Christmas in a Winter of Discontent

“Then let us cheerful acquiesce
Nor make our scanty pleasures less
By pining at our state.”

Robert Burns, “Epistle to Davie” (1785)

Contentment is Paul’s theme in the last chapter of his first letter to Timothy, and his famous condemnation of greed should be read as part of his commendation of contentment.  He condemns greed in this oft-quoted and misquoted line.

“The love of money is the root of all evil.”

But he goes on to say that it is the root of all evil because “those who want to get rich fall into many foolish and harmful desires.”  A cursory glance at the lifestyles of the rich and famous confirms his observation, but his point is that the love of money is a symptom of more primal discontents. Continue reading

No More Parades

“Don’t you see how symbolical it was: the band playing ‘Land of Hope and Glory,’ and then the adjutant saying, ‘There will be no more parades’? . . . For there won’t.  There won’t, there damn well won’t . . . No more Hope, no more Glory, no more parades for you and me anymore.  Nor for the country . . . Nor for the world, I dare say . . . None . . . Gone . . . Na poo, finny!  No . . . more . . . parades!” 

Ford Maddox Ford, No More Parades, part. 2, Parade’s End (1925)

In a parade, the very best are presented at their very best, and those who are privileged to see them exclaim with Miranda:

“Oh, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in ’t!” Continue reading

The Special Promise of Our Times

 “As a demoralized people cannot do God’s work on earth, he finds fresh tribes to do it.” 

Christian Karl Josias Bunsen, Hippolytus and His Age, vol. 4 (1852)

There is a deep and mysterious connection between morality and morale, as can be seen in the two meanings of the word demoralize.  We say that a man is demoralized when he has relaxed or abandoned his moral discipline, and we also say that he is demoralized when he has sunk into a hopeless malaise and lost his will to live.  This connection between libertinage and lassitude is, as I said, deep and mysterious, but it is an important part of what St. Paul meant when he wrote, “the wages of sin is death.” Continue reading

A Foam-Bell on the River Weird

“But the end of all things is at hand . . .”

1 Peter 4:7.

“Wyrd hath swept away all my kinsmen . . . to the appointed doom.  I must after them.”

Beowulf, Brewster trans. (c. 1000 A.D.)

I recently posted a gloomy reflection on the end of all things.  It was called “The Roar of Our Cataract” and contained some stoical reflections on doom, which is to say fate.  We are all of us doomed, which is to say destined to some end, and we naturally picture our fatal condition as a voyage—without rudder, paddle or oar—down the twisting river of time. Continue reading

Does Quantum Mechanics Have Any Connection to Religion?

The best and most famous physicists of the twentieth century were by definition superlatively imaginative and creative individuals. The theories they espoused were about a mechanistic and deterministic world. But the source of their inspired theories was neither of those things. Spirit exists in the sphere of subjectivity, allowing free agents to intervene in the objective world of things. Human beings, and other sentient creatures, are not objects and they are not things. They have an objective aspect but what makes them special and significant is their interior – cut off from and invisible to the world of science.

Physics examines only exteriors. Quantum mechanics concerns atoms, photons, electrons, and subatomic particles. Whitehead speculated that even these items might have some minimal interiors which avoids the idea that consciousness somehow emerges from purely physical sources in the form of emergent complexity; a superadded epiphenomenal thing coming from matter. Continue reading

The Blandishments of Balaam, the Perfume of Jezebel . . .

“Repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and remove thy candlestick out of his place.” 

Revelations 2:5

The Amazonian synod has polarized Catholics and brought the Church one step closer to schism.  The division should be familiar.  On the one side are progressive Catholics who would like to undertake new works of social justice and environmental conservation, on the other side are conservative Catholics who, the Pope tells us, “think they are so righteous they wind up worshiping themselves.” Continue reading

God Hates a Worthless Watchdog, be that Watchdog Savage, or be that Watchdog Servile

“Everything that opposes the strivings of his egoism awakens his dislike, his anger, his hate: this is the mortal enemy, which he tries to annihilate.”

Arthur Schopenhauer, The Basis of Morality (1840)

If a fly begins to buzz round my nose when I am dozing in a lawn chair, I will strive to kill that fly.  I may begin with a few threatening waves of my arm, but since few flies are daunted by threats, my annoyance will end with a swat.  I desire peace, the fly desires whatever it is that a fly desires, and the resulting clash of our striving egos means there is not enough room in this world for the both of us. Continue reading

Reconciling Plato and Berdyaev via the Phaedrus


Analytic philosophy is by the far the dominant tradition in the English-speaking world and many countries in Europe at this point, with a handful of “continental” schools, but in either case, atheism and materialism are taken for granted. The way Plato was taught, like the way my professors taught everything else, sucked the significance out, examined arguments out of context, and generally made Plato seem like a no-good philosopher. It was not until I had written my dissertation and been granted my PhD that I read Plato’s Republic for myself, because it seemed ridiculous not to have read it – like an English major being unfamiliar with Hamlet. It was a revelation and I was overjoyed to find such a congenial mind. Like Dostoevsky, who has been described as continuing the dialogues of Plato, I had found a friend.

While aware that some of my other friendships have ended, the one philosophical friendship I started to suspect would last forever was my love of Plato. However, my fairly recent discovery of Nikolai Berdyaev had me wondering how devoted I could remain to Plato. A Russian friend, hearing me describe one of my philosophical views, noted that it sounded like Berdyaev and recommended him to me. When another friend started taking a strong interest too, my new friendship with Berdyaev began, often feeling like I was entering into a dialogue with my future self, as Berdyaev extended some of my own thoughts into new domains.

The solution to my newly acquired doubts about Plato has been to step outside the description of reality found in Plato’s allegory of the cave, and to look to the Phaedrus, for an extension of the Platonic vision of spiritual and metaphysical realities that is more congenial to Berdyaev’s insights. [1] Continue reading