52 Albums, Week 37: A Salty Dog (Procol Harum)
52 Albums, Week 38: A Deeper Understanding (The War On Drugs)

Sunday Night Journal, September 17, 2017

Yesterday I finally started working on a project that's years overdue: going through old notebooks and throwing away everything that doesn't seem worth keeping. The eventual goal of this is to get my office or study or whatever you want to call it into some kind of order, and to clean out one of the two desks there and turn it over to my wife. 

(Wait--no, you can't call it whatever you want to. You are forbidden to call it a "man cave.")

The first notebook I took up was a little three-ring binder with roughly 5"x7" paper which I remember using in the late '70s. The contents reveal that it was not long after my conversion/reversion to Christianity, so it was 1978-79; not later than '79, because I remember the little house in Tuscaloosa where we lived at the time, and we moved later in that year. I was 29-30 years old, and an Episcopalian. It would be two or three years before I became Catholic. Here are some notes and excerpts from an essay I was writing:

The contradiction between Christianity and capitalism

The necessity for the Christian not to consider socialism or communism as the alternative to capitalism, but rather Christianity itself

Liberal-socialist and conservative-nationalist Christianity are both submission of the Church to the world. 

...the ideas (if such notions can be dignified with that term) which govern the day-to-day behavior as well as the long-term aspirations of most of us are pagan through and through. What are these notions, and where do they come from? They are a wild mixture, having in common only the firm principle that one should be occupied mostly in pleasing oneself, and they come from almost everywhere, from liberal psychologists to conservative capitalists. The psychologist talks of fulfilling one's potential, the capitalist of economic incentives, but in both cases the message is that you have a right to whatever you can get, that the universe in some way owes you a continual increase of goodies. A Christian, I think, is bound to reply that we are owed nothing, that even our very existence puts us in the debt of Another, a debt we can never hope to repay, and that furthermore we continually increase that debt by our wickedness....

It is almost impossible to accumulate wealth without becoming more interested in wealth than anything else. This may apply to a nation as well as to an individual, and I think our own nation is an excellent example--as a nation, we are almost incapable of seeing life in other than economic terms--and when we do, we are often simply resorting to euphemisms, as in the phrase "quality of life," which was once used by social critics in reference to intangibles like the sense of community but which has increasingly come to refer to the number of gadgets and goodies a person or nation can afford to buy, or to the number of hours one has free for the pursuit of pleasure. And if one is devoting more [I guess I meant "most", or "too much"] of one's energy to maintaining and increasing one's wealth, one is disobeying Christ's commandment to love the Lord with all one's heart. We cannot serve two masters--it is as simple and as hopeless as that.

The essay was unfinished, and I don't think much of it is worth preserving. It's all fairly obvious stuff. But it brought home to me why I have to stifle a yawn whenever some Christian discovers, and tells us with great excitement, that American culture, especially in its economic aspects, is in many ways at odds with Christianity. This is often accompanied by the news that the Republican Party is not the Church, and that its program is not a program for advancing the kingdom of God, and may even at times be opposed to it. 

This kind of thing usually comes from someone who has been pretty wrapped up in right-wing politics, at least to the extent of thinking that conservative politics is a necessary part of being Christian, and that right-wing policies, including a pretty uncritical support of "capitalism" (not a very well-defined term) are in general Christian ones, and the Republican Party is the vehicle for putting those policies into practice. 

As the excerpts above show, I didn't believe that in 1978. I didn't come to believe it afterward, even as the battle lines of the culture war were drawn clearly and starkly. It was therefore never an idea that I needed to get past, as it was for Excited Christian above.

It happens that I am in fact a political conservative (for lack of a better word) and think that in the American context conservatism (for lack of a better word) is preferable to liberalism (for lack of a better word), and that conservatism is more congenial to Christianity than liberalism as both currently work. But I think I can say truthfully that never for a moment have I believed that any political program or party, that any conceivable political reform, was the path to the deep renewal of human life that we long for. It might be able to improve conditions and even ameliorate serious evils, but it could never turn us into good people. It might provide some of the conditions for happiness, but it could never make us happy. Even at the height of my investment in the counter-culture of the 1960s I never saw that revolution as primarily a political one, but rather as a sort of religious movement. 

And so when somebody announces as if it were a new discovery that no political party can be conflated with the Church, I agree, but I wonder why they are bothering to say it. It's as if they've just discovered that circles don't have corners and want to tell everybody about it. I want to say "Well sure, obviously. But now what?"

The thing I miss, of course, is that a lot of people apparently do make the mistake that Excited Christian is trying to correct. It really does come as a shock to them that Republican orthodoxy and Christian orthodoxy are not only not the same thing but may be in contradiction. A good number of them, I suspect, are young people who have grown up amid the culture wars and have been hearing since childhood that Republicans Are Good and Democrats Are Bad, and now as adults are seeing things less simplistically, which probably became easier when so many Christians supported Trump so unreservedly. The past year certainly indicates that there are a lot more people who don't fully see the distinction between Republicanism and Christianity, or who are blinded to it by some kind of tribal loyalty, than I had realized.

The left tries to do the same sort of thing, the same sort of conflation of their program with Christianity, but they aren't as convincing, in part because if they are any sort of Christian at all they tend to be nominal or heterodox. 


There was also this in my notebook:

How mistaken to associate virtue, wisdom, intelligence with what we ordinarily call the intellectual faculty or with aesthetic sensibility. I've known too many semi-literate people who were wise and gentle, too many literary persons who brought to their studies the philosophy and ethics of a mugger.

When I wrote this down I was probably thinking, among other things, of something that had happened at the clinic where I was working part-time as a programmer. (I know I've told this story here at least once, so please bear with me if you remember it.) My desk was in a trailer out back, and I often worked odd hours. Sometimes I was there when the two cleaning women came in. They were past-middle-age black women--I'm sure I would have called them "old" at the time, but now I'd guess they were probably in their late 50s, not young but not exactly elderly. Sometimes they would sit for a bit and we would chat. One night we were talking about the state of the world, which we agreed was declining. "Everything gettin' so high," one of them said, meaning prices--this was the period of high inflation. We listed other signs of trouble. One of them sighed and said "I reckon the Lord'll take care of us. He know we all crazy."

I think that is the single wisest thing I have ever heard anyone say in actual conversation, in my presence (as opposed to something I've read in a book). I suppose hardly a week has gone by since that night that I haven't thought of it. It sums up our situation pretty neatly.

This reminds me of another gem heard many years ago, from a black preacher I heard on the radio: "Folks is not yo' enemy. The devil is yo' enemy." I have heard some great stuff from black preachers on the radio, stuff I very much wish I could have recorded. 


More nostalgia from that 1958 Life magazine. 


My parents subscribed to Life. I learned a lot from it. I remember a long and horrifying but morbidly fascinating piece they did in the mid-196os about heroin addicts in New York. Oh my goodness, here it is, at least the photos. February 1965. I was a junior in high school. I remember some of those pictures. I never thought heroin addiction would come to little towns in Alabama.


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And so when somebody announces as if it were a new discovery that no political party can be conflated with the Church, I agree, but I wonder why they are bothering to say it.

I’m one of the people whose existence you theorized about. I’m 36, half of my childhood was in the charismatic movement and the other half in independent Baptist churches. I was homeschooled. In my case, I “bothered to say it” because when I finally figured it out in my early thirties, it absolutely went against everything I’d ever been taught anywhere. It was heresy. (And no, I didn't figure it out at college. I never went to college because college was deemed evil and pointless.)

I’m no longer in those circles, and by now I’m, like you, inclined to think of this as a pretty basic revelation. But I understand why some people never get over it. The “Excited Christians” you hear about are just the faint radiation escaping the event horizon of a huge black hole.

Thank you for commenting. I was going to say "thank you for sharing this" but it's hard to do that without being ironic. :-) Very handsome web site btw.

Such a sad phenomenon. Your milieu was pretty hard-core. Even most of the most conservative Christians I know, Catholic and Protestant, valued college, at least in principle. For my part I was slow to realize the number of people to whom it really needs to be said.

I suppose if one grew up being taught that circles *do* have corners, the discovery that they don't would be a pretty big deal.

I never in any way equated the Republican party with Catholic teaching, although I did frequently vote Republican.

I think my kids thought I did make that equation because we home schooled and there are a lot of people in home school circles who do, unfortunately. Maybe I should have done more to persuade them otherwise. At least I could have been more clear with my kids.

In 1992 I wrote an op/ed piece for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune saying I agree with a lot of the Democratic social agenda, but that I could not vote for Clinton because of the life issues.

One year in Minnesota I caucused for both parties. I could hardly stand either causus.

I really hear that second paragraph. I probably did and failed to do the same things with my children.

As many people have observed, the life issues have had a gravely distorting effect on American politics. Right now in Alabama we have two Republicans fighting for a Senate seat. They're both so objectionable that I found myself taking a look at the Democrats' candidate. Seems like he might be a good guy in a lot of ways, but, bam, right there in the middle of his platform is "I stand with Planned Parenthood", and various formulations that indicate support for a functionally anti-Christian government. I can't support him. If he would leave off that stuff he would have a shot at getting my vote.

Pray for Janet's family in Puerto Rico. For Puerto Rico in general.

Yes, I've been thinking about Janet's family since I saw that the hurricaine is headed to Puerto Rico

My prayers included for Puerto Rico as well.

It seems all of these political ads are reaching out towards the lowest common denominator voter of both sides.

Is "Big Luther" really all that interested in Trump's wall? Who knows.

Thank you. Robert has friends there, too, I think.


It's horrible. I hope and pray it will at least weaken some. The impact looks inevitable at the moment.

As a wit of my acquaintance said, it's getting Moore Strange in Alabama.

I think Trump is coming to campaign for Big Luther, and Sarah Palin for Moore. I sense a disturbance in the Force, as if millions of people were crying out "WTF?!?"

Wait, make that dozens.

Granddaughter and family are in Miami waiting for a flight to DC. Not sure how this happened, but I'm sure a lot happier.


I'm sure you are. Winds are up to 175mph now. Lord have mercy.

Happy to hear that Janet's family made it to Fla.

Related to your notebooks and such, you might find this new Dreher post interesting:


That is a good post by Dreher, Rob.

"Imagine that..." etc. Well of course I don't have to imagine it. I remember it quite clearly and was part of it. So I feel a bit of impatience with the tone of breathless discovery. But that's not really fair. He's basically right that things were in many ways much worse then.

Anybody my age or older can only scoff when people say nothing has really changed in the racial situation.

However, there is one aspect of the current scene that I think is much worse: the level of division. In the '60s the people who really wanted to, dare I say it, fundamentally transform the U.S. (or the whole human race) were a very small minority. Now they're a large and powerful one, or maybe a majority, and imposing their will wherever they can. There's enough balance between the forces that there's a sort of struggle-to-the-death going on. I think if you could somehow measure the level of raw hate in the air now vs. then you would find that it's higher now.

I'm not watching the Ken Burns thing, btw. I'm not keen on those in general, and in this particular case I definitely don't feel any desire to wade into all that stuff.

From Dreher: “Watching this film, I wonder what on earth my parents must have been thinking, day in and day out, as the country tore itself apart.”

I have trouble placing myself back in that time Dreher says was the very worst, 1968 to 1973. I think we were all of us sort of punch-drunk, after being hit with one catastrophe after another. Three assassinations within a five-year period alone would have been enough, without all the rest of the madness, especially Vietnam.

Not sure about that “level of raw hate in the air” being higher now, Mac. It ran very, very high over Vietnam.

True. I put that wrongly. What I meant was not level but quantity. Not that it's more intense, but I think there's more of it around. If you could measure hate in cubic feet, say, I think that number would be higher now than then. My sense of what the "silent majority" felt then was that it was more often anxiety and bewilderment than hate. But I wasn't part of it so I could be mistaken.

A friend of mine used to say that the apocalypse happened in 1968. There's a certain plausibility to that, at least that it started then and continues. Not *the* apocalypse, but a sort of cultural death spasm of Euro-American civilization. But I guess you could say that about the whole 20th century.

Im watching the PBS thing and enjoying it. The owner of Olivier's best friend - Cosimo - told me about it. He lived in Vietnam in the early sixties. He's a left wing former professor who is retired from teaching American Studies. I like him a lot and I feel quite sure he has never had a friend before who is a conservative and a Catholic! But we have been thrown together because of our dogs' mutual adoration. He told me about it, and I said I'd watch it and we can talk about it Saturday morning, when we walk our dogs together. He is writing a Memoir of his time in Vietnam. So there's anything else I can do but watch it, but in fact I'm enjoying it. It was easy to get PBS, although I don't have a TV. I just googled it on my computer. An important point that Burns makes is that Vietnam was a sort of civil war for America, and it has not yet got over the rift. I think that's true. I think at that time the two sides hated each other. I think now that in a certain way, that apart from some very belligerant people, they just don't care about each other at all. If its hatred its very cold.

I disagree--I think there's quite a lot of very passionate hatred. Although my perception may be distorted by the internet, which both attracts the most outraged people and then revs up the outrage. *Is* distorted, I'm sure, though it's hard to say how much.

I'd amend the statement about Vietname being a civil war: I'd say it was one front in the civil war. The cultural revolution was another. The rift that we haven't gotten over is mostly to do with it, because it continued and in fact intensified after Vietnam ended. I don't think you had significant numbers of people in the '60s saying "We can't live with the other side anymore," like you do now. Or one state refusing to pay for its employees to travel to certain other states. That strikes me as a pretty big deal. It's like a declaration of war.

A couple of years ago I heard a short talk by Dan Savage, who is a well-known homosexual "sexologist." It is very poignant and sad, but also shows how grace can be found in rather surprising places. I tried to find the talk online at the time and failed, but the other day while looking for something else, I found it on This American Life. You can hear it here..

His is the third segment of the show and only lasts about 9 minutes. I think that if you click on the start arrow, it will take you directly to his segment.

I put this here because it speaks to the Great Divide in our culture, but also gives a bit of hope.


Touching and depressing at the same time.

Yes, but you can see that no matter what he says, he can't get rid of it. ;-) I pray that he gives in.


Also, I hope that someone who heard that straightened him out on some things he thinks about the Church.


The depressing part is not so much his personal situation and difficulty as the picture of the incredulity which Church teachings on sex etc. produces in so many people. He and his mother are not unusual in that. Those are really "hard sayings" and I confess sometimes when I see that incredulity, the "that can't be right" reaction, I find myself wondering--well, gosh, maybe those teachings are impossible, and people can't be expected to accept them.

Kind of a green smoke moment, I guess.

Though not so much any actual doubt as to the correctness of the teachings, not on the basis of authority but simply from what seems to be the natural conclusion about what sex is for, but a fear that it's futile to expect people to accept the level of hardship involved in following them.

I have thought that so many times. I wonder what I can possibly say that they can hear and how lame anything I think of sounds to me. But I do think that green smoke is an excellent way to describe those thoughts. We don't have to rely on our own thoughts, really. I have had several conversations with my sister where I have been able to express myself with amazing clarity. I know that's not me.


Glad to hear I'm not the only one who accepts the teachings but nevertheless has those thoughts. A big part of it is that I want to defend the teachings (or imagine myself defending them) in terms that the non-believer will accept, and that's hard to do, because they aren't very convincing apart from belief in a purpose that looks beyond this life.

Green smoke?

In one of the Narnia books the witch who lives underground (I think) tries to sort of hypnotize the children into believing that the outside world doesn't exist, and a green smoke is part of her magic. At least that's the basic idea--I haven't read it for a long time.

People probably re-read The Silver chair the least of all the Narnia books. Its dark.

Thing is, when I do re-read it, I always am surprised that it isn't as terrible as I remember. That part with green smoke is so good. I just don't like the giants part.


Well, I re-read it the least. As it sticks in my memory, of course the Puddleglum is delightful. But Jill is a bit of a pill, and yet at the same time it always seems as if Aslan is a bit unfair on her. I know it's deliberately meant to be a purgatorial, underground kind of book. But I'd rather re-read The Horse and his Boy for the Nth time.

I haven't read any of them for many years, but I do recall that The Silver Chair was one of my least favorite. No, scratch the "one of."

I always think I don't like The Horse and His Boy, too, and then I read it and am really surprised.


I remember liking it a lot but thinking it didn't have much to do with the rest of the books.

Oh. It has been years since I read any of them. Maybe Dawn Treader was my favorite. I don't remember not liking the silver chair. I don't like any of them really as much as the Lord of the Rings.

I think Dawn Treader was my favorite, too. Isn't that the one where Reepicheep goes away into the promised land, so to speak?

Yes he goes off at the end in his Kayak. Its surely the best in the series. My 2nd favourite is The Horse and His Boy

Dawn Treader was my absolute favorite.

Robert, I don't like anything better than LotR, so that doesn't come into my calculations at all. As I think I've mentioned before, the difference between LotR and Narnia is the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism.


"the difference between LotR and Narnia is the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism."

That's true, but surely another important difference is that the one was written primarily for children and the other wasn't.

It's been ages since I've read CoN, but I always liked The Silver Chair partly because it was darker than the others.

True (children's vs. not-children's). They're so different in so many ways that it's almost an apples-oranges comparison to me. But it can't be denied that Lewis is explicitly preachy in a way that Tolkien isn't.

So now I'm asking myself whether Lewis's space trilogy vs LOTR could also be considered Protestant-Catholic. Perhaps. But Lewis was just a different kind of writer altogether. His gift was at least as much for discursive prose as for fiction, and that shows in the fiction.

There's no question in my mind but that LOTR is the superior fictional achievement.

That's true, but surely another important difference is that the one was written primarily for children and the other wasn't.

While he wrote them for his goddaughter, I don't believe that there was such a thing as a children's book.


That Lewis believed

Sorry, I shouldn't be trying to comment when I'm so busy, not to mention sleep-deprived.


"Lewis is explicitly preachy in a way that Tolkien isn't" and "LOTR is the superior fictional achievement"

Yes and Yes.

No such thing as a children's book--Lewis was being a bit cutesy there. I seem to remember that along with that he also says something to the effect that there are only good and bad books, and he's right. A children's book that adults can't enjoy is not a very good one. But if one is writing something specifically for a child it's probably going to be different in some ways. The Narnia books are obviously intended for children to enjoy and are obviously quite a bit different from the space trilogy.

I don't think I have read anything by Lewis except Mere Christianity.

Not sure whether he would be your cup of tea or not. People tend to be either hot or cold about his fiction.

Janet, you are such a better person than I am because all I wanted to do after listening to Dan Savage in that audio clip was revert to the stereotypical 1950s nun inside me and smack him upside the head.

Janet, you are such a better person than I am because all I wanted to do after listening to Dan Savage in that audio clip was revert to the stereotypical 1950s nun inside me and smack him upside the head.

I'm surprised by the lack of love for The Silver Chair. It's my favorite of the Narnia books.

Puddleglum is the best character in any of the books. It has the two funniest scenes in the series (the children trying to explain themselves to Trumpkin and Puddleglum getting drunk). It also has the best serious scene (the green smoke that started the discussion - as well as the scene right before it where Rilian begs them to free him in the name of Aslan).

I would probably rank The Horse and His Boy and The Magician's Nephew (not necessarily in that order) second and third.

I like The Magician's Nephew a whole lot, too. I don't know what it is about The Silver Chair...Puddleglum is great. I was thinking when people earlier described it as dark that that isn't exactly the word I'd pick. I remember sort of a cold feeling about it. But like I said I haven't read any of them for a long time, twenty years at least.

Marianne, I admit I had a similar feeling at a couple of points. Possibly reinforced by what I've seen of his advice column or whatever it's called. I don't remember anything specific but I remember thinking some of it was on the vile side.

Oh, I think it is definitely vile.

It's not his badness or attitude or whatever that's the point, it's the perseverance of grace--the Hound of Heaven, I guess. If the Lord wants him this badly, then I want the Lord to have him.



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