Wednesday, 11/18/15

  1. Principle: A Thing Unclean
  2. Is that all you’ve got to offer?
  3. Grateful they’re grappling

1

Take but degree away, untune that string,
And, hark, what discord follows! each thing meets
In mere oppugnancy: the bounded waters
Should lift their bosoms higher than the shores
And make a sop of all this solid globe:
Strength should be lord of imbecility,
And the rude son should strike his father dead:
Force should be right; or rather, right and wrong,
Between whose endless jar justice resides,
Should lose their names, and so should justice too.
Then every thing includes itself in power,
Power into will, will into appetite;
And appetite, an universal wolf,
So doubly seconded with will and power,
Must make perforce an universal prey,
And last eat up himself.

(Ulysses, speaking in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida; H/T and more to Peter Leithart)

Peter Leithart (one of the people I followed as sound Christian guide when I was a Calvinist, now follow as an interesting and frequently insightful observer of the passing scene) sometimes really nails a topic.

C.S. Lewis said (I’m paraphrasing from memory) that if you really understand something, you’ll be able to translate it into terms [insert your favorite stand-in for “not very bright” or at least “not very educated”] neighbor can understand. Granted: he’s probably wrong about quantum physics and some other cutting-edge scientific topics, and so far as I can tell, about basic calculus, too (where I most convincingly played the role of Dumb Neighbor).

Lewis also said (again, I paraphrase from memory), that he’d prefer that England be pagan to what he saw it becoming; the honest pagan is at least pre-Christian and salvageable.

In A Non-Sectarian Guide to Our Cultural Crisis, from which this august quote is taken, Leithart demonstrates that he really understands what’s going on culturally.

There are egghead versions of what he wrote, but he was writing to “convince unbelievers that we are heading to a precipice” when the standard Christian narrative “looks for all the world like a naked power play.” The key is that we’ve not discarded Christian standards in favor of older, perhaps pagan, standards, but that we’ve abandoned standards entirely.

We have not only self-consciously rejected Christian versions of social order; we have renounced principles of order that until recently were thought by everyone to be inescapable, natural, universal. We haven’t slipped into forgetfulness of these principles of order. We have actively, zealously expelled them as a thing unclean.

Outside of Christianity, “nature” has provided a stable standard for social and moral life. “Live in accord with nature,” said many ancient philosophers, however they might have defined nature. Sometimes nature was a cruel Mistress, as some thought it natural that certain people be slaves, that women be treated as defective men, that the high-born remained at the heights. Yet nature provided the strong pillars on which many empires rested—in the Mediterranean world, in the Far East, in the ancient civilizations of Africa and Latin America.

No longer. Civil and aeronautic engineers still submit to the contours of “nature and nature’s laws,” but we have created zones of social life where the human will rules unchecked. In those zones, nature is plastic, subject to our whims and desires, moldable to our wills. Sex is, as always, a handy barometer: Now we can become either sex we please, invent our own, change sex three times before lunch. We haven’t forgotten nature. We’ve rejected it, and we defend this willfulness.

Very worth reading.

2

The other day, a musician with a peace sign painted on his piano set up outside the devastated Bataclan nightclub, and played John Lennon’s nihilistic ballad “Imagine”:

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

I credit the sweetness of the anonymous musician’s spirit, but the more I thought about that gesture, the angrier I grew. Why angry? Because this — and the Sfar cartoon — are emblematic of the decadence and despair and emptiness of the post-Christian West. I keep saying, “You can’t fight something with nothing,” and that’s exactly what “Imagine,” and the Sfar cartoon stand for: nothing. Believe me, I celebrate music! kisses! life! Champagne and joy! too — it’s one of the reasons I love Paris madly — but it is not enough, and it will never be enough. 

The simpering message of “Imagine,” the brittle secularist pride of Sfar’s cartoon — really? That’s all you have to offer?

(Rod Dreher at the beginning of a long blog, The End of Our Time; hyperlink to Sfar cartoon added)

3

You learn something new every day — if you’re lucky.

Today, I was puzzled by signs of “gay rights” activists at the Indiana Legislature’s Organization Day: “Jesus affirmed a same-sex couple. Matthew 8:5-13.” So I explored.

And I learned that gay Christian desperation for self-justification drives them to some really weird interpretive gymnastics.

I’m grateful they’re grappling, even as I fight off suspicion that their interpretation isn’t even bona fide, but rather tongue-in-cheek pretexting.

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.