodoxy, so I'm looking forward to reading it.


Abortion, AIDS, Covid and shifting views on divine judgement

While American society is heavily secularized, it retains a lot of the theoretical framework that has its origins in Christianity.  One of the strongest (and paradoxically most overlooked) is that of Calvinism.

Calvinism (or Reformed Christianity as it's sometimes styled) holds that God's favor can be known in this life by visible, tangible signs.  The Elect or Anointed are there for everyone to see - their prosperity, good looks, life advantages - are proof of God's blessing.  This religious view has been secularized into a "meritocracy" where the people born into wealth and privilege are owed it through their own merit.

There are several heresies involved in this worldview and it is in direct conflict with the traditional (that is Catholic/Orthodox) view that the mortal life is but preparation for what comes after.  Devout, believing and beloved children of God may suffer terribly in mortal life, but that is part of their purification.  To the meritocrats and the Calvinists, there is no benefit to suffering in the here and now.  Bad things happening are instead a call for immediate purification so that blessings can return.

This view permeates our language and our discourse, and right now it is at a fever pitch.

I find it fascinating that abortion proponents constantly speak of women being "punished" with a child as a consequence of having sex.  There is genuine outrage that men don't give birth and have to bear the same burden.  Despite many different and effective ways to prevent pregnancy, there is a fanatical devotion to this secular sacrament, which is seen as the last line of defense for ultimate individual autonomy.

Of course, no one gets pregnant alone, and not too long ago, there was a reason sex was supposed to take place after marriage (or at least after betrothal).  A "ruined woman" was seen as fitting punishment for immorality.

The legalization of abortion was therefore a welcome liberation from the "oppression" of biology.   Women could now be as immoral as the wanted.

Similarly, when the AIDS epidemic swept through the homosexual community, the same people insisted that one could not even think it was divine judgement.  A sexually transmitted disease that was most easily spread through religiously proscribed sexual behavior was simply a thing that happened and enormous resources would have to be expended not only to cure it, but in the interim, the risk-taking behavior could not be curbed.

It's interesting to note that the State of California has decriminalized passing the disease to a sexual partner without their consent.  No harm, no foul.

In both these cases, cause and effect are irrelevant, and all right-thinking people" know that to draw lines indicating how immoral behavior can beget negative consequences is hateful nonsense.

Thus it is interesting to see how one's Covid vaccination status has become a great exception to this belief.  Unvaccinated (or maskless) people who die of the disease are widely mocked as getting what they deserve.

It's divine judgement, and cause and effect are now operative.

My point by the way is not to highlight hypocrisy, but to note that in all three instances, the underlying framework remains Calvinist.  In the first two examples, the goal is to escape punishment, which is presumably not from God but rather from the Devil.  Women not being able to abort children is evil, an infringement on their God-given freedom to have absolute control over their bodies.

Similarly the AIDS epidemic could not be permitted to change the homosexual lifestyle because freedom is the highest value, even above stopping a once-incurably fatal disease.

Yet now the righteousness is on the other side, with anti-vaxxers being justly struck down for their impiety.

While the examples are contemporary, the issue is not new.

G.K. Chesterton's writing reveals that this mentality has been around for a while, chiefly being a function of unprecedented prosperity.  People can draw various philosophical lines on how thought progressed, but the key ingredient was leisure time and increased material comfort.

Evelyn Waugh's dark satires of the Smart Set illustrated the moral bankruptcy, and it was not until his later work that he began to look at how religious people can co-exist in this environment.

I plan on incorporating this into my writing on the spirit world.  As others long before me have pointed out, unbelievers don't necessary lack faith, they simply place it before something besides God. 


Ave Maria! Brant Pitre's Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary

When I began my religious instruction on the teachings of the Catholic Church, I admit that I was a little leery of the veneration accorded Mary, the mother of Our Lord.

Part of it was the residual Protestantism that still pervades American society, but there was also a profound misunderstanding of the difference between veneration, worship and intercession.  My instructor broke it down in the simplest terms: if you want a guy to do you a favor, it sure helps if his mother is also asking him to do it as well.

In many ways, I'm a very simple man, and that explanation was really all I needed to say the "Hail Mary" with confidence.  I knew that there was much more in terms of sacred scripture and Church tradition, but that merely served as fodder for me to debate unbelievers - personally I was already sold.

Oddly, there are a number of Protestants who have serious problems with this.  Some even fancy themselves Bible scholars.  I've taken a few pot shots at these charlatans before, but Brant Pitre has provided me with an arsenal of theological thermonuclear warheads.

He has written a short, informative book on the topic: Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary.  It is a quick read, and somewhat repetitive, but it is set up that way to ensure that even the most casual reader can understand his point.

What he does is take the usual arguments against Mary's significance and not only nuke them, but make the rubble bounce before making their shadows glow.  It is a methodical clearing operation, and by the time he's done, there's nowhere for the "Mary skeptics" to stand.

For those who aren't fanatically opposed to Catholic teachings, Pitre could probably have just written a long essay, but he's actually trying to reach non-believers, which is laudable.

His tone is generally mild, but he does get in some jabs when they are absolutely necessary.

And to be honest, they are.  For 1,500 years the Catholic and Orthodox Churches venerated the Holy Virgin, and then one day an angry Augustinian monk decided he knew better.

I see in this a precursor to the current plague of presentism, which is the idea that everyone who came before the current enlightened generation was really, really stupid.  It is a particularly corrosive form of pride.

When the intellectual battlefield shows Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Athanasius and countless other intellectual giants on one side vs someone with a King James translation, I think the struggle is pretty uneven.

And indeed, Pitre reminds us that Mary's critics generally don't know what they don't know.  They disdain "non-canonical" works as if they have nothing to teach, when they are in fact essential to understanding Church history.  A well-versed student of the topic should not just consult what Protestants consider the Apocrypha, but also Roman and Greek historians as well.

Pitre does this, and in a couple hundred pages creates an unassailable document that should reassure the faithful and give heretics some pause.


A short strange trip: G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday

I've finished my first G.K. Chesterton book.  The Man Who Was Thursday was a birthday gift, and I found it amusing and well-written.  Chesterton seems to have a knack for dropping quotable phrases all over the place.  He's an aphorism machine.

His wit reminds me of Evelyn Waugh, though it the satire is not nearly as biting.  Chesterton is capable of effective mockery, but he's more benign about it.

As to the work in question, the subtitle gives the substance away: it's a nightmare rather than the detective story that it at first purports to be.

There was a strong Lovecraftian vibe about the whole thing as well.  I d0n't mean eccentric academics facing unimaginable horrors, but rather a sense of growing paranoia and warped reality.

The book is a not long, and it reads quickly.  One thing I've come to detest about the modern age is the way writers tend to pad their books.  Say what you want, none of my books are particularly long.  I like to get to the point and move on.

So does Chesterton, and he gives just enough detail to get the job done, which I also enjoy.

I'm looking forward to reading more of his work.


A meeting with G.K. Chesterton

I consider myself a pretty well-read person.  I nearly finished Livy's history of Rome; would have finished Gibbon's but for an error in shipping (two copies of Volume 5 in the boxed set!); I've read Churchill's The Second World War twice, along with The World Crisis and The Aftermath and a bunch of other stuff; I've got most of Evelyn Waugh covered, etc.

But somehow G.K. Chesterton has been outside my scope.

Well, that's now changed.  My wife got me a pair of his books for my birthday, and so I've got a new author to explore.

He's a Catholic convert like me, so at least we have that in common.  Unlike Ford Madox Ford, the conversion "stuck," which is nice.

I've just started The Man Who Was Thursday and he has a nice turn of phrase, which in my opinion is critical.  I know a lot of people who can get past Stephen King's odiously crude writing style because they like the stories.  Nope, can't do it.  It's like driving on a punishingly rough road - at a certain point, the promised pleasures of the destination just isn't worth it.

All of which is to say: I may have a new favorite author.  I'll keep you posted.