Thursday, February 24, 2022

My First Debate

Last night I attended my first formal debate ever. I'd been at debates in TV studios, but I'd never been at a formal debate, and it's something I've always wanted to experience. For twenty years I've been working in a university where they are regularly held, by the various student societies, but I just never got around to it.

So yesterday, when I saw this poster for a debate on the decline of the Catholic Church in Ireland, I decided it was time to go along and see. I hadn't intended to contribute, although as it turned out I did.

The L&H is an old and storied institution, having included among its members many famous names, such as James Joyce and Brian O'Nolan. Today they hold their debates in the Fitzgerald Chamber, named after former Irish Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald (there's a bronze bust of him outside). It's a purpose-built debating chamber in the new, plush Student Centre. It looks like a little parliament, with red benches.

There was a small enough turnout, perhaps fifty or sixty people. I'm bad at judging numbers. I enjoyed the formality of the thing. The Society had acquired a new book for keeping the minutes after having kept them on loose pieces of paper for some time. It was a satisfyingly large and serious-looking tome, open on the table between the speakers.

The debate itself was quite depressing. The motion was: "The house regrets the decline of the Catholic Church in Ireland", and there were three speakers for and three speakers against.

This was my summary of the event on Facebook:

I've just attended this debate. It was incredibly depressing. It was like a debate on Judaism in Saudi Arabia. The only "name" speaker was Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland. All the other speakers were students and they all took it as read that the Catholic Church is bigoted and more or less criminal, even the ones supporting the motion. The "pro" side were all arguing for radical reform in the Church.

The usual canards were trotted out...that the Church teaches that sex is solely for making babies, that Savita Halappanavar died because she couldn't have an abortion, etc. There were the usual disparaging references to John Charles McQuaid.

When it came to questions, I introduced myself as a conservative Catholic who admired John Charles McQuaid. Everybody craned their necks to stare at me. I said I found the debate depressingly one-sided and asked whether, since there had been so much talk of the rights of children that the Church had taken away, there was a case to be made that Catholic Ireland had safeguarded the most important right of children which secular Ireland had taken away, the right to life.

A young woman from the "pro" side made the usual response about laws not stopping abortion, what kind of life would a stigmatized kid have anyway, etc.

I didn't really know the form when it came to whether I could respond, so I didn't make the obvious responses, and I even joined the applause out of politeness. I regret both now .

When it came to a vote, I think I was the only person supporting the motion. Everybody else opposed it. I think one guy had his hand up with me but then took it down.

I like these kids but it was a depressing experience.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

On Atmosphere (II): G.K. Chesterton and Atmosphere

In my last post, I wrote about the concept of atmosphere, and it's importance to me. In this post, I'll be talking about the importance of atmosphere in the writing of G.K. Chesterton, my favourite writer.

As a kind of experiment, I decided to search for the word "atmosphere" in his autobiography. It's used fourteen times. One of them regards the atmosphere of Impressionism, in the days when Chesterton was an art student:

Art may be long but schools of art are short and very fleeting, and there have been five or six since I attended an art school. Mine was the time of Impressionism; and nobody dared to dream there could be such a thing as Post-Impressionism or Post-Post-Impressionism. The very latest thing was to keep abreast of Whistler and take him by the white forelock, as if he were Time himself. Since then that conspicuous white forelock has rather faded into a harmony of white and grey and what was once so young has in its turn grown hoary. But I think there was a spiritual significance in Impressionism, in connection with this age as the age of scepticism. I mean that it illustrated scepticism in the sense of subjectivism. Its principal was that if all that could be seen of a cow was a white line and a purple shadow, we should only render the line and the shadow; in a sense we should only believe in the line and the shadow, rather than in the cow. In one sense the Impressionist sceptic contradicted the poet who said he had never seen a purple cow. He tended rather to say that he had only seen a purple cow; or rather that he had not seen the cow but only the purple. Whatever may be the merits of this method of art, there is obviously something highly subjective and sceptical about it as a method of thought. It naturally lends itself to the metaphysical suggestion that things only exist as we perceive them, or that things do not exist at all. The philosophy of Impressionism is necessarily close to the philosophy of Illusion. And this atmosphere also tended to contribute, however indirectly, to a certain mood of unreality and sterile isolation that settled at this time upon me; and I think upon many others.

In another passage, he speaks about the atmosphere in Britain during the Boer War, and his reaction to it. 

What I hated about it was what a good many people liked about it. It was such a very cheerful war. I hated its confidence, its congratulatory anticipations, its optimism of the Stock Exchange. I hated its vile assurance of victory. It was regarded by many as an almost automatic process like the operation of a natural law; and I have always hated that sort of heathen notion of a natural law. As the war proceeded, indeed, it began to be dimly felt that it was proceeding and not progressing. When the British had many unexpected failures and the Boers many unexpected successes, there was a change in the public temper, and less of optimism and indeed little but obstinacy. But the note struck from the first was the note of the inevitable; a thing abhorrent to Christians and to lovers of liberty. The blows struck by the Boer nation at bay, the dash and dazzling evasions of De Wet, the capture of a British general at the very end of the campaign, sounded again and again the opposite note of defiance; of those who, as I wrote later in one of my first articles, "disregard the omens and disdain the stars". 

(If I had to explain why I was so passionately pro-Brexit, I might have used similar language as this; like the victories of the Boers, Brexit appealed to me as a defiance of an apparently inevitable historical process.)

The next use of the word comes when Chesterton is discussing the agnostic atmosphere of the Victorian era:

But everything that everybody tells me now about the Victorian atmosphere I feel instantly to be false, like a fog, which merely shuts out a vista. And in nothing is this more true than in the particular truth I must now try to describe.

The general background of all my boyhood was agnostic. My own parents were rather exceptional, among people so intelligent, in believing at all in a personal God or in personal immortality. I remember when my friend Lucian Oldershaw, who introduced me to this Bohemian colony, said to me suddenly, looking back on the tired lessons in the Greek Testament at St. Paul's School, "Of course, you and I were taught our religion by agnostics;" and I, suddenly seeing the faces of all my schoolmasters, except one or two eccentric clergymen, knew that he was right. It was not specially our generation, it was much more the previous generation, that was agnostic after the fashion of Huxley. It was the period of which Mr. H. G. Wells, a sportive but spiritual child of Huxley, wrote truly enough that it was "full of the ironical silences that follow great controversies;" and in that controversy, Huxley had been superficially successful.

When he describes his first impressions of his wife-to-be, he is struck by her immunity to a particular atmosphere:

She practised gardening; in that curious Cockney culture she would have been quite ready to practise farming; and on the same perverse principle, she actually practised a religion. This was something utterly unaccountable both to me and to the whole fussy culture in which she lived. Any number of people proclaimed religions, chiefly oriental religions, analysed or argued about them; but that anybody could regard religion as a practical thing like gardening was something quite new to me and, to her neighbours, new and incomprehensible. She had been, by an accident, brought up in the school of an Anglo-Catholic convent; and to all that agnostic or mystic world, practising a religion was much more puzzling than professing it. She was a queer card. She wore a green velvet dress barred with grey fur, which I should have called artistic, but that she hated all the talk about art; and she had an attractive face, which I should have called elvish, but that she hated all the talk about elves. But what was arresting and almost blood-curdling about her, in that social atmosphere, was not so much that she hated it, as that she was entirely unaffected by it. She never knew what was meant by being "under the influence" of Yeats or Shaw or Tolstoy or anybody else.

The word "atmosphere" occurs a good few more times in Chesterton's autobiography, but those occurences are less relevant to my theme here.

You might say that four examples from an autobiography of several hundred pages is hardly surprising or unusual. However, the importance of atmosphere can be seen across all of Chesterton's works, and some of his most powerful passages describe atmospheres.

The first passage that comes to mind is the extraordinary one on the Nativity of our Lord in The Everlasting Man:

No other story, no pagan legend or philosophical anecdote or historical event, does in fact affect any of us with that peculiar and even poignant impression produced on us by the word Bethlehem. No other birth of a god or childhood of a sage seems to us to be Christmas or anything like Christmas. It is either too cold or too frivolous, or too formal and ,classical, or too simple and savage, or too occult and complicated. Not one of us, whatever his opinions, would ever go to such a scene with the sense that he was going home. He might admire it because it was poetical, or because it was philosophical or any number of other things in separation; but not because it was itself. The truth is that there is a quite peculiar and individual character about the hold of this story on human nature; it is not in its psychological substance at all like a mere legend or the life of a great man. It does not exactly in the ordinary sense turn our minds to greatness; to those extensions and exaggerations of humanity which are turned into gods and heroes, even by the healthiest sort of hero worship. It does not exactly work outwards, adventurously to the wonders to be found at the ends of the earth. It is rather something that surprises us from behind, from the hidden and personal part of our being; like that which can sometimes take us off our guard in the pathos of small objects or the blind pieties of the poor. It is rather as if a man had found an inner room in the very heart of his own house, which he had never suspected; and seen a light from within. It is if he found something at the back of his own heart that betrayed him into good. It is not made of what the world would call strong materials; or rather it is made of materials whose strength is in that winged levity with which they brush and pass. It is all that is in us but a brief tenderness that there made eternal; all that means no more than a momentary softening that is in some strange fashion become strengthening and a repose; it is the broken speech and the lost word that are made positive and suspended unbroken; as the strange kings fade into a far country and the mountains resound no more with the feet of the shepherds; and only the night and the cavern lie in fold upon fold over something more human than humanity.

Then there is the beautiful passage from St. Francis of Assisi, which contrasts the atmosphere of early medieval Europe with that of the ancient world:

Now I have taken these two or three examples of the earlier medieval movements in order to note about them one general character, which refers back to the penance that followed paganism. There is something in all these movements that is bracing even while it is still bleak, like a wind blowing between the clefts of the mountains. That wind, austere and pure, of which the poet speaks, is really the spirit of the time, for it is the wind of a world that has at last been purified. To anyone who can appreciate atmospheres there is something clear and clean about the atmosphere of this crude and often harsh society. Its very lusts are clean; for they no have longer any smell of perversion. Its very cruelties are clean; they are not the luxurious cruelties of the amphitheatre. They come either of a very simple horror at blasphemy or a very simple fury at an insult. Gradually against this grey background beauty begins to appear, as something really fresh and delicate and above all surprising. Love returning is no longer what was once called platonic but what is still called chivalric love. The flowers and stars are have recovered their first innocence. Fire and water are felt to be worthy to be the brother and sister of a saint. The purge of paganism is complete at last.

Here is another potent vignette of atmosphere, from The Victorian Age in Literature:

I have loosely called Carlyle and the Brontës the romance from the North; the nearest to a general definition of the Aesthetic movement is to call it the romance from the South. It is that warm wind that had never blown so strong since Chaucer, standing in his cold English April, had smelt the spring in Provence. The Englishman has always found it easier to get inspiration from the Italians than from the French; they call to each other across that unconquered castle of reason. Browning's Englishman in Italy, Browning's Italian in England, were both happier than either would have been in France. Rossetti was the Italian in England, as Browning was the Englishman in Italy; and the first broad fact about the artistic revolution Rossetti wrought is written when we have written his name. But if the South lets in warmth or heat, it also lets in hardness. The more the orange tree is luxuriant in growth, the less it is loose in outline. And it is exactly where the sea is slightly warmer than marble that it looks slightly harder. This, I think, is the one universal power behind the Aesthetic and Pre-Raphaelite movements, which all agreed in two things at least: strictness in the line and strength, nay violence, in the colour.

An example from George Bernard Shaw:

Mr. Shaw has no living traditions, no schoolboy tricks, no college customs, to link him with other men. Nothing about him can be supposed to refer to a family feud or to a family joke. He does not drink toasts; he does not keep anniversaries; musical as he is I doubt if he would consent to sing. All this has something in it of a tree with its roots in the air. The best way to shorten winter is to prolong Christmas; and the only way to enjoy the sun of April is to be an April Fool. When people asked Bernard Shaw to attend the Stratford Tercentenary, he wrote back with characteristic contempt: "I do not keep my own birthday, and I cannot see why I should keep Shakespeare's." I think that if Mr. Shaw had always kept his own birthday he would be better able to understand Shakespeare's birthday—and Shakespeare's poetry.

And a final example from Charles Dickens, possibly my favourite Chesterton quotation of all:

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 medievalists 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 medieval in his attacks on medievalism 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.

Well, I hope I have made my case that Chesterton was a writer whose mind dwelt upon atmospheres, and who frequently wrote about them. If nothing else, I have reproduced some Chestertonian passages worth reading for their own sake. Watch this (cyber)space for further musings on atmosphere.

Monday, February 21, 2022

On Atmosphere (I)

For a long time, I've wanted to write about the concept of atmosphere. It's something I think about all the time. In fact, I think about it so much that I often reproach myself about it. But I can't help it.

Regular readers will recognize the above photograph, which I've featured several times, and even written a whole poem about. It's actually my favourite photograph. It comes from the Guinness Book of Records and shows a record-breaking snooker marathon.

The reason I love it is because of its atmosphere. That's the reason I love all the photographs I love. Composition, lighting, camera angle, and all that other stuff are hardly of interest to me. I want atmosphere.

But it's not just when it comes to photography that atmosphere intrigues me. It's a much more generalized fascination. Perhaps 'obsession' is the better word to use.

The memories that stick with me are generally the ones that are shot through with a particular atmosphere, although generally it's an atmosphere that's extremely hard to describe.

For instance, I have a very vivid memory of my cousin, at a children's party, cracking open a peanut, throwing the kernel in the air, and catching it in his mouth. I think he was probably an early teen at this time. I would have been considerably younger.

I thought it was one of the coolest things I've ever seen. I loved its nonchalance and bravado, and I think at that age I thought it was quite a feat of coordination in itself.

But that doesn't explain why the image lingers in my mind, so that it even features in my (not so) legendary Purple Notebook.

An atmosphere is intangible to begin with, but its very intangibility is composed of any number of elements. When it's a personal experience, how can we even hope to describe them?

I'll try with that memory of my cousin. First off, the house where it happened (where I think it happened) had its own atmosphere. Every house and every place, when I was a child, had its own atmosphere. (I remember also coming to the conclusion that every family had its own smell. But apparently children have a better sense of smell than adults. And besides, I was doubtless attributing the smell of the house to the family-- although, as soon as I write this, I remember that the "family smell" seemed to travel with its members even outside the home.)

This sense of every house having its own atmosphere was extremely strong to me as a child. So that even now, when I can't really remember what it felt like to be a child, I can remember that without any difficulty whatsoever. To call it an "atmosphere" is an understatement; it felt like every house was its own world, its own reality, that the place literally had its own spirit and mind.

So there was the particular atmosphere of the house. Then, there was the atmosphere of a party. It was a child's party, of course, which are probably more exciting than any party we attend as adults. The purpose of a party was pure enjoyment, and I think this made me rather giddy. And then there was something else, a sense of anticipation and of gathering intensity that has haunted me all my life; everything, no matter what it is, seems to me a first rung on a ladder to the ultimate of that thing. So that a pretty girl's smile always seems to beckon towards some distant horizon of unspeakable feminine beauty; a line of poetry seems to invite me into a bottomless sea of lyricism; a kid's party seems like a prelude to infinite festivity, infinite merriment.

And then there was the atmosphere of my cousin. He was a jaunty, somewhat cynical type of fellow, and this greatly impressed me. (For once, the Dirk Benedict photo is somewhat relevant, as he did actually bear a resemblance.)

So all that is there in the image of my cousin throwing a nut up into the air and catching it in his mouth. Indeed, I've had to suppress the desire to go into greater detail, for fear of exhausting the reader.

I encounter the world as a series of atmospheres. I am not at all observant, much to my enduring frustration. When I remember a place or a scene, what comes to me is not an image but an atmosphere.

And I find myself chasing atmospheres, seeking to recapture or reconstruct atmospheres; a quest which repeatedly strikes me as foolish or wasteful but which continues to draw me nonetheless.

Here is an example. There is a particular atmosphere which is attached to a montage of various memories I have. I'm pretty sure these memories are not simultaneous. One memory is the central plaza (so to speak) of the Ilac shopping centre in Dublin city, in the early nineties. At this time, the shopping centre had a fountain, a glass lift which rose over the fountain and a mezzanine café. The other memory is of reading a particular book of W.B. Yeats criticism, one which examined the influence of Irish mythology on his work. I don't think I was reading this book in the café in the Ilac Centre. I think it's much more likely that I was reading the book and I thought of the café. In any case, the memories are stuck together now.

And there's a feeling of bliss in this memory. Something about the book of literary criticism appealed to me greatly, perhaps a sort of wonder that poetry could be taken so seriously or examined so deeply. But why should this be so, when I had already experienced poetry criticism by then? I'm not sure. So it must have been something more specific than that.

In any case, I realize I have often found myself seeking out books of poetry criticism in the hope of experiencing that atmosphere again.

I have just deleted two paragraphs where I was trying to describe another "atmosphere", but failed to do so.

This subject is quite hard to approach. I think I'm going to leave that much there and come back to it soon.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Scripture is Complicated

Still reading the Ronald Knox Bible. Much amused by this text and footnote, which I encountered in the Book of Jeremiah today:

"Idols cunningly plated as palm-trees, yet dumb as they, and men must carry them to and fro, for movement they have none!". (Jeremiah 10:5)

Knox's note: "Cunningly plated as palm-trees"; literally, "fashioned into the similitude of a palm-tree"; the plates of the metal in which the wooden core of the idol was sheathed may have suggested the figure of a palm-trunk. But some understand the Hebrew text as meaning "like a scare-crow in a garden of melons."

(Most modern translations seem to go with scarecrows, but with cucumbers instead of melons. Hebrew must be an interesting language.)



Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Petition for RTÉ to broadcast the National Anthem again

I decided to create a petition on for the above cause. This is my text:

For decades, Ireland's national broadcaster RTÉ used to broadcast the national anthem at the end of the day's television schedule. Many of us will nostalgically recall the montage of picturesque nature imagery that accompanied it in the eighties and nineties.

Today, in our 24-hour society, television stations don't stop broadcasting for the night. But surely it would be a good thing to revive this practice anyway, perhaps around midnight. Human beings need ritual and ceremony but there is very little of this in our daily lives anymore. The national anthem belongs to everybody and fosters national pride, togetherness, and distinctiveness. It's rarely heard today outside big sporting occasions. Ask RTÉ to bring it back!

The petition itself can be found here.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

The Visage Volume

You think you can escape social media by not having a social media account? Oh, you poor fool!

Here's a selection of my recent Facebook posts, which I think everybody should have to read. One of them is a meditation on Shakespeare's "All the world's a stage" speech that was meant to be the second part of a two-part post some time ago. I never got around to writing it.

A book I was reading got me thinking about Catholicism and other denominations of Christianity.

I grew up in a Catholic family and country and, in all honesty, Catholicism seemed the most rational religion to me even when I was an agnostic. At a certain point of my life I found it impossible to continue as an agnostic and I spent a lot of time investigating religion. I never really took seriously the claims of other faiths to be THE true faith, mostly because of the apostolic succession and the length and breadth of Catholic history, as well as the clarity and confidence of its dogmas.

Here's the thing though; I never really had a taste for Catholic chauvinism or triumphalism. Maybe it's because growing up in Ireland meant Catholicism wasn't in any way exotic or glamorous. But also because I never doubted for a second that there was good in other denominations. It seems blindingly obvious to me that there is holiness to be seen in many Christian denominations. It even seems that God has showered particular gifts on other denominations that he hasn't, to the same degree, on Catholicism. Although I don't doubt heresy and apostasy is always a bad thing, I get the feeling God can work good from evil and bring out "the unsearchable riches of Christ" in a different way in other denominations.

I don't know theologically accurate that is and I'm always open to correction.

Next time someone being introduced to me says: "I'm a hugger", I think I'll reply: "Really? I'm a puncher."

(Just joking. But that's one thing I don't miss from before Covid...)

I've often heard that nobody is interested in other people's dreams. I'm interested in them. I've also heard it said that a bore is someone with a very specific interest who can't help talking about it. I like hearing about obscure interests, too.

What I don't like is "I was proved right" stories. But lots of people delight in telling these. It's funny how nobody talks about the predictions they made that went awry, or the arguments they lost.

I am possibly just jealous because I've never been right about anything, but I don't think that's it entirely.

Isn't it interesting that, in England, the Catholic past is remembered (by some) as "Merrie England", while in Ireland there is no such nostalgia? Many of us are nostalgic for Catholic Ireland, but not for "Merrie Ireland"...

For some years now, I have a practice whereby I memorize poems (and hymns, nursery rhymes etc.) and recite them to myself, every now and again, to keep them fresh. There's 136 on the list right now. It's been on "maintenance" mode for a while, ever since I've been trying to master basic geography.

Anyway, it includes Shakespeare's "All the world's a stage" speech. I'm not the biggest Shakespearean and, honestly, I'm not sure why I picked it as I never particularly liked it. But saying it to myself over and over has given me a deeper appreciation, as with many of the pieces.

The obvious first impression of the speech is how undignified and ridiculous it makes mankind seem, as to be expected given the melancholy speaker. At every stage in life man is making a fool of himself, whether over love or honour or self-importance or simple decrepitude.

Even if you were never a soldier, you were probably an obnoxiously opinionated twenty-something putting the world to rights, perhaps a crusader for some cause. Even if you were never a "justice" (judge?), we all reach the pinnacle of whatever authority or standing we have, dispensing wisdom and verdicts. And then we are still as silly as the lovelorn teenager.

But, when I speak the speech to myself, I feel a second reaction, as well as this sense of the absurd-- a sort of tenderness and relief. Yes, we are like this. We are all like this, and none of us are that much better or worse. It's not so bad. Our creatureliness is very endearing, when you look at it from outside. I actually feel a huge weight lift off me when I recite this speech to myself-- the same sort of relief C.S. Lewis described as letting go of the burden of pride. I've been terrified of being ridiculous all my life, and this speech says: "Relax. You ARE ridiculous. So is everybody else."

And it makes me think of my father. I saw him go through all the later stages and heard him describe the earlier ones. I saw him "sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything". And he remained himself. Underneath all the indignity there is a deeper dignity.

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

It's so tiresome that in the Irish media today, the issue is never the issue and there's always some ulterior message to the one being transmitted.

For example, two articles I read in the Irish Times today. One was an article congratulating the Irish government on standing up for sovereignty and neutrality, in the diplomatic sparring with Russia. As though the Irish Times or any of the Irish media have anything but contempt for national sovereignty and neutrality. They have been undermining both for decades. In this instance they are just slogans to be used as the West's globalist ambitions press eastward.
Another was an article complaining about Spotify and how it denies musicians their right to be paid. Maybe the Irish Times DOES care about this-- at some level-- but who could believe that this is really anything but outrage at Spotify playing host to Joe Rogan, who questions their orthodoxies?

It's nauseating.

One of the reasons I am such a defender of the particular is because I feel the particular elevates the universal. I am currently re-reading the Oxford Book of Friendship. It is very interesting, and pleasing, to see how the concept of friendship has been celebrated and discussed through so many ages, in so many cultures; the book contains excerpts from the ancient world right up to the modern age, and across cultures.

The stronger the particular is, the stronger is the universal. Think how much it says of Shakespeare that he is translated into so many languages and loved by so many different peoples. But imagine we had the monoculture many people seem to want, one worldwide culture with one language. What would be special about universality then? Everything would be universal, and there would be no distinction or thrill to it. People talk about eliminating boundaries and barriers as if it is the most exciting thing in the world; but when they are gone, you lose all the excitement of ever transcending them again.

I continue to believe church attendance rates matter. Cultural Christianity matters. It has a knock-on effect on other things, like religious freedom and public policy.

I'm baffled and dismayed by Christians who seem to be indifferent to it, who seem to think it would be better to have a tiny "remnant" of orthodox Christians-- and it's always THEIR interpretation of orthodoxy, or their favourite YouTuber's interpretation of orthodoxy-- rather than accept any perceived or real imperfections. Who write off vast swathes of professing Christians as "not really Christian, anyway".

There is of course the opposite extreme-- a preoccupation with Christianity as a social force, with the will-o-the-wisp of reviving Christendom. (I've met this entirely among Catholics myself, but it may have its variant in other denominations.) Surprisingly, I've noticed that both views can actually co-exist in the same person.

Am I wrong? I might be wrong. This is my view.

Surely it is always better than someone has a relationship with Christ than not?

It's funny that early morning is probably the most solid, public, tangible part of the day-- everyone going to work, the morning headlines, cleaners doing their stuff, the mind generally at its freshest and brightest, the "broad light of day" illuminating everything-- but only a few hours ago everybody was hallucinating, lost in private dreamworlds.

My favourite U.S. state name is "Vermont". I don't know why I like it so much.

It sounds like "Vermouth". I don't know if I've ever had a vermouth but I like the scene in Groundhog Day where Rita asks for: "Sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist, please". Well, several scenes.

It makes me think of Fry's Chocolate Cream, a chocolate bar which has a kind of minty fondant centre. Maybe because "mont" sounds like "mint, although that doesn't adequately explain the association.

Also, the song title "Moonlight in Vermont" gives it romantic associations.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Ronald Knox on the Papacy

Ronald Knox was an Anglican priest and scholar who converted to Catholicism in 1917. In later years, he translated the Bible into English-- directly from St. Jerome's Vulgate. He was a friend of G.K. Chesterton, and indeed preached Chesterton's funeral homily.

His account of his conversion, A Spiritual Aeneid, is a book I've just finished reading for the third time. I was struck by his account of how important the role of the Papacy was in his thinking, as he moved towards Catholicism. I think it's worth sharing today, when it has become common among conservatives (as it was common among liberals until very recently) to whittle the Pope's role down to a bare minimum. Italics are Knox's own.

"Strange as it may seem, I had always assumed at the back of my mind that when my handbooks talked about "Arian" and "Catholic" bishops they knew what they were talking about; it never occurred to me that Arians also regarded themselves as Catholics and wanted to know why they should be thought otherwise. "Ah! but", says my Church historian, "the Church came to think otherwise, and thus they found themselves de-Catholicized in the long run. But what Church? Why did those who anathemized Nestorious come to be regarded as "Catholics" rather than those who still accept his doctrines? I had used this argument against the Greek Orthodox Church when it broke away from unity, but it had never occurred to me before that what we mean when we talk of the Catholic party is the party in which the bishop from Rome was, and nothing else; that the handbooks had simply taken over the word without thinking or arguing about it, as it explained itself; but it didn't.

"If you ask "Who are the Orthodox?" you will be told "The people who hold the Orthodox Faith". If you ask them how they know it is the Orthodox Faith they say: "Because it is held by the Orthodox Church". And the Nestorians will say exactly the same of themselves-- and who is to choose between them? Each say they have the consensus fidelium behind them, and if you ask who the fideles were you are referred back to the very formula which the consensus fidelium was to prove. But if you ask a Catholic: "What is the Catholic Faith?", and are told it is held by the Catholic Church: if you persevere, and ask what is the Catholic Church, you are no longer met with the irritatingly circular definition; you are told it is the Church that is in communion with the bishop of Rome.


"If you took a Gallican view of the Church, and wanted the Papacy to be a constitutional monarchy, your church became a philosopher's dream instead of a living reality; in ordinary real life, you must have the Pope as he is, or no Pope at all."

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Some Day for One Day

Regular readers (God bless their souls) will know that I'm very interested in days-- those units of time in which we live. I write about this here and here, and elsewhere.

Anyway, today is some day for one day, as I say in my title.

First off, it's Candlemas, or the Feast of Presentation. Today is the day hardcore Christmas fans will reluctantly take their Christmas trees down.

Here's a post I wrote about Candlemas a few years ago.

It's also Groundhog Day...again...and that must mean I re-post my (now ten year-old) post on why I love Groundhog Day above every other film ever made.

(I have an article on the film appearing in the Valentine's Day edition of Ireland's Own...although, sadly, it's only five hundred words long. I could write five thousand!)

I've seen it pointed out on social media that today is 2/2/22, which is noteworthy.

I mistakenly thought today was the first day of Chinese New Year. I see now it was actually yesterday. But apparently the festival continues past the first day. I don't know if I have any Chinese readers, but if I do...happy Year of the Tiger!

Today is also the hundredth anniversary of the publication of Ulysses-- although, apparently, only two copies of it were actually published that day. This corresponds to the amount of people who ever actually enjoyed the book-- James Joyce and Ezra Pound.

I posted this on Facebook in commemoration of this dubious centenary:

Today is the hundredth anniversary of the publication of by James Joyce.

Funnily enough, this time last year (as my Facebook memories show) I was wrestling with this text for, I eventually decided, the last time.

W.B. Yeats, a far greater talent and more serious thinker than Joyce, never finished the book either. That says a lot.

Joyce was undoubtedly talented-- A Portrait of the Artist and The Dead are brilliant-- but I finally came to the conclusion that Ulysses was a piece of charlatanry and not worthy of an adult's attention.

A book that can't even be understood on the most primary level without constant references to footnotes and companions is not worth reading. Whenever you actually ask people who profess to enjoy Ulysses what they enjoy about it, the answers are always vague and involve a few clichéd references like "ineluctable modality of the visible". I don't even see what's so very clever or profound about that.

My father, whose judgement I respect and even follow on most things, was an outspoken admirer of the book. I can't understand that, since he was usually allergic to all forms of literary modernism. I honestly wonder if it was simply municipal pride at work.

And, of course, Ulysses was also a cosmopolitan's swipe against the Gaelic Revival, Irish nationalism, Catholic piety, and other wholesome things. Well, we see where cosmopolitanism led... That on its own would not be enough to make me dismiss the book, but it does give me an added dislike of it.

It's a stupid book that had a terrible effect on literature and society. Hopefully after a hundred years its cultus will begin to wane, although it's far too fertile a field for PhDs and critical analysis for me to be optimistic.

Suck, it Joyceans!

So as not to end on a negative note, here is Bill Murray's moving speech from Groundhog Day:

When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn't imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.

And, to round it off, here is "Days" by The Kinks-- taken from The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, one of the few conservative rock albums ever written. My cousin Billy (RIP) chose this song to be played at his own memorial service (along with "Fortunate Child" by Creedence Clearwater Revival, and a "Psalm to Life" by Longfellow).