Tuesday 31 May 2011

What is the Way of Affirmation? (Via Positiva)


Since I encountered the idea in 1987, I have found it very difficult to grasp what Charles Williams meant by the Way of Affirmation, or Via Positiva.

This is not surprising in itself for two obvious reasons. The first is that I was far from being a Christian at that time (much further away than I imagined); the second is that it is always hard to understand Charles Williams on any subject! 

What I gathered was that he was putting forward a life of poetry and engagement with life - with the world and especially romantic love - as an alternative spiritual path, in contrast to the more obvious (and more obviously effective) negative path of withdrawal from the world, discipline of the mind and body and in general asceticism.


Also related to this is the idea that there may be a way to God via Joy and embrace of mystical union as well as the more familiar path of awareness of sin and repentance.


(Of course these paths are emphases rather than absolutes, there is always some mixture. Even an ascetic Saint requires some minimal conditions for the sustenance of their life.)


The dangers of this line of thought are obvious. In general, young men don't need much encouragement to pursue a life of pleasure and call it joy, of sexuality and call it romance, of self indulgent hedonism and call it union with the divine!

Yet to state the hazards does not invalidate the idea, since the hazards are great along the other path: especially spiritual pride or prelest.


Yet the idea of the positive way still seems vague, its success unsure and its relationship to the tried and tested and effective negative way unclear.

My current thoughts are as follows:

The negative way is essential to a Christian life. It is essential that each Christian begins with an awareness of the sinfulness - that is to say the worldliness, selfishness and gratification-seeking - of human life as such. It is essential that this be repented, and that the Christian ask God (via Christ) for forgiveness. It is essential, also, that some degree of control over worldly motivations be attained - some degree of asceticism - else the Christian will be merely a leaf in the wind of chance and circumstance.

So the negative way must come first.


Beyond that perhaps requires a recognition of individuality.

I am unsure whether the positive path of affirmation reaches as high as the negative ascetic path: I know that the negative path leads to Sainthood, to an earthly life lived in heaven. I don't know whether the positive path can attain that. I don't know whether there were affirmative Saints.

Yet for an individual it may be possible that the way of affirmation may take them higher than asceticism.


What does the via positiva aim to do?

I think it relates to the method used for orientating towards God.

The positive way tries to move towards communion with God via the activities of life: via Love and Work, especially.

This is sometimes expressed as consecration of these activities to God.


Crudely, this might be done by (in effect) interrupting these activities by periods of reflection and prayer - but this is in fact to 'stop doing' the activity of loving or working for the duration of reflection and prayer, so is clearly unideal.

Attention can be only one place at a time, so this suggests that the consecration of love and work to God should not be a matter of self-awareness but be implicit.

And, given that spiritual striving should be continuous, it further suggests that the way of affirmation would need to establish a context of prayer for the activities of life. Not so much a background, as a permeating environment of prayer.

And this seems to point back to something like the formation of a habit of continuous use of the Jesus Prayer or other short prayers used with multiple repetitions  (although other methods are imaginable).


Such matters are explained and described in Unseen Warfare as translated into English from the Russian version by Starets Theophan the Recluse:

The method was invented of saying short prayers, which would keep the thought of straying, nor of going outside. St. Cassian speaks of this, saying that in his time this practice was general in Egypt (Dicourses x.10). From the teachings of other fathers we see that it was used on Mount Sinai, in Palestine, In Syria, and in all other places throughout the Christian world.

What other meaning have the invocation: ‘Lord have mercy!’ and other short prayers, which fill our divine services and our psalmody? Thus, here is my advice: choose for yourself a short prayer or several such prayers, and by repeating by themselves on your tongue, and keep your thought focused on one point only-remembrance of God.

Everyone is free to choose his own short prayers. Read the Psalms. There you can find in every Psalm inspiring appeals to your state and most appeal to you.

Learn them by heart and repeat now one, now another, now a third. Intersperse your recital of prayers with these, and let them be on your tongue at all times, whatever you may be doing, from one set time of prayer to another. You may also formulate your own prayers, should they better express your need, on the model of the 24 short prayers of St. Chrysostom, which you have in your prayer book.

But do not have too many, lest you overburden your memory and lest your attention runs from one to the other, which will be totally contrary to the purpose for which they were designed- to keep attention collected. The 24 prayers of St. Chrysostom is the maximum; one can use less.

To have more than one is good for variety and to enliven spiritual taste; but in using them one should not pass from one to another too quickly. Taking one which corresponds best to your spiritual need, appeal to God with it until your taste for it becomes blunted.

You can replace all your psalmody, or part of it, by these short prayers; make it a rule to repeat them several times- ten, fifty and a hundred times, with lesser bows. But always keep one thing in mind- to hold your attention constantly directed towards God.

We will call this practice short prayerful sighings to God, continued at all moments of the day and of the night, when we are not sleeping.


Monday 30 May 2011

Norman Keeps and Horrible Histories


From The Notion Club Papers, by JRR Tolkien, page 231:

"Oh, Norman Keeps is our barber,' said Frankley. At least that's what Arry and I call him: no idea what his real name is.

"Quite a nice and moderately intelligent little man: but to him everything beyond a certain vague distance back is a vast dark barren but utterly fixed and determined land and time called The Dark Ages.

"There are only four features in it: Norman Keeps (by which he means baronial castles, and possibly the house of any man markedly richer than himself); Them Jameses (meaning roughly I suppose the kings One and Two); The Squires (a curious kind of bogey-folk); and The People.

"Nothing ever happened in that land but Them Jameses shutting up The People in the Keeps (with the help of The Squires) and there torturing them and robbing them, though they don't appear ever to have possessed anything to be robbed of.

"Rather a gloomy legend. But it's a great deal more fixed in a lot more heads than is the Battle of Camlan!'

"'I know, I know,' said Lowdham loudly and angrily. 'It's a shame! Norman Keeps is a very decent chap, and would rather learn truth than lies. But [Sauron] pays special attention to the type. (...)'


In his notes Christopher Tolkien points out that 'Normal Keeps' was Tolkien's nickname for a real person, who worked in a barber's shop in Turl Street, Oxford.

In the UK, the perspective of Norman Keeps has become mainstream and dominant with the success of a series of very popular and enjoyable cartoon history books for pre-adolescent children called Horrible Histories, by Terry Deary (we must have thirty or forty of them on our shelves at home).

The books have been successful in CD audio form, made into animated cartoons, and are currently the basis for a brilliantly clever and funny show of parodic sketches and songs.


The view adopted is that History is Horrible; and the Horrible is the only aspect of History which is covered.

The books (which are very well written and illustrated, and very funny) are full of disgusting and horrific facts - especially torture, suffering, and the unhygienic.

Implicit is that only history is really Horrible, and that 'we' - the readers and writer of the book, have said 'goodbye to all that', moved beyond it, and now recognize that previous generations were both stupid and cruel.


Terry Deary (who lives near me, although I haven't met him) is explicit that his books have a subversive and Leftist purpose; and they have clearly succeeded in this purpose.

The preceding perspective which Horrible Histories have subverted was the vestige of Whiggish history, the idea of history as progressive, with each step an advance on what went before. Whiggish history entailed the assumption that some of the past was admirable - because it was leading up to better things - while other aspects of the past were retrograde, destructive of progress.

But there were certainly 'good things' about the past in a Whiggish history of England -  Alfred the Great, The Magna Carta, The Elizabethan Age and so on.

This progressive view of history was the Leftism of its era - the Old Left. 


But for Norman Keeps and Horrible Histories, the past is all bad, because the essence of history is oppression compounded by ignorance.

There was indeed progress, but it was qualitative and instant: essentially progress began only when the reader entered history; the reader is a higher form of human consciousness than ever existed in history; the reader for the first time sees-through the shabbiness, greediness and idiocy of history.

We have nothing to learn from History except that it was bad; and history was bad because (compared wit the modern day reader) historical people were bad.

So Horrible Histories is highly flattering to the modern reader: he surveys all of human history and finds himself and his opinions to be better than anything which went before. Morally better, as well as technically better.  


Any actual basic approach to history (past times) is always simple (like most theoretically-overwhelmingly-complex things: in practice they are necessarily absolutely simple).

History is either positive or negative - and boils down to the primary assumption that either the past was better or worse than now.


Traditionally history has a positive valence, and it was assumed that the past (obviously!) contained more good things and people than the present (not least because there was a lot more of the past). Consequently people looked to the past for knowledge and wisdom.

And this was certainly the view of Tolkien.

A corollary of this (not necessary, but perhaps inevitable) is that the pattern of history has been a decline not a progress: the greatest people and achievements of the past are greater than the greatest people and achievements in the present.


Nowadays history has a negative valence, and it is assumed that the present is better and wiser than the past - indeed the point at which bad history begins has been brought up to about 1965 - that is the New Left, student revolutions, the beginning of 'isms' and of political correctness.

Up to 1965 stupid bad people; after 1965 clever good people.

Before 1965 all bad: after 1965 some good.

The New Left has subverted the Old Left.


A corollary of this is that history is seen as progress - but nowadays not a steady progress but as pretty-much a flat line of human misery and corruption until c. 1965; and then a very recent and very rapid take-off to the current state of enlightenment.

Making the present perspective unique to human history, uniquely virtuous - that is: qualitatively superior to anything that went before. 

Consequently people nowadays look to the past not for knowledge and wisdom, but

1. to be appalled at its wickedness and ignorance (Norman Keeps)

and/ or

2. to laugh at its wickedness and ignorance (Horrible Histories). 


(I am not arguing here for a 'balanced' view of history - I am suggesting there is no such thing as a balanced view of history. There is no neutrality: we must choose. I am therefore arguing for a positive view of history; and against the negative view of history embodied by NK and HH.)


In his comments of Norman Keeps, Tolkien perceived that while the Horrible History perspective can creep-up on decent people, it is wide-open to evil.

Sauron pays special attention to the type


The historical perspective of Norman Keeps and Horrible Histories - while certainly fun when taken in a recreational spirit, or as a 'Lord of Misrule' break in routine - in the end promotes and sustains invincible pride in people and in culture.

(Imagine! To feel qualitatively superior to all those 'horrible' people lived in the past! To sit in judgment, and to condemn all previous generations as fundamentally immoral and foolish! Very pleasant...)


By rejecting all the wisdom of the past, Horrible History leaves modern society trapped in the Now.

Trapped, that is, in the gilded iron cage of pervasive bureaucracies and mass media; but with nowhere to to escape: no alternatives.


Sunday 29 May 2011

The poison of literalism - the necessity of 'fantasy'


One big reason why traditional thought seems impossible to so many modern people is the 'literalism' of our discourse - its fragmented, specialized and over-precise nature.

So that when we try to discuss fundamental matters that can only be comprehended in mythic poetry; what actually comes out is professional, bureaucratic, procedural prose.

(This applies particularly strikingly to modern 'poetry' - which is professional, political, partial, prosaic; never mythic.)


Many people have noticed this, of course - including the Inklings - but I got it from a post-Jungian psychologist called James Hillman (whose work I would *not* recommend in general. Flashes of light amidst oceans of confusion and willfulness).

So modern Christianity tends to be very prosy, very legalistic - somehow it cannot connect all its aspects - all its transcendent qualities - simultaneously.

Instead of being able to comprehend multiple poetic and mythic meanings from a single word, sentence or passage - we are reduced to picking it apart and sequentially describing its ethics, its philosophy, its historical meaning etc. Each of which, taken alone, rings false - and is dull, unengaging, indeed aversive.


We see this dissecting to death, this vivisection of reality, when people analyze and describe poetry - but it applies more fundamentally to theology.


Of course, the wholeness of thought is not altogether dead: it lives on in childhood, in dreams, in visionary glimpses, and in fantasy.

But wholeness does not live (or only exceptionally and dwindlingly) in 'real life', or in public discourse - at any rate it is dying.


It used to be possible for The Law to be regarded as beautiful - C.S. Lewis in his book on the Psalms points at the way some ancient Jews loved and hymned their Law - it was seen as virtuous, but also and at the same time true and beautiful.


But now it seems that Laws are merely rules.

Modern humans are dying of starvation, because the food of their souls has been broken down into its chemical constituents.

We hunger for meaning and purpose and a relation with life - for life to be myth and poetry; but we are given merely dry, professional, rational prose.


A decade ago, when I was a kind of pagan, I wrote about recovered animism:


I would regard this diagnosis as accurate but the prescription as partial and hazardous.


What we hunger for, at root, is a recovery of the 'animistic' world view in a context of Christian reality.

Animism that is not psychotic, not self-gratifying, not a seeking after power or diversion; but instead a continual awareness of our relation to everything.

But this is not animism repetitively checked and constrained by Christian rationality; so much as animism contained-within the greater frame of Christian Truth - so that we connect with the reality of life spontaneously.


At present, for many or most people, this can be had only in private - in 'fantasy' (in Truth-full fantasy) - but if so, if public discourse is deficient, then fantasy is of primary importance.

For modern people, fantasy may be the secret thread running through self-perceived earthly existence, absorbing into itself all that our souls recognize as real.

And from this mythic inner perspective, we discover that the trivial morass of literalistic modern culture - formal education, jobs, media, laws and rules, politics, bureaucratic committees and procedures... all of this nightmare of crushing but meaningless literalism dissolves in retrospect into a cloudy illusion.

Saturday 28 May 2011

Are we Norse gods? - Kreeft on Tolkien


From The philosophy of Tolkien by Peter Kreeft (repunctuated and emphasized).

Re. Norse Gods as Tolkien's primary pagan source:

"Odin, their supreme god, is not morally good, like the God of the Bible. He is addicted to power, like Sauron.

"The Vikings would never have understood the philosophy that 'power corrupts'. In fact, all the pagan gods, Northern (Germanic) or Southern (Mediterranean) are, like us, partly good and partly evil.

"They are 'divine', or superior, not in goodness but in power - in fact three powers:

"1. Power over nature by a supernatural or 'magical' technology.

"2. Power over ignorance (cleverness, farsight and foresight).

"3. Power over death (immortality).

"Exactly modernity's superiority over the past!

"If that is all that divinity means, we are now approaching divinity!"


Friday 27 May 2011

Providence, intuition, discernment: a spiritual path for moderns?


1. Providence

From C.S. Lewis Surprised by Joy:

"What I like about experience is that it is such an honest thing. You may take any number of wrong turnings; but keep your eyes open and you will not be allowed to go very far before the warning signs appear. You may have deceived yourself, but experience is not trying to deceive you. The universe rings true wherever you fairly test it."

2. Intuition
From Blaise Pascal Pensees:
"The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.
3. Discernment
From Father Seraphim Rose: his life and works, by Hieromonk Damascene. Quoting a letter by Fr. Seraphim:
"Well, we are all flawed. Perhaps that is the great spiritual fact of our times - that all the teachers are flawed, there are no great elders left, but only 'part time' spiritual teachers who spend part of their time undoing their good works. 
"We should be thankful for the good teaching we can get, but sober and cautious.
"The lesson to you is probably sobriety. Yes, you should trust your heart (...) what better thing do we have?
"Certainly not your calculating mind. (...)
"Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov's constant advice to the Christians of the last times is: there are no elders left, check all teaching against the Gospel (...)
"I'm sorry I don't have any real advice for you in your grief, unless it's just one word: yes, trust your heart and conscience, and don't do anything to violate them. (...)
"The Fathers still speak to us through their writings (have you read Unseen Warfare recently?), and life itself is a teacher if we try to live humbly and soberly (...)"
Putting together Lewis. Pascal and Fr. Seraphim we can see a path through the morass of corruption (which includes ourselves, of course).
In the past it was possible to advise the Christian to be guided by those wiser than himself, join a Church (without being too picky about which specific Church), to subordinate his will to that Church, its ministers and its living tradition.
Yet now there are no wise; and the mainstream Churches and their traditions (as we perceive them now) have become schools of worldliness - reduced to ethical rules and subordinated to secular morality.
Where then can we turn? Where is knowledge that we can trust?
There is an answer.
If there is indeed divine providence we can trust experience to provide honest feedback on our choices. We will not be allowed to stray far without warning.
(We may choose to ignore these warnings, but there will be warnings.)
If we are indeed made in God's image then we have within us trustworthy intuition: a 'heart' which can discern the warmth of right choices and the coldness of wrong choices. We have a conscience which is tormented by wrong paths and peaceful in right paths. 
(There will temptations - with pleasure-seeking impersonating love, pride impersonating conscience; with spiritual dryness impersonating coldness of heart - but with love and humility and guidance from scripture and ancient Holy tradition these temptations may be detected.)
We have the potential to use our heart and conscience to evaluate and to learn from experience; to discern wisdom when we encounter it.
Where should we look?
In a time of corruption we cannot find The Good (undivided, in whole) in the mainstream - neither from among powerful institutions and high status people; nor from professional, technical or bureaucratic sources.
We may find goodness and wisdom among the humble, we may find it among the powerless or the persecuted. But not necessarily - and the truly humble, powerless and persecuted are themselves non-obvious; obscured by corruptly-designated proxies.
To experience The Good we must therefore look to the past and to 'fantasy'.
We can experience The Good in writings from better times and places, and from imaginative accounts of better times and places. From ancient scripture, biography theology, philosophy, history and literature; and from works like the Lord of the Rings (above all), from Narnia, and (yes!) from the Harry Potter books.
In all of these we can see for ourselves - imaginatively - the benign workings of providence and intuition as exemplified by the moral choices and wrong-turnings-repented of the Good protagonists; and contemplate the consequences of mistaken choices (driven by pride, hedonism and power-seeking) among the wicked.
From such vicarious sources we can learn what The Good feels like - we can experience Good (and its opposite), so that we will know them if (or when) we encounter Good (or its opposite) in our modern world.
If we are fortunate, we may encounter The Good among actual people and institutions here-and-now; but if we are not fortunate then we might not encounter The Good except vicariously.
Nonetheless, we should seek what Lewis termed 'Joy', Sehnsucht or enchantment; follow hunches and hints, glimmerings and glimpses; withdraw-from and shun that which chills our hearts and violates our conscience.
Interpret what we find in light of the Gospels and the wisdom of the past - and any good teaching we might by fortune receive.
And trust to providence and intuition: We will not, ultimately, be disappointed.

Thursday 26 May 2011

Understanding the revolutionary Left - anti-Christian alliances?


It is very difficult to understand some Left alliances except in terms of pure expediency (collecting support under an arbitrary umbrella) - yet I find expediency inadequate as an explanation, since it would imply a need to ally with those whose sociopolitical aims are, if not in exact agreement, then at least not in irreconcilable opposition.


So that the 'Respect' political party in the UK is hard to comprehend ideologically:


And in more general terms it is hard to understand how Leftist support for 'Palestine' has become the primary article of foreign policy.


(Palestine is a litmus test for radical Leftism - despite its being an entity which does not feature as such on recent maps - and on older modern maps merely as a name for the British mandate; after which (in 1947) it was divided into a Jewish homeland of Israel and an Arab homeland of Jordan. Strictly, then, Jordan is Palestine, as the Left means the word. Perhaps, when they say they want an Arab state called Palestine, the Leftists merely mean that Jordan should change its name back to Palestine and accept the displaced Arab refugees who have been living in camps since 1948? Only kidding...)


The alliance between aggressively secular Trotskyite International Communists and conservative non-Christian religious of whatever type is hard to understand ideologically. 

But it struck me that the unifying factor is perhaps being anti-Christian.

This not really operating at a personal level, but as a consequence of historical logic. 

Leftism being a Christian Apostasy...

(Leftism being - in evolutionary terms - the end result of progressively discarding more and more Christian doctrine until only a distorted and partial sample of Christian ideas remain - which have also been translated into material proxies e.g. translating the spiritual ideal of love (charity, agape) into the material proxy of egalitarianism...)

...it seems natural that the Left be inclined to ally itself with any who share a hostility to Christianity.


Arguably that has been a broad historical pattern.

The party of Christian apostasy has always been on the Left; and it is perhaps understandable for the Left to form tactical groupings with any who are who are hostile to Christianity, for various different reasons.


(This anti-Christian group including, of course, mainstream, politically correct 'liberal' Christians - who are monolithically Leftist and perhaps the group which is most actively hostile to real Christianity; since they have the most immediately to gain from displacing real Christians - in terms of access to enhanced status, power, jobs, resources etc).


If so, alliances such as 'Respect' can be conceptualized as tactical anti-Christian alliances - not strategic ruling coalitions - and are held together by a negative ideology, not a positive shared goal.

Which unobvious negativeness may explain why the combination seems superficially incoherent and incomprehensible. 


Wednesday 25 May 2011

Granite - an outward sign of inner corruption


The use of granite as a building material is...

(unless you live in Aberdeen)


...a reliable sign of advanced corruption - of terminal phase political correctness.


(Unless you live in Aberdeen)


...there is no reason to use granite for any reason except for making the edge between pavements (sidewalks) and the road.



Granite is ugly.

(Unless you live in Aberdeen -


...and even then it only looks good during clear bright weather - the rest of the time it looks like concrete breeze blocks:



Granite is very difficult to work. Essentially it is much too hard.

I watched a builder spend a whole day drilling one hole in a granite block - to insert a railing post -and even then he managed to break the edge of the hole, which then needed an ugly cement patch. 


Granite is expensive.


So, there is no reason to build with granite - especially in a city (like most English ones) built mostly from sandstone or limestone.

Unless you anticipate the structure standing for more than a couple of hundred years - when I suppose the sandstone or limestone might become eroded.

On the other hand, eroded stone can be very beautiful:



Naturally - since granite is slow to work, inefficient, expensive and ugly - it has for more than a decade been the favoured building material for universities, churches, local government and the houses of wealthy public sector employees.



Tuesday 24 May 2011

Glenn Gould - art and life, and life as art


I recently watched the documentary movie The Inner Life of Glenn Gould; which is perhaps the best thing of its kind I have seen.

There is no doubt that Canadian pianist Glenn Gould (1932-82) has has a much larger influence on me than any other musician.

I first began to listen to his work in 1978 (the 48 preludes and fugues); because I wanted to get some Bach played on piano, and because I was intrigued by the uniformly hostile reviews of Gould in the Penguin Stereo Record Guide (two out of five possible stars, as I recall) and the Gramophone magazine.

I sensed that the dislike of the British music establishment critics (whose judgment I generally disagreed-with) might be an indication of his special qualities. I was, of course, correct.


In those days it was difficult for me to get hold of Gould's recordings. In the UK I needed to order some as imports, I bought some on a visit to Boston USA, and some more in Paris. I bought the first biography of Gould (by Geoffrey Payzant) in Toronto itself - his home town.


Listening to Gould's Bach (over and over again) became an almost essential part of my psychological harmony - I recall an especially bleak night 'on call' as a hospital doctor, being sustained by it. Then shortly afterwards he died.

Gradually, over the years, his fame grew.

My 1987-written venture into radio drama had Gould as a character and providing the music -



What I particularly valued about Gould was not only the playing but the whole package - the intensity and concentration with which he seemed to tackle everything.

And part of this was that he seemed to have his life the way he wanted it: a life that had fame - but at a distance; and a high degree of control and autonomy. He portrayed his life as one of solitude in the city.

This was, indeed, an ideal for me: something about which I daydreamed.

To find a comfortable but stimulating niche.


Gould described his life as Thoreauvian - and so it was; but not in the way that I understood the term at that time.


It now turns out, from recent biographical work, that although Gould was indeed highly eccentric and unusual as a person - the life of solitude and autonomy which he described and which I believed and regarded as an ideal - was pretty much a work of art. Not a description of the reality of his life.


Gould had a one-sided but compulsive need for society - or at least for listeners (whether by telephone or in person) - he needed this for many hours per day. Indeed it must have interefred with his work.

He had a marriage like relationship (with step children) for several year in his forties.

And he did not really seem to be happy with things - seems to have been pretty deeply lonely and frustrated with himself.


In this respect he was similar to Thoreau - whose life was not one of solitary autonomy (living in a hut by a pond, away from people) as portrayed in Walden; but instead one of sociality albeit semi-detached - mostly living at home or with Emerson's family.


I have found this disillusionment again and again as I read biographies of people whose lives I admire and at times wished to emulate.

The idea of life as an art form - Oscar Wilde is supposed to have said he put his genius into his life but only his talent into his art - seems to me essentially false.

Deceptive. A con.


Those who claim (usually implicitly) that their life is a work of art - something aesthetic, controlled, autonomous - are invariably being untruthful.

(There may indeed be some people who do achieve this ideal - but if so, we hear nothing about it. They are not famous. These people - if indeed they exist - are not in the public eye: are not major artists, poets, writers, musicians).


But the desire to make one's life something akin to a work of creative art - although alluring - is an error in itself: an error born of despair, it now seems to me.

An error deriving from the unsatisfactoriness of 'the world'; and attempting to combat meaninglessness, purposelessness and alienation by self-created meaning.


Yet if meaning depends on the self - that is, if the project succeeds - then it fails: because self-created meaning is not meaning but merely a delusion: a dominating autonomous personal belief immune to influence.

Even if others are drawn into the delusion and support it (as sometimes happens with artist-guru types, - Like Jung, or Robert Graves) then there is the background awareness that all this is contingent upon a perpetual act of will.

The extreme act of will required is itself probably evil - probably an extreme form of pride, an expression of power desiring to shape the world to one's own desires.


Anyway, Gould remains a beacon to me; nowadays for rather different reasons than he used to be a beacon - yet still I value above all else his combination of supreme technique, analytic musicality, ability, inspiration and intensity.

Gouldian levels of intensity are almost an escape from self-consciousness, indeed from consciousness itself; a complete absorption in the 'flow' of working and shaping.

So they are not really an answer, more of an escape; the ability to attain this absorption probably declines with age; and the 're-entry problem' must be exceptionally difficult - to come-down from the heights to the mundane; to fee concentration opening-out into diffuse dissipation.


But a continually fascinating personality.

And, maybe surprisingly, one who was very much and very widely loved - despite his autonomy, demandingness, self-obsessive qualities.

Much loved, and - even now - much missed.


Monday 23 May 2011

Paganism (unlike Christianity) can be personal, individual


Since paganism is the spontaneous religion of humanity, and therefore requires no specific or divine revelation - therefore it requires no Church, no book, nor any institutions.

Paganism can be personal, individual - you can be a real pagan all by yourself.

Many people (probably) are.

And it may be better - much better - to be pagan than nothing.


There are very few pagans visible in modern societies - but who knows how many there be in the privacy of their own minds?

I have, at times, throughout my (pre-Christian) life been a real pagan in this sense - I don't suppose anybody knew about it; nor would they have been interested if I had talked of it.


By real pagan - I mean not neo-pagan: which I have also been (in a loose kind of way) at various points in my life, notably in the period from about 1998-2007.

Real pagans believe in the reality of gods, who are powerful - and must be propitiated. They believe in the reality of the soul, and that (in some way) it survives death. And they have an awe and reverence for the power and beauty of the natural world. (This list is not exhaustive.)


Neo-pagans are modern.

They have emerged since the romantic era (around the start of the 18th century) as an aesthetic movement, later a therapeutic movement - and have become visible since the early 20th century as Wicca, witches of many times, Druids, magic practices, shamanism and other 'native' spiritualities, and a general interest in and practice of past paganism.

But neo-paganism is most visible in the mass media, in the form of books, images, dramas: as a theme.

(This history has been superbly documented by the Bristol University historian Ronald Hutton - whose work I recommend highly.)


But neo-pagans have an aesthetic, an ethic, and an attitude to truth which is modern - often indeed post-modern.

The practices of neo-paganism are typically therefore aesthetic or therapeutic rather than religious.

In a nutshell - neo-paganism is about real paganism; draws from it, but does not live by it.

It is clear from observation that neo-pagans believe in the modern Western way - they believe asif - at most with suspended disbelief; and do not believe in the way everybody believed before about 1700, or the way most of the rest of the world still believes) do not believe in the reality of gods, spirits.

Neo-paganism has therefore integrated easily with modern capitalism, with political correctness, with New Age spirituality.

Indeed, neo-paganism is essentially a part of these: neither an antidote, nor oppositional to the mainstream.

Neo-paganism is an expression of nihilism - maybe emotionally pleasing, maybe able to relieve suffering - but nihilistic nonetheless.


Real paganism could - and indeed very likely will - come back again as being the spontaneous expression of human religiousness.

When it does it will be seen by its contrast with modernity, because real pagans are not PC but instead have a 'tribal' morality of courage, and a loyalty to family and chief.

They will have gods whom they fear to offend.

And pagans believe in the souls and its survival in some form after death - maybe reincarnation, sometimes a similar kind of continued life elsewhere; but often an horrible survival, or one leading inevitably to doom.

Humility and love are distinctively Christian virtues - these paganism lacks.

Existential hope is a distinctively Christian emotion - this paganism lacks.


Paganism can do great harm to the soul - especially be means of untrammelled pride seeking power.

Also, there were many noble pagans whose minds seem to adhered to Natural Law, and to have practiced love and humility, or seemed to have tenuous existential hope even despite having no reason for it.


So, from an ultimate and spiritual perspective, I am sympathetic towards real paganism.

For an atheist or agnostic to become - albeit in the privacy of their own minds - a pagan is probably progress; unless this is driven by pride and desire for power: desire to master the world and other minds.

Paganism is, for moderns, probably qualitative progress for the soul.

Paganism may keep the soul alive in a culture dedicated to its destruction.


(Of course it is not the same for a Christian. Paganism is a partial truth - crudely, Christianity minus revelation. For someone who has been or is a real Christian then to become a real pagan would be not merely be a decline but something monstrous, indeed a kind of impossibility - being in fact a turn away from good to its opposition. To abandon the higher in favour of the lower is not the same as to advance from nihilism to a partial truth. But we live in very dark times of the denial of The Good, of mainstream active opposition to The Good. Partial truth is *almost* infinitely preferable to self-reinforcing nihilism - despite its very real dangers.)


Saturday 21 May 2011

PC book now in production


It is pleasant to be able to "announce" that the political correctness book is now in production, under the title of Thought Prison.

It will be a very slim volume - but, of course, one full of concentrated wisdom...

I don't suppose Thought Prison will ever get anywhere near the shelves of your friendly local bookstore, but those few who want to possess a copy will find it at the usual internet marketing sites, and Kindle.


Generic thanks are made in the acknowledgment section to the commenters here who helped develop the ideas and phrasings.

The final text is better, in my view, than the original blog entries - and there is a semblance of organization and structure - but there isn't really anything new or different for regular readers.


Certain commenters will be dismayed to learn that I have expunged all specific examples from the text (I think) - and explained in a sentence why this is necessary, and a consequence of PC itself.

Any commenter who disagrees with this policy should reflect on why they are commenting under a pseudonym.

There are no references at all.

To be example-free and without references will limit the audience, but may perhaps also limit distractions and misunderstandings? - time will tell.


To be abstract, unreferenced and and example-free also raises the books intended-status from pop-sociology to pop-philosophy - which I find preferable.

It aligns it with such aphoristic (and very short) philosophical classics as Pascal's Pensees, Nietzsche's Ecce Homo, Wittgenstein's Tractatus...

Thought Prison is very much in their mould

(...stifled snigger...).


At any rate, specific, appropriate, real world examples of political correctness would constitute a signed suicide note; so they were never going to happen.


So, what next?

Watch this space...


Friday 20 May 2011

Learning from Mormons


I am very interested by, and sympathetic to, Mormons.

(I will use the term 'Mormon' as being that with the widest circulation over the longest timespan.)


It was back in (I think) 2007 or so that I began to realize that Mormons were the only group in 'modern' society which had solved the basic problems and contradictions: first and foremost to reproduce at above-replacement rates, with the most successful (most devout, wealthy, highly educated) Mormons having the most children - and this in a context where almost all Mormons use contraception and family planning. 

Furthermore, Mormons as a group are extremely well-behaved in almost every way, and Utah is an outlier at the positive end of most social statistics comparing American states.

Mormons have grown from nothing to about 16 million worldwide since 1830 (exponentially - doubling about every 15-20 years partly by conversion but substantially by having many children and retaining them within the faith), and 8 million in the US; and are disproportionately represented among the wealthy and powerful

I also find Mormon theology to be very beautiful and am moved by the heroism of their foundation story - I agree with Harold Bloom that Joseph Smith was an inspired religious genius of the front rank.


I should point out that my interest is almost entirely theoretical - I have some Mormon (and ex-Mormon) penfriends; and have read several dozen books on the subject in many aspects (history, sociology, theology, scriptures); have read numerous online newspapers, magazines and blogs; and watched videos of several types; and I have even done two internet surveys of the psychological basis of Mormon fertility - but I have never properly met a practising Mormon, at least not to sit down and talk with.


But I feel that my efforts to explore the Mormon world have been very rewarding and enlightening; and I would encourage others to do the same.

The fact is that if a Martian social scientist was to land on the earth and look at humans with an objective eye, there is no doubt that he would regard Mormons as the best adapted of all human communities.


Regular reader will know that I regard Eastern Orthodox Christianity to be the Truth; but that does not block my admiration and sympathy for Mormons.


I would go so far as to predict that if the US survives in anything resembling its present form, it will (realistically) only happen if Mormons come to dominate the ruling elite - and indeed the trend is strongly in that direction.

(If the US population is about 300 million, and the ruling elite numbers about 25 million; then Mormons already have about 2 million in this group. Each generation will at-least halve the number of the current elite - who are virtually sterile - while doubling-plus the number of elite Mormons. 'Do the math'.)

And if, as seems more likely, the US breaks-up into smaller units, the one which I would prefer to live-in would be the mountain West, centred-on and dominated-by the Mormons of Utah.


Thursday 19 May 2011

Money as the measure of cultural decline


If money - actual coinage and notes - is any kind of measure of cultural health: then England is finished.


1. Five pound notes feature an unknown nonentity called Elizabeth Fry...

Elizabeth who? Who Fry? - apparently a prison reformer, whatever that might be.

In other words, the government is using money as a form of 'consciousness raising' to promote the 'achievements' of... well, 'A Woman'.

(Florence Nightingale had already been used on money - at least everyone had heard of her.)

Thus EF is celebrated alongside other British people of achievement featured on notes such as Isaac Newton, Shakespeare, the Duke of Wellington, Adam Smith, Charles Darwin... Elizabeth Fry !



2. The small denomination coins have been recently re-designed in a way that is inefficient, ugly, pretentious in a childish way, in fact just plain vulgar.

Is this what national coins of the realm, legal tender, ought to look like?


Using each coin to make part of a larger design!!!

Stupid, stupid, stupid.


3. The coins are so badly manufactured that different versions or dates of coins, supposedly of the same value, vary widely in size, shape, thickness, edging.

Slot machines nowadays reject about half of coins because they are ... well, rubbish.


Put you hand in your pocket and pull-out some money.

There it is for you to see, undeniable: the decline of England.


(Oh yes, and why were the smallest denomination coins of 1p and 2p not abolished when the currency was 'redesigned'? The currency has so inflated since decimal coinage was introduced in 1971, that the 5p coin in 2011 is worth les than 1/2p (halfpenny) which was the smallest denomination coin of 1971. So the 1p coins which are still in frequent use - especially as so many things are priced at x pounds 99 pence - is worth less than 20 percent of the smallest denomination coin of 1971...)


Wednesday 18 May 2011

To do good, or to become good?


One form of personal crisis is the sense that you are doing no good, or doing harm, in your work - and the desire to do good with your life.

To do something worthwhile.


Because of the way that modern people conceptualize the world, doing good equates with 'helping people'.

And helping people equates with giving them stuff they need (or, at any rate want).


But helping people turns-out be harder than you hoped.

In modern society it seems that 'helping people' requires training, exams, screening, a lot of paperwork, a lot of management...

And somehow the officially defined and measured and approved sort of 'helping' does not, at a common sense level, equate with actual, you know, helping...


And you want to help people that need helping.

And helping (nowadays) involves giving stuff.

But most people in the West have enough stuff, more than enough - so first you need to find people who lack basic stuff before you can help them: before you can 'do good'.


For moderns, the ultimate 'good' is to find someone materially poor, clearly suffering; then share your stuff and relieve their suffering.

If the media and institutional literature are anything to judge by - the ultimate modern act of goodness is, basically: to make Africans happy.


The multi-faceted unsatisfactoriness of this moral strategy seems obvious enough; but for many people - including many Christians - it seems the only sure way that they can do good is... to make Africans happy.


The problem is: if not that, then what?


As so often, it is the basic assumptions that need to be questioned.

The mainstream modern assumptions are that the aim of life is hedonic: enhancing happiness, diminishing suffering - the main moral imperative is unselfishness, sharing.

But that fact should be seen as a reductio ad absurdum of mainstream modern morality, not a call to action...


However, to find an answer involves nothing less than an abandonment of this-worldly materialism; it involves nothing less a belief in the soul and in life beyond death: nothing less than religious conversion.

(Which can be difficult if you consider yourself already to be religious, already a Christian - yet you nonetheless regard reducing suffering by giving people stuff to be the ultimate moral imperative.)


But what if the main problem is not suffering, and especially not the kind of suffering that can be relieved by stuff - but what might be called 'lack of holiness' - spiritual impoverishment.

Then there would be two main ways to do good: missionary work, and spiritual progress.

Successful missionary work gets people across the line and is therefore of immense value.

But missionary work is hampered by the extremely low level of holiness that prevails, even among Christians.


So perhaps the most valuable thing that could be done nowadays is to strive for sanctity, in oneself I mean.

By traditional means: prayer, asceticism, participation in rites and rituals and so on.

Because, if you are a Christian, you will know that all humanity is in fact united and all human choices are significant; so in seeking sanctity you are not engaged in a personal (nor 'selfish') behaviour - it is for everybody.


At the same time, it is very difficult to seek sanctity in a society so spiritually impoverished - where do you start?

Who can give you good counsel and guard against the snares of spiritual pride?


Who indeed? - it is a big risk to strive for sanctity nowadays (more so than it used to be, which may be one reason why success seems so very rare).

Nonetheless, that is what is most needed.


The world does not really need more people to 'do good', but for some people to become good.


Tuesday 17 May 2011

Innocent until proven guilty? Rubbish!


People continuously parrot that X is, "of course, innocent until proven guilty".

But this is rubbish.

Dangerous rubbish. 


Insofar as it is true that people are innocent until proven guilty, it refers purely to the results of contingent, unreliable and continually-modified legal processes; and has nothing necessarily to do with real life guilt and innocence.

And as the law has drifted further and further away from 'natural law' morality and from common sense, to the point that people also say as if it were obvious - rather than what ought to be regarded as an oxymoron - that 'you cannot legislate morality' - then a person's guilt or innocence in a moral sense is most safely regarded as irrelevant to the outcome of the legal system.


(Of course, when saying that a person is 'innocent until proven guilty' it may be simply that this expression is not intended literally, but means that judgment is being reserved while awaiting further relevant knowledge - or perhaps this is expressing suspicion of the honesty or intentions of the source of information currently provided.)

Individual experience, common sense and natural law (the innate sense of right and wrong) and sufficient knowledge of what happened and to whom form the only sound basis for judgments about guilt and innocence.

Legal procedure itself needs to be judged by these criteria - and when this is done, the legal process is often found wanting.

Laws are themselves frequently immoral, wicked, harmful. 


In real life only a fool would imagine that people that have been acquitted as 'not guilty' (by the legal process) were truly (morally) innocent; or even to assume that they did not do what they were accused of doing.

What people are legally accused of does not capture precisely what they did, because offenses have to be fitted-into a finite set of legal provisions, and to optimize the chance of a conviction a lesser offense is often charged.

Someone may have done a lot more and a lot worse than the precise restricted definition of the crime of which they are legally accused.


It is common for guilty people to be released on a 'technicality' due to some procedural irregularity in the trial, and then to claim to be 'innocent' in the sense of not having done anything wrong.

It is common for somebody who has done something very wrong to be convicted of some minor, simple misdemeanour (for procedural reasons - as mentioned above, or because the offense does not fit an existing category, or due to plea-bargaining, or something like that) - but this does not mean they are 'innocent' of the more complex serious crime. They did it!


In the opposite direction, people sometimes accept some other punishment for an act which they did not commit, and are then regarded as legally-guilty, simply because, it is too expensive or time-consuming to contest the charge.  


Just as only a fool would imagine that those found 'guilty' by due legal process actually did something morally wrong.

With so many ill-defined crimes on the books (such as hate crimes, or libels, or illegal things that no normal person would imagine would or could be forbidden) this is obviously false. 


Of course, if we personally know nothing about the facts of a situation except what we have discovered from the mass media, then we may have no sound basis for knowing about another person's guilt or innocence.

(However, we may nonetheless have to make a judgment on this matter - for example in casting a vote in an election, or deciding whether or not to give a person money - e.g. by buying a book or a ticket for a show).


But the baseline for judgment of guilt or innocence should not be a presumption of innocence: that would be suicidal.

Socially competent people should all be engaged continuously in 'profiling' those around them, categorizing, who can be trusted and will steal, who is gentle and who is dangerous, who looks like a potential ally and who an enemy.

We should base judgment on what we know of the person, of their character, what we infer from their appearance, manner and behavior; we need to do the same about the character of the person accusing them; and to take note of the general nature of the situation.

That is how wise people live their lives: that is what we should aspire to in determining guilt or innocence.


Monday 16 May 2011

Were the Inklings truly instigators and incendiaries?


The English 'man of letters' John Wain


published an early autobiography called Sprightly Running in 1963, the last year of C.S. Lewis's life, in which he reflected on the period when he was a member of The Inklings.

Although Wain liked and respected the Inklings, especially revering Nevill Coghill about whom he wrote an intensely-felt memoir, he conceptualized them as not only reactionary, but actually a counter-revolutionary group:

"The group had a corporate mind" that was both powerful and clearly defined. They were "politically conservative, not to say reactionary; in religion, Anglo- or Roman-Catholic; in art, frankly hostile to an manifestation of the 'modern' spirit", "a circle of instigators, almost incendiaries, meeting to urge one another on in the task of redirecting the whole current of contemporary art and life."


C.S. Lewis immediately published a long letter strongly disputing this analysis of the Inklings in the January 1963 edition of the journal Encounter (he had presumably seen a review copy of the book) in which Lewis - while graciously thanking Wain for saying many kind things about him, and stating clearly that he regarded Wain as a friend ('friend' being a word Lewis used sparingly and rigorously).

Lewis focused on the ideological differences between various Inklings, the non-overlapping nature of some of the friendships within the group, and stating that "Mr Wain has mistaken purely personal relationships for alliances."

In essence, Lewis hotly denied that the Inklings were self-consciously an explicitly strategic, reactionary, counter-revolutionary 'cell'.


Yet, of course, as we now recognize, Wain was substantively correct in every respect except that of supposing that the Inklings was self-conscious in their instigation and incendiary activities.

The Inklings were indeed - at their core of Jack Lewis, Tolkien and Charles Williams, and during their peak years of 1939-45 - a group of Christian reactionaries with very large scale ambitions to redirect the current of modern art and life.

This was very obvious to Wain who opposed this re-directing of art and life back to a pre-modern and religious spirit (at least, he did during the early decades of his life, when he was known as an anti-establishment figure, one of the 'Angry Young Men' of the 1950s - although in later years Wain's work, for instance on Samuel Johnson, strikes me as itself reactionary - or at least nostalgic for the pre-modern era).

That was why the Inklings were friends, that was an essential basis of their friendship: necessary but not sufficient.


The reason for the continued interest in the Inklings is precisely that which Wain stated.

But of course, Wain's analysis was itself from a 'modern' perspective; a perspective which sees 'political' activity as necessarily self-conscious and explicit.

Whereas the reality was that the Inklings did not subscribe to this view of politics.

Lewis, Tolkien and Williams were individually, and passionately, engaged in recovering a pre-modern, a Christian spirit for life - with re-connecting with the thread of this spirit as it came down through the centuries - a thread which was almost broken, a spirit of which it could be said that they themselves were among the last examples.

And this, at least, was explicitly perceived - Lewis spoke of himself as a dinosaur left over from a previous era, Tolkien spoke of fighting the long defeat, Williams blurred pre-modern past and present and expounded (in The Descent of the Dove) a history of Christendom in which he discerned a two thousand year thread coming through Anglicanism right down to his own spiritual engagement.


The substantive disagreement of Wain and Lewis over the true nature of the Inklings was only, therefore, a quibble over the degree of self-consciousness with which their counter-revolutionary activities was being pursued; there was no disagreement of the fact and tendency of the Inklings endeavors.

The Inklings were thus in effect precisely as Wain described them: instigators and incendiaries.


Sunday 15 May 2011

Torturing Gollum - the implications


The three main heroes of Lord of the Rings torture Gollum at some point:

1. Gandalf: "I endured him as long as I could, but the truth was desparately important, and in the end I had to be harsh. I put the fear of fire on him, and wrung the true story out of him, but by bit, together with much snivelling and snarling."

2. Aragorn: "He will never love me, I fear; for he bit me and I was not gentle. Nothing more did I ever get from his mouth than the marks of his teeth. I deemed it the worst part of all my journey, the road back, watching him day and night, making him walk before me with a halter on his neck, gagged, until he was tamed by lack of drink and food, driving him ever towards Mirkwood."

3. Frodo: "Tie one end to his ankle" (...) Sam tied the knot. The result surprised them both. Gollum began to scream, a thin tearing sound, very horrible to hear. (...) "It hurts us, it hurts us", hissed Gollum. "It freezes, it bites! (...) Take it off! It hurts us." - "No, I will not take it off you", said Frodo, "not unless" - he paused a moment in thought - "not unless there is any promise you can make that I can trust".


Tolkien is one of my main mentors: I take him to be a man of great wisdom; certainly much greater wisdom than my own.

In general, and specifically here, I read Tolkien to learn from him - not to critique him.

In the context of LotR, Gandalf, Aragorn and Frodo are presented as having behaved properly in the above situations, and I accept that they did behave properly.

So why mention it?


In this instance we can perceive that Gandalf, Aragorn and Frodo's behaviour illustrates the falsity of the mainstream modern ethical principle that relief of suffering ought to be the primary moral principle; and the common moral belief that torture is impermissable under any circumstances whatsoever.


The examples illustrate the way that morality works. Moral dilemmas arise when there is a clash of moral principles - and they are resolved by choosing the higher over the lower principle.

For a mainstream modern Liberal/ Leftist who subscribes to the principle that torture must be absolutely forbidden under any circumstance whatsoever, the actions of Gandalf, Aragorn and Frodo would be classified alongside those of orcs who enjoy the 'sport' of torturing captives.

But for anybody who holds a primary moral principle other than that of minimizing suffering, there may arise situations in which - as Gandalf, Aragorn and Frodo exemplify - it was permissable, indeed it was necessary - to torture Gollum.


Poor Smeagol. Poor Gandalf, Aragorn and Frodo. Poor all of us.


Friday 13 May 2011

Some comments lost by Blogger


My thoughts turn towards Wordpress...

Any thoughts on alternative blog hosts?


Blogger 'maintenance' issues...


I see Blogger is misbehavin' due to 'maintenance' problems - I'll wait a while before posting anything new.


Wednesday 11 May 2011

"Honest opinions, sincerely expressed" - the creed of an intellectual...


From The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, 1946.

The scene: Heaven.

A group of ghostly souls from Hell are visiting to have another chance of salvation. A liberal Anglican Bishop is one of the visitors. He meets an old college friend, Dick, a Spirit who now inhabits Heaven.

Dick is speaking first:


"Is it possible you don't know where you've been?"

"Now that you mention it, I don't think we ever do give it a name. What do you call it?"

"We call it Hell."

"There is no need to be profane, my dear boy. I may not be very orthodox, in your sense of that word, but I do feel that these matters ought to be discussed simply, and seriously, and reverently."

"Discuss Hell reverently? I meant what I said. You have been in Hell: though if you don't go back you may call it Purgatory."

"Go on, my dear boy, go on. That is so like you. No doubt you'll tell me why, on your view, I was sent there. I'm not angry."

"But don't you know? You went there because you are an apostate."

"Are you serious, Dick?"


"This is worse than I expected. Do you really think people are penalised for their honest opinions? Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that those opinions were mistaken."

"Do you really think there are no sins of intellect?"

"There are indeed, Dick. There is hidebound prejudice, and intellectual dishonesty, and timidity, and stagnation. But honest opinions fearlessly followed-they are not sins."

"I know we used to talk that way. I did it too until the end of my life when I became what you call narrow. It all turns on what are honest opinions."

"Mine certainly were. They were not only honest but heroic. I asserted them fearlessly. When the doctrine of the Resurrection ceased to commend itself to the critical faculties which God had given me, I openly rejected it. I preached my famous sermon. I defied the whole chapter. I took every risk."

"What risk? What was at all likely to come of it except what actually came-popularity, sales for your books, invitations, and finally a bishopric?"

"Dick, this is unworthy of you. What are you suggesting?"

"Friend, I am not suggesting at all. You see, I know now. Let us be frank. Our opinions were not honestly come by. We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful. At College, you know, we just started automatically writing the kind of essays that got good marks and saying the kind of things that won applause. When, in our whole lives, did we honestly face, in solitude, the one question on which all turned: whether after all the Supernatural might not in fact occur? When did we put up one moment's real resistance to the loss of our faith?"

"If this is meant to be a sketch of the genesis of liberal theology in general, I reply that it is a mere libel. Do you suggest that men like ..."

"I have nothing to do with any generality. Nor with any man but me and you. Oh, as you love your own soul, remember. You know that you and I were playing with loaded dice. We didn't want the other to be true. We were afraid of crude salvationism, afraid of a breach with the spirit of the age, afraid of ridicule, afraid (above all) of real spiritual fears and hopes."

"I'm far from denying that young men may make mistakes. They may well be influenced by current fashions of thought. But it's not a question of how the opinions are formed. The point is that they were my honest opinions, sincerely expressed."

"Of course. Having allowed oneself to drift, unresisting, unpraying, accepting every half-conscious solicitation from our desires, we reached a point where we no longer believed the Faith. Just in the same way, a jealous man, drifting and unresisting, reaches a point at which he believes lies about his best friend: a drunkard reaches a point at which (for the moment) he actually believes that another glass will do him no harm. The beliefs are sincere in the sense that they do occur as psychological events in the man's mind. If that's what you mean by sincerity they are sincere, and so were ours. But errors which are sincere in that sense are not innocent."

"You'll be justifying the Inquisition in a moment!"

"Why? Because the Middle Ages erred in one direction, does it follow that there is no error in the opposite direction?"

"Well, this is extremely interesting," said the Episcopal Ghost. "It's a point of view. Certainly, it's a point of view. In the meantime . . ."

"There is no meantime," replied the other. "All that is over. We are not playing now. I have been talking of the past (your past and mine) only in order that you may turn from it forever. One wrench and the tooth will be out. You can begin as if nothing had ever gone wrong. White as snow. It's all true, you know. He is in me, for you, with that power. And- I have come a long journey to meet you. You have seen Hell: you are in sight of Heaven. Will you, even now, repent and believe?"

"I'm not sure that I've got the exact point you are trying to make," said the Ghost.

"I am not trying to make any point," said the Spirit. "I am telling you to repent and believe."

"But my dear boy, I believe already. We may not be perfectly agreed, but you have completely misjudged me if you do not realise that my religion is a very real and a very precious thing to me." (...)  Oh, must you be going? Well, so must I. Goodbye, my dear boy. It has been a great pleasure. Most stimulating and provocative. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye."


The Bishop returns to Hell.


The Bishop's attitude is very familiar to me since I used to share it.

After all, what could be wrong with 'honest opinions, sincerely expressed'?


Oblique reference:

In the old days Church of Scotland ministers did not mince matters.

In the course of a sermon one said: Ah hed a dreem, an in that dreem Ah saw a vision o' better folk than you, efter they were deed, in the place where the wurm dieth not and the fire is not quenched, callin' out tae the Lord in their agony, callin' out:

'O Lord, we nivver kent it wud be as bad as this.'

And the Lord, out of His love and tender mercy looked down on their agony and He spoke and answered:

'Weel... ye ken noo.'


The New World Order and political correctness


From Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works by Hieromonk Damascene - pp 696-8.

"Today (in 1982), some New Age circles speak of "The Plan" for a "New World Order," which would include a uni­versal credit system, a universal tax, a global police force, and an inter­national authority that would control the world's food supply and transportation systems. In this Utopian scheme, wars, disease, hunger, pollution, and poverty will end. All forms of discrimination will cease, and people's allegiance to tribe or nation will be replaced by a planetary consciousness." (...)

"Never has there been more talk of “peace and security” than today. One of the chief organs of the U.N. is the Security Council, and organizations for “world peace” are everywhere. It men do achieve finally a semblance of “peace and security,” it would seem to contemporary man to be a state like heaven on earth – a millennium. The practical way to do this is to unite all governments under one. For the first time in history such a ideal becomes a possible goal of practical politics – a world ruler is conceivable now. For the first time, the Antichrist becomes an historical possibility." (...)

"With the establishment of the European Union, the creation of the Euro currency, the control of former Eastern-bloc countries by Western financial interests, the advances towards a cashless society, the formation of an international criminal tribunal by the United Nations and NATO, we see what appear to be the forerunners of such a one-world system. Some of these developments are not necessarily evil by themselves. Taken together, however, they help to set up a global apparatus which can make way for the rising religion of the future."


The Western elites have long since embraced the idea of a New World Order, global government, dissolution of national boundaries and so on.

The rationale is hedonic: prosperity and peace..

And if not prosperity, then at least peace...

And if not peace, then at least pacifism.


Political correctness is the 'religion' of such folk - or rather the spirituality, or if not that then the perspective on life and the human condition.

PC is (presumably) supposed to synergize with global government - the ethical system of multiculturalism and diversity combining with a mixed word without border - all under the 'benign' leadership of democratically elected... and so on.


When Fr Seraphim Rose died in 1982 it certainly looked as if world government was the trend - and since then there has certainly been an expansion of global bureaucracies.

Yet the reality is that governments - both national and international - have lost control.

Stripped of the means of effective government by political correctness; national and international governments are mostly Brezhnev-style corrupt bureaucracies - engaged in a propaganda of denying reality (by means of replacing experience with virtual reality via the mass media) and simply relabelling what happens as desirable - re-interpreting trends asif they were beneficial to the cause of global peace and prosperity.


So the real trends are now running against global governance by the Western elites, and the proponents of a New World Order are reduced to aspirational statements and cheer-leading chaos (in order to justify their salaries and status).

Instead of an actual world government, we have a bunch of grafting charlatans pretending to be a world government.


What went wrong for them? What happened to their dreams of power?

Political correctness: that's what happened.


PC is the Achilles Heel of the would-be international Leftist dictatorship.


Even as PC justifies the global elite in their takeover of all and everything, at the same time all and everything is being ever-more-rapidly subverted by the chaos caused by PC - perhaps above all the truly massive demographic transformation and population movement which the world is experiencing.

Vast population growth in undeveloped countries, decline in developed countries and international migrations of populations - such as we are experiencing are 1. approved of by PC, 2. uncontrollable by PC-approved mechanisms, and 3. utterly destructive of governance.

PC can do nothing about all this (except prevent the subject being mentioned, the problem being analyzed, or action being taken) and responds by approving-of, pointing out the potential benefits of ... whatever happens.


(What - you haven't heard about the impending and unstoppable demographic cataclysm? I am not surprised. It is no accident. Rest assured that the ruling elite have no plans to do anything about it.)


So rather than world government, we have a world bureaucracy and a world mass media engaging in depicting in virtual reality what they want to happen, rather than what is happening; and - when this fails to convince - in the creative re-labeling of 'apparent' chaos, violence and impoverishment as actually nascent order, peace and prosperity.

Merely broken eggs en route to a vast and delicious global omelet.


When Fr Seraphim Rose died in 1982, who would have thought it!

International dictatorship sabotaged by its own scruples!

Maybe PC is not such a bad thing after all - insofar as chaos is preferable to totalitarianism.


Tuesday 10 May 2011

Intellectuals and Christianity


It is a big step for many people to recognize and understand that - from a Christian perspective - intellectuals and the rich really are (as a class, and on average) worse than simple people and the poor.

Worse in the sense of further from God; further from salvation, further from heaven.

Those passages in the Bible about the difficulties of a rich man attaining salvation (camels and a needle's eye) or 'The Beatitudes' (those phrases commencing 'Blessed are...) about the poor, meek, humble and rejected are meant seriously, and are not merely a rhetorical device.


It is hard for intellectuals and the rich to become Christians, and even harder for them to become advanced in holiness.

The problems include Pride (especially of intellectuals), and the availability of distractions (especially of the Rich); so it is no accident that a synonym for the poor and meek is 'humble', and that Humility is one of the greatest Christian virtues.


But these facts are disguised by historical accident: that the holy, simple poor leave no written records.

And because some of the very greatest of Saints were intellectuals who overcame their innate disadvantage to achieve great holiness, and were able to use their intellectual gifts in service of their faith.

This began with such supreme intellectuals as St John the Evangelist and continued with Saint Paul then many of the greatest Fathers of the Church.


I am currently engaged with reading Piers Plowman by William Langland (c. 1332 – 1386) - which is probably the greatest religious poem in English (albeit Middle English).

Langland was an intellectual - probably in Holy Orders but not a priest - who was also poor; and his poem strikes me as engaged in demonstrating to other intellectuals - especially those in higher Holy Orders and who were wealthy - that as a class they are inferior Christians to the common peasants (to whom they feel so superior).

The poem seems to me to regard the spiritual superiority of the ignorant peasant as a given, and to be trying-out various explanations of why this is so: why the virtuous peasant has (in effect) a 'pardon' from God - a symbolic guarantee of salvation.

(Some of Langland's 'experimental' suggestions of and for this 'pardon' are more convincing than others to the modern reader, but I see them less as proofs that this is so, and more as explanations of why this is so.


Christian intellectuals therefore have potentially a very high calling - but Pride stands blocking the path.

Since humility is absolutely essential to the Christian, this means that it is very difficult for intellectuals to take even the first step, and even more unusual for an intellectual to be advanced in holiness.

Of course, being an intellectual does not prevent someone becoming a Christian. But it does means that most intellectuals will be mediocre Christians: last in line in the procession to Heaven; and lowest in the hierarchy of Heaven.


The hierarchy of Heaven is for Men - roughly speaking - an inversion of worldly status.

The first necessary act of humility is to understand and accept this.


Monday 9 May 2011

Seymour Glass compared with Seraphim Rose


I have just been reading my favourite JD Salinger stories about the Glass family ^ - which focus on the life and suicide of their American-born fictional 'saint' Seymour; and I have just started a re-read of the biography of the first real life American-born Saint (of the Russian Orthodox Church) Hieromonk Seraphim of Platina + - born as Eugene Rose (and usually called Fr Seraphim Rose).

The comparison is interesting.


The fictional Seymour Glass was born in 1917, while Seraphim Rose was born in 1934 - half a generation later.


Seymour Glass was raised in New York City on the East Coast of the USA, was something of a child prodigy who was often termed a 'genius' (by his family), and attended the local elite university - Columbia.

Seraphim Rose was raised in California on the West Coast of the USA, was something of a child prodigy who was sometimes termed a genius (by his friends), and attended the local elite liberal arts college - Pomona.


Both Seymour and Seraphim developed an intense personal and scholarly interest in Eastern religions, meditation, Buddhism, Oriental languages and the like.


In the end, Seymour developed a personal, eclectic, syncretic religion incorporating elements of Christianity, Hinduism (especially reincarnation), Zen, and a life dedicated to personal poetic creativity.

While Seraphim became a Russian Orthodox Christian of the most traditional kind, an ascetic monk, and led a life dedicated to attaining holiness (theosis) and evangelism via his writings and translations.


Seymour died young in 1948 at the age of 31 - shooting himself probably due to psychological war trauma and despair at living up to his own ideals.

Seraphim died young in 1982 at the age of 48 - from an acute medical illness.


After his death, Seymour became a kind-of saint to those who knew him personally, then to Western youth via the writings of JD Salinger and the (fictional) example of his life.

After his death, Seraphim became a Saint to those who knew him personally, and then to Eastern post-communist youth via his own writings and the example of his life.


Seymour Glass was a seeker; Seraphim Rose was a finder.


^ Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters; Zooey; Seymour: an introduction all by JD Salinger.

+ Father Seraphim Rose: his life and works by Hieromonk Damascene.


Sunday 8 May 2011

Young women - Why not get married, have children?


Why should young women at the peak of their reproductive potential aim to get married and have children and care for them?

What are the answers of modern secular society?

That marriage and kids are a big risk - and this is perfectly correct: many things can go wrong, and some of these things are devastating.


So, if you want to avoid the risk of being very unhappy, don't get married, don't have children - and if you do make such choices - then make sure (legally and psychologically) you can walk away from them quickly and easily and without being blamed: otherwise they are is too great a risk.


Or if you must aim at marriage and children - then at any rate wait.

Our society says, implicitly, 'youth is for getting more education - not for marriage and children'.


The secular, psychological, biological arguments for getting married and having children when a young adult are weak and unconvincing to modern individuals.

And rightly so - they are weak and unconvincing arguments.

If your life is defined by optimizing gratification (minimizing suffering, increasing enjoyment) then it makes no sense to have children.


The only compelling reasons to choose to get married, have children and care for them when a young adult are transcendental/ supernatural/ religious reasons: the essence of human life must be conceptualized as other than (and more than) the psychological/ biological/ economic.


Nowadays, the only groups who choose to have more than two children per woman on average, whose women marry and begin childbearing when young, who generally stick by these responsibilities, are devout adherents of orthodoxly supernaturalist religion: whether Jewish, Christian/ Mormon, or Islamic.


Indeed it is either dishonest, incompetent or unfounded speculation to propound a materialist, secular, hedonic basis for having marriage and children as the basis of society.

Because if knowing and understanding the actual world is to have any effect on beliefs and aspirations - then it is crystal clear (as clear as it ever will be, as clear as it ever can be) that the rationality of mainstream modernity implies not getting married, not having children, and making the state of marriage and sustained childcare a matter of choice - a lifestyle option to be discarded (like a house, a car or an insurance policy) if or when they interfere with the main purpose in life - which is to avoid suffering and to increase gratification.


In sum: there is no coherent positive reason to choose marriage and children as an organizing principle in life except on the basis of religion.


[Note: This argument ought to have the force of a reductio ad absurdum against secularism - however, mainstream modernity instead prefers to embrace the absurd as the basis of human existence. Hence the nihilism of the West.]


Saturday 7 May 2011

Political correctness and fear


An aspect of political correctness which I have not really considered was pointed out in an e-mail from Henry Harpending: the extent to which PC is motivated by fear and a spirit of appeasement.


Clearly, there is a strong element of fear in the choices of groups upon which political correctness bestows special privileges.

Broadly speaking, the most feared groups are given the highest status by PC.


(One apparent anomaly is women; who, following after slaves and organized labour, were early beneficiaries of the appeasing spirit of PC. An argument could be made that there is indeed a very strong element of fear of women behind political correctness: women being the mutually cooperating arbiters of social status and inclusion, and the sex which (nearly always) controls the sexual arena in which/ for which men are competing. If correct, this would emphasize that for men fear as a motivator is not restricted to fear of violence, although that is often an element, but includes fear of status loss.)


However, feared groups are not treated by political correctness according to the methods of traditional common sense, but instead by appeasement.

Traditionally (historically and still throughout most of the world), feared groups were controlled, subordinated, repressed, excluded and (ultimately) exterminated.

These methods were usually effective - if applied early enough.

However, a deep aspect of political correctness is pacifism: in the sense of a personal reluctance to be involved in physical coercion and even to be complicit in physical coercion.

PC strongly dislikes negative sanctions.


Consequently, lacking access to negative sanctions and especially physical coercion; political correctness gravitates to appeasement of feared groups.

The aim of PC is positive encouragement (of peaceful behaviour), which it does by conferral of privileges, subsidies, bestowal of higher status and so on.

But to do this entails a rationale: the rationale is one of desert: the feared group is seen as deserving of special, positive treatment.

This represents an inversion of common sense government; and culminates in a privileging of the feared group, increased power of the feared group, and ultimately a hand-over of government to the feared group.


Thus appeasement of the feared group becomes transformed into submission to the feared group.


(According to Demonic Males - available on Google Books and a classic account of primate aggression by Robert Wrangham and Dale Peterson - submission is characteristic of some ape females. They explain this in terms of 'warfare' - inter-group aggression. In sum: the difference is that defeated primate males suffer 'murder' and reproductive death; defeated females suffer 'rape' and continue reproduction. When a primate band is defeated, the losing males are exterminated by the winners - 'hence' males must fight and win, or die; but losing females are abducted rather than killed, 'hence' female primates tend to submit to superior force rather than fight. A stark example occurs when gorilla females live in the harem of a dominant male, and a rogue male breaks through the dominant male's defences and kills an infant. The mother of the slain infant will leave the dominant male's harem to join the rogue male who killed her infant. Presumably, because the event establishes which male really is dominant.)


For the PC elite, appeasement at least buys time since the feared groups will be likely to behave well for at least as long as the ruling elite are needed to manage the handover of power.

Furthermore, the PC elite hope (in the teeth of common sense) that the process of appeasement, empowerment and submission will (before the handover is complete) transform the nature of the feared group - such that there will no longer be a need to fear or appease them.


(This analysis leaves open the question of why the PC elite should be reluctant to use traditional common sense methods of dealing with feared groups, what is the cause of this change? This leads back to the deep roots of PC in secular nihilism - and its hopes of an intrinsically altruistic/ unselfish society of optimal gratification and minimum suffering; a society of impartial and abstractly virtuous procedures. In terms of mechanism, the PC elite has its roots in the takeover of society by the intellectual class; who must distinguish themselves from, marginalize and disempower the traditional military rulers, and devalue the analysis and methods of the military class. It is only the military class who are able to apply the approach of control, subordination, repression, exclusion and (ultimately) extermination. For intellectuals to replace, to dispense with, the loathed military class entails intellectuals using non-military methods (even when the alternative methods are ineffective). Alternatively, the process might be conceptualized as consequential to an altered balance of power between the sexes - i.e. progressive feminization: increasing female societal dominance - leading to a reaction to external threat that is ever-less aggressive, ever-more submissive. The two explanations could be combined if the class of intellectual men formed an alliance with women against the class of military men: the intellectual gaining cooperation by appeasement. It all sounds highly Nietzschian!)