Values: The Ghostly Globs

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I have never had the pleasure of seeing a ghost except in some of the stories I have read. In these stories, the specters always possess a solid shape and can, on occasion, communicate with the living. This is way Hamlet went mad when he saw the ghost of his father walking along the ramparts of the castle–he saw what looked like someone he knew to be dead.

In real life, ghosts do not always have to take an actual shape. Orbs, which “ghost hunters” famously look for in their photographs, can appear as clear balls of light or as misty hints in the background. A ghost can be distinct or just an inky smirk in a photograph or the retina. And though they are bandied about in ordinary conversation, values have the same indistinct substance as the ghosts that haunt actual houses and not the pages of literature.

Both sides of the political aisle have great recourse to the talk of values. On the Right, the Values Voters Summit has gathered in Washington DC during September and October since 2006 offering a podium for social conservatives, often neglected throughout the rest of the year. On the Left, the specter of values is raised against anything which the Left opposes. One of the latest examples was the reaction on the Left after Donald Trump’s temporary suspension of travel visas which was decried as acting against “American values.” Former President Obama and Cheryl Sandburg, the CEO of Facebook, both made this same proclamation.

The first question which naturally rises from all the talk about values and “American values” is what, exactly, are American values? The question is a simple one and, as said, seems to rise naturally from the usage of the phrase. Both the Left and the Right use the term as a blanket which can cover whatever positions they hold. The Left’s conception of “American values”, when it is distilled into its most basic components, can be said to be composed of a radical egalitarianism and an atomized, self-gratifying libertinism, masquerading as liberty, which can encompass asexual insanity, infanticide, and an idea of self-expression which, paradoxically, acknowledges no borders and thus ultimately and logically, destroys itself. On the Right, “American values” usually is taken to mean some mixture of faith, family and freedom. The details of these components are hardly ever investigated after their utterance and the ration of the different components often depends on which segment of the Right one is speaking. Both sides too often reach back to the Founding of the Republic in order to justify their own definition of “American values” an endeavor that often leads to bad history on both sides. As historian, Mark David Hall noted  those on the Left will often see nothing but secular and deistic influences upon the founders and the Founding, while their compatriots on the Right, see nothing but Evangelical Christianity working in the lives and events of the Revolution. But in whatever degree the two versions of “American values” are presented, the truth remains unchanged that these two different definitions are contradictions and thus, they cannot both be true.

Then there is the question as to why, exactly, the :Left can appoint itself the arbiter of “American values.” If the things the Left espouses as values and the things which the Right claims are values are contradictions, neither side can actually claim that their values are universal “American values” without at least a semi-logical argument that attempt to explain the reasoning behind the claim. Unfortunately, neither side is really prepared to do this. Both sides begin with the a priori assumption that their values are the values for the whole country; the Left then proceeds to refuse any attempt at Socratic dialogue in seeing if their thoughts and assumptions are erroneous and, thus, false; the Right, in the meantime, has recently slipped into a low type of fideism in which anti-intellectualism has become a virtue. In both cases, discovering the truth by “reasoning together” becomes almost an impossibility.

But, there is an even deeper issue at work in the talk and references to values and “American values” one which has gone almost unnoticed by many, even those partaking of the dialogue. And this is the fundamental weakness in the concept of values in the first place. The word “values” seems strong on the surface, implying a belief, fiercely held, that unites the believers together. But, in reality, the word is completely subjective, as something only has value if someone gives it value. Rather than being anchored in something substantial, the values that people claim to have only have the value which they have because of the people who want or like them. At the drop of a hat, peoples’ perspective could change and what was valuable in the past could become a fossil in the present. The ball cap that your grandfather gave you when you were ten years old could have immense value for you, but for others, it is just an old ball cap and of no real value at all. This is the reason why the value of money–and even precious metals such as gold–can rise and fall depending on supply, demand, and a whole further host of economic factors. The fatal flaw, besides their inherent subjectivity, is that men may end of valuing something that is, in actuality, harmful for them. The rise in the use of drugs in American society seems to demonstrate that more and more people value things and experiences and feelings that are detrimental to their actual good. With this comes the question of whose subjective values win in the arena of the culture and politics. One of the values of the Right is being pro-life; one of the values of the Left is being “pro-choice.” Which position is true and correct? Because these positions are equal values, just on opposite sides of the political spectrum, there is really nothing enforcing either one except the will to power–my value is correct because I say that it is. Rather than a star to guide us, we are left with  a see-saw with contradictory values gaining the upper hand at different times simply because of a shift of opinion or political fortune.

Principles and virtues, on the other hand, are much firmer and more real than values. The word “virtue” itself, from the Latin virtutem (nominative virtus) means “moral strength, high character, goodness; manliness; valor, bravery, courage (in war); excellence, worth,” infers a strength of character which allows one to do what one ought and not merely what one wants. This, in turn, implies something else. If virtue is the strength of doing what one ought, then there must be practice, sacrifice and self-denial in order to gain the strength of the virtue. There must, in other words, be work in gaining and building this inner strength, just as there must be work in gaining and building physical strength. Principles, in much the same way, connotes a universal which has holding power regardless of time, place, culture or individual, in the same way that geometric and algebraic truths are true regardless of the passage time and the boundaries of cities and countries. This is so because, as with geometry and algebra, principles dealing with human nature must be either true or false, as dictated by the principle of non-contradiction. The word “principle” means that rather than simply finding them agreeable for the moment and liking them, we must actually conform our lives to them if we truly wish to participate fully in our humanity because, unlike the ghosts of values, principles are solid realities which we can either adhere to for our true happiness or disavow for our eventual hollowness and sadness.

This, I suspect, is the reason why we do not hear much of virtues or principals anymore. While values can easily be gathered, held and exchanged, virtues must be worked for–they, in a sense, must be earned through constant effort. In the same way, principles must be adhered to, even if the result is discomfort or some other disadvantage. They cannot simply be exchanged as values can be. As society has become progressively weaker, the effort to culturally adhere to the universal and unchanging virtues and principals has become harder and harder.

But still, if the distinction between principles and virtues on the one hand and values on the other, is sound, then there really are no such things as “American values” to begin with. There can only be American principles. In one sense, these American principles are the same that every nation has tried (or should have tried) to implement since the sunnum bonnum (greatest good) never changes, since the nature of man can never change, regardless of time, place and circumstances. At the same time, American principles, such as ordered liberty, equality under the law, belief in the natural law and in the protection of Providence, these are all deeply rooted in the Anglo-American tradition and, in a broader sense, in the tradition of the West itself. But in order to return to that tradition, we will once again need to distinguish principles and virtues from values. And, then, we will need to live according to that distinction.

The Reason for Our Rights

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Anniversaries should be a time of reflection, a time for remembering the living past and realigning oneself to the vows or principles (if any) which are being marked by the occasion. This was held true last December when NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE published two articles in honor of the 225th anniversary of the Bill of Rights. Although both articles spoke of the Bill of Rights, they were polar opposites. Arthur Milikh claims that it is high time American rethought the Bill of Rights. Recognizing that the Bill has been held captive by lawyers and courts, Milikh tries to accomplish something that is very rarely seen nowadays–he attempts to give a teleological reason for the rights we possess by asking the fundamental question: What are our rights for? Milikh argued that the Bill of Rights was placed inside the Constitution in order to preserve the Republic. In this light, for example, the freedom of speech was never intended to protect any speech indiscriminately but only that speech that cultivated the “virtues of deliberation among citizens” so that men may cultivate the ability to reason and to defend one’s position rationally. This, in turn, brings about “a new image of reverence” in which men respect each other for holding rationality in common, thereby overcoming the narrow tribal identifications of race, religion, and ideology. This history, for Milikh, means that many of the laws on the books today are ultimately self-defeating since many of them–such as laws protecting pornography and flag-burning–are non-rational, as they do not encourage and support rational dialogue. This, in turn, leads many people to disrespect the law, a state of being which, Milikh implies, may lead to the crumbling of the country since laws are needed to “interest men in the destiny of their country.” The implied conclusion for Milikh is that not all speech can be protected by the First Amendment and that it is a very dangerous situation for all forms of speech to be so protected.

In opposition to this line of thinking, Roger Pilon declares that laws protecting free speech are based not on the “content of speech but on the right to speak.” As such, Pilon finds Milikh’s “rethinking” of the Bill of Rights, a slippery slope that immediately dissolves into tyranny. After all, the freedom to speak is a right that is inherent in every individual and which is “essential to human dignity.” By passing laws which decide which speech is to be protected and which is not to be protected in order to inoculate virtue among the people, Pilon sees statecraft becoming soulcraft since the virtuous citizens will be required to make laws outlawing all speech that they deem to be irrational and unvirtuous. This, in turn, will require the state to become larger and more powerful since sanctions against “unrespectable speech” will require more than merely “social sanctions.” In other words, the type of society which Milikh’s vision produces is a modern police state, one that is simply ruled by the right rather than the left. Pilon concludes by saying that such a “rethinking” of the First Amendment is dangerous because it is not respectable speech that is in danger of being censored but “foolish or unpopular speech that is ever in peril.” The genius of the Amendment, for Pilon, is that it does not rest on the content of speech but rather simply on the right to speak. In this vein, Pilon praises former Justice Scalia in his opposition to flag-burning bans.

Although Milikh and Pilon are in opposition, both of their views have glimmers of the truth but also contain some serious flaws that makes it imprudent for either of their views to be established within the mindset of the general people.

Why Do We Have Rights?

Pilon is right to point out that the freedom of speech is a natural right and, as such, it is inherent in the individual merely by being human. The problem that Pilon runs into is that he does not ask why men have the right of free speech as men? In other words, what is the end of free speech? The answer to that question can only be to communicate the truth. Man is a rational person; that is what separates him from the rest of the animal kingdom. As such, man is the only earthly creature which can see the truth in its fullest.  Rationality and speech are closely linked. It may be a mistake to say that the two are really the same thing but it is true that rationality and speech are tied tightly together since our rationality is publicized (not, it should be noted, actualized) by making our thoughts known to our fellows. As such, the freedom of speech and the freedom to write (the press) are vitally important since these are the means by which we communicate with our neighbors, our countrymen and our fellow man in general. Rational speech can easily be defined as such: Speech which aligns itself with reality and, thus, the truth. This does not mean that one’s speech must align itself completely with reality; individuals are fallible and our finite minds do not come pre-programmed with the entire system of the cosmos, both physical and metaphysical. That is why free speech is necessary; it allows men to come together in their shared capacity of rationality to reason and discover the truth together, as Socrates would say. There is an even deeper reason why reality and truth is end or reason of speech and this has to do with the nature of words themselves. Words are not just signs of reality, though they definitely are that; words—language—is the “house of Being” as philosopher Max Heidegger put it and “For this reason the misuse of language…destroys our authentic relation to things.”

This line of logic does lead to a very definite conclusion, however: Only rational speech is true speech since it is the only type of speech that fulfills the end or purpose of speech. Pilon seems to grasp this truth to an extent, as he does realize that speech can be used foolishly but he does not come to the logical conclusion that such foolish speech should not and cannot be protected by the First Amendment as foolish speech is actually a perversion of speech as it does not fulfill the end of speech. The reason for this is that Pilon has the danger of a powerful State ever in his mind; to stop the State from accruing too much power, such evils as flag burning and pornography must not only be tolerated but also granted First Amendment protection. But Pilon makes two mistakes in this regard. In the first place, though he says that placing limits on speech turns statecraft into soulcraft, it is true, contra Pilon, that the state does have a duty in protecting and promoting the common good. Since the nature of man is rational, man can only be truly happy with what is true and what is good. That is why so many thinkers—from Cicero and Aristotle to the Founding Fathers—declared that the true happiness of man was found in virtue. The state, as the natural and therefore good uniting of men into society, is not merely to be neutral between two contradictory propositions and allow people to decide which one to choose for themselves; the state is not to hold out a prolife and a pro-abortion position as equally valid and good. The state that has the common good truly in mind, will come down on the side of the prolife position every time. Furthermore, fears of the central government creating speech codes is a strawman argument. Such an act would be and is unconstitutional but according to the original understanding the Amendment, local polities and governments could outlaw certain types of irrational speech or expression, such as flag burning. Some local governments have done similar actions; Ave Marie, Florida, home of Ave Marie University, outlaws pornography within its jurisdiction. These are the acts of power-made polities but efforts to secure the common good for people.

Are All Laws Sacred?

Milikh’s position—his rethinking of the First Amendment—also possesses certain problems. Although he never articulates why some speech should not be protected by the Amendment (other than the fact that it is irrational) and, thus, never says what the end of speech is, he is correct in that not all speech is protected by the Constitution. Where Milikh errs is in the sacrosanct place that he places the law. Now, to be sure, the law is very important in the matter of government and society in general. Law is also a teacher, as Milikh recognizes and the law should be rational; as Thomas Aquinas says, law is rationality set down for the common good of the state. But, contrary to what he suggests, the law cannot be the only teacher of good and evil; if that were the case, morality would be reduced to legality when, in truth, morality is supposed to be much deeper and wider than legality. Following that, simply because a thing is evil, it does not follow that it should be made illegal. The reason for this is not that the evil is not recognized as evil but that it is recognized as not always prudent to do so, especially if the legal eradication of the evil would, in itself, lead to other evils, such as the curtailing of too many freedoms. For example, lying is wrong but the state can only prudently outlaw some forms of lying (such as perjury) without gaining fantastic powers over the lives of its citizens. This is where the “little platoons” of families, churches, organizations and neighborhoods, so praised by Edmund Burke, come into play. Since they should be much more intimately connected with individuals than the State, it is in these platoons that an aversion to moral and legal evils should be properly installed.

These little platoons require their own foundation, however and that foundation cannot be found in the law, making a circular argument. Rather, the foundation for Burke’s platoons and the law itself is in what Russell Kirk called the “moral imagination.” For Kirk, the moral imagination exists to teach us what it means to be truly human and it can be found most powerfully in the great literary works of the West, in the works of Plato, Cicero, Vergil, Pope, Dante, Shakespeare; even something as supposedly “juvenile” as Treasure Island, Kirk says, can instruct the moral imagination. If people have a true sense of what it means to be human—if they have a grasp of what philosopher Peter Kreeft calls the three transcendentals of the True, the Beautiful, and the Good—not only will the laws be rational and good, but people will recognize them as rational and obey them because it is the right thing to do for the community and for themselves.

The Answer to the Riddle

So many problems which face us in modern America run so much deeper than politics that political solutions will not suffice anymore. A “rethinking” of the First Amendment needs to be done, but its rejuvenation will not come merely from laws. The passing of more laws will actually be a sign of the Republic’s continuing collapse since it will demonstrate that individuals are incapable of ruling themselves. This realization is the first step that must be taken.

The second step is to destroy the nominalist distinctions present in Pilon’s thinking. The distinction that needs to be made is not between popular and unpopular speech, as Pilon does, but between speech that reflects the truth and that which does not. And, again, while it may not be prudent to legally forbid genuine foolish or evil speech in all cases, the distinction between the two must be clearly present.

Thirdly, and most challenging, the moral imagination of Americans and Westerners must be rekindled. This means that it is necessary not only to teach minds but to transform souls. This can and must be done not only in re-introducing the great works of literature and art but in creating great works, not only in reforming schools but in creating new schools. It will mean not only arguing with statistics and logic (which we must continue to do) but also through story and poetry. As C.S. Lewis said, “Reason is the natural organ of truth but imagination is the organ of understanding.” All of this will take time but Rome was not built in a day.

If Hollywood Went on Strike

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Children are often naughty in order to gain attention, whether that attention is good or bad. The reason for the lack of discrimination in regards to which kind of attention is received is because in the child’s still-developing mind, the distinction between good and bad is still ripening. On top of that, young children are intrinsically selfish; they believe themselves to be the center of the cosmos and, therefore, they think that they should have the absolute attention of everyone. This is not to disparage children; it has been argued that this selfishness can be explained as a biological survival mentality in which the child assures itself food and attention by acting like the center of the universe. Fallen human nature also takes a substantial hand in this inherent selfishness in children. The true problem, however, comes when the child grows but the selfishness of the age does not evaporate. It would thus appear that many Hollywood stars are children masquerading as adults.

 

 Award shows are often when this inherent selfishness and need for attention becomes manifested the most for the modern actors and actresses; having just received an award, and reaffirming their vital importance in the universe in their own minds, the stars appoint themselves Delphic oracles and prophets. The 2017 Golden Globes was no different in this regard and the chief prophetess of the evening, Meryl Streep, made a very predictable spectacle of herself. In another performance which her co-religious of the left boringly termed “courageous,” Streep gave the predictable speech making most of her five minute onstage a personal attack against Donald Trump, as well as making foreigners, the press and Hollywood the victims of the culture wars against the bullying and hatred of white, middle, rural America. Perhaps the facet of her speech that has received the most attention was the point where Streep, for all intent and purposes, threatened middle America with the phantom of a Hollywood that would no longer entertain them. Her train of logic ran along the following course: Trump hates foreigners and Hollywood, ergo the people who voted for Trump hate foreigners and Hollywood; foreigners and Hollywood are the only ones who can provide the entertainment that Americans, regardless of where they live; if the inhabitants of rural, middle America continue along the path they chose in November, the only things they will be able to watch for entertainment will be football and mixed-martial arts.

 

Many conservatives promptly and rightly pointed out that Streep was being condescending to these two sports and to the people who enjoy watching them; they also pointed out, correctly, the presumption in Streep’s dismissal of the skill needed to actual succeed in these two sports. What was left unsaid was that Streep’s threat of an entertainment Ragnornak was the only ray of light in her speech.

 

Conservatives often and rightly complain about the deluge which comes from Hollywood but what would actually happen if Hollywood was incapacitated (or, what seems, more likely, went on strike?) Contrary to what Streep claimed, even if Hollywood was to abdicate and seclude itself in its own bubble in Los Angeles, entertainment would still be available in the thousands of movies and television shows released to DVD. A Hollywood strike might even encourage people—after the list of modern movies and shows had been depleted—to venture back into the films made in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Not every film made in the Golden Age was a classic, just as every movie made today is not a waste of time and effort but movies of the Golden Age were, for the most part, much more substantial and richer than the movies made today; there is a reason why Hollywood of 1936 to 1963 is called the Golden Age and why Ray Bradbury encouraged would-be writers to fall in love with the old movies. Films today, more often than not, speed through in order to arrive at the next salacious segment, whether it be an action sequence, a love scene or a chance to show off their CGI tricks or cinematography. Movies of the past, while not eschewing showing off the latest special effects, took what might be called the human condition much more seriously than movies today. Movies of the Golden Age spoke of the universalness of being human and what it meant to be human, rather than turning humans into action heroes, cynics, and buffoons in every movie. Take, as an example, the contrast between the 1943 version of Cat People  and the 1982 remake. The original, though a B movie with no major stars and a shoe string budget, still taps into the nature of evil in the soul of man and what happens when that evil is allowed to gain dominance in one’s soul. The 1982 version was much more interested in sex, violence and special effects, even terming itself “An erotic fantasy about the animal in all of us.”

 

Past movies, a Hollywood strike might even mean that people return to reading again. It is one of the ironies of the 21st century that while books are cheaper and more available than ever before, people are much more likely to be seen with their noses in their phones rather than in a book. Once upon a time, however, reading was the primary means of entertainment. It is true that people do still read and bookstores are filled with the latest New York Times bestsellers but, as with movies, the quality of the books of today are often inferior to the books of the past. The Harry Potter series, for example, was praised for its ability to excite children to actually read again and the books do indeed possess several good points, both in terms of action and development and in the morals which they possessed. But when compared to The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter is revealed to be much more impoverished than it first appeared. Tolkien’s world is deep and discoverable by both the reader and the author himself whereas the world of Harry Potter, while imaginative, also seem to be consciously created. Beyond even the classic literature of the 19th and 18th century, the great works of the West, such as Dante, Shakespeare and the Greek legends of Jason and Herakles and the poems of Homer, have the potential to enrich our souls as they did for our great-great-great grandparents. This enrichment comes from the universal character of man that is portrayed in these classics—we can sympathize and draw strength from Odysseus, not because we are ancient Greek kings like him, and so cannot “relate” to him in that sense, but we are all men who all face hardships and that is where the power of the Odyssey comes.

 

A re-communion with nature could be another product of a Hollywood strike. When the federal government feels that it is necessary to sponsor radio ads, encouraging families to take advantage of the outdoors, something has gone definitely wrong. But, with the evaporation of entertainment as Meryl Streep threatened, bored individuals and families might once again venture into the wilds of the outdoors and find themselves fed by the sun and wind, the water and the grass, and the music of the animals.

 

It is a pretty picture but if Hollywood actually did initiate a strike, I do not think that it would blossom. Rather, the vast majority of the grassroots of the conservative movement would collapse. Far too many people who identify themselves as conservatives do not seem to have the courage of their convictions when it comes to entertainment. They will, for example, complain loudly when Mark Rufflo stand atop his social-justice-warrior soapbox or when Robert Downey, Jr. and Scarlett Johansson appear in an anti-Trump video, but they will be in line at the box office when Avengers: Infinity War Part I is released. I have had personal experience with this type of thinking: the younger brother and father of my ex-fiancé are serious science-fiction fans and were planning on seeing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, when it was released in the theatre, this, in spite the fact, that the writer for Rogue One, called the Empire of the Star Wars universe a white supremacist organization in the aftermath of Trump’s electoral victory. Both my ex-fiancé’s father and brother voted for Trump and both consider themselves to be conservative. The makers of Rogue One not only insulted the man they had enthusiastically voted for but themselves, equating them with the Empire. Rather than expressing their displeasure by forgoing the movie until it came out in Red Box, both of them, I know, went to see it in theatres. My ex-fiancé herself, as another example, would often voraciously watch Friends on Netflix, even though many of the show’s elements (most particularly in the realm of sexuality) were in opposition to her values as a conservative. This is a demonstration of compartmentalization—the ability to see life in different categories rather than as a unified whole. In the examples cited above, entertainment is separated wholly from any sort of conservative world view. The idea seems to be that Hollywood is liberal but it makes entertaining movies and as a free-market capitalist, one should be able to see whatever entertainment one wants, even if the actors in a particular movie, aspects of the film itself, and Hollywood in general spits on everything which conservatives claim to believe. This compartmentalization seems to be widespread in the conservative movement: we know what Hollywood is and yet their movies still make hundreds of millions of dollars; Robert Downey Jr., may take part in a ridiculous video but he is the Iron Man that we will go to see on the big screen; Starbucks may publicly tell conservatives that their business and money is not wanted and yet the Starbucks outlets in middle America remain open. Some may defend this compartmentalization—as I have heard it be defended—with the mantra that we have to keep living our lives. It is never asked at what cost must we keep living our lives, or even of what the good life consists.

 

It is worth remembering that the American colonists held the Boston Tea Party because they would not pay a pittance of a tax on the tea because of the principle it represented. Although there are still Tea Parties vowing to “fight for America” the heart to actually fight has shriveled up.

 

The Circle at the End of the Year

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Another year has passed and gone with both its joys and tears. Ahead of us is 2017, an entirely new year that will bring with it its own sorrows and laughs, in spite of all the hope we invest in the thought that this year will be the “best year ever.” Due to the nature of the day, it is reasonable for minds to turn to the idea of time itself. With the passing of the old year, it is very easy to see time as a straight arrow, moving inexorably from past, through present, to future. But this belies the complexities of the subject, the root of which is the question: What is the nature of time?

St. Augustine quipped that he knew what time was until he was asked. The humor of his remarks still hold because it is the same conundrum that we face. Time is simple in that it is one of the first concepts of which we become aware, and yet it is foundational to our very thinking. We cannot conceive a state of being without time, which is why the state before the Big Bang–when there was no space and no time–is impossible to imagine. This is not to say that answers have not been posited, with the philosophers of the past especially eager to answer the riddle. Aristotle posited that time could not exist apart from change and that time was simply the temporal relations between things and events. Plato, on the other hand, taught that time was an independent entity, almost an empty vessel into which flow different things and events. These positions belied another question: Was time subjective, living only in the mind of the observer, or, was it objective , existing independently of any observation? The Scholastic philosophers–the masters of balance–said that time was partially objective and partially subjective in that “[time] becomes concrete in continuous, notably, local, movement; but movement becomes time only with the intervention of our intelligence.” But one of the most interesting questions–and one which exists outside the kingdom of the philosophers–is the question of time’s dimensions: Is time like a circle or a line?

That question, like the nature of time itself, might seem simple at first: time is moving from the past to the future in a straight line, an understanding that holds true on a deeper plan as well. Out innate understanding of past, present, and future depends upon the idea of time as a line, if it was not, and if it was taken to the radical degree of the old Greek materialists, then the future could become the period in which one was born. But wrinkles appear when the issue is kept in mind. Take, for example, the turning of the seasons. Every year, the four seasons cycle through, each taking approximately three months of the year. Although every year is different and so, it could be argued, every spring is different, it is also true that every spring is the same in that it is spring. Spring’s nature–its essence–is to be spring. This idea of circular time is not unfamiliar in the history of civilizations; the Celts had a circular calendar of eight “seasons” that began on the solstices, the equinoxes, and the times in between these four dates; the Aztecs had two calendars and the Mayans had five. These, like the Celtic one, were circular, which allowed them to have distinct features: the Aztec calendars aligned every 52 years, which marked a great event, according to the Aztecs, of wither good or ill; the Mayan calendar was like a huge wheel that, once it completed a cycle, would begin again. Far from predicting the end of the world in 2012, the Mayan calendar simply started another cycle. Arguments as to whether time was a circle or a line extended all the way to the American Revolution, with the inhabitants of the South holding more to a cyclical understanding of time, while New England taking the linear approach to the subject.

The two understandings of time may be reconciled with the image of a wheel rolling down a road. As the wheel roles, it is moving in a straight line but it is also turning in a circle. In this sense, the spring of 2017 will be different from the spring of 1955 in that our wheel will have moved further down the road but at the same time, the springs will be the same since the wheel will simply have come upon that portion of itself again. All of this brings us back to the New Year, but also, to Christmastide. Lost amidst the parties and resolutions is the fact that Christmas Day did not end on December 25, but extends into the New Year itself.

Many people have forgotten that Christmas lasts for twelve days–from December 25 to January 6 (the Epiphany)– a tradition that extends back to the Middle Ages. The reason for this is that it was recognized that the birth of Christ was of such monumental importance in and to the history of the world, that one day was not enough to commemorate it. Cynics may claim that the twelve days were created as an excuse for bacchanalian celebrations, which were the reasons why Oliver Cromwell outlawed the celebration of Christmas during his time as Lord Protector of England. But the cynics, as Oscar Wilde noted, are those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. If their was such a person as Christ (I believe there was) and if He was born (he would have to have been if He actually existed) and if He was God (I also believe He was) then it is not surprising that the time of Christmas could be extended for more than one day to celebrate an event hat only took a few hours. Time, as modern man has discovered, is an elastic reality, running slower or faster depending on one’s velocity, and changing according to where in the world one is. Given the natural oddities of time, a supernatural oddity would not be amiss for a supernatural event. If Shakespeare could write of Christmas in Hamlet:

Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long.
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad.
The nights are wholesome. Then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallowed and so gracious is that time.

then an “extension” of time itself is not entirely out of the realm of possibility or even probability.

There are other seasons which last longer than Christmas’s twelve days; Easter, according to tradition Christian counting, is a season that lasts forty days. But Christmas is unique in that it is the only season that spans the old and the new year. As people begin to slip back into the habits of work and play with the recognized “end” of the “holidays” Christmas actually continues for another six days. It is a beautiful reminder that there is more to this world then merely what can be seen and touched and sensed. The power of the event that can extend itself for twelve whole days is a power to be reckoned with, but it is a power that has come to save and not to burn. Furthermore, it is a powerful reminder of the work that still needs to be done. As I wrote previously, it is the bad Christian who understands that there is still improvement to be made in his soul with the time with which he has been given; as Dr. Peter Kreeft has said, our identities are not fixed until death; here on earth, every action or inaction we take make us more into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature. With Christmas behind us, Christmas present, and Christmas extending before us, it is another reminder of what we are still working towards. Finally, it is a source of hope. Christmas, even if it lasted for only one day, would be a well for hope to gathered. The fact that it lasts for twelve days in the old and new year, is a sign that however bad things have become, either in our own lives, in our country and the world, or both, the Child who was born two thousand years ago and whose birth can extend itself for 288 hours, the past can be redeemed and the future can be changed, perhaps not by much, but maybe by enough to make all the difference in the world.

 

chrsitmas-star

 

“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.