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There are two kinds of conservatives....

...those who look to the Enlightenment as the primary source of their political views, and those who look to the entire history of Western civilization, generally with a strong emphasis on the Christian era.

I think this is a better way of looking at the tension between what often gets called neo-conservatism and the various other elements of conservatism which include the religious right and paleo-conservatism. I don't have any examples at hand, but I've many times encountered conservatives who refer to "traditional values" or "Western values," but, as soon as they mention specific sources, turn out to be referring to the Enlightenment. Whereas a conservative in the second group, more often than not a Christian, is thinking of the whole Judeo-Christian tradition, and especially the past 2000 years. He may even be hostile to the Enlightenment, and certainly doesn't consider it the first glimpse of light in the darkness of history.

I believe I've seen, somewhere or other, these two groups referred to as liberty-oriented conservatives and virtue-oriented conservatives. It's unfortunate that the word "neo-conservative" has become attached to (roughly speaking) the first group, because it's a really ill-defined and loaded word, as the discussion on the previous post indicates.


Diminished Respect for Wendell Berry

I've read two of Wendell Berry's novels, The Memory of Old Jack and Hannah Coulter, and consider the first one very good and the second very very good, maybe to be ranked with the best novels of our time. I've read a fair number of his essays on cultural and political topics and think very highly of them. But in spite of his striking insights into the nature of our modern problems, I've never seen him as being quite the sage which many similarly-minded people--agrarians, distributists, traditionalists--seem to think him. And I think part of the reason was a suspicion that at bottom he does not have a fully coherent philosophy.

That unarticulated reservation became somewhat clearer a couple of days ago when I read of some recent remarks in which he attacked Christians who oppose same-sex marriage. Though I may have had a few reservations about his thinking, it is with no sense of satisfaction whatsoever that I find him delivering opinions which it would be a kindness to call only incoherent. They are also intemperate, unjust, and detached from reality. You can read some of what he said here at First Things, and yet more here, at the blog of Timothy Dalyrymple.

Dalyrymple, in a thorough response, is by no means unfair in saying that Berry "repeats uncritically a slew of bumper-sticker arguments and engages in some serious straw-man pyromania." If it weren't Wendell Berry, no one would bother responding, because apart from a characteristically graceful way of constructing  a sentence he is saying nothing that you couldn't find in the comments at any left-wing web site.

It seems he favors same-sex marriage, which is all right; I think that's a mistake, but thoughtful people can disagree in good faith on the matter. What's so striking about his diatribe is that he does not grant that his fellow Christians who disagree with him are in fact acting in good faith and deserving of respect; instead, he anathematizes them as the kindred of those who practiced "Christian war, torture, terror, slavery and annihilation against Jews, Muslims, black Africans, American Indians and others."

Berry's harsh and sweeping condemnations remind me of another Baptist who enjoys sticking the occasional finger in the eye of his co-religionists: Jimmy Carter. That's not a compliment. Unless the reports of these remarks is shown to be inaccurate or incomplete, I don't think I can ever have quite the same respect for Berry that I did. His good work stands, of course, and he does not cease to be right about one thing because he is wrong about another, but this certainly makes him seem considerably smaller, both in intellect and in character. Consider this bit:

Would conservative Christians like a small government bureau to inspect, approve and certify their sexual behavior? Would they like a colorful tattoo verifying government approval on the rumps of lawfully copulating parties?

The intellectual shoddiness of this is self-demonstrating to any honest observer of the marriage debate. And it's a moral failing as well; if not consciously malicious, it's culpably ignorant in one who sets himself up as a wise observer of society. This slandering of the Christian community in retribution for its refusal to revise its principles on command is not blameless. It comes pretty close to calumny ("remarks contrary to the truth which harm the reputation of others and give occasion for false judgments against them"), the only mitigation of that charge being that Berry presumably believes he is telling the truth. I never thought I would have to charge Wendell Berry with such a thing. 

The only explanation I can come up with for this aberration--or so I would like to consider it--is connected to what I said about Berry perhaps lacking a fully coherent philosophy. His seems to be essentially an aesthetic sensibility, certainly very insightful in most instances but susceptible to the occasional dramatic mistake which a more analytical mind might avoid. It would certainly be good to hear him repudiate this one. 

(Hat tip to Janet Cupo for pointing out the First Things post to me.)

The Blasters: Samson and Delilah

Weekend Music

The Blasters were active in the early to mid-1980s. There was something of a fashion then for a 1950s-style look and sound, and they were part of it, but they weren't just a novelty.  "Rockabilly" would be the closest one-word description of their sound, but it was more varied than that. "Roots rock" is a better and broader term. They made several albums on the Sire label, all of which are available in a collection called Testament, all 50 or so tracks of which were available for a while at eMusic for some ridiculously low price, under $10 if I remember correctly. And that's why I bought it; although it isn't the kind of music I listen to all that often, it hits the spot sometimes, and I have certainly enjoyed this set.

One of my favorite of their songs is "Samson and Delilah," which you may recognize as a folk song, usually called "If I Had My Way," which was recorded frequently during the folk boom of the 1960s. I think this is the best version I've ever heard. The arrangement is very untypical of the Blasters' sound--just the one guitar, and a gospel group. It's proof that you don't have to have drums to rock. 

A few days ago I found this on YouTube and was going to post it, but now it's gone. So I'm going to upload the mp3, and take it down on Wednesday. So listen while you can.

Shave my head just as clean as your hand
Then I'll become a natural man

32_ Samson And Delilah

Here's a live version of one of their more typical songs, "Marie Marie."


The Anti-Christ in the Catechism

When I did those two posts about politics and the anti-Christ a few months ago (here and here), I kept asking myself if I was being overly pessimistic and paranoid. There is certainly a good deal of fear and hysteria among Christians in our time, and I didn't want to be drawn into it, or encourage it in others. Yet one can be aware of the signs of the times, and realistic about what's going on, without losing one's balance. And I felt somewhat vindicated when Janet Cupo sent me the following passages from the Catechism. Note paragraph 676 in particular.

The Church's ultimate trial

675     Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the "mystery of iniquity" in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.

676     The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the "intrinsically perverse" political form of a secular messianism.

677     The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God's victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven. God's triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.

That secular messianism is a powerful force in our society can't reasonably be denied. That doesn't mean these are the end times, but it is certainly something that bears identifying and watching; there's nothing to be gained by refusing to face the reality. In any case our duty doesn't change very much, and we must remain hopeful and confident.

Marmite Update

It was just over a year ago that I wrote about sampling this legendary substance: see this post and this one. I ended my reflection saying "I haven't been back to the Marmite jar. I do plan to finish it, but I probably won't replace it."

And I more or less forget about it until a few months ago, when I noticed the jar in the cabinet and tried it again. And then just a few days ago, I said words I never expected to say: "We need some more Marmite. We're almost out." 

Yes, I have grown fond of it, although whenever I say that I hear the last words of 1984 in my mind: "He loved Big Brother." Well, brainwashed or not, my favorite breakfast these days is half of an English muffin with butter and Marmite, and a small glass of milk for protein. Very tasty, and it gets me through till lunchtime. (I mean favorite quick workday breakfast, of course: there's still nothing like eggs and bacon etc.)


A Melancholy Inauguration

 I've had a very pleasant three-day weekend (thanks to the Martin Luther King holiday). And I've made an effort to pay little attention to the inauguration, but of course whenever I look at the headlines online I'm reminded. And I did, out of curiosity, read Obama's address. Fine words, some of them. And mostly either with very little meaning, or with a meaning that makes me pretty uneasy. I fell, just a bit, for his rhetoric when I heard it at the very beginning of the 2008 campaign, well before he had even been nominated: unity, good will, shared purpose, community, etc. etc. etc. 

Most of the sycophantic press is stil buying into it, of course: 

Obama Makes Inclusion Theme of Swearing-In

Obama's Political Legacy: Returning Community as an American Value

Obama Looks to Bridge Political Divide With Second Inaugural

etc. etc. etc.

All three of those headlines are objectively false, because Obama's idea of "inclusion"--the general liberal idea--requires the exclusion of those who disagree. And those who disagree are not just a few cranks and malcontents, but somewhere around half the population. It has long since become clear that his idea of national unity is that we should see things his way, and that if we don't it's because we're misguided or malicious, and that we will do things his way, preferably voluntarily, but involutarily if necessary. Those of us who have opposed him, and are by now pretty used to the divide between what he says and what he intends ("the enormous and completely shameless disparity between his goals and his unifying, inclusive rhetoric," as Neo-neocon put it), see that mixed in with all the high-flown rhetoric about the American dream, rhetoric with which few would argue, there are clear notices that he intends to continue as he began: to enforce his and his party's will on those who disagree, with no regard for their objections, except insofar as the objections have to be dealt with politically.

And so I wait uneasily to see how much more damage he will do over the next four years. Which is not to say that I think everything he has done is wrong--I think he is right to end the war in Afghanistan, for instance (though I suspect we will be at war in that region again within my lifetime). But he has seriously damaged the already fraying fabric of the country, and he doesn't regret it, or intend to alter his course. I have no affection for the Republicans, but I hope they retain control of the House. 


As one of my children used to pronounce it. I had been at the bay with my camera late one afternoon in early December. I was about to go inside, and this owl swooped silently into a tree right beside the house. Pretty unusual to see one so close and in daylight. This seems to be the species known as the barred owl. We have a lot of them around here, and you can hear them frequently at night, and sometimes during the day. I have occasionally, while walking at night, seen one staring down at me from a telephone line, which is slightly spooky. Once I stopped and stared back for a long time, until finally it flew away. 

Owl1 12-9-2012 8-28-25 AM 2036x1230

A Little Pain

Weekend Music

This is not the kind of music I generally listen to--high-speed more-or-less-punk rock, with a ska touch--and when I do listen to it, a few songs at a time are enough. It may not be to the taste of most people who read this blog, either, but bear with me--there's an interesting story here.

One night some years ago, probably around 1996 or 1997, I went out to the grocery store for milk or something that was needed for the next morning. The radio station I was listening to (pretty much the only listenable one around, apart from the "public" station), was playing music by local bands. I heard a song called "Fight" by a band called Pain. It was catchy and witty, and I remember mentioning the band to my then-teenaged children as possibly being worth checking out. It turned out the band was from Tuscaloosa, and was pretty widely popular for a while, though never breaking into the top ranks.  A couple of my children became fans, and bought the CD from which this song is taken. I liked it, too, though as I said it's not really my type of music.

The singer, Dan Lord, and another guy who was generally known just as Pose, seem to have been the core of the band, and the main writers. And they were originally from Mobile, and had attended the Catholic high school, McGill-Toolen, from which two of my children graduated. The lyrics were one of the main reasons I liked the band--they were ingenious, often funny, and perceptive. Overall, and unlike so much punk, the general feel of the music was not predominantly angry and nihilistic, but had a wry sense of fun. The album Midgets With Guns starts off with a brief ditty explaining their name:

Pose, Pose, why do you suppose 
That Pain is our name? 
Because that's what we chose 
And life without pain is a long endless chain 
Of errors repeated again and again 
So don't be afraid of pain, don't run away.

Here's the title song. In case you have trouble understanding the words, "midgets with guns" are the petty and malicious part of our selves:

There's little guys with little guns
Inside our mouths, inside our heads,
They make us suffer.


Here's another song, "Square Pegs", which is somewhat harder and more punk:


A few years ago something or other I was reading online had a link to a blog called That Strangest of Wars. I thought the writer's name, Dan Lord, sounded familiar, but it had been a long time since I heard Pain, and I didn't make the connection at first.  Here, I'll let him explain

Dan's wife, Hallie is also known as a Catholic blogger, writer, and speaker.

As Chuck Berry said, it goes to show you never can tell.

No Doubt A Richly Deserved Indictment

The law seems to have caught up with former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. Good. 

Ordinarily this is not something I would write about here, but the success of the effort to blame then-President Bush for everything that went wrong after (and maybe before) Hurricane Katrina was one of the most egregious recent examples of the media crafting a "narrative" that stuck, regardless of its tenuous connection to the facts. And it still irritates me. Not that the federal response didn't have its share of problems and mistakes, but the "narrative" had room for little else. And from what I've read Nagin deserved more criticism than Bush.