Monday, February 19, 2024

Ten Books with C. S. Lewis


Thomas Salerno has posted a reading list inspired by C. S. Lewis. 

While scrolling through Twitter (I refuse to call it “X”) a few days ago, I came across a very interesting thread posted by the account Coffee with the Classics. Apparently in 1962, C. S. Lewis was asked which books most influenced him as a writer and shaped his philosophy of life. Lewis responded with a list of ten remarkable titles:

Phantastes by George MacDonald
The Aeneid by Virgil
The Temple by George Herbert
The Prelude by William Wordsworth
The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto
The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius
The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell
Theism and Humanism by Arthur James Balfour
Descent into Hell by Charles Williams
The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton

He then goes on to explain his reading plan.

I found his list interesting. I've read a few of the titles - Phantastes, The Aeneid, The Consolation of Philosophy, and, of course, The Everlasting Man. Meanwhile, Descent into Hell is in my pile of books to read. Two of the titles are new to me -  The Idea of the Holy and Theism and Humanism. Not sure I will ever read them. But Herbert, Wordsworth, and Boswell I just might read at some point, once I clear the 20 or so books already in my to-read pile!


Saturday, January 06, 2024

Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth


Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth,  by Bradley J. Birzer in The Imaginative Conservative

Myth, J.R.R. Tolkien thought, can convey the sort of profound truth that is intransigent to description or analysis in terms of facts and figures. But, Tolkien admitted, myth can be dangerous if it remains pagan. Therefore, one must sanctify it.

To enter faerie—that is, a sacramental and liturgical understanding of creation—is to open oneself to the gradual discovery of beauty, truth, and excellence.[1] One arrives in faerie only by invitation and, even then, only at one’s peril. The truths to be found within faerie are greater than those that can be obtained through mere human understanding; and one finds within faerie that even the greatest works of man are as nothing compared with the majesty of creation. To enter faerie is, paradoxically, both a humbling and exhilarating experience. This is what the Oxford don and scholar J.R.R. Tolkien firmly believed.

The last story Tolkien published prior to his death, “Smith of Wootton Major,” follows a normal but charitably inclined man who has been graced with the ability to make extraordinarily beautiful things while metal smithing. Smith, as he is known, discovered the gift of grace on his tenth birthday, when the dawn engulfed him and “passed on like a wave of music into the West, as the sun rose above the rim of the world.”[2] Like the earth at the end of Eliot’s “Wasteland,” Tolkien’s Smith had been baptized, and through this gift he receives an invitation to faerie. While visiting that world, he discovers that in it he is the least of beings. Its beauty, however, entices him, and he spends entire days “looking only at one tree or one flower.”[3] The depth of each thing astounds him. “Wonders and mysteries,” many of them terrifying in their overwhelming beauty and truth, abound in faerie, Smith discovers, and he dwells on such wonders even when he is no longer in faerie.[4] Nevertheless, some encounters terrify him: ... 

Continue reading here

Friday, December 15, 2023

A Christmas Carol

G.K. Chesterton’s “A Christmas Carol” helps us see the world as a child does

A Christmas Carol The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap, His hair was like a light. (O weary, weary were the world, But here is all aright.) The Christ-child lay on Mary’s breast, His hair was like a star. (O stern and cunning are the kings, But here the true hearts are.) The Christ-child lay on Mary’s heart, His hair was like a fire. (O weary, weary is the world, But here the world’s desire.) The Christ-child stood on Mary’s knee, His hair was like a crown, And all the flowers looked up at Him, And all the stars looked down. G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton’s little “Christmas Carol” is simple enough for a 2-year-old to understand. Actually, a very young child might understand it better than the rest of us, knowing so well how comforting it is to be cuddled close by his mother. The poem makes use of very few details, and no literary conceits, to draw us into the room with the Holy Family.

The genius of the poem though, is in the way Chesterton ... (See the rest here.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Smirky General?


Attorney General Letitia James
is fond of playing games.
Her latest is attending a trial and practicing her smirk
instead of showing up at the office to work.



David Jeremiah
eschews the prosperity path in preaching about the Messiah.
Yet part of his path is seeing how much money he can capture
by marketing the myth of the Rapture.

The American Solidarity Party: An Option for Chestertonians?


The November/December 2023 issue of Gilbert, the magazine of the Society of G. K. Chesterton,contains a review by Chuck Chalberg of The Political Economy of Distributism by Alexander William Salter.

Chalberg concludes the review with, "All three (Chesterton, Belloc, and Ropke), plus Salter himself, seem to agree that politics can never be the solution, much less the ultimate answer. And yet, once again Salter wiggles for room with a nod in the direction of something called the American Solidarity party. Created in 2011, its platform is 'not shy about its debt to distributism.' It's also more than a few votes shy of relevance, totaling only 42,305 for its presidential candidate in 2020. Thank goodness we will always have Chesterton and Belloc, as well as the Alexander Salters of Texas Tech and elsewhere, to keep steering us in the right direction."

That mention of the American Solidarity party in a way that seems dismissive of it stopped me short. Chalberg may not have intended to be dismissive, but still, he did declare the party "a few votes shy of relevance."

Ironically, his review is published in the magazine of a society that I last heard had just 2,000 members. Surely he would not suggest the Society is not relevant because of the small number of members?

The Chesterton Society is small, but it would seem to be a natural ally of a party that espouses many Chestertonian and Christian ideals, including distributist economic policies.

He also refers to the party in a way that suggests he really doesn't know much about it.

Yes, the party garnered "just" 42,305 votes for President in 2020. But that was only the second presidential election in which the party ran a candidate. In 2016, the first time it ran a candidate, it received 6,697 votes. So from 2015 to 2020 a six-fold increase. What might happen in 2024 with an actively campaigning candidate, Peter Sonski?

Moreover, in 2016, the party was listed on only one ballot; the other votes were by write-in. In 2020, the party was listed on nine ballots. And in 2024?

Perhaps this is a party Chestertonians should investigate. Given its platform, they just might find it relevant.

Here is a link to the party's website: American Solidarity Party

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Two Clerihews (based on recent news)

Matthew Perry, 
boarded Charon’s ferry. 
As Charon pushed off, Perry was heard to crack. 
“That parachute really WAS a knapsack.”

Taylor Swift 
has an annoying gift 
for always creating a hit song 
out of yet another relationship gone wrong.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

The American Solidarity Party and Distributism


The American Solidarity Party is a relatively new Christ Democratic party that espouses ideas very much in line with Christian and Catholic teachings - and, of course, Chesterton's ideas.

The party, for example, embraces Distributism.

From the party's principles:

The American Solidarity Party believes that political economy is a branch of political ethics, and therefore rejects models of economic behavior that undermine human dignity with greed and naked self-interest. We advocate for an economic system which liberates people from being cogs in a pitiless machine, instead creating a society of widespread ownership, or distributism. (Emphasis added.)

We believe the American economy should be reordered to place human dignity first and to recognize that the family is the basic unit of economic production. We are committed to policies that emphasize local production, family-owned businesses, and cooperative ownership structures.

Policy should encourage and incentivize families who run their own small businesses and help them to provide just wages to their workers. Government policy must not favor large corporations, help them to outcompete small businesses, or encourage administrative bloat.

In order to discourage the overexpansion of corporate power, businesses should be progressively taxed for each location and for the expansion into varied types of merchandise and services.

We call for the expansive use of antitrust legislation to break up “too big to fail” multinational corporations and banks. We also call for the breakup of media conglomerates, big technology companies, and over-concentrated industries that leave the United States particularly vulnerable to industrial accidents and disruptions. We support limiting the political power wielded through the legal construct of “personhood” for organizations and corporations.

We call for the restoration of the requirement that corporations must serve a public good in order to be granted the benefit of limited liability. We support the prohibition of corporate bylaws and the repeal of state legislation requiring shareholder profit to trump considerations such as employee well-being and environmental protection. We seek to limit the political power wielded by organizations and corporations.

We recognize that “one who oppresses the poor taunts one’s Maker.” Economic rentiers and speculators who produce nothing, but only extract money through corrupt relationships with public power, need to pay their fair share through taxes on land and financial transactions. We call for increased regulation of the banking industry and stock market to prevent corporate bailouts; instead, we favor distributing ownership shares of capital to the common people.

We call for community-oriented, non-interest-based lending practices and mutual-aid organizations supplemented by countercyclical social credit to replace predatory lending agents that target working-class communities. We must reject a financial system based on saddling workers with debt and interest payments, and instead embrace one that encourages productive activity. We call for greater legal responsibility on the part of creditors and vendors for vigilance against fraudulent activity, such as identity theft. We support initiatives for a debt jubilee and other forms of debt relief.

We call for the end of foreign ownership over domestic farms, real estate, and industry. We seek increased support of small family farms, cooperative farms, agricultural land trusts, and community gardens. We also call for the end of punitive zoning laws that unfairly target our poorest citizens by preventing them from engaging in small-scale agriculture and animal husbandry. We call for a program of family gardens, distributed animal husbandry, food-handling education, and food-preservation education based on the World War-era “victory gardens,” in order to end food scarcity and instill resilience in supply chains.

We acknowledge that natural monopolies and the common inheritance of the natural world need to be closely managed and protected by the public, not surrendered to oligarchs. We call for policies that deliver citizens their fair share of our common wealth so as to widely distribute private property and for the inheritance of natural resources in the form of a citizen’s dividend and baby bonds. Land-value taxes should be imposed to fund infrastructure projects rather than bond payments and property taxes so that those who benefit the most from public works shoulder the burden and land improvement isn’t penalized.

We support the right-to-repair movement. When possible, products should be made with the possibility of adding, modifying, or removing parts or software so that people can repair rather than replace the product, and this should be incentivized with regulatory policy.

We call for the Surface Transportation Board to ensure railroads meet the needs of their customers and to forbid railroads from participating in stock buybacks and dividend payments if they do not meet a satisfactory rating. Precision-scheduling policies that have stripped railroads of the personnel needed to safely operate trains must cease. We call for an expansion of rail networks to connect more communities in order to reduce our reliance on long-distance trucking logistics and to provide alternatives to air and car transport for personal transportation. Toll roads must be scaled by vehicle weight and size in order to appropriately account for maintenance costs.

We recognize that it is dangerous and harmful to have large portions of our supply chain reliant on foreign powers. We call for an interventionist industrial policy to return manufacturing to our country.

Monday, September 25, 2023

G.K. Chesterton on why today’s TV shows are so boring


From Aleteia -

Fr. Michael Rennier - published on 09/24/23

As I kept losing interest in "prestige" TV shows, I began to ask myself what particular quality I was missing from them. Chesterton showed me the answer.

I’m just going to come out and say this. Sometimes, when you’re a writer, you simply have to grit your teeth and make a blunt statement. Prestige television — the high-toned, sophisticated dramas that win all the awards — is boring.

Not all of it, to be sure, but enough that I started to grow suspicious. Something is wrong with modern storytelling. For instance, that show about big city lawyers bending the law in clever ways while trying to justify the guilt of their moral complicity? I made it about halfway through the series and bailed.

And that show about the science teacher who becomes a drug dealer and slowly becomes corrupted? It was like watching paint dry. Or the anti-hero mobster in Jersey who is ruthless with his enemies but has a conflicted, soft side with his family and talks to his therapist about his feelings of guilt, as if that somehow makes him a sympathetic guy? Not interested.

Does this make me a philistine? Probably. Does it mean I have trouble appreciating modern-day art? Almost certainly. Perhaps the issue is entirely within me. Maybe I’m the one with the defective sensibilities. I prefer turning the television off to re-read Lord of the Rings or stories of the saints or old fairy tales — or even re-watch old sitcoms from the 80s.

For a long time, I would force myself to watch prestige television. After all, so many award committees couldn’t be wrong. But as I watched, I couldn’t help but to lose interest. After this happened enough times, I began to ask myself what it is, what particular quality I was failing to find compelling.

Stories that lead nowhere

G.K. Chesterton, in his book Orthodoxy, suggests the answer. The problem with modern storytelling is that it overwhelmingly focuses on the human ego. Stories now tend be full of anti-heroes, rebels against the system, people with something deeply wrong with them. Most plots go from nowhere to nowhere; no progress is made. The whole point is a psychological deep dive into the allegedly fascinating twists and turns of the human mind, how we morally complicate our decisions before bearing up under the guilt or making ambiguous justifications.

Man watching action show on retro modern TV in futuristic setting

The result of all this interiority is a world in which the anti-hero, the superior or extraordinary person the story focuses on, makes their way through a unique life. There are no dragons to be fought and overcome. There is only endless interior introspection. Each person a hero of their own story. Each hero a suffering Prometheus trying to make meaning in a senseless world.

How to make the world smaller

But, as I tell my parishioners all the time, sin is boring. Moral conflict and self-justification, all the ways we rebel from God and try to take control of our own destinies, rebellion, these things tend to make us feel larger in our own estimation, but they also make the world smaller. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, a world in which my ego is the most fascinating thing is not a world I want to live in.

This is why Chesterton says that the truly exciting stories are those that make us smaller so the world can become larger. If stories aren’t defined by our personal proclivities and willfulness, suddenly the magic enters back into everything. The world becomes an exciting, romantic place. These types of stories are about ordinary people — people like you and me — who encounter an extraordinary universe, who are challenged by it, who genuflect before its beauty, who are in awe of the divine power that created it.

In this way, ordinary people discover grace. We are set upon a heroic journey and discover that something new and extraordinary develops within us.

The extraordinary in the ordinay

Chesterton has quipped that there is nothing so extraordinary in this world than an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children. Modern storytelling misses this entirely.

Ordinary people have a far more exciting time than the heroes you see on TV because that which is strange and odd actually strikes them as strange and odd. They find their surroundings cause for fascination and wonder. As Chesterton says, this is the type of person who realizes that it just might be appropriate to fast 40 days just to hear a blackbird sing.

Retro futuristic TV showing man reading "The Man Who Was Thursday" by Chesterton

The truth of fairy tales

Chesterton harks back to an older form of storytelling – fairy tales. “Fairy tales are the entirely reasonable things,” he writes. Compared to them, everything else rings slightly false. Fairy tales seem to be the stuff of dreams but, in fact, they hold even more truth than a history book. They represent the common wisdom of mankind, which is why fairy tales have an enduring quality. Which of us hasn’t gone back and watched the cartoon fairy tale movies we viewed in our youth? Many of us, I suspect, have introduced these tales to our children.

As a parent, I have read my children fairy tales not because I dismiss my children as childish. On the contrary, I read books like The Little Prince to them every night because I take my children very seriously. I’m introducing them to a world full of virtue and challenges, a world in which God is present, a world in which, if they keep at their heroic journey despite the obstacles, they can slay dragons.

There’s a good reason that storytelling that defaults to an anti-hero is boring, but a tale like Lord of the Rings is the most enduring and popular story of our generation. The anti-hero strives for nothing but self-justification. The hobbits are normal people striving for redemption. To me, the latter is far more exciting. Chesterton agrees. So do a lot of other people, it seems.