The Parkland Shooting and Unanswered Questions

 

Nikolas Cruz
Nikolas Cruz arrested. 

If some people wear rose colored glasses, through which the world looks better than it is, some others wear nostalgic glasses through which the past always looks better than it was. Or, to put it another way, the flaws of the past are diminished. In this way, even the tragedies of the past lead inevitably to great things: Pearl Harbor united the country to a common and good purpose; the launch of Sputnik, with the speeches of JFK, helped propel Neil Armstrong to the moon; the tyranny of the British lead to the uniting of the thirteen colonies and the creation of the United States.

 

For the wearers of nostalgic glasses, tragedies no longer seem to unite but, instead, deepen the divisions between us. Nikolas Cruz had no sooner finished shooting the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, killing several of his former classmates, when the predictable divisions appeared. The usual suspects began crying out for more gun control laws as the solution to the shootings. Others pointed out that gun control laws do not stop shootings, that there would be no way of confiscating all the guns privately owned in America, that gun violence is actually decreasing in America, and that we have a natural right to keep and bear arms.

As someone who stands with the second group, I understand the importance of repeating these facts. Samuel Johnson said something to the effect that it is more necessary to remind men of things than it is to teach them new knowledge. At the same time, though, it is not so much sad as frustrating that it seems that that is where the conversation is destined to play out again, especially when both sides feel cheated.  After a tragedy like this, the left calls for more gun control and, thus far, has been thwarted each time; they retreat, each time more determined to win in the next round. They also, as a general rule, see the those on the right as being more concerned about the right to own a rifle than with protecting the lives of children. The right sees the left as only wanting to restrain and/or eradicate the legitimate right of self defense without any exceptions. Every tragedy replays the cycle and each side becomes further divided.

This set of circumstances is even more frustrating because there are other questions that the shooting in Florida should raise, other questions which we should be discussing. One question which has not really been discussed is the role of fatherlessness in our society. Fatherlessness is perhaps the greatest crisis in our United States; in 2012, The Washington Times reported that even as the number of American families with children increased by 160,000, the number of two parent homes decreased by 1.2 million. What this means is that one out of three children—for a total of fifteen million—have no father in their lives. These children are the ones who really have the decked stacked against them; they are more likely to go to prison, more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, more likely to suffer from obesity. Girls who grow without their fathers are seven times more likely to become pregnant while still a teenager. These malicious affects might result because there is some evidence that fatherlessness does not just cause an empty hole in the life of a child but could actually, physically alter the brain, making children more aggressive and angry. In 2013, The Daily Mirror reported on a study conducted on California mice (which are monogamous and raise their offspring together) demonstrated that the mice which were raised without a father showed different development in their prefrontal cortexes which made them more violent and led to “abnormal social interactions.”

Nikolas Cruz lost his own father when he was two years old. When he went on his killing spree, he was living with his grandparents. It is quite possible that the loss of his father impacted Cruz’s life more deeply than we know and that if his father had lived, his life may have taken a completely different course.

Another potential question that is not asked is the role of drugs; not weed or cocaine but the regular, old-fashioned drugs approved by the FDA and which are prescribed to people. Psychiatric drugs which we take for anxiety, depression, ADHD, and a host of other reasons, may very well be a cause of at least some of the violent attacks such as the one that took place in Florida. Some might scoff but it is true that 36 perpetrators  of violent attacks were taking or were withdrawing from different psychiatric drugs. It is also true that the FDA has subtly admitted that some drugs which it itself approved, might cause homicidal tendencies. I am not denying that some people need medications, but when one out of every six Americans take some kind of psychotic drug, mostly anti-depressants, it might be a reasonable question to ask not only what side effects might come about from long term prescriptions but also why so many people need them today. It is certainly true that psychiatric knowledge has increased and new illnesses can be identified and treated. But it should also be noted that it does seem that more people today suffer from some type of mental disorder than in the past, partially perhaps because illness has so expanded that its definition can now include almost everything.

It has been discovered that Cruz at one time was also taking medication for unspecified “emotional difficulties.” While the link between his medication and the attack may or may not exist, the lack of discussion on this facet of the case and the homicidal urges some drugs seem to create, guarantees that the answer will remain unknown.

These are valid points and discussion concerning them is not just worth having but necessary. But the root question which the Florida shooting brings up, as every tragedy does, is the question of evil. This is a little different from the problem of evil, the philosophical question which wonders why, if there exists an all-powerful and all-loving God, evil exists. It is an old question, much older than any of the New Atheists who dusted it off and threw it out in their books to the world again; the ancients grappled with it and Thomas Aquinas said that it was the only question which posed a serious challenge to the idea of God. The “question of evil” on the other hand, turns the focus away from the existence of God and re-directs it to ask why people commit evil.

The answer given to the question will depend on one’s anthropology. If you see people as being fundamentally good then the root of evil must lie somewhere outside the person, whether that be access (potential or actual) to guns, poverty, mental illness, bullying, or some other variant. If your view of people, though, is that we are fallen and/or broken, with great potential for good but a strong tendency to evil, then the answer comes a bit closer to home—people do evil because they choose it. There is a story told of G.K. Chesterton which is probably apocryphal but shouldn’t be: A paper asked Chesterton to write an essay on what was wrong with the world. Chesterton agreed and a few days later sent in his essay which consisted of this: What is wrong with the world? I am.

This is not a comfortable answer for anyone, regardless of political philosophy or party affiliation because it means evil, such as school shootings, will not be eradicated by a new gun law, or more money spent on mental illness, or law enforcement actually doing their duty. If the cause of evil is not outside of us but inside of us, it means that evil cannot be fixed with a wave of the legislative/executive/judicial magic wand. It means that to change the world, as everyone claims they want to do, it requires us—you and me—to change ourselves. And that, speaking from a small well of personal experience, is a terrifying prospect because no one really likes change. We become comfortable with who we are, including all our vices, and blemishes and pettiness, and thinking of the time and energy needed to change these flaws, makes us retreat back to our routines and protocols. And the worst part of it is that the fact against which we rebel the most is that the change will be uncomfortable and unpleasant. This is unavoidable; Richard Hooker, the 17th century Anglican churchman was absolutely correct when he said, “Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better.”

What would happen though if we could overcome our discomfort honestly tried to change ourselves for the better? If we gave up the pettiness, the gossip, the little vices that we take pleasure in? What if we worked at being good husbands, good wives, good fathers, good mothers, good brothers, good sisters, good workers, good friends? If we sincerely practiced the old, common virtues of honesty, charity, justice, in our everyday lives, at work and at home? If we sincerely tried to invest more of ourselves and not just our money or our time, into our neighborhoods, our schools, our communities, our places of worship? We might not think that we are making much of a difference. But like ripples in the water, our actions, good and bad, spread out from us and affect much more and many more people than we could imagine.

This is not to say, of course, that this is or would be a magic bullet that would stop school shootings and other evils forever. People are only human, the pull toward the bad is temptingly strong and we often give in. But, if we honestly tried, we might be surprised at some of the results. And it would give us something new to talk about.

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A Return to Chivalry

 

Age of Chivalry
A knight and his lady. 

 

People say that chivalry is dead. If true, we have killed it. The sexual revolution, the crest of second and third wave feminism and the natural tendency toward chronological snobbery have made the idea of chivalry quaint at best and tyrannical at worst. The idea of a knight errant fighting for his lady love is seen as a hopeless romantic with his head in the clouds or as an unapologetic standard and enforcer of the patriarchy. Chivalry, in an Orwellian thrust, has been dubbed “benevolent sexism” by Women’s Psychology Quarterly since it presumes—by their understanding—that women are inherently weaker than men and need men for their protection. The only thing to do was to destroy the idea of chivalry through shame and mockery.

All that destruction though has led to foreseeable if unintended consequences. The revelations of sexual harassment, in Hollywood especially, have suddenly revealed that all the promises made by the sexual revolution in the 60s have not come true. But, like true disciples, today’s feminists and apologists say that the problem is not feminism but men or “toxic masculinity” as the modern slang puts it. It is the sole fault of the man if he preys on women and it does not matter if the man in question is an actual criminal—like Harvey Weinstein—or simply a scumbag like Aziz Ansari. Each are equally guilty and equally monstrous.

Now, to be sure, from the stories and accounts that have come out of the Aziz Ansari case in particular, Aziz Ansari is a scumbag; he is not a gentleman and he is not man, except in the physical sense but he is not a criminal like Weinstein. But this distinction is lost on today’s minds who see no distinction between the two, no difference between the illegal and the immoral. To them, again, the problem is men themselves; men are inherently evil and crass. What they forget is that if a society laughs at honor, or virtue, or bravery, then very soon, they will be surrounded by people who are dishonorable, unvirtuous and cowardly. Men have been told that men and women are the same, that they do not have to be differential to women and that, in fact, it is disrespectful of them to do so. Combine that lesson with the contradictory but equally powerful one learned from online pornography—that men are supposed to dominate women and that women are supposed to enjoy their domination—and it is not surprising that that the slew of sexual harassments and transgressions have come out.

This is not to say that men are justified in acting like this but we might say that their culpability is lessoned through ignorance. Perhaps not men like Ansari, who claimed to be a feminist in order to signal his virtue to the rest of Hollywood, but the ordinary runoff the mill men whom we see every day. We might even be justified in asking ourselves how can men be expected to treat women well when they are not taught? And that is why chivalry must return not only for women but for men.

Chivalry was never about sexism or the patriarchy. Instead, chivalry was the recognition by men that women were noble and special—so much so that it was considered normal for a man to pledge himself to a lady. Both men and women benefitted from this code and ideal. Women, who as a matter of objective fact are physically weaker, on average, than men, gained protectors in a harsh and brutal age. Separated as we are from the fall of the Roman Empire, the spilling of the dark ages across the Europe and the rebirth of civilization in the Middle Ages, we do not have the appreciation that we should for how harsh life could be in that time. That women were seen as persons that did not just require but deserved protecting on the basic fact of their womanhood, was phenomenal and not something that was seen in the ancient world. Not only that, but in the medieval romances where the seeds of chivalry were planted, the ladies to whom the knights pledged themselves and for which they fought were not weak, misogynistic stereotypes; historian Richard Barber says that the knight’s lady “is unlike anything before or since, unrivalled in her command over men’s hearts, a remote, almost divine being.” Curiously, some post-modern feminists defend women becoming pornographic actresses, where they become objectified by men, for the same reason—because, they say, that acting in porn gives them a power over men. Which is readily true; what would be argued about is the type of power wielded.

Men, for their part, found their natures refined, tempered and channeled. It’s no secret that men are more rough and tumble as a rule than women are which is one of the very reasons why a man requires a woman in his life. Left alone and to themselves with no feminine touch upon their lives, a man’s naturally more aggressive and warlike nature would turn him into a brute. In a fit of irony, chivalry, the very thing which moderns decry as a result of toxic masculinity, was one of the remedies which prevented a man’s nature from toxic in the first place. Before chivalry and the romances that inspired its world-view, warriors had thirsted for great deeds to accomplish in order to be hailed for their military might, so that their names could be listed alongside those of Alexander, Caesar and Charlegmagne. But, after the romances appeared, it was not the thought of glory in military deeds that spurred him on but his lady who became the inspiration behind his deeds. The writers of southern France saw love as a subtle moral and spiritual education while in northern France and Germany, less sophisticated, saw love as an actual power that would give the knight strength, skill and accuracy. Perhaps that is the reason why some have argued that it was a good thing for chivalry to die. The idea of a love so strong, almost perverse, needed to go; the image of the knight pining away for his lady seems ridiculous and undignified. But there is a difference between an ideal and the corruption of an ideal just as there is a difference between courage, a virtue, and foolhardiness, a vice. All good things are liable to be corrupted and the better something is, the greater the likelihood that it will be corrupted and when that happens, the greater the chance that the corruption will be detrimental. But that in no way should make us suspicious of the good thing—in this case, chivalry—itself just as foolhardiness should not make us doubt the worth and necessity of courage.

I once read that a true man helps a woman become a true woman and a true woman helps a man become a true man. In this way, the cycle is complete. In the world today, the cycle is often broken as men and women do not have the knowledge on how to treat each other and even what a true man or woman encompasses. Chivalry—real and genuine—can help us rediscover it.

Acedia and Prydain

 

Prydain
“There are those who must first learn loss, despair, and grief. Of all paths to wisdom, this is the cruelest and longest.”

 

I’ll give whoever reads this blog post fair warning right here, up front: This is going to be a little different than my usual posts. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, will up to you to decide.

 

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to actually make the attempt to do something with this blog in 2018. Initiated in December 2015, I only started making somewhat erratic postings on it in July of 2016. I had, in my head, a schedule of making a post every ten days which would have equaled to about three posts a month. Not bad, I thought to myself. Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men, often go astray: last year there were some pretty noticeable gaps and again, this post, whenever it goes online, will the first one to be posted in over three weeks. Not a very good track record and not a very good way to start off a New Year’s resolution.

 

There have been some quasi-legitimate reasons: last year, my laptop, the only computer I have, needed some emergency repairs in the form of a new hard-drive. Other gaps had more to do with laziness than anything, with me wanting to curl up with a bowl of popcorn and a movie rather than thinking about what to write and then actually crafting it on the blank page. This latest gap is a little different because I have been under the spell of acedia.

 

Acedia was a new word for me. I just happened to come across it while looking through J. Budziszewski’s blog, The Underground Thomist. In one blog post, he defined acedia as “oppressive sorrow which so weighs upon man’s mind that he wants to do nothing.” Boom, I thought; that explains perfectly how I’ve felt for the last week. If anyone is worried that I’m going to make this post into a public confessional and start the old, “Woe is me…” routine, you can turn off the red alert. This is not going to be one of those blogs. I’ll only say that doubts, jealousies, second-guesses and a feeling of entrapment have woven around me, which is the reason for this little mini-hiatus. In other words, life is happening like it happens to everyone.

 

Acedia might seem like too strong a word. “Oppressive sorrow,” seems to be pulled from a melodrama. I wouldn’t have used the word, nor would I have seen the word as describing my state of mind, except for the part which said “that he wants to do nothing.” When you’re a bibliophile and you don’t really want to read anymore and the thought of acquiring more books does not but a spring in your step or if you’re trying to be a writer but putting words to the paper feels like trudging uphill through a foot of frozen molasses or if you love old movies but the thought of watching them doesn’t put a smile on your face; and instead, if you just want to sit and think about everything that is in your mind from when you clock out at work until you put the lights out and go to sleep, and then repeat the whole process again tomorrow, you might have acedia. Not for reasons of melodrama but because it’s there. What to do in a situation like that? Different people have different responses. My response is to escape into the fantasy of my youth and that means The Chronicles of Prydain.

 

It’s not that Prydain was the only fantasy that I read as a boy: my uncle read me The Hobbit and my mom read me The Chronicles of Narnia as well as a children’s version of The Arabian Nights, The Adventures of Robin Hood and John Henry. But Prydain was the first fantasy series that was, in a sense, my own. No one introduced me to it; no one suggested it to me. I just received the first two books—The Book of Three and The Black Caldron—for my tenth birthday. By the end of the week, they were done. For Christmas that year, I received the next two books—The Castle of Llyr and Taran Wanderer—and then, after a few years, from the local library, I got my hands on the fifth and final book, The High King. Although not as well known as Middle Earth or Narnia, Prydain weaves its own spell with its overarching story of Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper on the farm of Caer Dallben and his journey from boy to man. There are, of course, the inner circle of companions: Eilonwy, the copper-headed princess of the House of Llyr, Flewddur Fflam, the bard, Doli of the Fair Folk, Gurgi, caught between the world of men and animals; there are the secondary characters, real as life, in the form of Coll, former warrior turned farmer, Dallben, the enchanter, Gwydion, warrior and prince of the House of Don; and then there are the villains, chiefly in the forms of Queen Achren and Arawn, Death-Lord. The author who discovered Prydain, Lloyd Alexander, was, simply, a very gifted story-teller whose ability and imagination, even a horrible Disney movie could not destroy.

 

But what does Prydain have to do with acedia? Truth be told, not much. Though I still hope for and even seek occasionally, silver bullets for problems, I know pretty well by now that there are no such things. If re-reading the Chronicles was supposed to cure me of the acedia, then they failed. But, in another sense, they didn’t fail.

 

What has always enticed me about Prydain and the characters in it is that it is the most realistic fantasy that I have read which means, at times, it is quite gritty. Before Harry Potter made killing characters off a hobby, Lloyd Alexander filled his series with death and not just of monsters and villains. A noble character is killed about half-way through the second book, and more characters, some of them well known and loved, die as the story progresses. But there is more to it then just death. Life is there, in all its ups and downs, triumphs and defeats, successes and failures. And because the story is plotted so, there is more than a bit of wisdom in the books, perhaps more so than in most children’s books. There are, of course, the usual themes of good fighting evil and friendship, but there is more than that. There is the theme of honor and duty, which runs throughout the entirety of the Chronicles and which claims that there is as much honor in tilling a field well as in going to war. War, as Alexander shows, may be necessary, but glory and honor and not merely found in the battlefield. And then, there is the theme of life itself, which may be written most strongly in the fourth book, Taran Wanderer. Hevydd the Smith tells Taran that life is like a forge which will batter and beat a man into nothing unless he has the mettle to withstand it just as metal is worthless until it is shaped and tempered; Dwyvach, the Weaver-Woman tells Taran that life is a loom, where lives and days intertwine so that only the wise can see the pattern; and Annlaw, Clay-Shaper, shows him that life is a potter’s wheel where, in a sense, we become what we make of ourselves. And then, there is the wisdom of the enchanter, Dallben, himself, who says that sometimes the seeking counts greater than the finding and that there comes a time in every life when we must become more than what we are.

 

Rereading the series after more than ten years, reacquainting myself with the companions of Prydain and going with them on their adventures and quests again was like having old friends come over and stay for a visit. And, just like friends, they cannot really take the acedia away; they can be with you, for a time before they have to go, and leave you to yourself again. But they remind you that you are not alone, that daylight always comes, sooner or later, and that after rough times, wisdom may be gleaned. It does not take away the acedia. But it does give hope to shoulder on. And hope is sometimes all that an Assistant Pig-Keeper has to lean on.

The Goodness that Lies in Baker Street

Sherlock Holm
Jeremy Brett as the greatest detective who never lived.

Usually, outside of Christmas, birthdays are the most eagerly anticipated days of the year; or, the most dreaded. The common denominator of birthdays–anticipated or dreaded–is that it marks the passage of time in a person’s life. Another full year separates a person from the date of their birth. Fictional characters, though they may have a date of death–such as Robin Hood–usually do not have birthdays, for the simple reason that they were never people; a reader of Greek myth has never stopped to demand on what day Zeus was born or when Athena came bursting from his head. In this way, Sherlock Holmes is unique.

It is poetic that Holmes would have a birthday. Though he was not the first fictional detective–that honor goes to Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin–Holmes was and is the most famous detective in literature and one of the most characters in literature in general. No other character has taken plain objects–the pipe, the violin, the deerstalker–and made it his own. No other character has had so many pastiches written of him and no other character has been filmed more often than him. And while Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot may be the only fictional character to have an obituary featured in the New York Times, only Holmes had black-band wearing mourners in the streets of London after his presumed plunge into the Reichenbach Falls. This level of devotion led his most ardent devotees–“Holmesians” in England and “Sherlockians” in America–to create and play what they call The Game, in which it is imagined that Holmes, Watson, Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson, were all living people in Victorian London, Arthur Conan Doyle being regulated to Watson’s literary agent. It was one of the first Sherlockians (and avid writer) Christopher Morley who proposed Holmes’ birthday as January 6, 1854. Morley chose January 6because he noted that Holmes, who quoted Shakespeare avidly, quoted only one play twice in the whole Canon (the original 54 short stories, 2 novellas and 2 novels of his adventures) that play being Twelfth Night. Why would Holmes take this particular play as the one from which to quote the most? Morley opined that Twelfth Night was close to Holmes’ heart because his birthday fell on Twelfth Night–January 6. Ad for the year 1854, Morley deduced that from the story, “His Last Bow” in which Holmes is described as being about 60 years of age in 1914. Holmesians take the game so seriously that every January 6, they gather at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City to celebrate the birth of their hero.

It is a silly game to be sure and there may be some truth to G.K. Chesterton’s worry that Holmes has become a god of sorts, to the extent that the Royal Academy of Science awarded Holmes and not Arthur Conan Doyle an award for the use of chemistry in criminal investigations. At the same time though, it must be admitted that anything good is liable to corruption, much like how Santa Claus has been transformed from St. Nicholas to the generalissimo of commercialism. If Sherlock Holmes has been corrupted, it is only because he is good.

Though Holmes is recognized for his mind, his powers of observation and deduction, these are not the ultimate reason why he has been remembered nor the primary reason why the world needs him today. As Morley wrote in his introduction to the 1932 edition of Holmes:

It is not that we take our blessed Sherlock too seriously; if we really want the painful oddities of criminology let us go to Baitaille or Roughead. But Holmes is pure anesthesia. We read the stories again and again; perhaps most of all for the little introductory interiors which give a glimpse of 221B Baker Street.

Many people have honed in on the friendship between Holmes and Watson as the chief reason for the longevity, not only of the stories but of the characters and there is definitely something to that belief. The quality of the mysteries varies from the great (“The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” “Silver Blaze”) to the mediocre (“The Adventure of the Three Gables,” “The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger”) but where Holmes and Watson are allowed to be themselves in their old environment, even the poorest story has some redeeming quality; the three stories where this dynamic is absent are probably the poorest of the lot, particularly, “The Adventure of Mazarine Stone.” But there is another reason behind that of the friendship between Holmes and Watson, however; and that is the adventure and romance of the world they live in.
Friendship is an invaluable possession; no less a person than Aristotle said so. But it is also true that there exist millions of friendships throughout the world at this moment and yet, I doubt if any of these friendships, as good as they may be, would be powerful enough to hold the public imagination for a space of thirty years, let alone 130. The friendship that develops between Holmes and Watson has to have a powerful background that we take notice of the friendship in the first place. The background chosen, particularly, was the criminal backdrop of Victorian London but, in more general terms, it was the backdrop of romance. This is an odd word to use in association with Holmes to whom Watson once called a “thinking machine.” The fault lies not with the word but with ourselves since we have boxed in the word “romance” so much that it hardly has the room that it did. In the medieval world, a “romance” was not a love story, though that element often did play a part of it; rather, it was a story of high adventure, filled with mythical creatures, dangerous and evil foes and a knight who faced these dangers while pursuing a quest which he had undertaken. Though these elements are not present ver bantam in the canon, they are still present though in a more subtle form. Holmes, though never accepting knighthood from any of the royal houses of Europe, is still a knight, pursuing justice and the truth, regardless of the particulars of the case. Like every detective, Holmes’ mission is to restore order where it has been broken through evil. In pursuit of this quest, he and Watson face many foes and dangers, whether it be in the form of John Clay, Charles Augustus Milverton, James Windibank or, most famously and dangerously, Professor Moriarty, whom Holmes compares to both a snake and a spider. There are times that Holmes and Watson even face what the medievals would have termed fantastic monsters that are twinged with the supernatural; most well known of these is the Hound of the Baskervilles (taken from actually legends from Dartmoor) but there is also the Sussex Vampire and the Devil’s Foot. There is, in reading the adventures, the very real sense of danger and the thrill of good triumphing over evil, echoing Chesterton’s observation that the pursuit of virtue has all the exhilaration of a vice. Even when there is no villain per se to apprehend, such as in “The Musgrave Ritual,” there is an almost boyish innocence to Holmes and his stories; where else but in a Sherlock Holmes adventure would there a treasure hunt on a country estate, the prize at the end being the ancient crown of England?
The necessity of these things comes from the fact that the world today is very hostile to pleasure. This might seem a surprising thing to say after having it drummed into our head that we live in a “sex-positive” society where every sort of pleasure is condoned. But it is not so much pleasure that is condoned today but the will; if a person wills it, then it must be true, so long as what a person’s will wants is what society has already condoned. With that also comes the idea that morality is decided by society and that, on a whim, society can change the definition and parameters of its morality. In Sherlock Holmes and his adventures, however, there is the innocence of goodness: the goodness of truth and mercy (as when Holmes commits a felony, whether it is to do more good for the criminal, as in “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” or to save a marriage as in “The Second Stain”); and there is the innocence and goodness of hunting evil for the triumph of good. In his lecture on fairy tales, J.R.R. Tolkien said that fantasy was needed because the materialists of the world told men the lie that all that existed was the three physical dimensions and only those things which existed within those three dimensions. There are not so many pure materialists today as there were in Tolkien’s time; most people believe in something other than the purely material as shown by the “nones” claiming to be spiritual instead of religious. But if pure materialists have left the field for the most part, their place has been taken by devotees of the will to power, who claim that “there is no good or evil, but thinking makes it so.” It is against them that fantasy and fairy tales are still needed and it is against them that Sherlock Holmes and the good doctor, with their innocence and goodness, are in need today in the lodgings at Baker Street as they were in the time of Victoria. What Vincent Starrett wrote in his poem, “221B” is just as true today as it was then:

Here dwell together still two men of note
Who never lived and so can never die:
How very near they seem, yet how remote
That age before the world went all awry.
But still the game’s afoot for those with ears
Attuned to catch the distant view-halloo:
England is England yet, for all our fears—
Only those things the heart believes are true.

A yellow fog swirls past the window-pane
As night descends upon this fabled street:
A lonely hansom splashes through the rain,
The ghostly gas lamps fail at twenty feet.
Here, though the world explode, these two survive,
And it is always eighteen ninety-five.

 

The Lion and the Lamb

 

Lion Roar
The roar of the lion. Courtesy of Bing Images. 

 

 

The paradox of Christmas, G.K. Chesterton said, was that in it, the Hands that made the sun and moon became so small that They could not reach out and touch the cattle and the sheep that lived in the manager. Perhaps this paradox can be put another way: It is in Christmas that the Lion of Judah became the Lamb of God.

From this, it would be too easy to say, as others have, that the terrible God of the Old Testament, became the loving, gentle and meek God of the New Testament. If this had actually happened, the entire paradox and mystery and the beauty which comes from each would disappear as easily and quickly as dew from summer’s grass. There is no paradox in one thing becoming another thing. There is no amazement, except the usual, every day type (which in and of itself is magical enough, much like hobbits) in a boy growing into a man; we expect that transformation and would be very surprised if a boy of five was still that age after fifteen years. We would also be surprised if a person was born as an old man and preceded to grow younger with the flowing of time, following the example of Benjamin Button. While these things would be surprising or even startling, they would be so because they reversed the ordinary or froze it solidly in place. But a paradox is greater than that since it is a thing or state which is two different things at the same time while also at the same time not violating the principle of non-contradiction. If God had simply changed from being a terrible and vengeful deity to a meek and forgiving one, this would be no different than Scrooge changing from a miser at the beginning of Dickens’ Carol to the soul of benevolence at the end. If this is what had happened with the coming of Christmas, not only would this lower God to the level of a mid-nineteenth century Englishman it would lower Him much more than that, lowering Him so much that He would no longer be himself. God, in other words, would not be God. If, as Christianity holds, God is an unchanging Spirit, simple in the summation of all Perfections, then He cannot change, either by evolution or devolution. If God is perfect, which He must be to be God, then He must be perfect forever since He is outside of Time, being its Creator and not its subject. This becomes even more obvious when the fact of the Trinity is taken into consideration; if Christ is the Son of God and the Second Person of the Trinity, as Christianity again maintains, then when the God of the Old Testament spoke, the Son was speaking in unison with the Father and the Holy Spirit. As an aside, this dichotomy of the Old Testament and its God being vindictive and terrible and the God of the New Testament being merciful and meek is a false one. I remember reading somewhere that a theology professor asked his students which they would choose: the merciful God of the Old Testament or the vengeful God of the New Testament. Numerous times in the Old Testament, God’s mercy is manifested whether it is the promise of mercy to Israel conveyed by Isiah or Jeremiah or even the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah which only resulted because of the lack of even ten just men between them. Similarly, there are numerous times when Jesus uttered harsh words—calling the Pharisees “whitened sepulchers” and a “brood of vipers”—and when He condemned, such as His condemnation of those who would lead the little children away from Him or in the parable of the lambs and the goats.

                Because God is greater than us, there is no quandary in His being a paradox, in this case, the Lamb and the Lion; the Lamb, of course, because He came to sacrifice Himself for us, just as the Jews sacrificed lambs for the Passover. It is the Lion, today, with which we have a difficulty in wrapping our head around. Our minds do not work so well under paradoxes and we have pictured Jesus, “meek and mild” so often that we cannot imagine the Good Shepherd at the same time as a Lion, a creature that would not mind having fresh lamb for dinner. We are very comfortable with the stories of Jesus’ meekness, whether it is His conversation with the Samaritan woman or His saving of the woman caught in adultery but not so much when He makes the whip and drives the money lenders from the temple. I suspect that a part of the reason is because lambs and their keepers are so seemingly non-threatening that it gives us the idea that there really is nothing of which to be afraid. A lamb cannot harm you and neither will a shepherd; fairy tales seem to be in complete agreement on that point. A lion, on the other hand, is inherently dangerous; we automatically recognize in it, even one separated from us by glass and bars at the zoo, that here is an animal which we cannot predict and which can and may destroy our lives if given half a chance. It is the same feeling that the Pevensie children had when they realized that Aslan was a lion and Susan asked their hosts, the Beavers, if he was safe, to which Mr. Beaver responded, “Of course he isn’t safe.”

                Benjamin Franklin once opined that those who gave up their liberty for temporary safety deserved neither. It is just as true today as it was then that people have a fanatical devotion to safety. We want to know that the new diet or exercise regimen will make us look like movie stars and if there is any doubt, we reconsider it; we want to know that the stocks that we have chosen will yield us a profitable return and if there is a doubt that they will, we decline to take the leap. There are times, of course, where such a decision may be wise; prudence, that oft neglected virtue, is necessary as ever, even if its status has declined in the world. But there are also times when prudence is used as an excuse rather than as the virtue that it is. Prudence, from Aristotle down through the wise men of the West, have recognized that prudence was the habit that enables one to see in human affairs what is virtuous and what is not and how to attain the one and avoid the other. In matters pertaining to Christianity, the fullness of the truth is the virtuous path. There can be no holding back since to hold back is to withhold oneself from the truth Himself.

                It was with these thoughts that I found a story detailing how a Christian couple in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was told by their homeowner’s association that they had to take down an “offensive” lawn decoration after a complaint was filed, a decoration which consisted of nothing but a piece of cardboard with the name Jesus written upon its face in red garland. To their credit, the couple, the Wivells, refused to comply with the ridiculous command of the home owner’s association. The fact that someone found the sign offensive was not surprising; the fact that the Wivells possessed the courage and the faith to refuse to comply was mildly surprising and heartwarming; the fact that was the most surprising was the reaction of one of the Wivells neighbors. Neil Blevins, after making the usual disclaimer that he is not opposed to Christmas, said that the Wivells chose to do the un-Christian thing in keeping their sign up.

                Without knowing Mr. Blevins personally, it would seem that he thinks that the heart of Christianity is inoffensiveness. It might be said that he cares for his neighbor so much that he does not want to cause his neighbor any twinge of pain or uneasiness but he does not love his neighbor enough to proclaim the truth that, as the saying goes, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” The very fact of being a Christian is offensive to the world which is why so many of the great saints were also martyrs. They displayed the light of Christ so clearly, they spoke with the roar of the Lion so loudly that the world could not bear the sight or the sound and decided that it would be much better if both the light and the sound vanished. Christmas, in this light, is by its very nature offensive as it says in a Word that the world is sick and needs a Physician; that the world is cold and needs a Fire; that the world is dark and needs a Light; that the world is dead and needs Life. But like children who dread the doctor even more than the threat of disease or the disease itself, the world shies away from the silent roar that first came from the cave in Bethlehem two thousand years ago because if it listened, it feels that it would have to give up so much. In the imbalance that has come from emphasizing the Lamb over the Lion, it has been forgotten that Christ gave offense whenever He spoke and that, if His followers are serious in imitating and following Him, that includes making a whip of cords from time to time.

                At Christmastide, there sometimes are seen signs that say “The King is born!” It is easy in our day to conflate the kingship of the ancient world with kingship today in which kings are mere figureheads. But in the past, the king led his followers into battle; he had to be a lion on the field to his men who were then inspired to fight for and with him for their homeland. That was the reason why the old hymns, such as “The Son of God Goes Forth to War” declared:

The Son of God Goes forth to war,
A kingly crown to gain;
His blood red banner streams afar:
Who follows in his train?
Who best can drink His cup of woe,
Triumphant over pain,
Who patient bears his cross below,
He follows in His train.

At Christmastide, the Great War was declared and the Lion roared and the world will never be the same for it or for the followers of the Lion.

A Philosophy of the Christmas Tree

 

Victorian Christmas Party
A Victorian tree trimming party.

Traditions are a good thing, in and of themselves, if for no other reason that they give order and routine to our lives. Some people have made a glass of warm milk before bed a tradition and it may very well be that the milk does help to bring the initial drowsiness but the act of drinking cannot be entirely forgotten either. The pouring of the milk, the heating on the stove or in the microwave, and the drinking all wash together as a sign to yourself that, yes, the day is actually over; sleep can now come. I had a brother who did the very same thing when still a baby except that it was not a glass of warm milk but a particular CD of Celtic lullabies.

 

More importantly, of course, traditions connect us to the past in our religion, country, culture and, most intimately, to our own families. Using the silver tableware for the Thanksgiving feast is not just to give the table the final gloss, although that is part of it; it is also the understanding that we are doing what our great-grandmother started doing with the silverware, given to her as a wedding present, coupled with the idea and hope that future generations of our family will this particular silver for this particular feast day. Past, present and future all meet under the same roof.

Sometimes–or oftentimes–the tradition becomes so habitually that we forget not only its meaning but also just how bizarre it is. At any other time of the year, setting up a tree in our living rooms and decorating them with lights and glass balls would seem ridiculous but, at Christmas-tide, no one thinks twice making a conifer of some type the centerpiece and heart of our homes for at least a few weeks. Not having one is tantamount to branding yourself a Scrooge.

Time and custom are certainly on our side in this particular tradition: the Germanic tribesmen brought conifers from the winter forests and into their huts as a reminder of the promise of the coming Spring in the middle of Winter, since the conifers kept their green throughout the year and did not die in Winter; when Christian missionaries came into Germany, they baptized the tradition, making the evergreen a symbol of Christ, the one who rose from dead Winter to living Spring. According to legend, Martin Luther took this tradition and the Christian symbol of the evergreen and began the practice of placing candles in its branches after walking through the forest and seeing the midwinter stars shining down upon the earth; this custom then crossed the English channel with the marriage between Queen Victorian and Prince Albert and, from there, it sailed the Atlantic to the United States. In spite of this honorable pedigree, by any utilitarian calculation, the Christmas tree is just as ridiculous today as it was when the first Germanic tribesman brought a tree into his hut. Perhaps the cynic or the utilitarian would say that we are even more ridiculous; the German tribesman at least had a reason for filling his home with a tree that cramped his extended family into the far corners of the hut, since he saw it as a promise of the return of Spring and the summer sun. The tribesman might be forgiven since he did not have the advantage of modern astronomy, geology or meteorology by which we, sitting in the 21st century, are well assured that when the sun disappears at its earliest time on the Winter Solstice, it will rise the next day. With these advantages there is no reason, save nostalgia and the indefinable “holiday spirit” which compels us to set up a tree.

Christmas time though is the season of the year filled the most with symbols. It is also the time of the year when we are to be the most childlike and children never say that a tradition is silly. They will want to know why the tradition is still practiced but they will hardly, after the explanation is given, say that the tradition and the reason are ridiculous. There is an innate innocence in the minds of children–or there should be–that trusts that there is a reason for the madness that surrounds them.

The Christmas tree is the perfect symbol of Christmas because it is a sign of contradiction. The paradox of the Christmas tree comes not so much from the lights and decorations but from the very fact that, under no other circumstance, would a tree be taken from the forest and temporarily planted in the house. That is the great paradox. The paradox is garnished with something that is so trivial that it probably does not deserve to be called a miracle but personal experience draws me to that particular description. My family has a habit of buying large Christmas trees every year. Something as stupendous as Christmas needed to be celebrated with a tree that was big enough itself to hold Christmas in its branches. Inevitably we always chose the biggest tree that we could find; twelve or thirteen foot Frasier firs were not uncommon, with branches that stretched out as wide as our arms. It should be noted, as well, that none of the houses in which we have lived have been what would be considered large; there was really no reason to look for, much less purchase, the biggest tree that we could find when a nine or ten foot tree would have been sufficient. By all rights, the tree should not have been able to fit in. Even after the necessary cutting of the truck was completed (to make a fresh cut for the water while the tree stood in the stand, a fact that might make some Scrooges cast doubt upon the validity of the yearly miracle) which allowed the tree to barely  miss the ceiling, its girth should have been too much for the living room to bear. And yet, the tree always fit. It was snug, sometimes it made the room slightly difficult to maneuver in, but the basic point remained–the tree always fit inside the house.

The reason why the Christmas tree is the perfect vessel and symbol of Christmas is because Christmas acts just like its tree because that is the way that the Baby acts. Mother Teresa of Calcutta said once that Christ has no hands, no feet, no tongue, on earth except for ours. If this is correct, then to allow Him to make use of those appendages and organs requires that we let Him into our lives. The problem is that He is a very unaccommodating guest. The usual house guest will typically try to stay out of underfoot and will general leave after a few days so as to not overstay his welcome. But the Christ Child expects to be treated like a tree and once planted in a home and heart, we are expected to keep Him there. As He grows, the less space there seems for us. Rather than look at the perpetual green of His branches, the dazzle of the lights within them, we grumble at all the space that He is taking. Inviting the homeless Child into one’s home at Christmastide is the equivalent of planting a tree in one’s house; as it grows, it forces one to change not just the arrangement of the furniture but the size and scope of the house itself. The emphasis becomes not simply a subjective order in the house according to one’s tastes but the tree.

And yet, we know that the Tree can fit inside the house, despite its perceived cumbersomeness. Furthermore, we know that planting the Tree does not destroy the house but perfects it, just as every house with a Christmas tree is perfected which we instinctively know by understanding that the houses without trees are incomplete. We know this objectively because the people who have planted the Tree and allowed it to root Itself deep in their soil are called Saints, those for whom it is Christmas every day.  Continue reading “A Philosophy of the Christmas Tree”

Purity and Patriotism

 

 

Aeneas fleeing Troy
Aeneas fleeing Troy with his father. Courtesy of fineartamerica.com 

 

Sometimes, the discovery of a new word opens the window and allows the world to be seen in a new way. Other times, it allows a new point of view to be discovered as if some genius had created a means of seeing through a “fifth dimension” the ordinary things about him in the world which now, because of the point of view which had always existed and yet remained unobtainable till now, suddenly seemed as precious as gold and as unique as snowflakes. Words can do this, much like experiences, because words are experiences; they are signposts through which the world can be seen and felt, even invisible things such as truth, honor and justice can be given breath and blood through words.

Sometimes, in order to share the experience however, it is necessary to bring up examples and stories of the past. Bringing up stories from the past–not great, historical events or persons but simple stories–is not considered rude, per se but it might be considered irrelevant and boring, which are considered rude by some, or, at least, treated with suspicion. For some, this is because they believe that we are all caught up in the great wave of progress and that the past must remained buried so that we can fully concentrate on the coming utopia which will make itself felt as a never ending present; others may express some interest in the past but feel that with the perpetual deluge of stories and outrages and accusations and trivia bombarded on us every waking hour, that there simply is no time or room for things past a certain date. At the risk of being rude, I feel it necessary to drag two stories and two reactions from their niches in the past to the present moment.

In September, some parts of the  news was devoted to the phenomena of NFL players kneeling during the pledge of allegiance. Surprisingly, one of the voices that defended the players was National Review’s David French. In a piece French argued that patriotism could only be voluntary and could never be mandated and that the players were simply exercising the their First Amendment right to free expression in protest against Donald Trump who had called on the NFL to fire players who publicly disrespected the flag. To bring further weight to his argument, French brought to his court the 1942 Supreme Court case, West Virginia vs. Barnett, in which a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses brought the West Virginia Board of Education to Court after the Board required the children of West Virginia to salute the flag every day, a ritual that contradicted the practices and beliefs of the Jehovah Witnesses. The Court, on the grounds of religious freedom nd under the idea that patriotism did not have to be mandated into the heads of a free people, ruled in the Witnesses’ favor.

In September too, another writer at National Review, Katherine Trimpf  wrote a reaction to a story that received much less popular attention than the NFL. In Everett, Washington, a group of baristas who serve coffee in bikinis sued the city council after that body unanimously voted that quick serve restaurant employees could not dress for work in a way that bared their shoulders, stomachs or butts, declaring that such a ban infringed their rights of privacy and free expression. Miss Trimpf took the baristas’ side completely, arguing that while companies could dictate dress codes, governments could not and that if someone really did not want to see a woman in beachware serve him coffee, he could quite simply go somewhere else.

Now, I have to wonder how these ladies can complain about their privacy being invaded when they attire themselves precisely to gain attention. Some may call me a prude or a Puritan for that bewilderment but I cannot see how the mere asking of the question regulates me to the boogies in the past. I have no real objection to women wearing beachware while on the beach; I find it quite enjoyable, to a point. But, again, I wonder what the purpose of wearing beach clothing when there is no beach especially when the clothing being worn by the baristas in question is not really even a swimsuit but a the lack of clothing. Ignoring these questions, however, Miss Trimpf and Mr. French are both wrong in their conclusions.

On the purely technical level, both Miss Trimpf and Mr. French are wrong regarding some of their basic ideas concerning government. I think of myself as a small-government man but an error that has occurred in some minds on the right is the equivocation of the word “government.” When the word is said, most thoughts immediately fly to Washington DC which is one of the greatest proofs that the centralization worked for by progressives and post-moderns in politics and culture has been successful since, according to our original system of government, the federal or national government is only the last and was supposedly the least powerful of the three. The individual state governments were designed to have much more influence and power than the federal government since they were closer to the people; in the same way, the local governments dotted across the different states were originally intended to have the post power since they were the ones closest to the people, most attune to the needs of the different communities and more accountable to the people. If the federal government unveiled a national dress code for the workers, I would agree that such a stupid idea could only have come from a madman or a Congressman but a decree of that sort comes from a local government, though we may question its prudence, we should not question its validity.

We hear often today that we cannot impose our morality on others. Censorship is seen as the sin which is unforgivable. If we are right, then our forefathers were blasphemers and it is our duty to damn them to hell at once and be done with it. For censorship was not unheard of in the old days of the early republic–blasphemy laws, limits on what could be printed, laws declaring that seekers of public office had to profess a belief in the Christian God, official state churches, public acknowledgement of the Sabbath, including the closing of shops, were all enforced by local governments. Many, perhaps Mr. French and Miss Trimpf would be included in this group, would say that regardless of the level of government, such laws and such activities are not appropriate since it is not the government’s job to make men virtuous, and, to an extent, they are correct. The little platoons which Edmund Burke spoke, the family, the independent schools, the communities, over all which, as an umbrella, stood the Church as a source of refreshment, wisdom and strength, were all seen as the real teachers of virtue and morality. But governments–particular those of a self-governing republic and most especially those levels of government closest to the people–also have an interest in the virtuosity of its people and a duty to help encourage it, especially is Benjamin Franklin was correct when he said that only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. While the government–even the local government–may not have the responsibility to teach us virtues it does have the duty, as Robert Bork said, to deter us from vice, acting as  a bulwark, a dike, so that the little platoon may do their duties in relative peace rather than in a war-torn environment. It is not the government’s job to teach me to love my neighbor, nor can a city council make me love my neighbor but the government can forbid me and prevent me through law from killing my neighbor which, in some way, is more primordial than loving him since I can only learn to love my neighbor if he is alive. Every law, in fact, is a deterrence from vice, or, at least, what is regarded as vice; even as mundane a law as the speed limit exists to protect us and others from the intoxication of speed.

What is interesting is that while we implicitly accept this role of the government in cases of murder, stealing, perjury and the like, we most strongly resist it in the case of sex, proving Confucius correct when he quipped that no man loves virtue more than sex. Although we like to think that we have become sufficiently enlightened to free sex from all thought of antiquated morality, that is not quite the case; even the most ardent defendant of the sexual revolt concedes that a basic morality in the form of consent. But morality in matters of sex must be stronger than mere “consent;” sex is such a powerful force–it is, after all, the only earthly force which can create not just life but a person–that it must be tightly reigned. The greater the power, the more evil its corruption will bring. Looking at it practically, if consent was all the morality that was required in matters of sex, we would be left in a world where the strong could coerce consent from the weak a la Harvey Weinstein; not only that but there would be no moral barriers with which to oppose or condemn a daughter marrying her father. Because of its natural allure and power, only virtue–chastity, modesty, prudence, and genuine love for the other, agape rather than just eros–can reign in the power of sex. The Founders thought so as well. John Adams took his marriage vows to Abigail so seriously that he declared in a letter written for his children in the twilight of his life that he had fathered no illegitimate children and he thundered in his diary against so-called men who gave the appearance of virtue only to seduce innocent women; Benjamin Franklin included chastity in his list of thirteen virtues; Washington took the Bible and the old, Roman, Seneca, as his guide in matters of morality.  If the level of government closest to the people has as one of its goals, the virtue of the people through the determent of vice, then this must include matters of a sexual nature as well. Prudence will be required to determine where and when the local government must exercise its role at deterrent but the fact that the local government can act in this way flows naturally from this line of thinking and not only flows but is necessary. As Madison said, men need governments because they are not angels, not natural and wholly good. Restraints must be placed upon them and this is as true about sex as on any other matter, perhaps more so, given the innate power which sex possesses. Against cries of censorship and totalitarianism, Edmund Burke comes again with not only with an answer but the correct one. Burke said that man’s chains are forged by his passions and that a man must either chain his passions himself or must permit some outside force to chain them for him. After fifty years of sexual revolt, we no longer need speculate but can see what sex, unbridled from restraint and virtue, has done to persons and to society at large: broken souls, broken homes and communities and an ennui that has made the current generation, ironically, less interested and less capable in having sex than our grandparents generation. We also see it in the general darkening of the intellect and softening of the will among society, the effects of the “daughters of lust” as Aquinas termed them. If John Adams was correct when he said that only a virtuous and moral people are capable of freedom, the deterrent force of local government in matters of vice becomes even more necessary.

That, however, is only the technical side of the issue. There is a deeper aspect of the issue in which both Mr. French and Miss Trimpf are wrong and that deeper aspect is expressed in the word which I discovered–pietas. It is an old Latin word, a relic of the Roman Republic and Empire and from which we receive our word “piety.” That word, however, does not do the original word justice for when we think of piety, our minds are taken to matters of religion. If I say that Mr. Jones is a pious man, it is assumed that I mean that he goes to church on Sundays and tries, at least in some degree, to live a Christian life, or, at least, a moral life. But pietas is deeper than mere piety. T.S. Eliot, in his analysis of the Roman poet, Virgil, examined pietas within Virgil’s epic, the Aeineid, which told the story of Aeneas, the prince of Troy who escaped with the gods of the city and some survivors from the Greeks and who was given a command from the gods to found a new city, one that would be called Rome. Eliot explained that, rather than mere piety, for Virgil, pietas “implies an attitude towards the individual, towards the family, towards the region, and towards the imperial destiny of Rome.” Today, we are tempted to compartmentalize our duties, if we even recognize that we have duties to perform. In this manner, my duty to my parents if different and separate from my duty to my country or my duty to God. Pietas makes no such distinction; it recognizes that there are different levels of duty but instead of separating them, pietas sees them as connected; Eliot says, “It is an attitude towards all these things, and therefore implies a unity and an order among them: it is in fact an attitude of life.” Eliot explained that all the instances of pietas were connected because:

In his [Aeneas’s] devotion to his father he is not being just an admirable son. There is personal affection, without which filial piety would be imperfect; but personal affection is not piety. There is also devotion to his father as his father, as his progenitor: this is piety as the acceptance of a bond which one has not chosen. The quality of affection is altered, and its importance deepened, when it becomes love due to the object. But this filial piety is also the recognition of a further bond, that with the gods, to whom such an attitude is pleasing: to fail in it would be to be guilty of impiety also towards the gods. The gods must therefore be gods worthy of this respect; and without gods, or a god, regarded in this way, filial piety must perish.

 

A man with pietas in his soul would no more want to disrespect his country by kneeling at his flag during the recital of his national anthem than he would want to slap his own mother as he knows and understands that his country is his country and that it is deserving of his love for that fact alone; a man with pietas wants to see his neighbors and countrymen virtuous and happy and would not want to act as  a stumbling block in that regard in any way; a man who practiced pietas would want what is best for his country. Not only that but the man with pietas in his soul would know that he is simply one link in a great chain. Some will think that this is a backdoor to totalitarianism again. Whereas the totalitarian believes that men exist to serve the state, we know and understand that the state, being a natural phenomena, as Aristotle explained, exists for people; at the same time, however, the patriot, the man with pietas, sees and understands that while the state exists for his benefit he, himself, while a pearl of great price in the eyes of God, a unique person only a little less than the angels, he is also, paradoxically, only a speck in Space and Time; millions have come before and millions will come after him. More to the point, he sees that past, present and the future as a continuous line, not cut off by arbitrary dates. Nor will he see the present as the epitome of history. He will see the past, present and future as one continuous line with him, a man from the present, with duties both towards the past and the future. As such, he will understand that he and his countrymen are united in a web made of blood and history and culture and that what he does will have consequences for his family and neighbors. Good and evil deeds, he knows, will spread like ripples on a pond; his deeds will affect others and the deeds of others will affect him. Furthermore, the man with pietas will see this all as being under the umbrella of his filial duty to God; as God made him, and allowed his country to come into existence as part of His story and made him specifically a child of his country, he knows that to honor and love his country–not idolize it–honors God as well. George Washington might well be our model, again, in this regard, the American Aeneas as well as the American Cincinnatus and Fabian.

Of course, pietas will not be planted in the souls of even a tenth of our countrymen, let alone the entire population, in a day, or a night. It will take time and effort and sweat. The task will not be made any easier if we condone actions that undermine the very planting of the old Roman virtue out of a misguided understanding of freedom.

G.K. Chesterton said once that men do not love their countries because their countries are great; rather, countries become great because men love them. That is why a miserable village in central Italy became the nucleus of the second great empire of the world; that was the force that turned a miserable island in the North Atlantic into the premier power of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And that is the force that will truly make America great again as well.

 

 

Pietas