Chesterton

Debating the 1990s

There's a bit of a back-and-forth going on at Bleeding Fool over the worth of the 1990s.

I think the perception of any period is heavily colored by one's personal experience of it - either having lived through it, or its art, politics, and entertainment.

It's hard to separate a time of personal misery from the larger zeitgeist.  Still, I think my take is an objective one.  The pre-9/11 world was a better one, and while I found myself frustrated and depressed during that period, I still had a lot of fun.  Indeed, I recognize that with better judgement, I'd have had a better decade.

The other issue with sitting in judgement is that culture and life don't simply flip with the page of a calendar.  The decades bleed into each other, and what one thinks of as the epitome of a particular era may have happened before or after the actual dates in question.

For example, the decay of Protestantism didn't start in the 1990s, it was merely revealed then.

One can't look at the cultural tides in music, art, entertainment and politics in isolation.

At the same time, it is easy to fall into the trap of overdeterminism - the notion that the out come of a recent event was inexorably set in motion by a distant one.  I see a lot of otherwise reasonable people insist that the Union victory in the Civil War is the direct, inevitable cause of all our contemporary problems.  Apparently the people living and ruling in intervening decades were denied any form of agency.  It's very much a Calvinist approach to history.

It is true that historical writers often were able to predict the future by examining contemporary trends.  C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton and even J.R.R. Tolkien did this.  But as Tolkien in particular might admit, nothing was fixed - no one was forced to follow that path.  It's also true that many dangers fail to materialize, or that their impact is mitigated.

There are many currents in the stream of history, and some of them are hard to see.  It's also the case that there are other powers at work, the Unseen who most analysts completely ignore.

Combine a purely secular materialist frame with overdeterminism and the result will likely be devoid of any useful analysis.


Were St. Patrick's prayers answered?

There was some heartening news from Ireland last week.  The latest progressive reforms, which would have changed the constitution to redefine the family, failed spectacularly at the ballot box.

Perhaps the Irish are beginning to appreciate their culture again and rebelling against the soulless globalization movement.

The decline of Irish culture and religious has been shockingly fast.  The central idea of making Ireland a tax haven and global service center was always flawed because no one considered that when the world came to Ireland, it would remake the Emerald Isle in its own flat, commerce-centered image.

The corporations have colonized Ireland more quickly and more thoroughly than the English ever could.

And yet, a limit has (at least for the moment) been reached.  I think that much of the cultural destruction we've seen over the last decades has been seen as inevitable, the flip side of globalism.  However, it is now clear that decline is a choice, and one actually can "turn back the clock" by embracing tradition and choosing family-centered economic policies.

The current controversies in the Catholic Church prove this.  The remarkable thing isn't that Pope Francis has started pushing heresy and sowing division, it is the the Church is vehemently and successfully resisting.  His successor will be made of different cloth and the folly of trying to "get along" with the Spirit of the Age was demonstrated by the Anglican schism.

Here's hoping that the Irish (and the rest of Christendom) continue to resist the secular pressure to conform to what is actually demonic influence.  St. Patrick, pray for us.


The myth of White Christian Nationalism

I guess calling everyone who disagreed with you a Nazi isn't working out, so the new hotness is "Christian Nationalism," or even "White Christian Nationalism."

Yes, it's all about politics, which bores me to death, but I am interested in the theological aspect of this - which is to say, the multiple contradictions in the label.

The first is the business about being "white."  I suppose there may be some isolated corners of Christendom that still appeal to the old heresy about non-white people being the Children of Cain or eternally cursed, but they are on the outer edge of the most distant fringe of the faith.

The only large-scale denomination I know of that adhered to this was the Church of Latter Day Saints, aka the Mormons.  I believe there were some American Baptist sects that did in the 19th Century, but American Protestantism has long been a confusing swirl of various denominations that splinter, recombine, and then split again, and it's hard to keep track.

In any rate, it's an archetypal straw man, a scandalous libel that is easily dismissed by serious people, but since its purpose is to reassure the wavering Yard Sign Calvinists, it won't go away anytime soon.

If there was a kernel of truth in the white smear, there's no substance whatsoever in the concept of a Christian Nationalism.   This should be blindingly obvious to anyone who has ever even glanced at the ecumenical movement.

Even within the various denominations there is spirited disagreement.  How can one form a monolithic Christian state when even the Catholic Church is absorbed with internal doctrinal debates?  The same is true in Protestant circles, with major denominations roiled by controversy over how much sexual deviancy is acceptable and female ordination.

There can be no Christian Nationalism because there is no "Christian Nation."

This is the sort of hysteria that moves people to dress like characters from The Handmaid's Tale, folks who are likely blissfully unaware that the dystopian world of the novel (and TV show) is already here, courtesy of the Democrats, who even now are pushing hard to further normalize the buying and selling of human infants.   I guess mothers for hire (or human incubators) are super-bad when there's a religious element, but compassionate and necessary when used to farm out babies to gay couples.

It is possible that Christian Nationalism is supposed to indicate a fear that there might be Christians who also love their country, though - based on military recruiting numbers - this group seems to be getting smaller by the day.

Is Nationalism a Biblical virtue?  Absolutely.  It is rooted in the Ten Commandments: "Honor thy father and thy mother."  This not only covers respecting them while they are alive but also retaining their customs and culture after they are gone.  

When one mocks one's ancestors, denounces their language, heritage, and casts down their monuments, this commandment is being broken. 

The Bible is the story of a people that becomes a nation, and nowhere in Christian theology is there an admonition to cast aside one's culture and worship commerce, or innovation.

It is a mark of the strange state of the world where loving one's country is now considered subversive and sinister, where honoring one's ancestors is bigoted and reprehensible.

But there we are.

Upon reflection, this isn't that new.  G.K. Chesterton was commenting on it a century ago.  It's just yet another recycled heresy.

If we want to go even deeper, the same situation rose in Republican Spain, where churches were attacked and clergy lynched (even their graves were desecrated) and of course Communist China unleashed the Cultural Revolution that went much farther.  The Killing Fields of Cambodia is the ultimate embodiment of this nihilist belief.

The label is clearly a smear, but also partly cover for people who actually want to erase both Christianity and the nations.  As to what will replace them, I don't think even they know. Remember, Yard Sign Calvinism is never about results.  The pose is the point.

Still, it is interesting to note that the Chinese Communist Party is now ardently promoting nationalism.  I won't hold my breath for columns warning of Marxist Nationalism, but it's both more real and more lethal than White Christian Nationalism.

And yes, I am aware that there are people who are saying "Yes, it exists and it's a good thing!"  This is of a piece with my previous posts about people defending the Confederacy.  There will always be people trying to profit from a hot take on something.

As a practical matter, however, the term exists to discredit what used to be healthy, normal attitudes towards one faith and country.  Pretending it is some sort of radical new thing is nonsense.

 

 

 

 


Hammering it home: G.K. Chesterton's St. Francis of Assisi

I find G.K. Chesterton somewhat frustrating.  He's a great writer, full of inventive turns of phrases and his social and religious commentary is spot-on, but he has a tendency to go on and on, hammering the point to an extent that it becomes tedious.

I'm reminded of Mel Brooks, who can be very funny, but he also has a tendency to milk a gag too much, so that the laughter fades and you look at your watch, waiting for the scene to end.

That being said, St. Francis of Assisi has its going points, and it is not so much a biography as a portrait and an explanation, an attempt to bring an earlier, more vivid view of the world into a jaded, secular materialist frame.

Chesterton's point is that modern audiences simply can't relate to many historical figures because we've been blinded to the supernatural and have a reflexive need to discredit remarkable things.  Even after my conversion, I remained in this mode of thinking, looking for a "rational explanation" for things.

But what if spiritual warfare is the rational explanation?  It's been documented for thousands of years in every culture.  Are they all wrong and we're the Anointed Few who finally get it?  If so, what are the fruits of our knowledge?  What blessings are we finding due to this discovery?

Well, for starters our birth rates are plummeting, our young people are mutilating themselves and committing suicide, societal cohesion is collapsing and by every measure people are finding less happiness and fulfillment than their grandparents did while living on the oppression of religious teaching.

Chesterton picked up on this trend a century ago, and his vindication is complete.  I think that's why his works have such relevance. 

An additional element that makes this book in particular a timely read is the stark contrast between St. Francis (blunt, plain-speaking without a hint of guile) and the pope who has taken his name.  Pope Francis buries his writings in contradictions and ambiguity, leaving even his supporters wondering what they are supposed to be defending.  The recent fiasco surrounding blessing "irregular relationships" is but one of many examples.

St. Francis of Assisi could quiet flocks of birds with a kind word, and fearlessly approached mighty leaders, even trying to convert one of the caliphs.  Quite the contrast.

 


Sickness teaches us to appreciate being healthy

I woke last night with a low-grade fever and growing body ache.  I rarely fall ill, so this was something of a surprise.

However, as I sit in a comfy chair, sipping tea and struggling to type, it occurred to me that when I get better, I'll feel much happier about it than I did yesterday.

Since the Exile from Eden, people have always taken things for granted, and in reading the life of St. Francis of Assisi, G.K. Chesterton stresses how the saint always kept a sense of wonder and joy around him.  That's one reason why modern people have a hard time understanding him or even accepting his existence.

We're to the point where we regard bitter, ungrateful and cynical people to be normal, while people who approach life with a child-like expression of joy are assumed to be mentally ill.

I don't know that there's ever a good time to get sick, but this certainly meshes well with my current reading.


A lot of bother about blessings

For reasons known only to themselves and God, Pope Francis and his allies decided to issue a new doctrinal letter just before Christmas declaring that blessing "irregular" (read: sinful) relationships was okay so long as it was spontaneous and done in a casual setting.

This was in direct contradiction with an earlier directive from 2021, which stated very clearly that one cannot bless sinful things - to do so is blasphemous.

Because the clergy was wholly absorbed in the celebrating the Nativity of Our Lord, reaction was uneven, but with the festivities largely concluded, a great many Church leaders are making their opinions known.

They are not happy.

One of the weird elements of the letter was its insistence that this policy was universal and that bishops could not intervene.  I don't know who thought that was smart to put down in writing, but it was guaranteed to provoke a negative response.  Thus we have various bishops, archbishops, cardinals and even entire conferences of bishops forbidding these blessings within their territories.

Because the Catholic Church incorporates various rites, these groups have also stated that they will not comply.  The Eastern Orthodox Catholics, for example, do not do "non-liturgical" blessings, so it was a non-starter for them.

Things got so bad, that a second letter was released, walking back much of the first letter while also doubling down on the concept.  For example, the first letter said the prayers should be spontaneous and not use a set formula; the second letter contains a recommended formula.

The larger lesson from this is that - contra much secular and Protestant propaganda - the Pope is not an absolute dictator of the Catholic Church and "Papal Infallibility" was created to limit rather than extend Papal directives.

Another lesson is that the heart of the Church is to be found in parishes, not the Vatican.  Liberal Catholicism is dying, and the fleeting triumph of Francis' elevation is about to fade away.  The young men coming out of seminary today are fiercely devoted to tradition, and feeble attempts to denounce the Latin Mass or smear American Catholics as reactionary are only strengthening their faith.

While many commentators are upset by this whole affair, I find it helpful insofar as it is very clarifying.  It's important to know where people stand, particularly when those people hold positions of authority in the Church.  We now know exactly which bishops and priests want to endorse sexual perversion and promiscuity.  That will prove very helpful going forward. 

For years, the laity has been monitoring the clergy, and 'vigilante' groups troll hookup apps, hunting down priests and reporting them.  I'm sure similar lists are being prepared for those performing these blasphemous blessings.

This episode also illustrates why "nice" Christianity is a dead end.  You cannot encourage people to reform by telling them that sin is okay.  What this does is reinforce sinful behavior and increase resistance to the necessary repentance.

Indeed, by reinforcing the sin, "affirming" clergy like Father James Martin, S.J. is actually putting the souls of sinners at greater risk.  Such people will have much to answer for at the time of judgement.

What makes the whole episode so laughable is that we've already seen the "embrace the sinner" model in action for decades with the Church of England.  Changing doctrine has brought schism and emptied the pews. 

Indeed, G.K. Chesterton wrote about this a century ago, which is why one cannot help but think the stated goal, isn't the actual goal.  Yes, people can remain remarkably stubborn in their ignorance, but they also use ignorance as a shield for something more sinister.  At this late date, it's a distinction without a difference.  Hiding behind good intentions in for Yard Sign Calvinists, not Orthodox Catholics.

 


Through the eyes of a child

One of the blessings our family is enjoying this year is the age of the grandchildren.  They are two and three, so the elder remembers something of Christmas and is looking forward to it.  The younger doesn't, but is thrilled by the elder's inspiration.

This is as it should be.  We live in a world that has been largely stripped of its wonder.  Everything is broken down into either "science" or a moral hierarchy based on Yard Sign Calvinism, which has no room for childish joy and delight.

There is no whimsy in "woke," nor can there be sentimentality or nostalgia, because the present must always sit in judgement on the past.

The Spirit of the Age demands that the past be rejected, and that children be forced into adult decisions such as birth control or sexual preference before they have any conception of what these things are.

But here at Chateau Lloyd, we can shut all of that out.  Safe from social media and even the internet, the grandchildren can live as the generations before them lived - in a world they can touch, see, smell, taste and hear.  The wood burning in the fireplace is something unknown to them, and they experience the same mysterious fascination that our ancestors know as they watch the flames wax and wane, and the logs slowly turn to ash.

The Christmas tree is a thing new and mesmerizing, full of light, color and - as they are told - memory.  Is that really Mommy in that little picture?  Do you mean Grandpa was a little boy once?

Part of the power of holidays is how we pass them on to the next generations, creating the same sense of awe that we knew when we were young.  As we grow older, many of us are tempted to cut corners, and in some ways this is as it should be.  Christmas is about the birth of our Redeemer, not getting presents at deep, deep, discounts.

But there need be no conflict in economizing and preserving the spectacle and sensation of Christmas.  Lighting the Advent candles, preparing the Nativity - all of these create a sense of something special beyond the mere exchange of gifts.  The older I get, the more I focus on these, rather than the presents, and my chief happiness is seen in the eyes of the children.

 

 


The secular-fueled religious revival

There's an unmistakable upturn in religious sentiment in the air.  The Catholic Church has (largely) cast aside its rainbow flags and tolerant language and is breaking out the holy relics and talking about the perils of hell again.

The Protestants are feeling it as well, and I've noticed that the various "geek culture" sites I follow (and write for) are talking more about faith and its role in entertainment.

In fact, The Chosen is releasing its fourth season in theaters before streaming it.

While Hollywood doubles down on heresy and sin, normal people are turning away from it.

I think a major cause in this remarkable turn of events is the way secular society has completely destroyed its legitimacy.  Growing up in the 80s, there was a certain sense that religiously observant people were boring and uptight and devout ones were a little bit mad.  The proper attitude was one of somewhat detached reverence, but not overdoing it.

This secular view has been completely discredited.  One can't call religious people nuts and in the next breath declare biological sex irrelevant to athletic competition.  One can't wave the banner of science while punishing skeptics for demanding more exacting research.

It's now no longer unusual to talk about people being moved by demonic impulses because it's the only logical explanation. 

Look at the current state of Yard Sign Calvinism.  People who had "No Blood For Oil" and "Give Peace A Chance" now howl for Russian blood.  Or Jewish blood.  The point is: they want blood.

The language of tolerance and inclusion has been replaced with militancy and threats.  Again, one might well call that demonic.

None of this is new.  G.K. Chesterton wrote at length about the irrationality of "rational" people.  It's just stunning to see it up close and taking root so quickly.


The epitome of arrogant self-help: Richard Schwartz's No Bad Parts

I have read a fair number of pop-psychology and self-help books, always under duress.  I've found my archetype, identified my color and learned my language.

None of has mattered in the least because it's just the same warmed-over feelgood nonsense.

That being said, Richard Schwartz's No Bad Parts really does stand apart from the crowd.  I don't think I've ever read a book that combines such monumental arrogance with laughable ignorance while purporting to give expert advice.

In only 14 pages, the author declares that he has more wisdom than the Church Fathers and more insight than Buddha.  This is like the scene from The Princess Bride where Vizzini asks the Man in Black if he's heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates.

"Yes."

"Morons," Vizzini replies.

That's Schwartz's view of the world.  He's figured out the key to mental health, and he's also divined how to bring about world peace and solve all our other problems.  As the book progresses, he takes a less dismissive tone towards religion, modestly informing us that his methods are actually true manifestations of Buddhist thought as well as an interpretation of Christian philosophy that Jesus Christ would be happy to endorse.

It's the kind of book that both Evelyn Waugh and G.K. Chesterton have mocked, so the genre is actually quite old.  It's funny how these miracle methods keep popping up and yet people are ever more depressed.  Maybe, just maybe, there are limited to what secular analysis and treatment can do, and a vaguely spiritual worldview isn't enough to deal with the existential issues of life.

Of course, Schwartz isn't nearly as smart as he thinks he is, especially when it comes to religion.  His summaries of Christianity is a comedy of misunderstandings, but combined with his air of absolute certainty, one must either hurl the book through a window or burst out laughing.

Then there are the transcribed therapy sessions, which remind me of the role-playing examples given in Dungeons and Dragon books from 40 years ago.  It's unclear if their purpose is to show off the doctor's amazing therapeutic manner or just pad the page count, but I found them insufferable.

Aside from humor value, the book does contain about 14 pages of insight, chiefly near the beginning when it discusses the terminology used for various conditions.  That was genuinely helpful, but I could have gotten it from a pamphlet or web site. 


The relics of St. Jude, Apostle of the Impossible

Today my parish hosted a visit by relics of St. Jude the Apostle.  This was my first encounter with a reliquary and I was not sure what to expect.  Plans were in place for large crowds, but since it was on display from 1 to 10 pm, I timed my visit for what I presumed to be a lull at 2, presumably after the opening rush of pilgrims had left.

In the event, there was not much of a line, though there were quite a few people there, praying in adoration or awaiting Reconciliation.  Thus, my daughter and I were able to move at a steady pace through the improvised lanes in the sanctuary and up to the reliquary itself, which was protected by a glass and wood case. 

I was not sure what to expect when I put forth my hand to touch the glass, and I am still struggling to describe the sensation.  It was like a chill, but not cold or sharp, nor was it warm.  It left my slightly dazed as I touched our household holy water fount to the glass and made my way to a pew to pray and regain my composure.  With prayers completed, we left.  My daughter said she felt a sense of euphoria and a surge of energy.

When we got home, the "second shift" left with my wife taking another daughter (we were babysitting the grandchildren), and they each felt something different.

As a convert to Catholicism, I found the veneration of relics difficult to accept and more than a little macabre, but as the day approached, I resigned myself to accept the Church's teachings and roll with it.  Too many people today consider themselves the final authority on everything, and refuse to humble themselves before the wisdom of their ancestors.  I've criticized this before, and did not want to make myself a hypocrite.

I will say that it was meaningful, profoundly spiritual and I am glad I went.  I'm beginning to understand why people become pilgrims, seek out holy relics and devote their lives to their study and veneration.