Exceptionalism vs. Patriotism at the Everyman

Wherein I tackle American exceptionalism and try to explain why we need to give up on the idea:

I don’t say this just because our system of government and society barely resembles that which existed at the nation’s founding (even allowing for the passage of time and development of technology). Nor because we have recently witnessed the departure of what may well be the last legitimate president we will ever have, leaving the nation in the hands of criminals. Nor do I say this on account of slavery or racism or any of the other sins of our past (which are only to be expected).

It isn’t even because I think the philosophy we based our nation upon is incoherent and dangerously self-contradictory, or because I think the narrative underlying it to be thoroughly false.

No, the reason we need to give up the idea of our own exceptionalism is that it is fatal to patriotism.

As Americans (as I assume most of our readers to be) this may shock you. It may even sound like nonsense. But I beg you to try to understand what I’m saying.

Suppose a man were to say to his young son “I love you because you are the smartest, best behaved boy in school.” Suppose then that the boy gets a poor grade on his test, or gets into trouble with the teacher. What is he to think? The most natural thing would be for him to fear that his father would no longer love him, or not as much because he has shown himself to not be so smart or so well-behaved as his father believed him to be.

It is unlikely his father would really feel that way, but the boy would think so. He would think so because that would be the logical deduction from his father’s words. Therefore, even if the boy never does break the rules or get a bad grade, he will have that fear in the back of his mind of “what if…?” “What if I fail this test? What if I make a mistake and get detention? My father won’t love me a much anymore.” He will thus either work fearfully and fervently to ‘keep’ his father’s love or else despair and give up entirely. One thing is sure though: any love of the subjects themselves or any enjoyment in the ordinary life of a schoolboy will be crippled because none of them can be enjoyed for their own sake. They must go toward the satisfaction of that all-important condition.

It is the same for a husband and wife. A woman whose husband tells her “I love you because you are so beautiful” will fear the aging process and, just as much, fear the inevitable rival whose looks outshine her own.

If you ask why you love someone or something, you may give reasons (“She’s so sweet and so lovely!”  “He’s so strong, so honest”), but the real, proper response – which it is important to understand whether or not it is directly stated – is simply “because you are yourself.” As Professor Von Hildebrand says, to love something means to perceive the unique idea in the mind of God that it represents: to see it as something unique, irreplaceable, incomparable.

This is the great danger of American exceptionalism: it seeks to justify patriotism. Worse, it actually takes those justifications seriously. We are to love America because she is the freest, most just nation on earth, the nation that corrects the mistakes of the rest of the world, where equality and opportunity and liberty reign supreme.

Read the rest here.

There’s obviously a lot more to be said about all this than I was able to fit in or had time to adequately research. But if there is one idea, one section of this essay that I would wish to be ingrained in the readers’ mind and to hammer home as much as possible, it’s this:

No nation is meant to be a creed. It is not our duty to save mankind or to be the shining example for the world to follow. We are not the new Jerusalem, we are not the last best hope of earth, we are not God’s chosen people. America is not the Church. It isn’t even Rome.

R.E. Howard: Skulls in the Stars

For this Saturday’s entertainment, here’s one of Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane stories: Skulls in the Stars

Credit: Guillem H. Pongiluppi, Art Station

He told how murders walk the earth
Beneath the curse of Cain,
With crimson clouds before their eyes
And flames about their brain:
For blood has left upon their souls
Its everlasting stain.
—Hood

I

There are two roads to Torkertown. One, the shorter and more direct route, leads across a barren upland moor, and the other, which is much longer, winds its tortuous way in and out among the hummocks and quagmires of the swamps, skirting the low hills to the east. It was a dangerous and tedious trail; so Solomon Kane halted in amazement when a breathless youth from the village he had just left overtook him and implored him for God’s sake to take the swamp road.

“The swamp road!” Kane stared at the boy. He was a tall, gaunt man, Solomon Kane, his darkly pallid face and deep brooding eyes made more sombre by the drab Puritanical garb he affected.

“Yes, sir, ’tis far safer,” the youngster answered to his surprised exclamation.

“Then the moor road must be haunted by Satan himself, for your townsmen warned me against traversing the other.”

“Because of the quagmires, sir, that you might not see in the dark. You had better return to the village and continue your journey in the morning, sir.”

“Taking the swamp road?”

“Yes, sir.”

Kane shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.

“The moon rises almost as soon as twilight dies. By its light I can reach Torkertown in a few hours, across the moor.”

“Sir, you had better not. No one ever goes that way. There are no houses at all upon the moor, while in the swamp there is the house of old Ezra who lives there all alone since his maniac cousin, Gideon, wandered off and died in the swamp and was never found—and old Ezra though a miser would not refuse you lodging should you decide to stop until morning. Since you must go, you had better go the swamp road.”

Kane eyed the boy piercingly. The lad squirmed and shuffled his feet.

“Since this moor road is so dour to wayfarers,” said the Puritan, “why did not the villagers tell me the whole tale, instead of vague mouthings?”

“Men like not to talk of it, sir. We hoped that you would take the swamp road after the men advised you to, but when we watched and saw that you turned not at the forks, they sent me to run after you and beg you to reconsider.”

“Name of the Devil!” exclaimed Kane sharply, the unaccustomed oath showing his irritation; “the swamp road and the moor road—what is it that threatens me and why should I go miles out of my way and risk the bogs and mires?”

Sir,” said the boy, dropping his voice and drawing closer, “we be simple villagers who like not to talk of such things lest foul fortune befall us, but the moor road is a way accurst and hath not been traversed by any of the countryside for a year or more. It is death to walk those moors by night, as hath been found by some score of unfortunates. Some foul horror haunts the way and claims men for his victims.”

“So? And what is this thing like?”

“No man knows. None has ever seen, it and lived, but late-farers have heard terrible laughter far out on the fen and men have heard the horrid shrieks of its victims. Sir, in God’s name return to the village, there pass the night, and tomorrow take the swamp trail to Torkertown.”

Far back in Kane’s gloomy eyes a scintillant light had begun to glimmer, like a witch’s torch glinting under fathoms of cold grey ice. His blood quickened. Adventure! The lure of life-risk and drama! Not that Kane recognized his sensations as such. He sincerely considered that he voiced his real feelings when he said:

“These things be deeds of some power of evil. The lords of darkness have laid a curse upon the country. A strong man is needed to combat Satan and his might. Therefore I go, who have defied him many a time.”

“Sir,” the boy began, then closed his mouth as he saw the futility of argument. He only added, “The corpses of the victims are bruised and torn, sir.”

He stood there at the crossroads, sighing regretfully as he watched the tall, rangy figure swinging up the road that led toward the moors.

The sun was setting as Kane came over the brow of the low hill which debouched into the upland fen. Huge and blood-red it sank down behind the sullen horizon of the moors, seeming to touch the rank grass with fire; so for a moment the watcher seemed to be gazing out across a sea of blood. Then the dark shadows came gliding from the east, the western blaze faded, and Solomon Kane struck out, boldly in the gathering darkness.

The road was dim from disuse but was clearly defined. Kane went swiftly but warily, sword and pistols at hand. Stars blinked out and night winds whispered among the grass like weeping spectres. The moon began to rise, lean and haggard, like a skull among the stars.

Then suddenly Kane stopped short. From somewhere in front of him sounded a strange and eery echo—or something like an echo. Again, this time louder. Kane started forward again. Were his senses deceiving him? No!

Far out, there pealed a whisper of frightful laughter. And again, closer this time. No human being ever laughed like that—there was no mirth in it, only hatred and horror and soul-destroying terror. Kane halted. He was not afraid, but for the second he was almost unnerved. Then, stabbing through that awesome laughter, came the sound of a scream that was undoubtedly human. Kane started forward, increasing his gait. He cursed the illusive lights and flickering shadows which veiled the moor in the rising moon and made accurate sight impossible. The laughter continued, growing louder, as did the screams. Then sounded faintly the drum of frantic human feet. Kane broke into a run. Some human was being hunted to death out there on the fen, and by what manner of horror God only knew. The sound of the flying feet halted abruptly and the screaming rose unbearably, mingled with other sounds unnameable and hideous. Evidently the man had been overtaken, and Kane, his flesh crawling, visualized some ghastly fiend of the darkness crouching on the back of its victim crouching and tearing. Then the noise of a terrible and short struggle came clearly through the abysmal silence of the night and the footfalls began again, but stumbling and uneven. The screaming continued, but with a gasping gurgle. The sweat stood cold on Kane’s forehead and body. This was heaping horror on horror in an intolerable manner. God, for a moment’s clear light! The frightful drama was being enacted within a very short distance of him, to judge by the ease with which the sounds reached him. But this hellish half-light veiled all in shifting shadows, so that the moors appeared a haze of blurred illusions, and stunted trees, and bushes seemed like giants.

Kane shouted, striving to increase the speed of his advance. The shrieks of the unknown broke into a hideous shrill squealing; again there was the sound of a struggle, and then from the shadows of the tall grass a thing came reeling — a thing that had once been a man—a gore-covered, frightful thing that fell at Kane’s feet and writhed and grovelled and raised its terrible face to the rising moon, and gibbered and yammered, and fell down again and died in its own blood.

The moon was up now and the light was better. Kane bent above the body, which lay stark in its unnameable mutilation, and he shuddered; a rare thing for him, who had seen the deeds of the Spanish Inquisition and the witch-finders.

Some wayfarer, he supposed. Then like a hand of ice on his spine he was aware that he was not alone. He looked up, his cold eyes piercing the shadows whence the dead man had staggered. He saw nothing, but he knew — he felt—that other eyes gave back his stare, terrible eyes not of this earth. He straightened and drew a pistol, waiting. The moonlight spread like a lake of pale blood over the moor, and trees and grasses took on their proper sizes. The shadows melted, and Kane saw! At first he thought it only a shadow of mist, a wisp of moor fog that swayed in the tall grass before him. He gazed. More illusion, he thought. Then the thing began to take on shape, vague and indistinct. Two hideous eyes flamed at him—eyes which held all the stark horror which has been the heritage of man since the fearful dawn ages—eyes frightful and insane, with an insanity transcending earthly insanity. The form of the thing was misty and vague, a brain-shattering travesty on the human form, like, yet horribly unlike. The grass and bushes beyond showed clearly through it.

Kane felt the blood pound in his temples, yet he was as cold as ice. How such an unstable being as that which wavered before him could harm a man in a physical way was more than he could understand, yet the red horror at his feet gave mute testimony that the fiend could act with terrible material effect.

Of one thing Kane was sure; there would be no hunting of him across the dreary moors, no screaming and fleeing to be dragged down again and again. If he must die he would die in his tracks, his wounds in front.

Now a vague and grisly mouth gaped wide and the demoniac laughter again shrieked but, soul-shaking in its nearness. And in the midst of feat threat of doom, Kane deliberately levelled his long pistol and fired. A maniacal yell of rage and mockery answered the report, and the thing came at him like a flying sheet of smoke, long shadowy arms stretched to drag him down.

Kane, moving with the dynamic speed of a famished wolf, fired the second pistol with as little effect, snatched his long rapier from its sheath and thrust into the centre of the misty attacker. The blade sang as it passed clear through, encountering no solid resistance, and Kane felt icy fingers grip his limbs, bestial talons tear his garments and the skin beneath,

He dropped the useless sword and sought to grapple with his foe. It was like fighting a floating mist, a flying shadow armed with dagger-like claws. His savage blows met empty air, his leanly mighty arms, in whose grasp strong men had died, swept nothingness and clutched emptiness. Naught was solid or real save the flaying, apelike fingers with their crooked talons, and the crazy eyes which burned into the shuddering depths of his soul.

Kane realized that he was in a desperate plight indeed. Already his garments hung in tatters and he bled from a score of deep wounds. But he never flinched, and the thought of flight never entered his mind. He had never fled from a single foe, and had the thought occurred to him he would have flushed with shame.

He saw no help for it now, but that his form should lie there beside the fragments of the other ‘ victim, but the thought held no terrors for him. His only wish was to give as good an account of himself as possible before the end came, and if he could, to inflict some damage on his unearthly foe. There above the dead man’s torn body, man fought with demon under the pale light of the rising moon, with all the advantages with the demon, save one. And that one was enough to overcome the others. For if abstract hate may bring into material substance a ghostly thing, may not courage, equally abstract, form a concrete weapon to combat that ghost? Kane fought with his arms and his feet and his hands, and he was aware at last that the ghost began to give back before him, and the fearful slaughter changed to screams of baffled fury. For man’s only weapon is courage that flinches not from the gates of Hell itself, and against such not even the legions of Hell can stand. Of this Kane knew nothing; he only knew that the talons which tore and rended him seemed to grow weaker and wavering, that a wild light grew and grew in the horrible eyes. And reeling and gasping, he rushed in, grappled the thing at last and threw it, and as they tumbled about on the moor and it writhed and lapped his limbs like a serpent of smoke, his flesh crawled and his hair stood on end, for he began to understand its gibbering. He did not hear and comprehend as a man hears and comprehends the speech of a man, but the frightful secrets it imparted in whisperings and yammerings and screaming silences sank fingers of ice into his soul, and he knew.

II

The hut of old Ezra the miser stood by the road in the midst of the swamp, half screened by the sullen trees which grew about it. The wall were rotting, the roof crumbling, and great pallid and green fungus-monsters clung to it and writhed about the doors and windows, as if seeking to peer within. The trees leaned above it and their grey branches intertwined so that it crouched in semi-darkness like a monstrous dwarf over whose shoulder ogres leer.

The road, which wound down into the swamp among rotting stumps and rank hummocks and scummy, snake-haunted pools and bogs, crawled past the hut. Many people passed that way these days, but few saw old Ezra, save a glimpse of a yellow face, peering through the fungus-screened windows, itself like an ugly fungus.

Old Ezra the miser partook much of the quality of the swamp, for he was gnarled and bent and sullen; his fingers were like clutching parasitic plants and his locks hung like drab moss above eyes trained to the murk of the swamplands. His eyes were like a dead man’s, yet hinted of depths abysmal and loathsome as the dead lakes of the swamplands.

These eyes gleamed now at the man who stood in front of his hut. This man was tall and gaunt and dark, his face was haggard and claw-marked, and he was bandaged of arm and leg. Somewhat behind this man stood a number of villagers.

“You are Ezra of the swamp road?”

“Aye, and what want ye of me?”

“Where is your cousin Gideon, the maniac youth who abode with you?”

“Gideon?”

“Aye.”

“He wandered away into the swamp and never came back. No doubt he lost his way and was set upon by wolves or died in a quagmire or was struck by an adder.”

“How long ago?”

“Over a year.”

“Aye. Hark ye, Ezra the miser. Soon after your cousin’s disappearance, a countryman, coming home across the moors, was set upon by some unknown fiend and torn to pieces, and thereafter it became death to cross those moors. First men of the countryside, then strangers who wandered over the fen, fell to the clutches of the thing. Many men have died, since the first one.

“Last night I crossed the moors, and heard the flight and pursuing of another victim, a stranger who knew not the evil of the moors. Ezra the miser, it was a fearful thing, for the wretch twice broke from the fiend, terribly wounded, and each time the demon caught and dragged him down again. And at last he fell dead at my very feet, done to death in a manner that would freeze the statue of a saint.”

The villagers moved restlessly and murmured fearfully to each other, and old Ezra’s eyes shifted furtively. Yet the sombre expression of Solomon Kane never altered, and his condor-like stare seemed to transfix the miser.

“Aye, aye!” muttered old Ezra hurriedly; “a bad thing, a bad thing! Yet why do you tell this thing to me?”

“Aye, a sad thing. Harken further, Ezra. The fiend came out of the shadows and I fought with it over the body of its victim. Aye, how I overcame it, I know not, for the battle was hard and long but the powers of good and light were on my side, which are mightier than the powers of Hell.

“At the last I was stronger, and it broke from me and fled, and I followed to no avail. Yet before it fled it whispered to me a monstrous truth.”

Old Ezra started, stared wildly, seemed to shrink into himself.

“Nay, why tell me this?” he muttered.

“I returned to the village and told my tale, said Kane, “for I knew that now I had the power to rid the moors of its curse forever! Ezra, come with us!”

“Where?” gasped the miser.

“To the rotting oak on the moors.” Ezra reeled as though struck; he screamed incoherently and turned to flee.

On the instant, at Kane’s sharp order, two brawny villagers sprang forward and seized the miser. They twisted the dagger from his withered hand, and pinioned his arms, shuddering as their fingers encountered his clammy flesh.

Kane motioned them to follow, and turning strode up the trail, followed by the villagers, who found their strength taxed to the utmost in their task of bearing their prisoner along. Through the swamp they went and out, taking a little-used trail which led up over the low hills and out on the moors.

The sun was sliding down the horizon and old Ezra stared at it with bulging eyes—stared as if he could not gaze enough. Far out on the moors geared up the great oak tree, like a gibbet, now only a decaying shell. There Solomon Kane halted.

Old Ezra writhed in his captor’s grasp and made inarticulate noises.

“Over a year ago,” said Solomon Kane, “you, fearing that your insane cousin Gideon would tell men of your cruelties to him, brought him away from the swamp by the very trail by which we came, and murdered him here in the night.”

Ezra cringed and snarled.

“You can not prove this lie!”

Kane spoke a few words to an agile villager. The youth clambered up the rotting bole of the tree and from a crevice, high up, dragged something that fell with a clatter at the feet of the miser. Ezra went limp with a terrible shriek.

The object was a man’s skeleton, the skull cleft.

“You—how knew you this? You are Satan!” gibbered old Ezra.

Kane folded his arms.

“The thing I fought last night told me this thing as we reeled in battle, and I followed it to this tree. For the fiend is Gideon’s ghost.”

Ezra shrieked again and fought savagely.

“You knew,” said Kane sombrely, “you knew what things did these deeds. You feared the ghost of the maniac, and that is why you chose to leave his body on the fen instead of concealing it in the swamp. For you knew the ghost would haunt the place of his death. He was insane in life, and in death he did not know where to find his slayer; else he had come to you in your hut. He hates no man but you, but his mazed spirit can not tell one man from another, and he slays all, lest he let his killer escape. Yet he will know you and rest in peace, forever after. Hate hath made of his ghost, a solid thing that can rend and slay, and though he feared you terribly in life, in death he fears you not at all.”

Kane halted. He glanced at the sun.

“All this I had from Gideon’s ghost, in his yammerings and his whisperings and his shrieking silences. Naught but your death will lay that ghost.”

Ezra listened in breathless silence and Kane pronounced the words of his doom.

“A hard thing it is,” said Kane sombrely, “to sentence a man to death in cold blood and in such a manner as I have in mind, but you must die that others may live—and God knoweth you deserve death.

“You shall not die by noose, bullet or sword, but at the talons of him you slew—for naught else will satiate him.”

At these words Ezra’s brain shattered, his knees gave way and he fell grovelling and screaming for death, begging them to burn him at the stake, to flay him alive. Kane’s face was set like death, and the villagers, the fear rousing their cruelty, bound the screeching wretch to the oak tree, and one of them bade him make his peace with God. But Ezra made no answer, shrieking in a high shrill voice with unbearable monotony. Then the villager would have struck the miser across across the face, but Kane stayed him.

“Let him make his peace with Satan, whom he is more like to meet,” said the Puritan grimly. “The sun is about to set. Loose his cords so that he may work loose by dark, since it is better to meet death free and unshackled than bound like a sacrifice.” As they turned to leave him, old Ezra yammered and gibbered unhuman sounds and then fell silent, staring at the sun with terrible intensity.

They walked away across the fen, and Kane flung a last look at the grotesque form bound to the tree, seeming in the uncertain light like a great fungus growing to the bole. And suddenly the miser screamed hideously:

“Death! Death! There are skulls in the Stars!”

“Life was good to him, though he was gnarled and churlish and evil,” Kane sighed. “Mayhap God has a place for such souls where fire and sacrifice may cleanse them of their dross as fire cleans the forest of fungus things. Yet my heart is heavy within me.”

“Nay, sir,” one of the villagers spoke, “you have done but the will of God, and good alone shall come of this night’s deed.”

“Nay,” answered Kane heavily. “I know not — I know not.”

The sun had gone down and night spread with amazing swiftness, as if great shadows came rushing down from unknown voids to cloak the world with hurrying darkness. Through the thick night came a weird echo, and the men halted and looked back the way they had come.

Nothing could be seen. The moor was an ocean of shadows and the tall grass about them bent in long waves before the, faint wind, breaking the deathly stillness with breathless murmurings.

Then far away the red disk of the moon rose over the fen, and for an instant a grim silhouette was etched blackly against it. A shape came flying across the face of the moon — a bent, grotesque thing whose feet seemed scarcely to touch the earth; and close behind came a thing like a flying shadow—a nameless, shapeless horror.

A moment the racing twain stood out boldly against the moon; then they merged into one unnameable, formless mass, and vanished in the shadows.

Far across the fen sounded a single shriek of terrible laughter.

Pick up the complete Solomon Kane stories at Bookshop.org (affiliate link)

Friday Flotsam: Don’t Like ‘Like, Comment, and Subscribe’

1. More and more it seems to me that where modern psychology is correct, it ends up being a complicated way of saying the same thing that Old Wives and monks have said for time immemorial. This week I watched a couple videos on dopamine, its affect on brain, and the means to counteract it, and all I could think was “so, deliberately moderating our pleasures and periodic fasting.”

2. I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos recently. Or let me clarify: I’ve been watching videos from a lot of new-to-me channels and topics recently. Mostly involving finances, bookkeeping, budgeting, DIY, and pop-psychology. Thus far, my impression is that everyone seems to be copying everyone else: jump cuts, multiple takes spliced together to form one long-ish take, pretending to lose your train of thought in the middle of a sentence, “be sure to like, comment, and subscribe / smash that like button” (everybody smashes that like button), “what’s up guys?” (seriously, everyone uses this introduction), “studies have shown…” etc. There’s definitely a remarkably consistent style across a surprisingly broad spectrum of videos.

It may be just me, but I don’t like being asked to subscribe to YouTube videos, or to like or comment.

3. I seem to have lucked out without realizing it. See, I’m a creature of habit to a possibly-pathological level, so when I find content I like, I tend to simply stick to it until I start to get tired of it. So, the few YouTube channels I actually follow, I tend to just stick with rather than venturing out into the wild to search for more. This is partly because of my aforementioned sedentary approach to these things, but also because I think if I do venture out there, about 99% of what I find will be junk. Maybe entertaining junk, but junk.

The few YouTube channels I do follow all buck this trend, and indeed usually make fun of it. Ross of Accursed Farms did a whole video commenting on how strange it feels to him to be asking for money to make funny videos about weird games and laying down promises of what he’d be doing with it and who should and shouldn’t donate. Mauler likewise only brought up the subscription question in distinct sections are the tail-end of his videos, and then was very transparent about what people would be buying (though he’s been a little disappointing lately as his reviews have slowed to an absolute trickle, to the point where I think I’d be feeling annoyed if I had backed him, but that’s another story. Then again I’m averaging about two videos a year right now, so maybe I shouldn’t be throwing stones…).

I don’t remember Razorfist ever asking for money or subscriptions either (though I’ve heard him tossing some typically-colorful invective against creators who do from time to time), and when he expanded onto a subscription site he explained it was just a way to maintain independence: a subscription site can at least maintain itself in existence if YouTube tightens the noose. David Stewart does invoke the ‘like, comment, and subscribe’, though he saves it to the end and honestly is so low-key about it that I forgot he even does it until I double-checked.

I’ve watched videos where a big ‘SUBSCRIBE’ animation pops up about every thirty seconds or so (not exagerrating). Or where the host just stops the video two or three times to ask for subscriptions.

I know that people have to try to work the algorithm and all, especially if they’re trying to make money, but I have to think there’s a better way. Actually, I know there’s a better way: let the content speak for itself and only bring up money and subscriptions when you have to.

If I ever expand my video production (which I hope to do in future), I hereby vow I will never play the ‘like, comment, subscribe’ game.

(And while I’m talking about channels I like, definitely check out Modern History TV, where a modern knight – OBE – delves into the practical side of Medieval life, especially of Medieval knights. He also doesn’t do the ‘like, comment, subscribe’. Though to be fair, something tells me he isn’t in it for the money).

Thought of the Day: The Elephant in the Room

We supposedly know more today than ever before about human behavior and society. We know more than ever about how the brain actually works, what people actually want and need, and we’ve been steadily throwing off more and more of the old taboos, prejudices, and superstitions that once ruled our lives.

The elephant in the room is that we’ve never been more miserable.

https://external-content.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=http%3A%2F%2Fanglik.net%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2017%2F03%2Felephantintheroom.jpg&f=1&nofb=1
“Nothing to see here…”

Thought of the Day: A Solution to the Immaculate Conception – Evolution Problem

Honestly, I have no bone in the evolution fight. To my mind it makes no practical difference whether, as a matter of prehistoric fact, humans are or are not bodily descended from apes or other animals. I think most of the ‘conclusions’ that people derive from the theory (e.g. “see, everything is just a chemical reaction” or “humans are no different from other animals and non-quantitative observations are illusions”) are ridiculous on the face of them, and its quasi-dogmatical position in modern society means that I enjoy mocking it whenever I have the chance, but as a serious scientific theory, it’s mostly in the ‘none-of-my-business’ category.

That said, recently I’ve listened to more than one video where a priest or commentator has brought up a serious issue with it. At Lourdes, Our Lady said of herself “I am the Immaculate Conception.” That is, I am the (singular) Immaculate Conception. But, the argument goes, if Adam was conceived in the womb of an ape, he must have been conceived without original sin as well, since obviously no sin had been committed yet. Thus he would have been ‘an’ Immaculate Conception. And if it’s a choice between the best scientific minds in the world and the Mother of God, well, frankly she has a much better track record of being right than they do, so we must conclude that evolution is not real.

However, I don’t think it quite comes to that, for the following reason (speaking, of course, under correction, and with an idea that there are probably other solutions as well).

Genesis describes God as first forming Adam’s body before breathing life into him:

“And the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth: and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” (Gen. 2:7).

Now, this to my mind suggests that Adam was not born man, if he was born at all. That there was a period of time between when Adam came bodily into the world, formed ‘of the slime of the earth’, and when he ‘became a living soul’ in the image of God.

If we take evolution to be true, we can imagine that the creature that became Adam was born of its bestial mother in the normal course of nature, then at an appointed time was elevated by God to the state that had been prepared for him and became Man.

Nor do I think this even requires much of an interpretive stretch, since the phrase ‘formed man of the slime of the earth’ could easily, to my mind, accommodate the idea “was formed over millions of years of bestial, earthly nature.”

This staging has the added benefit of fitting well into the pattern of how God operates throughout the Scriptures, calling His chosen in youth or adulthood seemingly out of nowhere. It also would fit the pattern of the mirroring incident when Christ breathed the Holy Spirit into the Apostles, again taking men who are already one kind of thing and adding to it rather than creating ‘from scratch’ as it. Supernature building upon nature.

Of course, this would eliminate the whole problem, as Adam would then not have been immaculately conceived, since he would not then be in a state where ‘sin’ meant anything at all.

I daresay it creates problems of its own, but so it is. I only offer it for whatever it is worth. We’ll all find out the answer sooner or later.

Catholic Match Catch-Up

I’ve been taking an extended break from Catholic Match while trying to get the rest of my life together.

But I still write for them intermittently, which means that, as a side effect of my break, I’ve been missing when my own essays appear (these things are written months in advance). So today I’m going to offer the three most recent posts of mine that have appeared there:

January 26: Should You Date Someone with Different Politics?

Let’s talk politics.

We live in a peculiar world in this regard. A world in which political matters are often taken very seriously, in some cases to the point of being essentially a religion. But, with this being the case, the question cannot help but arise; should two people form a romantic relationship from different ends of the political spectrum?

If I had to give a short answer, it would be “no.”

If I had to give a somewhat more nuanced answer, it would be “probably not, but it depends.”

You see, it is one thing to have political disagreements with a friend or neighbor, to hash things out and come to verbal blows every now and again with someone you like and see regularly. It is quite another thing to do this with your spouse, for your partner in life to hold a different understanding of the world from yours. Just how much this will disrupt your relationship depends on what place politics has in your life and, yes, what those politics are.

I’m afraid there’s no getting around it; political views are not created equal.

Some are more compatible than others, some are more open to opposing views than others. Because, every political perspective is, at the bottom, a narrative for understanding the world (at least as far as the interactions of society are concerned). Depending on what that narrative is, it will tend to create more or less hostility toward a different narrative and those who hold it.

A classical liberal and a libertarian, for instance, will likely get along better than either will with a socialist or even a mainstream liberal, because the narratives of each side directly address those of the other as being fundamentally opposed to their own, while regarding each other as more or less variations on the same premise. Whether this is true or not (that is, how the actual content of a given political philosophy compares to another) is, for our purposes, less important than whether they believe it to be true.

The short version is that if you think your spouse is perpetuating a moral evil or encouraging tyranny and oppression, then your relationship will have problems.  

Read the exceptions and how they’re a potential relational time-bomb here.

February 1, When We Feel We Can’t Wait

Why do we bother?

We pay our dues, we maintain our profile, we run our searches, make the effort to reach out…and nothing happens. We seem to be doing everything right, but no one responds, or if they do, nothing comes of it. So why bother to keep it up?

Do you remember the incident in the Gospel of John at the pool of Bethesda? A man had lain beside it for thirty-eight years hoping to be cured, but each time the angel disturbed the water, someone else got down first and he missed his chance. Or the woman with the hemorrhages, who had suffered for twelve years and spent all she had on doctors, only to be made worse.

I wonder how frustrated they must have been. How much they must have begged for God to take away their infirmities, no doubt wondering why He had abandoned them, what sin they had committed to suffer so.

But the truth, though they could not know it during their long years of suffering, was that God had heard their prayer, and He was preparing something special for them. He meant not only to cure them in His time, but at a time and in a manner that would glorify Him and them to the end of world. In fact, He was building them up to serve as types of every sinner and every suffering soul who seems left aside, passed over, and forgotten by God. One could almost put it that God forgot them for a time in order to show they were never truly forgotten.

The Almighty has His own purposes, which we cannot know ahead of time.

They may or may not correspond with what we want, and almost certainly don’t correspond with what we expect. Probably most of them we won’t understand until after death, when we see the whole form of our lives and of history itself laid out before us. But we can catch glimpses of it even now: how often do we want something badly and are denied it only to find something far better later on, or to discover some truth of ourselves or the world that we may never have realized but for the opportunity created by this disappointment?

Much about the dating scene today, online or otherwise, seems to encourage discouragement. Like the man by the pool or the woman with the issue of blood, the case seems hopeless and intensely frustrating. But also like them, no doubt God has His plan for each of us, which He will bring to fulfillment when the time is right.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean we just keep doing the same thing as we’ve always done. Perhaps we should vary up our approach, perhaps we should explore other avenues. That’s as may be. But we should continue to make the effort, even when it seems pointless.

Find out more here

February 10 Reflections on the Year of St. Joseph

The present Liturgical Year has been declared a special year of St. Joseph.

Lord knows we need his intercession right now more than ever, but we won’t go into that.

Instead, in order to prepare ourselves properly to celebrate this year, let us reflect: who is St. Joseph?

He was a carpenter, which is to say a relatively respectable man in his community. Not wealthy, but what we might call comfortable, as he was able to travel and seek accommodations at an inn; though for a temple sacrifice, he could only afford the two turtledoves reserved for the less wealthy. He was what we might call a skilled tradesman, though he was of noble blood through at least two lines.

We are told he was a righteous man, as would only make sense. There is a venerable tradition that, like his wife, he had taken a vow of perpetual virginity from a young age. Certainly, he cared for and guarded the Blessed Virgin and her Divine Son for as long as he lived.

He is not directly quoted in Scripture at any point, though he serves as the protagonist of St. Matthew’s introductory material. This tells us of his doubts regarding whether to take his betrothed into his house after she was found with child (which the Saints tell us was not because he doubted her purity, but because he doubted his worthiness to be part of the Divine scheme) and of his angelically guided efforts to evade the persecutions of Herod.

More important than any of these details is the nature of his mission.

St. Joseph was the man fitted by God the Father to stand in His place to God the Son: the man who taught God to be a man.

In that curious household the natural hierarchy of the family—father, mother, child—was reversed: the child was greatest, the mother next in prominence, the father next after her. And yet (for such is the nature of goodness) at the same time it was not reversed. The Divine Child, we are told, was obedient to His human parents (Luke 2:51), and His immaculate mother was likewise obedient to her husband.

Responsibility thus fell to St. Joseph of caring for God’s two most perfect works. As Pharaoh elevated the Patriarch Joseph as his steward, so God made St. Joseph “master of his house and ruler of all his possession” (Psalms 104: 21).

Read more about St. Joseph here

The Mikado

I am rapidly becoming a full-bore Gilbert and Sullivan fan. Their plays are some of those works, like the writings of Shakespeare, Pope, and Dickens, that really show off the English language to its full power of rhythm, sound, and turns of meaning. As well, of course, of being set to absolutely beautiful music. I like musicals in general, but Gilbert and Sullivan are to a modern Broadway show what Rembrandt is to a comic book artist.

So, for your Saturday pleasure, I offer a full recording of The Mikado, one of the best such recordings that I’ve found (all too many recent versions of the play have the actors in western garb or even modern dress, which…just why? What happened to you?). This one features a great cast, including the immortal John Reed (who offered yesterday’s rendition of ‘Nightmare Song’ and was a foremost G&S performer for many years) as Koko. I also especially love Kenneth Sanford as Poo-Bah (“Oh, my proto-plasmic ancestors!”), who will forever be my definitive image of the role.

(I actually watched a version once which, while quite good, featured a thin Poo-Bah, which is like having a thin Falstaff!)

Set aside a few hours to be happy and enjoy!

Friday Flotsam: Slack Tide

1. As I think I’ve mentioned before now, I don’t currently belong to a parish, mostly because my living situation is not one that I want to ascribe any kind of permanency to. However, I have been attending one particular parish as a rule for some time now, mostly because they kept offering the Sacraments throughout the Imposition through a combination of parking-lot Masses / Confessions and just having a lot of space for people to filter out (that and they are not fussy about masks). They’re what I would call a ‘faithful Novus Ordo’ parish: they engage in the usual post-conciliar nonsense (Communion in the hand, children’s masses, etc.), but they at least attempt to center their worship and their preaching on Christ. In short, they strike me as sincerely trying, so it goes down a little easier than it might.

This week on Tuesday, they actually offered a Latin Mass for what I think is the first time. I of course made a point of going (that’s ‘of course’ because I want them to keep doing it, not ‘of course because I’m so bloody wonderful it’s only what you’d expect of me’) and intend to make it a regular thing if they continue it. Attending the Latin Mass after months of Novus Ordo is unspeakably refreshing. But the real surprise came on Ash Wednesday Mass. It was a Novus Ordo of course, but about halfway through I realized that the priest was celebrating it ‘ad oriens’ (facing the tabernacle for those who don’t know).

I think something is happening at that parish. We’ll have to wait and see how it all goes, but I took that as an encouraging sign. Perhaps the slack tide has begun.

2. ‘Slack Tide’, for those who don’t know, is when the tide has stopped advancing one way or the other before beginning to turn. Basically it means that everything still looks the same, but the underlying mechanics have already begun to reverse. So, historically speaking, early 1942 was ‘Slack Tide’ for the Axis powers: Germany was making rapid advancements in Africa and the Soviet Union, most of the Soviet Army had been trapped and destroyed, Rommel was closing in on the Suez Canal, and in the Pacific the Japanese were nearing the point of establishing bases within range of Hawaii and the West Coast.

Only, the underlying mechanics had already changed: they weren’t fighting the swaying, overspread British Empire alone anymore, they were facing the world’s largest nation, the world’s largest Empire, and the world’s largest economy. The Soviets were relocating their industry beyond the Urals where the Germans could never hope to touch it, neither Germany nor Japan had the capacity to strike any part of the American homeland, let alone its industrial base in the Midwest (not to mention that the US was functionally invincible as far as an invasion was concerned), and Britain alone was outproducing Germany in military material. Basically, if you could have looked at the actual facts of the situation, you could have seen that, contrary to all appearances, those facts were almost all against the Axis.

I sometimes have a sense that we are in such a period of Slack Tide both regarding the Church and the secular society. I obviously can’t say for sure (I don’t follow current events nearly closely enough to even approximate certainty), but that’s the overall impression I get. I think that what seem to be the obvious trends around us don’t actually represent what is going on ‘under the surface’, and that the next, say, ten or twenty years will be very different from what most of us expect at the moment.

That’s as far as I’ll go in terms of prediction.

3. Rather than trying for a third topic, I think I’ll just throw a bit of Gilbert and Sullivan at you

San Francisco International

On Saturdays I like to offer some form of entertainment. Sometimes it’s my own fiction, other times it’s bringing attention to something that I think is worth your time.

For today, I’m offering one of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite shows: Mystery Science Theater 3000, episode 614: San Francisco International. This, I think, is a fairly decent ‘introductory’ episode to MST3k: the movie is a lame TV pilot from 1970 (it actually went to series and ran for one season, though with a slightly different cast), cheesy, but not unwatchable, especially compared with some of the other films that appeared on the show.

The premise of the show is that it’s a melodrama about the trials and adventures of the workers at San Francisco International Airport. Think of it as a 70s disaster movie…with no disaster. I guess I can see something like this working, but you’d have to really try at it, get some very strong writers and charismatic actors. Or play it as a workplace comedy perhaps. Otherwise it’s just watching other people doing their jobs with a patently forced emergency every week. Like, the first regular episode of the series involved a military shipment of poison gas, and the next involved a general who might be assassinated. How would you keep this up for even one season without audiences either laughing over how disaster prone this airport is or else resolving never to fly again? And remember, this was filmed at the real San Francisco International Airport. I wonder who signed off on that idea? “We’ll do a show that depicts us having a deadly crisis every week: that’ll bring in the customers!”

On second thought, they should have had that guy as a character on the show. Though maybe that’s who the Pernell Roberts character is meant to be: the guy who does dramatic publicity stunts to try to draw attention to airport issues. I’m guessing his real-world counterpart didn’t keep his job for long.

That said, I actually enjoy the movie quite a bit. It’s unoffensive and there are some engaging scenes, mostly involving the effortlessly in charge Clu Gulager as the airport security chief. Both the thieves’ plot and Gulager’s ploy against them are genuinely clever. And as the guys point out, there are a *ton* of veteran character actors and TV mainstays in this thing: Pernell Roberts, Clu Gulager, Van Johnson(!), Walter Brooke, Tab Hunter, Dana Eclar, Nancy Malone, and so on (amusingly enough, this contributes to the ’70s Disaster Movie’ air, since those were usually stuffed with major stars. Here it’s stuffed with TV and character actors). Overall, the film goes down pretty easily: the kind of thing you might turn on as background noise while you’re doing something else.

It brings out some excellent riffing from Mike and the bots throughout (“Jeez, ever since Vatican II, you guys…”), though the best comes in the finale, where a sequence involving a troubled kid stealing a plane elicits some gaspingly-funny riffs (“The faces of those you’ve wronged will be showing up on your left”).

Enjoy