1) The people say that the emperor's new clothes are very beautiful.
2) You deny that the emperor's new clothes are very beautiful.
3) Therefore you are not one of the people.
1) The people say that the emperor's new clothes are very beautiful.
2) You deny that the emperor's new clothes are very beautiful.
3) Therefore you are not one of the people.
This was taken from a room in a motel at Gulf Shores over the Thanksgiving weekend. It struck me as very poignant. Where will Mike, Angie, Logan, and Blake be ten years or more from now? Will they remember each other? Will they remember Thanksgiving 2019? And where will I be? Possibly not in this world.
I know I'm not completely stupid. There are some fairly complicated things that I understand fairly well. I made my living for roughly 40 years doing things with software that required a certain amount of intelligence. So why does my brain freeze up and refuse to process any financial information more complicated than figuring out a tip? And if any such information does go in one ear and pause and be understood for an instant, it quickly regathers its strength and flies straight out the other ear, leaving very little trace of its passage.
As my wife says about a number of things, it's weird.
It often seems to be the case in marriages that one spouse can and will and does handle the finances, while the other is incompetent and mostly oblivious. Fortunately, that is the case for me. Before we married she discovered that I had not balanced my checkbook for six months and promptly took it over. I've been content with this arrangement ever since. I've often wondered whether there is some providential psychological dynamic which generally insures a balance of that sort. God help those in marriages where both are like me, or where the incompetent one is not also oblivious but wants to be involved, and does not understand his or her limits.
Having been immersed in the world of medieval Scandinavia for a couple of weeks while reading The Master of Hestviken, I wanted to get more acquainted with its mythology. I knew the main figures and one or two stories, but had never read anything very systematic or complete. So I started reading the Prose Edda, which I've now almost finished, and...well, as a somewhat naive acquaintance said many years ago on hearing a performance by a Captain Beefheart-style band, them dudes is weird. What seemed strangest to me are the creation stories. The Edda (written down in the 13th century) begins with what seems to be a tacked-on Christian creation, then quickly moves into what I suppose were the pre-Christian stories:
The sons of Bor killed the giant Ymir.... When he fell so much blood gushed from his wounds that with it they drowned all the race of the frost giants except for one who escaped with his household....
They took Ymir...and made from him the world. From his blood they made the sea and the lakes. The earth was fashioned from the flesh, and mountain cliffs from the bones.... They also took his skull and from it made the sky.
And so forth. Eventually the eyelashes are used to build a fortress around Midgard, which seems to be the world of men--I'm not really sure, to tell the truth. No doubt someone has taken these and set them into as much order as they'll bear, which I think is probably not all that much. Where did Bor and his sons and Ymir live before Ymir became construction materials?Does it matter? From the little I know most creation myths are comparable. There's Chronos eating his children, for instance, in the Greek/Roman myths.
The creation account in Genesis is a model of simplicity in comparison. "In the beginning God created...." No giants were harmed in this creation. The basic idea--that God said "Let there be...", and they were, is not necessarily incompatible with what science tells us.
One thing that can't be missed is that whatever is meant by the word "god" in these myths is not the same thing that either the Old or New Testament means by God. They're simply not commensurate. Whatever Odin, the father of the gods is, he's not in the same order of being as God. The latter is what David Bentley Hart refers to as the One God of classical theism. Odin himself has a father, and is born into a world that was long since created. You can find things in the Old Testament that might seem made of the same stuff as myths, but overall it's a pretty straightforward narrative of human activity, even if you don't think it's accurate.
Even more striking is the contrast between the remaining stories, all the doings of Odin and Thor and Loki and the rest, which are wild, and the New Testament. For instance: Thor in a test of his strength arranged by the magician Utgarda-Loki is challenged to lift a cat off the ground. With his utmost effort he manages to get one of its paws off the floor. Later Utgarda-Loki explains:
Truly all those who saw you raise one of the cat's paws off the ground grew fearful, because that cat was not what it seemed to be. It was the Midgard Serpent, which encircles all lands, and from head to tail its length is just enough to round the earth. But you pulled him up so high that he almost reached the sky.
In another incident Thor, out fishing with the giant Hymir, manages to hook the Midgard Serpent. In the struggle, Thor's feet go through the bottom of the boat, and he stands on the sea floor for the rest of the struggle, in which he is almost victorious, but when the head of the serpent appears Hymir is terrified and cuts the line.
Reading the Edda brought home to me just how silly it is to dismiss the Gospels as "myths handed down over the centuries." You'd have to be really quite thick to go from the Edda to the opening of Luke's Gospel and not see that you are dealing with an entirely different species of writing. It's obviously an account of events that happened in a specific time and place, and for a nearly-contemporary audience which is familiar with both. To borrow from Dorothy Sayers, it's as if it begins with something like "During the Carter administration..." It's plainly not a misty-dawn-of-time situation. The New Testament might be the product of delusions or lies or some combination of the two, but it is very obviously not mythology in the sense that the Eddas are.
Tomorrow is Memorial Day. Back on Memorial Day of 2004, the first year of this blog, I posted this quotation from John Ruskin, which has stayed with me since I first read it many years ago.
Philosophically, it does not, at first sight, appear reasonable (many writers have endeavoured to prove it unreasonable) that a peaceable and rational person, whose trade is buying and selling, should be held in less honor than an unpeaceable and often irrational person, whose trade is slaying. Nevertheless, the consent of mankind has always, in spite of the philosophers, given precedence to the soldier.
And this is right.
For the soldier’s trade, verily and essentially, is not slaying, but being slain. This, without well knowing its own meaning, the world honours it for. A bravo’s trade is slaying; but the world has never respected bravos more than merchants: the reason it honours the soldier is, because he holds his life at the service of the State. Reckless he may be—fond of pleasure or of adventure—all kinds of bye-motives and mean impulses may have determined the choice of his profession, and may affect (to all appearance exclusively) his daily conduct in it; but our estimate of him is based on this ultimate fact—of which we are well assured—that, put him in a fortress breach, with all the pleasures of the world behind him, and only death and his duty in front of him, he will keep his face to the front; and he knows that this choice may be put to him at any moment—and has beforehand taken his part—virtually takes such part continually—does, in reality, die daily.
A brief follow-up on last week's remarks about "toxic femininity" (TF): I should have mentioned that the discussions of "toxic masculinity" which had caused me to start thinking about what its feminine counterpart might be were not about seriously bad things like sexual assault but about rudeness, egotism, "mansplaining," and the like: things which I regard as being more in the realm of bad manners than of serious pathology. I was thinking of everyday human interaction, not crime and abuse. Obviously the story I linked to of the woman trying to damage a man's professional standing because of a remark made in bad taste is not in a class with rape.
Janet once said to me that she thinks it's displeasing to God when men and women criticize each other for faults attributed to their sex per se. Or something like that--that's what I took her to mean, and she can correct me if that's wrong. I think she's right, depending on the spirit in which it's done. It should never be done in a spirit of competition and domination, with the intention of elevating one sex over the other. But I also think sex and the whole male-female dance is one of the richest and most fascinating things in human life, and I often think about those differences, and sometimes write about them, not with the intention of disparaging either sex as such, but in an almost scientific sort of spirit: look, isn't this interesting?
And if you think about those things you inevitably find yourself comparing the different directions each sex tends to take when behaving badly. You can think about those without intending to find each member of the sex guilty of them. Or to deny the general mistreatment of women by men throughout history. Both sexes are equal in absolute worth and in importance to the scheme of things, and each is equally fallen. Some years ago someone--I think it was Grumpy, but I'm not sure--commented here, apropos some similar discussion, that "Men tend to be selfish; women tend to be self-centered." I think that's one of the sharpest observations on the subject I've ever heard.
Freight train a-comin' on a rainy night.
My view of the current political-cultural situation in the U.S. is unquestionably somewhat dark. It always has been. I'm a pessimist by nature; I was born this way. But is it darker than it was ten years ago, as Quite Grumpy said last week? I'm not so sure that it is. But if it is, the reason is that certain tendencies are further along now than they were then, considerably further than I even expected.
I'm thinking in general of the intensity of division in the country. Stu said that it "Doesn't seem like the 'end times' to me, with the blue and red either battling it out, or living in separate states." I disagree--not that I think it's necessarily the end times for the U.S., but I do think that we are in new and dangerous territory, and I see a real possibility of some sort of schism. Not anytime soon, but within, say, the next fifty years. California, as you no doubt have heard, now forbids state-funded travel to several other states, including mine. This amounts to a declaration of political war, and is certainly a step in a very bad direction. And for what it's worth, I'm very, very far from alone in my worry on this score. I've read pundits on both right and left who see it as a possibility, though I think on the left it's viewed as being not necessarily a bad thing, maybe even a desirable one. The right is in general more attached to the whole historical concept and reality of the United States. (Rudy Guiliani got a lot of criticism for saying that he didn't think Obama loves America, but I thought he was at least partly right, in that Obama, presumably owing to his unusual circumstances, never seemed to have that visceral love of country that many or most Americans do, or at least used to.)
And I'm thinking in particular of the divisions created and continually intensified by disagreements about sex which involve fundamental disagreements about the nature of society, of government, and even of what it means to be human. Looking for evidence of what I was thinking about this ten or more years ago, I found a very relevant post from May 2004, less than six months into the life of the site (which was not, strictly speaking, a blog for its first couple of years). It's about the division that would be deepened and made permanent by the creation of same-sex marriage, and it is really prettyaccurate in its prediction of what the effects would be:
If this arrangement is given the force of law throughout the country, it may very well be seen by history as the point where the deep and bitter division in American society which we call the culture war became once and for all irreconcilable. Or perhaps I should say recognized as irreconcilable, for it may already be so. This will be a tragedy, and like all tragedies all the deeper for having been preventable.
Please read the whole thing if you want to discuss it. Things have of course moved far in the direction I predicted there. What I did not foresee, what I don't remember even occurring to me, was that as soon as victory in the marriage campaign seemed assured, the same forces (I'm not sure what to call them) would immediately take up the "transgender" cause with exactly the same fervor, self-righteousness, and intolerance toward disagreement. It certainly didn't cross my mind that the government would ever attempt to coerce schools into opening toilets and locker rooms to members of any and all "genders."
It would be said by gender activists that my emphasis on this whole complex of issues is a product of "homophobia," "transphobia," etc. That's to be expected. But it might also be said by less extreme voices that I'm unduly concerned with the morality of certain sexual practices. Why should I care? Why pick on this one sin? Why not divorce, or adultery? (Or climate change denial!) The answer is that it is not the morality I'm concerned with. It's the principle: the legal redefinition of a fundamental institution.
The reason for resisting these things, for me at least, is not to try to prevent people from sinning. Even if you agree with the traditional Christian teachings on sexuality, anyone with a mind in reasonably good working order can see that not everything which is wrong is a matter for the law. Most people, regardless of religion, would agree that in general, it is wrong to lie. This does not mean that we want the state to monitor everything everyone says, rule on its truth or falsity, and prosecute everyone caught in a falsehood.
But there is a point where lying becomes punishable by law: lying in a legal contract, for instance, or when under oath in a court of law. It is in those situations that lying becomes a matter for the whole commonwealth, and can't be tolerated, because it threatens the very fabric of society, its principles of order.
The objection to same-sex marriage, and all the many demands of the transgender movement, is not that they enable or encourage immoral or simply unwise acts, but that they seek not only to redefine the institution of marriage (which is more fundamental than the state), but to require that everyone participate in a denial of fundamental biological, psychological, and social realities regarding sex.
This is a big deal. It turns the concept of marriage into something created, rather than recognized, by the state, and in essence, by making sex irrelevant to the concept, makes it meaningless except as a legal construct, seen, from that point of view, primarily as another avenue by which one receives "benefits" (tangible and intangible) from the state. This has enormous, far-reaching consequences, and I don't think they're good. I think the ones I predicted in 2004 are very much with us now, and I was speaking in 2004 only of the divisiveness. It's more than divisive, of course: the question now is to what extent dissent from the new order will be allowed. And that in turn has a great deal to do with the reasons why so many Christians supported the manifestly non-Christian Donald Trump for president.
It's been pointed out that the times are less troubled than were the 1960s: there are no cities in flame, for instance. And that's true. What's different now is that the country is more evenly and more intensely divided on fundamental principles, and each side believes that the other wants to subjugate it. If more open conflict comes--violence, or a serious attempt to break up the country--part of the tragedy of it will be that most of these people can get along perfectly well with each other at the immediate, personal, and local level. It's the deep religious difference, the difference as to what society is for, what life itself is for, and the attempt to shape it accordingly, that really fuels the conflict. And makes the situation seem so dark. Or partly, anyway--it's not as if we don't have other serious problems. But the division makes it difficult or impossible to work on them together.
Grim reflections for the Fourth of July, I know. The most hopeful note I can sound is one I've sounded before: that a willingness to allow for more diversity across the nation, to let California be California and Alabama be Alabama--federalism--might yet preserve the republic as something deserving of the name.
Anyway, perpetual crisis is pretty much the human condition.
I'm actually not much more concerned with trying to discourage homosexual activity than I am with trying to discourage any number of other sins, sexual and otherwise. Aside from the fact that discouraging anyone's sin is usually not my responsibility, and I'm more than fully occupied in trying to discourage my own, I tend to assume that by now, forty or fifty years on in the sexual revolution, most of us are knowingly acquainted with homosexuals, male and female, have been on friendly terms with them, and do not want to see them demonized or persecuted. In my case that has included at least one very close friend. And so I tend to assume that the accusation that Christians hate homosexuals--are "homophobic"--is grossly exaggerated at best. It also causes me to feel that there is no particular need for me to say that my objection to same-sex marriage etc. is not malicious and personal. But this post by David Mills at Aleteia reminds me that my view may not be typical, and maybe there is such a need. Though the effort is probably pretty hopeless now: if you aren't supportive of the whole program, you're an evil bigot, and that's that.
By the way, my view of life, the universe, and everything is in general definitely not darker than it has been in the past. I'm in fact more serene now, or closer to being serene. I think this is mainly the result of age, and an increasing ability to resign the troubles of life to God's care, because there is so little I can do about them. The blog may give a misleading impression in that respect. I tend to comment more on the passing scene, on Vanity Fair rather than the permanent things, and most of that is not edifying. The deeper reflections are going into my book, or into other writings which I will try to place in magazines.
True love is always bleeding in our mortal life. You simply cannot have love in this life without pain.
--Sr. Ruth Burrows, O.C.D. (quoted in Magnificat)
It's pretty obvious that there is some significant number of people on the left who simply don't believe in freedom of speech anymore. There have been a number of incidents lately that make the point. There were the attack on Charles Murray, the conflict at Duke Divinity School, the simultaneously hilarious and disturbing fight at the feminist journal Hypatia. In the latter case, fury was directed at a feminist author, and the magazine that published her, for considering the possibility that a person could be "transracial" in the same way that current academic orthodoxy believes one can be "transgender." That controversy is so demented that it's funny, but the attackers are deadly serious, and I have no doubt that if they could they would deprive the offender of her job, and will try to find ways to punish her.
The most recent one is the case of a biology professor who refused to go along with a racial-consciousness event that asked (ordered?) white people to stay off campus for a day. Threats of violence prevented Ann Coulter from speaking at Berkley, and a parade in Portland was reportedly canceled when leftists promised to disrupt it because a Republican group was going to be part of it.
There's a lot to be said about this that pertains to our politics and the rule of law, especially that last one. If its implications are not immediately obvious to you, consider what the reaction would be if the KKK attempted something similar against Democrats. But stepping back from the current situation a little, and trying to view it somewhat dispassionately, I think this may be one of several indications that the Enlightenment/liberal consensus about speech and ideas is falling apart. A week or two ago I got into a discussion of the Catholic Church and science on Facebook (Galileo!), which led into the general topic of forbidden ideas and speech, which led me to say this:
A further thought on censorship and the suppression of ideas in general: I suspect that our ideal of completely free speech and thought are somewhat anomalous historically, not only with respect to the past but maybe also with respect to the future. There are signs that it isn't going to last. A lot of progressives, especially young ones and especially in academia, apparently just don't believe in it anymore, and that could have a big impact over the next fifty years or so. It's a natural thing that a society would try to suppress ideas that pose a threat to its very existence, or offend its sense of what is sacred. I'm not saying that's good or bad, but it's natural, and we may be going in that direction again. The classical liberal, John Stuart Mill style ideal of totally free and open debate may be on its way out. Like classical liberalism in general.
One possible positive result of this might be a bit of understanding and sympathy for the medieval Church and society.
Possible. Not probable.
Last weekend I went to the wedding of a niece, daughter of one of my sisters. I'm not keen on attending weddings anymore, because I've seen far too many marriages end. But I went. The ceremony was supposed to take place at 5:30 Saturday afternoon on the big front porch of our old family home in north Alabama. A lot of rented white plastic folding chairs were set up on the front lawn for the guests. Planning an outside event is always a gamble in a climate and at a time of year when rain is fairly frequent. An hour or so before the appointed time I was putting gas in my car and noticed big dark clouds moving in from the southwest. They kept getting bigger and darker until they were a little scary, with a touch of that slight greenish hue that always suggests "possible tornado" to me. A few minutes before 5:30 the wind began to pick up until it was fierce, and soon I could see a mix of dust and rain coming across the fields. At almost exactly the minute the ceremony was supposed to begin, the cloudburst came.
I think the rain plan was more or less "improvise." All the many guests crowded into the house, overflowing the front hall and all the nearby rooms and crowding the stairs. The minister and attendants took up their positions just inside the front doors, which were open. From where I was standing I could see a really potent storm going on: the rain was horizontal, and so heavy that I couldn't see the end of the driveway several hundred feet away. The worst of it was over fairly soon, and though the rain continued well into the night, it didn't seem to lower anyone's spirits.
I'm sure there was some cynical "Well, this is a bad sign" joking about the rain, especially the way the beginning of the downpour was timed almost to the minute with the ceremony. But this is farm country, and the rain was badly needed. The forecast had been showing an increasing chance of rain for two or three days, and I had heard several people say "We sure need the rain, but I hope it holds off till tomorrow." My brother and I decided it was not a bad sign at all. Just the opposite: it may have been a sign of blessing. I hope so.
...and I will cause the shower to come down in his season; there shall be showers of blessing.
I find lately that I feel more pity than envy when I contemplate young people. There's such a long road ahead for them. I even fear for them a little--there's such a strong chance for varieties of grief and pain that they can't foresee. Nevertheless, life is good.
From a piece about Hogarth in the April issue of The New Criterion:
Hogarth is a wonderful character—self-made and self-mocking, candidly ambitious and patriotic, easily slighted and angered. His life is a grand tour through the social and moral microcosm of Georgian London. His satires abound in easy English pleasures—lechery, drink, gambling, mockery, sanctimony, slapstick, cruelty to animals, and abuse of the French.
That's not relevant to anything. I just thought it was funny.
We were talking about Roger Scruton last week. Here's an interesting review of one of his books at Craig Burrell's blog. The topic is education and its role in the transmission of culture. What happens when education is suborned to the repudiation and destruction of a traditional culture?
I begin to see the appeal of the individualized, even fractured model of education and culture (or, “culture”), for in troubled times it would, ironically, at least permit one to promote and pursue the traditional aims of education.
Why even bother? Why bother thinking about it at all, since it seems pretty clear that it isn't going to be stopped. A large segment of the country, including those all-powerful federal judges, have accepted the dogma that defining marriage as a union of two people of opposite sexes is morally and intellectually identical to racism. In a few months the matter will come before our nine popes without a God, and it seems likely that they, in their recently-adopted role as law-givers to the tribe, will declare that every state must adopt the official view that there is no difference between heterosexuality and homosexuality.
So why not just let it go, quit talking about it, and try to keep one's distance from the new order? Because this is not just a change in the language on marriage licenses, and a means of allowing homosexual couples to adopt children, or to be counted as relatives for the purposes of hospital visits and the like, or to get the tax benefits of marriage. It is a redefinition of some fundamental aspects of what it means to be human, and although many of its effects will be slow to develop, they will be profound.
One of the most obvious effects, and one that probably won't take long to become visible, is a change in the relationship of Christianity to the state in post-Christian societies. There is an excellent piece at First Things on that subject, The Civic Project of American Christianity. Thanks to Rob G for pointing it out. Here's a sample:
...we must see that the sexual revolution is not merely—or perhaps even primarily—sexual. It has profound implications for the relationship not just between man and woman but between nature and culture, the person and the body, children and parents. It has enormous ramifications for the nature of reason, for the meaning of education, and for the relations between the state, the family, civil society, and the Church. This is because the sexual revolution is one aspect of a deeper revolution in the question of who or what we understand the human person to be (fundamental anthropology), and indeed of what we understand reality to be (ontology).
All notions of justice presuppose ontology and anthropology, and so a revolution in fundamental anthropology will invariably transform the meaning and content of justice and bring about its own morality. We are beginning to feel the force of this transformation in civil society and the political order. Court decisions invalidating traditional marriage law fall from the sky like rain. The regulatory state and ubiquitous new global media throw their ever increasing weight behind the new understanding of marriage and its implicit anthropology, which treats our bodies as raw material to be used as we see fit. Today a rigorous new public morality inverts and supplants the residuum of our Christian moral inheritance.
This compels us to reconsider the civic project of American Christianity that has for the most part guided our participation in the liberal public order for at least a century.
One of the reasons the redefinition of marriage is succeeding is that the arguments for it are simple and emotionally appealing and deal with the immediate satisfaction of desires and the immediate resolution of difficult situations. Who wants to be the mean old person saying "no" to those nice lesbians who want to adopt a baby together, especially if he is going to be publicly despised and perhaps punished for it? The arguments against it, on the other hand, deal with bigger and less immediately personal matters, and are based on long-term implications and effects. But it's just because we are losing the political battle that it is important to understand what is happening, and what is likely to happen in the coming decades.
Same-sex marriage is an attempt to deny, by linguistic and legal fiat, the fundamental reality of sexuality and the social structures which stem from it. In the long run, reality will reassert itself. In the meantime, it may be difficult at times to resist acquiescence in official falsehoods. We're going to need clear heads.
Addendum: a long statement of the case, also at First Things, by Evangelicals and Catholics Together, with a notable list of signees.
Well, of course, the Catholic neighborhood of the Internet is still ablaze with commentary about the synod, and I'm certainly not going to attempt any summary, especially as I've only read a little of it. But this from Eve Tushnet, which someone posted on Facebook, caught my eye. I don't necessarily agree with all of it, but it is interesting, because she's a gay Catholic who wants to follow the teachings of the Church, and yet without repudiating what she sees as an essential part of her nature.
I admit that I really don't see a good resolution for that problem. One thought the question provokes, though, is that her vision of some sort of place for "celibate partnership" (there's a link to further discussion of that idea in her piece) is something that I can see more easily workable for lesbians than for gay men. Despite the abundant evidence, most women don't really understand just how commanding and obsessive the male sex drive is. They may understand it as an observed datum, but since they don't experience it, they still tend to underestimate its power.
Eve Tushnet has a book out, by the way, which I'm sure would be interesting.
Read the excerpt from the Dear Abby piece at the top of the page. (Click to enlarge if you can't make it out.)