Irish Papist

Irish Papist
Statute of the Blessed Virgin in Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Church, UCD Belfield

Monday, April 24, 2017

"We Survived All That"-- the Banalization of Sex in Ireland, in One Video

This video makes me both sad and angry. It's a collection of clips from The Late Late Show, a long-running Irish chat show of which I have nostalgic memories, but which was at the forefront of liberalization in this country. These clips are all on the topic of sex, one way or the other.

Notice the sniggering, sneering attitude of the liberalizers. The conservatives try to talk seriously on the topic, but are relentlessly mocked.

Notice how, at one point, a pro-abortion woman argues that the beating of a child's heart on its own is meaningless and that the "minimum" that a child needs is (amongst other things) two parents. How liberalism marches on! You couldn't say that now.

"We survived all that" says the host, Gay Byrne, at the of the clip reel. But did we? There was still an Ireland of some kind, when all our traditional taboos had been laughed away. But what kind? And what was lost?

Of course, when sex is banalized, other things are banalized too-- marriage, romance, family, entertainment, and so many other things. It's not just a question of "what two people do in private". Whatever is whisper in privated will indeed be shouted from the rooftops, sooner or later.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

More Stupid Humour

I wrote this on Facebook. Again, I'm glad I saved it. The first verse is a standard Dublin kids' chant. I don't know how prevalent it is elsewhere.

Feel free to have a go yourself.

You Should Never Throw These People Off the Bus

You should never throw your granny off the bus
You should never throw your granny off the bus.
You should never throw your granny
'Cos she's your mammy's mammy
You should never throw your granny off the bus.

You should never throw Darth Vader off the bus
You should never throw Darth Vader off the bus
You should never throw Darth Vader
'Cos he'll just get you later
You should never throw Darth Vader off the bus.

You should never throw Dick Cavett off the bus
You should never throw Dick Cavett off the bus
You should never throw Dick Cavett
'Cos people just won't have it
You should never throw Dick Cavett off the bus.

You should never throw Obama off the bus
You should never throw Obama off the bus
You should never throw Obama
'Cos there'll be too much drama
You should never throw Obama off the bus.

You should never throw Will Wheaton off the bus
You should never throw Will Wheaton off the bus
You should never throw Will Wheaton
Cos he might just have eaten
You should never throw Will Wheaton off the bus

You should never throw Don Cheney off the bus
You should never throw Don Cheney off the bus
You should never throw Don Cheney
Cos things would just get zany
You should never throw Don Cheney off the bus.

You should never throw Bert Russell off the bus
You should never throw Bert Russell off the bus
You should never throw Bert Russell
Cos he'll just come back with Husserl
You should never throw Bert Russell of the bus.

You should never throw Neil Diamond off the bus
You should never throw Neil Diamond off the bus
You should never throw Neil Diamond
Cos he's likely to get violent
You should never throw Neil Diamond off the bus.

Another Jokey Poem

I wrote this several years ago. The ballade form is one that Chesterton and Belloc often used, jokingly. I wrote it on the day before New Year's Eve. I think I've posted it before but so what.

A Ballade of TV

I’ve grown quite tired of Kant’s philosophy
I do not feel a deep urge to recite
Icelandic sagas to my coterie.
I feel no very ardent need to write
A gloss upon the Areopagite.
And, although Maud invited me to see
A Noh play at her cousin’s place tonight
I’m going to stay at home and watch TV.

There’s a free lecture on Gallipoli
In the Polytech. East Timor’s sorry plight
Is the subject of a talk—admission free—
In the parish hall. An ancient Mayan rite
Is reconstructed for our town’s delight
In the Rovers clubhouse (there’ll be cakes and tea).
But all these cherries I refuse to bite;
I’m going to stay at home and watch TV.

Although I’m wild about astronomy
And Gemini is going to be more bright
Than any time since 44 AD
This evening, I’m indifferent to the sight.
And though I’m well aware it’s not polite
To snub my Auntie Mildred’s desperate plea,
“Come watch your uncle being made a Knight”
I’m going to stay at home and watch TV.


Prince, you have lost all prospect of respite;
The mob howl for your blood relentlessly.
Now is the hour for all true men to fight;
I’m going to stay at home and watch TV.

Fiddle Dee Diddle Dee Dee

I wrote this about two years ago, on Facebook. I decided to save it. I'm glad I did. I think it's mildly amusing.
Fiddle Dee Diddle Dee Dee

Oh, I remember when sliced bread hit the shops
I said, "This will be something nothing ever tops".
Old, old, I feel so old
Fiddle-dee diddle-dee dee.

Oh I remember the bubonic plague
I was already in my middle age.
Old, old, I feel so old,
Fiddle dee diddle dee dee.

Oh, I remember the building of Stonehenge
I said, "My, my, how architecture has changed."
Old, old, I feel so old
Fiddle dee diddle dee dee.

Oh, I remember the pyramids being built
I said, "They're like the old ziggurats with a tilt".
Old, old, I feel so old
Fiddle dee diddle dee dee.

Oh, I remember the dinosaurs dying off
I said, "I predicted this, and how they did scoff"
Old, old, I feel so old
Fiddle dee diddle dee dee.

Oh, I remember the start of sexual reproduction.
I said, "I'm telling you, this will cause some ructions."
Old, old, I feel so old
Fiddle dee diddle dee dee. 

Oh, I remember that ole Big Bang
I said, "This is exactly how the last one began."
Old, old, I feel so old
Fiddle dee diddle dee dee.

Divine Mercy Sunday

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday. St. Faustina, intercede for us, and guide us towards the Divine Mercy of our Lord!

Sometimes it's said that people today have no sense of sin. I'm not so sure about that. I wonder if perhaps our sense of sinfulness is simply suppressed, or displaced, or projected onto other things. Perhaps what really keeps people away from the sacraments is not the feeling that they don't need them, but an incredulity that grace can be freely given. Certainly I find it hard to get my own head around this.

I have a Divine Mercy picture on my desk at work. I contemplate it far too seldom.

Happy St. George's Day

Happy St. George's Day to all my English readers!

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear'd by their breed and famous by their birth,
Renowned for their deeds as far from home,
For Christian service and true chivalry,
As is the sepulchre in stubborn Jewry,
Of the world's ransom, blessed Mary's Son,
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land.

Nigel Farage, beer, and fish and chips: quintessential Englishness!
Although my own favourite evocation of Englishness might be this passage from Chesterton, which I have so often quoted:

But Dickens in his cheapest cockney utilitarianism was not only English, but unconsciously historic. Upon him descended the real tradition of "Merry England," and not upon the pallid mediævalists who thought they were reviving it. The Pre-Raphaelites, the Gothicists, the admirers of the Middle Ages, had in their subtlety and sadness the spirit of the present day. Dickens had in his buffoonery and bravery the spirit of the Middle Ages. He was much more mediæval in his attacks on mediævalism than they were in their defences of it. It was he who had the things of Chaucer, the love of large jokes and long stories and brown ale and all the white roads of England. 

Sid James as Dick Turpin: quintessential Englishness!

Peter Hitchens looking indignant; quintessential Englishness!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Uphill and Against the Tide

I foresee the growth of a new race of readers and critics to whom, from the very outset, good literature will be an accomplishment rather than a delight, and who will always feel, beneath the acquired taste, the backward tug of something else which they feel merit in resisting.

Such people will not be content to say that some books are bad or not very good; they will make a special class of “lowbrow” art which is to be vilified, mocked, quarantined, and sometimes (when they are sick or tired) enjoyed. They will be sure that what is popular must always be bad, thus assuming that human taste is naturally wrong, that it needs not only improvement and development but veritable conversion.

For them a good critic will be, as the theologians say, essentially a “twice-born” critic, one who is regenerate and washed from his Original Taste. They will have no conception, because they have had no experience, of spontaneous delight in excellence.

C.S. Lewis, "High and Low Brows"

That is a quotation from one of my favourite C.S. Lewis essays, and I could happily write a blog post on the subject he's discussing here. It is, however, tangential to the subject of the blog post I'm writing now. Right now, I'm not discussing literary taste per se, but the whole idea of being "twice-born"; of pushing against "the backward tug of something else which we feel merit in resisting"; of going uphill and swimming against the tide.

This is a big subject with me, and I've previously written a series of blog posts on the related phenomenon of contrarianism. You can read them here, here and here. I also wrote a series on the idea of "keeping things interesting", which to me is one of the motives for contrarianism; if you're so inclined, you can read them here, here, and here.

The more you think about contrarianism (to repeat a point I've made previously), the more central it seems to human life. You could argue that all human life is a kind of contrarianism-- indeed, you could argue that all life, human or otherwise, is a kind of contrarianism. The ordinary thing is to be dead, to be inanimate. Every living thing is constantly pushing against inertia, pushing against entropy.

Effort and struggle seems to be an inevitable feature of human life, and much of that effort and struggle is against ourselves in some way. Plato famously pictured the soul as a chariot pulled by two horses, which represent our conflicting passions; the charioteer must direct them in the right direction. Most people have heard St. Paul's dictum from Romans: "The good that I would I do not, but the evil that I would not, that I do." Freud pictured our minds as a kind of tug-of-war between the ego, the id and the superego. It seems inarguable that there are drives in the human psyche which are in conflict with each other.

Tennyson very lyrically expressed the constant striving that characterises human life, as lamented by the lotus-eaters who tempt Odysseus to remain with them:

Hateful is the dark-blue sky,
Vaulted o'er the dark-blue sea.
Death is the end of life; ah, why
Should life all labour be?
Let us alone. Time driveth onward fast,
And in a little while our lips are dumb.
Let us alone. What is it that will last?
All things are taken from us, and become
Portions and parcels of the dreadful Past.
Let us alone. What pleasure can we have
To war with evil? Is there any peace
In ever climbing up the climbing wave?
All things have rest, and ripen toward the grave
In silence; ripen, fall and cease:
Give us long rest or death, dark death, or dreamful ease.

The power of this poem lies in the fact that every one of us (sometimes, at least) ache for the peace of the lotus-eaters, but none of us would really choose to remain on their island.

Indeed, I think it's true to say that both extremes capture our imagination; images of the utmost endeavour, and images of the utmost repose. For instance, the famous "Discobolus" portrays pure endeavour:

The equally famous "Laocoön and his Sons" is even more vivid:

In terms of repose (or sloth!), we have the legend of the Land of Cockayne, as pictured by Brueghel the Elder:

Or, indeed, the story of the Lotus Eaters from the Odyssey.

Even the Christian story has (in a sense) these two poles; at Christmas we have the peace of the baby Jesus asleep in the manger, while on Good Friday we have the agony of the Crucifixion.

We probably all have images of repose and strain which excite our own imaginations. I've mentioned before, on this blog, the time a friend of mine had broken up with a boyfriend she'd expected to eventually marry. She told me she ignored Christmas that year (which both shocked and fascinated me) and spent it...well, I don't want to say, just in case she ever reads this. But in a very low-intensity activity indeed. She spent it on her own, hiding from the world. The image stuck in my imagination. It's strangely appealing.

I remember being entranced, in choir practice in school, by these lines from Paul McCarthy's "Yesterday"...

Love was such an easy game to play
Now I need a place to hide away...

A quotation from Patrick Pearse, which I've quoted before, appeals to me because it represents both poles:

Two things have constantly pulled at cross-purposes in me: one a deep homing instinct, a desire beyond all words to be at home always, with the same beloved faces, the same familiar shapes and sounds about me; the other an impulse to seek hard things to do, to go on quests and fight lost causes. And neither thing, neither the quiet home life nor the perilous adventure, has ever brought me any content.

Indeed, I posted Pearse's "The Fool" in anticipation of this post. These lines have always stirred my depths:

I have squandered the splendid years that the Lord God gave to my youth
In attempting impossible things, deeming them alone worth the toil....

So where am I going with this? Well, what seems interesting to me is that every philosophy of life, other than sheer hedonism, accepts the need to struggle against the world in some way, and to struggle against ourselves in some way. But they differ very starkly in which elements of our nature they urge us to fight against, and which aspects of our nature they urge us to set free.

Obviously, for Christians, the fundamental struggle is the struggle against original sin, especially the sin of pride. As St. John so memorably put it: "The lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life."

But every philosophy seems to have its own version of original sin.

Liberalism (or progressivism) has plenty of manifestations of original sin. Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia; these are only a few. To be a fully-fledged progressive (or so it seems to conservatives) is to wage a constant war against one's own humanity, against one's own natural inclinations-- the inclination to treat men and women differently, the attraction towards one's own tribe (however that is understood), even the tendency to admire other cultures as exotic. (This is "othering" them, you see.)

Progressives, however, might argue that it's conservatives who are at constant war with their own nature. The ideal of chastity, for instance, is one that is frequently seen as absurd.

The claim to be going "against the tide" is one that's often made-- frequently it's made by people who are going in opposite directions to each other.

For instance, the Irish left-wing politican Noel Browne wrote an autobiography entitled Against the Tide. This might seem reasonable enough, since he was a left-wing politician who defied the Catholic Church at a time when its influence in Ireland was at its height (the middle of last century).

But was he really going against the tide? Internationally, the kind of left-wing ideas Noel Browne was pushing were certainly in the ascendant. The Catholic Church in Ireland, indeed the Ireland of the time, was very much going "against the tide" in its quest to preserve a Catholic Ireland in the modern world-- and saw itself in this role.

Everybody seems to want to claim underdog status. For instance, it's obvious that the mainstream media, academia, and the entertainment industry are overwhelmingly political correct. Political correctness, in this sense, is the dominant power. But PC claims to be fighting on behalf of ethnic and other minorities, so in this way they can claim to be at least representing the underdog.

The same clash of perspectives applies whenever the Catholic Church disciplines a dissident priest. The media can always paint the dissident priest as a brave and lonely figure confronting the might of the hierarchy. On the other hand, he is nearly always being lionised by the entire media and the bulk of the wider public. 

What prompted all these ruminations? Well, I've been thinking of my own attraction towards that which, in my own mind, is "uphill and against the tide."

For instance, I've found myself trying to improve my Irish in recent months-- for the best part of a year, at this stage-- because this seems to me to be the best way I can push back against globalisation and cultural homogenisation, the best way I can defend Irish culture. It's the best way, and also the hardest way.

For many years, I resisted this conclusion-- because it is so difficult, and because I was aware that I'm not linguistically gifted. But I've finally come to realise that any kind of patriotism or Irish national feeling that doesn't seriously concern itself with the Irish language is a waste of time-- mere sentimentality. What's the point of cheering Irish sports teams, or of similar displays of patriotic feeling, if we don't make a sustained effort to revive the central and most important part of Irish tradition, Irish distinctiveness? (Although I say again, on its own the Irish language means nothing to me-- it needs to be the cornerstone of a broader national revival.)

On the other hand, there is also a lure to the most difficult thing-- to quote the title of a Yeats poem, the fascination of what's difficult. And there's even a strange relief to it-- you're not hiding from it anymore. Challenges often pester us until we take them up.

This desire to do the hardest thing is why I have a certain (and very qualified) admiration for the Alt Right. Anyone who looks at the history of Western conservatism over the last thirty years or so must be struck by one simple fact-- it's one long series of defeats and compromises. Conservatism (by which I mean social and cultural conservatism) seems to have settled into a pattern of resist, retreat, and regroup. Of course, the best that this could ever lead to is that conservatives would resemble the American Indians-- not quite wiped out, and allowed some enclaves in which they are allowed to continue their traditional way of life, or something like it. The term "cuckservative" has an ugly origin, but it describes a reality. I completely understand the impulse which brings recruits to the Alt Right-- not only to resist, but to push back-- to go on the offensive. It's sad that the movement is tainted by race hatred, anti-semitism, Nazism, and other unpleasant things.

I really think we need a Catholic Alt Right. Mainstream Catholicism has thrown in the towel, has opted for "managed decline". We need a Catholicism that is willing to be full-bodied, supernatural, evangelistic, politically incorrect, confrontational. "Dialogue" is a dead end-- at least, in our time. You don't dialogue with your back to the wall.

One way in which I think Catholics need to "do the hard thing" more-- in which we need to go "against the tide and uphill" more-- is reading the Bible. This has been a constant struggle in my own short career as a practising Catholic. I know the New Testament pretty well, but why I am so reluctant to throw myself into the Old Testament? It's a real effort, but it's one I do intend to make. We should not only read the Bible but be steeped in the Bible.

I think this desire to do the hard thing, to go against the tide and uphill, is also part of my love of poetry-- my belief in the cause of poetry. It's a funny thing, but it's easier to read a five-hundred page novel than a slim volume of poetry. No matter how much you enjoy poetry, reading it involves mental strain to a far greater extent than prose. Certainly, it's easier to sell a five-hundred page novel! There's something "against the tide and uphill" in the very act of reading poetry, and writing poetry, and even talking and writing about poetry. It's why I'm so proud of my articles about poetry in Annals Australasia magazine.

And yet, while we seek to do the hard thing, we always have to be cautious, and not become like Lewis's "twice born" reader-- we have to remember that some strain is simply unnatural and unhealthy, and that there is such a thing as a healthy spontaneity and a healthy aversion. An example; before I returned to my faith, I'd become such a super-reactionary that I saw the human love of novelty as the root of all evil. But that's just silly. A love of novelty is a healthy and universal human impulse.

I'm not sure if there is any principle by which we can distinguish a healthy straining from an unhealthy straining. But I'm open to suggestions.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Fool by Patrick Pearse

Patrick Pearse was the most prominent leader of the 1916 Rising, a central figure in the Gaelic revival, and a very estimable poet. At least, in my view he is a very estimable poet.

He has the distinction of being the only free verse poet whose poetry I like. Even though his poetry is free verse, it does have a kind of internal metre to it.

"The Fool" is one of his most famous poems-- perhaps even his most famous. I knew it by heart in my teens, and it expressed perfectly my view of life-- at some points, anyway. (Although I've always felt the last couple of lines are weak.)

One aspect of the poem which rather bothers me now is the invocation of Christ to justify a violent insurrection. I by no means believe it impossible that a violent insurrection might be morally permissible, perhaps even a moral duty, in some circumstances. And, as C.S. Lewis said, all duties are ultimately religious duties. Of course, Pearse is not just talking about the 1916 Rising in this poem, but his vision as a whole. (I don't actually know when it was written.) Even still, I'm not sure what to make of the way Pearse repeatedly compared the Irish struggle for independence to Christ's passion. I suppose Christians should see everything through that prism, but it also seems potentially idolatrous.

The lines that have always moved me the most are:

I have squandered the splendid years that the Lord God gave to my youth
In attempting impossible things, deeming them alone worth the toil.

In a future post, I intend to refer to this poem, so I'm posting it partly for that reason. But it's worth posting anyway.

Since the wise men have not spoken, I speak that am only a fool;
A fool that hath loved his folly,
Yea, more than the wise men their books or their counting houses or their quiet homes,
Or their fame in men's mouths;
A fool that in all his days hath done never a prudent thing,
Never hath counted the cost, nor recked if another reaped
The fruit of his mighty sowing, content to scatter the seed;
A fool that is unrepentant, and that soon at the end of all
Shall laugh in his lonely heart as the ripe ears fall to the reaping-hooks
And the poor are filled that were empty,
Tho' he go hungry.

I have squandered the splendid years that the Lord God gave to my youth
In attempting impossible things, deeming them alone worth the toil.
Was it folly or grace? Not men shall judge me, but God.
I have squandered the splendid years:
Lord, if I had the years I would squander them over again,
Aye, fling them from me!
For this I have heard in my heart, that a man shall scatter, not hoard,
Shall do the deed of to-day, nor take thought of to-morrow's teen,
Shall not bargain or huxter with God; or was it a jest of Christ's
And is this my sin before men, to have taken Him at His word?

The lawyers have sat in council, the men with the keen, long faces,
And said, `This man is a fool,' and others have said, `He blasphemeth; '
And the wise have pitied the fool that hath striven to give a life
In the world of time and space among the bulks of actual things,
To a dream that was dreamed in the heart, and that only the heart could hold.

O wise men, riddle me this: what if the dream come true?
What if the dream come true? and if millions unborn shall dwell
In the house that I shaped in my heart, the noble house of my thought?
Lord, I have staked my soul, I have staked the lives of my kin
On the truth of Thy dreadful word. Do not remember my failures,
But remember this my faith.

And so I speak.
Yea, ere my hot youth pass, I speak to my people and say:
Ye shall be foolish as I; ye shall scatter, not save;
Ye shall venture your all, lest ye lose what is more than all;
Ye shall call for a miracle, taking Christ at His word.
And for this I will answer, O people, answer here and hereafter,
O people that I have loved, shall we not answer together?

I Like This Quotation

"The purpose of satire, it has been rightly said, is to strip off the veneer of comforting illusion and cosy half-truth. And our job, as I see it, is to put it back again."

Michael Flanders, of the Flanders and Swann music-hall duo. Not a bad mission to have.

This reminds me of yet another of my favourite Chesterton quotations:

What is the matter with the pessimist? I think it can be stated by saying that he is the cosmic anti-patriot. And what is the matter with the anti-patriot? I think it can be stated, without undue bitterness, by saying that he is the candid friend. And what is the matter with the candid friend? There we strike the rock of real life and immutable human nature. I venture to say that what is bad in the candid friend is simply that he is not candid. He is keeping something back— his own gloomy pleasure in saying unpleasant things. He has a secret desire to hurt, not merely to help. This is certainly, I think, what makes a certain sort of anti-patriot irritating to healthy citizens. I do not speak (of course) of the anti-patriotism which only irritates feverish stockbrokers and gushing actresses; that is only patriotism speaking plainly. A man who says that no patriot should attack the Boer War until it is over is not worth answering intelligently; he is saying that no good son should warn his mother off a cliff until she has fallen over it. But there is an anti-patriot who honestly angers honest men, and the explanation of him is, I think, what I have suggested: he is the uncandid candid friend; the man who says, "I am sorry to say we are ruined," and is not sorry at all.

There are few things more squalid, in my view, than enthusiastic anti-romanticism and a passion for "debunking". It's the easiest game in the world, and the most destructive.

I can hardly avoid quoting the famous passage from Edmund Burke (and how shameful it is that I have never actually read Reflections on the French Revolution, or much else of Burke besides quoted passages):

But now all is to be changed. All the pleasing illusions, which made power gentle, and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life, and which, by a bland simulation, incorporated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light and reason. All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. All the super-added ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination, which the heart owns, and the understanding ratifies, as necessary to cover the defects of her naked shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion. On this scheme of things, a king is but a man; a queen is but a woman; a woman is but an animal; and an animal not of the highest order.

As I've mentioned before, the phrase "curtains make a house a home" sums up, for me, the philosophy Burke is evoking here.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Books, Gimmicks and Perversity

I spent a few minutes browsing through a book shop this morning-- Eason's in Nassau Street. (Well, the shop is actually called Eason, but everybody calls it Eason's and always has, as far as I can tell.)

I was really depressed at what was on the shelves. It seems that nowadays every book has to have a gimmick, an angle-- that it has to be "high concept" in some way.  Either it's based on a TV show, or it has a quirky selling point, or it's a tie-in to a recent anniversary, or it's an account of some very distinctive personal experience-- a memoir by someone who was taken hostage by terrorists, or the diary of someone who decides to take a vow of silence for a year, or some such thing. Even history books can't be straight history books-- they have to have some quirky angle, too. (Like Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World.)

Admittedly, that's quite a small Eason's, and there are better bookshops. But this seems all-too-typical.

This whole attitude bedevilled the 1916 commemorations last year, too. Thankfully, there were plenty of "straight" books and events about the Rising, but there were also far too many "new perspectives". One conference in UCD was themed "Globalizing the Rising." Why should it be "globalized"? It was an Irish event. Yes, if you try hard enough you can find a "new perspective" on anything, but all too often it's simply a perverse perspective- like the all-male version of The Importance of Being Earnest that was staged in Dublin some years ago.

Most of the time, I think the "straight" approach (to anything) can be pursued indefinitely, without becoming worn out. How many books could you write about world history, without taking any silly gimmick as your focus, such as the history of cod? It's as though one day you decided to walk about on your hands instead of your feet, since you decided you'd taken that approach as far as it could go. Walking about on your hands is really not going to offer any new possibilities. It might be worth doing as a joke, or to raise money for charity, or something like that. But if, after you'd spent a day walking about on your hands-- to everybody's great amusement-- you then decided you were going to give hopping or crawling or dancing a try, you could hardly be surprised if public enthusiasm for your antics began to diminish.

And yet, people still seem to want to buy world histories of cod, and books such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. What's wrong with them?

Has Political Correctness Killed the Comment Box?

I've noticed that many Catholic (and other) websites have stopped allowing comments underneath them.

We've heard all the well-rehearsed arguments against comment boxes, but I'm honestly wondering...have they been killed by political correctness?

Are the views of the "commentariat", including the Catholic and conservative commentariat, now so divergent from most of the readers that the difference is simply too jarring to expose? I've noticed that, when there are comments, they are usually significantly more "right-wing" than the article or video, if it's in any way mainstream.

Joyce is Dead

Yesterday's anecdote of the wine glasses reminds me of another language-related anecdote.

It was Christmas morning, many years ago-- I was probably in my late teens. My father and I were talking about a new dictionary somebody had received as a gift, a big fat proper dictionary. I was complaining about pedantry, which is a common theme with me-- I'm a bit of an anarchist when it comes to language.

"For example", I said, "Why should we talk about "The Dead" by James Joyce as Joyce's 'The Dead'? Isn't it more elegant to say Joyce's Dead?".

"No", said my father. "Joyce's The Dead is clearer."

"Joyce's Dead is perfectly clear!", I complained. "Nobody could mistake what you meant. It's just pedantry."

A few minutes later, my mother appeared, looking rather concerned. "Did I hear someone say Joyce is dead?", she asked. Joyce is the name of my aunt.

This really happened.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Lost and Found

I had this interaction with a student today.

Student: Do you have a lost and found?

Me: Yes.

Student: I lost some glasses.

Me (already walking to the lost and found): Can you tell me anything more about them?

Student: They were wine glasses.

Me (doing a double-take): Uh...

Student: They had a wine-coloured frame.

Me: Gotcha.

Language is a funny thing. 

It might be considered strange that a student would have a set of wine glasses in the library, but it wouldn't be that strange. Despite the ban on food, we tend to ignore students sucking on lozenges or discreetly munching an apple. But the day a delivery guy turned up with a pizza, which had been ordered by a student, has gone down in legend-- at least, for me it has.

Evangelization Stories

So I'm still revising my book. The chapter on evangelization is not too bad, but I feel it could be rounded off with a few more anecdotes.

If anyone knows any good anecdotes related to the saints and evangelization, please feel free to email me at or to leave them in the comments.

I'm looking especially for more modern saints (or blesseds)-- post-Tridentine at least. And less-well known ones, too. Thank you!

Who Said This?

"Here I will not shrink from uttering my firm conviction, that it would be a gain to this country, were it vastly more superstitious, more bigoted, more gloomy, more fierce in its religion, than at present it shows itself to be. Not, of course, that I think the tempers of mind herein implied desirable, which would be an evident absurdity; but I think them infinitely more desirable and more promising than a heathen obduracy, and a cold, self-sufficient, self-wise tranquillity."

Try to guess it without googling it.

Clue: it wasn't Timothy Radcliffe.

"Catching Up" with David Epston

Ever wanted to catch up with David Epston over a cup of tea or coffee and talk through the most significant aspects of his work over the last six or so years?

If so, this inspiring and thoughtful collection of practice-based papers is for you!

Written in an engaging and entertaining style, the papers in this book trace the influences in David's recent work and explore in detail his therapeutic consutlations.

Specific sections address internalising/externalising conversations, celebrating specialness, letter writing and his approach with so-called anorexia/bulimia.

Man, I wish I was David Epston.

Time for Poetry in Irish

Like most people, I rarely keep my New Year's Resolutions, but this year I did keep one; I resolved to read Irish language material rather than English language material, and I've kept it so far. (It allowed of exceptions.)

I'm one of those people who always "have a book on the go", (though I'm not a fast reader, nor am I especially well-read). I don't consider myself a "voracious reader", since I don't really enjoy reading for much more than half an hour at a time. So my resolution was that my "books on the go" would all be in the Irish language-- though that didn't mean I couldn't read books in English for some special reason.

Most recently, I've been reading an Irish language book about psychotherapy, which is heavy going, even though it's written for laymen. I found the stuff about Jungian psychology especially interesting. Still, it's a real trudge, and I don't look forward to opening it.

I've completely ignored the Irish language poetry shelves thus far. It's rather irritated me, actually, that there is so much poetry in Irish, as compared to other books in Irish. When I came to poems in journals, I skipped them.

I have a theory that appreciating poetry requires such an awareness of nuance, association, and all the aspects of language that lie outside the dictionary definition, that it's almost impossible to appreciate poetry in any language unless you're extremely fluent in it. Poetry is what gets lost in translation...I absolutely believe that.

Also, I've really struggled to understand poetry in Irish, even simple poetry-- because poets use language in an idiosyncratic and often oblique way, often resorting to unusual syntax.

But this afternoon, I suddenly I'm ready to read Irish poetry. And I felt excited at all the volumes of Irish language poetry on the shelves, a whole new world.

As I was saying in a previous post, I'm fascinated by those inner processes, which are mysterious even to ourselves, whereby we make such decisions.

The idea of a whole new field for exploration is also something that entrances me. One of my favourite lines of poetry, from one of my favourite poems ever, is this line from Tennyson's Ulysses: 'Tis not too late to seek a newer world. The human need for new horizons seems to be inexhaustible. Even for a conservative like me.

It Doesn't Matter, and We'll Never Shut Up About It

Scanning through my work emails this morning, I came upon a mention of an award given to one of our university's lecturers for her work on Canadian Studies. Once again I found myself musing on the paradox of the modern academy's attitude towards "identity".

I have no idea of the content of this particular lady's work, but it's fair to say that virtually the entire academy are lukewarm (at best) when it comes to the idea of nationalism-- whether that's political nationalism, cultural nationalism, economic nationalism, or any other kind.

Once, flicking through an anthology of essays on Canadian Studies, I came across a sentence that fascinated me. I can't remember it verbatim, but it was something like this: "The university is a place for open minds, and patriotism has no place there." So apparently open-mindnedness means ruling patriotism out of bounds-- which doesn't seem terribly open-minded.

The vast majority of academics (at least in the fields of social science and the humanities) seem to favour a post-national, globalised, borderless future. Now, they may deny that they want to get rid of nations, but their understanding of nationhood would be something very watered-down and cosmopolitan.

The same is true of gender, or sex, or whatever you want to call the difference between men and women. The orthodoxy in academe seems to be that it shouldn't matter-- unless you're a transexual, when it's allowed to matter (for some reason). Differences between men and women are unfortunate, and the more they can be abolished, the better. I realize they wouldn't put it as starkly as that, but that's the basic idea. At the very least, they would argue that gender identity should really come down to the whim of the individual, a kind of self-creation or performance.

You'd think that, given all this, they would move on from the subject-- there doesn't seem to be much else to say. But they won't shut up about it. There's an endless mill of books about gender and national identity poured forth by people who profess to find the whole idea of gender identity and national identity cramping, restrictive and old-fashioned.

The same is true of atheists. Chesterton, once again, put it best:

We have had during the last few centuries a series of extremely simple religions; each indeed trying to be more simple than the last. And the manifest mark of all these simplifications was, not only that they were finally sterile, but that they were rapidly stale. A man had said the last word about them when he had said the first. Atheism is, I suppose, the supreme example of a simple faith. The man says there is no God; if he really says it in his heart, he is a certain sort of man so designated in Scripture. But anyhow, when he has said it, he has said it; and there seems to be no more to be said. The conversation seems likely to languish. The truth is that the atmosphere of excitement by which the atheist lived was an atmosphere of thrilled and shuddering theism, and not of atheism at all; it was an atmosphere of defiance and not of denial. Irreverence is a very servile parasite of reverence, and has starved with its starving lord. After this first fuss about the merely aesthetic effect of blasphemy, the whole thing vanishes into its own void. If there were no God, there would be no atheists.

This is true of liberal Catholicism as well, of course. Once you dispense with dogma, who is to say what's wrong or what's right? Everything is up for grabs. Religion becomes a kind of poetry, or self-expression. Theological discussion becomes impossible, or at least, pointless. (As a matter of fact, what happens is that new dogmas come in by the back door-- in liberal Catholicism, the dogmas of political correctness.) It certainly becomes incredibly boring.

This is what I was trying to get at with my Keeping Things Interesting series, here and here and here.

The modern world seems to me like a massive rush down a collection of dead ends, in the illusion that they are wild and uncharted horizons.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Pope Benedict Joke

To celebrate our beloved Papa B's ninetieth birthday, here is a joke I really like about him, literally copied and pasted from another website. I think it's ultimate provenance, at least in this form, is a Catholic joke book. Well, I think it's funny, anyway...but whenever I tried to tell it (which I did on several occasions), I messed it up, so I may as well use someone else's rendition.

Cardinal Kasper, Hans Kung and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger all die on the same day, and go to meet St. Peter to know their fate.

St. Peter approaches the three of them, and tells them that he will interview each of them to discuss their views on various issues.

He then points at Cardinal Kasper and says "Walter! In my office..." After 4 hours, the door opens, and Kasper comes stumbling out of St. Peter's office. He is highly distraught, and is mumbling things like "Oh God, that was the hardest thing I've ever done! How could I have been so wrong! So sorry...never knew..." He stumbles off into Heaven, a testament to the mercy of Our God.

St. Peter follows him out, and sticks his finger in Kung's direction and "Hans! You're next..." After 8 hours, the door opens, and Kung comes out, barely able to stand. He is near collapse with weakness and a crushed spirit. He , too, is mumbling things like "Oh God, that was the hardest thing I've ever done! How could I have been so wrong! So sorry...never knew..." He stumbles off into Heaven, a testament to the mercy of Our God.

Lastly, St. Peter, emerging from his office, says to Cardinal Ratzinger, "Joseph, your turn." TWELVE HOURS LATER, St. Peter stumbles out the door, apparently exhausted, saying "Oh God, that's the hardest thing I've ever done..."

Monday, April 17, 2017


This evening I found myself thinking about someone I know, someone who's always been very friendly to me and who, for many reasons, should be somebody I like very much. But I've never been able to warm to this person. And I realized suddenly-- through one image coming into my mind-- why that was. It was because this person seems to belong entirely in the modern world-- to be completely at home in it.

I then realized that everybody I like the most is a kind of fish out of water, otherworldly in some way.

It might be because they are conservative, old-fashioned and rather out of place in contemporary society. It might be because they are conservative Catholics and out of place in our secular era.

But I'm extremely fond of quite a few people who are neither conservative nor religious. Even with them, this criterion of otherworldliness seems to apply. 

This seemed like a great insight when it struck me. Now I write it out, I doubt myself. Maybe everybody thinks their closest friends are special and different in some way. Maybe I sound like an emo teenager. What the heck. My point is that Christian hostility to "the world" and "wordliness" doesn't seem strange or perverse, when I view it in this way.

I Need Losers

Well, I don't need them, but they would be helpful.

I'm working on my book, and one section (I feel) is particularly skimpy-- a section in which I am writing about saints (and blesseds) who, in the eyes of the world, were "losers"-- a term I hate, which is why I chose it. That is, saints who achieved nothing remarkable in the eyes of the world, who had no obvious gifts. I could do with one or two more, preferably more modern ones.

Any thoughts, please feel free to email me at Or leave a comment, but I hope you're not offended if I don't publish it. I want to keep my project a little bit under wraps, after all!

The Internet is an Improvement on Television

As a social and cultural conservative, I feel that technology often takes away more than it gives. But I do think that the internet is a great improvement on television, and has hopefully mitigated the worst effects of television.

The only good thing that can be said about television, in my view, is that it united a family around one source of entertainment-- until the era of multiple TVs in one household came in, that is.

Aside from that, I think it was a complete disaster. I think it gave hundreds of thousands of people a vision of tawdry glamour that made them turn their backs on traditional and national ways of life, and set the generations against each other with the advent of "youth culture". I think it eroded national culture, local culture, imagination, literary heritage...pretty much everything.

Of course, one cannot help nostalgia. Nostalgia may be the greatest weapon in the armoury of pop culture. We look back at the pop culture of the time we were growing up, or indeed of a previous generation, and we think of it as more innocent and gentle. Well, maybe it was more innocent and gentle, but all that means is that it was a bit higher up on the downwards slope.

The internet has many dangers and disadvantages-- you could write a thousand-page volume full of them, easily. But in many ways, I think it has had an improving effect on society.

The main way it's done this, in my view, is to promote diversity-- real diversity, which is diversity of interest and thought. You can find an internet forum for pretty much everything.

Even though I like reading about TV events which united a whole nation-- like Roots or Steptoe and Son-- those things are only admirable when they are very rare. The day-in, day-out homogenizing effect that TV had on society was, in my view, a terrible thing.

Another thing I like about the internet is that audience size isn't such a big deal. A website doesn't have to attract tens of thousands of visitors in order to justify itself, and nobody thinks it does.

Before the internet, the jump between (say) local radio and national radio was enormous-- the first was most definitely small-time and the second was most definitely big-time. There was an absolute difference.

Well, there isn't an absolute difference on the internet. Everything is its own size, its own scale. There are an infinite number of gradients. And I like that.

Tell Me Something I Don't Know Already

This is an article I wrote for the Irish Catholic last year-- I've also discovered, just now, that somebody also referred to it in a letter to that newspaper.

It came to my mind again today because, it being Easter and all, I decided I would look at some Catholic videos on YouTube. I gave up after a while, because I couldn't find anything that wasn't old hat to me a long time ago.

Now, don't get me wrong. I realize the Faith is not about intellectual stimulation-- I really do. It's about salvation.

But...does Catholic stuff have to tread the same ground over, and over, and over, and over?

I think this is especially irksome when it comes to argument. You know-- even when I was an agnostic, it occurred to me that Christian faith couldn't be based on Scripture alone, because where did you get Scripture in the first place, and who decided which books were included in the Bible?

Why are there endless hours devoted to making the case against Protestantism on Catholic media? Can't it be assumed that most people watching get it already? Can't we get past square one? Can't this just be revisited every now and again?

And even if the case against Protestantism has to be continually made...does it have to concentrate on the basics all the time? Can't it branch out into some of the secondary debates?

Whenever I watch Catholic TV or listen to Catholic radio, I feel I am being hectored to agree with something I already agreed with a long time ago. It's draining.

Why are they so many lectures about Cardinal Newman? I love Newman, but why can't there be some lectures or panel discussions or interviews about Cardinal Wiseman or Monsignor Ronald Knox or somebody like that?

Why are St. Padre Pio and Mother Teresa, and a handful of others, apparently the only saints that have ever existed?

Why can't there be documentaries or magazine articles about Catholic writers such as Coventry Patmore or Compton Mackenzie-- rather than always being about Flannery O'Connor or Evelyn Waugh or G.K. Chesterton?

And so on, and so on, and so on....

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Disturbing News from Australia

Thanks to Séamus from Australia for pointing this one out to me-- a new hospital in Australia will be built with a specifically Muslim prayer room, but only a "multi-faith" room for all the other religions.

The details are confused, especially since there has been some pretty frenetic "spin" going on, but that seems the essence of the matter.

Even worse (but not surprisingly), the hospital's Christian chaplains have connived with this.

First of all, I'm not at all opposed to the idea of a special Muslim prayer room. But certainly, there should be a Christian chapel as well, in that case.

Would it really be too much to have dedicated places of worship for all the major faiths?

Stories like this confront us with the question; should Christians be culture warriors?

I've vacillated on that matter, in the past. At one point, I worried that culture wars drag Christians into politics and tribalism, and risk co-opting Christianity into battles that are essentially not about religion, but rather about cultural identity. It also seemed to me that anger and indignation can be addictive.

However, I've changed my mind. There's a risk of overthinking such matters. I've come to believe; YES, Christians should be culture warriors. We should get upset about people saying "Happy Holidays". We should fight for our place in the public square. Sometimes, indeed often, anger and indignation is justified.

Ask yourself about the kind of Christians who refuse to get upset about the war on Christmas (for instance), or who see it as beneath them; are they consistently that calm about matters of symbolism, or nomenclature? Do they, for instance, get het up about the imagery used in advertising? Are they being selective about their high-mindedness? And what does this say about their priorities?

I know the answers already.

Quick Thoughts on the Death Penalty

1) I am against the death penalty. This is for a very visceral reason. The idea of telling a human being that he or she is going to be put to death at a particular time, in a particular place, and that there is nothing he or she can do to escape that, seems utterly brutal to me. I can't get over that. Now and again, when reading about a condemned prisoner, this strikes me with great force.

Somehow, it would seem better if the judge took out a pistol in a moment of rage and executed the prisoner on the spot-- less inhuman.

Besides that, there is the paradox that the death penalty is usually reserved for crimes so bad that it's hard to believe the convicts are not insane, or at least not moral agents in any meaningful sense, whatever the psychologists say. I admit this is a controversial subject, even a slippery slope. (Both Lewis and Chesterton pointed out that replacing the idea of evil with the idea of mental illness must have extremely deleterious consequences.) But it's how I feel.

2) I also have a ghoulish fascination with the death penalty-- last words, execution methods, the drama of the last day, the spectacle of someone who has put himself (or herself) so far beyond the pale of ordinary humanity that we seem to be dealing with another form of life. I'm not proud of this. if America abolished the death penalty tomorrow, this ghoulish part of me would be disappointed.

3) There's another part of me that values American exceptionalism, from imperial measurements to driving on the right side of the road. I want America to be different. So, if America abolished the death penalty tomorrow, this side of me would also be disappointed.

4) Chesterton once said that, although he was anti-vivisectionist, he was also anti-anti-vivisectionist. I'm anti-death penalty; but I often find myself feeling distinctly anti-anti-death penalty. The rhetoric opponents of the death penalty often use is guaranteed to antagonize me. Society has moved this day and age...barbaric... Listening to many death penalty opponents-- their rhetoric, more than their arguments-- makes me want to bring back public hanging. And I nearly always have a sympathy with someone making an unfashionable and stigmatised argument, so I can't help half-siding with death penalty advocates in such debates.

On the whole though, I'm against it.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Easter Prayers

It's become a bit of a tradition for me to post prayer intentions after coming back from Easter Vigil Mass. I don't really feel like it this time. Instead I'll just invite prayer requests from readers.

This blog was five years old last October-- the anniversary sailed by without me realizing it. Sometimes I worry that it should have made more of an impact in that time. But I'm very grateful for those who have read, commented, prayed, mailed, linked, and so forth. God bless you all this Easter.