Cambria Will Not Yield

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Mock On, Mock On

Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau;
Mock on, mock on, ’Tis all in vain.
You throw the sand against the wind,
And the wind blows it back again.

And every sand becomes a Gem
Reflected in the beams divine;
Blown back, they blind the mocking
But still in Israel’s paths they shine.

– William Blake

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The Knight and the Miller

“Those who look for God only in nature, or judge the universe from what they see in the jungle, are liable to debase even religion, as we have already noted, and are themselves in danger of coming to grievous harm.”

–Herbert Butterfield

As the pilgrims in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales journey to Canterbury, “the Holy Blissful martyr there to seek,” the Knight tells a tale of courtly love and chivalry in which two knights vie for the hand of a fair lady. When the Knight finishes his tale, the coarse Miller tells a vulgar tale of uncourtly lust, and having told the tale, thinks he has soundly refuted the Knight’s excessively ethereal view of life and love. But where the Knight erred slightly while being essentially correct in his idealization of the young lovers, the Miller erred grievously by completely submerging his characters in the world of gross animal nature.

I see in the conflict between the Knight and the Miller the conflict between Christianity and science. Yes, I know there have been scientists who were Christians and that the Church has stoutly maintained throughout the centuries there is no ultimate conflict between science and religion, but one can’t help noting it is the scientific view of life that leaves man submerged in the Miller’s world of gross animal nature. Every scientific “advance” seems to have done damage to the faith. Newton’s Principia in 1687 was more damaging than the Reformation or the Renaissance, just as Darwin’s theory of evolution was the real driving force of Marxism.

I grew up in a world that accepted the scientific worldview as a given. Christianity’s place in the scientific world was a minor one. It was conceded by a large part of the psychological branch of the scientific community that some type of religious orientation, if not too unscientific and too anti-social, was helpful in maintaining one’s emotional well-being, but as a way of explaining man’s place in the universe, religion – and Christianity in particular – was seen as irrelevant and, in some instances, as harmful.

The Christian has a great disadvantage when facing the scientist, because the empirical is always what is most visible. “Show me the soul in a dead body or show me something other than animals copulating in the marriage bond,” the scientist proclaims. And the modern Christian’s answer, if he answers at all, always sounds so timid and frightened.

I would suggest that the scientific worldview, the Miller’s worldview, has prevailed because Christians, following their leaders, have ceased to look on God as a personal, historical God. That archfiend Bernard Shaw, when writing about the new religion he was handing down to the great unwashed in Back to Methuselah: A Metabiological Pentateuch, insisted that it had to be metabiological rather than metahistorical, because modern man would not accept a personal God who had entered historical time as their God. So he created a mythical figure, Lilith, as the new Goddess. Yes, it’s back to the Greeks, for whom God is outside of historical time and is impersonal: “May the Force be with you.” This modern obsession with studying man as if he were an animal only (and I hold with George MacDonald that no animal is animal only) is rooted in Aristotelian dissection-philosophy, and it is false. Man should not be studied as a specimen, as a product of nature, he must be viewed as a personality.

The scientific worldview prevails only because we have let it prevail. It is not the final word. One white moment in any of our lives when stored in the heart rather than studied in the classroom, or one honest reading of any Christian writer of the 19th century is enough to shatter the false science of the Millers of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Our lives are true stories told by a personal God who has placed himself at the center of each story. When we close the storybook and seek to find ourselves and God in the science lab, we become biological specimens instead of individual personalities linked to a personal God.

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Uncle Silas: The Funeral

It is not easy to recall in calm and happy hours the sensations of an acute sorrow that is past. Nothing, by the merciful ordinance of God, is more difficult to remember than pain. One or two great agonies of that time I do remember, and they remain to testify of the rest, and convince me, though I can see it no more, how terrible all that period was.

Next day was the funeral, that appalling necessity; smuggled away in whispers, by black familiars, unresisting, the beloved one leaves home, without a farewell, to darken those doors no more; henceforward to lie outside, far away, and forsaken, through the drowsy heats of summer, through days of snow and nights of tempest, without light or warmth, without a voice near. Oh, Death, king of terrors! The body quakes and the spirit faints before thee. It is vain, with hands clasped over our eyes, to scream our reclamation; the horrible image will not be excluded. We have just the word spoken eighteen hundred years ago, and our trembling faith. And through the broken vault the gleam of the Star of Bethlehem

— by J. S. LeFanu

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Hatred of the Past

As a general rule I do not like the science fiction genre in film or literature, but there is a powerful image that has stayed with me for many years from the movie Fahrenheit 451. The hero of the film, having lived in a society that banned all books, comes to the realization that he has been robbed of the past. And without the past, he is present-bound -- bound to the mindset of the present, the mores of the present, and the vision of the present. He sets out to correct his Prometheus-bound condition by reading old books, declaring that he must reconstruct the past. It is a wonderful moment when the hero sits down at a table and starts to read David Copperfield.

Now in the movie, the present and future are made triumphant over the past by the actual banning of books written in and about the past. But I would maintain that our current present-and-future-oriented society has succeeded in destroying man’s consciousness of the past more thoroughly, because it has been done more subtly than any futuristic totalitarian society ever spawned from the mind of a science fiction writer.

And it is not a question of right-wing or left-wing. Both wings have burned the past from modern man’s mind and heart. But they have not done it in the way the sci-fi books generally depict it. They have not suppressed all knowledge of the past and all access to the past as the futuristic sci-fi societies do. Instead they have killed the past by demonizing it, in the case of the left-wing, and de-Christianizing it, in the case of the right-wing.

Let’s start with the left-wing. The most deplorable anti-Christian way to treat history is the modern way. Our “historians” treat all those individuals who have lived before us as convenient stepping stones that lead to us, the most advanced and superior of creatures. Of course, those who come after us will be more advanced and superior than we are. And on it goes, with the last generation on earth being the supreme generation everybody else has worked and labored to bring forth. This process, supported by professed Christians, is the most un-Christian of concepts because it denies the individual personality. No human being, in the Christian scheme of things, is a stepping stone for another human being’s progress. He is a personality, supreme in his own right, and of infinite value and worth to the personal God who created him. Dickens, one of the great giants of world literature, expressed the Christian view of personality so well in The Tale of Two Cities:

“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!

Something of the awfulness, even of Death itself, is referable to this. No more can I turn the leaves of this dear book that I loved, and vainly hope in time to read it all. No more can I look into the depths of this unfathomable water, wherein, as momentary lights glanced into it, I have had glimpses of buried treasure and other things submerged. It was appointed that the book should shut with a spring, for ever and for ever, when I had read but a page. It was appointed that the water should be locked in an eternal frost, when the light was playing on its surface, and I stood in ignorance on the shore. My friend is dead, my neighbour is dead, my love, the darling of my soul is dead; it is the inexorable consolidation and perpetuation of the secret that was always in that individuality, and which I shall carry in mine to my life's end. In any of the burial-places of this city through which I pass, is there a sleeper more inscrutable than its busy inhabitants are, in their innermost personality, to me, or than I am to them?”

In the modern leftist view of history, the past is evil. Individuals from the past are only good to the extent that they were forerunners for the future. Thus in literary circles one hears this: “Mr. Old Fogey wrote in silly times but there was a suggestion of bisexuality in his works that helped pave the way for our modern writers.” In politics: “Women were mostly repressed in those days but the actress Susie Q. Slut was very promiscuous thus paving the way for the sexual liberation of women today.” In the Church: “Christians in those days were generally racists but Father O’Shea performed biracial marriages and supported integration thus paving the way…” And so on and so on...

So the past is used as a morality play for the present. You will be condemned if you are not progressive and forward-looking. Hence, the thing to be is future-oriented. One must always be looking forward to the latest perversion in religion, in politics and in science, in order that one can embrace it and not appear to be backward and unprogressive and therefore damned.

The right-wing, like the left-wing, condemns the past. But where the left-wing condemns the past as evil and the individuals from the past as sinful, the right-wing condemns the past as disordered and the individuals from it as weak. They also look to the future, but unlike the left, they look to a future that has been ordered by the mind of Aristotle and the discipline of the Romans. They, like the leftists, only praise individuals from the past whom they see as forerunners of their vision of the future. Thus right-wingers look to writers who were Christian with a small c and pagan with a capital P as their heroic forerunners.

But to live in either the left-wing’s or the right-wing’s past-hating world is to live in oblivion. St. Paul stated the Christian case for all of us when he declared, “For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord;” Hence to be cut off from the past as a living, breathing thing is to be cut off from Christ; the future-worshipping societies of the right and left are Christless. If one does not read Walter Scott or LeFanu in order to receive a breath of the wholesome Christianity of the 19th century but only to see if, on any issue, Scott or LeFanu were forerunners of the modern era, then one has entered the future world where there is no future. Christ and only Christ transcends the past, present, and future. To live outside his reign of charity is to have no past, no present, and no future. That’s where Star Wars and Aristotle put us – outside His reign of charity, without a home in this universe or any other.

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Catholic vs. Protestant

“The weight of this sad time we must obey; Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.”

—King Lear

Once, while working as a police officer, I consulted a lawyer about what strategy to adopt against a low-life, criminal type who was accusing me of brutality. It is a little game the bad guys play: by charging the arresting officer with brutality, they hope to get reduced charges or even an acquittal and then civil suit damages.

After the business end of the discussion, there was a brief human encounter (very rare) between police officer and the lawyer. Off the record I told the lawyer, “The problem with this whole business is that you can’t tell the whole truth. You can’t say, ‘Yeah, I gave the blankety-blank so-and-so a few extra shots after I had the handcuffs on because the blankety-blank so-and-so tried to stick me while I was trying to cuff him, and our lives wouldn’t be worth a nickel if there wasn’t some kind of immediate retaliation for that type of thing.’ But if you say that in court, the opposing lawyer will jump all over you and move for the immediate dismissal of the charges against his sweet angelic client. So you stick to the old formula: ‘I used the minimum amount of force necessary to facilitate an arrest.’”

The lawyer agreed with my assessment and, with rare candor for a lawyer, said, “We are all whores.”

I have seen the same courtroom dynamic at work in the Catholic-Protestant debate. No concessions can be made because each side must win the dialectic argument or be faced with loss of case, loss of face, loss of job. But unfortunately, the dialectic is not the highest form of discourse nor is it the discourse most conducive to the truth. So I would like to move beyond the dialectic and actually say something about the Catholic and Protestant versions of Christianity.

The Catholic Church has the X’s and O’s; they have the ‘smart ones’ on their side. Indeed, I recently heard one convert state that he became a Catholic because Catholics were “so smart.” But the Church’s smartness is its weakness as well. Catholics have everything that Protestants lack: sacraments, Mariology, prestigious theologians, Church fathers dating back to the beginning of Christianity, and an infallible pope. But they don’t have Christ because they have preferred the ‘smart’ Plato and Aristotle to the Son of Man.

Dietrich von Hildebrand once criticized Thomas Molnar for making some mild criticisms of Plato. It was von Hildebrand’s contention that Plato was the vessel from which God had ordained we should receive Christ’s revelation. Hmm… I thought the Jewish people were that divinely appointed vessel. I wonder if von Hildebrand really had ever read Plato with an objective eye. Plato, the birth control advocate, despiser of the poets, and advocate of the Socratic dialectic as the highest form of wisdom, is not a worthy vessel for Christ’s revelation. Nor is the atheistic, bug-collecting, materialist named Aristotle.

It bears repeating that the greatest poet of the Greek culture, Sophocles, said it was better not be born than to live in the closed, rationalist universe of the philosophers. The “folk” of Asia Minor preferred the mystery religions to that of Greece and Rome. And the people of God, the true vessel of Christ’s revelation, spoke of God in these non-Platonic and non-Aristotelian terms: “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.” That is the language one uses when addressing a personal God. That is the language of St. Paul, of Shakespeare, and of all Christians who have not succumbed to the Greek heresy.

I’m not saying there were never any Christians in the Catholic Church, but I do think the Church has, over time, become a most unChristian institution. One gets used to hearing our Church leaders support every radical and vile cause that comes along, but shouldn’t that tell us something about the Church?

There is nothing good that one can say about modern Protestantism. It is every bit as anti-Christian as modern Catholicism. And I don’t want to go over the Reformation debate again. Neither side is guiltless. What I want to focus on is a surviving remnant of Christians in the Protestant ranks who have no counterpart in the Catholic ranks.

The fringe elements in the Protestant Church, those Fundamentalists to the right of Jerry Falwell, do not have the Faith in its entirety. But they are more Catholic than any Catholics because they have chosen to stay with the Christ of the Gospels instead of the Platonic Christ or the Aristotelian Christ. And the great struggle of Christians in every century, the one which the visible Catholic Church gave up in the 20th century, is the struggle to retain a vision of the one true God rather than a blueprint of the attributes of God. And therein lies the reason for the greater Catholicism of the Fundamentalists: they have maintained, in an imperfect form, a vision of the true God.

Adhering only to one’s personal interpretation of Scripture and to the personal vision of Christ derived from that personal perusal of the Gospels is fraught with danger. One has only to look at the devastation in the Protestant churches to see the consequences of the “Scripture alone” approach to Christianity, but the Catholic Church has committed an even graver error than the Protestant churches. The Catholic Church has forgotten that Christianity does start with a personal relationship with the Christ of the Gospels. The sacraments, the wisdom of the clergy, and an infallible pope all exist to nurture and refine that initial, personal vision of Christ. They do not exist to replace that vision with a pagan philosophical system. It was personal contact with Christ that raised Jairus’s daughter, not the vaunted wisdom of the Greek sages.

I do not see how one can accept the Catholic Church’s claim to be the one true Church so long as that fundamental personal encounter with the Christ of the Gospels is set at naught. The Church needs an infusion of Fundamentalists’ blood if she is to live. Theoretically, Christ’s blood flows in the Church, but it seems that the blood cannot, or will not, flow in the unholy vessels of the Greek philosophers.

Having experienced the Catholic and Protestant versions of Christianity, I can say that I find neither version to be complete by itself. I see a shore called Christianity. We are given a sailboat with which to reach that shore.

The Catholic sages tell us we don’t need the body of the boat or the sail; all we need, they say, is the rudder. Of course with no boat, no sail, and only a rudder, we can never get to the shore.

The Protestants, on the other hand, tell us we don’t need a rudder. All we need, they say, is a boat and a sail. Without a rudder to steer, nine boats out of ten do not make it safely to shore. But one out of ten does.

So, it is not a perfect equality. The Catholic Church, to whom everything was given, has nothing. The Protestant Church has, in its despised lunatic fringe, something that the Catholic Church needs if it is ever to reach the shore.

The anti-Christian nature of modern Catholicism has been brought home to me in so many ways. The works of Flannery O’Connor provide just one example: In all of her major novels and in all but one of her short stories, the hero, when there is a hero, is always a Protestant Fundamentalist. When Flannery O’Connor was asked why this was so, she said it was because when a Protestant heard voices, he thought it was God speaking to him, and when a Catholic heard voices, he thought it was the devil speaking to him; thus a Protestant character had more freedom of movement, upward and downward, in -which to act out the drama of salvation.

But should this be so? Does a commitment to the Catholic sacramental system mean that our intuitive facilities that hear those inner voices must always be suppressed in deference to the rational faculties of the Catholic clergy? No, it should not. Such a system kills the romance of the Faith. It kills love, honor, and bravery. In short, it kills the soul. Is there no room in Catholicism for that old quaint notion that what the heart prompts is the echo of the soul? Apparently not. But the Church should make room for such antiquarian notions because now she sits, so cold, so still, on a throne of ice, inaccessible to human beings with hearts that still live.

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