Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sometimes Parents Say the Darndest Things

My father (as is his wont) came out with a wonderful impromptu epigram today: "The Labour Party can't fight poverty because they're too busy fighting God."

Why I Am Not a Motorist

1) Because cars are ugly, smelly things that ravage the countryside and dictate the terms of social life.
2) Because I can't drive.
3) Because motorists spend one quarter of their lives looking for a parking space.
4) Because motorists spend one quarter of their income on petrol, parking meters, tolls, repairs and the apparently endless amount of other expenses involved in running a car.
4) Because motorists are constantly angry about the idiocy of other motorists.
5) Because all motorists ever talk about is how hard they found it to find a parking space or how bad the traffic was.
6) Because driving makes you stupid. No matter how routinely a motorist encounters heavy traffic, he lives in an apparent state of perpetual delusion that the roads will be clear and he therefore never, ever, ever takes the possibility of heavy traffic into account. ("I'm sorry I'm late, the traffic was awful!". What on earth made you think it wouldn't be?)
7) Because people who spend too long driving cars and looking at cars begin to go insane and believe that some cars are actually nice to look at.
8) Because I like public transport. I think there are few better places to read than on a bus, unless someone at the back of the bus is playing hip-hop music at ear-piercing volume.
9) Because I get to eavesdrop and people-watch on the bus-- and some very queer creatures turn up on buses.
10) Because there is no sight more beautiful than the number of the bus you're waiting for appearing on the horizon, especially on a cold Winter's morning.
11) Because cyclists must spend hours upon hours swallowing exhaust fumes, and besides, since I barely know how to cycle I would probably be a menace on two wheels.

My predicted chances of going through life without ever having to learn to drive and become one of those poor, beleaguered, deluded creatures called motorists:

0.005 to zero per cent.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Goldfish and Gratuitousness

The great challenge before us, accentuated by the problems of development in this global era and made even more urgent by the economic and financial crisis, is to demonstrate, in thinking and behaviour, not only that traditional principles of social ethics like transparency, honesty and responsibility cannot be ignored or attenuated, but also that in commercial relationships the principle of gratuitousness and the logic of gift as an expression of fraternity can and must find their place within normal economic activity. This is a human demand at the present time, but it is also demanded by economic logic. It is a demand both of charity and of truth.

Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI

In the encylical quoted above-- yet another of those pesky "social encylicals" in which Pope after Pope refuses to add full-throttle free market economics to the deposit of faith-- Pope Benedict mentions the concept of "gift" again and again. It is a concept that has been on my mind more and more in recent years and months, and that has always lurked in the background of my mind, even when my mind was mostly full of Transformers and Dan Dare.

God is our Father. The idea seems like a platitude to us, but it is not a platitude, it is a pretty shocking claim. I saw the Catholic apologist Scott Hahn, in an interview on television, recalling a debate he had with a Muslim, in which the Muslim was so offended by the claim that God was our father that he stormed off. Some philosophers have held to the view that God is not even aware of us, that we-- along with the rest of the universe-- simply radiated from the Divine Perfection like heat and light from the sun.

The Catholic Church, on the other hand, has a very definite doctrine of God's creative freedom:

"We believe that God created the world according to his wisdom. It is not the product of any necessity whatever, nor of blind fate or chance. We believe that it proceeds from God's free will; he wanted to make his creatures share in his being, wisdom and goodness: "For you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created."

God created us purposely, like a father, and not out of necessity like a field throwing up grass.

Another principle that will be familiar to Christians-- so familiar, perhaps, that we don't even think about it very much-- is the gratuitousness of Christ's sacrifice, God's grace, and our redemption. Everything we have is a gift; our existence, our redemption from sin, and our hopes of Heaven. As C.S. Lewis put it, in Heaven nothing can be bought, and everything can be had for the asking. (This is not the place to get into the theology of faith and works, but I believe the Catholic view of justification is perfectly compatible with this principle.)

What strikes me more and more, though, is how joyful and liberating this doctrine really is-- and how important it is to so many of the things I find most precious in life.

Don't get me wrong. I am as prideful and vain and narcissistic as the next fellow-- in fact, I would guess that I am considerably more so. I am a glutton for praise. I hate asking anybody for anything. I want to be vindicated, and to score points, and to save face. I want all of that stuff.

But underneath that-- underneath the rubbish of self-assertion and self-congratulation and self-importance-- I still feel, by the infinite grace of God, a limitless delight in everything that is free, gratuitous, undeserved, unlooked-for, superfluous and gloriously unnecessary.

I remember, when I was a boy, I liked going to a particular barber's because they had goldfish I could look at while I was having my hair cut. And even back then, although I could never have articulated it in these terms, I think the fact that the goldfish were utterly unnecessary was part of my pleasure in them. Now, in my mind, the golden glow of their scales seem to represent all the unnecessary things I love about life; all the barber's goldfish of human existence, so to speak...

I love chivalry because it is unnecessary. Feminists who oppose chivalry (and let me say here that I do not presume that all or even most feminists do) are wont to complain: "I don't need a man to open doors for me! I don't need to be treated like fine china! My ears are not going to be bruised by swear-words!" All that is true; but that's what makes chivalry so delightful. It's not necessary; it is a grace; it is a celebration and an idealisation of the brute fact of sexual difference.

The same applies to national identity. It may well be the case that "people are the same wherever you go", to quote an eminent Beatle. It may be the case, as Marxist historians insist, that many national traditions are more or less made-up, or at least not half so venerable as their champions like to pretend. But so what? Why shouldn't we celebrate national difference in the same way we celebrate sexual difference-- by making more of it than we need to? Why shouldn't we revel in the gift of nationality? I can imagine a world where everybody has the same language, the same customs, the same culture and traditions. But how utterly dreary!

Nearly everything I love about this world, I love because it is unnecessary, extra, gratuitous; and not simply in the sense that our very existence, and the world itself, is unnecessary. I mean things that are unnecessary in the sense that they fulfil no obvious utilitarian function. Or, beyond even that, things that could easily not exist without anybody even noticing.

I love custom and ceremony and tradition because they are unnecessary. (It is sometimes argued that tradition is indeed necessary, that all our engineering skills and language and units of measurement are in fact "tradition". Of course, that is true, but it doesn't seem like a very interesting truth to me. The traditions I delight in are traditions in the more usual sense; festivals, toasts, games, foods, and so forth.)

I love poetry because it is unnecessary. All art is more or less unnecessary, but some arts are more unnecessary than others, and poetry is the cherry on the pie of pointlessness (so to speak). Poetry doesn't even kill time like a novel or cover a wall like a painting. Many people-- even educated people who consider themselves fairly cultured-- can and do go through life without ever reading or reciting poetry. Some even congratulate themselves on this. Personally, I think poetry is a good barometer of civilisation-- a society or a life that is empty of poetry is (I dare to say) not entirely civilised.

Two examples come into my mind when I think of the divinely unnecessary nature of poetry. One is an anthology of poetry I read, when I was in school, which contained poems chosen by teenagers. In her introduction to the poem she had chosen-- I think it was Eldorado by Edgar Allen Poe-- the girl said she had liked the poem so much, when she first encountered it, that she wrote it out carefully on fancy paper, put a decorative border around it, and hung it on her bedroom wall. It delights me that a teenager (or anybody, but especially a teenager) should do that. The other example, one I've already mentioned on this blog, is the scene in Star Trek: the Next Generation in which Geordi and Data discuss, in some depth, a poem Data has written. I find that hard to imagine on almost any other TV show, unless it was done in a school context.

I could prolong my list of unnecessary things that I love almost indefinitely. I love shops full of trinkets (like lava lamps and snowglobes) because they are unnecessary. I like monarchy because it is unnecessary. I like amateur dramatic societies and local history societies and office newsletters and pub quizzes because they are unnecessary. I like the posters on a teenager's wall because they are unnecessary.

I like graduation ceremonies and graduation robes and college scarves and college songs and school uniforms because they are unnecessary. (I had a colleague, a feminist communist atheist-- she really was!-- whose son, she told us, wanted to graduate without having to wear any of those fussy, stupid robes. What other reaction would you expect from someone who'd been exposed to such mind-rotting rubbish all his life?)

I like folklore because it is unnecessary. Yes, there will always be folklore, but a town can get by without a nickname, a family can get by without family jokes and anecdotes, and a workplace can get by without horror stories of difficult customers or eccentric bosses. That is, a place or a group or an institution doesn't have to have any soul or character-- and very often they don't. It seems to me that, wherever you have nicknames and running jokes and anecdotes and sayings, life is vibrant.

I especially like applause in the cinema because it is especially unnecessary.

I like parades because they are unnecessary. I like nostalgia because it is unnecessary. I like extended families because they are unnecessary. I like diaries because they are unnecessary. I like anniversaries because they are unnecessary. I like mottoes and photo albums and postcard collections and official unveilings and fancy dress because they are all so sublimely unnecessary.

I have always harboured this passion and yearning and gratitude for all things unnecessary and superfluous and done entirely for their own sake. It may not be pious in itself, but I like to think that there is something of piety in it-- perhaps a premonition of that magnificent, humbling, bracing, exhilarating doctrine that all good things are as gloriously gifted to us, as utterly unearned, as the parcels under the Christmas tree.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Why is the Irish Internet so Overwhelmingly Liberal?

Today I found myself looking at this rather depressing display of prejudice on a popular Irish website, (Personally, I wish pro-choice activists would have the courage of their convictions and carry banners and put up posters that show an aborted child.)

But it's not just that site. is full of commenters competing to come up with the most anti-Catholic, anti-family, anti-tradition screed imaginable. Since I work in UCD, I sometimes look at the forums for UCD, and it is so left-wing it is falling off the edge. And if you want a walk on the wild side, spend five minutes on, where I've read commenters dismiss the notion of journalistic objectivity as a kind of fascist tool of repression.

I guess the answer might be that most Irish people of a religious or (though I hate to use this pretty vapid term) conservative disposition have better things to do than to mess around on the internet-- like raise children, go to Mass, read books, pray, farm, volunteer, and socialise in a civilised manner that doesn't involve the use of an avatar and an outlandish handle.

But it seems a pity to leave Hibernian cyberspace to the enemies of life, the enemies of the sacred, and the enemies of tradition.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

More About Conversion Stories...

I like to watch EWTN's Journey Home show, and this one is particularly fine: an interview with a former Mennonite who is now a teacher of Catholic theology.

I really wish some of the atheists and agnostics I know would watch an interview like this one, as much for the tone of the conversation as for its substance. They might be surprised at the lack of cheap euphoria and cheeesy rhapsodising. They might be taken aback to see how calm, measured, self-aware, well-read and balanced the interviewee appears. They might be surprised to see that religious faith is part of the whole man (or woman), rather than some suspension of rationality, or of the sense of the ridiculous, in an otherwise sane human being-- a sort of cordoned-off area of craziness, which is how I suspect many non-believers view the religious beliefs of their friends and relatives.

Well, perhaps some open-minded atheist or agnostic might come on this link and see for themselves.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Why I Love the Cinema

It's something of a cliché that cinema-going is akin to a religious experience for many people. I am one of those people. All things can lead us towards God or away from him-- I hope that my years of cinema-going have done the former.

I don't think I can ever put my love affair with the cinema into words. Like all love affairs, it's had its ups and downs, its ecstasies and its frustrations. But I can't even imagine my life without it.

I can remember my very first trip to the cinema. It was 1984, I was seven years old, and I went with my parents and my little brother to see Indiana Jones and the Temple Doom. It was in the Savoy cinema, O'Connell Street, Dublin. I seem to remember that, when we came in, the previous screening was coming to an end. I've never encountered such a thing again, so maybe I was mistaken.

I struggled with the seat. I didn't realise that it folded down and for the first few minutes I was sitting, quite literally, on the edge of my seat.

I remember I had wanted to go to see The Search for Spock, the Star Trek film, instead. My father assured me I wouldn't like it: "It's all talking", he said. Even as a seven-year-old that sounded good to me. I wonder if my life would have been different if we had gone to see The Search for Spock instead of The Temple of Doom?

I can't actually remember if I enjoyed or didn't enjoy The Temple of Doom. I think I was too blown away by the experience to think critically (in so far as a seven-year-old thinks critically).

Perhaps I am projecting backwards when I recall this first cinema visit. Perhaps there was no great revelation, no surge of awe-- at the time, that is. But the occasion certainly branded itself into my memory-- even into my soul. I can vividly remember the sheer size of the pictures, the ostentatious elegance of the auditorium's plasterwork, the rich red of the curtains glowing in the spotlights, the sense of heightened and intensified life. More than anything else, the contrast between the deep darkness around the screen and the glowing images upon it made a deep impression upon me. The only way I can express it is to say that I felt there something in the darkness; a presence, an intelligence. I still feel this whenever I sit in a darkened cinema.

In the same year we also went to see Young Sherlock Holmes, which was far and away the best of my childhood cinema excursions. I still enjoy the film when I watch it today. I remember we went to see it on a day that me and my brother had played truant from school (we did that quite a lot) and my mother, rather shamefully (but splendidly) compunded the offence by bringing us to the cinema. I remember being struck by the naughtiness of this at the time.

There weren't all that many other cinema visits in my childhood (which is probably a good thing, since it kept my sense of wonder from going stale). There was Biggles: Adventures in Time, in 1986. Of this I remember next to nothing, except that the theme song contained the line: "Do you want to be a hero, hero?" and a scene in which it was played rather excited my sense of the sublime. (My brother was a Biggles fan; that must be why we went.)

After that, there was Batman, the 1989 blockbuster whose campaign of hype was unlike anything ever before or since-- or so it seems in my memory. Even as a child, I wasn't too impressed. Around the same time we also went to see Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I think it was the first time I'd come across the word "crusade" and I had no idea of its historical meaning. I have no idea why the Indiana Jones films are considered some kind of cultural treasure. They comprised a third of my childhood cinema-going, and even that isn't enough to make me sentimental about them.

I remember one more thing from my childhood cinema visits. Before one feature film, there was a short documentary called "There's a Sucker Born Every Minute" about the sweet industry (for my American readers, the candy industry). I like to remember this; it gives me pleasure to think that such a (vaguely) educational short was showing in a completely commercial setting. In all my cinema-going since then, I've never come across anything like it.

My mother took me to all these shows. I wasn't a very independent child, and I wasn't a very independent or outgoing teen, either. In fact, I didn't return to the cinema until 1997, to see Michael Collins, again with my parents. (My sister bought us all tickets for my father's birthday. I know it is still the last cinema visit my father has made. My brother, who was sitting beside him, said he spent the entire film complaining about the film's historical inaccuracies.)

The visit to see Michael Collins utterly swept me away. I remembering shivering-- with emotion and excitement-- in the night air outside the cinema, immediately afterwards. It was my first trip to the Omniplex cinema in Santry, located in the Omni shopping centre-- and my first visit to a multiplex. I can remember writing a poem in my late teens, romanticizing a (fictional) old cinema hall and comparing it favourably to "the multiplex across the street". I had yet to discover the romance of the multiplex. I am afraid I now consider a multiplex much more romantic than the most moth-eaten fleapit. (It isn't the only reversal I've had in my perception of what's romantic. I used to consider Cavaliers more romantic than Puritans, along with everybody else. I've changed my mind about that, too.)

But, even though Michael Collins transported me-- not only because it was a powerful film, but also because it was a rediscovery of the cinema-- I didn't become a regular cinema-goer until 2001. Why so long?

It's a ridiculous reason, though not ridiculous to me. All my life I have suffered from shyness, self-consciousness and social anxiety. When I was younger, it was utterly debilitating. People who know me might be surprised by this, since I can be something of a loudmouth in company. But there was a time when walking up to a box office and asking for a cinema ticket was an ordeal for me.

It took until the year 2001 to get over this. (I did go to the cinema on my own for the first time in 1998, to see a dreadful Irish film called The General, but that seems a strange one-off in the annals of my memory). After that the floodgates opened and since that time I have been an ardent cinema-goer.

I wonder if my passion for the cinema has something to do with this long hiatus in attendance. Perhaps it was a brief and powerful exposure to the cinema in my childhood, followed by a long absence, that gives the medium such a hold on me.

Since I am dorky enough to keep an Excel spreadsheet of all the films I've ever seen, I can say that I have been to see exactly 420 films in the cinema, the majority of those since 2001. That doesn't count films seen several times; for instance, I saw Kill Bill five times, along with The Matrix Reloaded and Batman Begins. (I can't imagine doing that now!)

The cinema seems to me a bigger experience than most other experiences in our life, and it seems to make life itself seem bigger. It is bigger both in the crude sense of the size of the images, and in the more figurative sense of being more intensified, dramatic and concentrated. One of the questions that has always haunted me is: is anything really important? Why is it important? And how important? Religious faith is the ultimate answer to this question. Cinema, though not an answer, does at least give us a sense of importance; a sense that both the events on the screen and (by extension) life itself is of supreme importance.

It may sound ridiculous, but I retain a perpetual sense of pleasant surprise that the institution of the cinema exists. I can easily imagine a version of history where the dire predictions that TV (when it was a new invention) would kill of the picture palace came true. I can also imagine a situation where there were only a few cinemas in each country, and where only a handful of films were released a year. It seems too good to be true that new films come out every week, that there are films on pretty much every subject, and that they range from big blockbusters to small independent productions.

And it's so cheap. I don't understand why people complain about the price of cinema tickets. What entertainment is better value? The same people who whinge about forking out ten euro for a cinema ticket, and a little above average on cinema snacks, are happy to pay many times more to go to a fancy restaurant or to watch some clapped-out rock star in a stadium.

I love everything about the cinema experience. I love the names of cinemas, with their unabashed grandiloquence-- Odeon, Savoy, Regal. (Much better than the pretentiously unpretentious names given to theatres, especially modern theatres-- like Red Kettle.) I love the marquees with their exciting roll-call of titles. I love the broad, plush, welcoming lobbies. I love the movie posters. I love the tag-lines on the movie posters. I love the titles. (Is anything so pregnant with promise as a good film title? Some favourites: Ice Cold in Alex, The Breakfast Club, Scream --which neatly captures in one word the film's mixture of comedy and horror--, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Bridges of Madison County, Smokey and the Bandit, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and The Big Chill.)

I love the moment of walking into the darkened auditorium. I love the heavy, serious-looking curtains across the screen. I love the little lights underfoot and overhead. I love the atmosphere in a cinema before anything has appeared on screen and the seats are still mostly empty. In the Omniplex, they play ambient music at ths time. (I've always loved "incidental" music like that-- music in supermarkets, public bathrooms, pubs, and so forth. The appeal lies in the fact that it seems to be overhearde rather heard. Somehow it gives it a strange poignancy and pointedness.)

I am such a veteran cinema-goer that, on more than one occasion, I have had the strange but interesting experience of being the entire audience. The most memorable instance of this was when I went to see The Alamo in the Santry Omniplex in 2004. Who would have thought that a matineé showing of a film about nineteenth century American history would fail to draw an audience in North Dublin? (The film itself was pretty good.)

I love the studio logos that appear at the start of the film, though once again I like the more unabashedly grandiose ones-- Colombia's lady with a torch, Universal's planet Earth, Paramount's mountain top-- to the more "hip" and clownish logos such as that of Bad Robot, which seem to be becoming more common.

I love the smell of hot dogs and popcorn on the air. I love the shared experience with strangers in the dark. I love being caught up in a wave of laughter, or the (all-too-rare) moments in horror or suspense films when the whole audience screams. (The longest cinema laugh I ever heard was in Stillorgan's Ormonde, during the comedy-thriller Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. The gag was too naughty to repeat here...but if you are curious, I will happily tell you by email.)

I love the moment when the censor's certificate appears on the screen. For that reason alone, I am all in favour of film censors (or classification boards, as they prefer to be styled now.)

I love the public nature of cinema. I love hearing people discuss the latest releases. I love the bond it often creates between total strangers.

I love the ephemeral, topical nature of cinema. Nothing seems so exquisitely dated as an old photograph that shows what was playing at the pictures that day. Nothing heightens nostalgia like mentioning what film you went to see with your schoolfriends, one long-ago summer evening, or on your first date with your wife.

I like that cinema, more than any other medium or art-form, serves as a kind of collective subconscious, or even a societal dreamlife. The Exorcist, The Matrix, Wall Street, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Truman Show-- such films, especially when they are box-office successes, are often taken to illustrate some fear or aspiration or problem haunting the collective psyche at the time of their release. Even when such speculation is rather fanciful, I like the fact that it exists at all. I like the idea of a collective psyche-- the idea that a society dreams and desires and dreads, almost in unison, and that these hopes and fears might be transposed onto celluloid.

I love walking out of the cinema, after the climax, into the sunlight of the real world-- the real world which seems somehow more solid and more full of promise after the emotional journey I've just finished.

I love the sense of event at the cinema. I sometimes think our society has fewer and fewer self-contained, ceremonial situations. Mobile phones, the internet, and television inflitrate almost everything. We are rarely wholly present in a given activity, since we are always having our attention diverted by the latest text or tweet or news bulletin. The cinema is one of the few places were this is not the case; a place and a time that is a place and time of its own.

I love the cinema because movies tend to have an affirmative view of life, and an uplifting moral code-- certainly as compared to television. Underdogs and outsiders usually come good in the world of movies, while ambition and arrogance tend to come a cropper. The band of misfits wins out over the sophisticated, professional operation. The community centre is saved, while the Evil Corporation is frustrated. Small town values triumph, true love wins out over shallow lust, and people who thought they had nothing in common realise that they are not so different after all. True, there are cynical and nihilistic films, but they are a rarity. Something about the very medium seems to cry out for heroes and redemption.

I love the cinema because I think I am rarely more intensely alive than when I am sitting in the dark, absorbed in that enormous screen, utterly lost in a tale of long ago, far away, or some world that exists only in the imagination.

Most of all, I love the cinema because it reminds me that I am alive, and that life is worth any amount of getting excited about.

What's Wrong with Libertarians

DISCLAIMER: Of all the articles I've posted on this blog, this has been the most controversial. It's been picked up by a few libertarian sites and, as you can see, I've had a few robust exchanges with indignant libertarians in the combox.

I don't really enjoy this kind of confrontation at all. The purpose of this blog is not to upset people with whom I disagree. Although I won't shrink from proclaiming my beliefs and denouncing blatant evils, such as abortion and euthanasia, I do want to avoid acrimony as much as I can. Given that, I would probably delete this post if there weren't so many comments on it. I don't like deleting comments.

Therefore, I'll keep it up, but I withdraw the sentiments in it. It was a pretty silly argument anyway. I am no libertarian and I do believe that libertarianism is incompatible with the social teaching of the Catholic Church, but there are many Catholics I respect who consider themselves libertarians or something close to it. As for non-Catholic libertarians, I try to respect them as I try to respect all people, and I regret that my words were so strident. Peace to you all.

Of all social philosophies, libertarianism is the one towards which I feel most hostility. I feel a certain tenderness for all the others. I think that liberals, conservatives, cynics, nationalists, communists, feminists, progressives, environmentalists-- and pretty much any other school of social thought you care to mention-- have something valuable to say. Libertarians, too, have something valuable to say-- but nothing interesting, and nothing noble-- not even misguidedly noble.

Why do I say this?

Because I think one of the great things about political and social opinions is that they are disinterested. Anyone who has a vision of what society should be, an ideal of human flourishing or human virtue-- or even someone who is partisan for a particular cause, be it proper punctuation or liberation for the left-handed or the preservation of historical houses-- is a man (or woman) who cares for something outside themselves. An Englishman who passionately believes in the monarchy, or who passionately believes that the monarchy should be abolished, cares about something that will have little effect on him either way.

One of the common arguments made against evangelistic atheists is "What difference does it make to you if people choose to believe a delusion?". But I don't like this argument myself. I think the atheist is gravely mistaken; but I don't at all blame him for trying to convince me that I am gravely mistaken (although hopefully not in the shrill, angry manner of the New Atheist). In fact, I think he is right to do so.

I like the theory that the etymology of "idiot" is from an ancient Greek word meaning "private person"-- the ancient Greeks believing that a man who was entirely devoted to his private interests, and who showed no interest in public affairs, was a contemptible fellow. Whether that is a folk etymology, or overstated, I don't know. But if it is a myth, it is a very expressive myth.

The libertarian has no vision of a good society, no ideal of the human good. He simply has a principle-- and a crude, simplistic one at that. What could be less inspiring, less interesting?

I can already hear the reply of the libertarian. He is preparing to emit a heavy, weary sigh, and to explain in slow tones-- making it clear how tiresome he finds it to have to spell this out again and again-- that he is not lacking in public spirit, or hostile to community or national or family bonds, or opposed to social causes in themselves. He is simply believes that all these things should be voluntary, that there should be no hint of coercion in such matters. A schoolchild should not have to learn Irish by law. A man's taxes should not go to supporting causes or institutions with which he disagrees. In fact (the libertarian assures us) we needn't worry that, without the glue of coercion, people would drift away from each other into some miserable, private, self-centred existence. He might even say that his faith in humanity makes him believe that social and national and community bonds would be stronger if all compulsion was removed. A libertarian may be just as much a patriot or a monarchist or a traditionalist or a communitarian as anybody else; he simply refuses to countenance coercion as a means to pursue any of these philosophies.

That may be so; I seriously doubt it, but it may be so.

But what I don't like about the libertarian is that, as a matter of fact, he chooses to emphasise non-coercion over anything else. This is his rallying cry. This is the cause for which he chooses to raise his voice, the principle he cherishes to the extent that he identifies himself as a libertarian. I am not convinced by his protestations that he may have as positive and specific a vision of the good society as anybody else. If he had one-- and if he really cared about it-- he would surely put as much (and more) energy and eloquence into broadcasting that as he would into propagating his anti-social, misanthropic, depressing creed of "live and let live". For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

I prefer every crank, revolutionary, counter-revolutionary, bigot, utopian, doomsayer and fanatic to the man whose most passionate belief is-- to use the words of Clint Eastwood, that noted libertarian-- that everyone should just leave everyone else the heck alone.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Another Poem Rejected

I've been writing poetry since I was in my early teens, and I have a folder full of rejection slips. Cyphers magazine sent back this poem today, with a printed form rejection. Not the first time they've rejected one of my poems. I thought it was fairly good. Maybe I'm handicapped by not writing obscure free verse.

The poem is meant to be puckish and provocative; of course women write all sorts of poems. But sometimes it seems like they only write about love.

The Feminine Muse

When a girl sits down to write a poem
She usually writes about love.
Girls write about other things, of course--
About everything in the universe--
But when a girl tells you she's written a poem
It's usually about love.

A man will write lots of different things--
He writes about rising above
The nine-to-five, or submitting to it;
He writes about how he doesn't fit;
He writes about his fancies and flings,
But girls write poems about love.

A man may write about Katy or Kim,
Stanzas and stanzas of stuff.
They'll have her name at the top, to be sure,
But they tend to be more about him than her
And the passions that she provokes in him;
But girls write poems about love.

A man may write poems about poison gas
And wealth going hand-in-glove
With the war machine, but all his rage
Is a little like Hamlet strutting on stage
And while he buffs up his looking glass
The girls write poems about love.

Oh, girls write novels of horror and crime
And plays that show life is tough
And tracts full of erudite reasoning
And books about any and everything
But when they sit down to write lines that rhyme
Girls usually write about love.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Because I Love Catholic Conversion Stories...

...and because I gobble them up greedily, I thought that-- in the interest of fair-mindedness, and to escape the charge of living in a mental ghetto or echo chamber-- I should read stories of conversion to other religions, or even deconversion stories.

They are actually not very easy to find. Protestant to Catholic stories seem to be everywhere, while Catholic to Protestant stories seem rare, even though many people undoubtedly take that route. I guess (I might be wrong) that few people cross the Tiber in the "other direction" because of a desire for a deeper spiritual experience-- rather because they disagree with some Church doctrine but don't want to forswear Christianity entirely. (I imagine the exceptions are people who leave Catholicism for charismatic Christianity or new religious movements, which might give them a more intense emotional experience.)

I found this site of conversion stories to Mormonism.
I mean no disrespect to Mormons, but I have to say that-- though I only glanced at a few stories-- they didn't seem to compare in depth and substance with the Catholic conversion stories that I have read. Most converts to Catholicism-- at least those who write an account of their journey-- have very definite reasons for their conversion, which range from an immersion in early Church history (very often the Church fathers), to a respect for Catholic convictions on abortion and contraception, to an acceptance of the necessity for authority in spiritual questions. The Mormon stories seem rather bald in comparison, concentrating upon emotional reactions.

I also found this account of a Catholic priest
who became an atheist-- but then, he doesn't seem to have been much of a believer to begin with.

It does seem to be the case that-- to use Joseph Pearce's wonderful phrase-- people who want more Christianity tend to find themselves drawn to the Catholic Church, and that when that journey is one made through genuine seeking-- and not simply for some other motive, such as to share a spouse's religion-- it is rarely reversed.

Here are some Catholic conversion stories.
Decide for yourself.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins: A Review

I have to admit that this review isn't based upon a deep and thorough reading of the book. In fact, I haven't read the whole book, and I have no intention of doing so; I've read one of Dawkins's books and that's enough for me. To be absolutely honest, I haven't read anything of The Magic of Reality except the title.

But I do find that title extraordinarily interesting and telling.

I know from reading about the book that it is aimed at children, and that it hopes to arouse in them a sense of the wonders of the physical universe-- and, of course, to implant in them the idea that the physical universe is the only one we've got.

But why magic? Why that word?

When you think of it, it's the last word Dawkins should want to use, magic being the very demon haunting his scientistic worldview. Isn't magic the stuff and nonsense that he is trying to banish from respectable discourse? (Taking it for granted, of course, that Dawkins and his fellows would see no difference between sacramental acts, miracles, and magic.)

Is Dawkins just trying to steal his opponents' clothes? Maybe, but even if he is, it seems an extraordinarily self-defeating attempt at appropriation. Because we all know that something unique is conveyed by the word "magic", a hunger and an expectation lurking in the human soul, that can never be replaced by all the repetitive, verifiable, universal phenomena of science.

And there is a further irony to the title; a hint that the physical phenomena that Dawkins rhapsodises over, and that he obviously attributes to "atoms and the void" and nothing else, are ultimately....magic.

(I am not back to posting, just felt like getting that out of my system....)