Monday, 31 December 2012

Buxtehude Organ Prelude in G minor - one of the greatest, darkest, most tragic pieces of music

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I do not expect many people to agree - but I find this piece heart-wrenchingly beautiful; with (somehow) all the stark dignity, and tragedy, of the Lutheran Reformation in concentrate.

The composer speaks directly to me across the centuries as few others; from the Marienkirche, Lubeck, with outside (I imagine) the bitter, crisp, snowy darkness of a North German winter.

What I most like about this are the chromatic fugue subjects and bass ostinato - I don't think Bach ever came-up with anything more noble.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qstp3WF1HmM

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Orson Scott Card on the literary canon

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Below I have posted an almost perfect little essay by Orson Scott Card which almost perfectly expresses my own views on the literary canon - this essay is 'rescued' from a longer and diverse 'review's everything' article on Card's web pages:

http://www.hatrack.com/osc/reviews/everything/2011-11-23.shtml

I came upon Card a good while ago (more than seven years?) via an essay on Tolkien in a collection called Meditations on Middle Earth.

Having tracked down his web pages, I discovered Card was a lifelong and devout Mormon (from an old LDS family) - and I have since read many of his essays for the Mormon Times and in a book called A Storyteller in Zion

(I think it is likely that this was my first engagement with Mormonism; which led onto several years of research and a tremendous amount of book and internet reading.) 

I would now regard Card as one of my favourites among modern commentators - for sound sense, insight and humour. 

Yet I have only read one of his novels, Seventh Son and was not able to complete that series, nor Ender's Game - there was something sickening to me about the way that violence and cruelty was portrayed which put me off the fiction. This is not a criticism of Card, because I am hyper-sensitive to such matters. But it does mean that my enjoyment of Card is almost entirely for aspects of his output which he and most people would regard as peripheral.  

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Excerpt from:

Local Services, Ethel M, and the Real Canon
By Orson Scott Card

I recently took one of the Great Courses on the Western Literary Canon. For those who aren't literature students, the "literary canon" is not book-launching artillery. Or maybe it is. The "canon" refers to a term from religion -- it means that something (or someone) is officially certified. So a person who is declared a saint is "canonized," and also the official scripture is said to be "in the canon."

Extending this to literature, the "canon" means the works that the academic community regards as essential for any educated person to be familiar with.

The trouble is that what academia considers to be the "canon" has become absurd.

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Once, there were works that everybody knew because education followed similar paths. When grammar-school students all had to struggle through translating Caesar's account of his Gallic Wars from Latin into English, and then reading Cicero, Virgil, and others in the original, naturally all educated people recognized famous Latin tag lines.

It was a mark of education, not that you had memorized "Veni, vidi, vici," but that you actually understood that it meant "I came, I saw, I conquered," and that it was a clever but perfectly natural and understandable way of delivering the message.

But educated people also read books which they selected themselves. There was no English literature department in any university in the 1800s; it was still controversial to have an English department at Oxford, for instance, when Tolkien helped design the course of study for English students.

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After all, why in the world would you need a university to teach you how to read the literature of your own language? So English students were required to learn Old English and Middle English, so they could study great works that were written in versions of English that we no longer speak.

Who in the world would need a teacher to explain Dickens or Austen, Poe or Twain? They're perfectly clear to modern readers. And the only reason you'd need an English teacher to explain Hawthorne is because he's such an unbearably bad writer that you'd rather not read his books yourself.

So the "canon" consisted of books that readers, critics, and writers came to love and respect and pass from hand to hand. Professors didn't tell you that you had to read Dickens -- you simply had to in order to be part of the culture of your time, rather the way that if you haven't read any Harry Potter books you're viewed with pity by anybody who actually reads for pleasure.

Nobody declared Harry Potter to be "officially good" literature. Rowling's books were selected by volunteers. And that's how it used to be.

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Jane Austen, for instance, was merely one of many popular writers when her novels first appeared. But she quickly became a favorite among other writers, in part because she developed techniques that nobody else was using, which eventually evolved into the third-person-limited viewpoint that absolutely dominates popular literature today.

And Austen's books were memorable, so that people passed them from hand to hand and from generation from generation. There was no academic support for this, but her books remained in print perpetually because it was always profitable to publish them. They found readers because readers loved them and wanted other people to share the powerful and pleasurable experience of reading them.

That's how, for a time, the canon grew. A combination of joy and admiration, along with the prestige of the person who gave, lent, or recommended the book to you, gave life to the literary canon.

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And then they started teaching contemporary literature in the universities, and the whole process was kidnapped by idiots.

Gone was the "love and joy" portion of canon formation. In fact, the more popular a book was, the more despised it became among academics. Why? Because academia swallowed the entire bunkum of Modernism, which sneered at "middle-class" values and thought of "high" literature as something deliberately put out of the reach of the common rabble.

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The result was pretentious twaddle like James Joyce's Ulysses, which can only be understood with the magic decoder ring which Joyce thoughtfully provided to friends, and which they passed on to the professors.

By declaring Ulysses to be the greatest work of literature of the 20th century, academics attempted to guarantee their continuing employment. If you can't be an educated person without reading and pretending to understand, care about, and admire Ulysses, then you must obviously take college classes from English professors.

But the whole scheme has backfired, because when we finish learning how to read and understand Ulysses, most of us realize that it's twaddle. Whatever insights into the human condition James Joyce had to offer were trivial compared to the labor of receiving them.

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And it's not just James Joyce. Students of literature spend endless labor learning to read work after work of modern and post-modern literature, and then learn the precious and silly vocabulary of deconstruction and the patronizing talking-down of multiculturalism, and in the end, what have they done?

They've opened Al Capone's vault and found it empty, and their English professors stand there like Geraldo Rivera, desperately trying to explain that it's still very important to have opened the vault, even though nothing of value was in it.

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The result is that enrollment in English departments has plummeted. It used to be that a major in English was good preparation for a career in law or business, because you learned the roots and bones of English so you could write -- no, communicate -- with clarity and grace.

Now, you learn to write with obscurity and hypocritical pretension, and without independent thought. You come out of English programs knowing nothing of grammar and incapable of writing well, with your head stuffed full of literature that nobody cares about.

I mean really -- do you take Stephen Dedalus or Leopold Bloom into your heart and life?

OK, maybe a few hundred academics do. But it's nothing like the way millions of people have embraced Harry Potter. Or, for that matter, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Pip, David Copperfield, Jo and Meg and Beth and Amy, Elizabeth and Jane Bennett and Darcy and Bingley, Scarlett and Rhett and Melanie and Ashley, Judah Ben-Hur, Frodo and Gollum and Sam, Paul Muad-dib, Hari Selden, Sherlock Holmes, Douglas Spaulding, Tarzan, Conan, Robinson Crusoe, Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister, and animals named Buck and Flicka and Bambi and Lassie.

Maybe you didn't know some of these names, or the works they came from, but I'll bet you knew a lot of them, and not just those whose names are in the titles.

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So while academics and critics (people who live by impressing others with their erudition and elitism) almost universally declare Ulysses to be the greatest work of the 20th century, volunteer readers - people who love literature for the joy of it - repeatedly declare that The Lord of the Rings is the greatest work.

Some of us think that only William Shakespeare and Jane Austen rival J.R.R. Tolkien for brilliance of talent and magnitude of achievement.

Here's the lovely thing: Eventually, the literary canon bends to the popular one. Academics almost universally sneered at Lord of the Rings when it first appeared -- even though the author was the very academic who had rescued Beowulf from oblivion and made it that absolutely essential root of English-literature studies.

They hated LOTR because anybody could read it, without help. They declared it to be shallow and worthless and badly written.

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But in fact those epithets applied far more aptly to many if not most of the works they taught as "great" contemporary literature. The Man Booker Prize is usually given to pretentious ephemera whose writing only thinly disguises the emptiness beneath it, but the slightly-more-popular prizes rarely do any better.

And anyone who says Tolkien's writing is less than brilliant simply does not understand language or writing. The Old-English-style poetry of almost every word Tom Bombadil says is a delight to those who recognize it, and Shakespeare and Hardy are the only writers I know who rival Tolkien for his ability to contrast heroic, courtly, common, and coarse language in the same work, the same chapter, the same scene.

Nobody in all of English literature is a better master of English prose than J.R.R. Tolkien.

Take this passage from Lord of the Rings:

"And all the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed. And he sang to them, now in the Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness."

Even if you haven't read the book and have no idea of what this moment actually means, that is simply gorgeous, fluid prose. Who has written about the power of language more beautifully than this, exemplifying what he describes?

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The people are better judges of great storytelling and, yes, even great writing, than the academics. In the long run, the fads of the volunteer readers are more likely to identify great and lasting works of literature than the fads of the academics.

I'm not talking about bestsellers. There are genres whose best sellers become bestsellers simply because there are so many readers who seek out that genre for their entertainment.

But is anyone still passing along the works of Irving Wallace as must-reads? His work was popular in its time, but its time has passed; it does not take away from its meaning as a marker of culture, but it will never enter the popular canon.

But writers like Dickens and Twain -- and, in the long run, Austen and Alcott and Mitchell and Tolkien and Lewis and Bradbury -- force their way into the academic canon. How? Because while the professors of one generation might sneer at their work, there will come a generation of professors who became readers precisely because of the love and joy and admiration they got from these writers.

They remain perpetually dissatisfied with academic rules and theories that do not make room for works that these professors still love. And eventually, they create new rules and theories that welcome the beloved works, while eventually shrinking and eventually displacing entirely the once-admired works that were never beloved by volunteer readers.

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However, there's another process at work in canon-formation: The Rescue.

Moby-Dick sank like a rock when it first appeared, but it was rescued by mature readers who realized that it was not just a great literary achievement but also a delightful, witty, mean, hard-hitting, powerfully told, memorable story.

Beowulf was a rescue, after all. Even Shakespeare, after years of eclipse, was rescued by a wiser generation. Often great works are pushed "down" into children's literature -- where science fiction and fantasy and women's fiction are often sneeringly placed by academics and critics too stupid to see past their prejudices -- only to be rescued by later generations.

After all, it was as a child that I was first given Alcott, Austen, Mitchell, Bradbury, Dickens, Defoe, and Twain; I was given them by people who loved both me and those books, and they were great and memorable gifts that have stayed with me my whole life.

(...)

We, not the professors, are the creators of the real canon. Let's take conscious control of the thing. As they lose their students, let's gain readers for the books we love.

Then, when the professors wise up and start teaching from our canon, they'll get their students back.

We will have saved them.

Aren't we nice?

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Helpless by unbelief

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The West is helpless from Christian unbelief - worse, it has become zealous to seek-out, corrupt, subvert, attack and destroy real Christian belief; no matter how obscure, peaceful or humble that belief may be.

Any real Christianity, anywhere, has become intolerable to the West.

The helplessness of the West yields hopelessness; and because there is no belief hopelessness can only seek its own extinction: hopelessness seeks distraction and intoxication; without distraction and intoxication the reality of the West is literally unbearable.

Because reality is unbearable it will not be borne: it will lead either to faith and hope, or the rejection of faith and the seeking of permanent oblivion.

Thus, the West can only escape hopelessness by confronting it. The path to hope goes through sober realism, horror, and repentance.

Hence there must be a withdrawal from distractions and intoxications - there must be a program of detoxification: first withdrawal, recovery - and then rebuilding life.

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Sunday, 30 December 2012

Welby-watch: the incoming Archbishop of Canturbury describes God's love as a leak!

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Naturally, I am keeping an eye on the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury; firstly to see if he might be a Christian.

So far, things do not look promising.

On his Christmas day sermon at Durham Cathedral, Justin Welby gave an extended metaphorical treatment of God's love that is either anti-Christian, or simply crazed:

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Bishop of Durham - Christmas Sermon - Durham Cathedral 2012


"The Triumph of Love" Bold emphasis added by me, my comments in [italics in square brackets].

http://www.durham.anglican.org/news-and-events/the-bishop-of-durham.aspx

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This is the triumph of love that challenges all our triumphs of votes and politics, of energy and manoeuvring, of Commissions and conferences. This is the triumph of God’s wisdom in the face of our despondent hopelessness or cheap victories. This is the true triumph, of utter vulnerability that in weakness overthrows every apparent strength.

And those truths make this such good news for a church struggling, amidst a world in need of a church triumphant. The work of God is not done through strength and efficiency, but through those who having seen the baby, leak out the love that they receive.

It is very easy to be despondent about the church [it is dishonest not to be despondent, unless 'the church' is seen as purely a bureaucracy.]

Some speak of division and even of betrayal [They do indeed, because there is division, and there has been betrayal - of conservatives.]

The processes we go through are agonisingly wounding for many. [By 'agonisingly wounding', he refers to the fact that priestesses are upset about hearing challenges to their unscriptural and anti-traditional ministerial and priestly status, and - especially - about damage to their career prospects; since their access to Bishop's jobs has been delayed.]

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There are profound differences of opinion about the nature of Christian truth and its place in society, about the right of an ancient tradition to dictate or even to advocate ethical values around the end of life, around marriage, around the nature of human relationships, inequality [!], our duty to each other...

[No need to read further, since this usage of 'around' is is sufficient evidence of secular Leftist lying.]

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[Inserted poem by radical Leftist Bishop.]

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The shepherds leaked the love of God into the world through their obedience to the command to worship the baby, to recognise who He was...

Glorifying God, leaking into the world the love that he leaks into us through the wounds and breaches and gaps of our own lives, is a severely practical and down to earth activity.

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Christians reach to the jagged edges of our society, and of the world in general [!]. Food distribution, places for rough sleepers, debt counselling, credit unions, community mediation, support for ex-offenders, support for victims of crime, care for the dying, valuing those who have no economic contribution to make, or are too weak to argue for their own value. All this is the daily work of the church , which goes on every day and everywhere.

[In other words, according to its leader, the 'daily work of the church' of England and Anglicans is to function as a sub-branch of the Leftist state bureaucracy.]

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We leak out into the world the love that God leaks into us. 

[Repeated for emphasis; just in case we missed the heresy first-time-round.]

God comes to us through the breaches and wounds of our lives because He comes in utter vulnerability. We are to be those who allow Him to make us vulnerable, welcome the weakness we have, and who will then be astonished by the strength with which God changes the world around us.

[If this means anything at all, which is somewhat doubtful, it is that we should personally be weak and submit to the State, observing with grateful astonishment the inexorable strength of historical inevitability in the triumph of secular Leftism as it changes the world around us. Which I further reduce to a covert statement by the Archbishop elect that Satan is winning and our duty is to celebrate the fact. Maybe I go too far in this?; maybe not.]

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Here we have a novel theology of Christian love - a love of leaks.

The general tenor of this sermon of love coming through leaks is to fill the hearer with passive, weak, submissive hopelessness; the only apparently-genuine passion is that rhapsodic list of Leftist causes which is described as the daily work of the church which goes on every day and everywhere.

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So, is Justin Welby a Christian?

I'd say not, in fact I'm pretty sure not; either he profoundly misunderstands Christianity - hence all the nonsense about God's love leaking here and there; or else he understands what is Christianity, but chooses to lie-about and subvert it. 

Most likely, a mixture of both.

In which case, the Anglican communion is in the hands of a weak, submissive but passively aggressive and spiteful anti-Christian... 

Happy New Year!

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Saturday, 29 December 2012

'Mere Christian' thoughts on the baptism of infants

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In some established, mostly Catholic, Christian societies; infant baptism has been the norm, and baptism regarded as essential to salvation - and performed as an emergency by anybody at hand if an infant was about to die.

Yet in some devout Protestant churches, baptism is something that happens (if it happens) mostly in teenage or adulthood, and is therefore implicitly regarded as optional to salvation.

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Catholic baptism makes sociological sense in that, in an already-existing Christian society, pretty much everybody is brought up a Christian unless they opt-out.

People in such societies are not 'born again' because they have never known anything different - they are swimming in a sea of Christianity, do not need specific instruction in Christianity - it is all that they have ever known.

Thus baptism is not about choice, but a normal practice - a necessity, but also very preliminary to the real business of a Christian life.

(In such societies, the most highly religious people adopt the religious life (monasticism), and seek to become Saints.)

When baptism is of infants, and near universal, and linked with salvation; the fate of the unbaptized infant becomes a major theological concern and problem - with various proposed solutions, such as Limbo.

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By contrast, in some Protestant societies, baptism is a matter for adults, and is therefore an opt-in.

The background assumption seems to be that people will not be Christian unless they specifically choose to become a Christian.

The religious life is conversion focused, and the convert is born-again very explicitly. There is much need for teaching, since one cannot assume that the average citizen knows what it means to be Christian.

Since baptism is not quick, or universal, and is not of young children; then the specific Catholic concern over the salvation of infants is not prominent.

(e.g. Devout English Puritan reformers of the Book of Common prayer wanted to stamp-out the practice of emergency baptism by midwives - the implicit attitude being that it was better for infants to die unbaptized than for such practices to encourage the wrong attitude to baptism.)

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Infant baptism, and baptism generally, is therefore one of the major differences between (sincere, devout, real) Catholic and Protestant Christians.

My only observation is that the general attitude concerning children throughout the New Testament seems to suggest that the salvation of children is not a problem.

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This is not a matter of theology, but a matter of what is suggested by the stories, and what is left-out of the theology, or is ambiguous or unclear. 

There seems to be an implicit background assumption that (young) children are innocent in practice (leaving aside the aspect of original sin) - and the salvific concern is with adults able to comprehend and choose.

This could imply that the eternal fate of children is so bound-up with, assimilated-to, that of adults (parents) such that no separate treatment of the matter is possible; or that children have 'different rules' including a free pass of some sort - perhaps that sin is an 'adult' phenomenon (with a borderline between child and adult that is necessarily imprecise).

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This line of argument tends to support the Protestant theology, however it does not invalidate the Catholic practice of infant baptism.

On the one had it supports the Protestant idea that infant baptism is not necessary to salvation; on the other hand it does not support the (sometimes) Protestant idea that infant baptism is wrong, invalid, and should be prohibited.

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I must admit that, although I personally was baptised as an infant and not by immersion in the Catholic-Protestant Church of England, I find it hard (in my simple-minded way) to understand why it is that adult baptism by immersion as depicted so prominently and explicitly in the New Testament has become so unusual among the major Christian denominations.

Leaving aside the consequences of not doing it; it just seems very obvious that when Baptism is done, it would be done in the manner of the New Testament accounts.

I'm not saying that differences from NT baptism practice have any particular bad consequences - at any rate, I don't see this in church history, not clearly; but I find it genuinely hard to comprehend why baptism would be changed, on the basic principle that if a church fundamentally changes baptism practice (given that baptism is so obvious and fundamental to the conversion process in the NT) then what would not be open to change?

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Friday, 28 December 2012

How the modern pseudo-virtue of 'equality' corrupted Christendom

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'Equality' is a notion that is:

1. Recently invented (the past few hundred years). It is a made-up virtue. A fake virtue - ungrounded in common sense, natural law, spontaneous human behaviour.

2. In one sense equality is conceptually im-precise, since there is no agreement on what should be equal and what should not...

3. Yet in another sense equality is mathematically precise, objectively measurable, and non-quantitative - all-or-nothing; since equality is operationalized as sameness and either things are exactly the same (so far as we can tell), or else things are not exactly the same; so that if justice is equality and equality is just, then any degree of inequality counts as total injustice.

4. Thus we have a made-up, invented, fake virtue which is both incoherent and yet mathematically psuedo-precise - and this utterly nonsensical entity has been inserted into human affairs by top-down propaganda from the anti-traditional Left; where it has - due to these peculiar and paradoxical qualities - utterly confused traditional morality and thereby equality has usurped all other virtues.

5. And at the same time in-equality has usurped all other sins as being regarded the primary evil of the world (nothing is ever allowed to justify inequality).

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We conclude that equality is a concept utterly demonic and repugnant, and to be shunned by all virtuous people.

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Thursday, 27 December 2012

The social function of Law: ancient and modern

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I have posted before on the modern conception of Law as contrasted with the pre-modern:

http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2010/09/common-sense-law-versus-nonsensical.html

http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/innocent-until-proven-guilty-rubbish.html

My point being that we tend to focus on the deficiencies of ancient law as evaluated from the context and with the assumptions of modern law, but ancient law was much more in-line withthe assumptions and purposes of spontaneous human common sense; as is well described by Peter Frost :

...Murder cases were rarely solved during the Middle Ages. Executions were largely for more common and less serious crimes like highway robbery and horse theft (although such offences would have been difficult to commit without a willingness to kill). 

Yes, medieval justice was worse than modern justice at solving specific murder cases. In general, it was less effective at finding the specific criminal behind any one crime. But it was more effective, and ruthlessly so, at profiling likely criminals.

This explains the seemingly irrational harshness of medieval punishment for petty crimes. The punishment was aimed not so much at the crime but at the underlying criminal mindset.

If someone had crossed the psychological barrier of committing one crime, however petty it might be, he or she would probably commit—or may have already committed— other crimes of greater importance.

http://www.evoandproud.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/genetic-pacification-in-medieval-europe.html

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Interestingly, one area of modern 'law' in which medieval methods are used, is the enforcement of that most modern of phenomena: political correctnes. 

One microscopic infraction of, say, speech codes (e.g. the use of a taboo word) may lead to catastrophic punishment including heavy fines (often inflicted in the mode of legal costs), public labeling as a social pariah (or outlaw, to use the medieval term - meaning that any harm or violence done to one marked as being outwith-the-law goes unpunished), deportation or exclusion from a nation, and prison. 

Indeed, even to be accused of a 'hate crime' by a representative of a PC-privileged group is regarded as sufficient evidence of guilt. 

So, if you are the kind of person who attracts accusation from PC-privileged group representatives for PC-violations, then you are judged to be the kind of person that society wants rid of; and 'open season' is (in effect) declared upon such outlaws. 


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Above-replacement fertility - necessary (but not sufficient) for a valid religion

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It seems to me that above-replacement fertility is a necessity for any valid religion; or, to put it another way, any religion in which the adherents (as a group) voluntarily average less than two children per woman, is of necessity false and evil in some very fundamental way.

The test is necessary but not, of course, sufficient. While sub-replacement fertility is necessarily bad, and evidence of some underlying and over-powering falsity in belief or practice; above replacement fertility is certainly not evidence of a group being on-the-whole-good.

Indeed most groups reasons for high fertility are bad, simply because above-replacement is the natural (biological) state for humans, and humans are sinful creatures who need to be saved.

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So, we can apply a filter to Christian denominations around the world and within societies.

All of those denominations in which adherents average less than two children per woman are bad, false and should be rejected as being (in some way, which may or may not be specifically identifiable) on-the-whole evil (their good qualities being overwhelmed by one or more bad qualities).

The bad-ness of low-fertility can conveniently be seen in the age structure of adherents - high median age, proportionately few children and few adults of child-bearing age, and a distorted sex ratio (in other words, not enough men).

And the more extreme, and sustained, is chosen sub-fertility; the worse the denomination, the more anti-Christian. 

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I am saying that sustained and self-chosen sub-fertility in a group is evidence of such profound spiritual malaise, that it provides an objective measure of spiritual malaise. 

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In a country like England, this means that all the major self-styled 'Christian' denominations can be revealed as sub-fertile and trending worse, hence net-evil, hence not truly Christian, hence ruled-out of consideration.

Among those smaller, more-specific Christian groups with above-replacement fertility, we cannot assume that any are valid - since we cannot assume that there are any valid Christian groups in England.

It is possible that there are only scattered valid Christians who may be spread thinly across denominations, or outwith organized churches - or perhaps there are simply too few real Christians to register.

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But applying this test would suggest where, among which denominations, real Christians might find it worth looking for a church that is potentially good-on-the-whole. As well as providing a quick and simple way of detecting and rejecting pseudo-Christian Churches.

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NOTE: To make clear - as a Mere Christian, I believe that real Christians are scattered (but not evenly) across many denominations and are to be found in many congregations - even those of the most corrupt pseudo-Christian churches. However, such individuals would necessarily find themselves at-odds-with their denominations and congregations, and swimming-against the tide of change. 

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Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Christianity in four brief points

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Christianity originally only required four pieces of evidence in order to be known true - that was against the background either of Judaism or Paganism.

These four sentences amount to the evidence that Jesus was the Son of God, Saviour and Lord of all - what was meant by that was clear at the time, and it was purely a matter of whether the claim was judged to be true or false. 

But what a phrase like Son of God, Lord and Saviour means is nowadays no longer clear, and takes much more than four sentences to explain (which means in practice that since most people cannot or will not attend for even so much as four sentences, the whole thing has become de facto incomprehensible).

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Anyway, here they are:

1. Evidence of the holiest man alive - John the Baptist - that Jesus was who he said he was.

(This was as if Albert Einstein at the height of his powers had pointed to some person and said, repeatedly, that here is the greatest physicist who ever lived; so far above me, that I am by comparison not fit to sharpen his pencils.)

2. The many miracles.

3. The fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah.

Then

4. The resurrection.

All these were attested by numerous witnesses. 

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So there is first understanding the package of Jesus' claims for himself. This understanding used to be fairly easy but has now become very difficult - especially since so many people think they understand Jesus' claims but have the facts extremely wrong.

Then there is the evidence that Jesus can be relied upon, that he was what he claimed to be.

The truth of the claims is thus separate from the nature of the claims - and these aspects should not be conflated.

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Also, it must be acknowledged in advance that these claims of Jesus could, in principle, be true; whereas many modern people suppose that something about modernity has somehow discovered that Jesus' claims are necessarily impossible; they believe that Jesus' claims for himself cannot be true.

This attitude of the impossibility of Jesus' claims must be discarded, since it is ignorant.

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It is ignorant because it confuses metaphysical assumptions with scientific discoveries made within metaphysical assumptions.

When deity is excluded from science and other empirical investigations, this is a metaphysical assumption that deity is not relevant - it is not a discovery that deity is not existent.  

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The evidence that Jesus was who he said he was is strong, but not - of course - conclusive.

The evidence is as good as evidence gets - because all evidence boils down to the testimony of reliable witnesses. But of course, witnesses can be unreliable, can turn-out to be wrong, and may contradict each other - apparently or in reality.

Thus evidence does not get you all the way, nor is it intended that evidence should get you all the way, because belief must be chosen.

The rest is faith.

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All men are equal in the eyes of God? An Antichrist phenomenon

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Despite the blatherings of Church leaders to the contrary, equality is not a Christian virtue - indeed equality is not any kind of virtue, but on the contrary a sin, evil in aim and effect.

http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/lets-be-clear-equality-is-not-good.html

http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/the-desire-for-equality-is-natural-to.html

Specifically, Leftists are very fond of quoting as-if-axiomatic a phrase along the lines that "all men are equal in the sight of God" - and this is quoted as if it was a Biblical text.

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But it isn't from the Bible, and indeed contradicts the Bible in about as wholesale a fashion as possible. Neither in its general tenor, nor in any of its specific teachings, does the Bible ever at any point advocate equality.

Is that clear enough?

Attempts to extract equality from the Bible are transparently prejudiced; no unprejudiced person (that is, no person who did not already, for other reasons, 'believe in' equality) could ever come away from studying the Bible having learned there that Men are equal in any significant way, shape or form.

*

Presumably this 'equal in the eyes of God' phrase comes from a mutilated memory of the US Declaration of Independence, with its meaningless/ false phrase 'created equal', but the DoI is not a Christian document.

And indeed it seems that an explicit advocacy of the evil principle of equality entered human discourse only at about that time - only in the past few hundred years have humans pursued equality as a goal, evaluated human affairs in terms of equality.

*

Yet, equality is typically given first place in the public pronouncements of many or most of the mainstream Western 'Christian' church leaders.

In other words, many or most major Christian leaders take as axiomatic and argue from, a principle (equality) which is very obviously not merely un-Christian but anti-Christian in its origin, history and current tendency. 

Of course, they blend and surround equality-talk with genuine Christian stuff; thus evil is made superficially plausible and desirable.

*

This is a precise example of the Antichrist phenomenon as I understand it from the writings of Fr Seraphim Rose and other Russian Orthodox Fathers.

The Antichrist can mean a specific Man who will rule the world in the times leading up to the second coming - who will rule the world in Christ's name but under Satan's direction; but the term also includes a class of phenomena and a range of people and institutions that use Christianity as a cover for anti-Christian efforts.

Therefore, explicitly atheist and secular individuals and those of aggressively non-Christian religions are not (by this account) Antichrists - but the Antichrist term really applies to those pseudo-Christian leaders and institutions who associate their teachings positively with Christianity, who use pro-Christian motivations of people and aspects of Christian life; but are actually engaged in the destruction of Christianity.

*

Of course this is sometimes difficult to discern, and sincere Christians may be duped, and the most devoted servants of Satan (cunning master of lies) may imagine they are serving Christ.

Yet, for those who are not inside the web of lies, Antichrist phenomena may be very clear and obvious; as is currently the situation with respect to a large majority of the leadership of the Church of England.

That the majority of Church of England Bishops, especially the most senior, most clergy, and half or more of the laity are currently working as agents and allies of the Antichrist is not one of those 'difficult to discern' phenomena - indeed, what is difficult, is to deny their very obvious, in-your-face, search-and-destroy, anti-Christian zeal.

*

So the only legitimate question is whether the anti-Christian activities of the Church of England (and the other mainstream Western churches) is too obviously and explicitly evil for them to count as an Antichrist phenomenon.

After all, the Antichrist is supposed to be subtle in his anti-Christianity - and modern Liberal 'Christians' fail to qualify on that count.

*

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

His name? Lermin!

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For the past five years, late September to Christmas, my family have been sitting down of a Saturday evening and watching the BBC TV series called Merlin - a twist on the King Arthur story in which Merlin is the same age as Arthur - a young servant initially in his late teens, and whose powers must be concealed because of the laws against magic.

Each episode begins with a portentous preamble (from The Dragon, voiced by John Hurt) saying the following:

In a land of myth, and a time of magic, the destiny of a great kingdom rests on the shoulders of a young boy [later 'young man'].  His name... Merlin.

But when the narrator says 'Merlin' we all shout him down in unison with 'Lermin'. 

*

The original idea behind this daftness was a fantasy scenario that the great ACT-OR (John Hurt) had rehearsed and rehearsed his cheesy lines until he was thoroughly fed-up had lost all sense of their meaning, so on the final recorded take, after the big build-up, he got the main character's name wrong - but nobody noticed, and it got broadcast anyway. 

*

I'm not, here, making a recommendation that the BBC Merlin was a great piece of television - but that it was enjoyable and wholesome family fare, with plenty of vivid characters, good and evil, played by a cast that mixed young discoveries with many stalwarts of British TV and movies.

Anyway, lastnight - Christmas Eve - we all sat down and watched the last episode with the death of Arthur, the Once and Future King prophecy, and a neat hint that the story or Arthur, and his role in Britain was not yet over and finished with, but that Merlin remained with us, unnoticed.

*

I, like most Britons, have long been fascinated with the story of Arthur, in its many versions. As a teen I was much influenced, for good and ill, by TH White's Once and Future King. Now I find myself going back often to look at C.S Lewis's That Hideous Strength - a book into which he packed just about everything he wanted to say, and which consequently almost bursts with the pressure: it is, indeed (for all its flaws), a prophetic and inspired book. 

*

"The poison was brewed in these West lands but it has spat itself everywhere by now. However far you went you would find the machines, the crowded cities, the empty thrones, the false writings, the barren beds: men maddened with false promises and soured with true miseries, worshipping the iron works of their own hands, cut off from Earth their mother and from the Father in Heaven.

You might go East so far that East became West and you returned to Britain across the great Ocean, but even so you would not have come out anywhere into the light. The shadow of one dark wing is over all Tellus"...

The Hideous Strength holds all this Earth in its fist to squeeze as it wishes. But for their one mistake, there would be no hope left. If of their own evil will they had not broken the frontier and let in the celestial Powers, this would be their moment of victory. Their own strength has betrayed them. They have pulled down Deep Heaven on their heads. Therefore, they will die...

*

...Gradually we began to see all English history in a new way. We discovered the haunting...how something we may call Britain is always haunted by something we may call Logres. Haven't you noticed that we are two countries? After every Arthur, a Mordred; behind every Milton, a Cromwell; a nation of poets, a nation of shopkeepers. Is it any wonder they call us hypocrites? But what they mistake for hypocrisy is really the struggle between Logres and Britain...

*

...Did they really mean any great harm with all their fussy little intrigues? Wasn’t it more silly than anything else?”

“Och aye,” said MacPhee. “They were only playing themselves. Kittens letting on to be tigers. But there was a real tiger about and their play ended by letting her in..."

"...Of course, they never thought anyone would act on their theories! No one was more astonished than they when what they’d been talking of for years suddenly took on reality. But it was their own child coming back to them: grown up and unrecognisable, but their own...”

*

"Those who have forgotten Logres sink into Britain. Those who call for Nonsense will find that it comes.”

*

That is why Arthur keeps returning to haunt us, and why almost all versions of the legend - including the modern, distraction-orientated and politically correct - illuminate with beams of light peeping through the chinks.

The BBC Merlin was limited by many deficiencies characteristic of its age - not least the elimination of religion from King Arthurs court (so that the King was crowned not by a priest but by the court librarian!) - yet because there was a decency behind it, a sense of striving to do one's best, there were times when the spirit of Arthur and Merlin, the spirit of Logres, was apparent.

Much more cannot be expected in our times.

*

As Tolkien wrote in Smith of Wootton Major when Smith meets the Queen of Faery and found that:

"...His mind turned back retracing his life until he came to the day of the Children's Feast and the coming of the star, and suddenly he saw  again the little dancing figure with its wand [stood on top of the sugary sweet icing of the Great Cake], and in shame he lowered his eyes from the Queen's beauty.

"But she laughed... "Do not be grieved for me...

"Better a little doll, maybe, than no memory of Faery at all."

*

Let's take Christmas in that way. No matter how subverted and commercialized, its transcendent meaning cannot be utterly hidden, for those with eyes to see, hearts to feel - and it is this from childhood which haunts our adult memories.

Happy Xtmas.

*

Monday, 24 December 2012

How happy days lead on to a spiral of pleasure-seeking misery

*

For most of my life I was an atheist; and therefore my life strategy was to be happy in this life.

(Sometimes I self-denied that I was trying to be happy - but all this amounted to was seeking long-term happiness within this life rather than immediate happiness; for example by studying for exams (not enjoyable), or reading dull philosophical discourses - in order to have a better chance of a happier life later.)

*

Looking back I can perceive that there were periods of my life - particular periods of up to several months together, up to about a year - when I was exceptionally happy: when I was happy in the here and now and looked forward to even greater happiness unfolding, almost inevitably.

For certain periods, therefore, happiness was easy, came easily, lacked the usual conflict between the short- and long-term. 

*

And I can also see (I noticed this years ago, but couldn't explain it) that these periods of extended easy happiness were followed by dark times, miserable times, times when life seemed meaningless and irritating, and when I could not recapture the happiness of just a few months earlier. These times typically lasted severalfold longer than the easy happiness times which preceded them.

*

A factor which explains this patterns was that the times of easy happiness resulted from successful hedonism; successfully organizing my life around pleasure seeking. And this strategy paid-off - for a while - with greater happiness; but the result of this was to entrench and make habitual, systematic hedonism, as my major life plan and expectation.

Then sometimes luck turned, as it will; but mostly it was a matter of coming-up-against the basic biological principle of habituation: repeating the same stimulus leads to the diminution or disappearance of the response to that stimulus.

(Or more generally, the fact that strict repetition is an impossibility; doing something/ anything for the second, tenth, hundredth, thousandth time cannot ever be the same as doing it the first time; it will always differ significantly.)

*

The response is typically that of the addict: escalating doses of the stimulus.

The outcome is also like that of an addict: to become addicted to pleasure seeking despite the lack of pleasure; to become wretched and miserable at the repeated self-administering of an ineffective pleasure-stimulus; yet trapped in the pattern because ceasing to self-administer the stimulus causes immediate and even greater suffering.

Thus the once-successful hedonist is trapped in a chronic situation of low-grade alienation, purposelessness, meaninglessness and misery - a state that is selfish and short-termist and exploitatively sinful in attitude and action - trapped in this state by and because they seek pleasure and (for a while) got exactly what they sought!

*

In other words, the longish dark periods of alienation followed the briefer happy times precisely because they were caused by the happy times; caused by the bad habits that had been ingrained during the happy times.

This, then, is one of the ratchets of sin as it operates in someone leading what is, overall and in world historical terms, a fortunate and comfortable life; the ratchet by which happiness is turned to alienation; and an attitude where the world and everything in it, including the people in it, is seen as a potential source of pleasure and life strategy a matter of using knowledge, reason and experience to extract the maximum of pleasure at the minimum cost of pain (and effort).

It exemplifies how atheism is not just meaningless, in terms of rendering everything that might be of value either infinitely trivial or a delusion, but self-defeating - because it is thwarted by the intrinsic and unavoidable nature of biology as it applies even to the simplest of animals - even an amoeba is subject to habituation.

*

The state is common, near universal in the modern West, as Thoreau perceived when he diagnosed that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

Unfortunately, Thoreau's prescription, which I was indeed following and explicitly so, was to recommend a more thorough and individualist hedonism.

What Thoreau failed to perceive - due to his vague impersonal deism/ atheism, as did I, was that Thoreau's remedy was in fact the precise cause of the disease it purported to cure - or rather that quiet desperation was merely a less severe version of the gratification-addiction which would, inevitably, result from following Thoreau's recommended life strategy of paying the minimum in time and effort for the maximum of personal gratification (see the chapter 'Economy' in Walden where this is explicitly stated).

*

The only escape from gratification addiction in a secular world view is to obliterate awareness - intoxication, a state of perpetual distraction, a state of animal-like unconsciousness - or suicide, with an expectation that death is the end and this will obliterate all consciousness.

Which all amount to the same thing: for the secular hedonist the prescribed cure for being human is to stop being human - either by becoming something else, or by ceasing to be (especially ceasing to be aware).

This is to cure the human condition by killing human-ness - rather like making a 'better world - a world without suffering - by destroying the world. 

*

I take this experience in my life as a reductio ad absurdum of the idea of trying to live for gratification, as an atheist, with a timespan restricted to human life, without a personal God who has personal concern for me.

Any strategy primarily to seek earthly happiness is self-refuting, and leads (deviously, but certainly) to pleasure-addiction and earthly misery; except it be embedded in an infinite frame: which is the quest for eternal happiness

Earthly happiness is then seen as a secondary and contingent by-product of the true primary goal of human life. 

*

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Christianity without philosophy: what would it look like?

*

The answer is: pretty much like the Old Testament.

I am not excluding the New Testament here - so the proper answer is 'The Bible' - but a focus on the OT emphasizes that the ancient Jews has a non-philosophical way of living, of thinking; which is the main... well it could be called 'rival' or 'complement' to the Greek style of thinking we call 'philosophy' and which tends to be the basis of what we call 'theology'.

*

For modern intellectuals it is difficult not to be philosophical.

Which is not to say we do philosophy well; of course we don't!

But, our first 'move' is usually to make a metaphysical assumption and proceed from there.

The basic metaphysical assumption used by the Greeks was (I think) to distinguish time/ change from eternity/ stasis.

*

But what does an intelligent, complex mode of thought without any such assumption look like? The answer is given by the OT.

 But if not metaphysical, not abstractly philosophical; then what is it?

Well it could be called historical, if history is seen as a very 'thick' and rich term, including what we might term myth, and purpose, and meaning.

So another word might be narrative: that life is conceptualized in terms of a story, and a story is a matter of persons, agents, individuals (such that some persons may be nations, or lands, or animals - the point that all significant actors in the drama of history are person-like - or as we dismissively put it 'anthropomorphized').

*

So for the ancient Hebrews there was a beginning and an end, and a lot of stuff happening in between.

So, life was framed by revelations and prophecies of what we (as individuals, families, races, peoples) came from and where we are going, and why, and how we personally fit into this.

And revelations (often in the form of promises, covenants and the like) told that God (and angels; and Satan and fallen angels) were engaged with the lives of each person and peoples, moment by moment, in fulfillment of prophetic destiny.

*

Destiny would happen, but by free will individuals could resist this, and delay the coming to pass (for good or ill; by repentance or sinning) - for a while.

What will happen is fixed (and known) by the nature of things which is the will of God; when it happens (and what that happening is actually like when experienced) is subject to choice.

Order is certain, timescale is contingent.

*

That would, in itself, perhaps be abstract; except that there was no space between the story and the self.

This is hard for us moderns to grasp: we set the individual against the rest of the world; but for an Old Testament character like David, there was both an intense individualism and a sense of being inextricably part of his people's destiny, and expression of his people in history.

Well, David was a King, it might be said; but what of ordinary people?

There is a circularity to the question, since there are no ordinary people recorded in this kind of mythic history (being recorded makes you a part of the myth). And that is the point. David began ordinary, became a king - but we get the sense of what it was to be ordinary from the earlier part - and it wasn't qualitatively different from being a King.

The book of Ruth shows another slice of ordinary life, and how is could be taken up into 'history'.

We can at least glimpse from such stories what it is to live in awareness that one is inside history, destiny, prophecy. 

*

Let's briefly consider an example of the difference between philosophical and historical modes: the problem of free will in the context of an omniscient God. i.e. if God knows the future how can we be free; but if we are free how can God know the future?

Philosophically, this is a version of the problem of how to understand the relationship between time and eternity, change and stasis. This history of philosophy up to Aquinas provides a variety of solutions (after which the problem was progressively swept aside and ignored).

It all seems impossible - or rather, any apparently satisfying answer (such as provided by Boethius in Consolation of Philosophy) is so abstract as to be un-understandable - less understandable that the problem was in the first place; and impossible to live-by.

And yet, the Old Testament demonstrates what it is like to live in a (non-philosophical) world where God is omniscient, where prophecies and promises always come to pass, and yet where the agents have free will and make real choices.

In the Old Testament world as we share in its lived quality, there is no 'as yet', there is no paradox (either real or perceived), there is no incoherence between God's foreknowledge and the freedom of the human actors.

*

Thus (by identifying with the OT, by living vicariously in its narrative) we seen that although Philosophically the problem seems insoluble; in practice - when there is a people living in an historical mode - it is not a problem, but in fact the answer is a matter of everyday experience.

And yet, precisely because the historical mode of thinking and living is essentially different from the philosophical mode; there is no philosophical explanation for how it works: we perceive how it works, we cannot philosophically explain its coherence - indeed, philosophically it seems incoherent.

We cannot capture mythic history in philosophy - we can only live it (whether in reality or imagination, whether permanently or temporarily), or not live it - maintain distance, regard history through the lens of philosophy.

*

But all religions (or at least, all strong and living and enduring religions) are and always have been philosophically incoherent; thus it is trivially easy to look at someone else's religion and demonstrate that it is nonsense, paradoxical, and (philosophically speaking)'makes no sense'. And yet the actual lived existence of that religion refutes all the philosophy!

(Or, at least, it may do - some religions really do not work, they do not make any significant difference to life. An 'Old Testament' of modern 'Liberal Christianity' or secular Leftism is unimaginable - except as a satire or warning, embedded in a genuine religious narrative.)

Yet of the same philosophical and analytic tools were turned back on the religion (or ideology) from which this destructive critique has emerged, then they would be revealed as self-dismantling.

*

Ordinary people cannot do philosophy - they have no need or interest to think in that kind of way.

But ordinary people can live historically; indeed it is the norm - and we are the weird ones.

Indeed, this has changed during my life. England certainly had an element of the mythic-historic when I was a child; and so did social roles such as being a doctor, an academic, a scientist (from my experience) and apparently also being a joiner/ carpenter, or coal miner - or a mother.

*

So we get two styles of Hebrew/ historical and Greek/ philosophical; and both present in Christianity from the beginning.

But we find it hard, nowadays, to stop being philosophical even though we are so inept at it; perhaps because we are so inept.

*

I find, recurrently, that the philosophical style tends to get out of hand; and that it inserts a gap between myself and my religion.

Indeed, 'gap' is hardly the word for what it does!

Whether I am reading Aristotelian scholasticism, mystical Platonism, or the tight legalism of the Reformation-influenced thinkers; again and again I will suddenly awaken from my intellectual fascination to find that Christianity is something ever there and I am standing over here, alone, looking at it.

*

Attempts to recover the historical way of thinking and living are attacked - and often demolished - by the power and status of philosophical questioning - since philosophy is able to make distinctions, and create problems, even or especially when it is unable to answer the questions raised by its own analysis.

That is, indeed, the history of philosophy, its driving dynamic - continual questioning, subversion.

Or, at least. the proportion of philosophers who have found a way of living from philosophy is very small in comparison with those who were absorbed (distracted) by the intellectual activity of demolishing ways of living (including previous philosophies).

*

This is what troubles me about all specific attempts to formulate Christianity in terms of beliefs. It seems wrong to express Christianity as a list of beliefs; and also it seems wrong (and indeed even more wrong) to debate, modify or demolish lists of beliefs.

There is, it seems, no substitute for the historical sense of life; and if this is absent, then there can be no effective replacement; and this applies to Christianity as well as other religions.

Strong religion seems, indeed, to be characterized by precisely this historical sense; the sense of destiny - of living inside myth.

With this, all falls into place; without it, nothing else really matters.

*

  

 

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Everyday life as it should be

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This is a Mormon painting I just stumbled upon, entitled Called to Serve - representing two missionaries getting ready for the day's work.

(The visual reference is to putting-on the 'armour of God' as described by St Paul.)

http://docbox.org/prints/called.php

I post this partly because I like it - I think it is a good piece of artwork; partly because it exemplifies an attitude to everyday life as embedded in spiritual life which I regard as correct and the best; and also to demonstrate one of the roots of the strength of the Mormon religion as I understand it: superficially modern, mainstream and assimilated almost to invisibility; but carrying a deeper level of awareness of life as purposive spiritual striving, and warfare.

*

Jealousy of Charles Williams was NOT a factor in the breakdown of Tolkien and Lewis's friendship

*

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/was-tolkien-jealous-of-charles-williams.html

*

Friday, 21 December 2012

Don't argue, don't debate: Christians should just let it be known "We will not do it"

*

When secular Leftist organizations (that is, all Western governments and all major social institutions) intend to impose new rules that require Christians to do that which real Christians cannot do - or require Christians to stop doing what real Christians must do - then there is no obligation for Christians to engage in debate, discussion or explanation with those who do not share Christian premises: to do so is indeed counter-productive, since it carries the message that if the secular Leftists come up with enough strong enough arguments, then Christians will change their minds.

All that Christians need to and should do is to make a single clear and unambiguous statement on the matter: either that we will not do what we should not do; or that we will continue to do what we ought to do - to the utmost of our abilities.

What follows and how it all pans-out is, in a sense, none of our business.

We cannot, cannot be expected to, and should not even try to re-organize and reform the whole secular Leftist mainstream world: that is not our business, and it is the kind of business that prevents us doing our real business.

We must just do, or not do; and wait patiently see see what happens, and pray to bear it as best we may.

The above is not a strategy carefully crafted for success - who knows how things will unfold? It is simply a matter of taking responsibility for that for which we are responsible; and not for that for which we are not.

*

Hobbit movie review

*

The Hobbit: an unexpected journey - 2012

Rating: three stars (from a possible five).^

*

Although Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies would rank as among the best I have ever seen, and although filming The Hobbit is - in principle - a perfectly straightforward matter by comparison with LotR - I never had much hope for the Jackson Hobbit project.

Almost everything I heard about it rang alarm bells. Sadly my fears have turned out to be correct.

*

In sum: The Hobbit movie reminds me, here and there, of a book by JRR Tolkien I have read scores of times. But it feels nothing like the book - except in a handful of scenes.

That is because the movie contains a very low proportion of the book - and a very high proportion of made-up stuff.

The Baggins-centred plot of the book has been partly-framed and partly-replaced by a new, overarching plot about The Wise defeating the emergent Sauron/ Necromancer. What is left of The Hobbit has been seriously mutilated and distorted by the operation; the result made even more disfiguring by a great deal of additionl plastic surgery on the fine detail of the remaining scenes and especially the character motivations.

All this to the extent that the Hobbit movie is mostly made-up stuff, and its very essence is made-up stuff. It is not really an adaptation at all; but more one of those mainstream Hollywood 'from the book by' movies, where similarity is just a matter of the title and a few character names.

*

Naturally, I tried to approach the movie as a movie - and let myself take the movie on its own terms.

But what was surprising is what an inept example of narrative movie-making the Hobbit turned out to be: they have actually managed to make The Hobbit drag, I mean, the movie is actually rather tedious in several points and feels distinctly padded-out.

There are many set-piece scenes (of various types: peril, battle, discussion) which go on for about twice, or three times, as long as they ought to.

This serves to emphasize the unbelievable level of improbability of the escapes and victories as depicted: almost every such change evoked incredulity (the escape from the underground goblin kingdom was ridiculously improbable).

In principle, in a magical movie for kids, strict probability ought not to apply - but that only works if you establish a magical atmosphere - whereas the hyper-realism of the movie Hobbit inevitably enforces a realistic mode of evaluation - which is thwarted.

*

The reason is easy enough to understand - they have messed-up the book's structure, big time, by dispensing with Bilbo as the central protagonist whose presence and reactions unite the disparate adventures of his quest.

So, the main bad thing about the Hobbit movie, considered strictly as a movie, is that it does not hang together; and because it does not hang together it is not fully engaging, and because it is not engaging, then its structural flaws becomes very obvious.

In sum, it is not a good piece of movie making.

*

Naturally, however, there are plenty of good things on show.

Like the LotR movies, this is visually gorgeous - a living depiction of Alan Lee's landscape illustration style. The look of Bag End and the Shire (seen from various angles in panoramic shots, and in many close-ups) is simply superb.

The opening shots of the dwarf kingdom under the Lonely Mountain, and indeed the dwarf civilization, were a revelation - making convincingly apparent what I have always had difficulty picturing.

The central scene with Gollum, the riddles and the discovery of the ring is pretty much perfection.

McKellen's Gandalf is extremely good (except when he is forced by the script to say and to do unGandalf-like things). Martin Freeman's Bilbo is fine, and better than fine in some places. Hugo Weaving as Elrond is a lot better than he was in LotR - although there was the annoyingly uncanonical statement that not Elrond but Galadriel was in charge of the forces for good in Middle Earth.

Christopher Lee as Saruman looked ill, behaved like a tetchy and semi-senile old man; and surely the actor should have been encouraged to lie down and rest, to make way for an understudy.

The inserted plot to feature Radagast seemed unintegrated stylistically (in terms of appearance, acting and incident); as well as being a part of the only semi-coherent new plotline.

*

The dwarves are not really one thing or another; at some times cartoon comic characters (which is how the appear in most of the book; gradually elevating in seriousness throughout the last part), at others they are almost like superheroes; at first sight they behave like yobbish teenagers who have wandered-into Bag End from Beavis and Butthead - later they are depected as noble Norse warriors, at other times they are merely inept; some dwarves look like normal handsome men, others like living caricatures.

What was presumably intended to create a set of distinct characters, ends-up as just a mess of genres.

(I cannot forbear to mention that the very first dwarf we encounter has his head covered in tattoos: surely, in so many of the current mainstream movies [TV programs, comics etc] that are explicitly aimed at children, this gratuitous insinuation of tattoos, especially in relation to 'cool' characters, represents a strategically evil theme - a deliberately subversive intent on the part of movie, TV and comic creators?).

*

As for the interaction of characters... suffice it to say that the least enjoyable aspect of Jackson's LotR movies, I mean the recurrent, compulsive, insertion of multiple micro-conflicts and fake dissent between the major good characters and races, is here unleashed to the extreme. Apart from Bilbo, Gollum and Gandalf these are not Tolkien's characters at all - but different people with the same name; different people whose major trait is a tendency to bicker and harbour petty grudges.

*

The way for a serious Tolkien fan to watch the new Hobbit movie is to focus on the look of it, switch attention on and off as required, and just try to ignore the intrusive film school tropes and ludicrously over-blown and silly CG special effect set-pieces - especially the compulsive insertion of so much pork pie peril+.

So, the Hobbit movie is revealed as what I always feared it would turn-out to be - a misconceived exercise from the bottom-up; with its flaws baked-in from the start of the project.

What was needed was simply an adaptation of the book, suitably adapted for the screen, and as a stand-alone movie; taking advantage of modern CGI and the studios proven ability to realize an Alan Lee inspired mise en scene.

*

However, Jackson never aimed to do this, and hasn't done it; and has instead created a mash-up of The Hobbit book (with different minor characters) inserted-into a poorly realized framework expanded from a few sentences by Tolkien - and then has sprawled this out over three movies...

Thus the New Hobbit has ended-up as something like the film equivalent of a 1970s, progressive rock, triple LP concept album in a gatefold cover with art by Roger Dean - and in the process Peter Jackson has become the Rick Wakeman of movie-making.

And as such there is much stuff here to enjoy, (for all of Wakeman's cape-wearing absurdity, he had talent; which we know for sure Jackson had in spades) as a whole this movie is over-blown, show-offish, striving for effect, and - because it spreads not enough material too far - it is rather boring.

*

Jackson's whole approach to putting The Hobbit on screen was arrogantly disrespectful to Tolkien in the manner of a know-it-all petulant adolescent; and this is what comes through in the result.

The movie left behind an unpleasant taste.   

*

^Note: My star system goes something like this: Five = excellent, must see (assuming you are similar to me); Four = very good, worth seeing; Three = some good elements may make it worth seeing, but you would not miss much by skipping it; Two = bad, waste of time, not worth seeing; One = actively harmful.

+Note: for the definition of 'pork pie peril' see -  http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/pork-pie-peril-in-movies.html 

*

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Genius as a form of power

*

I have been mulling-over the idea that genius could be regarded as a form of power; when power is considered as being able to shape the world according to desire.

This captures the ambiguity, or two-faced quality of genius - that because it is power, it can be used for good or ill.

*

By this account there used to be large numbers of individuals who were gifted with exceptional power; and if this was combined with hard work and luck, these individuals each had an exceptionally large influence on the world.

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The 'world' that genius influences necessarily includes the human world, and may be restricted to the human world. So genius in the arts is of this type.

But let us first consider scientific, technical, economic genius - the kind of genius which when found in high concentration for several generations led to modernity: this world of increasing productivity, capability, specialization.

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A scientific genius re-orders some aspect of the world - by discovery, invention, theory - and this re-ordering survives, spreads, replicates through the human world.

It is as if the genius is the origin of an epidemic, or the first of a successful lineage of mutants.

But this is purposive, it is non-random - the genius knows what he is doing, and knows what he is trying to do - even if he cannot possibly predict the consequences of succeeding.

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And this is where the transcendental aspect of genius comes in. There are those who are gifted with the potentiality for changing the world, and they, as individuals, have a choice - a profound choice - how they deploy that gift, in which direction they point that gift.

As the gift unfurls itself, they will be confronted with forks in the road when they are able to choose and to influence the direction of the power they are unleashing - and whether it will be for God, or against God.

The way that it works is that the whole nature of the power unleashed may be decided by this quantitatively small choices - so that, in effect, a genius may create a power that is 99.9 percent Good; yet is evil in nature due to one choice made.

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In Tolkien's world, Feanor is the greatest ever genius of science, and is defined by the unsurpassed beauty of the Silmaril jewels - yet his choice not to allow the jewels to be sacrificed in order to restore the light of the destroyed trees of light, is an evil choice which sets in motion a vast tide of misery and further destruction.

The Silmarils are thus almost wholly good - yet from this choice, and from the possessiveness they engender - are a net evil.

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This is a symbol of genius. There are - or were - individuals with Feanor-like power to change the world; but the cumulative misdirection of this power, generation upon generation, has led to the psychotic, purposively evil aspects of the world which are ascendant.

This has been the doing of genius in the world of the arts, just as has the several generations of rapid economic growth, the several centuries of increasing scientific and technical capability...

So many of the geniuses of the past chose, in the crux, to deploy their power against God: sometimes very obviously and explicitly, sometimes (as with so many of the scientists) simply by leaving-out God or by eroding his nature.

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I found the seeds of this idea in George Orwell's essay on Salvador Dali - where Orwell acknowledges that Dali was, qua painter, of genius or near-genius level - but deployed this power to sicken and demotivate, to poison the minds of many. At a lesser level, something similar is true of  painters such as Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud.

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And the same could be said of many or most artistic geniuses in the past century especially - and although some repented, they were not able to undo the harm done by the unleashing of evil-directed power in their early work.

So, James Joyce was an unrepentant genius who unleashed his amazing power over language against God; and TS Eliot did the same in works such as Prufrock and The Waste Land -  which have acted like a residual toxin on the world view of four generations.

Eliot's later repentance seems incomplete (since he seems not to have repudiated the early work which made his name) - but either way the harm had been done: the toxic phrases had been launched on the world, had replicated, had become an epidemic.

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In science and technics, a similar phenomenon has of course been at work.

Geniuses have, by and large, lined-up to attack God and tradition - and the changes they wrought have not, therefore, taken life and then enhanced it by addition of Good and subtraction of evils; but have instead utterly transformed life;

such that people have become so deeply perplexed they cannot make comparisons nor evaluations - but simply gaze around bewildered as they are swept out into the ocean by a tidal flow which they cannot comprehend; the withdrawing tide of faith generated by cumulative individual choices of past genius.

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