Superstition & Subscendence: An Essay in Honor of Tom Bertonneau

Bear with me here. I hardly know where I am going with this, although I feel I have caught the spoor of something Tom would find delightful – that he would join with me joyfully in this new hunt. I’m confused because all I have is that spoor, and my spirits are in a hurry and a muddle due to his too soon death. I miss my friend of many years – of too few! I am not yet sure how to do with the world that, henceforth, shall miss him.

Tom has been a valued colleague since we first encountered each other. We corresponded often – not often enough, alas – about our hopes and worries in respect to our work, much of it coordinate here. We sometimes asked each other for editorial advice upon that work. I could rely on Tom for sound counsel. I hardly know how I shall manage without his sagacity.

But I must. I bid you all help me in that project, in which we may hope we can all together proceed for many more years to come. That would be a fitting legacy of his penetrant honest cheerful mind.

I propose that this essay be an early installment in something like a festschrift for Tom. Let us all try to limn what it was that he taught us. Perhaps we might make a book out of it. Or maybe just something on the scale of an issue of Amazing Stories, circa 1935: the sort of thing that was an important source of grist for the mill of his wits. That would please him, perhaps above all things we might do to honor him.

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On the Difficulty of the Cosmos

Twenty years or more ago someone I care about gave me a couple 3D wooden puzzles. I forget how I got them, or from whom, but I remember I care about them. So I kept them on a shelf in my study. Here is one of them, disassembled:

Here is the other, ordered on exactly the same principles, assembled:

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Pray for Lydia McGrew

Philosopher and Biblical scholar Lydia McGrew, our longstanding friend and dauntless shieldmate in the culture wars since the VFR days, has just revealed over at What’s Wrong With the World that since a week after her Pfizer covid vaccination in April, she has been afflicted with a devastating but mysterious – and, not yet diagnosed – malady that causes her daily intense and more or less constant pain. It has interfered with sleep, eating, work, sitting, walking: everything. It acts like inflammation of nerves, but that has not yet been ascertained. Since she began documenting her symptoms, Lydia has learned of many hundreds of other such cases. Perhaps thousands.

Before she got the shot, she was, so far as she knew, perfectly healthy.

Lydia is hanging in there, and she is one tough gal, but I have to say that this sounds pretty bad. Lydia wrote me last evening to ask for my prayers. I agreed, of course, and asked if I could post this appeal. She said yes.

Please join me, therefore, in an earnest prayer for the health of Lydia McGrew. Or several hundred of them.

If you do not know of Lydia’s terrific work for our side in the present war, it would do you good to check it out. You won’t be able to read it all. She’s far more prolific than all of us here put together, and she’s been at it for longer. But it’s all worth reading. With Lawrence Auster, Jim Kalb, Bruce Charlton, and Zippy Catholic, Lydia has from early days in my own career as an online apologist and culture warrior been an important and beneficent influence upon me, and if you read her stuff I think it will be the same for you. I’m going to tag this post as an Apologetical Weapon, because that’s what Lydia is.

May God bless and keep his faithful servant, Lydia McGrew. May he bring her into all knowledge, restore her to health, and give her peace and rest in him, if not yet, then soon, and at last, and forever. Amen, amen.

Philosophical Skeleton Keys: The Stack of Worlds & the Literal Fall; &c.

The stack of worlds implicit in Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems furnishes a way of understanding the Fall as having happened literally, and in (so far as I can tell) complete congruity with the latter day scientific model of our own world’s history – and, indeed, with that of any other – and with the account in Genesis.

This post supervenes two others in a series respecting divers Philosophical Skeleton Keys: first, The Stack of Worlds, and then, The Play: Its Wright, Players, & Characters. It will I think be easier to understand this post if you review them, before essaying this one.

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Philosophical Skeleton Keys: Idolatry

This key is simple to explain, but I have found it opens lots of doors; it explains lots of things. Idolatry is the worship of something less than the Most High; of something other than God. Simple, no?

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Christian Focus on Sempiternity → Long Term Approach to Mundane Affairs

If there is heaven, you would be stupid to forego it by some short term evanescent and unrighteous, ergo in all likelihood maladaptive worldly foolishness. So you would be less likely to engage in short term and mere worldly foolishness (on the contrary, you’d want to be a holy fool!). With eyes always turned to the infinite prize, you would be less likely to grab at – or, a fortiori, work for, or pay for, or sacrifice for – any other, lesser good in contravention thereto.

The intention toward sempiternal life in Heaven, then, tends to social health here below.

This is why it is so important to social health to take religion seriously.

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Traditionalism is the Reductio of Modernity

The tradition of modernity is to repudiate tradition per se. It’s right there in the term: ‘modern’ is from Late Latin modernus, from Latin modo, “just now.” So ‘modern’ means “what is just now.”

Traditionalists take the modern tradition with utmost seriousness, thoroughness, and consistency: they repudiate the tradition of modernity.

Traditionalists are the iconoclasts of iconoclasm. So likewise are they then the true postmodernists. In their hearts and in their minds, and so far as is possible in their acts, they live into whatever it is that shall inevitably ensue, once modernity has finished eating itself, and collapsed; once the people have awakened and shaken it off like a nightmare or Soviet Communism.

Traditionalists are ransacking the cupboards on the morning after Belshazzar’s Feast, looking for the coffee as the sour dregs of the Party lapse into biliary nausea, bitter existential regret, and alcoholic coma, and as the Persians begin to assemble their siege engines.

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An Exchange with My Master Lawrence Auster About the Fall & Our Predicament

Back in 2011, a little more than a year before he died, my dear friend and master Lawrence wrote to me privily, and I responded likewise. Looking for something else altogether in my Journal of that year, I came across our exchange. I now share it with you, confident of his evangelical approval thereof, as an apologetic exercise of potential benefit to readers who might have known us, both – or, who have never heard of either of us. Lawrence wrote:

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Girard on Anthropogenesis

Sacer 10 St. Stephen (1604) Annibale Carracci (1550 - 1609)

 Annibale Carracci (1550 – 1609): Lapidation of St. Stephen (1604)

In the two classic pre-Christian canons of Western myth – the Greek and the Norse – anthropogenesis is brought about by natural processes under the observation of the gods.  Man is earthborn in both canons, although indirectly in the Norse, and can therefore lay claim to a mother, either Gaia or Erda.  In both myths fatherhood remains in the shadows.  The gods who observe and interact with the earliest men conform to a model thoroughly anthropomorphic.  The presence of fully human gods suggests that man existed before he existed and that man needed instruction from man in order to recognize himself and learn how to adapt himself to the cosmic environment.  In the Hellenic and Scandinavian myths humanity enters into a world of violence.  Neither Zeus nor Odin has as yet organized the world under the concept of law.  The Greek and Norse canons share a word: Titan, an item of vocabulary that carries the inner meaning of brutal criminality.  This word occurs in Old West Norse as Jotun and in Anglo-Saxon as Eotan.  The giants, that is to say the Titans and Jotuns, war perpetually with the younger generation of gods.  Peace requires the Olympians or the Aesir to suppress the giants by main force; and even then peace reprieves the universe only temporarily.  Eruptions of chaos can occur anytime and anywhere.  The Christian anthropogenesis, which is in fact the Hebrew anthropogenesis, differs minimally from its Pagan and Heathen counterparts, but it differs nevertheless in subtle ways, which make a difference.  The Biblical God draws man forth from the clay, for example, by an intentional act; and God deliberately shapes man to resemble his Creator.  The Hebrew God is less anthropomorphic than the Olympians or the Aesir, even aniconic, but his immediate precursors in Near Eastern myth, such as the Canaanite Baal and the Babylonian Ea, testify that he stems from a man-like version of deity, fit for a standing image.  The physiognomic resemblance between Creator and creature is thereby explained.

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Philosophical Skeleton Keys: The Play: Its Wright, Players, & Characters

This post is a sequel to my post on the stack of worlds. It tries to understand a few things about how a stack of worlds might work – or, perhaps, *must* work – and how those workings might help us untangle a few perplexities that have bedeviled thinkers for millennia. It is absurdly long, and for that I beg forgiveness. But I find there is little I can do about that, at present: when the inspiration comes, it comes as a unit, and the overwhelming necessity is just to get it all down before it vanishes.

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