WHO HAS THE (GOOD) IDEAS NOW?

Lionel Trilling in 1950:

…it is the plain fact that nowadays,thre are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation…The conservative impulse and the reactionary impulse do not, with some isolated and some ecclesiastical exceptions, express themselves in ideas but only in actons or in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.

There you have a seventy-two-year old manifestation of liberal smugness, ignorance, illusion and isolation. But perhaps this was, indirectly, a call to arms for the conservative movement which was underground and burst out in full view in the mid-fifties and, happily, struggles on today between the extremes of Democratic radicalism and Republican fecklessness.

But it is not entirely inaccurate to suggest that genuine conservatism, as opposed to Trumpism, etc., has once again lost its confidence or sense of direction.

Academia and the mainstream media treat conservatism as a kind of mental disorder. But look out there and see who really looks like the crazy ones.

Let me give you a hint: look left.

EPIPHANY MOMENT

Before I and everyone else packs up our creches for another year, some thoughts on the Magi — and that Star.

It’s nearly little Christmas.

I’ve always been fascinated by the story of the the Star, and the Magi who followed it. How many were there? It’s not known, but legend has it they bore three gifts and they may represent, among other things, the three stages of life, or the three branches of the human race, semitic, white, black (which, of course, omits the Asian and therefore is beyond imperfect). The Magi were a once-powerful priestly caste of the Medes and the Persians, as recorded by Herodotus and others. They studied astrology and the divination of dreams.

How did they know about the blessed event? How far did they have to travel to Bethlehem?

They could have met with a very harsh fate had the brutal and crazed dictator Herod known they had ignored his request to report back to him the birthplace of savior. They could not have known, initially, of his terrifying and murderous reputation.

They were also said to be descendants of the great soothsayer Balaam. Nothing indicates that they enjoyed any great power at the time of the birth of Christ.

What about the star?

Identifying the star — that Star — is a thorny issue. How could these men, working with only the naked eye or the most rudimentary scientific instruments, have made astronomical observations of any precision? This is pretty much, word for word, the observation of that renowned and now mostly forgotten late French Catholic scholar Henri Daniel-Rops, writing in his marvelous book, Jesus and His Time.

It could have been a “nova” similar to the new star that appeared in the Consetllation Aquila in 1918 or that was noticed in 1572 after the massacre of St. Bartholeomew’s Day. But no writers on those times in question recorded such an appearance.

Halley’s Comet, when it appeared on January 10, 1910, was visible in Jerusalem, its light observed to pass rapidly from east to west, becoming difused in the east and reapparring in full visibility to the west, as indicated in the Gospel Story. But Halley’s Comet could only have passed over the sky of the countries in question during the year 12 B.C. and not the year 6 B.C., when it is most often speculated that Christ was born. Other comments recorded by Chinese astronomers in the years 4 and 3 B.C. tell us it would not have been visible in Western Asia. Also, a comet, being subject to their diurnal orbit like other stars, could not indicate a precise location, much less a particlar house in a particular town.

Kepler thought that this celestial pheonmenon might be a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn as occurred again recently. His calculations suggest this could have occurred in the year 6 B.C., even though this date was not yet considered the most probable date for the birth of Christ. Interesting.

And the word “star” as used in scripture does not mean the stars ordinarly visible, but indicates some astronomical phomenon.

On the borderland of science and legend, as Daniel-Rops puts it, is Russian poet Dmitry Merezhkovsky’s theory that the “star” of the Gospel was a rare celestial phenomenon, an equinocrtial passage of Aries through Pisces which would signify to the Babylonian Magi, haunted by the idea of a recurring deluge, the an announcment of the end of the world and a new age in the history of the human race.

St. John Chrystosom, though pre-scientific, knew that stars don’t do what the star of Bethlehem was said to do — that according to Catholic convert and scripture scholar Scott Hahn.

Stars in the sky were often identified with angels in heaven. The philosopher Philo of Alexandria speculated that the stars “are living cratures, but a kind composed entirely of mind.”

Thus John Chrystosom concluded that this was an appearnace of a Christmas angel. Those celestial messengers are forever being caught up in the cosmic drama, from the creation of the world. Good and bad angels are, to the devout mind, what accounts daily for all that is communicated to us in our universe. They are everywhere in the Christmas story.

My patron saint, Gregory the Great, according to Scott Hahn, accepted the angelic interepretation. He also observed the great difference beween the way God dealt with the shepherds and how he dealt with the Magi. The shepherds, though uneducated members of the lowest rank, were still members of the chosen people. They’d been hearing all their lives the prophesies of liberation destined for the Jews. So it was, says Gregory, that God announced Christ to them with angels.

“But a sign, not a voice, guided the gentiles,” writes Scott Hahn. He quotes Gregory’s homily on the Ephiphany, asserting that the Magi ” they were not prepared to make full use of reason to know the Lord.”

In other words, as Scott Hahn notes, when it came to understand the meaning of Christmas, “the simplest of pious field hands were better equipped than the most erudite scholars.”

But those scholars, to their eternal credit, came in an ardent search for the truth. “That’s something the angels could see — and work with,” writes Hahn.

And, it should be noted, they ultimately got their share of important angelic knowledge: an angel apperared to them in one of their dreams in time to steer them clear of Herod who might (God help us!) have tortured them to extract the knowedge they now posessed of the Infant Jesus’s whereabouts.

Thank you, angels.

And so, like those truth-seeking foreign gentile travelers, we must let the angels work with us and guide us now and to the end of our own desert journeys.

.…This Birth was/ Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death…

T.S. Eliot, Journey of the Magi

Yet the poet has his lone Magi, reflecting long after that journey and the witnessing of that birth, proclaim that he and his fellow travelers were afterwards no longer at home or at peace in their native lands (w)ith an alien people clutching their gods.

I know how he feels.

And so I say a wistful goodbye for another anxious year to those fellow travelers.

God willing, I’ll see them — we’ll all see them — again next year, in peace and joy.

WINDSWEPT

We are windswept in 2022. Doors are slamming shut all about us.

We stand on an open, windswept plain, questions of the most intimate and critical nature swirl in a vortex — celibacy, friendship, marriage….

The storm has been raging for decades….

So it was, forty years ago, that I read what someone wrote, rather heavy stuff — and I pondered it too lightly, and not nearly long enough. I never forgot it.

In the tradition of Catholic Christianity, there is a tension between celibacy freely chosen as an image of God’s sacrificial life and marriage freely chosen as a different sort of image of that same love. Celibacy looks to the eschatological* meaning of that love, matrimony to its incarnational** meaning.

I never said it was light reading.

Secondly, friendship… is not alone a strong enough word to carry the meaning of marriage. The married have experienced other friendships. The friendship of marriage is of a different order indeed: searing, intimate beyond description, full of mystery and terror, excruciatingly painful, profoundly suited to our nature. ***

Now, that’s peculiar. Pain, suited to our nature. Hmmmm.

By the way, the above is from…

Michael Novak (1933-2017), Catholic philosopher journalist, diplomat, writing in the fall, 1981 issue of the journal Communio, which had been gifted to me and was devoted to the subject of the relations between the sexes. Novak’s contribution was entitled, “Man and Woman He Made Them.”

I’ve always enjoyed Novak’s writing. I think I mentioned elsewhere in this blog that I was once reading a slim volume of his, called. The Experience of Nothingness as I lay recovering from my first kidney stone episode in Doctor’s Hospital in Lanham, Maryland. I think the male nurse attending me was wondering, based on that title, about my overall mental state. Hope that a didn’t scare him. That was 1983, several kidney stones ago. I want no more stones. But I do want to understand the nature of our modern….nothingness.

And I read the treatise on men and women so long ago, forty -one years. Tom Brady was a toddler, probably barely able to throw a football. A Hail Mary was still just a prayer to his apparently Catholic parents. There was no super model spouse as yet to affirm to him that — Man and Woman He Made US.

But I digress, sort of. I like and admire Tom B. He’s my goal standard for what the average, decent and accomplished family man will accept and believe.

And, no matter how simply or complexly we put them, we no longer believe these things now. Or, many of us don’t. A Majority. Care to take a poll?

I don’t know what Tom Brady believes, for instance.

Footnotes on the above:

*Eschatology: From the Greek, eschatos (“last things”, i.e., death, resurrection, immortality), logos (“knowledge of”)

**Incarnation: The religious doctrine or belief that God will or has embodied Himself in human form.

***I first read this Novak treatise when I was 34. A son was born to me that fall.

I was not, nor have I ever been, married. Friendship is not marriage. Cohabitation is not marriage. Man and woman — woman and man, if you will — He made us. Parents are a man and a woman, and they are married, though they may be divorced. They have made a convenant. They have entered into a state implying obligations, toward one another, toward the children, to society.

They are a family. Modern philosophy is obsessed with the problem of the individual and the state. Novak feels we have, for the most part, “systematically” neglected the family and asserts that “human experience is primordially familial.” Mother, father, offspring.

I chose, back in 1981, as, ultimately, did multitudes, to try to stand apart from all this — to believe it in abstract, but not believe in necessarily was real or applied to me, or, God knows, everybody.

Thus He made us. Man and woman.

No, many longer believe this., if they ever did. We think we’ve moved on. This assumes God has moved on, too.

Celibacy. Friendship. Marriage.

You can chose God, or the Zeitgeist. Novak, Lord rest his soul, wrote, in that same piece….

The Zeitgeist (spirit of the world) is nearlay always both wrong and arrogant. The pendulum of history customarily swings too far. To find the just measure, it is wise to lean against prevailing winds.

But for now, we are windswept.

Hold onto your hats.

Or, if hatless, your souls.

A TENNYSON CHRISTMAS

From “In Memoriam” in which, the poet, deep in mourning, over hundreds of stanzas, gropes for the light over three Christmases, as time slowly closes over the loss of a dear friend and faith slowly covers over his mourning. Christmas and a new year were the milepost at every painful turning. November is the month in which we especially remember the dead. December, and Christmas, are when we miss them the most.

FROM STANZA XXVIII

The time draws near the birth of Christ.

The moon is hid, the night is still;

The Christmas bells from hill to hill

Answer each other in the mist.

FROM STANZA LXXVIII

Again at Christmas did we weave

The holly round the Christmas hearth;

The silent snow possess’d the earth

And calmly fell our Christmas-eve.

The yule-log sparkled keen with frost,

No wing of wind the region swept,

But over all things brooding slept

The quiet sense of something lost.

FROM STANZA CIV

The time draws near the birth of Christ;

The moon is hid, the night is still;

A single church below the hill

Is pealing, folded in he mists.

A single peal of bells below,

That awakens in this hour of rest

A single murmur in the breast

That these are not the bells I know.

Like stranger’s voices here they sound,

In lands where not a memory strays,

Nor landmark breaths of other days,

But all is new unhallow’d ground.

FROM STANZA CV

Tonight ungather’d let us leave

This laurel, let this holly stand:

We live within the stranger’s land,

And strangely falls our Christmas-eve.

FROM STANZA CVI

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,

The flying clouds, the frosty light:

The year is dying in the night;

Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

FROM STANZA CXXXI (CONCLUDING)

That God, which ever lives and loves,

One God, one law, one element,

And one far-off divine event,

To which the whole creation moves.

1850

Just fragments in which earth and mortals regenerate, mid-way in a century that was struggling to retain the “old” faith. Tennyson, nonetheless moves from despair to hope. Tennyson is not my poetic soul-mate in many particulars, out of sorts — along with the likes of Charles Kingsley — with the important Oxford Movement, in which Saint John Henry Newman was about to remove himself, and lead other churchmen, out of the slowly singing barc of Anglicanism.

But he knew Christmas for what it was and must always be for us, however great the darkness.

2021

DECEMBER STILLNESS

That is the name of a Siegried Sassoon poem — “December Stillness” — written the year my parents were married, 1934.

Puts me in mind of “Silent Night.” Silent night, holy night….

My parents have been gone for years.

Siegfried Sassoon was one of the World War I poets, along with Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen. He was the only one of the three to survive the war, Brooke dying from war-related blood poisoning, Owen from the guns a week before the Armistice. Sassoon also knew and was among those “soldiers…of death’s grey land…in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats…in ruined trenches, lashed with rain….” Yet he could manage to write, barely two decades after the universal cataclysm of that World War, of “December stillness, crossed by twilight roads” and tell us that he asked that stillness ( yes, he talked to the stillness) to “(T)each me to travel far and bear my loads.”

Religion, or a higher power, were largely swept out of Sassoon’s personal universe by the experience of the trenches, so far as I know. Or, raised by a Jewish father and Anglo-Catholic mother, he saw what, to his mind, were the “limitations” of religious faith.

Not all who saw war ceased to see hope, and see it in an Infinite Being.

But….

December, with its “grave diminishings of green and brown”( Siegried’s words). It is upon us now. I love December, because Christmas comes at the end of its Advent season.

I looked out early one Massachusetts December at the green surviving amid the bare brown of earth and bramble and, perhaps, traces of early snow behind what was my house then, a pleasant place in a pleasant town, more pleasant by far than what I call home now. I’ve escaped to the sub-tropics, an economic migrant.

(Why have I moved so often in recent years? What is this restless search for the “geographic cure”?)

There have been so many houses, so many homes in what still seems such a short time — but, really, so much time has passed, actually. There have been whole wars fought since that “brown and green” moment in Carlisle, Massachusetts. There has been, these days before Christmas in 2021, an unspeakable natural horror — a massively powerful, long-lasting tornado — that stripped away lives and structures in the dead of a Kentucky night — and the Illinois and Tennesee nights. Miles and miles of America’s heartland lies bare and ruined, plunged into “death’s grey land” and silence and darkness days before Christmas.

But in 1934, the year my parents found joy in marriage, followed by years of struggle, that stillness, that December stillness, spoke to the surviving war poet who would live to see another World War consume civilization. He lived, in fact, until the first day of September, 1967.

It was, he wrote back in that same year of 1934, the “love of life, when I was young/ Which led me out in summer to explore/ The daybreak world.”

A “daybreak world” that would be darkened, so deeply darkened by the most brutal of wars, civil and worldwide, all during a most bloody century.

But now, as those summer days of 2021 lead into these dark December nights, a welcomed stillness deepens here and there. Sometimes we have to be in a sanctuary to be mindful of it. A church, or chapel or our own little room.

True, there was little stillness in the long, violent, politically fraught summer of 2021. I cannot forget or cease praying for an end of that unwelcomed stillness in Kentucky that stretches for miles around now, through three states,in which structures and memories have been ravaged by the great violence of nature.

Still, in our current stillness, wherever we can find it, Siegried Sassoon would tell us, “The Daybreak World” abides. It awaits us, here, or hereafter, if we choose to believe it.

We call it hope. Many call it God. The words, the prayers, do not always come easily. God’s stillness, or what seems like His silence, vexes many in their strenuous groping after hope and peace.

Faith is the flame. It can be put out. Symbolically , really.

Meanwhile, we must travel far and bear our loads.

Oh, my!!

At the end of this long, sober,(even embarrassing) very lugubrious rumination, I must laugh a little. Even laugh out loud.

Mere trite meanderings. Siegfried must be chuckling along with me somewhere. I choose to believe so.

Time to head to the mall….praying as I go. Ho! Ho! Ho!

ADVENT IS UPON US

A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of year for a journey:

The way steep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.’

T.S. Eliot

Journey of the Magi

Our journey begins again today, this 28th day of November, 2021.

Everybody knows, even those of us who have lived most unadventurously what it is to plod on for miles, it seems, eagerly straining your eyes towards the lights that, somehow, mean home. How difficult it is, when you are doing that to judge distances! In pitch darkness, it might be a couple of miles to your destination, it might be a few hundred yards. So it was, I think with the Hebrew prophets, as they looked forward to the redemption of their people. They could not have told you, within a hundred years, within five hundred years, when it was the deliverance would come.

Msgr. Ronald Knox

Sermon on Advent

THE CULTURE OF REPUDIATION

It was the late scholar Roger Scruton who identified the cultural upheaval through which we are suffering as the “culture of repudiation”. We must resist it with all our cultural might. It originated, as did — and does –so much that is poisoning our national life, among that ever expanding multitude who profess an evermore aggressive leftist-to-socialist ideology. Theirs is the spirit of revolution that throws out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. And that’s an overly gentle metaphor for what’s happening here.

Roger Kimball, editor of the journal, The New Criterion, writing in the November, 2021 issue, observes that “the curious, even hypocritical nature of this (culture of) repudiation is especially patent in the most privileged and affluent precincts of our culture, in the Ivy League writ large — all those institutions that, once upon a time, were devoted to perpetuating our civilization but which now, marinated it too much money, spend their time and seemingly bottomless animus deploring everything about America and the civilization that fed it.”

And, of course, to their mind, what fed this civilization was essentially racist. Their answer is — more racism, in the guise of anti-racism.

Columbus, Cortez and other Europeans were, upon occasion, guilty of savagery and racism. I don’t doubt that. Of course, I don’t know this for a fact, but I have been instructed thus by historians I trust. Those historians are honest about that. The leftist historians, of course, make a point of ignoring the occasional savagery and barbarism that reigned among the natives the Europeans encountered. To do otherwise, Kimball and others have noted, would render the Left’s moral outrage ludicrous. Rousseau’s Noble Savage was never entirely noble.

But Kimball suggests that those savages who suffered at European hands are mere props for the writers and activists. “The real focus of their energy,” he submits,” is against America and the European civilization that embodies it.”

Fed it, embodied it….

Kimball goes on to point out the irony — and hypocrisy — feeding and embodied in the Left’s position. To do so, he cites historian Keith Windschuttle who in his book, The Killing of History, says of the Leftist ideologues, “they themselves…bear all the characteristics of the Eurocentrism they condemn in Columbus (and) Cortez.”

How so?

Well, for them, Kimball opines, ” repudiating Columbus( et, al.) is merely a pretext for a larger repudiation of the culture that supports and flatters them. It is as disingenuous as it is repulsive. But it seems quite clear that the attacks will not end until their plump sources of support begin to be loaded onto the hecatombs of their juvenile and malicious fury.”

Ole Roger, for my tastes, is being a bit too oblique here, especially in his resort to that most obscure of words (plural form), “hecatombs”. It refers to the large-scale sacrifices to the gods favored by the ancient Greeks, such as the propitiatory slaughter of 100 cattle at one time. Is he suggesting that the now universally liberal-to-woke institutions of higher education, i.e. the Ivy League, Stanford, the Seven Sisters, etc.,etc., that currently feed (and embody) all this political correctness and “wokeness” will themselves be sacrificed –ruined, slaughtered, burned, destroyed, devoured – to propitiate those gods who demand, among many other destructive things, selective, revisionists readings of history?

And is he suggesting that only when all our valued cultural institutions– universities, libraries, museums, churches — lie in ashes or been transformed to resemble the dreary, repressed, state-controlled institutions of a socialist dystopia will the activists be satisfied?

Sounds about right to me. And that will give us much to mourn. For soon thereafter, all of American civilization and our liberties will lie in ashes as well.

And let’s face it — those false gods worshiped by the hordes of rampaging cultural hedgehogs among us will never be satisfied.

Perhaps this is the true global warming, the fire that will never be consumed, hell on earth.

Deliver us, O Lord!

CONRAD’S MANIFESTO

This is found in the writer’s preface to a work whose title, perhaps even whose content — in the manner in which it makes of a West Indian sailor aboard a Bombay to London merchant ship a sometimes odious and undeniably complex metaphor — poses problems for modern shibboleths and sensibilities. And, though I aspire always to challenge “political correctness” I deem it unfortunate that Conrad didn’t stay with either of the original titles, i.e., A Tale of the Sea, or Children of the Sea.

The work ultimately became kn0wn as , The N****r of the Narcissus. It is a profound work, and a great “tale of the sea.”

What follows, as noted, are the introductory paragraphs of the novel’s preface, Conrad’s famous artistic manifesto of what some have characterized as “literary impressionism.”

I’m fond of it. It follows here:

A work that aspires, however humbly, to the condition of art should carry its justification in every line. And art itself may be defined as a single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe ( emphasis added), by bringing to light the truth, manifold and one, underlying its every aspect. It is an attempt to find in its forms, in its colors, in its light, in its shadows, in the aspects of matter and in the facts of life what of each is fundamental, what is enduring and essential — their one illuminating and convincing quality — the very truth of their existence. The artists then, like the thinker or the scientist, seeks the truth and makes his appeal. Impressed by the aspect of the world the thinker plunges into ideas, the scientist into facts — whence, presently, emerging they make their appeal to those qualities of our being that fit us best for the hazardous enterprise of living. They speak authoritively to our common sense, to our intelligence, to our desire of peace or to our desire of unrest; not seldom it our prejudices, sometimes to our fears, often to our egoism — but always to credulity. And their words are heard with reverence, for their concern is with weighty matters: the cultivation of our minds and the proper care of our bodies, with the attainment with the attainment of our ambitions, with the perfection of the means and the glorification of our precious aims.

It is otherwise with the artist.

Confronted with the same enigmatical spectacle the artist descends within himself, and in that lonely region of stress and strife, if he be deserving and fortunate,he finds the terms of his appeal. His appeal is made to our less obvious capacities: to that part of our nature which, because of the warlike conditions of existence is necessarily kept out of sight within the more resisting and hard qualities — like the vulnerable body within a steel armor. His appeal is less loud, more profound, less distinct, more stirring — and sooner forgotten. Yet its effect endures forever….

He (the artist) speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives; to our sense of pity, and beauty, and pain; to the latent feeling of fellowship with all creation – and to the subtle but invincible conviction of solidarity that knits together the loneliness of innumerable hearts, to the solidarity in dreams, in joy, in sorrow, in aspirations, in illusions, in hopes, in fears, which binds men to each other, which binds together all humanity — the dead to the living and the living to the unborn….

Conrad refers to music as “the art of arts.” But in striving to achieve the musicality of which language is capable, or the visual properties and qualities of painting or sculpture, he writes…

…it is only through an unremitting never-discouraged care for the shape and ring of sentences that an approach can be made to plasticity, to color,and that the light of magic suggestiveness may be brought to play for an evanescent instant over the commonplace surface of words: of the old, old words, worn thin, defaced by ages of careless usage.

I find myself wondering, given these sentiments and convictions of Conrad, if he ever tried his hand a poetry, for it is in that genre more than any other, arguably, that words are supreme. Flannery O’Connor, a great fan of Conrad’s, though, like him never a poet, and a very different writer stylistically, told a correspondent that when she spoke of the moral basis of poetry being ” the accurate naming of the things of God,” she meant ” about the same that Conrad meant when he said that his aim as an artist was to render the highest possible justice to the visible universe. For me the visible universe is a reflection of the invisible universe.

Here’s to Joseph and Flannery — who with their words try to make us see what is most worthy of seeing.

THE FLIGHT FROM “RELIGIOUS POLITICS” TOWARD “SOURCES OF LIGHT.”

The following are small excerpts from a provocative essay called, “Sources of Life”, by a writer named Greg Jackson, which appeared in the August, 2021 issue of Harper’s Magazine. It originally appeared in the Spring, 2021 issue of another magazine called, The Point.

(Note: for some reason, wordpress working annoyingly in ways I can’t yet figure out, I’ve so far been unable to correct some typos and mistaken elision of words in this copied text. Sorry.)

A false theory of culture is worse than a false theory of the heavens. The planets stick to their orbits no matter what we think, but culture becomes what we believe it to be….It is extremely difficult to make conscious choices amid systems and technologies that tax our forbearance and reward our worst impulses….half an hour on Twitter or YouTube may…reduce us to an exposed nerve, pulsing with rage born of fear, a sense of vagrant and ubiquitous threats….

Today, media and social media organize our conformity. Calculated self-preservation dominates.

(Here, Jackson makes the case for art.)

By awakening people to the legitimacy of their feelings, art gives them confidence that their experience is not an anomalous, lonely event, but something others share in, and that it may be reasonable, therefore, to question the tyranny of public opinion.

Politics’ colonization of culture in contemporary America has greatly damaged this public lifeline to the private psyche….(W)e may each measure for ourselves the toleration of our beliefs by judging how often we wonder in our hearts whether stating them in public is perilous. Where, when public opinion rules, does private truth find an outlet?

The vacant secular despair that sends us searching for a religious politics (emphasis added)…is precisely what culture of this category is meant to address….our emptiness is an emptiness that comes from continuing to consume something that resembles nourishment but consists of nothing but fat-burning calories.

Unless we claw back some sphere of cultural and civic activity from the totalizing force of religious politics (again, emphasis added), we are unlikely to find venues where we can get outside the rigid struggle of political combat to explore and expand who we are, what we want, and how we relate to one another.

END OF EXCERPTS.

BEGINNING OF A BRIEF ANALYSIS:

I don’t know this writer, nor do I know much about the magazine from which his essay was re-published by Harpers. But I regard much or most of his diagnosis of contemporary culture hearteningly accurate.

I emphasized his phrase “religious politics” and must note that he never defines it. One could say that it’s obvious, self-explanatory. But, is it?

I would suggest that the seeming obsession of seemingly millions with modern politics suggests that politics has rushed into the vacuum created by the decline of supernatural religious belief.

I know many will reject this notion.

But it is telling, at least to me, that the last sentence copied above, asserting the need for all of us to move away from this disordered “sphere” created by politics-as-religion is followed by the sentence: “In midieval Europe, there was no such thing as nonreligious art or nonreligious politics. We are backsliding.”

I happen to adhere to the religious faith that dominated medieval Europe, i.e., Catholicism. What the Church taught then, it teaches now. The spirit and letter of that core faith was not obliterated by the Renaissance, but, rather, slipped into it at the tip of Michelangelo’s brush and chisel and grew and developed, as did Catholic religious dogma along with political and economic principles such as “subsidiarity” which calls for solutions to be generated upward from the smallest, most local governmental or political bodies that are also closest to the people they affect. Many of these principles and certainly much of the dogma was destined, in our time, to be largely discarded, ignored or, to the extent that it has survived, vilified — or, in the case of purported Catholics such as power-brokers Joe Biden and Nancy Pilosi, donned as a cultural shroud over their rabidly secular ideology. (It has been said that a person either adjusts their life choices to their principles and inherited dogmatic beliefs, or else adjusts (i.e., bends) their principles and dogma to fit their life choices. The more powerful the person, the more distorted the social outcomes for the rest of their co-religionists.)

True, culture did over time secularized and we should not wish for the return of a theocratic domination of society and culture. But I, for one, believe the product of the medieval scribes and artists were informed by a culturally and spiritually redemptive force superior to the “totalizing” force of contemporary politics –which, again, has become our religion, propagated and zealously imposed by secular media, social and mainstream.

Author Jackson probably has another idea — that art for art sake is where true and self-knowledge lies. I can live with that, if only as an anodyne balm for the “totalizing” effects on our inner lives of modern politics.

I guess we’re talking about for art’s sake, or, more accurately, art as “religion”. If I’m not mistaken, that’s the path James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus is last seen embarking upon at the close of Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man, as he flees the intense religiosity of his native Ireland. (He needn’t have worried about contemporary Ireland, which, with the rest of the western nations, has radically secularized. Is this what Stephen meant when he said he was off to forge “in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race”?

Take a look at where that’s gotten the Irish –and human — race.

O what a paradise it (only at times) seems.

But the radical politics Jackson identifies in the essay is more of the rightist variety, e.g., extreme nationalism and conspiracy theories as generated by the poisonous likes of QAnon. So be it. It is toxic, I acknowledge, though, I also submit, no less toxic than the “religious politics” of the left, which I also submit, is far more ascendant and dominant in our culture. Either way, Jackson posits this as the basis for his argument that, as a consequence of all this, we find ourselves escaping into the endless diversion of entertainment, narcotics, video games and social media…all that “false nourishment.”

So, Greg Jackson, obviously a thoughtful man but obviously skeptical about the influence of formal religion says, further down in this essay, “Art, unlike religion, does not ask us to be better than we are; it asks instead only that we understand ourselves, and then, from the evidence of this understanding, it points us “toward sources of light” — hence, the title of his essay, and he attributes this phrase –“sources of light” – to Saul Bellow, another very thoughtful fellow.

I guess Jackson does not see religion as a “source of light”. Much religion in our time has given his good cause to feel that way.

But, with Saul Bellow, writing in his novel, Mr. Sammler’s Planet, I might say, “The earth is literally a mirror of thoughts. Objects themselves are embodied thoughts. Death is the dark backing that a mirror needs if we are to see anything.”

Does not thoughts of our ultimate end (i.e. death) often bring us to — religion? It sure as hell shouldn’t bring us to reliance on the transitory banalities of politics.

And, with Saint Augustine – an undeniably religious figure who once heartily attempted to embrace all the lusty emoluments of the world — I would call for self-knowledge amid the storm of contemporary diversions and politics. Bellow’s Mr. Sammler would add that it might bring us to “(t)he terms which, in his inmost heart, each man knows. As I know mine. As all know. For that is the truth of it — that we all know, God, that we know, that we know, we know, we know.”

Do we? I hope so. I pray so.

Amen.

HOME

“To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavor.” – Samuel Johnson.

+ + +

“Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom. The night is dark and I am far from home.” – Saint John Henry Newman

+ + +

“Didn’t see her go out?”

There was only a trace of Rivera’s Hispanic accent. He was the youngest officer, new to the island. They stood together in the rain.

“No, sir,” said Clayton. “I was asleep.”

“She ever do this before?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Often?”

“Four or five times, sir. After the snows melted.”

“You’ve known her that long?”

“Yes, sir.”

Rivera paused, glanced back toward the body lying rain-soaked by the farmer’s shed.

“Ever say where she was going?”

Clayton paused as well, reached for words, settled on one word.

“Home, sir.” he said.

Rivera, hands on his hips, dropped his stare to the brown mud coating his polished black boots.

“So she’s the one,” he said, to the mud.

-From “Satin Doll”, a short story by Gregory Wayland