Friday, September 29, 2006

.........Defend us in battle....

The above link is to a GKC poem, "To St. Michael in Time of Peace." To those of you who to your shame do not know the above picture, it is Mont St Michel in France. Truly one of the wonders of Christendom, at high tide the old abbey is surrounded by the sea.

"Michael, Michael: Michael of the Morning,
Michael of the Army of the Lord,
Stiffen thou the hand upon the still sword, Michael,
Folded and shut upon the sheathed sword, Michael,
Under the fullness of the white robes falling,
Gird us with the secret of the sword."
- from GKC To Michael in Time of Peace
St. Michael is one of my favorite saints. My father was born on this day, he would have been 78 today. My son has Michael for a middle name in his honor.
I think St. Michael is a very good individual to focus our thoughts around today. The last couple weeks have seen so many events of significance. The Moslems do honor St. Michael, Mishaal(?) in the Koranic tradition, although St. Gabriel figures more prominently. Even though I have done two deployments in the Islamic world and been in the war zones, I do see the possibility of certain individuals and elements in that community as allies in the "other" culture war. Take the following example as food for thought. In Iraq, our unit had a cadre of Kuwaiti interpreters who traveled with us and we rotated them through our missions. They also lived with us at our camp, and interestingly enough, the group with whom they felt the most comfortable interacting with were the more devout Christian soldiers. This may immediately seem like a dichotomy, but there was a shared value system up to a point. Devotion to duty and professionalism seem to be highest among religious soldiers, and this is something the Kuwaitis took seriously. Many soldiers are involved in porn in these situations, add to this the tension created by the presence of female soldiers, and it should be easy to see how these two groups in this arrangement actually bonded together as gentlemen and professionals.
The war on terror, and clash of civilizations has to have a definable end state, or at least a detente. The situation in which I found myself modeled this in many ways. We differed on theology and other obvious items, but found enormous common ground in the areas of personal morality and honorable living. On a societal scale, if the West can yield in the area of sexual revolution values and militant secularity I believe there can be a happy co-existence with the Islamic World, if they yield on the violence and rhetoric.

I know that is an enormous understatement, school books in Egypt and the Palestinian territory teach revisionist history and incite extremism. Instead of true soul deepening education, what is provided in so many of these states is mere indoctrination to create a new generation of fighters. The fringes of the Islamic world, Indonesia, Nigeria, and the Phillipenes all show there own brand of radicalism. The nations occupying the center of the culture, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, and Iraq are obviously beset with problems of many types.
As Pope Benedict XVI said, (as did Chesterton) modern thought has split into different branches. There is only one angle, however, by which a structure stands and an infinite number by which it falls. The secular West and the Islamic world are suffering from this misalignment. In a way, what the Pope is asking for, echoing CS Lewis, is a Mere Reasonableness.
This is a bit unusual mix of thoughts to bring together under the inspiration of St. Michael. It seems in our age, "Who is like God," would be taken as a statement of agnosticism instead of a battle cry of humility. Peter Kreeft has an excellent talk on his website about Angelic nature and intelligence. For as esoteric as that sounds, there are some wonderful points there. Angelic intelligence is seen to be above ours, yet the brightest example given to us from scripture in this area says "Who is like God?" A true invocation to humility and making the same point as Regensberg about reason, and the faith which it informs and inspires.

An Important Appeal: Sept. 29 to Oct. 7

How weak we are. But - if we choose - we have available the greatest power in the Universe: prayer. We must turn to prayer in order to deal with the difficulties of our world.

Let us, then, make a special novena, to consist of the mysteries of our Lord's Passion and Death, contemplated by means of the Rosary, said for the nine days beginning on St. Michael (September 29) and completing on Our Lady of the Rosary, the anniversary of Lepanto (October 7). Let us include daily Mass if possible...
from Dr. Thursday's Blogg [sic] "GKC's Favourite"

The Starting Point

This is from a recent Zenit interview with Fr Anthony Percy, author of Theology of the Body Made Simple:
Q: Some say that since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the Church has been challenged in a way it has never been before to defend its teachings on sexuality. In what way?

Father Percy: Most cultural commentators would agree that the sexual revolution began in the 1920s. In fact, G.K. Chesterton said of the sexual revolution that there was "more madness coming out of Manhattan than there was out of Moscow!"

He perceived that the next heresy the Church would have to deal with would be of a sexual nature. We, now living in the 21st century, surely have no problems in recognizing the immense challenge before us.

But "today" is our starting point and not "yesterday" or "tomorrow" -- what might have been or what might be. And the starting point -- or so it seems to me -- is this wonderfully intriguing and inviting teaching called the theology of the body.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Rochester Chestertonians meet

Last Thursday was the first meeting since May of the Rochester Chesterton group.

It’s one of some 22 local Chesterton groups in the U.S. listed by the American Chesterton Society. Maybe there are more out there that are just not officially listed yet.

I’m lucky enough to live near one. I had heard of it years ago, then stumbled across it again last spring and attended one meeting then.

There were about 20 people at the meeting – and some of the regulars were not there. It was largely male, but a few women were present. I hope more show up.

The Rochester Chestertonians are beginning a group reading of Orthodoxy – we made it through the first two chapters at the meeting.

I am a fan of Chesterton, but I am by no means an expert. I was impressed by the analysis that bounced around the room – with observations about history, philosophy, literature, the media, education, and more. It was a lively discussion (but not as lively as the picture above!).

I was humbled by the wisdom on display – all shared with good humor.

The meeting also included a recap of some of the talks at the Chesterton Conference last June. The recap reminded me of how jealous I am of people who can go to the conference. (Alas, it’s held at a time of the year when I, a teacher, simply can’t get free.)

My only complaint about last Thursday’s meeting: There were coffee and sweets available, but this is a Chesterton Society – where were the beer, ale and wine?!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

GK: Socialite

Any description of the literary dinner parties of Edwardian London are likely to mention G. K. Chesterton. An example may be found in Miranda Seymour's biography of the aristocratic Ottoline Morrell, who is chiefly remembered for her love affair with Bertrand Russell, and also as an irrepressible hostess to appreciative writers, painters, and musicians. The Chestertons are mentioned among the guests in 1905, along with, among many others, Hilaire Belloc. [Ottoline Morrell, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1992, p. 75]

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

In The Key Of J

“Art never hurt anybody.” was the slogan that was bantered about when I was in college. We had it printed on shirts and ball caps, we believed it. And I still believed it until two years ago when I heard about the incident concerning Theo Van Gogh, Vincent’s great-grand-nephew. Then of course there was the Dutch cartoons maybe not high art but these drawings got people killed. Both of which were foreshadowed by the Salman Rushie affair. “I would like to inform all the intrepid Muslims in the world. . . that the author of the book titled The Satanic Verses, which has been compiled, printed, and published in opposition to Islam, the Prophet, and the Koran, as well as those publishers who were aware of its contents, have been declared madhur el dam ["those whose blood must be shed"]. I call on all zealous Muslims to execute them quickly, wherever they find them, so that no one will dare to insult Islam again. . . .” the Ayatollah Khomeini

Today I heard on NPR that a German Opera house Shelved Mozart’s Idomeneo Due to anti Muslim Content. (listen here)
“One of the leading opera houses in Germany has cancelled a production because a scene that might offend Muslims could create a security threat. The production of the opera Idomeneo features a scene in which a character presents the severed heads of religious leaders -- including Poseidon, Jesus, the Buddha and Muhammad. The Deutsche Oper in Berlin said police had warned that staging the production could pose a security risk to the opera house, its employees and patrons.” The interesting thing is that scene was not in the original Mozart version but tacked on by a more recent director. Instead of cutting the scene the Opera was canceled. They were rightly afraid for the lives of the cast and audience.

As a director I would have cut the scene because it is sledge hammer aesthetic in the first place and my ego is not yet so large that I think I can make Mozart better. Also by cutting that scene people stay employed and audiences get to hear great music with grandiose visuals. Most likely though it was too late to pull the scene because the rumor still lingers, like rumors do, that Mohammad was and is insulted because the scene is still in the minds of the Opera house staff. The offence does not have to be made tangible only thought of to be the cause of jihad. So they are going to mount the Marriage of Figaro instead, that's safe.

It seems that today not only can art hurt you it can get you killed.

Chesterton Gallery

Not sure how I missed this last week from Terry Teachout's blog:

Readers interested in the works of G.K. Chesterton will remember that he owned a toy theater about which he wrote on many occasions. The Catholic Lending Library of Hartford is deaccessioning fifteen drawings made by Chesterton (who was also a talented artist) for use in this theater.

Here’s the catalogue listing from the Allinson Gallery:

Gilbert Keith Chesterton. 1874-1936. Original Drawings for his Children's Theatre.

Figures in ink and watercolor. Some cut out with tabs on the back to enable the figures to be moved in a theatre. This is an exceptionally rare group of drawings, possibly unique. $10,000 the group.

Letter to Father Kelly from Dorothy E. Collins dated August 3, 1944 stating that the works are by Chesterton and that she is sending them to Father Kelly for The Catholic Lending Library of Hartford, CT.

1. The Knight and the Jester (title on the back). 12 x 14 1/8. 2. The Hero (title on the back). 12 x 8 1/2. 3. Counsellor (title on the back). 13 1/4 x 9 1/2. 4. Journalist (title on the back). 13 1/4 x 9 1/4. 5. [Male Figure in Long Stockings and a Long Pointed Cap Holding a Book]. 13 1/4 x 9 1/2. 6. King's Physician (title on the back). 13 1/8 x 9 1/4. 7. Chinaman (title on the back). 13 5/8 x 9 3/4. 8. [Four Figures — four panels]. 15 5/8 x 25. 9. Procession (title on the back). 12 x 15. 10. Devils. Drawn on paper, not cardboard. 13 3/4 x 17 3/4. 11. [Viking]. 9 1/8 x 3 5/8. 12. [Knights on Horseback]. 6 3/8 x 12 1/8. 13. [The Wood Cutter]. 12 3/4 x 6 1/8. 14. [Soldier, Courtier, Man with a Moustache]. 15. Walter Tittle.

If you know anything about Chesterton, you won’t need me to tell you that this collection of drawings is an extraordinary rarity that will be of the highest possible interest to collectors and scholars.

I have nothing to do with this sale, but I purchased an etching from the Allinson Gallery a couple of years ago and was completely satisfied with the transaction.

To contact the gallery, go here.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Movies pt. II

Last time I looked at a recent film which was an animated musical epic; this time, let's try something different.

John Ford is best known for his astonishing prowess in the Western genre, bringing us such classics as Stagecoach, The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. In a career spanning some seventy years, Ford directed no fewer than one hundred and forty-five films, many of them starring John Wayne and almost of all of them successful. Among such luminaries as Liberty Valance and co., however, stands a remarkably different film. We might almost call it unique, both in terms of Ford's directorship and in terms of film in general. It was John Wayne's favourite film, and the first film Republic Pictures ever released to be nominated for an Academy Award; the only to be nominated for Best Picture. That film was The Quiet Man, released in 1952 after a long, hard haul.

Ford had initially purchased the rights to the story in 1933 for the princely sum of $10, having been enchanted by its simultaneous subtlety and simplicity. His efforts to finally bring it to the screen where stymied by disinterested production companies, scheduling issues, and the small matter of a world war. Production only began after a deal was reached with Republic, who only agreed to finance the picture on the condition that Ford direct a western for them first, in which Ford's Quiet Man stars - John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara - had to appear. The result of this bargain is the also-excellent Rio Grande (1950), a film unusual (at the time) for its more introspective approach to the genre.

The story of The Quiet Man is, as I suggested, both simple and complex. Overtly, it's the tale of a man trying to start over. More specifically, however, it is broadly concerned with all things under the sun.

Sean Thornton (Wayne) is an Irish-American boxer who, after accidently killing an opponent in the ring, flees back to the Irish hamlet of his birth to escape his old life. He is welcomed more or less enthusiastically by the locals, who (characteristically) remember his parents fondly, but two residents stand out: the ravishing Mary-Kate Danaher (O'Hara) and her loutish brother, the squire Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen). Sparks between Sean and Mary-Kate begin to fly almost immediately, and before long they're engaged to be wed - by Will won't turn over the proper dowry. What follows (and precedes, really) is a film any Chestertonian can get behind - an intense and heartfelt appraisal of the roles of man and wife, the question of what a man should be willing to fight for, and just what it means to own private property.

The Quiet Man is broadly a comedy, though it is a dramatic and thoughtful one. The issue of the oppression of woman vs. the proper submission of a wife to her husband is brilliantly played out by Sean, Mary-Kate and Will, as is the question of just how seemingly insuperable differences are to be reconciled. Apart from the tension of the main plot, several subplots involving all sorts of interesting domestic matters - economic, historical, religious - unfold with the help of the town's eccentric denizens. The most memorable of these subplots is the ongoing problem of the Protestant Reverend Playfair's diminishing flock, most of whom have been lured away, as it were, by the Whore of Babylon. In a brilliant and delightful turn, during a visit by Playfair's superior to see if he should be recalled, the Catholic Fr. Peter Lonergan gathers his parishoners along the road, and, buttoning up his jacket to hide his collar, tells the assembled townsfolk, "when the Reverend Mr. Playfair, good man that he is, comes down, I want us all to cheer like Protestants." Of course they do, and Playfair is allowed to stay.

More generally, however, the film is replete with many of the things that gladden the Chestertonian heart: good neighbours, good drink, and plenty of singing. There are horse races and thunderstorms, farming and train stations. And of course, at the center of all creation, there is the Inn. It should also come as no surprise that the film has a happy ending, even if it is a fantastic one, and it is all the happier in that it is resolved without loss being suffered by any party. What began as a battle between good and evil (or, perhaps, between resolve and stubborness) has ended not in defeat, but rather in friendship. It's rare in a film, and is highly refreshing.

And of course, all of this takes place against the uniformly gorgeous backdrop of Ireland at its finest, both in town and country. The Quiet Man is a feast for the eyes even apart from its other merits, and has quite a reputation among residents of the area in which it was filmed even today, as the region remains a popular destination for cinematically-minded tourists.

The Quiet Man has been criticised for being relentlessly cheerful and unrealistic, turning a blind eye to the true nature of the problems it purports to address while simply ignoring the problems it doesn't. I can't imagine what the point of art really is if people are actually complaining about this. As a limited and fantastic perspective on certain ancient questions, The Quiet Man is a success. As a comprehensive, documentary-like statement on the Real Problems of Modern Ireland, however, it's an unmitigated failure, and I, for one, am glad of it. It delights, and does not offend. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Taking A Stand

Fr. Tom Euteneuer (president of Human Life International) made a strong stand for the Pope the other day and mentioned our friends Chesterton and Belloc, see it here

Friday, September 22, 2006

Chesterton on MTV

Chesterton on MTV? ... well, in their movie news; not for any acting, nor for a Fr Brown movie, nor for any play that he wrote.  But he was quoted in a movie review by Kurt Loder of "The Science of Sleep":
Watching the movie brings to mind the novelist G.K. Chesterton's observation that art requires limitation: "The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame." Lacking any real grounding limitation, "The Science of Sleep" drifts away into woozy inconsequence.
-- 'The Science Of Sleep': Zzzz ..., By Kurt Loder

Here is the quotation in bit more context:
Has not every one noticed how sweet and startling any landscape looks when seen through an arch?  This strong, square shape, this shutting off of everything else is not only an assistance to beauty; it is the essential of beauty. The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame.
-- G.K. Chesterton. "The Toy Theatre" in Tremendous Trifles, 1909.

Beerbohm Made the Sports Page

Max Beerbohm made the sports page in Louisville, Kentucky:

Maybe you've heard of an old Max Beerbohm story called "The Happy Hypocrite" about a less-than-appealing Southeastern Conference cellar dweller of a man who falls in love with a pious woman and wears the mask of a saint to get her to love him. After they're married, he's confronted to remove the mask, but when he does, his own face has changed to that of a saint.

The Wildcats aren't likely to be sporting the real face of an SEC contender when they roll into the Swamp to face No. 5-ranked Florida tomorrow night. But they are sporting something they haven't had since gas was 95 cents a gallon -- a 1-0 record in SEC play, thanks to a win over Mississippi last Saturday.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Sand Writer

As a man who loves Chesterton very much, and reads him every day, I remind myself occasionally not to idolize any writer; but worship only the writer who wrote in the sand, and make the Gospels the writing I read most regularly.

Maybe GKC influenced this thought. Today, the feast of St Matthew, gives us this quotation from Chesterton Day by Day:
THE abyss between Christ and all His modern interpreters is that we have no record that He ever wrote a word, except with His finger in the sand. The whole is the history of one continuous and sublime conversation. It was not for any pompous proclamation, it was not for any elaborate output of printed volumes; it was for a few splendid and idle words that the cross was set up on Calvary and the earth gaped, and the sun was darkened at noonday.

(Chesterton, Twelve Types)

Ralph Wood - audio

An interview with Dr Ralph Wood is available at (free).
Ralph C. Wood, University Professor of Theology and Literature at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, holds B.A. and M.A. degrees from Texas A&M University-Commerce, as well as M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Chicago. At Baylor he teaches in the departments of English and Religion, as well as the Truett Theological Seminary.

He has a well known interest and expertise in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien as well as other Christian writers of fiction, and in this interview, Dr. Wood talks about the theological themes and ideas inherent in their works.

GKC in "The Catholic Worker"

Chesterton first drew attention as a reviewer, so it’s appropriate that he shows up in a review.

The August-September issue of The Catholic Worker contains a review of Look Homeward, America: In Search of reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Anarchists by Bill Kauffman.

The review begins, "G. K. Chesterton once observed: `I think the first thing that made me dislike imperialism was the statement that the sun never sets on the British Country. What good is a country with no sunset?'"

That quote alone made me read the rest of the review.

I discovered that Kauffman is a local boy (from nearby Batavia, N.Y.).

I also discovered that Kauffman has apperently been influenced by Chestertonian ideas.

The reviewer notes that in a chapter on Senator Eugene McCarthy the late Senator is described as a "gentleman steeped in the Roman Catholic faith, the social teachings of the Church, and the distributism of G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc."

Imagine that, a presidential candidate steeped in distributism! No wonder I liked him.

One chapter is even called "The Way of Love: The American Distributism of Dorothy Day."

Definitely interesting!

The book apparently contains a series of essays about people like Day, McCarthy, Wedell Berry, Grant Wood, and more.

This is one book I’ll be looking for in local bookstores.

Maybe I can find a locally owned store that has it.

I think GKC would appreciate that.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

GKC on Mad Muslims

From this morning at Ignatius Insight: "The great Chesterton sums up the craziness of the past few days very well: 'These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own.' (Illustrated London News, August 11, 1928)."

Monday, September 18, 2006

New Tolkien rolling out

The AP has this to say:
An unfinished tale by J.R.R. Tolkien has been edited by his son into a completed work and will be released next spring, the U.S. and British publishers announced Monday.

Christopher Tolkien has spent the past 30 years working on "The Children of Hurin," an epic tale his father began in 1918 and later abandoned. Excerpts of "The Children of Hurin," which includes the elves and dwarves of Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and other works, have been published before.

"It has seemed to me for a long time that there was a good case for presenting my father's long version of the legend of the 'Children of Hurin' as an independent work, between its own covers," Christopher Tolkien said in a statement.

The new book will be published by Houghton Mifflin in the United States and HarperCollins in England.

I've never heard of the thing, much less read any excerpts. Anyone know anything about it?

we are in it deep now

Many people believe the Catholics, especially the Pope, should apologize for the Crusades. They are right we should apologize but not for the reasons they think. Yes we should apologize - that we lost.

And now even among the cries of those rational peace loving Muslim bomb throwers the Pope should not apologize for speaking the truth – ever. The Vatican is not the day spa massage office of God. It is the base camp for the Church Militant. Yesterday the Pope did apologize for the response to his remarks but not the truth of it. In the Pope's first public address since his trip to Bavaria, he said, "I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims."

Enraged Muslims Missed the Pope's Point Entirely
If he was mistaken as many Muslim believe the “moderate” Salih Kapusuz, deputy leader of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamic-rooted party, said, "He is going down in history in the same category as leaders such as Hitler and Mussolini." If what he said was wrong then (from an obscure medieval text) or a more modern source (Belloc) the Muslim world should send in a phalanx of apologists to explain what their position really is, but then again how they dealt with the Danish cartoons is much quicker and more effective. And in that approach Al Qaeda Declares War on "Worshippers of the Cross".

Interesting times ahead.

Feeling sick

My planned lengthy piece about the usual esoterica will have to wait, for the moment, as unfortunately I simply do not feel up to the task. Be sure to check back in a day or two to see it, as well as all of the other attendent wonders this blog has to offer.

In the meanwhile, here's something you may or may not enjoy. The band is Sigur Ros ("Victory Rose"), a group of Icelandic crooners known for their monstrous weirdness, though do not mistake them for some sort of shock group. It is undeniably weird to produce music of quiety beauty in this day and age, and as weird still to frequently sing in a largely invented language, but we must not hold such things against them.

As much as their music is quite fine, however, their music videos are better. In them we may see the principle of the short film rather than simply a few minutes of angsty wailing or jewel-encrusted black people. I may say more about my own state of being at the time than about the quality of the video itself, but I will say that the film below had a profound effect upon me on first viewing, and continues to thrill me still. It is impossible - at least, for me - to look upon this work and not see something inherently beautiful, and certainly of a sort that would have warmed Gilbert's heart. What follows, then, is the music video for the song "Glossoli," off the recent album Takk. To play, simply click the play button in the middle of the image.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Papal Remarks

Here is the full, unedited speech given by Pope Benedict titled Faith, Reason, and the University.

It was not an address regarding Islam. The actual remark concerning Islam was part of a larger point about faith, reason, the path of philosophy from Plato to Kant, and the differences between the scientific method and philosophical inquiry.

The entire passage regarding Islam, with the prepartory context follows:
This profound sense of coherence within the universe of reason was not troubled, even when it was once reported that a colleague had said there was something odd about our university: it had two faculties devoted to something that did not exist: God. That even in the face of such radical scepticism it is still necessary and reasonable to raise the question of God through the use of reason, and to do so in the context of the tradition of the Christian faith: this, within the university as a whole, was accepted without question. I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) of part of the dialogue carried on - perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara - by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both. It was probably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than the responses of the learned Persian. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur’an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship of the "three Laws": the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur’an. In this lecture I would like to discuss only one point – itself rather marginal to the dialogue itself - which, in the context of the issue of "faith and reason", I found interesting and which can serve as the starting-point for my reflections on this issue. In the seventh conversation-controversy, edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". It is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threaten. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war. Without decending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...". The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God’s will, we would even have to practise idolatry. "

I did a quick word count on it, and out of a 3,750 word address, appx. 560 dealt with Islam.
After re-reading this several times, I think I grasp the point Benedict XVI was trying to make.
The Byzantine emperor was writing about the contradiction between the passages in the Koran, and the philosophical mindset which did not sense tension between seemingly mutually exclusive ideas. To draw from Chesterton, I believe that there is a great deal of time spent in his bio of St. Thomas Aquinas on this very same point. In Islamic philosophy, including Averroes, faith can contradict reason. In St. Thomas, truth cannot contradict truth.

To add further items of interest to this subject, I googled Theodore Koury. He seems like a solid academic, respected in both Catholic and Orthodox circles. He also comes up on several websites about the purported Stigmatist from Lebanon.

Just for the sake of inducing frustration:
Look at this press article reviewing the lecture......International Herald Tribune ran the headline “Pope Criticizes Western Secularism and Islam’s Jihad.” I try to maintain some diginity and composure when I feel like I am doing apologetics or speaking about the Church, but it is hairpullingly aggravating to see someone in the media come up with a headline like that in response to the full speech..........ABOUT THE NATURE OF REASON IN ACADEMIA!!!!

Either the media is really that dumb, or they wish to incite violence and discord.

Edit: Upon further consideration, I totally disagree with the Pope. He spent 45 minutes trying to argue about the rationality of the human person...........the ensuing days have totally demolished his point.

To Come Later.........

I really want to say something about Pope Benedict XVI and his "inflammatory" remarks towards Islam. I hope to be back in a bit to sit down and collect thoughts.

Berry on Creation

Wendell Berry's name occasionally comes up when reading about distributivism; so he is validly a "friend of Chesterton" and may be mentioned here. I read his essay "The Rise" earlier this week and nearly spilled my drink due to laughter when I came across this passage:
Surely the creatures of the fifth day of Creation accepted those of the sixth with equanimity, as though they had always been there. Eternity is always present in the animal mind; ony men deal in beginnings and ends. It is probably lucky for man that he was created last. He would have got too excited and upset over all the change.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

In praise of censorship

This past summer, there was a flap in a local town over a book called Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez. The book is about teens exploring their possible homosexuality (with frank discussions of heterosexual activities).

It was on the summer reading list for the high school. Several parents called to question the book, and it was withdrawn from the list.

Of course, that prompted a spirited debate, and cries of censorship.

Now, I'm a teacher and a member of a library board, so you’d think I'd immediately condemn censorship.

I don't.

I practice it. I promote it. I think we need more of it.

Censorship is one of those words whose meaning has been co-opted - like gay, or choice.

Its basic meaning is to examine literature, motion pictures, etc., to remove or prohibit anything considered unsuitable, and in particular to supervise public morals.

Heck, I've been doing that for years.

As a parent, I regularly prohibited things considered unsuitable (especially at church and in public places). I limited what they read or watched on television. I corrected their behavior when it was needed. I provided moral guidance.

Any responsible parent does that.

As a teacher, I have been careful about what gets said or discussed in class. I have purposely limited what we have read - picking material appropriate for my students.

Any responsible teacher does that.

And as a person, I have often practiced censorship of what I say and do.

Any responsible person does that.

I applaud what the parents did. They were showing responsibility for their children. I wish more would do that.

Even when they are wrong or misjudge a book, at least they are trying to do the right thing for their children and not letting them drift into dangerous waters.

I am all for art - and I will defend the right of writers to express their views. But I think we have to show judgment when it comes to what we view and read, and even doubly so when it comes to the children we are supposed to be responsible for.

Books can have an effect - as well as the attitudes and ideas conveyed in them.

As Chesterton noted humorously in an early poem, "On the disastrous spread of aestheticism in all classes,"

The sun had read a little book
That struck him with a notion:
He drowned himself and all his fires
Deep in the hissing ocean.

Then all was dark, lawless, and lost:
I heard great devilish wings:
I knew that Art had won, and snapt
The Covenant of Things.

Humorous, yes, but it rings true.

When I was a teen, for example, I dated an impressionable young woman who, in all my youthful passion, I thought I was going to marry.

Then she read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Yom Wolfe. Without adult guidance or supervision, of course.

She missed the dark portions of the book. Instead, she latched on the notions of drug use and free love. She had no moral basis for comparison, no underlying belief systems strong enough to show her the falsity of the image of uninhibited freedom she was tempted to embrace. No parents to guide her.

She broke up with me to pursue that image, which she did avidly for several years. She'd call me periodically, especially when the drugs and the men brought her down.

It was not a pretty picture.

Yes, she may have been inclined to do these things anyway. Yes, she had issues that helped to make her open to bad choices.

But reading the book planted ideas and helped to make these activities seem more normal.

Books don't have to actively promote ideas: They can also promote through normalizing. Teens are forever looking for models or for confirmation that what they are tempted to do is normal or acceptable.

In Rainbow Boys, the opening chapter has one boy who is questioning his sexuality going to a discussion/support group. The group basically tells him that it's okay to be gay. That's exactly the sort of thing a troubled teen needs to hear - or to read - to help lead down that path.

The arts have a powerful effect in this way. So we need to be aware of their effect on us, or on those who are vulnerable times in their lives.

And artists and their supporters use art to help promote their own beliefes - consciously and unconsciously. In many cases, they use their art to challenge morality - and to promote their own view of morality.

Chesterton developed this idea in Heretics, where he talked about the modern tendency is to eschew morality in the arts.

This bias against morality among the modern aesthetes is nothing very much paraded. And yet it is not really a bias against morality; it is a bias against other people's morality. It is generally founded on a very definite moral preference for a certain sort of life, pagan, plausible, humane. The modern aesthete, wishing us to believe that he values beauty more than conduct, reads Mallarme, and drinks absinthe in a tavern. But this is not only his favourite kind of beauty; it is also his favourite kind of conduct. If he really wished us to believe that he cared for beauty only, he ought to go to nothing but Wesleyan school treats, and paint the sunlight in the hair of the Wesleyan babies. He ought to read nothing but very eloquent theological sermons by old-fashioned Presbyterian divines. Here the lack of all possible moral sympathy would prove that his interest was purely verbal or pictorial, as it is; in all the books he reads and writes he clings to the skirts of his own morality and his own immorality. The champion of l'art pour l'art is always denouncing Ruskin for his moralizing. If he were really a champion of l'art pour l'art, he would be always insisting on Ruskin for his style.

The doctrine of the distinction between art and morality owes a great part of its success to art and morality being hopelessly mixed up in the persons and performances of its greatest exponents.

Artists have that right. And there are some who use their art to promote true morality - Chesterton, for example.

But we need to be fed on true morality before we have the strength to properly tackle questionable beliefs.

Many of us have not been properly fed. Teens rarely have ben.

So I say, hurray for censorship. Our children need it. We need it for ourselves.

More Belloc balderdash

I say this in a lighthearted way of course, though for a man nicknamed "Old Thunder" the word "balderdash" has a wonderful onomatopoeic quality. The following Belloc-authored ballade comes to us courtesy of Dr. Thursday, who is currently filling for the ailing Nancy Brown over at the American Chesterton Society's blog. It is a work of monstrous genius, though it is decidedly lighthearted. It reminds me of something I once wrote myself, which will follow the piece for your general enlightenment and vexation. The ballade itself was apparently found by Dr. Thursday in Maisie Ward's second Chesterton book, Return to Chesterton, which I do not have and have never seen, unfortunately. Here we go.
I like to read myself to sleep in Bed,
A thing that every honest man has done
At one time or another, it is said,
But not as something in the usual run;
Now I from ten years old to forty one
Have never missed a night: and what I need
To buck me up is Gilbert Chesterton,
(The only man I regularly read).

The 'Illustrated London News' is wed
To letter press as stodgy as a bun,
The 'Daily News' might just as well be dead,
The 'Idler' has a tawdry kind of fun,
The 'Speaker' is a sort of Sally Lunn,
The 'World' is like a small unpleasant weed;
I take them all because of Chesterton,
(The only man I regularly read).

The memories of the Duke of Beachy Head,
The memoirs of Lord Hildebrand (his son)
Are things I could have written on my head,
So are the memories of the Comte de Mun,
And as for novels written by the ton,
I'd burn the bloody lot! I know the Breed!
And get me back to be with Chesterton
(The only man I regularly read).


Prince, have you read a book called "Thoughts upon
The Ethos of the Athanasian Creed"?
No matter - it is not by Chesterton
(The only man I regularly read).
Simply delightful, and only slightly impaired by the relative (nowadays) inscrutability of the references and allusions made.

Now, the piece of my own that this reminds me of is much less elegant, much less positive, and almost certainly worse all around in that it is not only modern but obscure. It may mean something to a small number of suffering University students, and it may even mean something to some of you. For most, however, it's an insoluble and insufferable mystery.

“I’ve wondered,” Tony said aloud,
“Why all we ever seem to get
From out this dull Romantic crowd
Are languid, limping verses wet
With tears shed o’er a blade of grass,
Or dripp’d like blood in lakes of glass.

Real blades and blood can both be found
In works from ‘fore and aft the age,
But ne’er shall ring the battle’s sound
Upon the Green of Wordsworth’s page.
Alone the drum of Byron beats!
We get to study pots with Keats.

Or else, at length, the nightingale,
Or ruthless dames (sic “sans merci”):
An era could not but be frail,
With such engrossing company:
But worse - aye, worse - than all this fluff
Is all that grim Coleridgean stuff...”

And on and on young Tony went,
‘Till all were surfeit with his crap,
And smote him down in punishment
For “running off his Loiner yap,
And endless bloody installments
Of wretched School of Eloquence.”
If it makes sense to anyone, please let me know. I'd like to know what it means.

Penitentiary Reading

Taking cue from Joseph Pearce:
You've just been put in jail in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico for not having your official "papers." The guard allows you one book. Which one do you take?

If you're Dallas senior Benny Barrett, you take G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy and swat mosquitoes in between chapters.


Barrett said he and Itegboje passed the time making small talk in pidgin Spanish with the Hondurans who were intercepted as they were trying to make it into the U.S. and reading the books the guard allowed them to take.


Barrett said that in a Mexican jail, time takes on an entirely new form.

"Seconds turned into the rhythmic snoring of the Iranian sleeping below me," he said. "Minutes became the paragraphs I read in my book."
from today's Baylor University newspaper

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Misc. Chesterton Trivia

In 1900 the Boer War was debated vigorously in Bedford Park and everywhere else. Chesterton attended a debate held in the studio of the painter Archie Macgregor in April of that year, and wrote Frances (then his fiancée] about one of the speakers who had held the floor for an hour and a half. "I thought it was five minutes," he said. It was Chesterton's first encounter with Hilaire Belloc. [A.N. Wilson, Hilaire Belloc, New York: Athenaeum, 1984, p. 98]

Mont Blanc, the tavern where Chesterton and Belloc were first introduced in May of 1900, was located at No. 16 Gerrard Street in Soho. In the pre-war years, the place was also a retreat for such literary luminaries as John Masefield, Norman Douglas, Ford Maddox Ford, William Archer, John Galsworthy and Joseph Conrad. [George Williams, Guide to Literary
London, Batsford, 1973, p. 210]

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Ralph McInerny has a new book coming out about Catholic writers, and it looks like Chesterton and Belloc will loom large. The Catholic Education Resource Center has run an old McInerny essay about the Chesterbelloc. As with anything Prof. McInerny writes, it's worth checking out.

Monday, September 11, 2006

What "Old Glory" should mean

In the foreground, today, we see the tributes, prayers and solemnities of a nation afflicted, still grieving the loss that can not be replenished; tending to the wound that will not heal. In the background we see some two thousand years of conflict between East and West, between poverty and affluence, between tyranny and liberty, between turmoil and peace. We should not be so cynical as to think that America should be on the losing side of such conflicts, whether necessarily or incidentally, but nor should we be so jingoistic as to assume that she should necessarily be the victor. Anything worth having is worth fighting for, and the fight that America has found herself in is of dreadful importance. There have been successes, and there have been failures, and the latter have often outshone the former with their hideous and lustrous glare. The only way to respond to this is to strive on, as in Ecclesiastes, and for American to turn her hands to her travails with all her not inconsiderable might.

The dichotomy of modern remembrance and ancient struggle is a poignant one, and it is in this spirit that I show this:

This is thought to be the oldest life-sized crucifix in the world, having been produced in or around the year 890AD. That's over a thousand years. Before the Crusades. Before the Cathari. Before Martin Luther. It looms in the background, a thousand curt and profound statements on thanatology, theodicy, crisis and love. It is the beating heart of the world. Before it - in the foreground - stands the Pope, the Holy Father of the Church that, being temporal, is necessarily a "modern tribute" to He who is the Ancient of Days.

There are few things simultaneously so modern and so ancient as the Mass, for it is a timeless novelty. It is a meeting of creator and creature, and it is a salve for men's souls. The howling , jagged emptiness that many people rightly feel on this day of days can not be filled by gloomy concerts and solemn words, and it certainly can't be filled by bluster and pride. It is not enough to merely preach America Alive and Kicking, for if she kicks against pricks it avails no one. C.S. Lewis cared well enough for the old hero when he was yet living, but when once Balder the beautiful was dead, was dead, there burst open before him the great expanse that is the summer field, that is Elysium, that is salvation. This is the Mass. It is to this that the afflicted, the angry and the despairing must turn if they wish to be healed.

So then, today of all days, neither presume America's invincibility nor despair of her sanctity. She's been in the rough before, and she will be again, but she remains, for all that, a diamond. Keep your eyes towards Heaven and your feet on the ground, for in the construction at Ground Zero could be heard the beating of the Sacred Heart, and in the songs of remembrance hymns of praise and awe. Could. Could! These are not roses that will grow and blossom in the soil of agony and revenge, of pride and ego. They require careful attention, devotion and spirit. They require humility, and that means an end to both arrogance and self-pity.

It can be done, and today's the day to start.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Friday, September 08, 2006

We Remember. We Resolve.

This image was used on the cover of Columbia, the Knights of Columbus magazine. I thought it was one of the most moving graphics commemorating that day that I've seen so far. The Order’s World Day of Prayer for Peace is observed annually on Sept 11th.

Please join us.

“With you, O Mother of the Redeemer, may the hymn of the humble and the poor rise to almighty God: May he, the merciful one, bring peace to earth, reconcile brothers at enmity, confound Cain, make Able rise again; may he bring all creation to the design he had at the beginning in the love of the Son, in the grace of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

- Pope John Paul II

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Sometimes They Get IT Right

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is pleased to release the findings of a three-year study to evaluate the impact of arts education on critical thinking skills and literacy among elementary school children.

Here is a summary of the report:

Over a two school year period, the study interviewed hundreds of New York City third graders--both those who had been in Museum programs and those that had not. Those children who had studied the arts, worked with visiting artists, and actively participated in the arts themselves performed better in six categories of literacy and critical thinking skills than did those who had not been as engaged in the arts. Such key thinking skills as describing, hypothesizing and reasoning were among the aspects showing gain.

An important part of this study was centered around the fact that the students had to use their verbal language skills extensively rather than rely only on the more mundane paper/pencil format of most research studies and tests. The researchers hypothesize that the literacy gains occur because "talking about art and using inquiry to help students 'tease' apart the meaning of paintings helps students learn how to tease apart the meaning of written texts, too. These skills are then applied to reading."

I was extremely gladdened to see this study in that it “scientifically” proves what I (and others) have been working on for years. I began my connection through the work of Victor Lowenfeld in how he put certain drawing capabilities with age groups. My first experiments in this field were in doing a simple party trick. I would ask guests to draw a picture of anything thing they wanted and from that I could tell them how old they were when someone they trusted told them they were not an artist.

With further study I found that Lowenfeld’s categories almost always corresponded to reading levels in children. My hypothesis was that if I could move them from one artistic category to the next level reading improvement should follow. This little experiment worked where as over an twelve week period 70% of the kids went up one reading level. Normally during that time period the average is 30%. (This was a totally unscientific study but the Principal gave me a hardy slap on the back. I was young it was enough) What I worked on with them was basic aesthetics – “draw what you see not what you know.” I worked with them on how to see and to process what they observed and I combined as many of the arts as possible. When doing a Circus theme project I played circus music, read circus stories, hung up circus posters and they wrote circus poems in a calligraphy lesson. The best one however, was our Thanksgiving project where instead of making turkeys out of hand prints I brought in a live turkey that they had to draw in an environment not the cage. The first class drew happy turkeys in sunshine filled fields. It was only in the second class that I told them that this is the turkey I will be having for Thanksgiving dinner. The turkeys they drew were not so happy and the environment they put the Turkey in was much darker.

I also found it was much easier to teach aesthesis and philosophy to 3rd and 4th graders than it is to teach the same to 11th and 12th graders, (same stuff different vocabulary). The younger ones immediately grasp that a thing is a thing and that there is mystery in everything and soon begin to work in their own voice. By time the child is in the 11th grade the ability to think independently has been taught out of them and they are constantly seeking validation and are very unwilling to explore on their own, (truly it is a joy when I come across a student willing to risk failure to find something out). It is why I still agree with Chesterton when he says, “The best reason for a revival of philosophy is that unless a man has a philosophy certain horrible things will happen to him. He will be practical; he will be progressive; he will cultivate efficiency; he will trust in evolution; he will do the work that lies nearest; he will devote himself to deeds, not words.” (From The Common Man) Philosophy and aesthesis need to be taught from an early age.

By the end of school year mentioned above the board announced budget cuts and the arts were the first to go. They were viewed as nonessential on the same level as recess - you know playtime. Sports were spared because they are important to too many parents and the board did not need the extra flack. As much fun as sports are in many schools they are little more than condoned and sanctioned child abuse.

The importance of the arts-visual, music, drama, writing, etc.--are vital to a full and rich education. I worry that our nation's emphasis on paper/pencil testing will cost our kids as they have less and less time for the arts. For example, I think every State Board of Education needs to take a very public and positive stand on behalf of the arts. I hope you will join me in working to preserve the place of the arts in our schools and in the lives of our youth.

Print out a copy of the Guggenheim report and send it to your local school board.

Never Mind the Bellocs

From the latest New Statesman:
The BBC News 24 political correspondent James Landale could be in for a ribbing from chums at Westminster with the October publication of his book Cautionary Tales: comic verse for the 21st century. With lyrical takes on subjects such as binge drinking, text messaging and shopaholism, he's being marketed by his publishers, Canongate, as a modern-day Hilaire Belloc. (In fact, the cover has the strapline "Never mind the Bellocs - here's James Landale".)

But will he live up to the billing? Judge for yourself:

"If you shop until you drop
One day the trust fund will stop."

Another verse, on the vexed question of nose-picking, reads:

"Orificial exploration
Is but good in moderation."

Perhaps it would be wise to hang on to the day job.

Hmm. I've Judged for myself. Never mind Landale (but it just doesn't have that Sex Pistols ring to it).

Dogma and education

The new school year has begun.

I was happy to see my old students again, and, of course, to welcome the new ones.

I like teaching, even though I recognize some of the problems inherent in the field.

One of those problems is that schools are often fad driven.

Since I first began teaching back in 1982, schools I have been at – both public and private - have experimented with any number of theories, fads, and methodologies.

All with their own particular form of edubabble!

The pattern is always the same. Some administrator will become enamored of some new way. He/she will bring in speakers (all of whom are well paid and who seem to nave new books out) who will indoctrinate us in the new way. We will have teams, and workshops, and committees.

Enthusiasm will burn bright for three to five years – until the enamored administrator moves on, or the results start coming in to show that the new way accomplished little or nothing more than the way it supplanted.

Then a new new way will appear on the horizon, and we begin again.

Our trustees have implemented a new program for this year.

I am dubious.

But this trend is not new.

As Chesterton commented back in 1929, "Our schools are swept nowadays with wave after wave of scientific speculation; by fad after fad and fashion after fashion.” (North American Review)

He has plenty more to say about education – including the fact that it does not exist!

"Of course, the main fact about education is that there is no such thing. It does not exist, as theology or soldiering exist. Theology is a word like geology, soldiering is a word like soldering; these sciences may be healthy or no as hobbies; but they deal with stone and kettles, with definite things. But education is not a word like geology or kettles. Education is a word like `transmission' or `inheritance'; it is not an object, but a method. It must mean the conveying of certain facts, views or qualities, to the last baby born." ("The Truth About Education")

In the same essay he goes on to note, "They might be the most trivial facts or the most preposterous views or the most offensive qualities; but if they are handed on from one generation to another they are education. Education is not a thing like theology, it is not an inferior or superior thing; it is not a thing in the same category of terms. Theology and education are to each other like a love-letter to the General Post Office. Mr. Fagin was quite as educational as Dr. Strong; in practice probably more educational. It is giving something--perhaps poison. Education is tradition, and tradition (as its name implies) can be treason."

Ah, treason. It can be an insidious thing. But teachers are often asked to teach treasonous things about history, science, economics, government, and so on.

Oh, these things are not viewed by the educational establishment as treasonous (except, of course, by those who are aware, but have sold their souls).

No, we instill patriotism, they say. Or we educate young people for their roles in the workplace.

Never mind whether the nation is worthy of support, or the economic system is moral.

In effect, teachers are asked to teach, "the general idea of authority. It is quaint that people talk of separating dogma from education. Dogma is actually the only thing that cannot be separated from education. It is education. A teacher who is not dogmatic is simply a teacher who is not teaching."

A dogmatic teacher? Certainly. Any teacher who is "successful" has a dogma he or she believes - or at least that he/she is paid to support - and so tries to instill it into the minds of students.

That dogma can be one of religion – Evolution is Wrong! … Social Justice is Right! – or secular – Question Everything!

I have encountered teachers who believe students should be challenged because they are capable of so much; teachers who believe you have to water everything down because the students are incapable of doing the work; teachers who believe you have to instill the beliefs that individual fulfillment and choice are paramount; teachers; teachers who advocate training students in basic skills and tricks to get around actually thinking.

I daily pray that the dogma I am teaching is one that is heaven sent.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Childhood Diseases

The American critic Malcolm Cowley, attempting to define the so-called "Lost Generation," once drew up a list of "literary childhood diseases" which he published in Canby's Literary Review of October 25, 1921. These afflictions begin with "a bad case of Chesterton," contracted at about age sixteen; Oscar Wilde is a complication; and before the patient recovers he is "overwhelmed" by Bernard Shaw. Health is not restored until the patient has "dipped into Freud and Marx." [Hans Bal, Malcolm Cowley, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993, pp. 182-83]

Comic Books

Before I begin, I'd like to note that this article is fairly long, but only looks obscenely long because of how narrow the column is, and because of some dialogue portions in the middle. Please don't be daunted, I beg you. I will also remind those of you who may have forgotten that all images in this article can be made much larger by clicking on them.


The comic book medium is one that is, I think, unfairly ignored - and even disdained - by a great many people. Theirs is a prejudice I can understand, of course; the garish examples of things like the X-Men and Spiderman and really just about everything the Marvel publishing company produces can be highly off-putting to more adult readers out there, particularly those hesitant about the artistic and moral value of such media. The superhero genre really does often obscure the non-superhero genres when people think of comic books in general, and this is a real shame. There are comic books out there that are more literate than some literature; more beautiful than some art. There are comics winning Pulitzers.

Chesterton himself, though not a producer of comics in the manner in which we see them today, would hardly have objected to them, I think. We have seen in his materials from The Coloured Lands that colourful, simple, illustrated stories are right up his alley, particularly if they have fantastic elements to them.

This post is the first in an open-ended series outlining comic book titles that you, as a literate, God-fearing Chestertonian type, could read and enjoy, no matter your age or maturity (which are, after all, two very different things). Like the films listed on the highly useful Vatican Film List, not all of these comics will deal with expressly religious subjects, or contain expressly "good" material. There will be comics rife with syncretism and secularism and irreverance and downfall, but they will be, for all that, utterly worthy art. We'll be looking at the Lord of Dreams, and a man made of concrete, and mice under Hitler and a vampire priest, among many others. What a look it will be.

However, for now, we will begin with the best comic currently being published, whether by its particular company (Vertigo, an imprint of the venerable DC company) or by anyone else. It's also making progress towards being one of the best comics ever published, not just presently, but in the history of man. The series in question is Bill Willingham's Fables, about which so very much can be said.


The premise of the series is simple, though the possibilities are endless. All of the characters of our folklore and legends are real, though they naturally live in a world of their own. They're all there. Snow White. The Big Bad Wolf. Pinocchio. Red Riding Hood. And so on, and so on. Everyone from the popular to the arcane; from Goldilocks to Baba Yaga. These characters have been displaced from their home by the armies of the Adversary, the true identity of whom is something I will not spoil. The Adversary, in true Tolkien-like fashion, has drawn together a vast horde of goblins, orcs and so forth, as well as some of the nastier villains of our collective storyline, and launched a campaign of annihilation and subjugation. The Fables who escape find their way to the mundane world (ours), and found a secret community in New York City. They attempt to hold together as a community even as they make plans to retake the homelands. That's the set up. The series is an ensemble book, of course, so they're essentially no end to the stories that can be told.

The series debutted in 2003 to mixed reviews, and the reaction is understandable. The first efforts were difficult and, in some cases, a trifle awkward, and not enough information about the actual rationale of the series was revealed to have it make any kind of sense. This was quickly remedied, of course, and the conclusion of the first story arc, Legends in Exile, was well-received. Part of the problem might have been the art of Lan Medina, whose work was certainly good, but not particularly whimsical enough for the premise. With the introduction of Mark Buckingham on pencils, the series found its stride and things have been wonderful ever since. The covers, by James Jean, have always been fantastic, and samples of them are littered across this post.

Now, apart from simply being a well-written, well-illustrated ongoing series with a novel premise and brilliant execution, there are some other things that may recommend Fables to this blog's readership. There are three particular examples that I'm going to provide, though unfortunately I am unable at this time to accompany them with scans of the pages in question. The dialogue will have to do for now. There are three hot-button topics or issues that I do not often seen treated in such a favourable light by any popular media, let alone one that has a target audience of essentially liberal twenty-somethings.

The first example is to be found in the circumstance of Snow White finding herself pregnant by the Big Bad Wolf (lest ye worry about the propriety of such a liason on the level of species, some useful magic has transformed him into a human named Bigby Wolf; he is the sheriff of the Fable community, and she is the deputy mayor). During a check-up with Dr. Swineheart (one of the three army surgeons from the Grimm story), the following exchange takes place:
Dr. Swineheart: You can get dressed now. The pregnancy is coming along fine.
Snow White: No it isn't. Nothing is "fine" about it. It's going to ruin my life, my standing in the community and what's left of my reputation.
DrS: If that's the way you feel about it, you do have options. This is the twenty-first century, after all.
SW: Stop right there, Dr. Swineheart. Don't you dare finish that thought.
DrS: But I only--
SW: Have you forgotten how to tell your Mundy and Fable patients apart, or do you imagine I've gone native?
DrS: I brought it up because it's obvious you're not happy about--
SW: Since when is our happiness of primary consideration? Some of us are still governed by duty and responsibility. Don't bring it up again, Doctor, if you want to remain a part of Fabletown.
Whereafter she storms out. This is the only time that abortion has been mentioned in the series, that I've noticed, and to see it treated thus is heartening indeed.

The second example (edited to obscure the true identity of the Adversary, which is of some importance to the series but is not worth spoiling) is of a more dire nature, being as it is concerned with politics and warfare. Bigby Wolf delivers a warning to the Adversary, and it's hard to miss where the sympathies of the series lie:
Adversary: You won't be able to kill me.
Bigby: Relax. I'm hear to deliver a message from Fabletown.
A: Then say what you came to say and get out.
B: Sure. How familiar are you with the Mundy world? Ever hear of a country called Israel?
A: Who knows? Maybe.
B: Here's what you need to know about it. Israel is a tiny country surrounded by much larger countries dedicated to its eventual destruction.
A: And why should that concern me?
B: Because they stay alive by being a bunch of tough little bastards who make the other guys pay dearly every time they do something against Israel. Some in the wider world constantly wail and moan about the endless cycle of violence and reprisal. But since the alternative is non-existence, the Israelis seem determined to keep at it. They have a lot of grit and iron. I'm a big fan of them.
A: Are you near to being done? I'd like to go back to sleep.
B: Here's the part that concerns you. Fabletown has decided to adopt the Israel template in whole. You've no doubt guessed that you guys play the part of the vast powers arrayed against us. Every time you hurt us we're going to damage you much worse in return. It will always happen. Always. You're the only one who can end the cycle.
And then a fairly incendiary demonstration is provided, but that's neither here nor there. The point is that, given the target audience and the general state of the world, these are words that are refreshingly blunt.

Our final example is perhaps the most potent, containing words and sentiments that you might not even hear on television these days for fear of offense being given. They are spoken by Old King Cole as he officiates at the wedding of two main characters whose names will not be mentioned, though you'd probably be able to guess who they are having reading this piece so far.
King Cole: Dearly beloved, we are gathered here together, in the sight of God, to join this man and this woman together in holy matrimony, which is an honourable estate, instituted by God in Heaven, into which these two present come now to be joined. Therefore, if any Fable can show just cause why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him speak now or else hereafter hold his peace. [There is a pause] Wilt thou, MAN, have this woman to be thy wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy state of matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, and keep thee only unto her, so long as you both shall live?
MAN: Yes-- I mean, I will.
KC: Wilt thou, WOMAN, have this man to be thy wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy state of matrimony? Wilt thou obey him and serve him, love, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, and keep thee only unto him, so long as you both shall live?
WOMAN: I will.
MAN: I take thee, WOMAN, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, and thereunto I plight thee my troth.
WOMAN: I take thee, MAN, to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, and thereunto I plight thee my troth.
KC: Forasmuch as MAN and WOMAN have consented together in holy wedlock and have witnessed the same before God and this company, I pronounce therefore that they be man and wife together. You may kiss the bride.
Now, this rightly sounds to us to be nothing out of the ordinary, as far as the marriage ceremony is concerned, even if it has been truncated somewhat. The real marvel of it is that it is essentially orthodox, wholeheartedly theistic, and appears at this not inconsiderable length in a wildly popular comic book. Willingham could easily have glossed over it, or secularized it, or done any number of other slovenly things, but he didn't. Note that the wife even vows to obey and serve, inasmuch as she will be loved and comforted by the husband, in the old high way. No punches pulled, no excuses made. That's what we like to see.

These are the things you can expect from Fables, though they are not the only things. As it is an ensemble book, and a basically post-modern one at that, there are also less reputable characters, like the terminally infidelious Prince Charming or the libertine Rose Red. They are the exception rather than the rule, however, and the stories remain very much examples of good versus evil, right versus wrong, and heroes versus villains.

The greatest example of this will be the last thing I mention, for the moment. A standalone, super-sized issue was released detailing the last stand of the Fables in the homelands. Entitled The Last Castle, it draws upon a truly astonishing number of literary sources, weaving characters as diverse as Robin Hood, St. George, and the cow that jumped over the moon into what is essentially the battle of Helm's Deep from The Lord of the Rings, but without the happy ending. A vast array of military-type Fables give their lives to cover the retreat of the last boat out of the Homelands as the Adversary's hordes batter against the walls. This story has everything you could hope for. Faerie Kings and Questing Knights fight side by side with the Merry Men. Robin Hood dies alongside the lady knight Britomart. Little Boy Blue enages in a doomed romance with Red Riding Hood that will have enormous consequences in the future.

This is what you're getting into with this series. The idea of it is not its merit, though the idea is quite excellent; its merit is that it's carried off so well, and so logically. These are the sort of stories I wish I could have read as a child, and I'm glad to be able to read them now. You should try them yourself.

Warning: Fables, though it is essentially morally suitable for anyone, does contain (frequent) scenes of violence, (highly infrequent) scenes of sexuality, and some coarse language. Your discretion is advised.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Also, a quick note of interest

According to his blog, noted Catholic commentator Mark Shea has been approached to play the role of Innocent Smith in a number of adapted segments from Chesterton's Manalive, to be broadcast on EWTN as part of the next season of the Apostle of Common Sense series, which is devoted to Gilbert.

The post also serves as an announcement, incidentally, that EWTN is working on an adaptation of Chesterton's marvelous play, The Surprise, to be broadcast at some later date. The play was previously performed at this year's Chesterton Conference, to great acclaim.

So, there's something to look out for.

Swift Round-up

I don't have as much time for this right now as I'd like, but I'll make up for it with a nice thick post in the middle of the week about something only rarely hinted at on this blog, but of considerable potential importance if people were willing to become cool dudes like me. You'll just have to keep checking back to find out what I mean.

For now, though, here we go.


In the spirit of the "and Friends" portion of this blog, I'd like to direct you to two excellent articles about and/or by the legendary soapbox apologist, Frank Sheed. The first is an article by Patrick Madrid, writing for Crisis magazine, called "The Prophet of Hyde Park." Here is the basic story of Sheed's life, detailing his travails before the hecklers of Hyde Park while defending and promoting the Catholic Faith, his literary output, and his foundation of the Sheed-Ward publishing company with his wife, Maisie Ward, best known to us as Gilbert's biographer.

Having read that, you will be well-equipped to tackle the stalwart, readable style of Sheed himself, as demonstrating delightfully in his essay, "What Spirits Are and What They Aren't." Here is a man who ran in the same circles as Gilbert and Evelyn Waugh and so on, and it shows in his manner of delivery.
When I was very new as a street-corner preacher for the Catholic Evidence Guild, a questioner asked me what I meant by spirit. I answered, "A spirit has no shape, has no size, has no color, has no weight, does not occupy space." He said, "That's the best definition of nothing I ever heard," which was very reasonable of him. I had given him a list of things spirit is not, without a hint of what it is.
Check it all out, if you'd be so kind.


Moving on to less profound things, but no less Solemn and Majestic, I'm delighted to report a Chesterton plug at the wonderfully important Totus Pius, where all things are orthodox and all the Popes are Pius - even the Antipope. The plug includes a Chesterton poem that, I must confess, I had never seen before. I'm glad I now have. In part:
“Queen of Death and Life undying
Those about to live salute thee;
Not the crawlers with the cattle; looking deathward with the swine,
But the shout upon the mountains
Of the men that live for ever
Who are free of all things living but a Child; and He was thine.”
Good times, as is the blog itself. Get thee hence.


Speaking of Chesterton (as we are wont to do), he has often made mention of the great mirth of God, and of Christ in particular, setting it up as something that we would do well to remember. That's one way to go. As I've often been fond of contrasting Chesterton and Nietzsche on various points, however, I think it would be worthwhile to look at Christ vis-a-vis his tremendous love of dancing, assuming it existed.

Luckily, thanks to a song from the 1960's (of all decades!), my work has been done for me!

The Lord of the Dance
By Sydney Carter
I danced in the morning
When the world was begun,
And I danced in the moon
And the stars and the sun,
And I came down from heaven
And I danced on the earth,
At Bethlehem
I had my birth.

Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said he

I danced for the scribe
And the pharisee,
But they would not dance
And they wouldn't follow me.
I danced for the fishermen,
For James and John -
They came with me
And the Dance went on.


I danced on the Sabbath
And I cured the lame;
The holy people
Said it was a shame.
They whipped and they stripped
And they hung me on high,
And they left me there
On a Cross to die.


I danced on a Friday
When the sky turned black -
It's hard to dance
With the devil on your back.
They buried my body
And they thought I'd gone,
But I am the Dance,
And I still go on.


They cut me down
And I leapt up high;
I am the life
That'll never, never die;
I'll live in you
If you'll live in me -
I am the Lord
Of the Dance, said he.


I find it to be a thoroughly delightful song, reminding me heavily - for some reason - of the character of the Fisher King. To see how it works musically, you can download a pleasant version of the song here. The musician changes the Bethlehem line to "every year," though the rest of it is just the same. Seems like an odd change to make, in that case.


Finally (for now, anyway; as I said above, check back in a few days), I am happy to report that regular posting has resumed at my own blog, A Gentle Fuss, after a sort of summer hiatus. You are welcome to check it out, as always.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

A bit of folly (women's education)

Last week, I took my youngest daughter to college. She is attending Wellesley near Boston - a fine women's college her oldest sister graduated from last year.

The president of the college gave the usual upbeat speech to the gathered parents, with a special emphasis on the value of women's education.

As she spoke, I was thinking of - G. K. Cheserton.

I remembered a piece by him on the topic of women's education that I had read years ago. As soon as we got home, I dug out "Folly and Female Education" and reread it.

It is as I remembered. I found myself of divided mind about it.

He makes some good points about the poor quality of education in general, and he objects to inflicting the same misfortune on young women.

Of course, as a teacher - and the father of three bright daughters - I am a supporter of female education, even if it has to be the flawed system foisted on boys and men.

Further, he typically places woman on a pedestal - she is a "queen of life."

I love women, but I don't hold them in the same regard. I have met some truly noble queens, but in terms of human relations, I have also encountered several who could rival the queens in Snow White or Narnia.

He even goes on to suggest that women without formal education are actually in a sense more "educated" - a point I can agree with to a degree, and which I think should be equally applied to men. But he says it in a way that I as a man in the 21st Century found condescending, even as I'm sure our "dear" 19th Century Sage would, in response to that accusation, cluelessly sputter and contend that he is merely holding women in high regard.

"There was a time when you and I and all of us were all very close to God; so that even now the color of a pebble (or a paint), the smell of a flower (or a firework), comes to our hearts with a kind of authority and certainty; as if they were fragments of a muddled message, or features of a forgotten face. To pour that fiery simplicity upon the whole of life is the only real aim of education; and closest to the child comes the woman--she understands."

"Closest to the child." Indeed.

And on a literary note, he goes on to say that "Jane Austen was stronger, sharper and shrewder than Charlotte Bronte" - perhaps, but I enjoyed Jane Eyre far more than I did anything written by Austen. (Though I agree with him about George Eliot!)

The piece concludes with one of my favorite Chesterton quotations: "... if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly."

Couldn't the same be said of even flawed education?

Anyway, I wondered what Madame Wellesley President would make of his essay.


It is the same in the case of girls. I am often solemnly asked what I think of the new ideas about female education. But there are no new ideas about female education.

There is not, there never has been, even the vestige of a new idea. All the educational reformers did was to ask what was being done to boys and then go and do it to girls; just as they asked what was being taught to young squires and then taught it to young chimney sweeps. What they call new ideas are very old ideas in the wrong place. Boys play football, why shouldn't girls play football; boys have school colors, why shouldn't girls have school-colors; boys go in hundreds to day-schools, why shouldn't girls go in hundreds to day-schools; boys go to Oxford , why shouldn't girls go to Oxford --in short, boys grow mustaches, why shouldn't girls grow mustaches--that is about their notion of a new idea. There is no brain-work in the thing at all; no root query of what sex is, of whether it alters this or that, and why,anymore than there is any imaginative grip of the humor and heart of the populace in the popular education. There is nothing but plodding, elaborate, elephantine imitation.

And just as in the case of elementary teaching, the cases are of a cold and reckless inappropriateness. Even a savage could see that bodily things, at least, which are good for a man are very likely to be bad for a woman. Yet there is no boy's game, however brutal, which these mild lunatics have not promoted among girls. To take a stronger case, they give girls very heavy home-work; never reflecting that all girls have home-work already in their homes. It is all a part of the same silly subjugation; there must be a hard stick-up collar round the neck of a woman, because it is already a nuisance round the neck of a man. Though a Saxon serf, if he wore that collar of cardboard, would ask for his collar of brass.

It will then be answered, not without a sneer, "And what would you prefer? Would you go back to the elegant early Victorian female, with ringlets and smelling-bottle, doing a little in water colors, dabbling a little in Italian, playing a little on the harp,writing in vulgar albums and painting on senseless screens? Do you prefer that?" To which I answer, "Emphatically, yes." I solidly prefer it to the new female education, for this reason, that I can see in it an intellectual design, while there is none in the other. I am by no means sure that even in point of practical fact that elegant female would not have been more than a match for most of the inelegant females. I fancy Jane Austen was stronger, sharper and shrewder than Charlotte Bronte; I am quite certain she was stronger, sharper and shrewder than George Eliot. She could do one thing neither of them could do: she could coolly and sensibly describe a man. I am not sure that the old great lady who could only smatter
Italian was not more vigorous than the new great lady who can only stammer American; nor am I certain that the bygone duchesses who were scarcely successful when they painted Melrose Abbey, were so much more weak-minded than the modern duchesses who paint only their own faces, and are bad at that. But that is not the point. What was the theory, what was the idea, in their old, weak water-colors and their shaky Italian? The idea was the same which in a ruder rank expressed itself in home-made
wines and hereditary recipes; and which still, in a thousand unexpected ways, can be found clinging to the women of the poor.

It was the idea I urged in the second part of this book: that the world must keep one great amateur, lest we all become artists and perish. Somebody must renounce all specialist conquests, that she may conquer all the conquerors. That she may be a queen of life, she must not be a private soldier in it. I do not think the elegant female with her bad Italian was a perfect product, any more than I think the slum woman talking gin and funerals is a perfect product; alas! there are few perfect products. But they come from a comprehensible idea; and the new woman comes from nothing and nowhere. It is right to have an ideal, it is right to have the right ideal, and these two have the right ideal. The slum mother with her funerals is the degenerate daughter of Antigone, the obstinate priestess of the household gods. The lady talking bad Italian was the decayed tenth cousin of Portia, the great and golden Italian lady, the Renascence amateur of life, who could be a barrister because she could be anything. Sunken and neglected in the sea of modern monotony and imitation, the types hold tightly to their original truths. Antigone, ugly, dirty and often drunken, will still bury her father. The elegant female, vapid and fading away to nothing, still feels faintly the fundamental difference between herself and her husband: that he must be Something in the City, that she may be everything in the country.

There was a time when you and I and all of us were all very close to God; so that even now the color of a pebble (or a paint), the smell of a flower (or a firework), comes to our hearts with a kind of authority and certainty; as if they were fragments of a muddled message, or features of a forgotten face. To pour that fiery simplicity upon the whole of life is the only real aim of education; and closest to the child comes the woman--she understands. To say what she understands is beyond me; save only this, that it is not a solemnity. Rather it is a towering levity, an uproarious amateurishness of the universe, such as we felt when we were little,
and would as soon sing as garden, as soon paint as run. To smatter the tongues of men and angels, to dabble in the dreadful sciences, to juggle with pillars and pyramids and toss up the planets like balls, this is that inner audacity and indifference which the human soul, like a conjurer catching oranges, must keep up forever. This is that insanely frivolous thing we call sanity. And the elegant female, drooping her ringlets over her water-colors, knew it and acted on it. She was juggling with frantic and flaming suns. She was maintaining the bold equilibrium of inferiorities which is the most mysterious of superiorities and perhaps the most unattainable. She was maintaining the prime truth of woman, the universal mother: that if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.