The Maui Miracle

I've said before that we are in a time of heightened spiritual warfare, but while the Enemy has increased his activity, God has not been idle.

Amidst the terrible news from Maui, there is an unmistakable sign that God is still with us.

The town of Lahaina was almost entirely destroyed by fire, a level of destruction comparable to fire-bombing in World War II.  However, amidst the devastation, the local Catholic church and its rectory survived the inferno unscathed.  The photographs are striking - a scene of total devastation and in its midst, there sits the parish.  The hedge is even still green.  How is the possible?

In my younger years, I would have groped for some "scientific" explanation, seeking to determine if there was a micro-climate, a timely eddy in the winds that somehow spared the property.

But I now understand that larger forces are at work and that when God decides to give a sign, He can be embarrassingly obvious about it.

Indeed, part of my path of conversion was recognizing that I was the one who was being irrational, desperately trying to find a way to explain away things in plain sight.  Our entire culture has for some time been conditioned into the thinking this way, even those who consider themselves religious.

Amidst the growing chaos in the world, I am comforted and encouraged to see more people of faith casting aside their reflexive skepticism, and accepting things for what the are.  After all, if one believes that Christ was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, died and was buried only to rise on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, things like a church surviving a wildfire are pretty small beans.


The curse of Confederate cavalry raiders

As is my wont, I will sometimes browse the pages of Wikipedia to see just how uneven the site is.  The entry for Confederate General Earl Van Dorn did not disappoint:

He is considered one of the greatest cavalry commanders to have ever lived.

That's a remarkably bold statement for a someone whose resume was far from exemplary and whose career was so brief.

His entry exemplifies what I think is the unwarranted praise heaped on Confederate cavalry leaders, especially those known for raiding behind enemy lines.  I'm thinking in particular of Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Singleton Mosby.

Both men combined rapid movement, ferocious attacks with dauntless personal courage and their exploits are quite impressive.

However, there are some important caveats.  The first is that they were leading veteran first-line troops against rear-area security forces, rarely facing first-rate troops or leaders.  It was common practice in the Civil War to send troops forward without completing their training, the assumption being that it would be finished while in a quiet garrison post.  The Union also utilized short-term enlistees in these positions, troops whose length of service might be a short as 90s days.  They were therefore little more than armed civilians.

These troops were almost invariably infantry, meaning they were at a considerable disadvantage vs hit-and-run attacks.

The Confederates were also generally operating on interior lines, which meant the not only knew the terrain, they knew the people, who provided them with excellent intelligence.  Union troops, by contrast, were often isolated and had little knowledge of what was going on around them.

About the only advantage Union forces regularly had was numbers, which is of little use in countering hit-and-run tactics.

All of which is to say that the raiders' success was to be expected.

While it raised Confederate morale, and created iconic heroes, I think it was ultimately harmful to the Rebel cause.  There are two reasons for this.

The first is that capable Union commanders soon learned that they could have either secure lines of supply or freedom of maneuver, but not both.  Their solution was to pack their troops with ammunition and rely on foraging to feed them.  Ulysses S. Grant tested this method in his Big Black River campaign, and his lieutenant, William T. Sherman, further refined it during the subsequent Meridian campaign.

The culmination of this was Sherman's March to the Sea and subsequent march through the Carolinas. 

This brings us to the second unintended consequence: the devastation wrought be these forces.  Throughout history armies have foraged to sustain themselves.  While we think of them as looting and pillaging, this was not always the case.  Julius Caesar famously sent emissaries ahead of his troops to purchase supplies and thereby gain allies.  Of course, those who weren't willing to make a deal usually ended up getting plundered, but the point is that Union forces could have done the same had the local populace been open to it.

In the event, the standard practice was to take what could be carried and destroy what was left.  This inflicted great hardship on Confederate civilians, creating a refugee crisis throughout the South.

In the case of the Shenandoah Valley, the destruction was necessary because the prevalence of raiders and the asymmetrical terrain made it impossible for Union garrisons to sustain themselves.

Thus, while the raiders did inconvenience Union forces and arguably slowed the advance of Union forces, they also ensured that when they did advance, they would wreak untold destruction on the very people the raiders were trying to protect.

Throughout history, we have seen situations where a specific tactic is initially successful, but the counter proves more dangerous than what was happening before. 

I will also add that claims to world-historical status for minor figures like Van Dorn are particularly ludicrous when compared to the vastly larger scope of Chinese military history.

Ford Madox Ford vol. II, or why am I reading this?

The second volume of Max Saunders' mammoth biography of Ford Madox Ford has arrived and it continues to (mostly) impress.  Saunders does tend to get hung up on literary meaning, symbolism and his interpretation of why Ford's work is so great, but I have to cut the guy some slack.  After all, he wrote more than 1,000 pages on the topic.

He's clearly a fan.

This book picks up where the other ended, with Ford now serving as an officer in the British Army during World War I.  I will have more to say on this later, but one element that stands out is that after an awkward beginning and a severe episode of shell-shock, Ford actually took well to Army life, so much so that he considered remaining in the service after hostilities ended.  Apparently, he proved very gifted in providing lectures and mentoring young officers.  He would certainly have found a home in the training establishment, but he put his writing career first, and so was demobilized.

The rest, as they say, is history.

This is yet another point of comparison between Ford and Evelyn Waugh, who military service did not end on such an optimistic note.  To be fair, Waugh's service was of greater duration and he never seemed to find the ideal billet that Ford did.

But as Saunders notes, Ford was unusual among mobilized writers insofar as he welcomed the structure and rules of Army life, probably because they curbed his tendencies towards chaos.  Waugh, like most writers, found Army routine tedious, particularly after five years (World War II for the British lasted nearly six years; World War I lasted little more than four).

At any rate, this is probably the most painfully obscure topic I've ever explored, so I will endeavor to keep my writing about it as brief as possible.

Excalibur: A ludicrous Arthurian fantasy

As part of my continued review of the films of my youth, I picked up a copy of Excalibur.  I remembered it as being ahistorical, cheesy and that the Grail Quest plot line was really boring, and all of that was correct.

What I forgot was how many future A-list actors were slumming their way through it.  Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, and Patrick Stewart all got prominent roles.

As to the film, it's a guilty pleasure, almost a parody of itself.  The super-shiny Renaissance armor is completely out of place, as are the apparently neon Celtic crosses.  It's all a giant goof, but a useful time-waster and certainly suitable for mockery in a group setting.

Perhaps the most shocking thing about it is that it wasn't an American production - the Brits produced this dreck, and one has to wonder if the producers were unconsciously imitating Monty Python's Holy Grail spoof. 

Excalibur borrowed heavily from existing classical music, which made a profound impression on me.  My first CD was Carl Orff's Carmena Burana, because I love the Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi tune.  Later on, I bought some of Wagner's 'greatest hits' so I could hear Siegfried's funeral music.

So at least the film has that going for it.

The 80s saw a bunch of fantasy movies, perhaps trying to capitalize on the Dungeons and Dragons craze.  Most were terrible, though they were bad in different ways.  Few turned a profit.  I think the biggest winner was Conan the Barbarian, which was quite good and has a superb soundtrack.

Excalibur falls into the "so bad it's good" category.

Night of the Jewish Freemasons

I've spent a few days digesting the concept of Jewish Freemasons, which seems like nightmare fuel for a whole slate of groups.

Being of Jewish heritage myself, I take something of a jaded view of these things, but I can't help but wonder:  why the Freemasons?

To put it another way, there were lots of mutual aid societies within the US in the 19th Century, and while the New Deal and demographic changes undercut their support, they remained a part of the cultural landscape for decades.  There is a reason why the nostalgia-driven Happy Days had Howard Cunningham serve as a member of Leopard Lodge No. 462, eventually rising to the rank of "Grand Poobah."

I suppose I could do a deep dive into Freemasonry, but that way lies madness.  A cursory survey indicates that Jews did in fact have to create their own "rite" of Freemasons, but why did they bother?  Why not just make the Ancient and Honorable Order of David or some such thing?  Was it branding?  Did all fraternal societies need to be Masons?

Perhaps it was a question of social status.  I'm descended of German Jews and it appears that my ancestors were extremely disdainful of Jews from Slavic lands.  The easiest way to make someone want something is to preemptively deny it to them.  If Jews are excluded from the ordinary Masonic rites, a predictable response is for them to create their own.

There's also the whole mystic Temple aspect.  It had to be grating for Jews to see Christians (or Deists) claim descent from the builders of the Temple of Solomon.

On the other hand, Freemasonry comes with so much baggage that I'm at a loss as to why Jews would want to wade into the thicket of the Knights Templar and Baphomet and all of that. 

The Leopard Lodge looks a lot more attractive.


Freemasons! Under my bed!

In the comments to a post last week on the Methodist schism, reader CN linked to a site that purportedly outlined the goals of Freemasonry.

For most of my life I assumed Freemasons were mostly a social network with some mutual aid thrown in.  Such organizations used to be quite common, but the growth of state welfare programs combined with population mobility pretty much wiped them out.  The few that remain do so in rural areas and are more overtly life-insurance based.  (The Knights of Columbus - of which I am a member - seem to be the exception.)

American Freemasonry has at times been controversial, particularly when the social networking aspect began to take on the appearance of a influence-peddling cartel, as happened in the mid-19th Century.

In Europe, by contrast, Freemasonry was explicitly anti-Catholic and associated itself with revolutionary movements.  Almost every Spanish anarchist, communist or socialist leader during the 1930s was a high-ranking Freemason, and they have long been considered to be committed to overthrowing the existing order.

This is actually what happened in North America.  Most of the Founding Fathers were Freemasons, and their iconography features strongly in our symbols and our currency to this day. 

The U.S. Constitution itself is influenced by Freemasonry, particularly in its guarantee of free speech and the free exercise of religion.  These features were subsequently used to suppress public expressions of faith and prohibit any government funds from assisting religious charities or faith-based schools. 

The result has been an increasingly secular society harboring a latent hostility to God. 

Whether this was the part of a cunning plan developed over centuries of conspiratorial plotting or merely the opportunistic assaults of the Enemy is something of a moot point. 

Freemasonry is an entirely spent force in American society.  If they haven't already been torn down, just about every town as an abandoned Masonic lodge or temple that has been converted into another use (the one here is now owned by the Catholic Church).  I doubt this was part of the grand plan for world conquest.

That doesn't stop a certain subset of Catholics from declaring every deviation from their interpretation of doctrine, dogma and canon law is the result of Freemasons infiltrating the Church or from denouncing everyone who questions them as Freemasons. 

Indeed, the presence of these people is an important reminder that the Catholics are just as prone to error as everyone else, which is why we must approach our faith with great humility and frequently examine our consciences.



Whatever happened to Hollywood romances?

I was working on a piece for Bleedingfool.com and realized that while I write a lot about movies, I don't really deal with the topic of romance.

Part of this is that for a long time, romantic movies also involved sex scenes.  Since my conversion, I find them very uncomfortable to watch, particularly since we now know that far from being consenting adults, directors pretty regularly pushed women into doing them.  When the films made money, the actresses weren't in a position to object and I think many of them just got used to it as the price of fame and fortune.

That being said, Hollywood mostly seems to specialize in comic book films or the endless sequel/prequel treadmill.  Love stories are simply too demanding, both to write and to act, so why bother?

By the way, it's not like sex scenes are a thing of the past.  Indeed, they've now gotten far more intense, pervasive, and part of streaming network and even television network productions.  Gay sex is now also being pushed into the mainstream with considerable determination.  I recall some gay "romantic comedy" that totally bombed at the box office because it turned out that the vast majority of people aren't interested in that sort of thing.

Still, the fact that money could be found for such a venture speaks volumes about the current age.  There clearly is an element in the entertainment industry that is willing to sacrifice large amount of money in pursuit of non-financial goals.

Triumph of the Methodist heretics?

The United Methodist Church has been torn by internal strife for the last 20 years, but the end may at least be in sight.  Since 2019, 2o percent of  American parishes have formally broken with the organization, many choosing to affiliate with the Global Methodist Church, was was founded last year.

In a sense, this is a triumph for the sexually libertine heretics who have openly defied Methodist teachings for years with impunity.  Unable to enforce discipline, the UMC's leadership tried the same approach as the Anglican Communion and has now experienced a similar failure.

As with the Anglicans, the Methodists have finally accepted that there are points of theological disagreement that simply can't be glossed over, not matter how hard people try.

In a sense, this is also a top-down schism as the name and property are firmly in possession of the heretics, and orthodox Methodists are effectively having to buy their way out of the denomination.  It is in many respects the triumph of heresy.

Indeed, I have seen progressives describe this as a victory, since an 80/20 split is quite lop-sided.  Many feared far worse.

However, that assumes the schism has run it course, which is unlikely.  Many parishes delayed a decision until a viable Methodist alternative was available, so additional disaffiliations are still in progress.

There is also the fact that parishes does not tell the full story.  Over the last two decades, millions of Methodists quit on an individual basis and I have seen several UMC churches in my area close in the last few years.   Many of the remaining parishes will not be viable, and will also be forced to shut down.

A key factor going forward will be the formalization of the new theology.  Up till now, this has been vague, with the progressive wing using the language of "tolerance" and "inclusion" to justify their sexual immorality.  The old rules were still on the books, but not enforced out of "compassion."

Now the progressives have the opportunity to set out their full vision of sexual freedom without any restraints.  I imagine there will be "LGBTQ+ friendly vacation bible camps" and other attempts at grooming because this is the demonic Spirit of the Age.

These will likely alienate even sympathetic believers who were willing to tolerate perversion, but will not advocate it.   That won't stop the leadership, however, because having seized the pulpit, they will use it for every progressive cause, not matter how extreme.

There is a certain symmetry in the almost simultaneous collapse of the Anglican Communion and the United Methodist Church.  Methodism itself was born of a schism within the Anglican tradition, and it originated as a movement to restore a more pure form of faith built on personal holiness.

Now both organizations have succumbed to the seduction of sodomy and sexual license, which their leaders have elevated to the highest good.  Unwittingly, both are now moving to a different branch of Protestantism, one their founders abhorred:  Calvinism.

Specifically, Yard Sign Calvinism.

Both the Anglicans and their offshoots have rejected any real requirement for personal change or external action to achieve salvation.  The believe that their inherent goodness and pureness of intention supersede sacraments or sacred scripture.  Indeed, both sacraments and scripture must yield or be discarded.

Yet in the end, both organizations will likely die out, becoming little more than a fringe activist group living off of the endowments provided by people whose beliefs they now abhor. 

The return of the "Akshually, sin isn't technically bad" form of argument

The other day I was reading through some of the online content at First Things and I was amused to see a commenter trot out a 1990s-vintage argument regarding sin.

Back then I was no paragon of virtue, and a bitter opponent of organized religion, but even so I recognized that it took a remarkable amount of special pleading to argue that the only actual sins were those specifically enumerated by Jesus in the Gospels.  Now this was intended to legitimize sodomy, but if taken at face value, it also included rape, incest and a host of other crimes. 

The problems with this are manifest, and I need not elaborate on them, but it struck an eerily familiar chord with commenter CN's observations about Jewish witchcraft, which while not an oxymoron, should be.

I suppose there's some comfort in the knowledge that stupid ideas pushed by equally stupid people never really go away.  Just as each year sees the change of the seasons, and the heat of summer gives way to the cool contemplation of fall, so hackneyed sophistries continue to be recycled by mid-wits who think they've found the killer argument against Catholicism or something.

Indeed, some years ago, a former friend trotted out a bunch of well-worn cliches in an attempt to undermine my Catholic faith, and after spending entirely too much time batting down his feeble barbs, I finally suggested that, since he was so smart, he should start his own church.  He laughed with delight, noting with satisfaction that he'd driven a Catholic priest to a similar 'admission of defeat' years before.

I then pointed out to him that it wasn't an admission of defeat, it was simply an observation that nothing he said was either original or compelling.  Like me, the priest wasn't overwhelmed by the force of his logic, but bored by the dullness of his arguments.  This is one of the reasons he is a former friend.

Still, there is no denying the thrill of trying to square the moral circle by declaring witchcraft and devil worship fully compatible with Judaism or that "true" Christianity is actually a goddess cult dedicated to hedonism.  One is tempted to reply:

Sure, go with that.

However, we are in a time of heightened spiritual warfare, and the Enemy is attacking on every front.  That is why is necessary to set aside our pride (and boredom) and face these claims patiently but seriously.  Failing to do s0 risks allowing the cancer of this heresy to spread unchecked, with dire results.

This includes having the moral courage to say that no matter what blasphemous ceremonies or blessings are given, sin remains sin.  To its credit, the Global Anglican Future Conference did exactly that earlier this year.

The lesson here is that a generation of tolerance and "being nice" got us to a very bad place.  Clearly, a more aggressive response is required.

The allure of paganism

Over the past week, commenter CN has deftly woven together two of the themes of this site - the corruption of Christianity and the complex personality of Ford Madox Ford.

The discussion of Jewish women indulging in neo-paganism reminded me of a consideration of paganism from a few years ago.

As I said then, paganism offers much that appeals to our contemporary culture.  It's bold, transgressive, and  it eliminates bothersome boundaries. 

The primary weakness is that once one casts aside restraint, why bother with religious ritual at all?  I think for the Boomer generation, there was something of a thrill in going to church in a bathrobe and slippers and the Gen X crowd went even farther by getting all tatt'd up and "blessing" same-sex relationships.

But why bother with all that?  Why not sleep in on Sunday?  The truth is that classical paganism actually had lots of rules and required frequent acts of devotion.  All those marble temples were used; they weren't just empty monuments to be admired.

This is why I think it is no accident that much of paganism is concentrated within the global church rather than rising outside of it.  This would of course fit in with the Enemy's designs of outright blocking the path to salvation by corrupting Christ's message and misleading His servants.

But even that thrill seems to be fading.  In places where Woke Christianity reigns triumphant, church attendance is almost undetectable.  It's interesting that the Anglican population of Wales (which needs six bishops (most of them female, of course), could fit into a mid-sized sporting area. 

Whether "observant" or not, a frequent recourse is to the display of virtue.  The old amulets and shrines have now given way to a bumper sticker or yard sign, hence closing the ring between neo-paganism and Yard Sign Calvinism.

For students of history, there is a dreary familiarity to all of this.  Just as the same worn-out heresies keep cropping up in new wrappings by people who think they've just invented the wheel, so the same old sins get repackaged as virtues.  Waugh, Chesterton and of course Tolkien all saw it, and it's still going on today.

Something to keep in mind as the latest "new neo-pagan" thing emerges.