Monday, July 31, 2006

New D.Ahlquist Interview at I.Insight

Carl Olson posted a new interview with Dale Ahlquist (president of the American Chesterton Society): What are some of the common sense lessons we can learn today from G.K. Chesterton?

Ahlquist: Three things come to mind.

First, there is a reason to trust tradition, and be skeptical of new things. The modern world has that one exactly backwards: old is bad; new is good. Newer is even better. "A new philosophy," says Chesterton, "is generally the praise of some old vice." The irony arising from this is that it is now counter-cultural to defend morality and faith and the ancient truths that have been handed down to us by the Church.

Secondly, Chesterton's defense of the family as the center of life and the home as the most important place is a lesson badly needed today. All of our focus is on things outside the home: careers, politics, entertainment, sports. And none of these things are nearly as important as the caring for the souls of our children and the deepening of the sacramental relationship between husbands and wives.

Thirdly, poems should rhyme.
link to the full interview

Conflicted Round-up

In what may very well be the best article of the month, rising star H.W. Crocker III lays down the law in a pithy and engaging manner, pulling no punches on topics concerning, Islam, Medievalism, and Reform. This piece pleased me greatly, and I think it's likely to please you too.
Does Islam need a Reformation? Not unless you think it would benefit from additional dollops of Puritanism; further encouragement to smash altars, stained glass, and other forms of “idolatry”; prodding to ban riotous celebrations like Christmas and Easter; and support for fundamentalist Islamic schools that insist on sola Korana and sola Sunnah . Indeed, it would seem that Islam has already had its reformers.


A colleague of mine has an extended look at the differences between man and woman. As well as being Catholic, she has a background in English and the family/educational sciences, so there is certainly much here for one to mull over. The linked post is just the introduction; she has produced several installments since. Give it a shot, people!


With the characteristic cool rationalism and objectivity of the truly dedicated scientist, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington has offered up a plea for the splicing together of human and chimpanzee DNA simply on the grounds that it would bother Christians. Prof. David P. Barash lays it out for us in one of the most elaborately fraudulent, belief-beggaring passages I have ever encountered:
In these dark days of know-nothing anti-evolutionism, with religious fundamentalists occupying the White House, controlling Congress and attempting to distort the teaching of science in our schools, a powerful dose of biological reality would be healthy indeed.
Words can not express the eye rolling that should meet this statement.


There is evil in this world, but it's all okay so long as you can use it to take potshots at President Bush. The contents of this link may make your blood boil as it is, but if you are yourself a mother or (somehow) a young child, it could be held up as legitimate provocation for all manner of blood-soak'd acts.


The higher they ride, the more sweepingly and alarmingly they fall. As Abraham Lincoln once said, 'tis better to remain silent and be thought a mean drunk, and an anti-Semite to boot, than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt. It is of course my hope that the whole affair is either a misunderstanding (albeit an intensely explicit and unlikely one) or a case of slander, but somehow it doesn't seem like it's going to end so sunnily. For shame.


A potent dichotomy. Gilbert couldn't have put it better in prose:

This war will end, one way or another, and nobody involved is simply going to be going back to the way things were. That's about as hopeful a thing as can be said at this moment.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

It Be Love

I have always been a sucker for a good love story. As a kid I would always ask my parents to retell their's and that of their parents. Not just the falling in Love part but the whole adventure.

“Think for a moment of the long chain of thorns or flowers that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day"

For me that link seems always to be associated with the start of a love story.

Since this is kind of Belloc birthday celebration his love story is worthy of note.

From Anthony Cooney review of

Old Thunder A Life of Hilaire Belloc by Joe Pearce

“…he remained dissatisfied, until one day in early summer, 1890, he visited his mother. There were other visitors; An American widow, Mrs. Hogan and her two daughters, Elizabeth and Elodie. Belloc immediately decided that Elodie was the woman he would marry. He had fallen irrevocably in love, and the feeling was reciprocal.

It would be impossible to overstate the all encompassing love of Hilaire and Elodie which overcame the doubts on Elodie's part (she was half persuaded that she wished to be a nun), the difficulties placed in their way by family, the distance apart when Elodie returned to California, the final sorrow of bereavement, but equally impossible to understate it, for no author or poet has that art. Pearce therefore wisely and without romantic flourish, simply narrates the circumstances, casting rays of light upon them with sparse quotations from the lovers' letters, but surely this was one of the great love stories of the century? Pearce does reveal that Belloc, although he traveled steerage, did not "work his passage" to New York, and, contrary to popular legend, did not walk across America, but traveled by train. However, rejected by Elodie upon her mother's insistence, it does seem that he walked all, or most of, the way back.

As in all true faerie stories, Hilaire married his princess, but not before he had completed nine months military service in the army of France, the army, still of Napoleon, and taken his First Class Honours at Oxford , where he was elected President of the Union. Failing to obtain a fellowship he became an extension lecturer and continued to earn money by journalism. Elodie's vocation having been tried and failed, nothing now prevented their engagement. In 1896 Belloc hastened to America where he found Elodie dangerously ill as the result of a nervous breakdown, and here we have the first incidence of that wanderlust which the contemporary mind will find inexplicable and which, I suspect will leave the contemporary female mind spitting feathers! Belloc, distressed at Elodie's condition "went to pieces". Happily she recovered and began to convalesce, so Belloc went off on a "short" walking holiday in the Daiblo mountains! Belloc and Elodie were married in California on 15th June, 1896 and shortly after returned to London where Belloc began to make a name for himself with the publication of two books of verse, Verses and Sonnets and the immensely popular and much reprinted The Bad Child's Books of Beasts.”
(Entire review here)

One ‘down side’ of an all consuming Love is the secular world hates you for it. They see Love as the proof against their position and that really sets them off. Belloc was thus attacked.

“It seemed the mob wanted to demythologise at least one-half of the great juggernaut of 20th-century Catholicism, the "Chesterbelloc". Belloc is an affront to the modern academy and its obsession with scientific measurement and specialization. Belloc does not talk about his subjects as an "expert," but as a lover who looks beyond blemishes to what is good and beautiful.” Scott J. Bloch
(Entire article here)

What an absurd statement. Should I talk to you about the bad hair days of my wife or the occasional pimple on her nose or the years of caring self sacrifice and does that pimple negate the good? Or should I judge my marriage by the time she got angry at me for leaving my underwear on the floor or when she sat by me during those scary days?

Should the work of Einstein be discredited because he was not that good at the violin, provoking more than one competent musician to bellow at him, “Can’t you count?!”

Help me out here, how can you strive to be an expert of something if you do not Love it? Is it because critics do not understand what love is? Or is being an expert just a cold observer? If so it would not be able to get to the cause or prime mover of an event or thing because it all starts with Love no matter how it ends up. An expert thinks Love is blind “Love is not blind it is bound.” (GKC)

Belloc made a vow to stay true to the Church and to his wife he “would not yield”. You can not stay true unless you stay in Love. (See, A Defense of Rash Vows)


On the Battle for Joy front:

“The joy of evangelization must start with the joy of the evangelist. St. Francis was a joyful evangelist. He knew the importance of joy as a powerful weapon in our spiritual warfare. He used to say, “The Devil cannot harm the servant of God he sees filled with holy joy!”

This saint taught that the Devil goes around scattering a dust of sadness and discouragement, which he called “that Babylonian stuff.” (Remember how sad the Jewish people were during their exile in Babylon. They could not even sing the “songs of the Lord” in such a foreign land. See Psalm 137.) However, St. Francis said that if we are covered with the armor of joy, the devil scatters his “Babylonian dust” in vain.”
(For complete story see Never Stop Singing by Fr. Andrew Apostoli)

Friday, July 28, 2006

Calling All Prayer Warriors

OK maybe I was a little harsh in my last post where I equated the Mid-East problem with “Foaming Bronze Age Fanatics”. Yes, there were some fine and great people in that time too. And those people were the fathers and mothers of Christianity. Those children that were given the gift of Christ have, for the most part, partaken in a continually enlarging spiritual journey in Faith, Hope and Love of our Lord. Where as those born of the heresy of Mohammedanism have, for the most part, gone in the other direction. Again I was wrong to place them in the Bronze Age, they are not even of the Middle-Ages or the Renaissance or even the height of the Ottoman Empire they are Now and they are in our face. In each of those times Christendom was under assault and now it’s our turn to defend her.

If we accept the premise of Belloc’s, and there is no reason we shouldn’t, that Islam is invulnerable to conversion that does not mean we should not pray for them.

From: Rev. Thomas J. Euteneuer

A Solution for the Mid-East Conflict

Modern means of communication give us the ability to see the ugly face of terrorism graphically: heartless beheadings, brutal murders, suicide bombings, the bloody deaths of innocent people and the like. No one can deny that terrorists who vow the destruction of individuals and even whole societies are just plain evil. It cannot be said enough: terrorism is satanic.

A few days ago one official at the UN said that terrorism is like a cancer that can only be cut out of the body if we are to save the whole person. I do not agree. Terrorism can't be cut out, it must be cast out. It cannot be excised, it must be exorcised. Guns will not extirpate a spiritual cancer like terrorism which is now metastasizing throughout the world. If terrorism is satanic, then the actual solution to it is to conquer Satan and his minions with the Church's spiritual power. All other human solutions bear fruit as a result of that.

Diplomacy and military action are necessary human means to arrest the advance of evil, but by definition they only seek the cessation of hostilities. We are looking to banish the root cause of the hostilities.

And that is precisely the point about the way the Church works in the world. The Church always goes to the root of things and addresses the conflicts in men's souls that lead to any worldly evil. As Christians we do not sit in churches and shrink from the problems of the world in which we live because it is our duty to evangelize the world and transform its evil into something good. In the Church's perspective, modern terrorism is just another manifestation of the evil that is in men's hearts, and when this particular evil passes, the Church will be around to confront the next wickedness that afflicts humanity.

We must never lose confidence in the power of holiness over evil. Communism as a system was dismantled without a shot being fired, and much of it had to do with the holiness of a man like John Paul II and the durable Catholic faith of his brethren in Poland. Likewise, in 1982 there was a "miraculous" cease fire between the warring factions during the siege of Beirut because a small Albanian nun named Mother Theresa decided that 37 handicapped children needed to be rescued from war. When she marched onto the battlefield that day, all the guns went silent. There are more examples, but I'm sure you get the point. The durable solution for terrorism is spiritual. This evil must be cast out.

As the worldly powers send diplomats to hammer out agreements between the warring factions, the Church should be sending saints and exorcists to hammer out the devils who are the spiritual instigators of all sin. To those who say this solution will never work, I say "Try it." Don't forget that many years ago there was a Man who walked about that same region casting out demons. He literally transformed the world by His grace. Now the Prince of Peace wishes to be invited to the Middle East again.

Rev. Thomas J. Euteneuer,
President, Human Life International

You can subscribe to his e-newsletter here

The Death of Ulysses

As some of you may remember, I won the American Chesterton Society's Gilbert & Frances Award last year for an essay I wrote which was broadly concerned with intellectual honesty. You can read that essay here. I made a run at the contest a second time this year, but have learned from a Secret Inside Source (named Dale, but don't tell anyone) that I have not, in fact, carried it off again. It was an act of extravagant majesty that I won it even once, of course, so I am not in the least bit upset. I will not divulge the name of the gentleman who has, in fact, won it, for I have not been given permission to do so. However, if he is who I think he is, the victory is well-deserved.

In any event, now that I have been freed from this waiting game, I can do what I like with this year's submission. I worried upon submitting it that it was not as upbeat as one might expect from a Chestertonian, or perhaps that it rambled intolerably. All of this could likely be true. However, reading it now, I don't know that I would change a word. I would likely add several, for the length limits of the contest were strict, but otherwise... yeah.

Here it is, then. I hope to hear what you think of it. I'll be posting it on my own blog, too, because I can.


The Death of Ulysses

One of the most urgent and vital lines in all of Dickens can be found in Great Expectations, and it runs something like this: “Think for a moment of the long chain of thorns or flowers that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.” Such an exercise is not difficult, though it is rarely engaged. It is simply the act of tracing back a chain of influences as far as one can to see if there is some singular event upon which one might pin the responsibility for all that has followed. Without going into dreary specifics, I can tell you that I owe much of my current success to the idle purchase of a book about the battle of Thermopylae.

Now, you may question the practical value of such an exercise, and I would, in many degrees, be right there with you in doing so. The point of it is not really to improve one’s life, but rather to see how easy it is for one’s life to change. To see the monumental happenings that can spring forth from the most seemingly insignificant of seeds. The point is to get you out into the garden.

It is for this broad reason that in reading Dickens’ words today there is almost the feel of tragedy. Though modern progress is often touted as having made everything so very much easier, it is doubtful that this is really such a good thing. One of the costs of not having to do many things is that not many things get done. Certainly, various tasks are accomplished. The children are taken to school, the report is filed at work, dinner is prepared, etc. But these are only accomplishments in a most literal and charitable sense. There is in them nothing of that exalted “first link” of which Dickens spoke. We have very much an easy existence, but almost nothing of a life.

Chesterton stood mightily against such weakening of the human character, body and spirit, and in doing so he finds himself alongside some unlikely allies. The scandalous novelist D.H. Lawrence declares in his essay, “Morality and the Novel,” that the weight of cynicism is destroying life in literature. “A thing isn’t life,” he says, “just because somebody does it.” We could take up this brazen sentence as a rallying cry and be none the worse for it. Even Nietzsche, for all his failings, would stand with us. Though there is in him much of what is wrong with man, it could never be said that he discouraged action. Though we must condemn the Dionysian, there is no finer dancer living.

Chesterton’s own position can best be derived from a parable. In “Homesick at Home,” we see the curious story of a man who literally travels round the world to get to where he already is, and experiences much along the way. “Like a transmigrating soul, he lived a series of existences: a knot of vagabonds... a crew of sailors... each counted him a final fact in their lives, the great spare man with eyes like two stars, the stars of ancient purpose.” This man is not only having seeds planted within him, but is himself a seed. Who can measure what joys he brought those vagabonds, or what tales are told of him by those sailors?

And we must not forget Chesterton’s distributist sympathies, for it is the scourge of wage slavery that is most singularly responsible for the deadened state of modern man. He labours at work that does not require thought, inspire the mind, or caress the soul. In his limited leisure time, he has neither the energy nor the will to dare great things or forge links. He atrophies. And does the world help him fight against this slow death? No, it does not. It provides him with a surrogate life to keep him from the real one he is missing. It provides him with reality television to distract him from reality. It provides him with Internet worlds to keep him from the real world outside his very door. It provides him with celebrities in place of heroes, fads for traditions, and buzzwords for truths.

And so we come, perhaps belatedly, to the title of this monograph. In Tennyson’s marvelous “Ulysses,” we see a perfect emblem of this striving against mediocrity. In the poem’s closing lines, there is an echo of Dr. Bull’s thundering sentiments about the character of the average man in The Man Who Was Thursday, to the effect that, jaded though he may be by cynicism and skepticism, he is still above the barbarism of anarchy. That he says this as an apparently anarchist mob pursues him is significant, as it sets the stage for our own reading of Tennyson’s glorious finale:
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in the old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal-temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

There was a time - and it was not long ago - when reading these words sent a golden thrill up my spine. Now, however, I can only look upon them and worry.

Disastrous Round-up

Welcome to Friday, for which we are waggishly enjoined to thank God. This, the day that sees more debauchery and dereliction of duty than any of the other six! We may very well thank God for the day, as we should for all days, but not even for a moment in the spirit the trite little phrase implies.

In any event, a few things worth considering, but not so many as usual; I have a substantial post with which to follow this up.


A California radio station has offered a profound theological service to the listening public by re-enacting the Fall of Man in miniature. It remains to be seen whether or not this mimicry will continue with some sort of blood-soaked redemption, but prospects at this time are not so good. I'd recommend that you stay tuned for further details, but there seems to be some sort of disinclination to do so, in this case.


Last year, Christians (Fundamentalist Protestant) engaged other Christians (Catholic, some Chaldean Catholic) in a street brawl in an effort to save their souls. Tensions mount this year as the anniversary approaches. There is a passage in a Graeme Greene book that I would like to cite.
One day, however, when Milly was thirteen, [Wormold] had been summoned to the convent school of the American Sisters of Clare in the white rich suburb of Vedado. There he learnt for the first time how the duenna left Milly under the religious plaque by the grilled gateway of the school. The complaint was of a serious nature: she had set fire to a small boy called Thomas Earl Parkman, junior. It was true, the Reverend Mother admitted, that Earl, as he was known in the school, had pulled Milly's hair first, but this she considered in no way justified Milly's action which might well have had serious results if another girl had not pushed Earl into a fountain. Milly's only defence of her conduct had been that Earl was a Protestant and if there was going to be a persecution Catholics could always beat Protestants at that game.

No mere person could be this hideous. There must be some other quality to Hillary Clinton that accounts for the ominous, alienated feeling one gets when one looks upon this image.

Yes, in an startlingly premature move, the Museum of Sex in New York NY will be unveiling Hillary's Presidential Statue, jumping the gun by two years and likely an entire plane of reality. As is typical with such nonsense, the bust's unbearable ugliness is meant to challenge our perceptions of this and confront us with how threatened we feel by that. The conclusion, as ever, is that all revulsion is a matter of cringing and even unconscious fear, and that no settled perception can possibly be correct. This is what we get in a world without value judgments.

Anyway, my question is, what good is returning to the classical bust style if you're not going to be crafting a hagiographical sculpture? That's sort of the point of them. I suppose this could represent a legendary figure to some sort of person, but it sure as heck doesn't for me. My other question is with regard to how much of the taxpayer's money was siphoned through the NEA for the production of this otherworldly piece.


Finally, be sure to check out Alan's post about Islam just below; he likes to post just before the day is out, and we wouldn't want it to get lost in the new updates.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Thoughts on the Bronze Age

If you accept the seizure of the US embassy in Iran (November 1979) as the start of the bloody problems, of the Islamist terrorist variety, in the World then this war on terror is in its 27th year with no end it sight. There are some of course who date the start of this war at 1095. There have been a few periods of peace, as the west calls it, or periods of planning, as the terrorist call it. And now bullets and bombs are flying on daily escalating bases. The good are dying with the bad.

The problem, as Mark Shea so eloquently puts it, “Today’s Western culture can’t understand cutting edge Bronze Age thinking.” Or is it "the thinking of Foaming Bronze Age Fanatics", close enough.

I think Chesterton and Belloc did understand.

I came across the following at ParaPundit

Chesterton on Islam
A void is made in the heart of Islam which has to be filled up again and again by a mere repetition of the revolution that founded it. There are no sacraments; the only thing that can happen is a sort of apocalypse, as unique as the end of the world; so the apocalypse can only be repeated and the world end again and again. There are no priests; and this equality can only breed a multitude of lawless prophets almost as numerous as priests. The very dogma that there is only one Mohamet produces an endless procession of Mohamets.

And for my part I cannot but believe that a main unexpected thing of the future is the return of Islam. Since religion is at the root of all political movements and changes and since we have here a very great religion physically paralyzed but morally intensely alive, we are in the presence of an unstable equilibrium which cannot remain permanently unstable.

For complete article go here

The Qassam Brigades is the Palestinians’ largest and best organized militant group but it is not the only militia operating in the area under Palestinian control. At least six other armed groups field soldiers to fight Israel or, when there are no Israelis to fight — as was the case for nine months after Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza last year — to fight among themselves. (For complete story go here)
From Monty Python’s Life Of Brian

REG: Right. You're in. Listen. The only people we hate more than the Romans are the --ing Judean People's Front.
P.F.J.: Yeah...
JUDITH: Splitters.
P.F.J.: Splitters...
FRANCIS: And the Judean Popular People's Front.
P.F.J.: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Splitters. Splitters...
LORETTA: And the People's Front of Judea.
P.F.J.: Yeah. Splitters. Splitters...
REG: What?
LORETTA: The People's Front of Judea. Splitters.
REG: We're the People's Front of Judea!
LORETTA: Oh. I thought we were the Popular Front.
REG: People's Front! C-huh.

Also check out Paul J. Cella’s blog

Round-up break

As luck would have it, I have to deal with some stupid financial bureaucracy today, and I simply do not have the time to devote to a round-up. Quel dommage.

However, we've got stuff from Joe and Lee for you to read, so I'm sure you won't get bored. Look for the round-up to return tomorrow.

Hilaire Belloc, born 27 July 1870

Happy Birthday to Old Thunder:
Myself, Grizzlebeard, Sailor, and Poet

The moon on the one hand, the dawn on the other:
The moon is my sister, the dawn is my brother.
The moon on my left and the dawn on my right.
My brother, good morning: my sister, good night.

[Hilaire Belloc, "The Early Morning"]

Short stories (I)

In an earlier post, I mentioned that one of my goals was to read Volume XIV of Ignatius Press' Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton: Short Stories, Fairy Tales, Mystery Stories – Illustrations.

I begin with the first three tales: "Half Hours in Hades," "The Wild Goose Chase," and "The Taming of the Nightmare."

All three tales are dated 1891-1892. That means that they were written when he was approximately 17 or 18 years old.

They read like a young writer's efforts. At times he seems more in love with the words or with being clever than with advancing the story. Still, there are glimpses of the humor and style that mark his later writings.

"Half Hours in Hades" is subtitled "An Elementary Handbook of Demonology." It includes illustrations.

This three-section piece reads like a partly completed work. Indeed, in the preface, the "author" says he was moved to write "this little work" after an "eminent Divine" suggested he write a book about demons.

The first two sections of the story describe the five primary types of demons, and the evolution of demons. There are references to Milton and Goethe and the types of demons they present in their works.

The most amusing section was the one on the "blue devil" which "have frequently been domesticated in rich and distinguished houses, and many of the wealthiest and most successful men of commerce may be seen with a string of these blue creatures led by a leash in the street or seated round him in ring on his own fireside."

Yes men?

Chesterton suggest that the blue devil, with the "singularly melancholy and depressing" noise that it makes, and less than "lively" general appearance, might be "a suitable pet for the houses of clergymen and other respectable person."

But then the piece suddenly shifts in section III to a the story of a witch telling her children about demonology, and doing some conjuring in a cauldron. Among the ingredients tossed into the cauldron is "the liver of a blaspheming Jew" – one of the kinds of statements that later led people to accuse Chesterton of being anti-Semitic (a charge I think was false, by the way.)

On the whole, I think this "story" is an experiment that deserved not to be finished.

The next tale is an entirely different matter.

"The Wild Goose Chase" is, I think, a successful tale. The title is a pun, of course. The "Little Boy" in the tale is indeed chasing a wild goose, but it also refers to all the wild goose chases we sometimes engage in.

Along the way he meets a vain Bird of Paradise, a nightingale - a musician who has lost his work - and a owl that is waiting for all the leaves to fall from the Tree of Knowledge, a "doosid original" vulture, and more. All the creatures are vaguely recognizable as human types.

He loses the goose, but by acting to save a bird from an eagle, he gets back on the trail. When he loses it again, it is by rejecting the opportunity to go back and forget everything he has experienced on his quest that he is able to rediscover the trail again, and continues on.

The story is a metaphor for all the quests/goals that challenge us. Fame? Fortune? Art? Faith? Some folks consider them "wild goose chases," but for the person, they give life purpose.

Not a great tale, but successful. I see shadows of future better quest tales in it – such as The Man Who Was Thursday.

The third tale of this trio is "The Taming of the Nightmare." Another word play in the title. Another quest tale – more of a fairy tale in the Grimm mold - but I think it’s not quite as good the "Goose" story.

In this case, it is the story of Little Jack Horner (yes, of nursery rhyme fame) who is sent to capture and tame the "Nightmare." I won’t spoil the end other than to say he does meet up with the Nightmare (and the title gives away what happens!), but he does meet some interesting characters along the way (a Gardener, turnip ghosts, a king, etc.).

The best of these characters is the Mooncalf, a mournful poetic creature.

I forget all the creatures that taunt and despise,
When through the dark night-mists my mother doth rise,
She is tender and kind and she shines the night long
On her lunatic child as he sings her his song.

The Mooncalf alone makes this tale worth reading!

On the whole, these three tales give us a taste of what is to come – satire, fanciful characters, quests, word plays, a bit of poetry, and so on.

And now, like the "Little Boy," I continue my wild goose chase to read all the tales in this collection.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Belloc vs. Kafka: The battle for Joy part 3

In the battle for Joy, Chesterton went forth with flowers and candy to woo people into the light; Belloc went forth with a club and trumpet to chase people from the dark. We need both type solders in this war. It is like the difference between Francis and Aquinas or the apostles Mark and John. And like Mark, Belloc was not one to be accused of being politically correct he always felt he did not have time to mince words - the stakes are that high - because we are engaged in spiritual warfare. And as Father Corapi tells us “Surrender is not an Option!”

This is not an in-depth analyst of Belloc’s or Kafka’s work or their intellectual process. This is simply a surface comparison of how their internal joy, or lack of it, shaped their world view in a particular work of fiction. But a brief back ground of these two authors is in order to see that suffering was in both their lives and how they dealt with that shaped their art. (I know Furor just talked about Kafka, I guess our heads are on the same wavelength this week)


Hilaire Belloc served as a member of parliament from 1906-1910. During a campaign speech he made his famous defense of the Faith before a largely Protestant audience: "I am a Catholic. As far as possible I go to Mass every day. This [taking a rosary out of his pocket] is a rosary. As far as possible, I kneel down and tell these beads every day. If you reject me on account of my religion, I shall thank God that He has spared me the indignity of being your representative!"

After a shocked silence there was a roar of applause, and Belloc won the election. (Can you imagine any politician having the strength of faith or chutzpah to say that today?)

In 1890 Hilaire met his future wife, Elodie Hogan, an American who was visiting Europe with her mother. The following year he booked passage to New York from whence he tramped his way across the continent to Napa Valley, California, in order to make his proposal to Miss Hogan, (ahh the power of Love). Belloc returned to France in 1891 to spend a year as a soldier in the horse artillery, after which he went to Balliol College at Oxford. He graduated with top honors in History but due to his outspoken Catholic views was denied a fellowship.

Despite his outward exuberance as a writer and individual, Belloc faced a number of personal losses —the death of his wife Elodie in 1914, his sons Louis, in World War I, and Peter, in World War II. Belloc weathered these storms with that sort of hard-headed faith he once ascribed to St. Thomas More, who had "nothing to uphold him except resolve." In 1942, however, he suffered a stroke which put an end to his literary work though he continued to live in quiet retirement for another eleven years. This redoubtable Catholic genius died in his beloved Sussex on July 16, 1953. The BBC interrupted all its programmes to announce the passing away of one of England's greatest literary figures.


Franz Kafka, has come to be one of the most influential writers of this century. He is a fixture on most college reading lists. Virtually unknown during his lifetime, the works of Kafka have since been recognized as “symbolizing modern man's anxiety-ridden and grotesque alienation in an unintelligible, hostile, or indifferent world”. Kafka came from a middle-class Jewish family and grew up in the shadow of his domineering shopkeeper father, who impressed Kafka as an awesome patriarch. The feeling of impotence, even in his rebellion, was a syndrome that became a pervasive theme in his fiction. Kafka did well in the prestigious German high school in Prague and went on to receive a law degree in 1906. This allowed him to secure a livelihood that gave him time for writing, which he regarded as ‘the essence--both blessing and curse’--of his life. He soon found a position in the semipublic Workers' Accident Insurance institution, where he remained a loyal and successful employee until--beginning in 1917-- tuberculosis forced him to take repeated sick leaves and finally, in 1922, to retire. Kafka spent half his time after 1917 in sanatoriums and health resorts, his tuberculosis of the lungs finally spreading to the larynx. He died June 3, 1924.

Kafka lived his life in emotional dependence on his parents, whom he both loved and resented. None of his largely unhappy love affairs could wean him from this inner dependence; though he longed to marry, he never did. Sexually, he apparently oscillated between an ascetic aversion to intercourse, which he called "the punishment for being together," and an attraction to prostitutes. Sex in Kafka's writings is frequently connected with dirt or guilt and treated as an attractive abomination. Nevertheless, Kafka led a fairly active social life, including acquaintance with many prominent literary and intellectual figures of his era.

None of Kafka's novels were printed during his lifetime.

He was raised in the Jewish tradition however the reality of the transcendent never appears in his writings. This tradition is noticeably missing in his work not even in an overt satirical mode. This is strange to me and reminds me of the Groucho Marx story, “A Jew and a hunchback were walking down the street and as they passed a synagogue, the Jew said, “I used to be Jewish.” And the hunchback replied, “That’s interesting, I used to be a hunchback.”

Both men came to the height of their intellectual power at the same time, in the early part of the 20th century, and both were shaped by the same world events but came to two different conclusions.

I need to tell you that I like Kafka’s books especially his short stories, it is his essentially surrealist humor that I love. His style and use of language is on the genius level. His work is as fresh today as it was 100 years ago. Yes, his work is a dark tea but very tasty.
Why do I compare these two? Because I could not help but to be reminded of Kafka’s The Trial by time I was finished the first chapter of Belloc’s Post Master General. Here in both books we have bureaucracy, alienation and perpetual consuming guilt. Each of the lead characters are caught up in a system they can not understand, and yet they accept it and want to participate in it, a system by all accounts, is insane. Belloc describes this insanity from the outside, Kafka from the inside.

Both The Post Master General and Joseph K. try to play the system to their gain, one for money and security the later to save his life. In Kafka’s world the fight is futile – wheels are already in motion and no matter who he turns to, no matter how sympathetic they may be - nothing can be done. The farther up into the system K. gets there is less and less sympathy. K. becomes less and less human to them and to himself. His first name stops being used he is only a letter, K.. The Post Master General feels the same for whoever he turns to, turns against him. He is also known more for his title than his name (Good Belloc triva question: What is The Post Masters name?). Both are mice in a world of big cats.

Both characters are given several opportunities to escape but they are welded to the system in which they live and that thought never becomes solid. In both worlds the “enemies” hide their viciousness behind a façade of excruciating politeness, it is here that the humor of both books comes through. The only rule in these worlds is that it is OK to destroy an opponent but there is no need to be rude about it.

But the Postmaster never truly gives up hope. The problem in Belloc’s world is the reality of the Fall in Kafka’s it is the denial of the Fall. Evil for Belloc is not a concept that morphs with each new epoch. For him it is not evil but the Evil One. He knows that the Evil One has an intellect and a will and that will is to deprive God of what He loves most, us. For Kafka good and evil are relative they are not personified realities.

Loss is the universal human experience and both men tackle that experience. Belloc believes in the healing process of reconciliation, redemption, and resurrection. For Kafka there is no healing process. His main character is always caught up in the swirling sucking eddy of despair filled with false hope, broken promises and dashed dreams.

I knew that K. ultimately loses for this is Kafka’s world view –nobody wins (it is what endears him to the existentialists). So I thought The Post Master would lose too. But Belloc is different, he believes in friendship and its intercessory power and he believes in Love. And finally The Post Master General is “saved” by a powerful friend who does understand the system, (he has no problem with being rude), a man who asks for no thank you or anything in return because that is what friends do for each other. It was a friendship born of shared suffering. However Belloc does include a very Kafkaesque sub plot in The Postmaster General where one character, a member of parliament, is tolerated because his eccentricities are comic relief for the “real” politicians. But he eventually commits an unforgivable slander by putting the truth in a publication. He is put on trial where the guilty verdict is a forgone conclusion his final fate is the worse kind of thing that can happen in Belloc’s world, he reduced to being a theater critic. It was a truly comic turn.

In Belloc satire is sharp in Kafka it is cutting. In Belloc’s world there is Good in Kafka’s there is only opportunity.
If you are new to Belloc’s fiction try The Bad Child's Book of Beasts or Cautionary Tales For Children and yes do read them to your children.
For another interesting battle story see, BELLOC AND JUNG: A STUDY OF CONTRASTS by Paul Likoudis

A few last notes on the battle for Joy (yea, like I’m going to get off this bus), please remember that when we were Confirmed we were anointed with the Spirit of Joy in order to live an ordinary life in an extraordinary way.

“Sister Mary Karen of the Sisters of Life gave me some advice worth sharing. She said that, since the devil can't read your mind, if you're feeling yourself under spiritual attack — sad or anxious — you should smile. The reason for this is that once you smile, the devil will think that you are receiving grace from your suffering — and that will make him flee, because that's the last thing he wants.” - Dawn Eden

“We prove we are servants of God by great fortitude in times of suffering, (2 Cor. 6:4-10). To see a Christian believe in God’s Love when sorrow befalls him gives Hope. To see Joy on the face of a Christian beset with trials and problems, gives us a new concept of Faith. To see someone crushed but serene over the death of a loved one makes us realize there is another life. No matter what kind or what degree of pain and sorrow we must endure, we are capable of witnessing to the love of Jesus.” – Mother M. Angelica

Marketing 101 with Professor Chesterton

"Professor" Chesterton? Perhaps I shouldn't title him with that word; he would shudder. But sometimes a reference to Chesterton shows up in the darndest places. A new article on refers to GKC's Manalive:
The central character in a G.K. Chesterton novel finds it so important to maintain a solid and vibrant relationship with his wife that he continuously re-enacts their courtship.

Do your customers look at your products with the same eager anticipation as they once did? Have your customers stayed "married" to you? Would you consider them still in love—or waiting it out until someone better comes along?
link to full article by by Nilofer Merchant

Kafkaesque Round-up

Today's round-up is dedicated to the legendary Czech/Jewish writer Franz Kafka, who lived a hard life in many ways and died terribly for his troubles. There is much in Kafka for our readers to admire, if they are not already doing so, and you may begin your admiration with the goodly selection provided here. Those of you able to read German will do well to note that the website's main function is to make Kafka's works available to the public in their original German manuscripts. Those wishing to hear what novelist Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita; Bend Sinister) has to say about Kafka can go here; those wishing to read a selection of Kafka's journals can go here. This latter project is particularly fun, as it contains delightful prose images like this:
"Beside me on the return trip from Raspenau to Friedland this stiff deathly man, whose beard hung down over his open mouth and who, when I asked him about a station, made a friendly turn toward me and gave me the liveliest information."
It certainly seems the sort of thing that Gilbert would notice, and of course mention. Kafka himself was not silent on the subject of Gilbert, in fact, saying, "he is so happy! I can almost believe that he has found God." Amen, Franz.

Lastly, a truly excellent Prague monument to Kafka can be seen here.


We have good and bewildering news out of Ireland, where a construction worker digging up an old bog happened to discover by pure and astonishing chance a well-preserved medieval book containing copies of some of the Psalms. The book has been dated as being 800 to 1000 years old, and is of incalculable value to any field that might conceivably have an interest in it. How it survived in the swamp for all this time is a mystery, as is what it was doing there in the first place. And, of course, the manner of its discovery is certainly fortuitous; the slighest extra effort on the workman's part in either direction could have either left the book hidden or destroyed it utterly.

The thing that really grabbed me about this story is that the book was open when it was found, and, what's more, it was open to the highly topical and relevant Psalm 83. The text of that Psalm follows, in part:
1 Keep not thou silence, O God: hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God.
2 For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult: and they that hate thee have lifted up the head.
3 They have taken crafty counsel against thy people, and consulted against thy hidden ones.
4 They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.
5 For they have consulted together with one consent: they are confederate against thee...

[. . .]

13 O my God, make them like a wheel; as the stubble before the wind.
14 As the fire burneth a wood, and as the flame setteth the mountains on fire;
15 So persecute them with thy tempest, and make them afraid with thy storm.
16 Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O LORD.
17 Let them be confounded and troubled for ever; yea, let them be put to shame, and perish:
18 That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth.
Interesting stuff. And yes, I know it's King James. I'm sorry.


Witness - if you dare! - two examples of a Catholic blogger reverting to Fundamentalist Protestantism (or... something) when the going gets tough. An improperly-shaded banner in a local Church is a sure sign of its apostasy! A traditionalist website is deceitfully ascribing gnostic-sounding quotes to John Paul Magnus! Gilbert editor Sean P. Dailey had this to say:
One of the benefits of belonging to a religion with unbending dogmas is that with those dogmas comes a surety that allows you to laugh at yourself, even if the butt of the jokes is a beloved Pope, and I bet that JPII also would find the site funny and would be perplexed by Tomko's umbrage, the source of which is nothing but damnable pride. "Angels fly because they can take themselves lightly," Chesterton wrote, while "Satan fell by the weight of his own gravity."
There's been something of a meltdown in Mark Shea's comboxes about this issue, too. People are so intense and weird, often at the same time.


The triolet contest at Enchiridion has come to an end, and it is now time to vote. Please feel free to head over there and vote for whichever submission you feel is worthwhile. If it's one that was authored by someone's whose words you're reading right now, so much the better.


Those of you wishing for a light-hearted excursion would do well to read this brief narrative (my own, as it happens) of what happens when a single agent of the medieval past comes into contact with the full force of the modern aesthetic. The answer: a riot; an understanding; a brush with celebrity (Hilary Duff!). I have struggled with whether or not the whole affair really qualifies as being "Kafkaesque" or not - indeed, I thought of it on the way home, to shake myself out of the experience, if anything - and I am still not certain that it does. It's extraordinary, certainly, but hardly mundane. As there are few things that bother one so as when someone applies the phrase "Kafkaesque" to some circumstance to which it really does not apply, my concern about this is perhaps worthwhile.

Speaking of misassigning Kafka, when I said at the beginning that this round-up was dedicated to him, I didn't mean that it was all going to be about him, but rather that it's just being done in his name as a sign of respect, or something. I should perhaps have made been more clear about this, for it's possible that many of you who have now read this far feel somewhat betrayed.

In any event, these round-ups have been something of an experiment to see how best to bring more varied content to the blog. I could easily split them up into individual posts for each topic, if this were a more favourable idea, but I must confess that I really have no conception of how popular the round-up format is in the first place, or whether the variety of its content is too varied, not varied enough, etc. I encourage you to comment on this below, if you would be so kind.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Blasphemers and God

Blasphemy would be no fun, if there was no God. Chesterton said something to that effect, and there's a lot of fun and God going around today, not to mention some tidy profits:

"An American who began her career as a journalist in Belfast, claims she is a descendant of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene and is publishing a book about it.

"Kathleen McGowan has received a seven-figure advance for her novel, "The Expected One," said the Sunday Times of London."


Bedtime Round-up

I'm pushing a mighty thick envelope even to be posting anything at all right now, so don't go into this with high expectations. It has now been thirty-six hours since I last slept (during which sleep I slept for only four hours, which was itself the first sleep after the mere two hours which I got between Friday and Saturday), and reality is beginning to reorder itself in that gentle way that it does. I only wish I had the wherewithal to write right now, because this is the sort of mental twilight in which my best material suddenly bleeds through. I've been putting together notes for a meticulously-researched reverse hagiography of a David Bowie song in short story form, but somehow this just doesn't seem like the time for it, unfortunately.


Mark Shea goes berserk, but in a good way that we can all totally dig. There's fisking and exasperation and measured restraint galore, here, and it's worth every line. The experience reminds me of a line from Maisie Ward's Gilbert biography, wherein are described some of the skeptical/socialist/etc. pamphlets and books that were left, in crumpled and note-splattered condition, lying hither and yon about the Chesterton manse. To paraphrase: "They had a refuted look to them."

"I don't think the government should listen to the church - the government should listen to the people and the people should listen to the church."
Which Archbishop said this? What brought it about? Was the response a scandalised gasp, or a rugged cheer? Well, there's only one way to find out, and that's by clicking this here link. Warning: link contains candor!


The modern grasping for the realities of the divine through ersatz mythologies continues unabated, and some familiar symbols and heroes are on their way back. There are many of a certain generation for whom the sight of this image will produce a little frisson of glee, curious and tacky though the mythology of the thing may be:

And of course, to join the ranks of The Gift of God, the Coming of Age and the Triumph of the Will comes The Lush in the Robotic Suit:

Be sure to click on each image for nicer, larger versions. If you're a fan of the dastardly Decepticons rather than the admirable Autobots, however, then the poster you'll want to see is here.


Those of you who stand rapt and shivering in the dark grace that Flannery O'Connor championed (as mentioned in a recent round-up) may wish to witness the latest photographic efforts of Gerald at Closed Cafeteria, which are considerable efforts indeed. To see the Holy Spirit Descending so triumphantly in blood, fire and shadow is truly thrilling, and is not something that we frequently get from a man taking a picture at his local beach.


To close out the links on a dolorous note, as we have been known to do, it is worth mentioning that fellow Chestertonian blogger Rod Bennett has suffered the loss of a friend of long standing, and is requesting prayers for his family and for the repose of his soul.


And finally, of course, don't forget the latest from Alan Capasso, which was technically posted yesterday, by EST standards, but is nonetheless as fresh and new as that moisture that collects on stuff outside in the morning hours sometimes.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Sin Makes You Stupid

World Population Day 2006 witnessed calls for more of the same globally destructive programs.

Here is a report on that conference
By Joseph A. D’Agostino

Few of you likely noticed, but July 11 was World Population Day 2006. On that day, the United Nations, its various agencies and allied organizations, and those in the mainstream media who cared celebrated the need for fewer human beings and more left-wing social engineering in the Third World. I never cease to be amazed at how ideology blinds people to obvious realities, such as the coming population aging crisis and the failure of sex education and condom distribution to halt the AIDS epidemic.

Just last fall, the United Nations Population Division (UNDP) released another comprehensive report on rapid aging in the First World and on an even worse upcoming trend of population aging in the Third World. That’s correct, the UNDP believes that population aging in the developing world will be even more precipitous than the aging currently afflicting Europe, Japan, Canada, and the United States, where social security and health care systems are already starting to go bankrupt though population aging is just getting started. The UNDP expects the aging predicted to begin in earnest mid-century in Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America to happen more dramatically than it is happening now in Europe, where the elderly already outnumber children—and this in countries which will have a fraction of the financial resources to deal with the problem.

Sub-Saharan Africa still has high birthrates, but unless the AIDS epidemic is brought under control there, it could suffer the same fate.

A few statistics to illustrate the trend: The proportion of those 80 or older will go from 1.3% of the world population today to 4.3% by 2050, when those under 14—the world’s future workers—will decline from 28.2% to 20.2%. The number of elderly dependents per 100 working-aging people worldwide will go from 17 today to 37 in 2050. In less developed countries, the figures are 13 today to 34 in 2050. Can the Third World afford to support almost triple the proportion of old people? But working–age people will get a break at the other end of the dependency spectrum, however. The UNDP helpfully notes that the overall dependency ratio will not triple by 2050 because there will be so few children. Of course, in the years after 2050, when those few children grow up to be the few working-age people with an ever greater number of elderl.

The UNDP puts the biggest aging crunch in the Third World as a whole (individual countries vary in their demographic profiles, of course) after 2050 only because it assumes that birthrates in all nations will stabilize around 1.85 children per woman. There is no reason to believe that and every reason to believe that, barring dramatic changes in cultural priorities and government policies, birthrates in most nations will continue their downward plunge to well below 1.85. Many nations in both developed and less developed regions have already experienced such a plunge, and until-recently-fruitful nations such as Mexico, Brazil, and even India will soon join them. China is already at 1.7, but likely to hold steady since her largely poor and rural population would prefer to have more children but is kept artificially unprocreative by force.

Replacement rate fertility in a stable society is around 2.1.

One important statistic to note: The idea that the world population experienced a dramatic boom in the proportion of young people after World War II due to decreased childhood mortality and other improved living conditions, necessitating population control measures that saved us from an unsustainable infestation of rug rats, is not true. “At the world level, the population in 1950 was relatively young, having 34% of its members under age 15 and barely 8% aged 60 or over,” says UNDP. This was despite the fertility decline of the Great Depression and the massive loss of young lives in World War II. “Between 1950 and 1975, as mortality decline accelerated, particularly in the less developed regions, both the proportion under age 15 and that aged 60 or over increased, to reach 37% and about 9% respectively. Overall, therefore, the population of the world became slightly younger from 1950 to 1975.” So the world remained in demographic balance, and major demographic changes did not take place until after 1975—after population control and feminism had begun to take firm hold in most of the world.

And now population control has lead to the specter of rapid population aging and attendant social and economic decline as fewer and fewer workers attempt to support more and more elderly, first in the First World, then globally. The UNDP urges that action be taken soon, before the crisis gets out of hand. What did those at the pinnacle of the international community in influence and funds have to say on World Population Day 2006?

“This year on World Population Day, the focus is on young people,” said Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Everything she suggested to solve the world’s problems would reduce childbearing, the UNFPA’s main goal for decades. She advocated more “family planning” and less “risks of pregnancy and childbirth.” UNFPA issued documents calling for more “gender equality”(that is, more women working instead of caring for children). UNFPA wants more education for girls because “girls who are educated are likely to marry later and to have smaller, healthier families.” In fact, one of the primary UNFPA talking points for World Population Day is, “Universal access to reproductive health, including family planning, is the starting point for a better future for the 1.5 billion young people (ages 10 to 24)who live in developing countries.”

Where is the recognition of population aging? Where is the encouragement for people in countries with falling birthrates to have more children to avert the coming crisis? No where. Hopefully, before it is too late, the warnings of the UNDP and others will eventually penetrate into the elite circles where ideology and policies are made.

Joseph A. D'Agostino is Vice President for Communications at thePopulation Research Institute.

To subscribe to the Weekly Briefing, go to:
The pro-life Population Research Institute is dedicated to ending human rights abuses committed in the name of "family planning," and to ending counter-productive social and economic paradigms premised on the myth of "overpopulation."

('Sin makes you stupid' is a phrase I picked up from Mark Shea)

Brief Round-up

I just got back from my weekend vacation, and things are not good. I got maybe six hours of sleep since Friday, and still have to work a shift at the office this afternoon before I can reasonably go to bed (and, I assure you, I will be doing just that). I'm in something of a hurry, so this round-up is going to be brief, as the title suggests, and possibly not as interesting as I should like it to be.

In breaking and utterly shocking news, a "progressive Catholic" has been given an inch, and, not satisfied even with the foot that would typically follow, is now stolidly working her way up the entire leg. The new Theology Chair of the University of Loyola went on record with some profoundly stultifying remarks, flying in the face of nature, the Church, and common sense. Not even condescending to admit that she is herself a fringe-inhabiting oddity, she went on to affirm her belief that the Church will eventually fall into line with her own way of thinking.

And, actually, that's all I have time for. I'll mention briefly that there's a rumour from the official ACS blog that an annotated edition of The Everlasting Man is in the works. Be sure to head on over there for the discussion.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Chesterton vs. Gasset: the battle for Joy part 2

My journey, in the battle for Joy was typical, you know, from the Catholic Church to the Marx Brothers to Ionesco and the absurdists to Sartre and the existentialists then to metaphysics to phenomenology all with a generous sprinkling of Zen and finally home to the Catholic Church. I knew Joy was out there and my job was to find it and then hold on to it in the face of monstrous opposition. It is a battle worth fighting for the rewards are great and to lose is to go insane. What follows is a battle story, not mine, but of two intellectual giants.
Philosophy is the handmaiden of Theology. A handmaid serves the master and brings others to Him, (Luke 1:38). To go no farther than the handmaid is loss. GKC went farther and found the Joy we all seek – Ortega y Gasset wooed only the handmaid and found desperation.

Gasset was a contemporary of Chesterton and among the philosophers influencing modern culture none has been so widely acclaimed by Spanish speaking people as Ortega y Gasset. However outside that world few have heard of this prolific writer. On many web sites dedicated to him the familiar phrase “Who is this guy and why haven’t I heard of him?” pops up.

Unlike GKC, Gasset began as a Catholic and ended up where GKC began. Gasset found a truth in Nietzche where as Chesterton found only folly. Both battled for the Joy in the truth: GKC found it - Gasset did not.

I came across Gasset through my study in aesthetics. His book Some Lessons on Metaphysics, transcribed from his lectures, is wonderful. He also wrote extensively on aesthetics based on metaphysics and phenomenology many of which are right on the mark. His writing style is poetic, lines like “The deep black sky filled it self with yellow, restless stars quivering like the heartbeats of an infant.” appealed to me as an artist and writer. I believe it is a turn of phrase that GKC would appreciate.

The problem of Truth.

GKC came to realize that the ultimate reality is God and man’s relation to Him through the Cross. It is what keeps us sane it is the balance of Courage, Joy and Suffering. A working definition of insanity is someone who is out of touch with reality. A denial of God (reality) is insane. GKC mentions how this insanity finally overcame Nietzche (Furor outlines that here) it is unfortunately the same insanity that overcame Gasset.

Both GKC and Gasset struggled with the three big questions; Where does man come from?, Where is he going?, and What is the meaning of life?. GKC wrote about part of this journey in Orthodoxy. He finds the Church has the answers to these questions and has had for 2,000 years. He found it to be true through faith and reason – two wings on the same bird.

Gasset turned from the Church to Kant, Kierkequard, Husserl, Heidegger and heeded Nietzche’s antinationalistic message: ‘Loyalty to the earth. Life the highest value. Desire for heroic and terrifying experience. Super charging of trivial and bourgeois activity by living dangerously. Faith in force and instinct.’ In other words Gasset became an existentialist.

The problem of existential analysis is it cannot of itself judge values. It is unable afford a solid base for ethics. The existential theory about the nature of being revolves around two poles: The Ego – The World, one reality: human existence. GKC and Lewis more than once mention the insanity of “the self made man” or the “he knows himself” syndrome. “The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.” (GKC)

Rather than raise his eyes to the transcendent heights like Chesterton, Gasset and the existentialists suicidally cast themselves into the arms of nothingness. “We are given birth a straddle a grave.” (J.P.Sartre). Nothingness was to be preferred to God! Also in the words of Landsberg, “ Paradoxical mystery of extreme cruelty.” In other words the existentialists could not get their heads around the mystery of suffering and the idea of redemptive suffering was beyond the pale to them.

This thought process lead to today’s relativism. Gasset says “Matter itself is an idea.” There exists no immutable and unique reality. “There are as many realities as there are points of view.” This phrase contains the germ of the relativistic doctrine, which will be found completely developed in Gasset’s Modern Theme, and this relativism manifests itself as the inevitable product of decadent idealism. This concept is what Chesterton fought against then and it is still what Pope Benedict XVI is fighting today.

Gasset rejects religion in the name of clarity where as GKC embraced religion in the name of clarity. Mystery to Gasset is, “The luxury of mental obscurity.” To GKC mystery is Joy. To be consistent Gasset would also have to renounce scientific and philosophical speculation as well. But the insane work from an interior logic devoid of truth and joy. ”To the insane man his insanity is quite prosaic, because it is quite true. A man who thinks himself a chicken is to himself as ordinary as a chicken…Oddities do not strike odd people. This is why ordinary people have a much more exciting time; while odd people are always complaining of the dullness of life.” (GKC). Gasset says, “The enigma of life is insoluble.” That reality is an undecipherable enigma. GKC believes that the mystery of life is not to be solved but embraced with love and joy and that reality is the Cross. Jump in, the water is fine.

This is the battle for Joy; the choice between the blessing and the curse. Gasset and Chesterton both came to the same cross road. GKC choose the blessing Gasset did not. From this absence of God all of Gasset’s errors spring as from a fountain. Separated from the absolute Being, man is submerged in subjective immanence. Pride incites him to establish himself as God, autonomous and creative. Gasset’s metaphysics yields to the enslaving supremacy of the sensible and instinctive. Morality, once split from religion, loses its force and degenerates into elegant conventionalism, behind which immorality is concealed.

Gasset’s writings are similar to GKC’s just in that they are original; show delicate erudition, talent and elegant grace. Only the transcendental question, the decisive and most necessary subject for man, finds Gasset uncomprehending and without interest. This absence of God constitutes the unconfessed and ultimate tragedy of Ortega y Gasset. In one of his last essays he demonstrates this pathetic eloquence.

The involved Ortegaian thought is revealed as a sort of desperate compensation for his lost faith. Where as Chesterton continued his life adventure securing more and more Joy and Courage. It is why he uses phrases like “of course”, “practical as potatoes” and “just plain common sense after all.” Sorry Merton, GKC never had to hide behind smoke and mirrors. He stood in the light and the darkness hates the light, fights the light and fears the light.

As though obsessed, Gasset re-echoes the theme of modern man, who, having lost his faith in God and in reason, finds nothing else on which to hold in his shipwreck except disillusioned living. “For philosophy to be born,” says Gasset, “it is necessary that existence, in the form of pure tradition, evaporate, that man cease to belive in the faith of his fathers…As pure tradition was a substitute for the instincts lost by civilization, so philosophy is a substitute for shattered tradtion.” What awful tragedy is glimpsed behind the apparent serenity of Gasset’s words. By his own admission philosophy for Gasset is a balm which lessons the pain of the frightful wound opened by his incredulity, an impassioned attempt to console himself for his loss of God and a wordy covoluted and ultimately ineffective screen to hide suffering. Even to this extent it is impossible for man to precind from that absolute reality! “The insane explanation is quite as complete as the sane one, but it is not so large.” (GKC)

To see about one who knows about courage and suffering and won the battle of joy see the story about Immaculée Ilibagiza

To read a beautiful eulogy of someone who lost the battle go here

Public TV That Got Me Thinking

My kids are yelling in the background, so forgive me if this is totally inarticulate......

A couple days ago, I watched a special on Public TV dealing with communication of ideas through images. Although that sounds rather drab, the program featured cultures throughout history and examined their ways of communicating ideas and passing on traditions. There were examinations of Greek Tragedy, Roman bas-reliefs, but what struck me the most was the segment on the Aborigines of Australia.

The Aborigines most likely have the oldest continuing culture of any group in the world today. As the documentary unfolded, the audience was shown cave paintings dating back thousands of years. Amazingly, these cave pictures are nearly identical to the forms found in contemporary Aboriginal art. Much like Byzantine Icons, the pictures are not a series of narrative illustrations, but rather each individual drawing contains layers of meanings derived from its form, decoration, and position. In order to grasp the full meaning of the drawings, one needs to have an elder interpret it and tell the entire story.

There was another aspect to this entire scene, which should raise some interesting points. The pictures and the stories were incomplete outside of a story-telling ritual. The old and young Aboriginals would gather at night around the paintings, and amidst drums, the stories and myths were told through chant.

To me, the liturgical overtones in this scene were powerful. So many basic truths easily forgotten -- The powerful roles played by art, beauty, and sacred space are wound into our beings in a very fundamental way. The Aboriginals have an unbroken lineage going back to the dawn of language itself, yet (this had to be coming) within the Catholic Church we have suffered a forty year cataclysm in catechetics, liturgy, and passing on the Faith itself.

This whole scene reminded me of some bits and pieces of Chesterton. The themes and images of The Everlasting Man are evoked from this primitive scene. As a matter of fact, I distinctly remember GKC mentioning the Aboriginal myth of the great flood. A giant frog had swallowed the waters, and refused to spit them out. All of the animals went to ask the frog to relent and failed until the eel arrived. The eel was comical, tumbling and spinning around out of water, and the frog laughed and spewed forth the waters, causing the flood. If I remember correctly, the Aboriginals are also monotheistic.

Our culture has designed focus groups, multimedia presentations, tutors, standardized testing, no child left behind, and graduate studies departments bursting at the seams to devise new and better ways to teach children. The fact that the most proven and long lasting means of teaching can be observed as being........liturgy........should be a sobering thought.

A clerihew

St. Francis of Assisi
crossed deserts and the sea, see,
to convert the sultan.
He failed, but did inspire Chesterton.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Scrutinous Round-up

Matthew Lickona provides a short soliloquy that comes down hard on the Disney Girls. We've had the arguments before; pleasant (often saccharine, we could say) family entertainment with leading ladies with the dimensions of Vargas girls, new films taking care to add more and more diversity to this stable of animated beauties, etc. The catch? For Lickona, it's not about looks; no, it's their philosophy he condemns. They exhibit almost to a woman a yearning to break free from the vile prison of domesticity and plainness, deriding the simple and affirming the extravagant.

Belle sings it: "Every day/Like the one before." The same thing can happen in a castle. Routine is a part of life. Family is a part of life. Someone like Chesterton would even argue that they are good parts of life, that ordinary life, even in the midst of its routine, is fraught with romance and drama, and not to be fled.

Moving on, Gerald Augustinus at Closed Cafeteria brings us delightful images of an Austrian Church, which is described as what a church would look like if it had been built for humans by hobbits. What's more, the Church is in the name of St. Barbara, who is a matter of some interest, of course, to many readers of this blog. He also delivers more photographs from Pope Benedict XVI's vacation, including one of the Holy Father encountering a vision of St. Bernard.
Of great interest to some of our readers will be this site, courtesy of the University of Virginia Library, containing the complete text of Max Beerbohm's 1911 classic, Zuleika Dobson. As much as the Incomparable Max is now something of a minor star in the liberal arts constellation, there is little you could do with your time that would be more enriching than reading Zuleika.

"You want to be rid of me?" asked Zuleika, when the girl was gone.

"I have no wish to be rude; but -- since you force me to say it -- yes."

"Then take me," she cried, throwing back her arms, "and throw me out of the window."

He smiled coldly.

"You think I don't mean it? You think I would struggle? Try me." She let herself droop side-ways, in an attitude limp and portable. "Try me," she repeated.

"All this is very well conceived, no doubt," said he, "and well executed. But it happens to be otiose."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean you may set your mind at rest. I am not going to back out of my promise."
What promise? Who is the gentleman who's speaking? All this and more if you simply read the book. Anyhow, that's all I have time for right now, for I am on vacation. Have a good weekend.


Sir Humphrey Davy
Abominated gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.

This simple silly verse is commonly considered the first clerihew, a poetic form named for its creator, Edmund Clerihew Bentley. He was a school friend of GKC, who also wrote some clerihews, and provided illustrations for some of Bentley’s (like the one above.) Bentley allegedly came up with the idea for the biographical poems while bored at school. Whatever the case, he later published a book of them (Biography for Beginners) with illustrations by Chesterton.

The form of the poem is simple:

They are four lines long.
The first and second lines rhyme with each other, and the third and fourth lines rhyme with each other.
The first line names a person, and the second line ends with something that rhymes with the name of the person. (In some cases, the person’s name comes at the end of the second line, in which case the first line rhymes with the name.)
The lines can vary in length, they just have to rhyme.
A clerihew should be funny.

That’s about it.

Oh, and of course, even Bentley broke the person rule occasionally. Here’s an example (with another Chesterton illustration.)

The art of Biography
Is different from Geography.
Geography is about maps,
But Biography is about chaps.

The clerihew is beloved by Chestertonians. There is a regular column about them in Gilbert magazine, and the annual Chesterton Conference includes a clerihew contest.

As noted earlier, Chesterton’s connection with clerihew’s goes beyond simply illustrating them for Bentely: He wrote some himself.

Three that are attributed to GKC are:

The novels of Jane Austen
Are the ones to get lost in.
I wonder if Labby
Has read Northanger Abbey

(Labby was an English journalist.)

Whenever William Cobbett
Saw a hen-roost, he would rob it.
He posed as a British Farmer,
But knew nothing about Karma.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Is now a buried one.
He was not a Goth, much less a Vandal,
As he proved by writing The School for Scandal.

Bentley is the most famous of the clerihew writers. W.H Auden also published a book of them (Academic Graffiti).

Henry Adams
Was mortally afraid of Madams:
In a disorderly house
He sat quiet as a mouse.

Oscar Wilde
Was greatly beguiled,
When into the Café Royal walked Bosie
Wearing a tea-cosy.

More recently, Pulitzer Prize winning poet Henry Taylor published a collection of Clerihews called Brief Candles, 101 Clerihews. Here’s two of his:

Thomas Warton
never met Dolly Parton.
It made him quite surly
to have been born too early

Alexander Graham Bell
has shuffled off this mobile cell.
He’s not talking any more
But he has a lot to answer for.

But getting back to the Bentley, here’s a few more:

Sir Christopher Wren
Said, 'I am going to dine with some men.
If anyone calls
Say I am designing St. Paul's.'

John Stuart Mill,
By a mighty effort of will,
Overcame his natural bonhomie
And wrote 'Principles of Economy.'

Edward the Confessor
Slept under the dresser.
When that began to pall,
He slept in the hall.

Chapman & Hall
Swore not at all.
Mr Chapman's yea was yea,
And Mr Hall's nay was nay.

There’s even a Mystery Clerihew site - - (appropriate, because Bentley’s greatest fame came from his mystery book, Trent’s Last Case) where I came across the following:

Father Brown
Gained wide renown.
Not for prayerbooks or hyminals,
But for collaring criminals.

And here’s a final Bentley, with a GKC illustration:

What I like about Clive
Is that he is no longer alive.
There is a great deal to be said
For being dead.

Succulent Round-up

As a follow-up to the scandalous utterances (and motions) of one Charlotte Church, it is with a satisfied nod that I report to you that Ignatius Press has prudently decided to drop all products of theirs which may involve Miss Church in some way, and offers prayers for the salvation of her soul and the calming down of her body. More aggrieved persons have begun a campaign to wipe from human memory the fact that Miss Church once performed for John Paul Magnus.

In other Ignatius news, Insight Scoop is also reporting that Pope Benedict XVI is hard at work on a new book about the theology of the person of Christ - a book which he initially left off writing upon his elevation to the station of Pope - as well as a new encyclical. This latter work will be of great interest to fans of Chesterton and Belloc, for it is slated to be broadly concerned with human labour. Could we be seeing an encyclical to join the exalted ranks of the likes of Rerum Novarum and Laborem Exercens? If it's of similar quality to Deus Caritas Est, I think we'll all have reason to be glad.

Proving in a novel way that they are the pricks against which the devil must kick, the House voted 349-74 yesterday to preserve the Mt. Soledad war memorial by transferring the title deed thereto to the Federal Government, and thereafter having the site be administered by the Department of Defense. The enormous off-white cross has been the subject of almost twenty years of legal challenges on behalf of one little atheist and his frustrated cronies, who were last seen weeping like heartbroken schoolgirls over a meal of tapwater and Plain Leavened Wafers.

And finally we'll close with something that's a bit of a tradition for me, as far as space-fillers go: a Gustave Doré plate. Be sure to click on it for a version of the same image enlarged almost the point of vulgarity.

The image is a plate from Gustave Doré's illustrated edition of Ariosto's Orlando Furioso. Part of the appeal that Doré has always had for me is his ability to render things in a technically realistic manner, and yet still manage to create an air of almost mystical wonder to virtually anything he depicts. When I think to myself of the concept of a procession of the Knights of Europe passing some eastern potentate, the image above is almost exactly how I would imagine it, and almost exactly how I feel Chesterton, for example, might have described it. In any event, if you've never seen any Doré before, you have many happy hours ahead of you. If you have, however, then you are already blessed.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Furor is doing a great job of keeping the blog active during this summer heat wave. I've been detained with sundry drinking matters and writing deadlines. In the meantime, I offer this little anecdote:

Probably the worst pun in the history of the English language was penned in July of 1944 by the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas when he wrote, "We were two months near Beaconsfield, where Chesterton sat on his R.C." [The Collected Letters, New York: Macmillan, 1985, p. 517]

Infamous Round-up

From the scathing pen of ages past springs a wonderful account from St. John of Damascus of the pseudo-Arian heresy of the false prophet "Mamed;" what we would today call Islam. It was at the point of this reference to Mahamot and the Koran, with particular regard to the final sentence, that I knew that here indeed is a true gem:
And he says this, that when Christ went up into the heavens, God questioned him, saying, “O Jesus, did you say that ‘I am the Son of God and God’?” And Jesus, they say, answered, “Have mercy on me, O Lord; you know that I did not say (that), nor am I too proud to be your servant, but men who have turned aside wrote that I said this word and lied about me, and are wandering.” And God, they say, answered him, “I know that you did not say this word.”And many other astonishing sayings in this same writing, worthy of laughter, he boasts God sent down to him.
There is no sugar-coating here, I say to you. This was an age before sugar. Many skeptics and anti-clericals look back at the Early Fathers as "jerks," I suppose we could say, for the heinous crime of daring to dismiss heresy as the foolishness that it is. Irenaeus is moved to open and mocking satire at one point in his dealings with the claims of the old heresiarchs; who could expect less from John of Damascus?

To follow up on Monday's link to the myth of religious tolerance we bring you the very last word in brazen, name-taking majesty, courtesy of the marvelous Dorothy Sayers:
"In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair, the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die."
We offer a hat-tip to Kathy Shaidle for that one. What's more, if your tolerance for tolerance is still rather high, feast your eyes upon this monstrous dialogue in the old high style, in which Silvius goes to bat for the Big T, and is consequently eviscerated by the noble Memnon. As always, of course, it is heavily informed by Gilbert.
We must stop worrying about whether or not our actions hurt other people, and start worrying about whether or not those actions help other people. To predicate one's life on merely avoiding harm to others is not as selfish as one could be, but is selfish nonetheless. It is no longer sufficient for real men to concentrate on merely not taking; they must now turn to actually giving.
And finally, we hope you will join Nancy Brown at the American Chesterton Society's Blog in offering prayers for young Lucy - the daughter of a member of the Gilbert staff - who has fallen seriously ill. Holy Innocents, pray for her.