Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Snow Issue of Transformers


Once upon a time, long ago, I read the Transformers comic. There have probably been quite a few Transformers comics, so I should be more specific; I read the British Transformers comic which was published in the eighties. I think I read it from 1986 to about 1989, but that's a rough guess. I do remember it had a time-travel story titled Target: 2006, suggesting that I was reading it by 86, when I was nine. The year 2006 seemed extremely remote. I guess it was, really.

Transformers was a good comic. The stories were mostly written by a guy called Simon Fuhrman. Even as a kid I remember realizing how grown-up his writing was, both in terms of ideas and of vocabulary. They were kids' stories, but they weren't as childish as most stuff aimed at kids. I learned a lot of new words from the comic. "Via" is one example, as in "I heard it via the radio". I can't remember any of the others.

There was a very memorable "Snow Issue" of the Transformers comic which was published to coincide with a snowfall in the Dublin area. I can still remember the cover, in which snow was falling on a scene containing the various giant robots. I wish I still had that issue.

OK, not really. There was no "Snow Issue" of Transformers. A British comic would hardly issue a special edition because it snowed in Dublin. But I did have a dream about a "Snow Issue". I can't remember if it was during an actual snowfall or if the snowfall was just in my dreams. Snow is a rarity in Dublin, and it was still more rare in my childhood. When it happened, it was a very big deal.

I've been thinking about that Snow Issue a lot recently, dreamily. I wish I still had it. It seems symbolic of so much, but it would be hard to say what...

I loved Transformers. It was mine. Well, my brothers read it, too, but it still felt like my special comic. There was a letters page called Grim Grams, edited by a Transformer called Grimlock. Grimlock was a Dinobot, one of the Transformers who took the form of a dinosaur. What use is that? Well, they arrived on Earth during the era of the dinosaurs-- or something like that. Anyway, he answered the letters. There was a picture of him opening a letter with his sword. I liked the letters page because it had a pleasant "club" feeling.

There was a comic strip about a military-obsessed boy, Combat Colin, and his friend, Semi-Automatic Steve...who had a beard. Maybe they weren't boys. It was pretty good.

My favourite part of the comic was the "next issue" section on the very last page. This would show an image from next week's comic, with a little blurb of text underneath it describing what the next week's stories would be. What I liked most was that the picture was surrounded by a frame of futuristic symbols, making it look as though it was being seen on a screen. It reminds me of a favourite Chesterton quotation, one I've quoted often on this blog-- that every wilderness looks bigger seen through a window. I remember lying in bed one night, in the dark, talking to my brother, and picturing the subjects of our talk as an image in that "next week" box. I guess it was the beginning of my life-long infatuation with such frames-- cinema screens, Viewfinder slides, stories, etc. etc-- and even more, with the magic of the mind and the imagination.

It's so long ago now that it's hard to believe. But, at the same time, it seems like yesterday... that far-off time of AIDS, Gorbachev, Reagan, Amstrad computers, Halley's comet, Kylie Minogue, video nasties, acid rain, the hole in the ozone layer, Live Aid... all vanished now, forever.

I wish I still had the Snow Issue of the Transformers, though. If you ever come across a copy, email me.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Excellent Blog Post from Edward Feser on Catholic Social Policy

Read it here.

I'm fairly confident there's nothing I've ever written on this blog which isn't in keeping with the philosophy outlined here.

I like this passage: Just as one can be excessively attached to one’s own family or nation, so too can one be insufficiently attached to them. This vice is exhibited by those who think it best to regard oneself as a “citizen of the world” or member of the “global community” rather than having any special allegiance to one’s own country. It is the idea of a “world without borders” and a “brotherhood of man” – hence fraternity construed as an ideal of universal brotherhood to replace family loyalty, patriotism, and other local allegiances.

This is what Feser has to say about social justice, the deity of so many Catholic today:

The currency of the term “social justice” originated in Thomistic natural law social theory. It is often attributed to the great Jesuit natural law theorist Luigi Taparelli. It has to do with the just or right ordering of society as defined by strong families and cooperation between husband and wife in carrying out their respective roles for the sake of children and elders, solidarity and cooperation between economic classes and other social groups, and scrupulous attention to subsidiarity in the state’s relationship to the “little platoons” of society.

What today goes under the label of social justice – what self-described “social justice warriors” agitate for – is precisely the opposite of all of this. It entails sexual libertinism and abortion on demand, the feminist demonization of “patriarchy” and of traditional family roles, the incessant stirring up of tensions between economic classes and racial groups (e.g. the daily Two Minutes Hate directed at “one percenters,” “white privilege,” etc.), the relentless smearing of one’s country and its history, socialized medicine and socialized education, and so on. This might be liberty, equality, and fraternity after a fashion, but it is the destruction of subsidiarity, solidarity, and family and country.

When will true social justice be achieved? Only when this evil doppelgänger is defeated. Indeed, one is tempted to parody the line famously attributed to Diderot, and reply: only when the last socialist is strangled with the entrails of the last sexual revolutionary. That’s meant as a joke, of course. Revolutionary bloodlust is itself yet another malign legacy of the French Revolution, which every conservative and natural law theorist ought to condemn. But all the same: Écrasez l'infâme.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Ruminations

Well, I'm back on Facebook (for good reasons), and I've noticed that Facebook tends to sap my blogging energies, as it's much more tempting to fire off an idea in a short Facebook post than in blog form. I like the interactivity, too. However, today has been a reflective day-- in fact, this week has given me ample time for reflection-- so I'm going to take the opportunity to blog.

One of my colleagues lost his wife this week. I've worked with him for sixteen years and we've always got on very well. They were married for twenty-eight years. The funeral was today. The church was packed out. I was standing at the back.

Lots of library staff travelled to the funeral together, in two vans. On the journey out, I happened to mention that I'm the least observant person in the world and (later) that I'm a complete philistine when it comes to music. When I made the second statement, the woman sitting beside me linked it to the first, and said: "I think you have to work on your self-esteem". And she's right. I know conservatives like to scoff at the idea of self-esteem, but I do think there's a healthy sort of self-esteem, and it's one that I often lack. Constantly feeling bad about oneself, not in the sense of one's sins but one's capabilities and self-worth, can't be good. In recent months, I've been having particular difficulty with this and I've been despondent quite a lot. I've tried not to dwell on this on my blog. It can be debilitating.

Recently, a friend and fellow Catholic, who'd previously expressed concern about how far I was veering towards the populist right, urged me (again) to rethink my attitude. Actually, I'd already been rethinking my attitude. Regular readers will be familiar with my horror at political correctness and my conviction that it needs to be opposed with the utmost force. Well, I fear that my zeal for this cause became almost all-absorbing for a while. I became too focused upon the things of this world, on controversy and politics and "the battle of ideas". I lost sight, to some extent, of the Heavenly Jerusalem. And I found myself spending far too much time listening to voices who were right about some things, but horribly wrong about others

Well, I've turned away from all that in the last few while-- not because I'm no longer a populist or anti-PC (I am), but because I've felt my thirst of the sacred revive, and my preoccupation with the secular diminish.

All my life, even before I was a Christian, I've swung between a fascination with the diversity of the world, and a hunger for the Absolute, for the unconditional, for the permanent. I've had recurring dreams about swimming pools all my life, because swimming pools represent immersion and depth. One part of me, the part that thrills to the Louis Macneice poem "Snow", is in love with daily life and the giddy abundance of the world. Another part of me craves only what is timeless and abiding.

I guess the second part is in the ascendant right now. I've found myself losing interest in secular matters and wanting to immerse myself in the sacred. I've been reading Introduction to Christianity by Pope Benedict, a book of essays on the Protestant theologian Wolfgang Pannenberg, and other Christological works. And feeling that the mysteries of the Incarnation, the Redemption, and the Cross are enough to absorb anyone for a lifetime, that they make all secular matters pale.

I've often felt that the Holy Spirit speaks to me through my imagination. The Christian mystery grips me most powerfully through the mediation of some image or story. I've written a great deal about these in my diary, but I feel a strange shyness in confessing to them here. One example that I encountered only recently, is the story of Soon-to-Be-Blessed Solanus Casey, the American Capuchin friar, arriving at his monastery for the first time, on a snowy Christmas Eve, after a long and arduous journey, just in time for Midnight Mass.

Or they can be actual visual images, such as these painted figures behind the altar of St. Benedict's Church in Richmond, Virginia, whose very stiffness and solemnity have entranced me from the first time I saw them:



I do find myself worrying, sometimes: is this genuine Christianity? Or is it merely making an idol of my own imaginative impressions? Is the Holy Spirit speaking to me through my imagination, or is it imagination pure and simple? Is it a mistake to draw inspiration from such impressions? What if they desert me, will my faith dry up and die?

Having said so much about my latest turn from the secular to the sacred, I've learned enough from previous "turns", back and forth, to realise some things are a constant with me. For instance: I will always be a nationalist, an Irish nationalist. No amount of reminding myself that "we have here no abiding city" can change the fact that I do care about Ireland, the preservation of its traditions and identity and distinctiveness. Globalization and cultural homogenization depresses me. I care very much about this, and I realize that I always will.

Even here, however, my attitude has shifted recently, at least in one particular. In the last couple of years, I've made the biggest effort of my life to improve my knowledge of the Irish language, and use it more often. I've reluctantly come to the conclusion that I can do relatively little for Irish. The one measure of the Irish language's health which is constantly discussed, and which (when you think about it) is indeed the most relevant one, is the extent to which it is spoken in everyday life. And there's really little I can do to help it here. There's nobody with whom I could speak Irish in everyday life. I could join Irish language clubs and go to Irish language events, but these would take me out of my routine, and I already have very little time left after all the commuting I do. Reading Irish language books and listening to Irish language radio is really doing very little; the spoken word is what matters. (It's no wonder that Israel is the only country that has successfully revived a dying language. The Israelis needed a lingua franca, so Hebrew filled a need. It got to be spoken in the hurly-burly of ordinary life, not in contrived situations. Without such a context,  I wonder if any language can prosper.) I'm not going to give up on Irish entirely, but at this stage I've given up my ambitions to make it a big part of my daily life.

Well, that's "where I'm at" right now. I told you it was going to be reflective.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Thoughts of Dr. Gray

I'm reading The Blindness of Dr. Gray by Canon Sheehan, which was published in 1909. Canon Sheehan was an Irish priest-novelist, who died in 1913. His works were very successful in Ireland during his lifetime, and indeed afterwards. I remember my Catholic school's library had a whole series of his novels in gilt-edged, leather bound editions. Of course, I had no interest in him at that time. I simply noticed the name.

I've started several of his books but only finished one, which is The Triumph of Failure. He writes rather in the style of Charles Dickens, Sir Walter Scott or Anthony Trollope, and he has all the faults of this kind of author; occasional mawkishness, excessively broad humour, melodrama, redundant sub-plots, fixation on female chastity, etc. He's at his best when he writes about religion, but he seems determined to cram in a lot of other stuff, to prove how Homeric he is.

There is a sub-plot about gypsies and vagabonds in The Blindness of Dr. Gray which is incredibly dull; but whenever the story turns to Dr. Gray himself, a severe but dedicated parish priest, and his more broad-minded (but equally devout) curate, it holds my attention. The conversations between the two priests are absorbing, as are their private reflections.

In one particular scene, Dr. Gray takes his curate to task for his worldly occupations: playing the piano, and reading literature (Goethe and Jean Paul Richter) who Dr. Gray considers profane and useless. I was very moved by the subsequent description of Dr. Gray's views. I can even identify with them, even though I doubt this is what Canon Sheehan attended. I'm torn between an abiding attraction towards "culture" for its own sake and an intermittent conviction that human culture is trash, that only sacred studies are worth anything. Much as I love poetry, I'm dogged by the idea that all "literature" is decadent by its very nature. The excerpt is lengthy, but I'm going to transcribe it all:

When Dr. William Gray reached his home that afternoon, he was in one of those moods of agitated thoughts that were so frequent with him, and in which he had to walk up and down the room to regain composure. He was one of those serious and lofty thinkers that looked down upon literature and art as only fit for children dancing around the Maypole. He could not conceive how any priest could find an interest in such things, which he regarded as belonging so exclusively to a godless world that he regarded it as high treason for any of the captains of the Great Army to be attracted or drawn to them. He felt exactly towards the  literary or accomplished priest, as a grim and wrinkled old field marshal would feel if he had heard that a young subaltern had stolen out of camp at midnight and gone over to the enemy's lines to listen to the strains of some Waldteufel waltz. He would accept no hint or suggestion of compromise with that mysterious "world", which, with all its wiles and magic, has been to the imagination of such ruthless logicians something like the vampire witches of medieval romance, from whose diabolic charms there was no escape but in instant flight. The meditation of the "Two Standards", and its terrific significance, was always before his eyes. Here was the Church, stretching back in apparently limitless cycles and illimitable, if variable power, to the very dawn of civilization. Here was the mighty fabric of theology, unshakable and unassailable, and founded on the metaphysic of the subtlest mind that had ever pondered over the vast abysses of human thought. Here were its churches, built not to music, but to the sound of prayer-- great poems and orisons that had welled out of the heart of Faith, and grown congealed in eternal forms. Here was its music, solemn, grave, majestic, as it fell from the viols of seraphs into the hearts of saints. Here was its mighty hierarchy of doctors and confessors-- pale, slight figures in dark robes, but more powerful and more aggressive than if they carried the knightly sword, or moved in the ranks of armoured conquerors. Here was its Art breathing of Heaven and the celestial forms that peopled the dreams of saints. Its literature was one poem and only one; but it lighted up Heaven, Earth and Hell.

And there in the opposite camp was the "world"-- that strange, mysterious, undefinable enemy, taking its Protean forms from climate, race and language. There were its theatres, coliseums, forums, opera-houses with all their pinchbeck and meretricious splendour, where all the vicious propensities of the human heart towards lust and cruelty were fanned and fostered by suggestive pictures or erotic verses or voluptuous music. There, too, were its philosophic systems, vaporous, fantastic, unreal as the smoke that wreathes itself above a witch's cauldron, or the ashes that lie entombed in the urns of dead gods. There again is its Art, fascinating, beautiful, but picturing only the dead commonplaces of a sordid existence, or the fatal and fated loveliness of a Lais or a Phryne. And there is its main prop and support-- this literature, aping a wisdom which it does not understand, or dealing with subjects that reveal the deformities and baseness, instead of the sacredness and nobility, of the race.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Liberal Catholicism and Conversion

Recently, I've been developing a new conviction about liberal Catholicism. For a long time, I believed the liberal Catholic was simply naive and wrong-headed. I thought that he, or she, truly believed that a greater liberalization of the Catholic faith would reverse the fortunes of the Church in the West-- that new converts would flood into the Church, and that lapsed Catholics would return, the less emphasis there was on "thou shalt not" prescriptions and the more emphasis there was on the warm fuzzies.

What I wondered was: how? How could they think this? How could they think this, when the post-Vatican II era had witnessed such a spectacular exodus from the priesthood and religious orders, and such a dramatic decline in congregations? How could they think this, when the Church of England, which had implemented most of the reforms they wished for, has all but disappeared? Was it simply delusion, wilful blindness?

Increasingly, I've come to believe that many (most?) liberal Catholics do not expect that liberalizing the Church will reverse its decline. They don't particularly care about reversing the Church's decline. Perhaps they are even happy to see it decline.

A liberal Catholic is not a Catholic who is liberal, but a liberal who is Catholic, or who identifies with the Catholic "faith tradition". Their allegiance is not primarily to the Faith, but to liberalism. They are interested in using the resources and the moral weight of Catholicism to further the various liberal measures they support. What happens to Catholicism itself is of subsidiary importance.

This surely explains the attitude of so many religious orders, who seem blithely unconcerned with their imminent demise and their inability to attract new members. They are so intent upon their left-wing activism that it's simply not a priority for them. Their work will go on-- whether it is conducted by missionaries or NGOs is not important.

Behind all this I identify the "death of God" theology which sees the renunciation of Christianity itself as the ultimate act of Christian sacrifice. How far can Christians imitate the self-giving of Christ-- even beyond the sacrifice of their lives? Well, to sacrifice their very claim to be right, to sacrifice their claim to a revelation. Liberal Christianity is Christianity turned against itself, humble and contrite where it should be most proud and unapologetic. It agrees with Nietzsche: "To take upon oneself, not all punishment, but all guilt-- only that would be godlike."

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Rod Dreher on "Dialogue"

Thanks to Hibernicus of the Irish Catholics Forum for drawing my attention to this article from Rod Dreher on the liberal attitude towards "dialogue".

I feel mildly vindicated by this article. I've been sounding the alarm about political correctness for quite some time now. I really do believe its impossible to exaggerate just how insidious, how cancerous it is. And "dialogue" is the false flag under which political correctness loves to march. "Dialogue" sounds so harmless, so reasonable, so non-committal. But it ain't!

Writing and Faith

As I've mentioned before, I've been keeping a diary for more than two years. Every now and again, I spend some time browsing it. I was browsing it this evening and I came across this passage (actually something I posted on Facebook at the time):

I like how people look when they are walking outdoors. It's like there is a thicker outline around them. There is something more deliberate and cautious about them. This becomes even more pronounced if they are walking somewhere they have never been before. This occurred to me when someone asked me the direction on campus today. You can recognise when people are in a place that is unfamiliar and I think there is something very endearing about the sight.

This is probably why I like fish out of water films, like Crocodile Dundee, the best movie of the eighties (after The Breakfast Club, of course).


Reader, what do you think of that? I can't remember if many people reacted to it on Facebook, but I don't think they did.

Re-reading it, I find myself once again contemplating the act of faith required in writing-- faith in one's own ideas, their value.

When I think about the idea I've outlined above, I get terribly excited. It seems important to me. It suggests so much, although I can't say exactly why. Getting excited about such an idea is like finding yourself in a passage which may lead to a cavern, or finding a hidden panel that opens onto...who knows what?

I realize how strange this seems. Very, very often, for as long as I can remember, I've found myself getting very excited about some idea which I can barely articulate, and desperately wanting to convey that idea in some kind of written form.

At the same time, I'm a deeply insecure person, and I'm always dogged by the question: "Why should anyone else care about your strange enthusiasms? Perhaps you struggle to convey this idea because there is quite simply nothing to convey?"

I'm deeply envious of the writers who manage to take their inspirations and convey them to thousands, tens of thousands, millions of people. I imagine that it requires a tremendous amount of faith, of faith in the validity of their own thoughts. Because surely anything that's original, that's creative, started out as simply being odd. I once read an interview with Sue Townsend, writer of the Adrian Mole books, in which she recalled that, when she was younger, she often found herself pointing out things to other people which they found completely uninteresting-- they didn't know why she would be pointing them out in the first place. I found a lot of consolation in that!