Thursday, August 31, 2006

Modern education

We have an interesting situation in a nearby town.

A male high school science teacher has begun the process of changing his gender. He informed school officials of his intention last Spring.

He has not undergone any of the necessary operations yet. As part of the process, this teacher, who has been at the school for a number of years and is known by the students as a man, will begin dressing as a woman this September when school starts.

The district said okay.

The district has now held workshops and meetings for parents and faculty, and will hold one for students the first day of school.

So people will understand and accept what is happening.

Parents have the option of requesting that their children not be in this teacher’s classroom. A few have.

A number of parents have voiced support of the teacher and what he is doing.

Those who are not comfortable with the situation have been silent for the most part. But a few who did speak up say they were afraid to say anything because they might be thought prejudiced or be subject to backlash. And they say they know a number of other people who don’t like it, but haven’t spoken up.

But saying that a lot of people oppose it is not the same as those people coming forward. I have no way of telling how many people oppose it. A local columnist, though, did take an informal poll.

71 % of the respondents said the teacher should be fired.

Right, fire a tenured teacher? Obviously they don’t know the power of the teacher’s unions. (I am a teacher, by the way.) Generally the only way to oust a tenured teacher is if he or she commits a crime. And sometimes even that that is not enough.

This does not qualify.

Still, the usual procedure in situations like this - as rare as they are – is for the teacher to transfer to a different school or district where he is not known by his original gender.

For his own good and the good of the students.

It's not clear why this teacher did not do that. Maybe he just felt more comfortable and supported at the school.

Or maybe he is trying to make a statement.

I'm not concerned here with the morality of his decision to change genders. But I have been thinking about his decision to stay in the school and the decision of the district to offer all these workshops and meetings to engender acceptance.

And then I remembered an appropriate G. K. Chesterton passage.

From "The Outlawed Parent" in What’s Wrong with the World:

"Modern education means handing down the customs of the minority, and rooting out the customs of the majority."

Ah. People who switch genders certainly qualify as a minority.

And this sure seems like Modern Education at its most typical.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Mystical Imagination

Frederick Meekins of the Conservative Voice has produced a new (and favourable) review of Gilbert's Orthodoxy. Be sure to check it out.
Chesterton [. . .] likens the spiritual realm to two wild horses threatening to bolt off into the extremities of either direction with only the church adhering to orthodoxy capable of reining in these powerful tendencies that are good and pure when kept together as a team but result in heartache and ruin if not kept working together in tandem. Ironically, Chesterton claims, though often depicted as scatterbrained, the best poets (actually quite sensible and businesslike) are often the ones embodying the spirit necessary for handling this awesome responsibility. For what the average person desires above all else is a life of practical romance defined by Chesterton as the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure. And what is any more mysterious and secure at the same time than God Himself?
Hat tip: Nancy Brown at the ACS blog.

New Belloc Book

There's a new anthology of Belloc writings: The Eyewitness: an Anthology of Short Stories. You can find more information here. From the site: "Written with an eyewitness quality, these previously uncollected short stories of Hilaire Belloc transport us to realms of the past and realms of fantasy. This unique volume contains 25 short stories and fables -- many appearing in print for the first time since Belloc’s death over fifty years ago."

The book doesn't appear to be available at Amazon yet.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

New Gilbert is Here

The newest edition of Gilbert Magazine arrived yesterday. It's a good one. I haven't read it all yet, but a quick overview:

Sean Dailey informs readers of many Chesterton-themed initiatives at the high school level and Hereditas magazine, for which our Alan Capasso works.

Dale Ahlquist has a splended essay about "The Third Man," Maurice Baring, a guy who has always intrigued me.

Our Kyro has an analysis of relativism. His take? Best seen in this line, I think: "The elitists of [the dictatorship of relativism] have labelled dissent from [relativism] as a medical condition."

Mike Foster takes Smith of Wootton Major off the shelf. It's the one Tolkien book I haven't read.

And best of all: It's the movie review issue. Six movies--some old, some new, some in-between--get G's thumb up. I'd list them here, but that might ruin the surprise.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Duck and Cover

Good news/bad news from the front lines:

Here in Ohio we are following a law suit against Planned Parenthood on how they continually violate the parental notification to cover-up the actions of adult men having sexual relations with minors.

The evidence is overwhelming (here). PP tried to stop the release of records claiming Doctor/patient privilege. The Good news is that the Judge said in essence “poopycock”.

Roe v. Planned Parenthood (Ohio)—Civil action for damages and injunctive relief filed against PP for performing an abortion on a fourteen-year-old girl in violation of Ohio law. Claims on behalf of girl and parents include violation of parental notice and consent statutes, informed consent statute, and law requiring reports in cases of suspected child abuse. PP’s motion to dismiss four of the claims was overruled, and PP unsuccessfully appealed that decision. Plaintiffs sought and were granted access to PP’s records (redacted to protect patient confidentiality) of abortions on minors, to establish a pattern and practice of PP failing to comply with parental involvement laws. PP plans to appeal.” Well sure they are. Ruling against them could cost them buckets of money and/or put many centers out of business and send several PP officials to jail.

Many in the Right to Choose to Kill contingent can see the days of surgical abortion coming to an end in this country, (here) but in a text book case on how sin makes you stupid they are conceding the point and turning to chemical abortion. And in this front they have one a major victory. Enter stage left the bad news - “Plan B”, (what a nice sounding name for murder, don’t you think?).

Think what you will about President Bush but up till now he has fought to protect the pre-born. With this issue he took a dive. Why? My guess is that since Hillary said she would block the nomination of the new head of the FDA if he did not approve this drug. “The stalled process to authorize OTC sale of the "Plan B" abortion drug miraculously moved forward when Hillary and other abortion lovers in the Senate threatened to hold up von Eschenbach's confirmation as FDA director. Funny how that is. When grilled about this obvious political kowtow to the abortion extremists, von Eschenbach disingenuously stated that this was not politics but solid science and concern for women. Dumping heavy doses of synthetic hormones into teenagers' bodies as a chemical reaction to one-night stands is good science? I don't think so” (Rev. Thomas J. Euteneuer). Then I can just hear the President’s handlers saying something like this, “Look GW, the elections are coming up and we are in trouble. Let’s approve this so we can say, ‘See we are in favor of killing babies too’”.

Now we have all heard that this drug is not safe for women, but heck Hillary is happy. We have also heard that this drug will be only sold to those over 18. But it does not say that it will only be sold to women. So now the adult male child sexual offender can walk into a pharmacy in the next town and get the drug that will remove the evidence of his crime and no one’s the wiser. This drug has now made the enemy invisible. There will be no sidewalk ministries outside CVS or protest marches outside Walgreens. More than ever this fight will be fought in the election booths and courtrooms. It is now a battle with two fronts. The key is not to keep silent and not to give up, many lives are at stake.
As a continuation of Kyro’s post, Chesterton said, “The cheapest and most childish of all the taunts of the Pacifists is, I think, the sneer at belligerents for appealing to the God of Battles. It is ludicrously illogical, for we obviously have no right to kill for victory save when we have a right to pray for it. If a war is not a holy war, it is an unholy one -- a massacre." I mention this quote because there is now a commission to review Israel’s part in this war to see if they obeyed the rules and fought like gentlemen. I have heard of no such commission looking into Hezbollah’s conduct. That is because Hezbollah and the other Jihadists have proclaimed this a Holy War so the rules don’t apply to them. Also since the Jihadists have said that victory fits anywhere between making people feel nervous all the way to the total destruction of Israel they get to win every battle or at least it is impossible to lose any. This war will not end until all sides declare this a Holy War.
And it just keeps getting better.
The ACLU has decided that NAMBLA is worthy of protection. Just because some of it’s member kill little boys doesn’t mean they ain’t nice guys. NAMBLA is so nice they have formed a political party in the Netherlands to help spread their fine code of ethics. They even have a woman’s auxiliary like Lady Elks. No offence to Elks - they are good eating.
And when you join they give excellent life advice. I'm surprised the Knights don’t give this to their members?

It all makes me understand what Grocho Marx once said, “I have a good mind of joining a club and beating you over the head with it.”

Maybe you heard it, maybe you didn’t but there was a small “academic” explosion at my local community college over the committee’s acceptance to do a play by Chesterton. A great many of the other professors started screaming we can’t be proselytizing! Chesterton is a Catholic and we can not be associated with THAT kind of thing!” It got ugly and the committee caved, we will not be doing The Surprise this season. I am sure that not one of the screamers read the play but was heartened that they had at least heard of Chesterton and thought he was dangerous. Funny though, I can do a play about Hell (No Exit) but not one about Heaven probably because they don’t believe in Hell or think anyone could take that myth seriously. Just a story to scare the children.
When I first heard the phrase “Post Christian Era” I laughed. It is an age Chesterton saw coming and many laughed at him. It doesn’t sound so funny anymore.

As for me I’m going to put myself in storage for a few days right after I clean the chicken coop.

Returning Round-up

So, I have limited computer access once more, and though I won't have all of my files and such back for a bit, I can still post about things that require none of my own resources to discuss. In that vein, then, let us return to the round-up format that had proved so popular.


In a move that curiously evokes the trials (both literal and figurative) of the Early Church Fathers, a Polish football player on a team in Scotland has been formally charged with breach of the peace and ordered to pay a fine after he took the scandalous step of performing the sign of the cross at a recent game. The Crown Office pronounced the action an "incitation to violence" and likely to provoke alarm.

To be hated in ancient days because you loved people was not uncommon; so too was to be killed for wanting to save lives, or robbed for wanting to practice charity. We can at least be thankful, I suppose, that the will and imagination have left our detractors now, even if they still occasionally lob their little fireballs of indignation.


As it is generally felt that the West has neatly and happily accomplished everything else under the sun of human achievement, the only novelty left to us, I suppose, is self-destruction. We have seen this policy in action time and again in recent years, but nowhere are the results more profound than in the cultivated anti-intellectualism of our young. Sometimes this takes the form of a mere disdain for eggheads. Sometimes, however, things are more alarming still.

The surest way to send a country or culture screaming into the outer darkness is by corrupting - not simply destroying - its youth. There are three key things that must be done for this to happen:
  • The youth must be cut off from any sense of their country or culture's history. The West is efficiently bringint this about by accomodating a program of retrovilification and ahistoricization. When some historical fact or work or concept can not be turned to the destroyer's aims, it is dismissed as inconsequential, or hateful, or both. A sane man calls it propaganda and revisionist history; the people in charge call it enlightenment and progress.
  • The youth must be bent to the task of producing a future society in which the efforts that ruined the youth themselves will no longer be necessary to keep it all miserable. In countries like Cambodia and North Korea, many have already begun to see this tree bear fruit. In North Korea, especially, they are on the verge of being populated exclusively by citizens who have no memory or conception of a free country.
  • The youth must be taught that knowledge and inquiry are wrong, though it does not matter under what pretext this lesson is conveyed. The same essential result can be achieved by telling them that knowledge and inquiry are shamefully decadent as can be achieved by telling them that they're stodgy and conservative. The less likely to learn the youth become, the less likely they'll be able to spot ordure when they see or hear it.
These programs are ticking along nicely even in my own city, my own school, and my own home. They are a daily and frustrating reminder of just how essential Catholic Christendom is to the world, and just how much will be lost if it is driven away. The only upside is that the boiling of my blood that all this provokes drives down the heating costs in the winter.


Our image for the day comes from John Singer Sargent's stupendous Triumph of Religion, a mural/sculpture work that can be found and reverenced at the Boston Public Library. In this central panel from the Frieze of Prophets, Moses stands, in a curious Egyptian motif, with the tablets of the law before him. He is flanked by Elijah and Joshua.

It is of interest to me that the to wings that cross Moses' breast seem reminiscent of the popularized, wings-touching design of the cherubs on the Ark of the Covenant. Whether it means something or not I couldn't say, though it must be remembered that Sargent was something of a syncretist in some ways, so it wouldn't surprise me if there was something meant by it.


And finally, to close lightly and profitably, I will direct you to this excellent collection of talks by the marvelous Fulton J. Sheen, so well-remembered by many of you and so lately admired by myself. I have never seen his television programs, unfortunately (not having been alive at the time), but I'm doing what I can to fix that. There is a touch of sadness to it, too, to be reminded of a time when a Catholic Bishop giving lectures was one of the hottest things on television, and not for some ironic reason. Nowadays we're lucky to get something like Father Ted - and, believe me, we were lucky to get Father Ted - if not outright mockery.

Friday, August 25, 2006

A quick hit of infamy for you

I've just stopped into an internet cafe on my way home from work to post about another blood-boiling epoch in the new curiously iconophile west.

So great is the ardour of Da Vinci Code fans that they have now been moved to vandalise and cart off material from churches that do not, in fact, feature in the story at all, but are similar to things in it. Case in point: St. Luke's (likely Anglican) in Shropshire.

The Reverend Charmian Beech blamed a pair of 'Da Vinci Code-style' treasure hunters for causing thousands of pounds worth of damage as they searched for clues to help them find the Grail.

Stonework was chipped off in four areas inside her church as the offenders tried to remove blocks from the walls to see what is behind them, she said.

The chief suspects are two shadowy Italian men who visited the church that day.

Well, at least they're not Huguenots.

Holy War, Just War, Jihad, and GKC

Middle East events are dominating the news, and likely will not arrive at a state of detante for some time.

Having spent a great deal of time and mental energy in these matters, I deeply respect the thoughts of Chesterton on Islam, and on just war in general.

Chesterton's critique on Islam in The New Jerusalem is an excellent starting point for understanding the cultures of the Middle East. "Islam is a movement which ceased to move," is a brilliant single line which describes an aspect of character in these populations. Belloc, as well, in The Great Heresies makes many keen observations, or even prophecies which are coming to fulfillment in our own times.

I admit that tense times tend to push us towards either a mission field or battlefield type of mentality. Finding that third option becomes more and more difficult. I have yet to read Peter Kreeft's Ecumenical Jihad, but I believe from some of his other writings that he sees true devout Moslems as allies in the culture war. Without having read the book, I could superficially agree to this. My experience with interpreters would validate this idea. Despite the conflict of faith, those of us who were practicing Christians made much deeper connections with the Moslem interpreters from the basis of a shared sense of personal morality.

When it comes to battlefield conflict, I have often wondered about the difference between Jihad and Just War. Just War theory really tries to make armed intervention a situation of grave last resort. Yet, if the cause is clearly right, could we go so far to say that Just War becomes Holy War which becomes a sacramental act? This I would argue more accurately describes Jihad than the classical understanding of Just War. On a smaller scale, no matter where you live, there is probably a methamphetamine infested neighborhood nearby where your local police basically have to fight their way in and out of. This more local, immediate perspective holds part of the key to finding the exit from this dilemma.

To repeat the analysis of others, Chesterton saw the Boer War of his day as an unjust conflict, and WWI as a just war. The distributist bent on the topic would add the principle of subsidiarity to the discussion, which actually fits the just war model in a stronger way. The drug neighborhood with the constant warrants being served by the SWAT team I think represents the implementation of just war in the most correct form on the most small scale level. How do we inductively reason up from this to international conflicts?

Returning to the issue of Just War vs. Jihad, I think the answer to that tension is found in that notion of subsidiarity. Just War is not a holy act, coming to the aid of the helpless is. Using the SWAT team in the drug neighborhood as the example, we can see that kicking in the door and doing dynamic entry is the means to the end of removing a terrorizing element from the community. This requires deep thinking and integrating many subtle points into one's knowledge of the subjects. Our journalists and educators are the absolutist, black-and-white thinkers. Look at the movie Kingdom of Heaven, irritatingly simplistic in its treatment of the Crusades.

Im afraid that my post here leaves more questions than answers. But I actually am rather enthused that it is the Chestertonian mindset gleaning over the collected wisdom of Christian experience that seems most likely to discover answers.

Well, I ramble. Have a great weekend folks.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Happy Birthday, Max

The caricaturist and parodist "Mr. Max Beerbohm" was born 134 years ago today in some land called "London, England." Our friend Mr. Chesterton frequently mentioned him.

I believe firmly in the value of all vulgar notions, especially of vulgar jokes. When once you have got hold of a vulgar joke, you may be certain that you have got hold of a subtle and spiritual idea. The men who made the joke saw something deep which they could not express except by something silly and emphatic. They saw something delicate which they could only express by something indelicate. I remember that Mr. Max Beerbohm (who has every merit except democracy) attempted to analyse the jokes at which the mob laughs. He divided them into three sections: jokes about bodily humiliation, jokes about things alien, such as foreigners, and jokes about bad cheese. Mr. Max Beerbohm thought he understood the first two forms; but I am not sure that he did. In order to understand vulgar humour it is not enough to be humorous. One must also be vulgar, as I am. And in the first case it is surely obvious that it is not merely at the fact of something being hurt that we laugh (as I trust we do) when a Prime Minister sits on his hat. If that were so we should laugh whenever we saw a funeral. We do not laugh at the mere fact of something falling down; there is nothing humorous about leaves falling or the sun going down. When our house falls down we do not laugh. All the birds of the air might drop around us in a perpetual shower like a hailstorm without arousing a smile. If you really ask yourself why we laugh at a man sitting down suddenly in the street you will discover that the reason is not only recondite, but ultimately religious. All the jokes about men sitting down on their hats are really theological jokes; they are concerned with the Dual Nature of Man. They refer to the primary paradox that man is superior to all the things around him and yet is at their mercy.

Quite equally subtle and spiritual is the idea at the back of laughing at foreigners. It concerns the almost torturing mirth of a thing being like oneself and yet not like oneself. Nobody laughs at what is entirely foreign; nobody laughs at a palm tree. But it is funny to see the familiar image of God disguised behind the black beard of a Frenchman of the black face of a Negro. There is nothing funny in the sounds that are wholly inhuman, the howling of wild beasts or of the wind. But if a man begins to talk like oneself, but all the syllables come out different, then if one is a man one feels inclined to laugh, though if one is a gentleman one resists the inclination.

Mr. Max Beerbohm, I remember, professed to understand the first two forms of popular wit, but said that the third quite stumped him. He could not see why there should be anything funny about bad cheese. I can tell him at once. He has missed the idea because it is subtle and philosophical, and he was looking for something ignorant and foolish. Bad cheese is funny because it is (like the foreigner or the man fallen on the pavement) the type of the transition or transgression across a great mystical boundary. Bad cheese symbolises the change from the inorganic to the organic. Bad cheese symbolises the startling prodigy of matter taking on vitality. It symbolises the origin of life itself. And it is only about such solemn matters as the origin of life that the democracy condescends to joke. Thus, for instance, the democracy jokes about marriage, because marriage is a part of mankind. But the democracy would never deign to joke about Free Love, because Free Love is a piece of priggishness.
-- G.K. Chesterton in All Things Considered

The Sword of Surprise

The Sword of Surprise
G. K. Chesterton

Sunder me from my bones, O sword of God
Till they stand stark and strange as do the trees;
That I whose heart goes up with the soaring woods
May marvel as much at these.

Sunder me from my blood that in the dark
I hear that red ancestral river run
Like branching buried floods that find the sea
But never see the sun.

Give me miraculous eyes to see my eyes
Those rolling mirrors made alive in me
Terrible crystals more incredible
Than all the things they see

Sunder me from my soul, that I may see
The sins like streaming wounds, the life's brave beat;
Till I shall save myself as I would save
A stranger in the street.

Self-confidence (Orthodoxy)

This past Spring I joined the Rochester Chesterton Society. I had actually first encountered the society years ago, but had lost track of them until this year.

One of the group's activities is for members to spend a year all reading the same Chesterton book, a chapter or two at a time, and discussing what they read at the monthly meetings. At the time that I joined, they were just finishing up St. Francis of Assisi.

Before going on a summer break, the group’s leader announced that the next book will be Orthodoxy. He suggested that we all get a copy in time for the September meeting, and recommended that we get a hold of the annotated edition.

I actually had two copies of Orthodoxy. One was a battered Doubleday Image Book I’d gotten in the 1970s, the other the Ignatius Press edition.

Still, I ordered a copy of the annotated edition.

It arrived this summer.

When I first glanced at the notes, I was disappointed.

I’m an English and History teacher. I know who John Henry Newman, George Bernard Shaw, John Dryden, William Cowper and Hans Holbein are. I know what sophistry, rotters, gorgons and griffins are. I know the Apostle’s Creed.

I was confident in my knowledge and my ability to understand such references even without notes.

Ah, but then I stumbled across Hanwell, Joanna Southcote, Reginald John Campbell and Robert B. Suthers.

And suddenly, I understood what Chesterton meant in part when he talked about a man who "believes in himself."

"It would be much truer to say that a man will certainly fail because he believes in himself. Complete self-confidence is not merely a sin; complete self-confidence is a weakness."

I readily admit that I am a sinner and weak, so it's not hard to admit the truth of his comments.

Besides, it could have been worse:

"The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums."

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Curtain Warn

In my post of June 27 (just don't step on his tail) I mentioned that I will be directing a play for my local Community College. Realizing that imposing a script on me would not bring the best results they asked me to submit some suggestions. First on my list was Chesterton’s one act The Surprise. To round off the evening I suggested pairing it with John Paul Sartre’s No Exit.
You know, a battle for Joy done on stage sort of thing.

They accepted No Exit but nixed The Surprise; they felt we had done enough Christian theme plays. I asked if they read it but they had not they just Googled Chesterton and saw that he was a Catholic apologist. And they wanted a show that was more in line with the offering of their English department’s list of reading so the students would go and see it (read: forced to go and then write a paper).

I first let them know that, true The Surprise has a Friar in it, but that it was not an apologetics piece. It is more like an adult version of Pinocchio. And that Chesterton is on the reading list of the Universities in the area so thier students might come and that would bring recognition to this institution. As well as the fact that both plays have to do with the issue of free will so their students would have plenty on which to write a paper. After some hemming and hawing I reminded them that they wanted shows that appealed to their audience base and build upon it. By the size and make up of our recent audiences that base was not the student body but the Screwtape crowd. And with Sartre on the same night we will bring a whole different sort of crowd. There are a lot of people who still think Sartre’s existentialist thinking is correct.

They agreed and are letting me do The Surprise along with No Exit.

So I may have put my foot in it again cause now I gotsta prove my stand to a group that would be happy with my bombing. But as Gilbert was so fond of saying "I believe in getting into hot water; it keeps you clean."

This should be fun.

Here are some photos Dale Ahlquist sent me from his production of The Surprise done at the 25th GK Chesterton Conference. (I'm doing so without anyones permission - in for a penny in for a pound)

I’ll keep you updated as to how it all goes and I’ll post my photos after the show in November.

Orwell on GKC

Jacintha Buddicam remembered fondly her youthful conversations with Eric Blair (George Orwell), a childhood friend, beginning in the year 1915 when Blair, or Orwell, was about 12 years old. "He was crazy about Chesterton," she recalled, and reported that he had given her a copy of Chesterton's Manalive. [Jonathon Rose, The Revised Orwell, East Lansing: MSU, 1992, pp. 85-86]

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Mencken on GKC

In a letter to Louis Untermeyer dated March 26, 1912, H. L. Mencken asserts that he has grown tired of Chesterton's prose. "He has said all he has to say," Mencken wrote. "Of late his stuff has been mere repetition." Mencken did concede, however, that he thought Untermeyer's good opinion of The Ballad of the White Horse was "right." [New Mencken Letters, New York: Dial, 1977]

As long as we're on Mencken, I might as well offer my favorite quote from that essay: "The professor must be an obscurantist or he is nothing; he has a special and unmatchable talent for dullness; his central aim is not to expose the truth clearly, but to exhibit his profundity, his esotericity—in brief, to stagger sophomores and other professors."

Big Theology – Small Body

Not to let you think that my patron saint is Eeyore (that might be deduced from my last couple of posts) there is still glorious life abounding around here. “..Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. ... Joy ... is the gigantic secret of the Christian." (GKC)

My daughter just turned five and she received what she had been asking for since Christmas – her own make-up. She managed to put all of it on her hands and face in around a half hour.
In spite of this materialist leaning she is a deep thinker. Several weeks ago we were driving back from the grocery store and she had been quite for some time. As you know when a four year is not talking it can only mean one of two things, they are asleep or something is bothering them. I looked back and saw she was awake so I asked, “What’s the matter baby?”
She asked me, “Papa, are we here now?”
“No honey we won’t be home for many minutes?
“No. Are we here, right here now?”
“Yes dear we are here now.”
OK, I did not begin to question my existence until I was 13. And here she is trying to work it out at four. Lately she is also showing a theological bent. She is trying to figure out where God is and how he can be everywhere. Again, in another car ride:
“Is God in the car with us, Papa?
“Yes He is.”
“Where is He sitting?”
“Next to you.”
“Does He come with us all the time.”
“All the time.”
“Doesn’t He have his own car?”
“Well this is His car. He is just letting me use it.”
“He must be mad at you.”
“Cause you got His car all messy.”
When we got home we cleaned it out and she felt much better.

The One Doctrine Which Can Be Proven.........

According to GK Chesterton is the doctrine of Original Sin. If there is any one point which can be agreed upon by by Christians, Athiests, Buddhists, Wiccans, and drug abusers it is that there is something wrong with human nature which requires a remedy. It is unfortunate that a staw man parody of this doctrine is often set up by skeptics who cannot see the issue as larger than infants bearing guilt.

My life experience has borne this proof out to me in a rather unique way. During college, I strayed into Eastern Philosophy/Mysticism and met several individuals involved in traditional Chinese medicine. I delved deeply into these areas, and hold the unusual credentials (for an orthodox Catholic) of bearing a lineage in traditional Chinese internal martial arts (from Yi Tien -Wen, Taipei). The pathway of the East is being widely embraced by those who yearn for "spirituality without religion", and this was the case even in Chesterton's day. Many ILN essays cover this topic, and lovers of Orthodoxy will remember Chesterton's contrasting the reclining Buddha with the statue of the Saint.

(autor)OK Kyro, you lost me. How does this involve original sin?

(lector)You see, honest examination of the pathways of the East eventually leads one back to Christ. Matteo Ricci and the Jesuit missionaries to China saw this. In many ways Taoist/Confucianist cultures(not so much Buddhist) are much like the Platonic/Stoic world of the first century; Revelation is the key the opens the doors which bar Taoism and Confucianism from being complete systems.

(autor)Um, original sin?

(lector)Classical Chinese thought is not relativistic, autonomous, and hippie-friendly. For decades publishers have manipulated texts and passages to build up a facade to build a new spirituality for moderns. The point is, it is NEW, even the Chinese never believed this stuff. You see, morality in these systems is very rigorous. The Dalai Lama's books are highly edited when released in the West. On sexuality, His Holiness the Dalai Lama would agree almost totally with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVII.

As a matter of fact, a very good traditional Chinese medical practicioner(TCM) can diagnose many moral ailments from subtle cues within the body. At my level of training in these things, more as a coach than as a doctor, I am left with several impressions.

The body works in its most efficient state when working in accordance with its natural design. In terms of fighting, certain angles are advantageous, leverage is maximized in certain positions and lost in others. The body's musculature can be engaged in a certain way to maximize power and maintain balance ----------and all of these things have to be learned, drilled, discovered, and developed. This is in contradiction to everything else in nature. Animals have natural instincts that lead them to pursue and hunt. Water does not need to do anything but be water in order to flow downhill. Yet for some mysterious reason(original sin), in order to follow the path of least resistance as a human being requires dedicated effort. Anyone who has spent a great deal of time on the mat knows this feeling, that there is an ideal being strived for that is just out of reach and what is preventing its achievement would be called concupiscence and fallen human nature by theologians.

Chesterton says that original sin is the only Christian doctrine which one can prove. He meant this in the sense of the moral failures of individuals and the ills of the social world. I believe that it can also be proven at a very bodily level.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Bad news, gang

Over the weekend, I had not one, but two computers die on me - my laptop and my PC. As such, I will not be able to post for at least a week, maybe longer. I'm writing this post from an internet cafe near where I work, to which I must adjourn in a few minutes.

Sorry. :/

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Slip and Slide

When one is a child of a Great parent (and I mean Great as in famous and/or deed) it is very difficult to get out from under that shadow and become your own person. Aside from a few notable exceptions (the Wyeth’s, the Boyd’s and the Barrymore's) these children deal with an imagined imposed inferiority complex that usually leads to destructive behavior. There are famous cases of this, as with Brando’s kids, and others that become tabloid fodder. I’m sure psychologists have a syndrome name for this. Now multiply that syndrome by a several million.

My Father’s generation, that WW2 crowd, is called the Greatest Generation followed by the Baby Boomers, of which I belong to the tail end. Baby Boomers!?, talk about being in the shadows, it’s the first generation that did not earn its name but came to embody it, as in Baby. The battle cry was “Don’t trust anyone over thirty!” We have tried to stay perpetual teenagers, action without consequence, little responsibilities, invisible and invulnerable. And then came the one we spawned, it is even worse, Generation X -no name at all - and their battle cry is “I want my MTV.” (see Joe’s post A Softened State is the Infantilization of the Population)

Some future Historian will rename these two as either the Generation That Went Insane because we are voluntarily cutting the moorings of Family and Church to go adrift on a stormy sea, (moorings completely cut in most of Europe). Or it will be called the Humpty Dumpty Generation for surely we are headed for a great fall. We are deciding not conceive or abort those we do and abort mostly the girls. “India has 927 girls under age six for every 1,000 boys. The world average is 1,050 girls for every 1,000 boys. In Punjab state, there are only 798 girls for every 1,000 boys.

"In China, the birth ratio of boys to girls is now 12% above normal levels,"… "In India, it is 6%. . . . The demographic implications of all this are immense because of the size of populations involved. The first results will be felt around 2015, when huge numbers of men reaching marriageable age will be unable to find a wife. The imbalance in the Chinese marriage market will worsen after 2010, and by 2030 there will be a 20% surplus of men--every year 1.6 million will be unable to find wives."

Historically, large numbers of unmarried men in a society has meant destabilization and war. With so many potent powder kegs in Asia—Taiwan and Kashmir are just the best-known--are massive wars in the continent's near future?” (Joseph A. D'Agostino)

Or, “The extinguishing of a people does not have to be done with troops or death camps. Isn't it genocide to indoctrinate into the contraceptive mentality the youth of a small nation with a low birthrate? (Kinder, Gentler Genocide in Mongolia)”

A popular song for the Greatest Generation was Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me for the Baby Boomers it was If Your Not With The One You Love, Love The One You’re With, Gen Xers it is Let’s Do It Like They Do On The Discovery Channel. All this abandon is leading us away from Adam and Eve to Adam and Steve to Adam, Eve, Lori, Joan and Shaniqua. The kind of progression that Chesterton means when he talks about the myth of progress.

Stanley Kurtz tells us, “Democratic culture depends on monogamous marriage (one man one woman). The alternatives are either too authoritarian to be adapted to our society or so hyper-individualist that they cannot perform the work of families. And recognition of either alternative would undermine the monogamy on which the stability of American marriage depends.
The new wave of Big Love-inspired talk about polygamy is directly attributable to the campaign for same-sex marriage. Big Love was created by a pair of gay-marriage advocates, who use the show to highlight the analogy between same-sex unions and polygamy. And Big Love is merely a hint of things to come. Radicals have long seen same-sex marriage as a lever with which to break the grip of monogamy. Should gay marriage be safely legalized, the radicals will emerge in force. Mainstream liberals like Sanford Levinson (who has a soft spot for experiments in multipartner marriage) openly advise the gay marriage movement to distance itself from marriage radicalism until after gay marriage is legalized. Big Love notwithstanding, that advice is largely heeded. (Read all of Stanley Kurtz’s essay here. It will be well worth your time.)

We are headed for a time when certain Gospel passages will be labeled “Hate Speech” and preachers will be required to use inclusive language. Yes, if you mention Jesus in a sermon and someone in the church doesn’t particularly like to be reminded of that name or is offended by it because Gumby is their spiritual guide you could lose your job. Because we know Jesus never offended anybody. As the Roman solider nailed Him to the cross he said, “It’s nothing personal, just business.” This all inclusive approach is now being tested out in the U.S. Navy.

The old adage needs to apply “The government should not listen to the Church it should listen to the people. The people should listen to the Church.”

Yes our God is a patient God but history tells that sooner or later enough is enough and he chastises his children.
“The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.”
Humpty Dumpty will have a great fall on this slippery slope. Our secular kings men and horses first said, “what harm could come”. But then they will say, “if only I had known.” But The Kings men and women will rise up and rebuild.

Friday, August 18, 2006

A Softened State is the Infantilization of the Population

The opinion commentator Mark Steyn gave the C.D. Kemp Lecture at the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne on Thursday. Here is a paragraph mentioning Belloc. Then entire address is good; read it here.
“When life becomes an extended picnic, with nothing of importance to do,” writes Charles Murray in In Our Hands, “ideas of greatness become an irritant. Such is the nature of the Europe syndrome.” The Continent has embraced a spiritual death long before the demographic one. In those 17 Europeans countries which have fallen into “lowest-low fertility”, where are the children? In a way, you’re looking at them: the guy sipping espresso at a sidewalk cafĂ© listening to his iPod. Free citizens of advanced western democracies are increasingly the world’s wrinkliest teenagers: the state makes the grown-up decisions and we spend our pocket money on our record collection. Hilaire Belloc, incidentally, foresaw this very clearly in his book The Servile State in 1912 – before teenagers or record collections had been invented. He understood that the long-term cost of a softened state is the infantilization of the population. The populations of wealthy democratic societies expect to be able to choose from dozens of breakfast cereals at the supermarket, thousands of movies at the video store, and millions of porn sites on the Internet, yet think it perfectly to demand that the state take care of their elderly parents and their young children while they’re working – to, in effect, surrender what most previous societies would have regarded as all the responsibilities of adulthood. It’s a curious inversion of citizenship to demand control over peripheral leisure activities but to contract out the big life-changing stuff to the government. And it’s hard to come up with a wake-up call for a society as dedicated as latterday Europe to the belief that life is about sleeping in.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Good neighbor policy

The recent fighting in Southern Lebanon and Northern Israel got me to thinking about similar disputes.

Protestant and Catholic in Northern Ireland. Sunni and Shiite in Iraq (and elsewhere). Iran and Iraq. The Union and the Confederacy in the U.S.

My neighbors and the tree.

The dispute started when a tree on one neighbor’s property lost a large limb during an overnight wind storm. The limb straddled the next-door neighbor’s driveway.

Why neither of them did anything when it first fell – and probably made a lot of noise in the process – I can’t say. Maybe they are sound sleepers.

This was also not the first time limbs from the tree had fallen on the next-door neighbor's yard - albeit, previous limbs had been much smaller. The tree was old. The next-door neighbor says he had asked the neighbor to do something about the tree before, but to no avail.

Anyway, the next-door neighbor, who was an early riser and had to get the limb out of the way so he could get his car out of the driveway, woke the neighbor whose tree limb was agitating him.

The neighbor, who was a late riser, was not happy at being awakened. Apparently he had a few choice words for the next-door neighbor (at least that is the report I have of the incident), and went back to bed.

The next part I know for a fact: I saw it.

When the neighbor finally awoke, the limb had been dragged across his lawn, tearing it up a bit, and was now straddling his driveway.

Apparently he said a few choice words concerning the next-door neighbor (again, hearsay on my part).

That evening, neighbor returned home to find a number of limbs that had been hanging over the next-door neighbor’s driveway and yard now missing from the tree.

It seems the next-door neighbor had hired a handyman armed with a chain saw to remove the potentially offending limbs.

There is talk of a lawsuit.

I can imagine the neighbors glaring at each other from behind windows waiting for the other shoe – or limb – to drop.

Of such moments are wars made.

And, in the case of Chesterton, a poem.

The World State

Oh, how I love Humanity,
With love so pure and pringlish,
And how I hate the horrid French,
Who never will be English!

The International Idea,
The largest and the clearest,
Is welding all the nations now,
Except the one that's nearest.

This compromise has long been known,
This scheme of partial pardons,
In ethical societies
And small suburban gardens—

The villas and the chapels where
I learned with little labour
The way to love my fellow-man
And hate my next-door neighbour.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Art of Recitation

Magnus Linklater wrote this in the Scotsman a few days ago:
HALFWAY through Mary Kenny's play, Allegiance, currently playing on the Fringe, Winston Churchill and the Irish republican, Michael Collins, fuelled by brandy and champagne, begin reciting poetry from memory.

They discover that they both know great chunks of GK Chesterton and can do the Charge of the Light Brigade by heart from beginning to end. They delight in finding they share so much.

"Stiff flags straining in the night-blasts cold; in the gloom black-purple, in the glint old-gold - I love that line," says Collins. "Battle poetry is so inspiring. I love it."

I doubt if such a scene could take place today. The art of recitation has become a thing of the past, and with it has gone the shared heritage of well-learnt poetry or prose. It must be more than 100 years since someone said that, if the works of Horace were lost to the world, they could be re-compiled thanks to the collective memories of MPs and peers at Westminster. Does Tony Blair recite a little Keats to George Bush, and get a dose of Longfellow in return? I don't think so.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Special Bulletin: Benedict XVI Quotes Gilbert!

In a recent interview - the first of its kind ever granted by a Pope - Benedict XVI demonstrated his splendid glory by quoting (well, paraphrasing) Gilbert Chesterton:
Fuchs: Stories with humor in them too? In 1989 in Munich you were given the Karl Valentin Award. What role does humor play in the life of a pope?

Benedict: I'm not a man who constantly thinks up jokes. But I think it's very important to be able to see the funny side of life and its joyful dimension and not to take everything too tragically. I'd also say it's necessary for my ministry. A writer once said that angels can fly because they don't take themselves too seriously. Maybe we could also fly a bit if we didn't think we were so important.
Benedict forever!

Hat tip: Nancy Brown.

"Restaurant Music is an Insult..."

Every now and then I run across a newspaper article vaguely quoting Chesterton as saying "restaurant music is an insult to the cook and the musician," or "music while dining is an insult to the chef and the violinist." In my book reading I've never come across a quote similar to it; so I contacted the American Chesterton Society's Quotemeister. Two weeks later I received a response from Dale Ahlquist with this quotation:
I have already remarked, with all the restraint that I could command, that of all modern phenomena, the most monstrous and ominous, the most manifestly rotting with disease, the most grimly prophetic of destruction, the most clearly and unmistakably inspired by evil spirits the most instantly and awfully overshadowed by the wrath of heaven, the most near to madness and moral chaos, the most vivid with devilry and despair, is the practice of having to listen to loud music while eating a meal in a restaurant... Also, as I have often pointed out, it is rude to everybody concerned. It is as if I went to hear Paderewski or Kreisler, at a concert, and started to spread out an elegant supper in front of me, with oysters and pigeon-pie and champagne, coffee and liqueurs. One is an insult to the cook and the other to the musician...

(Chesterton in The Illustrated London News, April 22, 1933.)
Beautiful! The tirade almost sounds like Belloc.

Thank you, Dale, for finding this.

Chesterton on YouTube

The Peculiar People is a small theatrical touring company based in Tennessee, and they have apparently produced a play called The Happy Man, which is billed as a "romp through the mind of G.K. Chesterton." What follows is the "trailer" for this play, featuring some audience commentary on it as well as an excellent monologue that should be familiar to any fan of Orthodoxy. Simply click the play button in the middle of the image to play the video.

EDIT: YouTube is experiencing some downtime, so this video and the one in the post below aren't showing up. They'll be back in the near future, though, so please be patient.

Monday, August 14, 2006


Though the medium of film is uniquely suited to perversion - demanding as it does very little discernment to approach, very little intellect to understand, and very little effort to enjoy - there is also much in it that can be turned to goodness and truth. It is my intent to showcase a number of films in the coming times that are absolutely worth your time, and stand as examples of what can be accomplished when the story or the message become the focus, rather than the incident, of production.

The first such film I will address is The Prince of Egypt, if you can believe it.

Released in 1998, The Prince of Egypt was the first animated film produced by Dreamworks SKG, the studio founded by Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg. The film has a number of distinctions that are worth noting. First, it is a Hollywood rarity in that it is, so far as a 99-minute children's film will allow, essentially orthodox. We are all too aware of the gleam that appears in the Hollywood eye when the opportunity to produce "a different take" on a matter of religious import to millions, and the often disastrous consequences of such action.

The Prince of Egypt, then, is a breath of fresh and invigorating air. The film tells the story of Moses from the day of his placement in the reeds to the parting of the Red Sea, with a small epilogue at the end showing him bringing down the tablets of the Law. Much is necessarily omitted from the story, due to constraints of both time and interest, but what remains is virtually untarnished gold. I will provide a brief rundown of the things that the film could have done without, and which assailed its otherwise unimpeachable dignity. You will do well to note how brief the list is.
  • Typical "comic relief" characters in the form of the two high priests of Ra (voiced by Steve Martin and Martin Short, to give you an idea of the sort of humour you can expect).
  • Somewhat feminist bent to the film's characters. Miriam's significance in Moses' actions is perhaps overstated, and Tzipporah has a little too much of the "independent woman" vibe about her. Only Moses' mother, Yocheved, seemed to be spot-on. She is only in the movie for about four minutes, and all of her lines are sung. None of this diminishes Moses in any way, however, and, what's more, nor does it diminish God.
  • Yes, there are songs. It was an animated film in the 90's, after all. Some of them are distracting, but others certainly add to the film. We shall discuss that in time.
  • Aaron is cast as a skeptic rather than a wholehearted supporter, and he changes his mind after Moses brings down the plague of blood, which of course is quite a bit different from what really happened vis-a-vis Aaron bringing it down himself.
So, that's really it. Seriously. Everything else is just wonderful. Pharaoh (Seti, that is) is as cruel and heartless as he ought to be. The initial slaughter of the Hebrew children is not softened or glossed over, and is rather returned to repeatedly as a frame for all sorts of things. The comic relief element of the two priests manages to underscore nicely just how insignificant the Egyptian "gods" were compared to God Himself. They are shown to be nothing but cunning tricksters who work their magic through artifice and minor conjuring. Their staffs certainly turn into snakes, of course, but they are dispatched promptly, as they ought to be.

The songs, a sometimes necessary evil in a children's film of this nature, are almost to a man unoffensive and delightful. The only exception is a comic piece near the middle of the film featuring - no surprise, here - the high priests of Ra. Everything else is either majestic ("Deliver Us;" "When You Believe"), pleasant ("Through Heaven's Eyes"), or simply awesome ("The Plagues").

This latter piece is awesome because God Himself, thank goodness, is awesome. He is not diminished or softened in any way in The Prince of Egypt. The Burning Bush is indeed a burning bush, though the fire is ethereal rather than earthly. His voice is deep and mighty, and He is not inclusive, or tolerant, or small. When Moses objects to being God's voice to the Pharaoh, God's response ("WHO MADE MEN'S MOUTHS? Etc.") is delievered like a sledge hammer blow to the cowering, terrified Moses. This is not a pleasant, modern God.

Neither, indeed, are his other manifestations in any restrained. The plagues, though "rushed" through over the course of a three minute montage, are nonetheless shown in all of their terrible power. The blood is real blood. The boils are real boils. The clouds of locusts swell like the approaching doom that they are. And when the avenging angel takes the firstborn of Egypt, it's a scene both chilling and alarming. A sweeping, silent death from which there is no escape. The song that accompanies the Plague sequence is comprised of lyrics one could scarcely hope to hear uttered in film without it being mocking or ironic:

I send a pestilence and plague
Into your house, into your bed
Into your streams, into your streets
Into your drink, into your bread
Upon your cattle, on your sheep
Upon your oxen in your field
Into your dreams, into your sleep
Until you break, until you yield
I send the swarm, I send the horde
Thus saith the Lord

The parting of the Red Sea is nothing less than astonishing. It's a pity I can't show it to you. What I can show you, however, are the first ten minutes of the film, as uploaded to YouTube. The magical nature of "fair use" laws apparently allows ten minutes of a film to be distributed freely to anybody, and as such the gentleman in question is slowly uploading the entire movie in ten-minute increments. If this taxes you ethically, so be it, but in the mean time there's no harm in watching this sample.

I would recommend The Prince of Egypt to anybody with an interest in such things, and especially to those with young children for whom it is increasingly difficult to find movies that are just as good aesthetically as they are morally. Check this one out. You'll be glad you did.

Further reading:

The IMDB Entry
The Wikipedia Entry
The DecentFilms Review


Gilbert famously said that there really are no uninteresting subjects, but, rather, occasionally a multitude of uninterested people. What's more, because of the wonderfully radial nature of Creation, there is not a thing in existence that can not be related back to Christ in some way, or indeed, to anything else. This simple and useful truth is at the heart of syncretism, of course, which is a sterling example of how one idea exalted beyond all reasonable context is the very essence of heresy.

In any event, this is all just a flowery way of saying that I'm going to be posting things about subjects I personally find interesting, but which are not, necessarily or explicitly, related to the life and times of Gilbert Chesterton or his circle of fellow travellers. In many cases, of course, I'd be surprised if there wasn't such an influence; I just mean that if there is, it isn't explicit. This blog's stated intent is to address the subject of Gilbert and the writers he influenced. If I must strain for a rationalisation for my present course, I could throw myself lightly into that latter category.

Also, the round-ups will certainly continue, but not today, as this is the first time I've used the Internet for more than a few minutes since Wednesday and I still need to get caught up with what's been going on.

Anyway, the first in this ongoing series of things will go up later today. I'm going to bed right now, so I'll probably post it before I go to work. Be sure to check back around 4PM EST.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Semi Random Thoughts

Chesterton calls Jerusalem, "the shoulder of the world," a place that demonstrates the truth of "the hardest of all the hard sayings of supernaturalism: that there is such a thing as holy and unholy ground." Because three different religions see it as holy ground, Jerusalem remains to this day a place of great conflict. However, if you follow that conflict in the news, you might get the impression that the conflict is merely political, or viciously racial. The news analysis never seems to mention the hard saying about holy ground and admit that there are religious questions at the heart of the conflict. Moreover, the news seems to leave out one of the religions: Christianity, the religion that founded western civilization, the religion that thought Jerusalem so important that thousands of people from kings to peasants died to protect that place though it was not their home, and spent hundreds of years trying to conquer and keep that town, and that when it lost that town, the thing known as Christendom began its long decline. That religion believed something that the other two did not: that the holiest spot in Jerusalem and in all the world was an empty grave. (Lecture XXXV The New Jerusalem By Dale Ahlquist)
"In many respects, the radical Islamic response to modernity is like the Hieronymus Bosch painting The Garden of Earthly Delights, which depicts a hell of obscurity and insanity, a world without reason or hope. Either the world submits to Islam or the world is turned into the hell of destruction. In radical Islam, religion is “flesh and blood,” and unless one submits, death is the only recourse,..." Herbert London


"IT IS THE test of a good religion whether you can joke about it." ~ G.K. Chesterton

Ned Lamont wants to sit down with Hezbollah and Israel and say, “Come on boys let’s be Christian about this.”

(more here)
Keeping Mel’s melt down in perspective

Advocates of 'proportion' are just unbalanced
"Disproportion" is the concept of the moment. Do you know how to play? Let's say 150 missiles are lobbed at northern Israel from the Lebanese village of Qana and the Israelis respond with missiles of their own that kill 28 people. Whoa, man, that's way "disproportionate."
But let's say you're a northwestern American municipality -- Seattle, for example -- and you haven't lobbed missiles at anybody, but a Muslim male shows up anyway and shoots six Jewish women, one of whom tries to flee up the stairs, but he spots her, leans over the railing, fires again and kills her. He describes himself as "an American Muslim angry at Israel" and tells 911 dispatchers: ''These are Jews. I want these Jews to get out. I'm tired of getting pushed around, and our people getting pushed around by the situation in the Middle East.'' Well, that's apparently entirely "proportionate," so "proportionate" that the event is barely reported in the American media, or (if it is) it's portrayed as some kind of random convenience-store drive-by shooting...On the other hand, when a drunk movie star gets pulled over and starts unburdening himself of various theories about "f---ing Jews," hold the front page!

see Mark Steyn’s complete story here

All this because I came across the photo below in my local newspaper. The lines were so long at the airport this guy's job was to hold up a sign to let people know where to get in. (Doesn’t all this disruption make it another win for that wild ass?)

Until I read the caption I thought “End of Line” was a political and/or religious statement. It just felt very Chesterton to me. I mean wasn't it when Gilbert came to the end of the line in his dead-end secular thinking that he knew conversion was the only way and Catholicism the only answer?
This photo was taken by Elaine Thompson who also took the photo used for the news story about the “proportionate event” mentioned in Steyn’s op-ed piece.

It's always a tough day for the tavelers on this earthly pilgragim, but as St. Catherine of Siena said: "Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring."

Friday, August 11, 2006

Drinking at the Switch?

With six diligent GKC fans here, you wouldn't have thought something like this could get missed: A review of The Catholic Church and Conversion at Ignatius Insight. It came out Monday. Enjoy.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Pigment Pusher

Since we have been talking about the arts in the past few posts this seemed like a good time to share my story.
This appeared in the spring issue of St. Linus Review.


The first thing he does as he enters his studio is light a cigar. The quick snap of the match ignites his first thoughts; the light of its flame fills an intimate space. Its heat rises to his face as the energy lands at the tip of his cigar. Inhaling and exhaling, he creates a mini blast furnace softening the day’s mettle. Blue-white smoke engulfs his head and swirls around him like a lazy tornado. A flick of the wrist and the match is gone, its job done its former usefulness not even worth a memory.

With the dark, burning weed held firmly between his teeth, he opens the bourbon and pours three seconds worth into a rarely-washed coffee mug. Removing the cigar he stares into the cup, its smell dances with that of varnish, turpentine, linseed oil and they merge together. He flares his nostrils to accept them all. The cup now to his lips he takes it all, letting it rest for a moment in his mouth to burn away any lingering sentimentality. He closes his eyes and swallows. He mates with his cigar again and inhales a handful of cheap gaseous tar and says, 'Ahhh.' He screws up the bottle, puts it away. "Let there be light,” he says, as he slams on his two 500-watt bulbs.

This ritual complete, he turns as someone called and faces the canvas. He walks up to it, touches it, straightens it, and steps back. The first hints of the new work are already in place. He has reduced its height and breadth down to a postage stamp in his mind. No longer intimidated by size, he adds a few quick lines to its surface, fulfilling a form abstracted within him. He sees lightning, and hands held in a dance, glaze of paint upon glaze of paint soon to be fired-rock hard into something dimensional. This is his favorite part; he is no longer concerned with thoughts of "Can I do this?" It is easy. Anybody can do it. There is no magic. Like Bartimaeus, he cannot hold himself back from shouting. A narrow gate is before him. He walks through it and connects with the universal. He is. The smell of the place disappears.

The cigar is in the way, no longer needed to dissolve the outside world; he puts it down.

New pigments squeezed on to his large glass palette, he cleaves them together to become something new. Not two but one. Not color but blood, bone, anguish, joy. With every touch of the canvas he and it changes 100%. His arm is an umbilical cord from his mind, his truth, to pump life into a being self-conceived. His brush a hammer, smashing the imaginary boundary between space and volume till there is no difference between the two. It is here that he lacks a sense of linear time, a minute and hour they are the same. Past and the potential of a future are nestled in the envelope of the present. He stops only when the paint becomes color again or when he begins to force his image into 'I want' instead of 'I need', when he takes and doesn’t give. The relationship broken by the snake selflessness, he backs away and re-lights his cigar. The silence becomes deafening, and the separation frightening, yet he is only mildly upset at the break of the spiritual. In a confidence born from having stumbled a thousand times before, he steps forward again. He listens, letting the painting speak to him, telling him what is next, what is needed. Then he lets go of himself and he is once more part of the intimacy. The silence is replaced by his internal symphony. His imagination becomes tangible.

The cogs have fallen in place. Nothing has been by chance. The terrain was well studied. All the various paths were worked out, mapped. He knew what to take with him on the journey. He knows what his goal is, and how to get to the top of the mountain. Nothing extra, nothing forgotten, no doubts. He will dwell in the tent of light. His touch is the consummation of thought, not its process.

With each pass of the brush he is closer to himself, to what he is supposed to be. The piece becomes like a window, and he paints the world beyond the glass, projecting beyond its boundaries to grasp himself within its mystery. The image moves and shifts as he himself moves and shifts. He becomes fixed to it, nailed to it, for a time. His arms and back ache. He could escape the work he has undertaken, but chooses to remain with it. It is his. He will not abandon what was given to him. The work will return to what it was, a catalyst, as he continues forward through the on going conversion of heart.

The last touches of alchemy are applied as he walks back and forth in front of it, tying it together as one; making it move as the viewer moves - strong from every angle. Life like a flower struggles to be alive in its composition.

Although the clock recorded a few hours it took years to complete. It would live, but never age. It is a long time there and yet, it is right in front of you. It changes nothing as a sentient being would, it just allows the viewer to open his own doors and move the stone from his own screen of logic. “Forget the past, the things of long ago remember not. See I am something new”.

The cord cut, the separation complete, he wipes the brush on to his jeans and dips it into its solvent bath. He reaches for his cigar, now just a stub. He sucks the last of it away. Then there is a remembrance of gravity. He stares at his creation and says to himself: 'Did I do that?' Putting the lights to rest he walks away praising the One who guides.

Better music?


OTHER loves may sink and settle, other loves may loose and slack,
But I wander like a minstrel with a harp upon his back,
Though the harp be on my bosom, though I finger and I fret,
Still, my hope is all before me : for I cannot play it yet.

In your strings is hid a music that no hand hath e'er let fall,
In your soul is sealed a pleasure that you have not known at all;
Pleasure subtle as your spirit, strange and slender as your frame,
Fiercer than the pain that folds you, softer than your sorrow's name.

Not as mine, my soul's annointed, not as mine the rude and light
Easy mirth of many faces, swaggering pride of song and fight;
Something stranger, something sweeter, something waiting you afar,
Secret as your stricken senses, magic as your sorrows are.

But on this, God's harp supernal, stretched but to be stricken once,
Hoary time is a beginner, Life a bungler, Death a dunce.
But I will not fear to match them—no, by God, I will not fear,
I will learn you, I will play you and the stars stand still to hear.

Rock music and sex

Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere. - GKC

A recent Rand Corporation study has come to a "startling" conclusion: Teens who regularly listen to music lyrics with explicit references to casual sex are more likely to engage in sexual activity earlier as compared to those who do not listen to such music.

Speaking as a person who grew up on rock music, and is now a parent and teacher, I could have told you from experience that that was true a long time ago.

Music is tied to behavior. Some say the music simply reflects what is going on, others contend that it helps to encourage activity. I say – again, from experience – it is a little of both.

Music influences attitudes about sex – and drugs, language, manners, and so on. So do art and literature.

But this blog is not about preaching. It’s about Chesterton and his friends.

Obviously, Chesterton would not have known rock. But he did write songs, and had a number of comments on music.

Two that come to mind are:

"Music with dinner is an insult both to the cook and the violinist."

"Life exists for the love of music or beautiful things."

But I have yet to stumble across comments by him specifically linking music and its influence on moral behavior and development (though I would not be surprised if he had. Any folks wiser and more learned than I know of some?)

If I broaden the search to the "arts" in general (music, art and literature), however, there is food for thought.

In one particular instance, he acknowledged the positive influence contact with "art."

In his Introduction to George MacDonald and His Wife, by Greville M. MacDonald,
He wrote:

… But in a certain rather special sense I for one can really testify to a book that has made a difference to my whole existence, which helped me to see things in a certain way from the start; a vision of things which even so real a revolution as a change of religious allegiance has substantially only crowned and confirmed. Of all the stories I have read, including even all the novels of the same novelist, it remains the most real, the most realistic, in the exact sense of the phrase the most like life. It is called The Princess and the Goblin …

Although it is a fairy tale, he explains, the elements of story lingered in his mind.

I felt that the whole thing was happening inside a real human house, not essentially unlike the house I was living in, which also had staircases and rooms and cellars. This is where the fairy-tale differed from many other fairy-tales; above all, this is where the philosophy differed from many other philosophies.

The effect was "making all the ordinary staircases and doors and windows into magical things."

As for the modern world, "Since I first read that story some five alternative philosophies of the universe have come to our colleges out of Germany, blowing through the world like the east wind."

So, I suspect that if Chesterton were here today, he would not have approved of the anything goes philosophy in music and "art." There have to be limits, as he noted in the quotation that began this entry. In a similar vein,

"Art consists of limitation. The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame."

In Orthodoxy, he notes what can happen if we are without limits:

"We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some small island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries."

Noisiest of nurseries? Maybe he was familiar with rock music!

"But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. (The children) did not fall over, but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the centre of the island … and their song had ceased."

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

An essay on the Chesterbelloc

Dr. Ralph McInerny provides a look at history's most senses-shattering team-up.
There is a sense in which it does not matter whether an artist produces much or little: the quality of his opus is the salient thing. Mere quantity is neutral in the sense that some artists produce a very great deal and it is only mediocre or bad, whereas others labor over one or two works which achieve perfection. Obviously it is large amounts of good stuff that one means when he invokes fecundity as a mark of greatness.
It will of course be said that neither Belloc nor Chesterton had time to agonize over any particular work. They wrote under financial pressure or to make deadlines and had to get the thing done. That makes the high quality of most of their work all the more impressive. But it is the sheer fun the two seemed to have had in doing most of what they did that characterizes them. Try and imagine either Belloc or Chesterton with writer's block or talking about the agony of creation. They did not have time for the mannerisms of the second-rate. Analogously, Chester ton remarked about art school that there seemed to be far more artists than people who produced art.
Be sure to check out the whole thing..

Unintended Irony

Here is an excerpt from the diary of C.S. Lewis for May 14, 1922: "I read Chesterton's Magic through. A pleasant little playI am not sure I understand it. Afterwards I began to read The Road to Endor, the account of two British officers' escape from Yosgad in Asia Minor by means of faked spiritualism. The irony of reading this and Magic on the same day was quite unintentional." [All My Road before Me, 1922-1927, London: 1991, pp. 34-35]

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Pigment and Love

I spent the past week helping a family member rehab their house, it was hot, sticky, and a lot of laughs. I like doing destruction/construction work. You can see the work, it’s tangible. God has a special place in his heart for those who build stuff from Moses building a nation, to asking Francis to rebuild His Church. And let’s not forget He did not choose a segment market analyst to be Mary’s husband. That’s why I feel closer to Jesus whenever I have a hammer in my hand.

One of the up sides of this project was getting some alone time at night where I could read. I was able to read C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. Several stories on the battle for Joy were played out. Where in Screwtape Lewis gave us the strategy and tactics of the demonic in this book we see the Angelic approach battling to undo the spiritually devastating affects of a Screwtape victory. "There is always something they prefer to joy - that is, to reality" The book definitely has a Kafkaesque quality to it as well.

One story dealt with an artist. Where the artist was first enthralled with a glimpse of heaven as he looked at the light playing on a field and he was moved to capture that feeling and tell others about it through his work. This work brought him fame. Then the work became not about light but about paint then it became about him and what was said about him and his movement. Similar to the Robert Ryman piece Furor talked about.

Another book worthy of note if you want to understand the morass the art world is in today is The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe. Lewis with his artist character captures, thirty years prior, to what Tom Wolfe expounds upon.

It would be easy to outline the battle for joy in the art world because there are so many characters that went the other way. They are the stuff of pulp fiction, we all know them, the critic’s love them, and they are the bohemian heroes and role models. They are the lustful predators, the drunks, the decadent, the insane, the deviants, and the suicides.

As I mentioned in my last post, when an artist does not fit within that outline, the historians and art critics haven’t a clue how to deal with him and usually try to deconstruct his life to somehow shoehorn him into what they think an artist should be. For them it has to be someone who does more than just create beautiful things. They must stand for something or more importantly stand against something.

They want their artists to live on the edge, but we are not called to live on the edge we are called to live deep in.

Case in point: One of my favorite artists is Pierre Bonnard (1867 -1947).

It’s not his work they have a problem with (ok some do) but his life. And some say he doesn’t even look like and artist, “He was a pinched, unsmiling man who looked like a stereotypical accountant”, (Peter Schjeldahl art critic for the Village Voice). What they miss is he was deeply, passionately, faithfully in love with Marthe, his wife and she with him.

Historians refer to her as a shrew or at best a nag. They got it wrong - mostly. Hey, no one’s perfect. She was known to lie about her age. Marthe was savagely protecting their relationship. They called her a shrew because she would not allow her husband to hang out with the Moulin Rouge gang, she took care of the money (Bonnard was useless there) she would be his only model (what sane women wants another naked woman around the house), and she eventually got them to move out of Paris and away from it’s bad influences.

Also a shrew is not likely to pose nude when everyone would she those paintings. And living with a shrew-nag would eventually deflate the spirit of any man to the point his work would become less and less where as Bonnard’s work continued to get better, more vibrant and more alive.

The thing that confounds critics the most is although Bonnard painted Marthe (at least 384 times) well into her early 70’s she is always seen as a girl in her twenties. I’ve read “amazingly she never aged”, and “interestingly she always appears as a young girl”.

Obviously from people who do not know Love. He simply always saw her as the girl he first fell in love with. His work was to capture that moment, that glimpse of Heaven and tell us about it.


It's the feast day of St. Dominic. Without Dominic, we may not have had St. Thomas Aquinas. And without St. Thomas Aquinas, we wouldn't have had GKC's splended biography: St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox.

So that's why we oughtta celebrate today's feast day.

(Alright, so maybe I've gotten all the priorities backwards, but still: it's a great book. One of my favorites of all time.)

Anecdotal Round-up

Not much in the way of anecdotes, actually, but here we go nonetheless. I feel that if I can't be original or interesting, I should at least be confusing enough that I could conceivably trick people into thinking something of substance has been said.


Part and parcel of the "Pius XII aided and abetted the Holocaust" meme is the bland and groundless assertion that Adolf Hitler was a Christian, and the attendant implication that if he had a Christian past or heritage, he must have been a devout and practicing Christian, and, if this was the case, then Christianity itself must have supported the Holocaust. It's a bit of a mouthful, but you can hear it from any number of college students, who, they will assure you, could not possibly be wrong.

Count us surprised, then, by the long-awaited rediscovery of the "Nazi Bible," Hitler's "final solution" for Christianity. The heavily-modified document - some 50 pages shorter than a standard King James Bible (and thus significantly shorter still than a Catholic one) - removes all explicit reference to Jews and Judaism, as well as words such as "hallelujah" and even "Jerusalem," while adding a bunch of stuff that makes it more compatible with the dogma of the One Holy And Apostolic Reich. Such additions include a complete revamp of the Ten Commandments, which are first furiously reduced to nothing and then extravagantly expanded to twelve. They follow:
1. Honour God and believe in him wholeheartedly.
2. Seek out the peace of God.
3. Avoid all hypocrisy.
4. Holy is your health and life!
5. Holy is your wellbeing and honour!
6. Holy is your truth and fidelity!
7. Honour your father and mother – your children are your aid and your example.
8. Keep the blood pure and your honour holy!
9. Maintain and multiply the heritage of your forefathers.
10. Always be ready to help and to forgive.
11. Honour your Fuehrer and master!
12. Joyously serve the people with work and sacrifice. That is what God wants from us!
The Heliand it ain't. Other than that, it's just sort of depressing.


A breathless Gerald of Closed Cafeteria lampoons the mainstream media's treatment of the recently "ordained" "woman" "priests."
"Eileen DiNardo, 54, was made a member of the Philadelphia Phillies yesterday. Yesterday she threw her first pitch on a field rented from the AA team of the New York Mets, wearing a tie-dyed version of the Phillies Away jersey. Although the Phillies deny that she is a team member, DiNardo says that she has been called to be a Phillies pitcher her whole life." After prayers to the four directions, DiNardo threw a wild pitch. Onlookers said that that was perfectly fine, claiming that DiNardo does not play my male rules."


A Minnesota massage therapist is in hot water for sleeping with her husband!
Her husband, Kirk Fjellman, is a former client. He saw her professionally from October 2000 to May 2002, and the two say they started dating in July 2002. But when they consumated the relationship a few months later, they ran afoul of a Minnesota law that bans massage therapists from having sexual relations with former clients for two years.
Thanks, State! Thanks for studiously neglecting to apply nuance to a situation that plainly calls for it!


Dawn Eden returns from her trip to the savage lands, providing a Chesterton quip and a link to an artistic atrocity. The image follows below, and is not for the faint of heart.

After the fashion of the previous note, I'm trying to think of somebody to angrily and insincerely thank for this work. Somehow "Thanks, Robert Ryman!" or "Thanks, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art!" don't have the arch and relevant ring I would have liked. It might be worth wondering just what San Francisco himself would have thought of this. I don't claim to know the answer, but my guess is that he would not have been thrilled.


Anyhow, we may as well close with an anecdote just to keep you from feeling cheated. From Robert Hendrickson, on Sir Kenelm Digby (1603-1665), a noted Englishman of ages past:
A Renaissance man, the well-rounded author, diplomat, scientist and naval hero at Scanderoon is unfortunately most remembered for his theory that the "the powder of sympathy," presumably a form of copper sulfate, could heal wounds without even touching them. Digby, who once tried to convert Oliver Cromwell to Catholicism and once killed a Frenchman in a duel for insulting Charles I, wrote of his miraculous powder in a treatise on immortality. His father, Sir Everard Digby, was executed in 1606 for his part in the Gunpowder Plot, so perhaps "powder" had some unknown psychological significance for the son. Sir Everard Digby may have been hanged for his treason, but one old story claims that his heart was plucked out by the executioner, who then cried, "Here is the heart of a traitor!" A heartless Digby is then ("credibly reported") to have indignantly replied, "Thou liest!"

[The younger] Digby, one of the initial members of the Royal Society, discovered the importance of oxygen to plant life. Aubrey says that "He was such a goodly handsome person, gigantique and great voice, and had so gracefull Elocution and noble address, etc., that had he been drop't our of the Clowdes in any part of the World, he would have made himself respected." It is said that when he was imprisoned by Parliament as a Royalist, "his charming conversation made the prison a place of delight." Digby married the celebrated courtesan Venetia Stanley, who always remained faithful to him. (He had said a "handsome wise man, and lusty, could make an honest woman out of a Brothell houre.") When she died, spiteful and false rumors were spread that Digby had caused her death by making her drink viper wine (a supposedly restorative wine medicated by an abstract obtained from vipers) to preserve her beauty.

No author has a better epitaph:

"Under this Stone the Matchless Digby lies
Digby the great, the Valiant, and the Wise:
This Age's Wonder, for his Noble Parts;
Skill'd in six Tongues, and learn'd in all the Arts.
Born on the day he died, th'Eleventh of June,
On which he bravely fought at Scanderoon.
'Tis rare that one and self-same day should be
His day of Birth, of Death, of Victory."

That's it for now, then. Hopefully we'll get something from Eric or someone later today, but we're into the final summer drag now, and the lethargy is Pronounced. Let School and September return at once!