Book the Band (Friendly is Not Enough)

The “key for the church is to welcome, not exclude.”

Pope Francis (2013)

The key for the Church is, rather, to possess something so desirable that people will charge a machine-gun nest to get it. In my youth I went to nightclubs to see bands play what I fondly imagined was great music. Those nightclubs were extremely unwelcoming. The bouncers were surly, the floors were filthy, the air was noxious, and price of drinks was shamelessly extortionate.

But those nightclubs were packed because they had THE BAND. Continue reading

This Strange New Land of Bondage

When Liberals look at man, they experiences a double vision similar to the double vision that drunkards suffer in an advanced state of intoxication. One difference is that the drunkards’ double vision is optical, and conveys no suggestion of a moral difference between the shimmering apparition on the left and the shimmering apparition on the right. But the liberal’s double vision is moral, and not an instance of mere duplication, because the Liberal sees man under the duel (not mixed) aspects of angel and fiend. When the liberal is in his sentimental after-dinner mood, he sees man as a decent fellow who is good at heart, and cruel, deceitful, larcenous and domineering only by accident. However, when the liberal is in his angry and exasperated schoolmarm mood, he sees man as an untrustworthy and froward fool, whose every act must be closely monitored and minutely regulated. Continue reading

Descartes’ Discovery of the Subject

Saint Paul“Philosophy starts by doubting the reality of the perceptible world, of the world of objects and things.”[1] But this is not enough. Philosophical theory should be primarily concerned with the thinking subject, and the meaning and purpose of his existence. “Reality is originally part of the inner existence, of the inner spiritual communion and community, but it becomes degraded in the process of objectification and by having to submit to social necessities.”[2] “To exist, is for man to dwell within himself, in his own authentic world, rather than to be at the mercy of the social and biological world.”[3]

Like Plato, Descartes expresses skepticism about physical reality; in Descartes’ case, whether external reality exists at all, and whether we can have knowledge of it. He goes beyond Plato by discovering the knowing subject. Plato’s conception of noumenal reality is universalist and has nothing that is essentially personal about it. It is populated by hypostasized abstractions, the Forms, but also a living god – the Form of the Good. Descartes’ notion of the existential interior stops short at the subject as the thinking thing. Cogito ergo sum; I am thinking therefore I am. Who is this I? Descartes asks. He replies, a thing that thinks. Multiple problems are immediately evident. One is the severely restricted and inadequate spiritual vision. There is no beauty, justice, or truth, and no God. Another is the restriction of the subject to a thinking thing. Feelings and volition are as much a part of the subject as thought, but these are simply omitted. So, there is a subject, but it is truncated and misdescribed and it would take Kant to identify the existential subject with freedom and the phenomenal world with determinism, though Kant continues to associate the noumenal with the intellect alone. Continue reading

When the Holy Fire Dies

“Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive
But to be young was very heaven.”

William Wordsworth, The Prelude (1799)

“Then a moody youth sat down on a world in ruins.”

Alfred de Musset, Confessions of a Child of the Century (1836)

The poet Wordsworth tells is that it is bliss to set out on a crusade.  Every crusader (but especially the young) rejoices that he has been specially chosen to join in the great task of saving humanity from barbarism, ignorance, tyranny, superstition or false gods.  But alas, before he reaches the New Jerusalem, the holy fire dies and the crusade breaks down in an inglorious bedlam of peculation, chicanery and quarrels.  As Eric Hoffer famously put it, “every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”  Thus, the crusader who felt so hopeful when he set out at dawn returns tired and hopeless at the close of the day.  From bliss to this, he thinks, as he sinks into the drab and prosaic life of what Spengler called the fellaheen. Continue reading

Sweet and Sour Christians

David French has become the voice of Sweet Christianity, which is to say Christianity that is inoffensive, mild, and outwardly indistinguishable from a very kind kindergarten teacher. French fails to understand that Sweet Christianity is a fruit that survives because it is encased in a rind that is not nearly so luscious and sweet, that is indeed quite leathery and sour. Whatever the commandment to love our enemies means, Sour Christianity denies that it means inviting them to take the most comfortable seat and offering to fix them a nice cup of tea. Continue reading

Why Compassion is Not a Cardinal Christian Virtue

I find it interesting that the translators of the King James Bible (1611) used the word compassion only forty-one times, whereas the translators of the New American Standard Bible (1995) found 105 instances where it was, in their opinion, the mot juste.  This difference cannot be attributed to a change in the English language, since the New King James Bible (1975) managed to make its meaning clear to modern readers and yet use the word compassion a mere fifty times.  The difference is attributable to a change in the translators, who are now as soppy and sentimental the rest of us. Continue reading

Bow Down to the Lord of the Flies

“Recounting a Spanish proverb that God always forgives, man sometimes forgives, but nature never forgives, [Pope] Francis said: ‘If we have deteriorated the Earth, the response will be very ugly’.”

April 22 (Earth Day), 2020

“Proverbial wisdom, it must be born in mind, deals sometimes with only one aspect of a truth.”

F. Edward Hulme, Proverbial Lore (1906)

Brevity is of the essence in a proverb, and proverbial wisdom must therefore be taken with a lively awareness of holophrasis.  The notion that “God always forgives” is, for instance, holophrasic because the conditions of forgiveness are left unsaid.  So long as everyone tacitly understands that “God always forgives” is the holophrastic form of “God always forgives those who repent and ask forgiveness,” the conditions of forgiveness are “needless to say.”  There is no danger in dealing with one aspect of a truth when you are talking to people who share the tacit knowledge that there are other aspects of that truth. Continue reading

A Prison Tale

“To tell the secrets of my prison-house,
I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul . . .”

Shakespeare, Hamlet (1600)

My oldest son is studying criminal justice at the state college in Huntsville, about fifty miles east of here. Huntsville is also home to most Texas state prisons, so my son has been working as a part-time prison guard since last summer. He does not plan to make a career in corrections; but he needs a job and must sooner or later get used to dealing with bad men. Continue reading

Trivia

The email I receive from students is a lot like our prayers to God. It grows, for instance, much more voluminous, urgent and maudlin as the semester’s end draws nigh. It is also shot through with the most flagrant dishonesty, flattery, and sophistical reasoning. I can only suppose that God’s inbox contains even more wheedling and mendacity, and that the selfishness and duplicity is not more discreetly veiled. The email that comes closest to our prayers may be that sent by students who have flouted the most basic provisions of the syllabus—have indeed scorned to read it—but who nevertheless boldly ask that the rules be suspended in their case, as a special favor to them. The saddest email comes from students who, if their affidavits of sedulous and grinding study are not complete fabrications, have advanced to the natural limit of their academic aptitude. So it is when we pray for impossibilities. Continue reading