“There Are Many Strange Legends in the Amazon…”

the-monsters

October has come again. As many people far wiser and more experienced than I, have recognized, there is some tremor, some power, that separates October from the rest of the year. Ray Bradbury, one of the most eloquent and joyful inhabitants of the “October Country” described this one-twelfth of the year as the

October Country…that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain.

One of the reasons for this eerie sense that permeates throughout October’s thirty-one days is due to the last day of the month–Hallowe’en, when, in spite of all our modern sophistication and technocracy, we still hold on to a little of the old belief in spirits and goblins and witches and the returned presence of the dead. As with other holidays, Hallowe’en has gathered to itself a host of traditions with one of these being monster or horror movies.

Monster or horror movies have a long and fascinating history in and of themselves, as the first films that can genuinely lay a claim to the title were shown to Parisian audiences in 1895 through the ingenuity of French magician turned actor/director/producer, Georges Méliès. Horror or monster movies quickly crossed the pond and American audiences were treated to Faust and Marguerite in 1900, after which it became a stable of the newly blossoming cinema in both America and Europe. From the Silent Era, through the Golden and Silver Ages of the Thirties and Forties, to the advent of color and atomic mutations in the Fifties and the “exploitation” films of the Sixties and Seventies and beyond, every decade has had its gorge of the horrific and the monstrous on the silver screen. It may very well be that every decade concentrated the particular fears of its own time and placed those fears in theatres through monsters and metaphors so that the inhabitants of that specific time could face their fears, much similarly to how, as it has been argued, the Japanese came to terms with the Bombs through Godzilla.

Regardless of the truth of that particular hypothesis, one fact which cannot be disputed is that since their genesis in 1895, horror and monster movies have gradually become more and more gruesome so that now, a monster or horror movie is considered to be a disappointment unless it contains the pre-requisite amount of gore and gruesome deaths. The initial reaction to The Blair Witch Project in 1999 provides a vivid example of this reality. After receiving initial praise for its genuine suspense and ability to generate fear, the movie came under withering criticism for having no gruesome deaths in front of the camera and for never allowing the Blair Witch to be seen. The film had to wait some amount of time before audiences realized that it was a success precisely because of those supposed weaknesses. But, perhaps, the people who complained because they felt that they had been cheated out of a genuine horror movie are not to be blamed. As G.K. Chesterton once remarked, an overstimulated nerve must continually receive greater and greater stimulation in order to have the slightest sensation at all. Horror movies in the Seventies, especially, began giving audiences the shock treatment with “slasher movies.” Although the roots of these films could be seen in the Sixties, such as in the films of William Castle, their true beginning came in 1974 with Black Christmas and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Slasher films truly came into their own four years later when John Carpenter presented movie goers to Halloween. The film is tame by todays standards; although the Shape kills five people (four of them on screen) with the use of a butcher knife, none of the deaths are gory. Proving Chesterton right, however, Halloween inspired such Eighties films as Friday the Thirteenth, The Prowler, Christmas Evil and Prom Night which tried to outdo Carpenter’s film by mixing in blood and more gruesome deaths for their victims. When Halloween II was released in 1981, it sought to take inspiration from these movies and thus provided its audiences with more horrendous deaths.

This race to overstimulate the nerves of the audience has continued to the present time, so that now horror movies such as The Strangers and You’re Next are simply excuses to kill as many people as possible. Rather than tell a story these movies seem more intent on simply evoking disgust among their viewers. The older movies, on the other hand–particularly the old Universal monster movies–give more attention to the story and the characters which inhabit those stories; revulsion is not given a single thought and even suspense, which the first Halloween and The Blair Witch Project did to perfection, is not their sole purpose. What the classic Universal monster movies deal with are universal conditions and themes that have plagued the human condition since Eden. There is a reason why such films Hostel are now in the five dollar bin at Wal-Mart while the Universal monsters have received yet another release this October-time.

Todd Browning’s Dracula, released on St. Valentine’s Day of 1931, for example, concerns the age-old and never-ending battle between good and evil. More importantly, it is a story about good unquestionably triumphing over evil, even though the evil in question masks itself in the guise of exotic charm and dark romance. Bela Lugosi, fresh from bringing Bram Stoker’s vampire to life on Broadway, succeeded again behind the camera, entrapping women into his embrace through his dark allure. In fact, Lugosi’s iconic portrayal of the Count, though clichéd now with his tuxedo and heavy Hungarian accent, was in 1931 a drastic new take on the vampire, being able to blend into London society rather than being the rat-like plague carrying ghoul of 1922’s Nosferatu. For all his charm and subtle eroticism–and, perhaps, because of it–Dracula is the anti-Christ, drinking human blood to prolong his mortal existence and forcing Lucy and Mina to drink his blood to turn them into his brides, perverting the reality and meaning of the Blood of Christ. Only sunlight and the crucifix, both of which stand for greater religious truths, can drive him away, a fact which is powerfully presented in two of the movie’s scenes: once, in Castle Dracula, the crucifix prevents the vampire from attacking the young lawyer, Renfield; in the second, the crucifix is used by Professor Van Helsing to drive Dracula out of Dr. Seward’s house. In the film’s climax, Dracula is forced to retreat from the rising sun allowing Professor Van Helsing (Edward van Sloan) to drive a stake through his heart.

Released the same year, James Whale’s production of Frankenstein deals with man’s hubris and the consequences which come from meddling in those things which men should leave alone. Through the course of the film, the point is made clear that nature has her order and will not suffer to have aberrations–physical or moral–thrust upon her. What elevates Frankenstein, is conjunction with this theme, is the performance of Boris Karloff as the Monster, the role which cemented his place in cinema history. Karloff’s genius was to play the Monster as a mute “child” desperately trying to understand the world into which it has been brought and in which it can never fully participate. The audience understands that “the dear old Monster” never asked to be brought back to life and that it was the arrogance and callousness of Henry Frankenstein which made it suffer. The tragedy of the film is exacerbated when it is realized that it is Frankenstein’s arrogance and desertion of his creation are the very things which lead the Monster to becoming monstrous. Nature, through the Monster, extracts her revenge against both the creator and the creation.

If Frankenstein deals with human pride, The Wolf Man takes as its subject the evil which happens to good men. Like Oedipus, Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) is, at heart, a decent man–not a saint but not a villain; in fact, Larry proves himself to be selfless and heroic within the first twenty minutes of the film. Like Job, however, Larry is forced to suffer terribly through his curse of lycanthrope. The film reinforces the truth of evil occurring to good men, not only in the suffering of the protagonist, but also through the piece of rhyme which the villages, at several points, have occasion to recite:

Even a man who is pure in heart,

And says his prayers by night,

May become a wolf, when the wolfbane blooms,

And the autumn moon is bright

More terrifyingly, as Larry discovers, the evil which can strike even good men may not be some blind external force which arbitrarily chooses victims; instead, the evil may reside within himself. As his father, Sir John (Claude Raines), tells him, the legend of the werewolf is, at heart, very simple, since it concerns the good and evil within every man’s soul wherein, “evil takes the form of an animal.”

The old monster pictures did more, though, then playing the universal themes of man’s nature. In addition to that feat, the old terror pictures, as Karloff dubbed them, were infused with a mature pathos which allowed the audience to have sympathy for the monsters (even Dracula, to some extent), while still making it clear that these things were, in fact, monsters and that, therefore, their inevitable destruction at the end of the films, was good and right. Nevertheless, the tragedy which deeply imbued all of the classic monsters allowed that a tear could be shed at their destruction, even when it was acknowledged to be necessary and right. There was, in a word, a balance in the old movies. Modern films in the genre, in contrast, have eradicated that balance by seemingly eradicating the idea of there being monsters. Lugosi’s Dracula may have looked human (in contrast to the more traditional vampire, Baron Orlak, in Nosferatu) but he was still uncompromisingly portrayed as a creature of darkness, a soulless being (which is why vampires cast no reflections in mirrors). Modern vampires, on the other hand, are oftentimes portrayed as the heroes, such as what happened in the Twilight series. While there are villainous vampires in Twilight, their villainy is not determined by their vampirism; there are, in fact, good and bad vampires, just as there are good and bad humans. Vampirism, in this light, is just another mode of existence which can be not that different from being human except that, as a vampire, one is immortal, a possessor of a perfect physique and superpowers. I, Frankenstein, did the same thing to the Monster, turning the pathetic and tragic creature, into a well-proportioned and muscled superhero who destroys CGI gargoyles. This blurring of good and evil in the monsters has even brought about the villainization of the old heroes; in The Dracula Tapes, it is Professor Van Helsing who is made out to be the villain while the Count is the soul of enlightenment and nobility. The theme of modern monster movies, in this day of “xi,” “xem,” and “zer,” is that it is thinking which one decides one’s monstrousness and not one’s own nature. This, in turn, leads us to a deeper point. While sympathy could be had for the classic monsters (since, due to the universal themes within the films, the proper reaction to the monsters is, “There, save for the grace of God, go I”) there was no doubt that the monsters represented an aberration that could not exist in the natural world. The monsters, therefore, stood in opposition to all natural things, including man. But, in modern monster movies, if the monsters are no longer intrinsically unnatural and wrong, they no longer stand in sharp contrast to Man, thereby, casting doubt as to the naturalness (and goodness) of Man; everything is, instead, subdue under the tyranny of relativism. More than that, our culture, through this shift, has shown its apathy towards the ordinary virtues and romance of the ordinary things; rather than the old and ordinary Van Helsing, we are called to emulate Edward Cullins because he is young and beautiful and full of power. Our culture has forgotten what G.K. Chesterton reminded the world in his 1904 novel The Napoleon of Notting Hill, namely that it is in the ordinary things that one finds true romance and not in raw power or passing fads. And monsters, as unnatural beings, can only be brief, like a comet in the air, before they are extinguished by their own power and rarity.

Balance, in the Aristotelian sense, is one of the forgotten components of virtue. The classics monster pictures understood this need for balance and created masterpieces, modern day Greek plays that speak to the universal themes of man. Hallowe’en is the time when witches and goblins and spirits roam the world; Man is needed again as well. The old films may be a step in seeing again the necessity of and the goodness of Man as he is.

thewolfman

 

Bad Catholics and Honest Pagans

tim-kaine

G.K. Chesterton has often been acknowledged as the master of the paradox, the apparent contradiction of two different and incongruous propositions or positions. Any familiarity with the “Apostle of Common Sense” will quickly see that paradoxes flow from Chesterton’s pen like water from a spring. Some of his most famous paradoxes include his definition of courage, which he described as “a strong desire to live manifested in a willingness to die,”(Orthodoxy) and one of his defenses of the rationality in believing in miracles was that it is just as rational for a theist to believe in miracles as it was for an atheist to disbelieve in them since the only legitimate reason to not believe in miracles is if one only believes in materialism (St. Francis of Assisi). Perhaps one of Chesterton’s greatest paradoxes came in his 1910 book, What’s Wrong with the World, in which he stated “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”

As with his other paradoxes, this last one seems ridiculous, particularly to us enmeshed in the modern world. It seems much more logical to think that if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well, as the more common utterance of the saying puts it. But this is forgetting the reason why paradox is so powerful, a fact which Chesterton never lost sight and which explains why he used it so profoundly and with such great results. Paradox, as Chesterton explained, was simply “truth standing on its head to gain attention.” A paradox, therefore, cannot be looked upon squarely as one does with something that is standing right end up; instead, one must look at it a little more closely before it can be seen correctly.

What Chesterton was explaining was that there are some things that are important enough to be done for their own sake. Whether one is successful at first in achieving the worth-while goal is not the question, nor is it really the goal of the endeavor. What matters is that one tries one’s best and utmost to achieve the goal, even if it takes numerous attempts to finally achieve the prize. This mode of thinking can be summed up in the Japanese idiom, “Fall seven times and stand up eight.”

One of the problems of our times, however, is that people do not want to stand back up and neither do they want to fall down. And this brings us to Tim Kaine. Since Hillary Clinton named him as her vice-presidential running mate, much ado has been made of Kaine’s Catholicism, much of the ado coming from Kaine himself, who will often speak of how his faith has influenced him in the past and how it still continues to influence him. The difficulty is that an examination of his time in public office makes these claims impossible to believe. As the Washington Post wrote, Kaine is an advocate of “gay marriage,” even though the Catholic Church teaches that marriage can only be achieved through the procreative union between a man and a woman, and though Kaine himself has said that he is “personally opposed to abortion,” he has received a perfect rating from Planned Parenthood for his support of fallaciously termed “reproductive rights,” even though the Catholic Church unequivocally teaches that abortion is a grave moral evil and can never be sanctioned. To those Catholics who cast doubt as to the seriousness which Kaine gives to the teachings of his Church, Kaine has dismissed them, saying, ““How many of us are in the church and are deeply serious about our faith and agree with 100 percent of church doctrine? I would argue very few Catholics are in that position. We’re all working out our salvation with fear and trembling.”

Although it might seem unrelated, the fairly new Satanic temple is kith and kin to Kaine. Although the group, through its name, seems to proclaim that they are followers of the Devil, this is not really the case. Lilith Starr, the leader of the Satanic temple’s Seattle chapter said, “At our core, we are an atheist activist group. That’s why we exist.” To reinforce this point, the temple’s website declares quite boldly, “We are atheistic; we do not believe in supernatural beings like God or Satan. We celebrate the literary Satan as a potent symbol of rebellion against tyranny.” The entire point of the temple, according to Starr, is to allow people who are “fed up” with the American religious-right, a chance “to do something.”

The thread that unites so-called Catholics, such as Kaine, and Satanists who do not believe in Satan, such as Starr, is their abject dishonesty. Kaine may still be Catholic ontologically, by virtue of his Baptism, and still does claim the mantle of Catholicism and continues to hear Mass, but, by his actions and his revolt against Church teaching, he has turned himself practically into a modern, leftist Gnostic who believes that he can change reality and dogmas to fit his own temperament and personal beliefs. In the same way, the modern and self-declared followers of Satan are a sham since they do not believe in him except as a symbol of rebellion which, it turns out, fits their own rebelliousness. They do not want a master, as a proper religion is supposed to give; they simply want a mascot. In this sense, as Chesterton again opined, the so-called pagans of today are not even pagans since the real pagans of the ancient world at least believed that there was something to the world besides swirling atoms and chemicals. In the same way, as Cardinal Raymond Burke pointed out after Ireland’s marriage vote last year, while the pagan world may have practiced and tolerated homosexual behavior, they never equated it with marriage. The members of the Satanic temple are just as fundamentally dishonest as the Kaine-Catholics.

Unfortunately, Kaine’s nominal Catholicism has become the norm. In March 2013, the Pew Research Center ran a survey to find what American Catholics believed and the results were not simply sobering but terrifying: according to the poll, 76% of American Catholics believed that artificial birth-control (Birth prevention, as Chesterton rightly put it) should be permitted by the Church; 54% believed that marriage should be in-defined to include homosexual pairs, and 67% believed that homosexuality itself, despite the unbroken teaching of the Church, was not morally wrong. This nominalistic approach to religion is not confined to Catholicism: many other Christian denominations are falling like dominoes to the “dictatorship of relativism” and blatant unorthodoxy. New York’s Episcopal Cathedral, for example, will again be the host of “Christa” the nude, female Christ because, since, as New York’s Episcopal bishop, Andrew Dietsche, said, “In an evolving, growing, learning church we may be ready to see ‘Christa’ not only as a work of art but as an object of devotion…” Modern “pagans'” only rule is to do what they wish so long as it causes no harm, without any real definition of what harm is. This devolution of religion–Christian and pagan–is disastrous for ourselves, our country, and the world at large.

In the first place, it is fundamentally dishonest. Words and definitions, whether acknowledged or not, have specific meanings and cannot be changed on a mere whim to suit individual preferences. Attempting to twist the meaning of a word, which one does not own, in order to twist the reality behind that word to fit oneself is a lie of great magnitude.

Secondly, this attempt to pervert the meaning of words and realities brings about the direct undermining of the religion which one professes to hold by holding onto the title of that religion. The entire point of real religion is that there is something beyond this world–another order, another state of being and other beings–and the entire point of being faithful to the religion in question is to be faithful and attain that order and other state with those other beings. This means that there will have to be sacrifices made on our part–a Catholic must forgo sex until marriage; a Roman had to offer sacrifices to gods at certain times of the year; an Egyptian was expected to feed the hungry and care for widows. In other words, religion is supposed to change those who are part of that religion, to make them worthy to attain that other order and state. By twisting the definition of religion, what one inevitably does is make it so that rather than the religion changing us, the world changes us. Tim Kaine used to express his belief in the nature of marriage as the union of a man and a woman; now he claims that pairs that practice homosexuality can also be married because his political party now expresses the new opinion. Satanists used to offer animal sacrifices to the Devil; now, it is simply a club for people who want to be “edgy” because that is the virtue which modern society promotes. Faith has ceased being alive and, instead, has merely become a set of dead rites and actions which serve to differentiate one group of people from another in superficial ways.

Thirdly, this devolution of religion has made bad Catholicism and honest paganism more scarce. Some may find this an odd observation since it would seem that weeding out bad Catholics and honest pagans would be a good thing and, because, individuals such as Kaine and Starr would seem to be the quintessential example of what bad Catholics and pagans would look like. But, to insert a paradox as was Chesterton’s want, Kaine and Starr are not bad Catholics and honest pagans. The bad Catholic is the one who knows that he is not good, who knows that until he dies and is given his just reward from God, there is still time and room in his soul fro sin and error. As such, the self-acknowledging Bad Catholic is the one who continually strives to follow his Master more perfectly than the day before. The thought of the Bad Catholic is, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” The result of this is that it is the Bad Catholic who actually advances in his spiritual growth and, as such, waters the world with the grace of God. This is because, rather than creating his own version of his faith and thus making himself the measure of his faith, the Bad Catholic possesses a measure of faith and faithfulness that exists outside of himself, and, because of this, the Bad Catholic is able to measure himself accurately while the nominal Catholic cannot. As C.S. Lewis said in his Mere Christianity,

For change is not progress unless the core remains unchanged…wherever there is real progress in knowledge, there is some knowledge that is not superseded.  Indeed, the very possibility of progress demands that there should be an unchanging element…the positive historical statements made by Christianity have the power…of receiving, without intrinsic change, the increasing complexity of meaning, which increasing knowledge puts into them

Nominal Catholics, rather than moving toward a definite goal, can only float along in whatever direction the world or public opinion blows at a particular moment, as Kaine demonstrated with his shift on the essence of marriage and in his unapologetic defense of infanticide. But this drifting along in the most recent current is not even faith. As David G. Bonagura, Jr. explains faith is,

To believe is to accept as true what someone else knows and has seen for himself. The believer, not having access to what the witness knows, relies entirely on the witness’s account; he fully assents to its truth because he trusts the witness. To believe, therefore, is an act of freedom, since immediate reality does not compel his assent, as does, say, the acts of addition or subtraction. The believer wills his belief, not because he has seen the evidence, but because, in the words of Josef Pieper, he wants “to participate in the knowledge of the knower.”

This principle may be explained again with the story of Socrates. The oracle of Delphi declared Socrates to be the wisest man in Greece. Socrates, when he heard this proclamation, was puzzled since he knew that he was not the wisest man in Greece. To prove the gods wrong, Socrates began his famous interrogations, feeling sure that with his method of question and answer, he would find the man who was wiser than he. As he progressed along this quest, however, Socrates came to realize that he was the wisest man in Greece precisely because he knew he was not wise. The man who believed himself to be wise would stop seeking knowledge while the man who knew he was not wise would continue to seek and learn the truth. It was only by recognizing the standard of truth that lay outside of himself and the incomplete understanding which he had of that standard, that Socrates knew he could become wiser than he was.

 

Fifteen Years After

9_11I do not know anyone who enjoys receiving bad news, nor of anyone who actively enjoys giving bad news. Giving bad news is unpleasant but it is a necessary task, as it is unjust, dishonest and unloving to lie to people and to pretend that all is well with the world. That is why so many messengers are shot rather than listened to.

It has now been fifteen years since terrorists killed three thousand of our countrymen by destroying the World Trade Center, and attempting to do the same in to the Pentagon. Very briefly, after the initial attack, Americans, whether on the Right or the Left, united in the memory of the blood and melted steel. Today, however, at the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11, it seems more likely that the terrorists will win the day rather than us. One reason why this seems so is because the very freedoms which our country was founded to protect and preserve are now assaulted; not from Muslim terrorists but from our own countrymen and supposed leaders. News of recent weeks have been filled with examples of this growing tread. Martin R. Castro, a Democrat from Chicago and who President Obama appointed as head of the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights stated last week that talk of “religious liberty,” and “freedom of religion,” are merely “code words” for “…discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance.” According to Mr. Castro, the First Amendment only allows an individual the ability to choose how he worships but gives him no protection in the public sphere. Religious liberty, in other words, according to Mr. Castro, offers no protection to the Christian baker or the orthodox Jewish photographer from being forced into participating in a homosexual “wedding.” In the same vein, Judge Ruth Neely, of Pinedale, Wyoming, has become the object of a witch hunt by the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics because of her religious beliefs. The Commission is arguing that because Judge Neely holds to the truth that marriage can only be formed between a man and a woman, she is unqualified to be a municipal judge, even though her duties do not mandate that she officiate in weddings and, furthermore,  she said that if a homosexual pair came to her to be “married,” she would help them find someone else to officiate. In the past, this would have been seen as reasonable co-existence; now, it is treason.

What is saddening about these cases in particular, and other cases of the same nature, is that they demonstrate how far the United States has fallen since her colonization and founding. Despite the energy that still surrounds Thanksgiving, many often forget that the Puritan Fathers, whom we are remembering in our Thanksgiving feasts, braved the perils of crossing the Atlantic and colonizing Plymouth Rock, for religious liberty. They left their home–England–and came to the New World because they believed that God had preserved America for them; the wilderness that they found was the spot where they were to preserve Christianity for the world. In the same vein, the many Catholics who fought in the American Revolution–such as John Barry, Stephen Moylan, John Fitzgerald, Thomas Moore, John Doyle–often took up arms for religious liberty. Even though Catholics only comprised approximately 1.8% of the colonial population and faced persecution, hatred and suspicion, largely from ignorance, it was the thought of religious liberty that animated many of them. Religion and the ability to live one’s faith in the public sphere, was far more important to our ancestors and was taken far more seriously by them than by us, despite all our contemporary protests to the contrary.

The question, then, is why are the cultural and political elites of the country–all of whom inhabit the Left–waging a “holy war” (in the words of the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics) against freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and the other rights which animated the Revolution? It is not because the modern Left is godless. Many writers on the Right have described the individuals of the Left, and the Left itself, as pagan and godless but this is not the case at all. The Left is very religious; it is simply that their god is not God.

At its core, Leftism, itself, has become the religion of the Left. Its fundamental teaching is not communalism or some mutation of Marxism but a subjective, atomistic individualism. Within Leftism, the Self becomes the “little god,” controlling the entire thread of reality upon which that particular Self stands. The Self, a la Sartre, can create itself and recreate itself, and can decide the truth value of statements regardless of what others may or might say. in this way, marriage does not become an actual reality with its own essence from which an end can be deduced from natural reason, but merely a societal creation that can be stretched and changed to fit the Self’s desires; a man can become a woman and the entire world must recognize the transubstantiation which the Self has rendered upon itself. Similarly, the Self can decide that a fifteen dollar minimum wage, despite all experiences and protests from common sense, will not cause harm, either to minimum wage workers themselves or to the entire economic system itself. This fundamental belief of Leftism is fully rooted in the system and has been for some time. In 1992, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing the majority opinion for Planned Parenthood vs Casey, gave the country the infamous “mystery passage” which declared, “At the heart of liberty is one’s own concept of existence, of the universe, of the meaning of life itself…”. These things are not solid, according to Justice Kennedy, but are all determined by each individual’s private interpretation. In the same manner, Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the most cited legal scholar of the Twentieth Century and one of our own leading intellectuals, has declared since the Seventies, that there is no morality by which one can measure a person’s actions. Even the Nazis, according to Posner’s own words cannot be labeled immoral, since they only acted contrary to our idea of morality.

The only heresy in the religion of Leftism is the belief that heresy exists. As such, a man such as Jack Phillips, the owner of the Denver bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop, can now be declared to be an “enemy of the state,” because his beliefs do not meld with the religious zealots of the Left. His crime was simply telling a homosexual pair in 2012 that he would be unable to bake them a wedding cake since, as a Christian, he believed that marriage could only exist between a man and a woman. The state of Colorado has punished Mr. Phillips for his heresy:

The shop was not only ordered to alter its policy and start participating in gay weddings or else face debilitating fines, it was told to provide comprehensive staff training, ensure compliance, then file quarterly obedience reports with the government for two full years. In these reports, Phillips was to describe exactly which remedial measures the shop had taken to conform, and document the reasons any other patrons were denied service.

What does all this have to do with 9/11 and terrorism? As usual, a great deal more than many of us might think at first glance. Leftism, now the de facto official religion of the United States, thanks in large part to the Left’s capture of the culture, is unique in the fact that the Self is the center of reality. Only Gnosticism has the same idea concerning the Self and, in fact, a case has been made that Leftism is simply another incarnation of Gnosticism.

This fact has deep implications. Every other religion is projecting outward. This is quite clear in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, but even in the pagan religions and other belief systems, such as Hinduism and Zoroastrianism, worship was directed outward to some Being (or beings) outside the physical world and to which the faithful had to adhere by sacrifices, prayers, rituals, and/or the aligning of one’s life to certain commandments and teachings. Leftism reverses this so that with the Self as the center, whatever the Self desires is sacrosanct. President Obama displayed this when he was asked what he thought sin is. He replied, “Being out of line with my values.”

If Leftism’s core is the Self, there is nothing of substance for which they will fight. This might seem unintelligible at first since the Left is constantly fighting, with religious zeal, for “transgender bathroom rights,” a fifteen dollar minimum wage, the destruction of religious liberty. But there is nothing of substance for which they will fight.

Whittaker Chambers predicted that the Soviets would win the Cold War because, unlike the West, the Communists had something for which they were willing to die and for which they were willing to live. The Soviets fought for global, communist utopia. The terrorists are fighting for the glory and will of Allah. Because the terrorist is fighting, not for the Self but for Allah, he is willing to live or die, however Allah decrees: if he dies, he will attain paradise; if he lives, he will live in the caliphate, the Dar al Islam, destined to encompass the world. But because Leftism’s god is the Self, two results come about.

First, leftists are incapable of understanding terrorism. When ISIS  declares that they are butchering infidels for Allah, leftists declare this cannot be since they cannot comprehend a mentality which that actually believes in a metaphysical being such as Allah. Secondly, leftists become cowards in the face of terrorism. Leftists will meekly follow the demands of terrorist nations, such as Iran, and turn a blind eye to, for example, the inequality of women there, but will persecute Christians at home and abroad, such as in Uganda, for refusing to convert to Leftism. Money and power, in the Leftist mind, is enough to crush dissidents of a “soft” and “out-of-date” religion such as Christianity, but they are not enough to stand against the fury of the followers of Allah. Christians may protest injustice but terrorists will behead infidels and, then, there will be no more Self to create reality. This cowardice is a direct result of making the Self a god. As Dr. Peter Kreeft has argued, when the Self makes itself the center of creation, it will lose itself; only when the Self seeks something outside of itself will it be complete. The example Dr. Kreeft gives is Gollum, from The Lord of the Rings. Gollum makes himself the center of the world with the Ring of Power and, after five hundred years, becomes incapable of saying “I.” Gollum can only speak of himself as “we” and “us”; the Ring has completely consumed him and turned him into something less than what he was.

It will be impossible to defeat the terrorists unless we, as a people, return to what Russell Kirk called, “the permanent things.” And that will be impossible with Leftism enshrined as the national church.

 

 

Shall We Stand or Sit?

DDay_1It used to be that an individual (or a groups of individuals, united in the same goal) had to accomplish some feat before his name could be found on the lips of his contemporaries. Modern technology has changed the parameters of this rule since, with instant access to potentially millions of people across the world, more minute details of lesser accomplishments can be broadcasted to a wider audience. Millions of people can now know when eleven year old Melissa makes a II rating at the district music competition when, before the advent of social media, the knowledge and the pride would have been confined to her family and friends. Now, this is not to say that Melissa does not deserve praise for her II rating; if this hypothetical little girl did her utmost in her hypothetical music competition, then she deserves all the praise that an eleven year old girl deserves for doing her best in her district music competition.

But, thanks to social media, people deserving of far, far less praise than our hypothetical eleven year old girl, are praised to the skies every time they sneeze. Celebrities such as Beyoncé and the Kardashians are followed on social media by millions of people, who await every new post and tweet with eager anticipation, even though neither one of these celebrities–as well as the vast majority of their contemporaries–are deserving of these type of devotion. To put the situation in another light: More people in contemporary America, know about and care more about Kim Kardashian, a woman who has done nothing of real substance, aside from “being famous,” than know or care about George Washington.

Colin Kaepernick is yet another man who, following the example of celebrities who have gone before him, has done nothing to achieve instant fame. Where once stood an unremarkable NFL player, now stands the latest “social justice warrior,” (SJW) who reached fame by not standing for the national anthem since, in his estimation, the United States is still a country which oppresses black individuals and other minorities. Many have come to Kaepernick’s defense including vice-presidential candidate, Tim Kaine, and President Obama. Some, such as Whoopi Goldberg, have tried to protect Kaepernick by arguing that other athletes, such as Tommie Smith, who gave the black power salute after winning the gold medal for the 200 meter dash in the 1968 Olympics, protested legitimately in the vein as Kaepernick did. One particularly imaginative writer, Jon Schwarz, even argued that Kaepernick was right in not standing for the national anthem since the national anthem is a “celebration of slavery,” and so is entirely indefensible.

Besides being wrong in regards to their defense of Kaepernick, his defenders and Kaepernick’s actions, in themselves, are more deeply disturbing than they might appear at first glance since both the action and the defenders demonstrate that the common culture of our country has been demolished.

Although not given nearly the attention which it deserves, culture is of vital importance in any nation and society, since it is, as James Kalb has said “a system of habit and attitude, an orientation toward life and the world, that is shared and basically taken for granted within a community. It arises naturally when people live together, since we are social beings who need common habits and understandings to live together happily and productively.” In other words, culture is what ties individuals together and what turns individuals into a people. Culture is not to be found in any one, particular place but is held and comes in a variety of forums, such as schools, entertainment (both high and low), religion, shared experiences (such as from history), procedures, expectations, and customs that have been passed down from one generation to another. Nor, as is common knowledge, are all cultures uniform. Our Anglo-American culture, for example, is supposed to adhere to the rule of law, limited government (the Magna Carta, which placed limits upon King John and his successors, has been in existence for eight hundred and one years), belief in the natural law as taught by Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, the equality of man before God and the law, as well as certain, natural rights. While these cultural norms are good and should be universal, they are not universally recognized. In the Introduction to his book, Inventing Freedom: How the English Speaking People Invented the Modern World, Daniel Hannan says that the reason why private property was stolen from its rightful owners much more commonly and bloodily in South America than in the English speaking world was because the idea and practice of property rights was common and ancestral in the English speaking world but was not in the Spanish speaking world. More broadly, the balance between order and liberty, the belief in bestowed reason, philosophy, Christianity and the like, have characterized Western culture from the rest of the world.

Culture not only ties individuals together to form a people but it also gives them an end to pursue. The true end of Western culture, and American culture in particular, is (or, was) to allow men the liberty to grow in virtue through art (Beauty), Reason and Faith which will allow them  to have self-government and the enjoyment of their natural and civil rights. Without a culture, a people will disintegrate into atomized individuals, unable and unwilling to come together with their fellow men in creating a civilization. This carries greater consequences than what we might think today. Aristotle said that man is a political animal; from this premise, it follows that civilization, culture, country, are all necessary ingredients for men to attain happiness. It should be noted that this does not guarantee that certain individuals will attain happiness, only that these things are necessary for the potential for happiness to be attained. Without culture, civilization, and country, however, the political drive in man is thwarted and it will be that much harder for individuals to attain happiness.

This brings us, again, to Colin Kaepernick. While many people have rightly shamed him for disrespecting our flag, our country , and our troops, his grand-standing is another concrete example of the disintegration of our culture. A national anthem is a manifestation of the history and principles and hopes of a country. A national anthem is supposed to be one part of our culture, something that binds us in a national identity, not simply because we say a certain anthem while other countries repeat another, but because, and more deeply, it reminds us of the principles upon which our people–our culture–and our country first came to be. Not only that, but through the principles which it manifests, a national anthem is intended to remind us of our history (our shared experiences). This can be clearly seen in our National Anthem, a poem which was composed by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812, the “second War for Independence.” The United States had become an independent country, officially in 1776, when independence was declared, and officially recognized in the Treaty of Paris of 1783. With the impressment of American seamen, trade embargos and the refusal of Britain to surrender her western ports to the United States, as stipulated in the Treaty of Paris, the young United States went to war again to truly take its place among the nations of the world. Key’s poem–now our anthem–captured and still continues to contain that point in time and the principles for which the war was fought. By separating himself from the national anthem, Colin Kaepernick separated himself from his fellow Americans, from his people. Since he has not joined another people, he has stated that he will make himself an island, unconnected from his fellows.

Some, such as Whoopi Goldberg, may say that Kaepernick was justified since he was protesting injustice. Aside from the fact that there is no injustice to protest, this is beside the point since, if one is truly part of a people and a culture, he will stand for his national anthem and his country regardless of whether there is injustice or not. And this is because if he is truly and sincerely part of a people, he will love his people and his country. G.K. Chesterton once pointed out that men do not love their countries because they are great; rather, countries become great because their people love them. It is this love which motivates men to sacrifice for her, to defend her, to protect what is good and right and to address what is wrong within her. This means that a man will stand for his national anthem and his country whether injustice is present or not; if there is injustice, he will stand because he loves his country and wants to see her better; if there is no injustice, he will stand to proclaim that goodness and to protect it.

We used to be a united people. Now, multiple fractures divide us. It is sometimes, however, the littlest things which can begin the start of a new time, which can hold back the dark. Standing for the anthem is one such little thing.

Give Us Liberty?

Old Glory

The general principle about birthdays is that they are joyous occasions. The celebration of another year of life and growth is, usually, an intrinsically happy one and is manifested through presents and the like. Who has not been warmed at seeing a child on his birthday, full of the happiness, excitement and importance which his special day brings? In their childlike innocence, they have hit upon the truth that, in some way, birthdays are more personal than other holidays, such as Christmas. This is not to say that a birthday is more important than The Birthday, far from it. But, while Christmas is a holiday for all of us, a birthday creates a special bond between the individual and his special day. Thinking back to my own childhood, I know that I often thought that my birthday was not just one of the most special times of the year but that the day itself held a magic. The day had chosen me, in some sense, as a groom chooses his bride, and, like the bride and groom, it had chosen me because we belonged together.

There is case, however, when a birthday is not a cause for celebration. The child who has grown to be a thief or a liar; the childe who has made evil rather than goodness, his work; or, even the child who has simply wasted his life away in whatever fashion makes his birthday a burden to those he loves. His loved ones are forced on that day to contrast how he once was with how he is now and the comparison between the past and the present reiterates just how far and how much he has gone wrong from his happy and innocent beginning. As the two hundredth and fortieth birthday of the United States comes, I cannot help but feel that the day of our nation’s birth gives rise to the latter instead of the former.

g_k_chesterton_17b7G. K. Chesterton once observed, ” A society is in decay when common sense has become uncommon.” If he was right–and Chesterton had a habit of being right far, far more often than he was wrong–then our American society has ceased decaying; the bones of the corpse are all that are left. Everywhere one looks–or, everywhere one with common sense looks–things have steadily devolved until now our home more closely resembles a lunatic asylum, rather than a home. The United States Congress voted to make women eligible for the military draft, regardless of the fact that women are naturally physically weaker than men and, more importantly, are essentially nurturers, as they bring forth new life from their wombs. This insanity goes atop the fact that the cultural powers that be have declared that there are no longer such things as men and women but that, apparently, it is all relative, as a man can now “feel” that he is a women, a woman can “feel” that she is a man, or, in a further step of insanity, neither male nor female. Homofascists–a term coined by Dr. Robert Oscar Lopez for good reasonburn the American flag, the emblem of our country and the principles upon which she was set. School children are told that they cannot wear shirts with Old Glory on them and the judicial system agrees. Free speech and the free exercise of religion are violated on a weekly basis in service to abortion and the sexual revolt. Millions of aliens are allowed to enter America and no attempt is made to naturalize them into our culture and society; they are even now told that they no longer are required to swear to defend the country which they, assumedly, wish to call home. And the judiciary has become a tyrant.

This present condition of the United States is a far cry from that which existed when she came into existence two hundred and forty years ago, today. In fact, it is very possible to argue that despite protestations to the contrary, we, as Americans, are no longer free men and women. We may still possess some of the trappings of freedom, certainly, such as fireworks on the Fourth and talk of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. We may still feel that we are free when we are allowed to Tweet or post on Facebook or when we go to the church of our choice. But, aside from being fragile, these abilities might be called accidentals and not the true essence of  liberty. Unlike what many might think today, the American Revolution and the continuing–and deteriorating–American Experiment, was not about abstract “freedom,” particular as the modern Western world defines it, or “democracy.” Rather, as Russell Kirk argued, the founding of America was inspired by the idea that men could rule themselves. Firmly believing that all men were equal in the sense that all men were creations of God and shared in the imago Dei, the Founders maintained that all men had the potential to rule their own affairs in a republican setting; that they could possess liberty. But, to accomplish this, to possess the freedom to rule oneself, it was recognized that restrictions had to be set in place. As Edmund Burke famously noted:

Men are qualified for liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites,—in proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity — in proportion as their soundness and sobriety and understanding is above their vanity and presumption — in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

The moral chains which the Founders looked to was Christianity, which was why the United States was founded as a Christian nation. John Adams expressed this belief when he said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” This belief in moral chains, as Burke put it, was the corner stone of the idea of liberty for the Founders for they did not see freedom as the ability to do whatever one wished “as long as one does harm another,” but, rather, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “Freedom is the ability to do what one ought, not what one wants.” This all might seem counter-intuitive at first, but that is because we have been conditioned to think of freedom and liberty too narrowly. In our minds, freedom simply means “freedom from,” and “freedom for” has been left in the cemetery. But, as Mark Dooley has said, constraint is necessary for real freedom to flourish. Giving the example of teaching children table manners, Dooley argues that, “(i)f manners and etiquette serve as the basis for all subsequent education, it is because they provide children not only with a sense of a thing’s practical meaning, but also of its worth. As such, they learn that we use objects for a reason, one that is embedded in the very essence of the thing.” Using a hammer as a tool to build a house rather than a musical instrument (to use an ad absurdum example) may seem “restrictive” of our freedom but, in reality, using the hammer for what it is for, expands our freedom since we are now free to build a house.

We in the United States, with the rest of the Western world, sit in an unusual position: the call for licentiousness and atomistic and nihilistic individuality has transformed into a religious mentality. We are told not to chain our passions and if we do so, or if we ask not to be a part in the loosening of other’s chains, we are virtually expelled from society. It is tempting, as such, to close our eyes–or at least attempt to do so–especially on the birthday in which we celebrate independence. But to follow that course is to dishonor the very Founders we profess to be celebrating. They were men with the courage to see facts plainly and to do what was right regardless. Contrary to modern thought, there was no guarantee that the American Revolution would be successfully; indeed, there was, practically speaking, no possible way for the colonists to win and many times it appeared that that truism would come true. 1776, the year of the United States birth was one of the darkest years of the Revolution with the British being thought of as the victors in December. But Washington and the other patriots refused to surrender. Because of their courage and faith, we came to be. Now, it is our turn.

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In Memorium

Yesterday was the seventy-second anniversary of the D-Day Invasion, in which Allied forces, under the supreme command of General Dwight Eisenhower, stormed the beaches of Normandy, France, to begin the process of retaking Western Europe from Nazi rule. Living as I do in Lynchburg, Virginia, I was able to visit the National D-Day Memorial which is located twenty miles away in Bedford, Virginia.

 

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The first thing one sees upon entering the grounds of the Memorial is Old Glory herself, one the main reasons why D-Day happened in the first place.

DDay_2Past the flag, you reach the first sculpture, of a soldier pulling a wounded comrade from danger. In the background is the memorial arch, flanked on both sides by the flags of all the nations which participated in D-Day.

DDay_3Below the memorial arch is the memorial re-creation of the actual landing on the beaches.

DDay_4After the soldiers stormed the beaches under the hellfire of the Nazi guns, they still had to climb the cliffs which stood before them.

DDay_5The soldiers coming up to the cliffs.

DDay_6Death and heroism.

It was a solemn visit. I was so touched this year by what I saw and experienced at the Memorial that I actually wrote a few lines, the first time in approximately two years that I had done so.

The heat trails down from Summer’s air;

Hotter still the war clouds that hovered there.

The flags wave in unison for their part,

Recalling the flag round every silenced heart.

A marble arch stands for those devil cliffs

And a marble transport for the skiffs.

And frozen on the concrete sea and beach

Are the soldiers who gave their all,

Turning their lives to sermons to be preached

On duty, valor, and patriotism,

The virtues our grandfathers would teach.

But their heroism is now a schism

To the Zeitgeist who hovers upon our hearts,

Tattering those lessons with his poisoned darts.

Flesh and blood reduced to plaques that line the wall,

Recalling names to skeletons wrapped in rotting palls,

Best fit within the camera’s lens

Rather than in the hearts of younger men.

That spirit was exorcised from earth and air,

Residing still only in a few who care

For hearth and home and land–

Those terrible things for which these men

Fought the Reich and Imperial Japan.

It still lies behind their stare,

Like a wolf within its den;

Waiting for a better time to strike the blockade

That the Zeitgeist has made of lemonade and parade.

 

 

The Merry Myth

While the world may say that another Christmas has come and gone, there are still seven days left of Christmastime and so it is still permissible to talk about “the most wonderful time of the year.” What was striking this Christmastime was the attempts to remove yet another figure from the season in the continuing war on Christmas.

It is considered volatile to even mention the war; we are told by many people at this time of year that the war is simply a figment of imagination. These people, for example, will say that the greeting of “Happy Holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas” is not proof of  a war on Christmas since Christmas is a holy day and “holiday” is derived from holy day. See? A wave of the wand, a reconfiguration of understanding and definitions and the war disappears. But for honest individuals, the war is quite real since the war, as my priest said a few weeks ago in his homily, the war on Christmas is not about Starbucks making their “holiday cups” plain red; it is about removing Christ from the feast of His birth.

The culture has been removing Christ from December 25 (which was His actual birthday) and has been remaking the season into a time simply for snow, coco, and presents. Outrage has been expressed when grade schools offered students an opportunity to attend A Charlie Brown Christmas performance while other schools have exorcised the religious parts out of it and there has been the usual battle over Nativity scenes (such as here and here). It became so ridiculous this year that Charlene Story, a city councilwoman in New Jersey, resigned her seat when the city Christmas tree was renamed a Christmas tree because “the phrase wrongfully inserted religion into what was supposed to be a secular holiday event.”

And that rottenness has taken the next step as now that jolly old elf, Santa Claus, has been marked as person non grata of the Christmas season, with a Massachusetts school banning Santa from its winter concert and a school principle in Brooklyn attempting to scrub Santa out of the school.

The religious zealots of Secularism are not the only ones who have a problem with Santa, however, as Christians too have made some attempts to expunge the “jolly old elf” from the Christmastime. I cannot speak for all Christians, of course, and my social circles have been so small that I cannot even claim to have a legitimate sample number on the matter. All I have are three personal stories, all from my undergraduate days. The first concerned a young man who had gotten married just a few months before and he and his wife were already expecting their first child. Somehow or other the topic of Christmas came up and he said that he was not sure if he and his wife would tell their children about Santa as he took away from Jesus; another friend told me and a group of others that his parents had told him that Santa was not real when he was thirteen; and another friend, close to Christmas time, shared a cartoon on Facebook, showing Santa being arrested for impersonating St. Nicholas.

I can well understand the secularists’ desire to erase Santa Clause from Christmas as, even as materialistic and commercialistic as they have made him, he is still too close to the Christ Child for comfort; someone may accidently stumble upon the fact that “Santa Clause” is merely the Anglocized version of the Dutch “Sinter Klaus” which means St. Nicholas who was, in fact, a real man. A bishop of Myra (what is now modern day Turkey), Nicholas was exiled in the reign of Emperor Diocletian and who, after his release, attended the Council of Nicea and became a legend for his generosity and gift giving. If that story was discovered, Christmas could no longer be about cookies and snow and presents as the figure of the Bishop would tower over the entire narrative and lead to more questions, a scenario that the secularists cannot have.

I cannot understand as well Christians’ hesitation over Santa Claus. It is true that the modern society has turned Santa into something that he is not, a god of commercialism instead of a sign pointing the way to “the Reason for the Season.” But this does not mean that he must be banished to the outer darkness; Santa Claus is properly a Christian symbol and it is the duty of all Christians to fight to reclaim their symbols that have been corrupted by the world.

Beneath that, I also somewhat suspect that some Christians feel that Santa should not be made a part of Christmas because “he is not real;” St. Nicholas is real but Santa Claus is a charlatan made from bits and pieces of St. Nicholas. But merely because something “is not real” does not mean that it is not true. It is here that Myth has been so misunderstood, to our detriment.

Myths, so often today, are so often today understood as “make believe” or “pretty lies” or stories. If someone describes something as a “myth” it is understood to be untrue and therefore false, such as the “myth of Area 51.” That is not the correct way of understanding myth, however. Myth is nothing more than the use of imagination in seeking the truth. As G.K. Chesterton wrote in The Everlasting Man, “Mythology, then, sought God through the imagination; or sought truth by means of beauty.” Imagination can perform this duty of seeking God because, as Chesterton explains again, imaginative does not mean imaginary. It is the imagination seeking the Truth which he knows exists somewhere. This was, in fact, one of the arguments by which J.R.R. Tolkien helped C.S. Lewis to convert from atheism to Christianity. Lewis had argued that all myths were worthless lies; Tolkien countered that myths were true, that they were attempts, however shaky, by men to understand the Truth. In fact, Tolkien argued, myths were sometimes the only way to express truths that, without myth, would be forced to remain unspoken.

Understood in this way, Santa Claus becomes not a commercial hustler or a detriment to understanding that Christmas is the birthday of the Savior. The Myth of Santa Claus strengthens the Nativity Story and makes it tangible for us and our children; the myth of a man-a saint-who encircles the globe, unselfishly distributing presents to good children, is a sign that points to the Great Gift that was given to us so many generations ago in that humble stable. And just as that Great Gift died for us, the myth of Santa Claus, the Gift-Bringer tells us that we are fulfilled only when we give of ourselves-die to ourselves- for our fellow Man in Truth and Goodness for His sake.

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