Saturday, 27 May 2017

The Benedict Option: that review at last

 
Scottish nominalist philosopher John Major (1467-1550) denying responsibility for the sins of modernity



Parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus...

Which, I should add, is a comment on my labours, not Rod Dreher's.

As I noted in my previous post, I've been putting off reading The Benedict Option. And then, having written that post and having released a flurry of tweets on the first few chapters,



I put off finishing it. I think that's a confession that I didn't really enthuse over it. But putting all that aside, I'm going to start off by suggesting two ways in which other readers -and indeed myself in part- have done the book a disservice by expecting it to be a different book.

1) It can't provide a detailed answer to everything. It's too short. It's written by a journalist not St Benedict. It has to appeal to a popular audience. Secularization is a phenomenon which has generated a vast academic literature and evangelism to the secularised: this book can't replace that depth of discussion and it's no use blaming it for not doing so.

2) It has to attract attention. This is a book written for the trade press and intended to reach a big audience.These are perfectly reasonable purposes, but it does mean that it has to be exciting and to grab its audience. Again, it's no use blaming the book for not coughing in ink.

Given those parameters, could the book be done any better? Possibly, but it's hard to imagine how. Moreover, I think Dreher's main purpose is simply a wake up call: unless Christians do something now, secularisation of some sort will continue to destroy church attendance and commitment. And I think he's absolutely right about that and I do think that most of us need to face this with greater alarm than we do. The perfect reader for this book is someone who is suspicious that things are going wrong in Christian practice, but who hasn't really thought much about the nature of that going wrong, and who has little idea what to do about it. If this were the first book you were reading about the subject, then it would be hard to better it. The worst reader? Probably someone like me...

Another needful prefatory remark is that this book is primarily (and explicitly) intended to deal with the US situation. Moreover (and this is less explicit) it's a book that works best if regarded at directed at a peculiarly American illusion: that with one big push, we can get a Republican government which will restore a Christian commonwealth. That this is an illusion is made clear by Dreher throughout: big business and big politics have signed up to an agenda that, while it may differ in detail between the two parties, in general offers no prospect of a general drift back to a Christian state. Neither of these two emphases prevents the book from having value for a non-American western audience, but they do mean that some of its focus needs to be critically reflected on in our different conditions. (For example, it is one thing to tell American Protestant Christians not to expect to be in the sort of control of society that they were, say, in the first half of the twentieth century; it is quite another to tell British Catholics to abandon a share in the public space that was crafted not in dominance but already as a despised minority.)

What's good about the book

It gets the broad nature of the challenge right: there are fewer and fewer Christians and they are failing to pass on their religion to their children. It gets the desperateness of the challenge right: we need to wake up and do something.

It presents a smorgasbord of interesting case studies, snapshots of imaginative and promising solutions and communities.

 It provides a proper and central place for cultivation of the self by ascesis in the way that the Orthodox and traditional Catholic would understand it: fasting, prayer, reading scripture, chastity etc.

What I didn't like

This is a personal bugbear. Dreher puts forward a 'it woz the nominalists wot dun it' view of cultural history. In rough terms, modernity is the result of a disenchantment of the universe caused by the rejection of realism of universals, particularly natural kinds, by thinkers such as William of Occam in favour of such universals existing solely in the mind. This is a commonplace of a lot of (semi and serious) scholarship, being popularised by eg Weaver's Ideas Have Consequences. I think it's broadly rubbish (eg: Occam died in 1347 and sexual intercouse began in 1963) but I'm possibly the only one to think this. (Tough. I'm still right.)

A more commonly shared worry might be that this diagnosis of the problem seems to serve no purpose. Unlike, say, Ed Feser's The Last Superstition, which shares a similar point of view, Dreher gives no hint that, if this is the main cause of present difficulties, the key treatment ought to be the restoration of realist metaphysics. Being a cynical soul, I'm afraid that this leads me to wonder if it is just intellectual shimmer, the need to give a sort of intellectual glamour to a brand much in the same way that former polytechnics import dark wood and Latin. (That's over sharp: the book does need to attract attention and part of the way of establishing that needful authority is by giving it an intellectual pedigree.)

Another problem is that, inevitably, Dreher doesn't have the space to develop and defend his solutions in detail. For example, at one point, he suggests that young Christians should think of moving to rust belt industrial areas which are struggling to find skilled workers rather than pursuing the sort of university education that is increasingly anti-religious and also ineffective at generating sufficient income to raise a family. Fine. But if I were a young Christian, I would be asking how long any such skills and industries will survive globalization and new technology. Members of high prestige professions are certainly not immune to such fears. But they do have the advantage of being well-placed to enforce their own self-interest. No doubt Dreher would have responses to worries of this kind. Inevitably, however, unless we attribute omniscience to him, all this book can do is to start a conversation in these areas. And equally inevitably, although some solutions may suit some people, they won't suit everyone, however committed a Christian you might be. A standing niggle I've found in common with a lot of modern Church life is that they seem to require a clubbability of a degree that I and suspect many are quite incapable of. It would be ironical if, in a scheme devoted to bringing Christians back to the depths of their traditions, no room could be found for the eremetical and solitary.

Staying with this inevitable lack of space for detail, the question of 'withdrawal' has figured in a lot of criticism of Dreher. In essence, he has been accused of a pre-emptive exit from the public sphere, instead of struggling to turn back some of the secularising forces. In fairness to Dreher, he is quite specific that this is only a refocusing of attention to building up the Church (rather than attempting to impose it through the Republican Party -see above) and not a complete withdrawal. But because he can't deal with detail, he can't quite flesh out what this withdrawal-but-not-a-withdrawal might look like. For example, in setting up Christian 'classical' schools, my betting would be there would be quite a lot of day to day struggling over the details: my own experience of Catholic groups is that they inevitably pull in people who do not share what I would regard as orthodox belief or practice. It's all very well to suggest 'set up your own school' as a Benedict Option; my guess would be that, in many cases, it will be very difficult to do so without reproducing some of the same difficulties that already plague existing Catholic schools. It's not that it can't (on occasions) be done: it's rather that, because it is so difficult to do, it will succeed in very few cases.

Putting aside the general tendency of a reviewer to recommend the writing of the sort of book the reviewer himself would write, my chief worry about The Benedict Option is that it doesn't provide a new solution. Already there exist small initiatives to 'rescue' gathered communities from the secular world. And that's excellent. We need more monks and nuns, more priests, more lay communities. But what works for the saints is not really the problem: some people in every generation will have both the grace and the virtues to grow to holiness. The problem of secularisation is the rest of us who struggle to survive and need the help of others to carry us. And here The Benedict Option is a bit like the underpants gnomes. Instead of, 'Steal underpants, become rich,' we have, 'Stop being secularised, become holy.'




In sum, Dreher has done a good job in starting a phenomenon of which the physical book, The Benedict Option, is only part. He has presented a forceful wake up call in a way that some who previously have been complacent or overly trusting in Republican politics might well heed to their benefit. But the start of a conversation is just that, a start. And my worry in particular is that the focus should not be on creating small faithful oases in a secular desert -there are many, many examples of organisations like Opus Dei etc etc doing that- but of irrigating the desert. I don't think The Benedict Option takes us very far in that: its recipes, in any case inevitably incomplete, will only work for a few.

The Benedict Option is an option. Fine. But it can't be the only one. Let's think of some more options to go with it.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Mass Readings in Scots: Feast of the Ascension (Year A)


First reading
Acts 1:1-11

The first historie I made, O Theophilus, anent a' that Jesus begude baith to do and to teach, till whatna day he was taen up, eftir that he had by the Holie Spirit gien commauns to the Apostles he had waled oot; and to wham he schawed his sel leevin eftir his sufferans, by mony sure and certain tokens, appearin to them throwe forty days, and speakin o’ the things anent the kingdom o’ God. And companyin wi’ them, chairged them no to gang awa frae Jerusalem, but to bide for the promise o’ the Faither, “ Whilk,” quo’ he, “ye hae heard o’ me. For in sooth John bapteez’t wi' watir, but ye sal be bapteez’t in Holie Spirit no mony days frae noo !”

And sae they, whan they cam thegither, speir’t at him, “Lord, do thou at this time bring back the kingdom to Isra’l?” And he said to them, “It isna for you to ken times and seasons, whilk the Faither has keepit in his ain haun. But ye sal hae strenth, eftir the Holie Spirit is come to ye; and ye sal be witnesses for me baith in Jerusalem, and in a’ Judea and Samaria, and to the far-awa’ ends o’ the yirth.”

 And whan he had said thir things, while they war lookin on, he was liftit up; and a clud happit
him oot o’ their sicht. And while they lookit, peerin intil the heavens, as he gaed up, twa men stude by them in white cleedin; wha said, “Ye men frae Galilee ! why staun ye peerin intil the lift? The same Jesus, wha has been ta’en frae you intil Heeven, sal come in like mainner as ye hae seen him gang intil Heeven.”

(From The New Testament in Braid Scots (1904) by William Wye Smith here)

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 46 (47): 2-3, 6-9

1. Ding wi the loof, O a' ye folk!

Lilt ye till God wi' the sugh o' a sang !

2. For the Lord owre a' is himlane till be fear'd;

atowre the hail yirth, a king fu' gran'.

5 God has gane up wi' a sugh ;
the Lord wi' the tout o' a swesch.

6 Sing ye till God, sing a sang :
sing a sang till our King, sing ye.


7 For God himlane, o' the hail yirth is King;

fu' wyssly till him sing ye.

8 God owre the hethen is king;
God sits on his thron, sae weel shiftit.


(From Psalm 47 (verse numbering retained), The Psalms: frae Hebrew intil Scottis P. Hately Waddell (1891) here)



Second reading
Ephesians 1:17-23


That the God o’ oor Lord Jesus Christ, the Faither o’ glorie, may gie ye a spirit o’ wisdom and revealin in his knowledge: yere inward een bein fu’ o’ licht, that ye may come to ken what the hope o’ his blythe-bidden is, what his rich inheritance o’ glorie i’ the saunts, and what the unmeasured vastness o’ his pooer toward us wha hae faith, e’en as by the up haudin o’ his micht, whilk he wrocht in Christ, raisin him frae ’mang the deid, and settin him doon amang a’ the heevenlies, at his ain richt-haun, far up aboon a’ rule, and authorise, and pooer, and dominion, and ilka name that is named, no alane i’ this warld, but eke in that that is to come: and "pat a’ things under his feet"; and gied him as heid ower a' things to the Kirk; whilk in sooth is his body, the completion o’ him wha completes a’ in a’ for himsel.

(From The New Testament in Braid Scots (1904) by William Wye Smith here)



Gospel
Matthew 28:16-20


And the xj discipilis went into Galilee, into ane hill quhar Jesus had ordanit thaim. And thai saw him, and wirschipit; bot sum of tham doutit. And Jesus com nere and spak to tham, and said, Al powere in heuen and in erde is gevin to me. Tharfor ga ye and teche al folkis, baptizing tham in the name of the Fader, and of the Sonn, and of the Haligast; Teching thame to kepe al thingis quhat euir thing I haue comandit to you ; and, lo, I am with yow in al dais, til into the ending of the warlde.

(From The New Testament in Scots Murdoch Nisbet [c.1520] (1901) vol 1 here)














Saturday, 13 May 2017

Mass readings in Scots: 5th Sunday in Easter (Year A)




First Reading:

Acts 6:1-7

Noo, i’ thae days, thar gat up a murmurin amang the Grecian Jews again the Hebrew anes, aboot
the weedows bein owerlookit i' the giean-oot o’ the daily breid. And the Twal’ brocht the thrang
o' the disciples thegither, and quo’ they, “It’s no bonnie that we soud lea’ the service o’ the Word o’ God, and ser’ tables. Sae, brethren, look ye oot frae ’mang yersels seeven men o’ gude name, wyss men, fu’ o’ the Spirit, that we may set ower this maitter. But we wull mainteen oorsels aye in prayer, and i’ the service o’the Word.”

And the word was weel thocht o’ o’ a’ the thrang; and they named Stephen, ane fu’ o’ faith and the Holie Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicapor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte frae Antioch. Wham they set fornent the Apostles; and whan they had prayed they set their hauns on them. And the word o’ God grew uncolie ; and the feck o’ the disciples multiply't in Jerusalem; and an unco thrang o’ the priests follow’t the faith.

(From The New Testament in Braid Scots (1904) by William Wye Smith here)
 
Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 32 (33):1-2, 4-5, 18-19
 
1 Rejoyce in the Lord, O ye richteous;
for prayse is cumlie in the upricht.

2 Prayse the Lord wi' herp;
sing untill him wi' the psaltrie, an' ane instriment o' ten strings.

4 For the wurd o' the Lord is richt;
an' a' his warks ar dune in trouth.

5 He loes richteousniss an' juudgemint;
the yirth is fu' o' the guidniss o' the Lord. 

18 Behald, the ee o' the Lord is apon thame that feær him,
apon thame that houpe in his mercie;

19 Til free thair saul frae deæth,
an' til keep thame alæive in scanth o' fude.
 
(From Psalm 33, in The Book of Psalms in Lowland Scotch by Henry Scott Riddell (1857) here)



Second Reading:
1 Peter 2:4-9


And nere ye to him, that is a leving staan, and repreuit of men, bot chosen of God, and honourit; And ye you self as quick staanis be ye abone biggit in to spirituale housis, and ane haly preesthede, to offir spirituale sacrifices, acceptabile to God be Jesu Crist. For quhilk thing the scriptur sais, Lo! I sal set in Syon the heichast kirnale staan, chosen and precious; and he that sal beleue in him, sal nocht be confonndit. Tharfor honour to you that beleues; bot to men that beleues nocht, the staan quham the biggaris repreuit, this is made into the hede of the kirnale; and the staan of hurting, and staan of sclandir, to thaim that offendis to the word, nouthir beleues it, in quhilk thai ar set.

Bot ye ar a chosen kynn, a kinglie preesthede, haly folk, a pepile of purchasing, that ye tell the virtues of him, that callit you fra mirknessis into his wondirful licht.

(From The New Testament in Scots (1520) by Murdoch Nisbet here)


Gospel:
John 14:1-12

"Dïnnae let yer hairts be sair annoyt. Pit yer trust ïn God, an lippen ïn me forbye. In ma Faither's hoose thair's monie dwallin-places. If that wusnae richt, A wudnae hae toul ye that A'm gaun tae mak a place readie fer ye, wud A noo? An whaniver A hae got a place readie fer ye, A'll cum an tak yis bak alang wi me, sae that whar A be, we'll aa be thegither. Yis ken whar A'm gaun, an yis ken tha róad tae whar A'm gaun."

Tammas turnt an saed til hïm, "Loard, we hae nae notion o whar ye'r fer, sae hoo cud we ken tha róad?" Jesus reponed, "A be tha róad, an tha truith, an tha life. Naebodie cums tae tha Faither but throu me. If ye knowed me weel, ye wud ken ma Faither as weel. Frae noo on, yis dae ken hïm an yis hae saa hïm forbye!"

Phïlip saed, "Loard, show iz tha Faither an that'll be eneuch fer iz." Jesus answert, "Dae ye no ken me Phïlip, tha mair A hae bin amang yis aa thïs time? Oniebodie lukkin at me haes saen tha Faither. Sae hoo can ye say, 'Show iz tha Faither?' Phïlip, dae ye no believe that A be ïn tha Faither an tha Faither's ïn me? Tha wurds A'm taakin til yis ir no jist ma ain. Na,  ït's tha Faither, leevin ïn me, wha's daein hïs wark. Tak ma wurd fer ït whaniver A say that A be ïn tha Faither an tha Faither ïs ïn me; or at the laist, trust me acause o tha warks yis hae saen me daein.

"Noo here's tha truith o ït, oniebodie that pits thair faith ïn me wull dae tha same warks that A dae. Ay, an he'll dae faur bïgger thïngs ner thon, fer A'm gaun tae be wi ma Faither."

(From Tha Fower Gospels  (2016) (Ulster-Scots), Ullans Press, ISBN: 978-1-905281-25-1, Amazon UK here,  Amazon US here.)

 
 

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Manent Mercerdi #9: after Macron?


I can't find anything that Manent has written specifically on the election of Macron to the French presidency, but the following excerpts from recent commentary might suggest a Manentian approach:

"The perils in question [of the project of 'significant numbers of the bien pensant [who] came to view both nations and classes as social forms to be steadily overcome' ] lay centrally in hoping for the democratic consent of the governed, while simultaneously eroding the main historical source of what Manent calls social ‘communion’. For it is principally the nation that, since the nineteenth century, has been the political focal point of identity, loyalty and accountability in Europe. Insofar as the EU has sought to shift these foci to other, supranational institutions and imperatives, it has embarked on an unprecedented project, one that is unparalleled, indeed, anywhere else in the world.

"In short, below each nation lies ‘civil society’, which remains politically and economically an insufficient object of aspiration; above each nation lies a putative ‘great, enormous European nation’, of indeterminate boundaries and without historical or cultural ballast. Between these sub- and supranational poles the EU finds itself without real moorings, refusing, as Manent puts it, to ‘define itself politically’, and hence taking on the character of ‘an imperious, indefinite, and opaque movement’."

(from 'What French philosophy can tell us about the EU, nationhood, and the decline of social democracy', Tom Angier here )


'Whereas the state can be neutral about religion and morality, society can never be neutral. In fact, the state’s neutrality, its formless character, is present precisely to protect the myriad beliefs, moral codes, and religious practices that comprise society. A secularism that preserves a flourishing society of diverse religious practice is completely different from a secularism that socially engineers a religiously neutral society. The latter would be a bland formless void, devoid of religious devotion, beauty, or character.

'The secularists who advance such a vision assume that Islam will reform by incorporating itself into France. In assuming this, they think that Islam should no longer be an objective value but rather be recognized as a subjective choice—a manifestation of individual rights rather than objective religious law. Muslims, of course, do not agree with this. For practicing Muslims, Islam is not a subjective choice. When Westerners treat it as one, they render themselves incapable of dealing with terrorism and the integration of Muslim immigrants.

'Manent argues that a radical secularist society, one that is formless because it refuses to be shaped by any religious inheritance, is incapable of inviting outsiders to join it. Just as a house must have walls for the host to invite a guest into it, so a society must have customs, ceremonies, and convictions to invite outsiders to join. But a radical secularist society has none of these things: no borders, no common customs, no ceremonies, no education about a common national life, no patriotism. Without common political life, a country has nothing to offer those coming from outside.'

(from 'Vive la Résistance!' in the Washington Free Beacon, by Ian Lindquist here)

'Now, with the rise of Islamic immigration, France faces the ultimate test of its own new political ideals: the growing strength of a minority that rejects diversity, rejects the supremacy of the individual, and therefore rejects the very ideology that allowed the minority to grow.
The only solution, Manent argues, is for France to insist that Muslims accept a role as French citizens, as participants in a common enterprise. But that cannot be if native French citizens do not first acknowledge their role as citizens rather than autonomous individuals.

'What is the difference between citizens and individuals? Citizens recognize their duties along with their rights. Small children will always behave as individuals. In a healthy society their parents behave as citizens—because there is no better way to train people in the habits of accepting responsibility than giving them the care of their own children.'

(from Phil Lawler, 'Apres moi le deluge', Catholic Culture, here)

Friday, 5 May 2017

The Benedict Option: Prolegomena to any future blogpost that will be able to present itself as a review



I've been putting off tackling The Benedict Option . It's been sitting next to my bed since publication and frankly I'm a little scared at having to read and then comment on it. Anyway, procrastination away! After having finished this post, I shall tackle it and report thereon.

This resolution is in part to do with a Twitter discussion that's been going on for a little while in the Catholic UK blogosphere about the new Catholic Education Service's guidance on LGBTQIIAA+ matters. (Countercultural Father here and Joseph Shaw here give a flavour of the report and the debate.) I simply don't have enough detailed expertise in either English education or the legal/regulatory framework on such matters to get too involved in this. The pressure to adopt the Time for Inclusive Education framework will undoubtedly hit us in Scotland with similar issues shortly. But I did leap in with an expression of sympathy for the dilemma faced by the Catholic Education Service: how to deal with a cultural (and legal etc) environment that frames the discussion and sets out questions to be answered in a way that does not sit easily with Catholic understandings of anthropology, and where that discussion seems to be entirely controlled by LGBTQIIAA+ pressure groups such as Stonewall.

This issue seems to me to be very much at the centre of Dreher's concerns: how an authentically Christian life can be lived out in an environment which is becoming hostile to Christianity. (That doesn't necessarily mean persecution, but it does mean (eg) that expressions of the sinfulness of homosexual sex are no longer 'acceptable' and even in some environments legal.) His solution -well, to be considered!- but the essence is clearly some sort of strategic withdrawal into a more thoroughgoingly Christian space than that offered by a secularising society.

Anyhow, I'm a great believer in Collingwood's idea that you should approach an (archaeological) investigation with questions to be answered rather than just digging around at random. Accordingly, I set out below some of the issues I'm going into this investigation with to see if I can sort them out.

1. Modesty of ambition. One of the reasons I've been so reluctant to tackle the book is that I worry there'll be nothing new there. At various times, I've read quite deeply in the literature surrounding secularisation theory and Stanley Hauerwas so I'm familiar with the difficulties that Christians face in modernity and suggestions about how they should form authentically Christian communities. Dreher's work is short (less than 75000 words I believe) and written by a journalist. So I want to find out: what does it offer that's new? (My suspicion is that it's going to provide some interesting insights into some modern ways of concretely living out Christianity. But it has also provided a 'buzz' around this important issue, and that's a good thing I suspect: we need to be thinking about this more.)

2. Specificity of tradition. Dreher is Orthodox, but the book seems to cover 'mere Christianity' without much worry about denominational differences. I want to see whether this helps or hinders his message. (My suspicion here is that we need to dig deeply into our specific traditions. Catholicism isn't Orthodoxy and neither are Evangelical Protestantism. I would expect the problems and solutions facing each tradition to be different.)

3. Outreach to the non-saints. My main worry is the apparent focus on the gathered saints (or at least saints in making). Catholicism has been a religion of saints doing their best to save a lot of sinners despite themselves. I want to find out: how does Dreher suggest that the 'Benedict' communities reach out to people who are not focused on being saints, but who might just get dragged to purgatory with the grace of sacraments?

4. Finally, inter-community structures and practices. Three things that have really had an impact on my religious life are EWTN, the internet and the Catechism. None of these seem easily into the model of a Benedictine community which is at the heart of the analogy. So I want to know: does Dreher's analysis do justice to the ways in which part of the response to the fluidity of modernity is, to borrow from Evola, 'to ride the tiger' rather than run away from it?

As a final point, part of my reluctance is that I want to like the book and I'm afraid I won't. Inasmuch as one can like a public persona, I do like Rod Dreher: he seems like an honest man trying to do honest things. That's difficult to reconcile with the need in the American religious market to become a personal brand; but although I worry that I should probably be spending the time I'm going to spend on the Benedict Option on Duns Scotus and Suarez, he does seem to be trying to deal with an important issue with integrity, and I want to be able to respect and indeed praise him for that.

No doubt other things will emerge. But that's what I'm aiming to get at just now. Wish me luck: I'm going in....





Saturday, 29 April 2017

Mass readings in Scots: 3rd Sunday in Easter (Year A)




First reading
Acts 2:14,22-33
 

 
Bot Petir stude with the elleuen, and raasit vp his voce, and spak to thame. Ye men of Israel, here ye thir wordis. Jesus of Nazareth, a man previt of God before you be virtues, and wonndris, and taknis, quhilkis God did be him in the myddis of you, as ye wate, Ye tormentit, and slew him be the handis of wickit men, be counsale determinit and betakin be the forknawing of God. Quham God raasit, quhen sorowis of hell war vnbundin, be that that it was impossibile that he war haldin of it. For Dauid sais of him,
 
I saw on ferre the Lord before me euirmare,
for he is on my richthalf, that I be nocht mouet.
For this thing my hart ioyit,
and my tonng made full out ioy,
and mare ouir my flesch sal rest in hope.
For thou sal nocht leeue my saul in hell,
nouthir thou sal geue thin hali to se corruptloin.
Thou has made knawne to me the wayis of lijf,
thou sal fill me in mirth with thi face.
 
Brether, be it leefull hardilie to say to you of the patriarch Dauid, for he is dede and berysit, and his sepulture is amang vs in to this day. Tharfor quhen he was a prophet, and wist that with a gret athe God had suorn to him, that of the fruit of his leynd suld aan sit on his sete, He seand on ferre spak of the resurrectioun of Crist, for nowthir he was left in hell, nouthir his flesch saw corruptioun. God raasit this Jesu, to quham we all ar witnessis. Tharfor he was vpheit be the richthand of God, and throuch the behecht of the Haligaast that he tuke of the fader, he sched out this spirit, that ye se and here.

(From Murdoch Nesbit's translation into Scots (1520) here.)




Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 15(16):1-2,5,7-11


1. Waird me weel, O God,
I lippen till yerlane.

2 Ye hae said until the Lord,
My Lord, ye 're a' my ain; I hae nought that 's gude, abune yersel.

5 The Lord himsel's the fow o' my ha'din an' my caup;
my luck yerlane hae lucken'd.

7 I maun blythe-bid the Lord, wha gies me wyss rede;
an' my lisk, night by night, hauds me ay learnin.

8 The Lord evirmair hae I set fornenst mysel:
for he's at my right han', I sal ne'er be sair steerit.

9 Wharthro' my heart 's fu' fain, an' my gudeliheid fu' blythe is:
na, my vera bouk itsel bides in tryst.

10 For my saul ye winna lea' i' the lang hame o' dead;
ye winna gie yer dearest ane till see the sheugh o' dule.

11 Yersel sal gar me ken the vera gate o' life:
routh o' joies afore thy face is;
pleasurs thrang at thy right han' evir mair.

(From P. Hately Waddell's translation of Psalm 16 (1891) here)

 
Second reading
1 Peter 1:17-21

And gif ye inwartly call him fader, quhilk deemys without acceptioun of persounns be the werk of ilkman, leeue ye in drede in the tyme of your pilgrimage; Witting that nocht be corruptabile gold, or siluir, ye ar boucht agane of your vane leving of fadris traditioun, Bot be the precious blude as of the lambe vndefoulit and vnspottit, Crist Jesu, That was knawne befoir the making of the warld, bot he is schawit in the last tymes, for you That be him ar faithfull in God; that raasit him fra dede, and gaue to him euirlasting glorie, that your faith and hope war in God.


 (From Murdoch Nesbit's translation into Scots (1520) here.)


GospelLuke 24:13-35

And mark! twa frae ’mang them war gaun on their journey, that vera day, till a village seeven or aucht mile frae Jerusalem, ca’d Emmaus. And they spak thegither o’ a’ thae things that had happened. And it cam aboot, as they war speakin and reasonin thegither, Jesus his sel cam nar, and gaed wi’ them. But their sicht was hauden, that they soudna ken him. And he says to them, “Whatna words are thae that ye hae ane to anither, as ye gang on ?” And they stude still, wi’ a sorrowfu' look.

But ane, by name Cleopas, answer’t, “Div ye bide by yere lane in Jerusalem, and hae-na kent a’ the things that hae cam aboot i’ thir days ?” And he said, “Whatna things?” And they said to him, “Anent Jesus o’ Nazareth, that was a prophet, a man michty in deed and word, in God’s sicht, and o’ a’ the folk. “And in whatna way oor Heid-prieets and Rulers deliver’t him up to deid, and hae crucify’t him. But we lippened it wad hae been he that was to deliver Isra’l ; and forby a’ this, the day is the third day sin’ thae things war dune. Aye! and a wheen weemen o’ oor ain gar’t us be astonish’t — gaun ear' to the tomb, and no findin his corp, they cam sayin they had seen a vision o’ angels, that said he was leevin ! And some that war o’ us gaed to the tomb ; and faund it e’en as the weemen had said ; but they sawna him.”

And he says to them, “Oh, glaikit anes ! and dour in yere hearts to lippen to the things the Prophets hae said. Was’t no for the Christ to suffer thae vera things ? and to enter intil his glorie ?” And, beginnin frae Moses, and frae a’ the Prophets, he made plain to them in a’ the Scripture the things anent himsel.

And they cam nar to the village they war gaun till; and he lookit as gin he was gaun on. But they pressed him, sayin, “Bide ye wi’ us! the day is far gane, and the nicht is comin!” And he gaed in to stop wi’ them. And it cam aboot, whan he was sutten doon wi’ them to meat, he took the laif, and bless’d; and breikin it, gied till them. And their e’en war unsteekit ; and they kent him! and he dis- appear frae them. And they said ane to the ither, “Did oor heart no lowe within us, while he was speakin to us on the way, and exponin to us the word !”

And they raise up that vera oor, and gaed back till Jerusalem, and faund foregather’t the Eleeven, and thae wi’ them, sayin, “The Lord did rise! and appear’t to Simon !” And they war tell in the things by the road ; and hoo he was made kent to them i’ the breikin o’ breid.

(From William Wye Smith's translation (1904) here.)



















Friday, 28 April 2017

New venture: Mass readings in Scots language


                                                       Lazarus dressed for blogging

Ninian Winzet's savaging of John Knox in 1563 for forgetting "our auld plane Scottis quhilk zour mother lerit you." Winzet, McClure explains, was merely ladling on yet more irony in questioning why Knox had not answered the doctrinal questions Winzet had earlier posed: perhaps you are unable to read my handwriting; perhaps you have forgotten your mother tongue. For the purpose of his argument, Winzet could allege a difference in language between his own "plane Scottis" and the variety of English Knox had adopted as part of an excessive "curiositie of nouatiounis."

From: 
Bailey, Richard W. (1991) "Scots and Scotticisms: Language and Ideology," Studies in Scottish Literature: Vol. 26: Iss. 1. (Available at: http://scholarcommons.sc.edu/ssl/vol26/iss1/7 )


David Leask has been banging on a while now about the way Unionists have amongst other things) developed a neuralgic reaction to the Scots language (eg Herald article here). I wouldn't put it quite the way he does, but I do think there's a general problem of political debate in Scotland becoming simplified into the one issue of 'Independence -for or against?' and of other important questions becoming weaponized by both sides in the attempt to win this one battle.

From the 'progressive' Nationalist side, I don't suppose I need to make a case for Scots. (Although in principle, the justification for an emphasis on Scots ought to be problematic in such circles, even if in fact it isn't.)

Turning to the Right, to the extent that the Right is now synonymous with Unionism in Scotland, there is no particular reason why Scots as a language should be a target. There can be different views on its importance, but there is no obvious reason in principle why hostility to Scots is entailed by hostility to Scottish Independence: one of the great pleasures in reading Walter Scott's canon recently was the discovery of just how well he uses Scots in a variety of different registers. (And no obvious SNP-er he.) I sympathise with a kneejerk reaction to the nonsense that graces the pages of The National and to  political Nationalist attempts to coopt the language, but what is kneejerk needs to be resisted. Conservatives need to be much smarter than this: culture is much, much more important than politics.

But, digging a little more deeply, what of a conservatism that is not simply identical with Unionism? Difficult though it may be to peer through the fog of war and see the underlying principles at stake here, it's essential that those of us who (at least in broad terms) think of ourselves as cultural conservatives don't fall into the trap of a simple identification with the Conservative Party and thus Unionism (because the Scottish Conservative Party is self declared as progressive and because, in any case, social conservatives do not have to be supporters of the Conservative Party) or of a simple identification of Unionism and conservatism. I think the former point is relatively straightforward, so it's to the latter I turn.

Imagine for a moment that I am a Kirkian or Scrutonian conservative. Let's adopt the (somewhat ill-fitting) title of 'palaeo-conservative' as shorthand. Why would I be hostile to Scots (quite apart from necessarily hostile to Nationalism or Independence)? I put aside as utterly irrelevant the question of whether or not it is a proper language: it is at the least a proper dialect, and one with a rich, longstanding literature. With an emphasis on the local and the imaginative, and quite simply the preservation of what has been, why would I be resistant to at least preserving (quite apart from promoting) Scots? I struggle to think of an answer except for the assertion that there are more important things to think about. Possibly. But one of the key elements at least of Russell Kirk's conservatism is its element of fancy and eccentric individuality: if people see fit (as many whom I admire do) to spend their time promoting and thinking about Tolkien, then why should not those of us whom Tolkien leaves rather cold, spend time thinking about and preserving Scots?

Beyond this, I think there is a special duty on Scots Catholics to re-imagine and re-enchant Scotland. There has been a strong current in English Catholicism, seen both in Walsingham and the sense of England as Our Lady's Dowry, to remember and wish to recreate at least in imagination, an England in which the Reformation never happened or at least has been healed. For whatever reasons, this sense is rather diminished in Scotland. (The main exception to this in recent years has been George Mackay Brown, but, even here, his emphasis on Orkney reduces his impact on non-Scandinavian Scotland.) So what would a Scotland freed from the poison of the Reformation look like? What would it be for it to live as a daily reality its status as Specialis Filia Romanae Ecclesiae? Well, for one thing, at the very least a greater awareness of the mediaeval literary heritage in Scots. (Back to Dunbar, indeed.)

Anyway, let him wha will be a traitor knave. I don't know what other shenanigans I'll get up to on this, but, from this Sunday (and at least monthly thereafter until -as per usual- I get bored) I'll be posting selected Mass readings in Scots. These will be pilfered from a variety of sources rather than my own workings and this will doubtless result in a number of absurdities. (On present estimates, I'll need to make use of at least some readings in modern Ulster Scots as well as in Scotticised Middle English. (I don't totally dismiss the possibility of resorting to machine translation either.) The resulting linguisic tensions can either be ignored or celebrated as a re-enactment of the linguistic tensions necessarily involved in the original language texts of a 'book' which has been assembled by the Church from a variety of texts produced over centuries.) As with so many other ventures, I am happy to do it badly with a view to others eventually doing it better.

A couple of final points. First, everything I say above in favour of Scots could be said of Gaelic but with even greater force. That I say nothing here of Gaelic is a result entirely of my very, very limited acquaintance with that language. Secondly, none of this is to be taken as suggesting that actual Masses should be said in Scots. I suppose there is an argument in favour of such a view, but it's not one that I'm engaged in. (For what it's worth, I would ban all experiments in the language of the Mass for 1000 years and, if there is a lust for linguistic variety, urge a greater use of Scotland's other great historic language, Latin. But that's for another day.) My purpose here (quite apart from its being a simple jeu d'esprit) is simply to allow that imaginative reception of the liturgy into a wider culture that can be seen (eg) in mediaeval mystery plays and church decoration, and the transformation of that wider culture by a Catholic presence. (Pie in the Sky in practice, no doubt, but at least (ignored) there will be in principle a Catlick presence in a field too often dominated by Proddy, Secularist (and Ginger) Dugs.)











Sunday, 23 April 2017

Second Sunday of Easter (Low Sunday): sermon of Lancelot Andrewes




A brotherhood, we grant, was begun  then at Christmas by his birth, as upon that day, for 'lo then was he born'. But so was he now also at Easter; born then too, and after a better manner born.

[...]

There was then a new betting this day. And if a new begetting, a new paternity, and fraternity both. But the 'Today I have begotten thee' of Christmas, how soon was he born of the Virgin's womb he became our brother, sin except, subject to all our infirmities; so to mortality, and even to death itself. And by death that brotherhood had been dissolved, but for this day's rising. By the 'Today I have begotten thee' of Easter, as soon as he was born again of the womb of the grave, be begins a new brotherhood, founds a new fraternity straight; adopts us, we see, anew again by his 'my brethren' (John 20:17), and thereby he that was 'first-begotten from the dead' becomes 'the first-begotten' in this respect 'among many brethren' (Romans 8:20) Before he was ours, now we are his. That was by the mother's side; so, he ours. This is by 'your Father', the Father's side; -so, we his. But half-brothers before, never of the whole blood till now. Now by father and mother both, twin brothers, most fraternal brothers, we cannot be more.

To shut up all in a word, that of Christmas was the fraternity arising out of 'my God and your God'; so then brethren. This of Easter, adopting us to his Father, was the fraternity of 'my Father and your Father'; so brethren now.

[Excerpt from today's reading in the Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham. 'A Sermon preached before the King's Majesty, at Whitehall, on the twenty-first of April A.D. MDCXXII, being Easter-Day'. (Many of Andrewes' sermons can be found online here. But not this one!)]

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Easter Sunday



O blessed day of the Resurrection, which of old time was called the Queen of Festivals, and raised among Christians an anxious, nay contentious diligence duly to honour it! Blessed day, once only passed in sorrow, when the Lord actually rose, and the disciples believed not; but ever since a day of joy to the faith and love of the Church! In ancient times, Christians all over the world began it with a morning salutation. Each man said to his neighbour, 'Christ is risen'; and his neighbour answered him, 'Christ is risen indeed, and hath appeared unto Simon'. Even to Simon, the coward disciple who denied him thrice, Christ is risen; even to us, who long ago vowed to obey him, and have yet so often denied him before men, so often taken part with sin, and followed the world, when Christ called us another way.

 'Christ is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon!': to Simon Peter the favoured Apostle, on whom the Church is built, Christ has appeared. He has appeared to his Holy Church first of all, and in the Church he dispenses blessings, such as the world knows not of. Blessed are they if they knew their blessedness, who are allowed, as we are, week after week, and Festival after Festival, to seek and find in that Holy Church the Saviour of their souls! Blessed are they beyond language or thought, to whom it is vouchsafed to receive those tokens of his love, which cannot otherwise be gained by man, the pledges and means of his special presence, in the Sacrament of his Supper; who are allowed to eat and drink the food of immortality, and receive life from the bleeding side of the Son of God!

[Extract from today's reading from the sermons of Blessed John Henry Newman in The Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham, p.319.]

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Sex (and Aristotle)


Mudblood Catholic (Gabriel Blanchard) is currently doing an excellent series of posts (first here) in response to Ed Feser's equally excellent natural law analysis of sex (best to start from this blogpost here accompanied by reading Feser's paper referred to in the article).

As Gabriel has not yet finished his series of posts and because I simply don't have the Lenten patience to give the topic a complete response, what follows is inevitably incomplete. Instead I'm going to focus on some key features of an Aristotelian reaction to what I've read so far, on the grounds that the Aristotelian background is sometimes assumed rather than stated by Aquinas' position (and thus sometimes overlooked by later Thomist thinkers) and, in any case, is of interest in itself. (It is of course anyway the privilege of an analytic Thomist not to be consistently Thomist and sometimes to try on the mantle of analytic Aristotelianism instead.) I'd stress that the following is simply a reflection on some points in the existing analyses: it claims neither completeness nor aspires directly to correct or refute either Feser or Blanchard.

The first thing to note is that Catholicism allows and even requires philosophical thinking in morality. There is a widely held non-Catholic suspicion that philosophy dies with Catholic dogmatic religion: that answers, being laid out and decided, form a telephone directory of morality rather than, say, the desperate existential, but open-ended quest that seems to typify the earlier dialogues of Plato. This is simply false as both the Blanchard/Feser exchange shows as well as does even a passing familiarity with the internal disputes of mediaeval scholasticism. Quite why this is so is a different matter and one that would require a much more extended discussion than I can provide here. But in any case (an insight I think I owe to Leo Strauss) unlike the legalised reasoning of Islam and Judaism, Christianity to a great extent can embrace the fluidity of the philosophical life in a way that these other revealed religions cannot: roughly, the tension between Athens and Jerusalem is one internal to Christianity and external to Judaism and Islam. So the first point is that understanding sex and the morality of sex for Catholics involves hard philosophical thought: it is not something that can be simply read off the page of a dogmatic codex. (I should note in passing that this philosophical requirement is not necessarily one for each individual but for the Church as a whole. I however pass over the details of this for the present.)  To translate this into Aristotelian terms, the tentativeness about moral reasoning that is found throughout the Nicomachean Ethics and the Politics is one that is not foreign to Catholicism. To translate this into Blanchard/Feser terms, the debate between them is entirely to be expected and welcomed. As Gabriel notes:

I started having problems with it immediately, which was delicious. People don’t usually realize how spacious Catholicism really is. Seeing it from the outside, they perceive the dogmas merely as boundaries—and they are in one sense, but they are much more like LEGOs: the defined structure is what lets you do all the fun stuff.

The second thing to note is that, coupled with this philosophical openness is indeed a dogmatic certainty. In the present case, for example, homosexual intercourse is clearly morally wrong: I won't attempt to defend that here except to note that, for 2000 years, that's been the clear teaching. Whatever the philosophical openness, there is also a dogmatic closure. This element of brute assertion is also typical of Aristotle:

That is why in order to be a competent student of the noble and the just, and in short of the topics of politics in general, the pupil is bound to have been well trained in his habits. For the starting point is the fact that a thing is so; if this be satisfactorily ascertained, there will be no need also to know the reason why it is so. (EN I 1095b)

The combination of these first two points is that moral philosophy will have to deal with some moral truths being clearly established and yet the precise reasoning for those truths being open to the sort of fluidity of debate typical of philosophical discussion.

Related to those points is a third point: that what is clear to the wise (moral) person (phronimos) will not be clear to those who are not.

Virtue then is the settled disposition of the mind determining the choice of actions and emotions, consisting essentially in the observance of the mean relative to us, this being determined by principle, that is, as the prudent man [phronimos] would determine it. (EN II 1106b-1107a)

Consequently the unproved assertions and opinions of experienced and elderly people, or of the prudent [phronimoi], are as much deserving of attention as those which they support by proof; for experience has given them an eye for things, and so they see correctly. (EN VI 1143b)

To sum all this up, there will be limits in what philosophical reasoning can establish, both in terms of coming to clear conclusions and in terms of coming to conclusions which might overthrow the common sense of the wise person. (At this point, we might add as Catholics, the certainties of revealed teaching will help. But the space for certainties intruding into philosophical reasoning from external wisdom has already been made by Aristotle.)

More specifically, in relation to the Blanchard/Feser debate, at some points, what will be clear to the clear sightedness of the moral will not be clear to those of us who are not so gifted. We may remain unconvinced by their arguments. But that does not mean that we are right not to be so convinced: such a failure is a result of our lack, either because we are corrupt or because we are in some other way impaired. As the modern neo-Aristotelian Rosalind Hursthouse puts it:

Aristotle's view allows that his answer will not work for everyone. It fails for two different sorts of people. One is the sort of person who has been sufficiently corrupted by their upbringing not to be able to see anything amiss in the life of the person who is 'successfully' non-virtuous...The other sort of person for whom Aristotle's answer may not work would be an 'unnatural' human being... (Hurthouse in Warburton, 2005, pp182-183)

Given the Catholic understanding of the effects of original sin, particularly on concupiscence, all of us are likely to find ourselves constantly wondering how many of our own judgments are thus impaired.


I now move on to a different aspect of the debate. One may be an Aristotelian either in believing that Aristotle has usefully set out a basic framework of approaching ethics, and/or in believing that how he applies that framework has produced useful results. So, for example, one might accept that the basic Aristotelian approach sketched above (and perhaps adding such matters as teleology) is a good approach to sexual ethics, while denying that the sort of traditional Aristotelian conclusions on such ethics are actually necessitated by such an approach. Aristotle's own treatment of sex, for example, is primarily set out in Books VIII and IX of the Nicomachean Ethics where it is seen as part of the overarching concept of philia (friendship) rather than through, say, the prism of Lewis' The Four Loves. It would be perfectly possible to argue that Aristotle is correct in his basic approach to ethics while suggesting that the treatment of sexual ethics in the Nicomachean Ethics is inadequate. Indeed, it would be hard to argue that sexual ethics is adequately treated by Aristotle because he says very little indeed about it. That said, I am going to argue that what Aristotle does say provides a rather more helpful starting point than (say) Lewis' divisions between the four various types of love (which form an important part of Blanchard's analysis).

Aristotle's analysis of friendship divides it into three main types: that of virtue, that of pleasure and that of usefulness. The friendship of husband and wife is, in terms of its function, one of pleasure (obvious), one of usefulness (both in procreation and other support) and also potentially of virtue 'if the partners be of high moral character' (EN VIII 1162a). A number of points emerge from this analysis.

First, a philosophical analysis can be useful for what it leaves out or passes over as well as for what it includes. I confess that Aristotle's rather brisk way with sexual feelings and romantic attraction attracts me. As he says elsewhere:

We must therefore be content if, in dealing with subjects and starting from premises thus uncertain, we succeed in presenting a broad outline of the truth...for it is the mark of an educated mind to expect that amount of exactness in each kind which the nature of the particular subject admits (EN I 1094b).

That many writers over the years have agonised over the nuances of romantic sensibility does not mean that every nuance so produced is worthwhile: in addition to the erratic nature of the sensibilities of fallen humanity, in general some oversensitivity to detail will tend to disguise the core of the matter. (I find for example the erotic hesitancies and wanderings of Iris Murdoch's characters often intensely irritating in this way and long for a brisk sensibility such as that of Flora Poste.)

Secondly, sex is analysed primarily through the household and the nucleus of that household, the man/woman couple. In essence, this is because the tele (ends) of the organism and parts of the organism make sense within an overall ordering of the cosmos: the species imitates eternity by its eternal existence while its members undergo a cycle of birth, procreation and death. The individual's life takes place within the social units of (eg) the state and the household, which themselves have goals and to which the individual's actions are subordinated and contribute. In other words, sexual activity and the proper use of the sexual organs forms part of an ordered structure of the universe and cannot be understood or even noticed apart from that structure.

Why does that matter? Well, take Blanchard's following observation:

Thirdly—and this is a lesser point, but it’s important, given the claims made by Neo-Scholasticism for what shows something to be natural—it must be pointed out, as a matter of historical record, that romantic love was not regarded as a dignified or spiritual phenomenon until the twelfth century, at least in Christendom and its Euro-Levantine predecessors—except, in Greece and later in Rome, for homosexual Eros. To revere romantic love, that fanatical, self-abasing, inconstant, reckless, and involuntary phenomenon, was as ridiculous to our Christian ancestors of the early Middle Ages as it was to their pagan ancestors of the classical era. Nor, until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, was the romantic tradition linked to marriage even by Romantics; for the Troubadours who originated the tradition of courtly love, adultery was of its essence. The idea that Eros is shown by actual human habits to be naturally directed toward marriage is an artifact of a long and localized cultural development—or, more bluntly, pure moonshine.


Now I take an Aristotelian response here to be something along the following lines. People have all sorts of desire for pleasure. To the extent that romantic love is just a desire for pleasure, it hardly matters. (One might as well worry about the finer points of playing tiddly winks. Even if you are very keen on tiddly winks, it still doesn't matter that much.) It does matter to the extent that it is directed or can be directed towards one of the great ends of human nature. The most obviously relevant one here is that of creating the household (and thus ensuring the continuity of the species by procreation and education of the children). The erotic disorder of romantic love needs to be canalised to that end. (And despite the received wisdom that in long term marriages, such romantic intensity burns low after the initial turbulence, as a member of such a long term relationship, I think I'd have to say that, in many ways, though undoubtedly canalised towards sustaining a childbearing household, its intensity has grown to an extent I never would have dreamed of as being possible those many years ago.)

But in addition to that creation of the household, Aristotle would also have pointed to the greatest end of human beings as being relevant here: that of the contemplation of divine things (EN X 1177a). That contemplation is easier with a few co-workers (1177b) but in general requires minimal external help.

But the friendship of the good is good and grows with their interaction. And they seem actually to become better by putting their friendship into practice, and because they correct each other's faults, for each takes the impress from the other of those traits in him that give him pleasure -whence the saying:

             Noble deeds from noble men.

(EN IX 1172a)

The telos of contemplation is aided by having a few friends. That is possible within a good marriage (although it is certainly not either exclusive to marriage or indeed necessary to marriage). The household by its other directedness of procreation and education of children disciplines romantic love towards the second best life of active moral virtue (EN X 1178a). In the best scenario, it can also discipline romantic love towards the end of contemplation. Both those ends matter because they fit into the wider pattern of the cosmos (through the imitation of eternity in procreation and death, and in the imitation of god by contemplation of the divine). To the extent that romantic love can be turned towards those great ends, it matters. But to the extent it cannot, it is only a constellation of bodily pleasures, the precise nature of which hardly matters at all. (So to take up Blanchard's point, that romantic love is only a comparative late comer to our cultural imaginary and to our understanding of marriage is really neither here nor there: only to the extent that it fits in with the understanding of human teleology sketched above should it be be attended to. However marriage as the possible site of important and virtuous friendship is there in Aristotle, and. I'd suggest, it is this rather than the focus on romantic love which provides a sounder base for the analysis of marriage's (and hence sex's) importance.)


Let me try to sum up the main points of this post:

1) An Aristotelian analysis of love (and of other things) will not always be obvious to all people (or indeed in parts to anyone!) It requires hard philosophical thought and debate. (And may need to be resolved by the assertion of the wise or revelation.)

2) Aristotle's own analysis of romantic love is quite coarse grained and leaves out a lot of detail that later thinkers might introduce. This may well be an advantage.

3) For any human activity, it is always necessary to ask towards what goal it is directed. That direction in turn will fit into a wider, teleological understanding of the universe as a whole. Without that understanding of the whole, it is likely that the telos (and thus nature) of the part will be misunderstood.

4) Sexual attraction is to be analysed primarily in the context of the procreating household and the establishment of the male/female pair. Other cases are of marginal importance.










Saturday, 25 February 2017

Plutarch on post truth

          




And why should any one be astonished that men of wanton life lose no occasion for offering up sacrifices, as it were, of contumelious abuse of their superiors, to the evil deity of popular envy...?      To such degree, it seems, is truth hedged about with difficulty and hard to capture by research, since those who come after the events in question find that lapse of time is an obstacle to their proper perception of them; while the research of their contemporaries into men's deeds and lives, partly through envious hatred and partly through fawning flattery, defiles and distorts the truth.

Plutarch, Pericles, 13 (here) (Greek text: here)


Quanquam quid attinet admirari homines instituto vitae satyricos, quique obtrectationes potentium invidiae vulgi, tanquam alcui malo genio, consecrare solerent...? Adeo difficilis investigatu res est historia vera, cum posterioribus praeteritum tempus, cognitionem rerum praeripiat, qui vero aequales sunt ejus, cujus vitam aut actum describunt, ii partim invidia odioque, partim gratificandi studio et adulatione corrupti, veritati officiant.

(Latin translation p192 here)


Notable for the tendency relatively absent in modern discussions to attribute the difficulty in finding truth largely to personal vices. Again, there is an emphasis on the general bad character (rather than occasional loss of control) of those standing in the way of truth, as well as a hint of idolatrous worship of the δαίμονι κακῷ/malo genio ('evil deity'). Moreover the role of 'fawning flattery' is raised: I suspect the role of this desire to please others is an often overlooked part of online dogpiles. (The phrase 'virtue signalling' for example emphasises our expressiveness rather than trying to please the person(s) signalled to.) And, of course, no modern discussion would countenance the idea that much of this is directed against those above us in an objectively existing hierarchy: the Greek uses the word 'blasphemy' (τὰς κατὰ τῶν κρειττόνων βλασφημίας).

The point of quoting this...? Well, the general suspicion that viewing the present through the prism of antiquity can provide a healthy corrective to our own smallmindedness. (And providing a Latin translation...? It's incredibly unlikely that we're ever going to recover the level of familiarity with Greek that previously existed amongst educated people. But a certain familiarity with Latin and a willingness to get more I suspect is achievable, certainly among Catholics. So here's a stone in that particular cairn.)


Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Modern politics as entertainment: just for the lolz



WARNING: SOME OF THE LINKS BELOW GO TO MATERIAL WHICH IS OFFENSIVE. I'VE TRIED TO MARK THOSE WHICH ARE PARTICULARLY STRONG WITH AN ASTERISK IF YOU WANT TO AVOID THEM. BUT THE ARTICLE AS A WHOLE IS PROBABLY BEST AVOIDED IF THIS SORT OF THING BOTHERS YOU.

(GUESS THAT'S A TRIGGER WARNING...)


Although the general claim that  modern politics is becoming part of the entertainment continuum has often been made, I don't think I've come across the specific claim that I'm going to make here: that much of the alt-right phenomenon is at least analogous to (and perhaps even caused by) that broad laddish stream of comic flyting and insult found in comedy rap artists such as Eminem and (the Welsh) Goldie Lookin Chain. (I appreciate there's a difference between the two in that comedy is merely part of Eminem's modus operandi while it pretty much exhausts GLC's. It's a difference I'm not going to address.)

I confess that, although I find much of the performance of the alt-right etc at best trivial and at worst downright dangerous, I don't generally find it shocking. (Well, sometimes. The anti-Semitism often strikes home as unusually crude.) Part of the reason for this, I'm beginning to suspect, is the fact that I rather enjoy -and I'm slightly ashamed to say this- artists such as Eminem and GLC.

For example, if you examine Eminem's lyrics for * My Name is... (1998) or * Just Lose it (2004) you'll find a sort of comic, overdeveloped male bravado that would leave most progressives gasping. GLC's * Your Mother's Got a P***s (2004) is again simply a mickey taking of transexuality that probably doesn't go down well these days outside Newport. Now certainly, you can argue about the details of this (not all features of the alt-right exist in these artists, and there are other 'laddish' peformances (like the now defunct Loaded) that would also have to be mentioned in a comprehensive argument. But whatever the differences, there is a certain tone of bravado and mickey taking that links these performances with alt-right politics as performed by Milo Yianopoulos and even Donald Trump. (I'm not going to overpush the argument by suggesting that the relatively high UKIP and Brexit vote in Wales is linked to GLC however tempting that might be.)

Why's this important? Well, I'm not completely sure -which is why I'm putting the idea out there for further exploration. But here's a first stab. The self image of the age is that progressive values have triumphed and that only tweed clad homophobes of a certain age entertain nostalgia for the past glories of Alf Garnett etc. In particular, the world of the arts and culture in general is supposedly dominated by progessive values and sensibilities. One explanation of the above might be that that was (roughly) the early 2000s and things have moved on. Possibly. But that note of male mockery (and even female: the gross out comedy of Drifters is an example) still goes on, hidden in plain sight. It's not exactly conservative: there's an enjoyment of crudity and subversion that is profoundly unconservative. (But then, is Trump a conservative?) But what there is is a chaotic subversion of everything, of every pomposity, standard and even (especially) of taking oneself too seriously that doesn't sit well with the bien pensants of (say) Radio 4 comedy.

There was much talk a while back of South Park Republicans: I have seen at least one article since then which identifies them as a precursor of the alt-right.The usual description of them is as libertarians, but this mistakes what I take to be a consequence of their views as a foundation for them. If the correct analysis is of a movement based on a tone or attitude (basically being wind up merchants of conventional pieties) then that attitude is certainly going to push you towards demanding liberty of speech (and to a lesser extent action), but the tone comes first.  If South Park Republicans are a precursor of the alt-right, then they are that less because they are Republicans and more because they are part of a grand tradition of wind up and sneering that goes through Beavis and Butt-Head and exploitation movies and ultimately to the old desire of épater la bourgeoisie.

If you think the culture war is between Shakespeare and Elvis, then Elvis has won. If, on the other hand, you think the culture war is between the modern pieties of progressivism and lewd anarchism, then I'm not so sure there has yet been a victory. But if Trump etc truly has emerged from that background, then it is a background that has not so much been hiding among the critter eatin' backwoodsmen of Swamp Town America, but in the light of day of the catalogues of multi-national entertainment giants.

And given that this attitude has been hiding in plain sight, why are we so surprised when it has obvious political effects?

[NB: Update: I've had this as a draft post for quite a while. If I were to rewrite it, I'd probably make it less based on rap and more on wider cultural performances including Grindhouse movies. But the central point remains: that there has been hiding in plain sight for a number of years a cultural movement whose rebellious, anarchic tone is not progressive and which may well be a key factor in current politics.]

For the strong (see above warnings about language etc):









Friday, 3 February 2017

The protester as hero


The recent 'troubles' both worldwide as a result of Donald Trump's election and within the Catholic Church as a result of Pope Francis' actions made me think quite how powerful the archetype of The Protester (and of his cousin, The Rebel) has become within modern culture.

That's rather odder than might appear. Disagreement is an inevitable part of human societies. But it's hard to think of many other cultures which privilege 'protest' as the appropriate reaction to such disagreement. The quadricentenary of Bishop Sancroft's birth recently reminded me of the non-juring attachment to passive obedience. I confess to a long standing irritation with the fame of the suffragettes as opposed to the relative neglect of the suffragists:

The NUWSS adopted a peaceful and non-confrontational approach. Members believed that success could be gained by argument and education. The organisation tried to raise its profile peacefully with posters, leaflets, calendars and public meetings.

[Here.]

Since the 1960s, there has been a gradual increase in the sense that protest, particularly violent, highly emotional protest, is the proper way to settle disagreement. I can quite understand that many people object to Donald Trump as US President. But that disagreement was subjected to a democratic test and Trump won. Whatever path the losers of such a test now follow ought surely to take account both of the democratic result and the need to preserve the order of the American republic: in short, if everytime you dislike your leader you 'protest' and 'resist', it's hard to see how a republic can survive.

Protest, particularly mass public protest suffers from two main defects. It is disruptive of order, and civic peace is perhaps the main desideratum of public life. Moreover it tends to be blunt: I'm not at all sure what the Women's March recently was objecting to precisely (besides losing the election), still less what it proposed to put in its place.

I suppose (though I'm not completely convinced) that there is a place for The Protester. But I'm sure it's not so great a place as is currently given. If we are to have a pantheon of political role models, let's emphasize a bit more those who conform for the sake of peace, those who bite their tongues and those who compromise.  That goes for both 'sides': if a boorish, expressive individualism characterises much of the reaction to Trump, it also characterises much of the Trump phenomenon as well.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Manent Mercerdi (8): Contemporary Thinkers website


As part of my regular plug for the work of French Catholic political philosopher Pierre Manent, I include this week an excerpt from an essay about him from the excellent website Contemporary Thinkers. (This website contains material on a wide range of modern political thinkers. Its companion, Great Thinkers, contains similarly helpful material on pre-twentieth century political thinkers.)

In Manent’s more recent works, Democracy without Nations? (2006, trans. 2007) and especially A World without Politics?: A Defense (2001, trans. 2006), he has explored the “political forms”—city, empire, church, and nation—through which human beings decide on matters of common importance. The most recent political form, the nation, has started to become questionable. One immoderate interpretation of the historical destiny of democracy argues against the rationality of national boundaries. “Pure democracy,” Manent writes of this view, “is democracy without a people—that is, democratic governance, which is very respectful of human rights but detached from any collective deliberation.”

But as a point of fact, the nation-state and not “democratic governance” has produced the framework within which Western peoples became modern. Only the modern state asserted sovereignty over all parts within it, yet retained the integrity of those parts through its representative character. What concerns Manent is the replacement of the sovereign state and representative government by a manner of governance “more and more functional-bureaucratic and less and less political.” In place of a sovereign people, a “procedural democracy” has appeared that allows a people to make a democratic choice only when that choice reflects a preexisting conclusion from universal human rights.

[...]

Today, Manent argues, the principles of democratic equality and scientific rule, when taken to their conclusions, threaten to do away with the political framework through which we have always decided matters of common importance. When decisions are made on the basis of global human rights or the prescriptions of technocratic science, the political form is lost. Yet, we have no political history outside the political forms that have shaped the West. To abandon them in favor “humanity” is a risk whose consequences we may not be prepared to fathom.

[From essays by Gladden Pappin on Manent here]

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Amoris laetitia and the flight of the alone to the alone


                                                       Sancte Blimp, ora pro nobis


I enjoyed (both as substantive advice and paradoxical non-silence) Artur Rosman's blogpost 'Have you tried shutting up?' It sums up much of what I feel about the current state of affairs in many areas: too much chatter to too little purpose. But still. One cannot always be wise.

There has been a little flow of Catholic commentary along the lines of 'the current crisis over Amoris Laetitia shows how great Catholic traditionalism is and how conservative (non-traditionalist) Catholics now need to stop sitting on various fences and stop trying to square the circle of reconciling the modern Church with traditional, orthodox Catholicism'.

To even set up this question requires a firm distinction between conservative Catholicism and traditionalist Catholicism. The most obvious difference (and possibly in the end the only one) is the acceptance of the Ordinary Form of the Mass: I count as a conservative Catholic because I attend the Ordinary Form; another counts as a Traditionalist because she or he attends the Extraordinary Form, the Latin Mass. 

I'm not quite sure about this. It's hard to imagine a genuine conservative who would be hostile to the Latin Mass. I think I've made clear before that I don't think returning to the pre-Vatican II mass is the answer to Church decline, but I'm not at all hostile to the thought that it might help. And in any case, I'm perfectly happy for anyone who wishes to try this: it may well be part of an answer. My reasons for not regularly attending the Extraordinary Form of the Mass are more about loyalty to my existing parish, familiarity, not wishing to separate myself from the majority of Catholics and just being a little sceptical about anything which claims to be simply better. There is probably also a lingering sense, from my Anglican days and from my days as a literate Atheist, that religion can be done perfectly well in English and has been so far as literary quality is concerned. All these strike me as perfectly sensible and recognisable conservative reactions.

Added to that, there is a conservative horror at unrest and murmuring against hierarchy. Whatever else might be said about current reactions to Amoris Laetitia, I find it difficult to see how engendering an attitude of disloyalty to bishops and the papacy is going to help the Church in the long run. Conservatives ought to be well aware at the unavoidable frailties of human hierarchies whatever divine assistance they might receive. But the difference between the ancients and the moderns is that the ancients knew how to live with the necessary absurdities of hierarchies whilst the moderns do not. Moreover, whatever might be said about popes, bishops and priests is, in the end, mostly about a lack of effective action to save the laity from itself. Whatever wild and wacky ideas may be found in the teaching hierarchy of the Church, they are considerably fewer than the wild and wacky ideas found in the laity.

So when I see ill-tempered attacks on the papacy and hierarchy due to Amoris Laetitia and how various local bishops are interpreting it, my general reaction is that the ill-temper is harmful, that we need all to remember the difference between an attack and well-intentioned criticism, and that whatever the faults of Amoris Laetitia, they are mostly those of lacks which, if, as we travel down the pyramid of authority in the Church, were they not met by greater failings in those receiving the document, would have few if any ill effects.

Let's take the latest interpretation from the Maltese bishops for example:

In a new document, Criteria for the Application of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia, the bishops say that if “a separated or divorced person who is living in a new relationship manages, with an informed and enlightened conscience, to acknowledge and believe that he or she are [sic] at peace with God, he or she cannot be precluded from participating in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist”.

Now if we were dealing with a traditionally formed laity, that might be interpreted something like this:

If you can twist your own conscience into deluding yourself you can take communion in an adulterous relationship, then there's very little in practice we can do to stop you. But do remember the following:

Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.

1 Corinthians 11:27-29 KJV

Let me make it absolutely clear: I regret the lack of clarity which allows Amoris Laetitia to be interpreted as allowing communion to those who have been civilly 'divorced' and 'remarried'. But that lack of clarity is only really dangerous because existing lay and clerical Catholic life is as lax as it is and has been for a while. The past few popes have been seen as bulwarks against the waves of infidelity which have been crashing on decks for a while. If that particular defence is less effective at the moment than it might have been, the main problem is the waves, not the defences (which, whatever the intentions, have not been very effective in their results in the past anyway).

Here's another aspect of the conservative as opposed to Traditionalist approach. Vatican II might be seen as the acceptance of the subjective turn into mainstream Catholic life. It might also be seen as advocating a greater role for the laity. Both of those might be regarded as part of a conservative mood which values individualism and is sceptical of the effectiveness of centralised power. If 'Traditional' Catholicism suffered from externally imposed rules, 'conservative' Catholicism fully accepts that strand of conservative thinking that endorses Plotinus' view of life as the flight of the Alone to the Alone, the individual soul to God. If marriage is to be saved, and adultery to be avoided, in the end, it is only the well formed conscience of the laity that can do that.

And this leads me, finally, to some well intentioned criticism of my own about Amoris Laetitia and its 'progressive' interpreters. In the end, what matters most is sin, not admission to communion. Teaching on marriage and divorce should not be primarily about creating a pastoral process where a priest leads a parishioner to retake to sacraments, but to a sinner's exploration of conscience sometimes, but not usually with a priest. (Really, how likely is this in depth 'pastoral process' going to be in the realities of modern parish life? Unless the laity are equipped to take it seriously for themselves, sprinkling on a few minutes with a priest every couple of weeks is not going to turn thjs into deep reflection.) And here, clarity of reasoning does matter, because that is an important part of how the sinner is going to reflect.

In that light, the important questions are going to start with: Am I still married? Amoris Laetitia seems to rather fudge this. If I am still married to X, but am now in a (sort of conjugal) relationship with Y, being admitted to communion is the least of my problems. If I am still married, then I have responsibilities to X and am in a less than ideal situation (to put it at its least) with Y. Taking communion will not relieve me of these realities. Say, for example, that after ten years of receiving the 'mercy' of communion, I see a way of breaking up with Y. Should I take it? (Do we need another pastoral process to discern this?) If, having lived apart from X, I meet Y for the first time, should I resist my attraction to him? (Whether or not I might be able to receive communion eventually is surely a secondary question to whether or not pressing forward with that attraction is going to lead to some sort of sinful result.)

Does the matter of my reflection in these circumstances still rest on two principles: that marriage can not be dissolved and that sex outside marriage is wrong? If it doesn't, what should I be reflecting on instead? Proper responsible discernment requires this sort of precise, philosophical self-questioning. Instead of encouraging that and a responsible, reflective and (taken properly) autonomous laity, we seem to have a sort of slot machine clericalism where the primary issue is no longer right or wrong action and a proper understanding of marriage, but rather getting the sacraments and getting the priest to tell you it's fine (although you might be quite hard put to explain precisely why it is fine, except that it 'feels right' and Father Fred agrees).