Two Austrians Fled a Third… And Found Refuge in the Truth

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I’m not going to apologize for being thoroughly pessimistic in the past month of posts; or if I do ask pardon, then I should start by craving it of myself.  I have to live with me—and it ain’t easy these days!  When a few national commentators dare to go off the script and mention the number of suicides that our lockdown will inspire, I know exactly what they mean.  I’ve never been less afraid of death.  I keep thinking of the first words uttered by Sophocles’ Teiresias when the blind prophet is led onto the stage of Oedipus Tyrannos: “What a fearful thing is thinking when it brings no profit to the thinker!”

Stay busy: yes, that’s always good advice.  I’ve been in “lifeboat” mode now for several months, really.  By that I mean that I have given the ship up as lost and am occupying myself with considering alternatives for possible survival on the dark, cold sea.  Only since President Trump has begun signing off on multi-trillion dollar “stimulus packages”, though, have I actually been consuming distinctly less political commentary from sources I used to trust.  There’s too much stuff that begins, “This is our last chance,” or, “We need to act immediately if we are to avoid disaster.”  Wrong.  The last chance has come and gone.  Those spending bills were one helluva big iceberg that just carried away half of our hull.  I can’t tolerate any more evasion of such hard facts.  Lower the damn lifeboats.

But survival does indeed call for profitable thinking… so disillusion and even pessimism mustn’t turn to abject despair.  We’ve lost the big one: now let’s win some little ones.  I scarcely know where to start.  I continue my routine of trying to acquire greater understanding, however, as a retired academic who mucks about in his infant orchards much of the day.  I’ve begun reading two works that I probably should have read long ago: Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies and F.A. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom.  As part of my regimen, I try to read new books in one of the non-English languages that I’ve studied for years—not in the illusion that I’ll ever “use” them in the future (whatever that means), but just because I hate to let a skill lapse into decay.  You fire up your old Triumph and give her a little spin around the block once a week, not because you’ll ever seriously use the thing for transportation, but because… well, she deserves not to die if keeping her alive costs so little.

So, anyway, here I am reading Popper in Italian and Hayek in Spanish.  (Somebody might murmur wryly, “You’re going to need that Spanish”… but, no, the Spanish I read isn’t anything remotely like the jabber we hear at Wal-Mart.)  The irony is that both of these men came to English as a second language; so I’m accessing their thoughts through a tongue into which the original text has been rendered—but that text itself represented a tongue with which they struggled.  Could there be a better illustration of the Spirit taking serene shape above a great cacophony of words? We are one, even in our misery.

I haven’t actually read quite a third of either book at this point, but I’ve seen enough to be intrigued.  Hayek’s much-reprinted classic is littered with forewards and prefaces in the early going.  I infer from all the explanations and further explanations that he was greatly surprised by the work’s success, especially in the U.S.; that he was nevertheless dismayed at how it had become caught up in a political tug-of-war as Joe McCarthy brought to public attention the degree of communist infiltration in our society; that he had never intended to condemn all kinds of government “planification” out of hand or to declare that their presence made totalitarian rule inevitable; and that his primary concern was simply that exposure to the notion of paternalistic government begins a long, long process of corrupted and surrendered freedoms.  There is a mildness to this man, I find, that indeed makes him an unlikely dynamo at the center of a whirlwind.  I see in him an apt illustration of a phenomenon we’ve come to know only too well: the slanderous caricature by the Left of anyone who dare question centralist, statist orthodoxy.  McCarthy himself was thus tarred and feathered, and with scarcely more reason.

For my own purposes, considering where I am (i.e., deep in the hole of despair), I find a kind of comfort in Hayek’s big picture—a comfort, of course, which he would have been chagrined to provide.  He obviously believed that we yet had time to reverse course in the Fifties, and even the Seventies (when the final edition of Road to Serfdom appeared).  I suppose we probably did have time, even in the Nineties… but instead of regretting our bite of the apple, we came back and stripped the tree (with no less zeal during the two terms of George W. Bush than in any other era).  The air of fatality which Hayek so heroically rejected settles, in retrospect, quite heavily over the past thirty years or so.

My son’s generation, in short, was not sold down the river into slavery only by Pelosi/McCormick “stimuli” and President Trump’s compliant pen.  The dark stranger has been riding down the road since that distant day when we might first have spotted him exiting the mountain’s pass.  And here I’ll toss a bone to the enemies of capitalism and slanderers of innocents like F.A. Hayek: our ravenous appetite for ease and convenience is deeply implicated in our rush to greet this sooty rider.  We’ve been reared, at least since the end of World War II, to desire more stuff, cheaper stuff, and stuff of ever greater frivolity.  The market made us such uncritical, undisciplined consumers.  The cry that spurred us on from the new screens before which we were reared was, “Get it now, cheaper than ever!  You deserve it!”  Has not such thinking fed—yes, inevitably—into the yet more seductive cry, “Get it now, paid for by the rich!  You’d already have it if they hadn’t stolen it from you!”  The devilish rhetoric of the sell was indeed inevitable.  It was our response that might have offered up resistance… but, you know, getting something free at the expense of “the rich” is an even better deal than getting it cheap at the expense of Chinese slave labor.

Karl Popper seems an odd companion in this discussion.  I was surprised, upon consideration, at how perfectly The Open Society slides right in.  I had no initial inkling that the book was a study of Plato’s utopian project in The Republic… and I was a little let down, honestly, upon making that discovery.  Why would the previous century’s premier philosopher of science (as I like to think of him) be scribbling away like the antiquarians with whom I attended graduate school?  Popper’s footnotes, indeed, were so voluminous that they posed a major obstacle to finding a publisher for the book.  Among additional obstacles were the author’s self-imposed and shifting exile as Hitler tightened his grip on Central Europe, his struggles with the English language (as I’ve noted), and his need of American friends and contacts to mediate as he met with one rejection after another from publishing houses.  Hayek was running up against exactly the same barriers at the same historical moment.

But at least one Austrian was tackling the central ideological issues of our time, while the other was retreating to… Plato?  Not a retreat, however: no, but rather a recognition that these very issues were not at all distinct to our time, but were embedded in the human condition.  As I muddled through the first pages of Popper’s tome (its title grotesquely caricatured by George Soros, that living master of satanically torturing words to mean their opposites), I made the further error of supposing that he was just thrusting his personal preoccupations where they didn’t belong.  What had Plato to do with Hitler and Stalin?  (And both Popper and Hayek, by the way, realized that those two miscreants had issued from the same sulfurous ideological womb.)

I won’t exhaust both myself and the reader by trying to encapsulate Professor Popper’s reading of Plato. A brutal compression would be to say that Plato, everybody’s most admired philosophical transcriptionist, is unmasked as having commandeered the reputation of Socrates—everybody’s most admired philosopher—to sell a totalitarian vision.  (Just one example: Socrates’ “a man with power should always beware of his ignorance” becomes Plato’s “a man with power should be purged of ignorance”.) It’s all finely reasoned and meticulously documented, I promise you: hence the merciless footnotes. Yet I had never heard a peep about such interpretive possibilities during all my years in the academy.  By the way, that interpretation turns out to fit.  It isn’t the whimsy of an expatriate who subconsciously imposes the shadow of the dictator he so detests upon every bird, cloud, and blade of grass.  It’s all perfectly convincing.

By way of illustration, I’ll confine myself to the Platonic theory of Forms or Ideas.  I recall being exposed to this first as a college freshman, and thinking, “Those ancient Greeks… what a strange lot!  Did they really think that we’re born with a Table Archetype in our heads that allows us to recognize a table?”  Plato was offered up in just such incoherent, irrelevant terms; and, as I say, nothing I later heard in any ivory corridor added any profundity to my initial impressions.

Popper’s view, however, makes of the Forms something very like what I’ve written of recently as “future worship”: the adoration of hazy objectives, that is, merely because they exist in “tomorrow”, where we’re assured of having transformative superpowers.  It is an irony, to be sure, that Plato’s gilded castles exist in the remotest of yesterdays—in the atavistic Heroic Age when men feasted with gods.  Yet behind the irony is the link which binds Hitler and Stalin, Nazism and communism.  Both visions take as their destination a point whose access—whose mere reality—cannot be validated by current perceptions, common sense, and humane moral imperatives.  Both require that we become something we’re simply not; or, inasmuch as they acknowledge our being unequal to the task, both urge upon us the acceptance of a superman or a super-race.  Both concede that the Peerless Leader’s superior authority cannot be logically deduced or rationally defended.  Both demand of us, therefore, that we embrace a cultic fanaticism—that we suppress our individuality and merge ourselves into an obedient herd.

Precisely.  This is true, it’s brilliant… and it’s disparaged or ignored by our academic institutions and broadcast media as they condition forthcoming generations to chew the cud of totalitarianism.  Add Hayek to Popper, and you have an all-too-prophetic warning that the adoration of the Charismatic Leader who solves all of our problems for us is forever leaking into human societies, drop by drop, decade after decade. Didn’t the Old Testament teach us about our self-destructive craving for kings?

How is the combination implied in “permanent collapse” possible, I wonder?  How can things forever be deteriorating in Hesiodic fashion if there were no genuine Heroic Age at the head of all the fallen dominoes?  If we have always been as we are now—flawed, corrupt creatures in need of a redeemer outside our earthly time frame—then how can we also always be getting worse? Since we’ve always been bad, how do we manage to keep doubling down on it?

I don’t know, my friends… but such is the truth, or what little we can see of it.  Perhaps it is our societies that are forever coming unraveled—and perhaps it is only redeemed individuals who forever keep bits and pieces of them from careening over the precipice: just enough for yet another try where the run-off of Eden’s gentle rain puddles.

To the “Healers” Among Us: I Know Ye Not

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My second full year of attempting to farm has begun.  One infant walnut tree has been permanently laid to rest, and the fate of a cherry tree hangs in doubt: both were savaged by deer last year whose watery eyes and flickering tails I soon ceased to find “cute”.  Plant assassins: guts on hooves with razoring teeth and very small brains at one end.  They gnawed right through the netting I had oh-so-confidently draped around my nurslings.  This year, wire fences reinforced with stakes will greet their nipping incisors.  A particularly small garden shark managed somehow to duck under one fence last week.  My wife spotted her just in time, and I scared her off (the deer, not my wife).  Then I ran a strand of barbed wire around the exposed lower region.  Shees… you raise the barrier to keep them from jumping over, and then one sneaks under through a space that you would have thought too skimpy for a slithering hound dog.  It never ends.  As Emilio Romero wrote of creeping communism half a century ago, la paz empieza nunca.

The peanut patch was another casualty from last summer.  I managed to reap perhaps a pound of nuts when all was said and done.  Grasshoppers were the prime suspect, but to this day I’m not sure of that diagnosis.  Just when the plants appeared to be taking off, their leaves would be gnawed away to the stalk the next morning.  This happened several times—and deer, much as I love to pin every crime on them, just didn’t check out as the culprits.  Now, at least, we’ve coaxed in families of bluebirds which—I hope—will feed hungrily on insects during the summer.  As long as the cardinals don’t chase them off… for, with mating season at full throttle, we’ve observed an emerging problem.  The bull redbirds are attacking everything else wearing feathers in their bid to attract females.  Toxic masculinity at its very worst.

Potatoes didn’t grow in the clay that the builders compacted around our house: trying to loosen that mass into productivity was wasted time.  On the other hand, the extensive raised garden I constructed offered the plushest possible bed for vegetables… but I foolishly magnified its walls with white Styrofoam; and this, once the summer sun started beating down in earnest, fried everything within its borders.

If you live, you learn.  Not everything was a disaster.  My pecan trees are doing well; and the two oldest almonds, despite having been ravaged themselves by the dear deer, came back so strong that I’ve planted several more.  Apple trees, pear trees, peaches, apricots, persimmons, pomegranates… the new cherry trees have already flowered… I have almost fifty plants in the ground.  We’ll see if they’re bearing in five years—always assuming that I’m here to see.

For you get no guarantees in life; and once you reach three score years, you’re guaranteed an exit of one sort or another in the not-too-distant future.  I’ll probably survive my little crisis with an enlarged prostate.  The medical/pharmaceutical industry has lavished enough catheters upon me that I could lay a tiny plastic tunnel to Saskatchewan; and anyway, I have at last found some homeopathic remedies that have put my trouble somewhat into remission.  Speaking of industries… homeopathy and ruthless exploitation of the vulnerable are of two houses, you should know. To be sure, the snake-oil salesmen quickly nose out your complaint thanks to shared information in our wired society. My mailbox—my literal, in-the-ground mailbox—has been steadily bombarded with news of “the breakthrough formula that really works”.  Entire booklets appear featuring a leering charlatan in white coat and stethoscope on one page and a couple making steamy love on the next.  I want to reach in, grab White Coat by the lapels, smack him a few times, and explain, “I’m not contemplating a career as a porn star, moron—I can’t pee!”

It’s all the exploitation around the edges that gets me down. I love my 25 acres.  Even, in a way, I love the damn deer.  They at least don’t represent themselves as anything other than what they are.  And maybe society’s varied collection of scalawags and profiteers… maybe there’s a kind of Darwinian defense to be made for them, too.  I spend a lot of time hacking away wild blackberry and polk sallet, nuisances unfit for the table that run off all the other vegetation; but such is nature, with ravenous parasites always ready to gnaw a pound of flesh from prosperity.  Our human analogues are no less busy.  My indignation concentrates upon those whose calling is supposed to be of a higher sort.  The Teacher says, “From those to whom much is given, much is expected.”  Precisely.  Where is the “high” in “higher” these days?

Yes, I’ve avoided doctors most of my life.  I did so partly because I don’t believe we should run to someone for relief from every little pain—and partly, too, because my father’s and grandfather’s lives were needlessly shortened in the hands of the medical establishment (and my father-in-law’s made much worse during its short remnant). My own problem would have been diagnosed and treated sooner if I had been less pig-headed, true enough. But then, what treatment have I actually received?  Of the three medications I’ve been prescribed, two made me instantly, severely ill.  The third (a muscle relaxant) I never had filled.  I chose meditative techniques in its place; and meditation, like homeopathy is rarely a permanent solution—but at least, like hydroxychloroquine, it does no harm.  (Wasn’t there someone named Hippocrates, once upon a time?)

Even my miraculous catheters, for which I’m most genuinely grateful, came with conflicting instructions when I received any instruction at all.  “Wash carefully after every use, and don’t reuse for more than a week… no, not that: Who told you that? Always throw away after one use!  Oh, and the type of catheter that’s eviscerating you?  Keep the blue line pointed upward.  No, there are no directions included… but someone was supposed to tell you.”

They send you off to try out poisons manufactured in China the way a Vegas hooker tells her drunken high-roller to put his stack on Seven. They load you with expensive but ill-explained gear and gizmos that your insurance (not to worry) will pay for. And then….

And then they push the appointment you’ve awaited for two months another two months down the road for your own good, because CV-19 targets senior citizens.  I’ve cleared and planted three acres of orchard with nothing I couldn’t hold in my two hands… and they’re telling me that the one physical complaint ever to slow me down has to stay with me like a ball and chain due to the possibility of a week’s sniffles and fever—a virus that they, the White Coat Fraternity, have decided to elevate to bubonic-plague gravity with virtually no objective data.

My brother, recently a stroke victim, now has to put his rehab in low gear; a friend’s pre-adolescent son suffering from strange fainting spells now has to wear some kind of monitor at home because “professionals” dare not give him a precious hospital bed.  Meanwhile, half of the medical profession—the really “expert” half—refuses to endorse hydroxychloroquine because other white coats haven’t spent enough years observing its possible side-effects (the kind of effects that don’t seem to concern them greatly, however, in the case of Flomax).  And meanwhile—or during the same while—their Peerless Leader stalls for time as his puppeteer Bill Gates rushes after an “antidote” we’ll all be required to take.

Notice that I haven’t mentioned a single politician.  Anyone who places trust in that tribe deserves to be scalped in his sleep.  But the medical community… et tu, Brute?

The evening news treats us regularly (I’ve seen two renditions of this script in the past week) to scenes of “COVID survivors” being wheelchaired to the hospital exit through a gauntlet of applauding doctors and nurses, all dutifully masked; and I ask myself, “Why are they clapping as they stand elbow to elbow?  Why are they sending micro-deposits from their hands into the eyes and hair, quite possibly, of their neighbors?  How can people with any medical training whatever engage in such needlessly, stupidly risky behavior?  Or do they know that the whole thing’s a hoax?  Is it all being staged, and the masks are just costumes?  Then again, are they genuine but massively incompetent?  What third alternative could there be?”

Those questions… I have a lot of them.  Far too many—and I can’t answer a single one.  I don’t claim the right to medical attention.  Our ancestors didn’t enjoy such a right.  On the contrary, death in the body is our common inheritance, our common destiny; and though, as I say, I shall probably not die of an enlarged prostate’s complications, the experience strikes me as a dress rehearsal for the big show (one where there will be no TV cameras).  A stroke, maybe, as I’m grubbing out another post hole and cussing at deer… maybe it will knock me clean dead, and not simply nudge me as it did my brother.  I hope so.  I’d like a quick exit.  Me with my boots on, and confused cardinals cocking their heads.

I’m okay with that.  Just please don’t tell me that you’re helping me—that when you prescribe noxious garbage, when you issue contradictory directions, when you bill the insurance company at every turn, when you schedule extra tests and then move them all back a few months… don’t tell me you’re doing all this for my own good!  You’re not.  I don’t believe you.  I don’t trust you.  I’ll show up for my appointments, whenever they finally fall and if I happen to remain among the living… but it won’t be because I’ve trusted you.  It’ll be because I have no other card to draw—because I have only one roll of the dice left.

That’s exactly the feeling I get nowadays at election time. Could it be, Dr. Fauci—Mr. Gates—because the line even between politics and medicine has dissolved?

I love my 25 acres.  I wish I could be buried here, but they don’t allow that… and I don’t suppose I’ll really care, at any rate.  I’m ready to step through the door.  I only wish I could do so in peace, without the toxic miasma of half-truths and undisclosed interests and noisome mock-altruism that hangs heavily over every aspect of our public life these days.  All you “professionals” and “experts” out there… why don’t you just peddle your porn, and stop with the line about how good it is for us?

How to Take a Wrong Turn on the Climb to Heaven

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Ever since I passed along to him a short anthology of Near Death Experiences compiled by a practicing physician, my son has sustained a lively exchange with me on the subject.  Being young, he is impressed by such “hard evidence” of life beyond the reality we know.  (Our nation’s school system, from bottom to top, certainly hasn’t given his generation any aesthetic or philosophical inkling of an empirical approach’s inadequacies—so empirical testimony against mere empiricism becomes very powerful.)  Personally, I’m always just a bit leery of the NDE.  It’s not that I’m an incorrigible skeptic.  On the contrary, I’m one of the few people you’re ever likely to know with years of grad-school conditioning in his past who believes that extra-terrestrial life (or its projection through an ingenious fleet of robotic minions) has probably visited our solar system.  I don’t think I’m particularly narrow-minded.

No, the problem I have with the typical NDE is the implications that over-excited chroniclers tend to draw from it.  The surrounding discussion often has the tone of boundless, almost delirious optimism.  “You see?  All is really sweetness and light!  It’s all love—love for everyone!  All is forgiven!  It’s just one great warm embrace!  All is swept up into the… the cosmic All!”  Okay, let’s stop and ponder that.  No justice for mass-murderers like Stalin and Mao (add Hitler if you like… but don’t forget Pol Pot, Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, and King Herod).  No motive to try harder in this terrestrial existence—to “seek the kingdom”.  No reason why sincere sorrow and repentance are anything but wasted time.  Lighten up!  All you need is love!

In their defense, I will say of most NDE witnesses that their encounter is brief, dazzling, and (by definition) limned by the incomprehensible.  They’re not the ones who seek to graft sweeping metaphysical conclusions onto their out-of-clock-time ecstasy (a word which literally means “standing outside of”).  They were abruptly jolted from their body… and then they found themselves bathed in light and soothed by predeceased friends and family.  As far as I know, most of them haven’t borne back a message about how the universe is put together.  They merely reiterate with John the Gospelist, “True love hath no fear.”

Dr. Eben Alexander’s kerygma from the Beyond is not so modest.  My son forwarded this YouTube link to one of the good doctor’s many public presentations.  Alexander’s case has received special attention, apparently, because 1) he himself was a neurosurgeon who had practiced for two decades when a seizure caused his brain activity to flatline, 2) he was thoroughly agnostic at the time of the incident, and 3) his brain was so very moribund for days that no sort of short-circuiting or “flame-out” could have accounted for his visions.  Clearly, something very extraordinary happened in this man’s return to corporeal life, if not in his hours of unverifiable transit through another life.  He should have been dead—quite dead.  The feeding tubes had actually been removed from his body for days before his recovery.  His revival was miraculous.

And, yes, Eben Alexander experienced virtually all of the classic NDE moments: the dark tunnel (in more static form), the indescribably bright light at its end, an angelic chorus, the warmth and limitless love of innumerable figures… but he claims to have been entrusted with uncharacteristically specific information, besides.  He was told (in a degree of detail that Dante would have envied) that the universe is unfolding according to a great plan—and that this plan involves reincarnation.  We are to return to life in better-informed stages that, collectively, will set our planet—and other planets in other galaxies, eventually—on a hyperbolic path of intersection with heaven.

An unimaginably beautiful woman (who was plainly not some morph of the divorced Mrs. Alexander) was the doctor’s Beatrice during this revelation.  I note in passing that I’ve never read of any other NDE where Miss Universe puts in an appearance and spiritually fondles her visitor.

I’m being a bit facetious now.  It’s a way to send some of my irritation through an escape valve.  In my opinion, Dr. Alexander had a fully legitimate encounter with the unspeakable bliss that awaits us beyond this Vale of Tears… and he proceeded, consciously or otherwise, to finesse some of its contours into a form more marketable than the raw material would have been.  His book has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for years.  His speaking honoraria have likely dwarfed his surgeon’s income (which, in itself, constitutes a small miracle).  He has chatted intimately with Oprah before a global audience, and he routinely gives presentations even for medical personnel thanks to his lab-coat cred.  I gather that he is involved in some sort of cutting-edge tech company that aspires to point the medical-scientific community’s nose more directly into metaphysics (or its ears: the technology has to do with harmonious sounds and healing).  Life has become pretty good for Eben Alexander—and, of course, I mean life on “this side”.

How many of these dark terrestrial tunnels would be beaming with warm gold-and-silver light at the end if Alexander’s testimony had remained (as NDE’s usually do) within confines of direct personal experience, without the peek at a cosmic playbook?  Wouldn’t that more typical result have smacked of… well, Christian orthodoxy?  Didn’t the “reincarnation” message sweeten it sufficiently that Oprah would line up to drink the Kool-aid?

On the one hand, I fear that my response may be too caustic.  After all, Alexander’s narrative is not so very far off the track of other NDE’s.  Maybe he just misspoke at key points, or maybe I have misinterpreted something he said.  I myself believe that the afterlife must surely be an occasion for “linking up” with innumerable other souls—for begging and granting pardons, for getting the whole story of what happened, for healing and growing strong as something yet more magnificent emerges.  Perhaps the abuse of the word “reincarnation” was this man’s clumsy metaphor for a reality whose approach to God is so near, and so ever-more-near, that only the notion of an utterly regenerated body in an entirely different life can convey the thrill.

And yet, that higher, deeper life cannot be entirely different.  This life matters.  Morally—spiritually—it must matter.  What we do is what we are: it is the “here” from which we must depart to reach “there”.  It’s not a prison, or need not be.  God’s will is not that we suffocate forever within the folly of the narrow walls we build around ourselves.  In the recognition of our folly, however, lies the key to the gate.  We cannot become better than our fleshly form—that temporary cast in which we have so distorted God’s image—if we turn out never to have existed physically, in the first place.  Our human individuality must not become an irrelevancy.

Such cancellation of our individual worth as creatures is where I see Eben Alexander wandering dangerously off the track.  He sings off-key.  His hymn sounds to my ear like secular progressivism with a mystical tingle in the background.  The confessional note—the admission of past error that signals true growth, and also the joy of dissolving another’s guilt over injuries done—isn’t audible.  Instead, we are ushered into a no-fault vision of things getting better and better and better… things on this earth, since reincarnation is the engine driving the ascent.  Alexander even offers the Gnostic heresy’s hint that souls are reincarnated as justification of his thesis, and he tosses in the rumors of Christ’s day equating John the Baptist with the resuscitated prophet Elijah.  A proper Christian faith, apparently, ought to become more Hindu.

The first time I encountered this infatuation of the theoretical scientist with the most ancient religions on earth was, I suppose, in Carl Sagan.  It probably goes back much farther.  Its pedigree, at any rate, must surely transmit a load of progressivist DNA through every branch of the family tree.  The better here-and-now’s the thing—not heaven, not metaphysical bliss: no, bring it down here, and put us now on a path to reach it!  That’s a slightly more spiritual version of launching the Starship Enterprise (but not really—just more spiritually adorned).

You see, Dr. Alexander, our world is not getting better and better in any way that I can discern.  It may be getting worse and worse… but I’m willing to attribute such pessimism to the filter of my own rather depressive predisposition.  It’s certainly not sprouting wings as more enlightened individuals return in new bodies—and, by the way, utterly purged of their former individuality.  You say, Dr. Alexander, that many very curious cases of ESP involve children who recollect images or events from previous times and far-flung places.  Yes, those interest me, as well.  But wherein do you find evidence that these children a) preserve the character of Captain MacKay who died on the field of Culloden or, more importantly, b) display any moral awareness beyond their years?  What are you thinking, man?  What world are you living in right now, as you bow to your applause and shake Oprah’s hand?

Do you consider that you yourself have become a better man than before, though you have failed to learn—Other World Journey notwithstanding—the moral necessity of individual coherence?  Say you’re indeed better; but you are still Eben Alexander, are you not? So may we expect the better Eben within minutes of your eventual death, as your soul flutters into a newborn? Right now, then—message and all—you’re just the old, inferior Eben… have I got that correct? Or have you been permitted to transport certain revelations despite your lack of corporeal upgrade? I like much of what you propose.  I, too, love the idea of using sound to access a clearer, cleaner state of consciousness; I’ve long suspected in my own life that our urban environment damages our minds with its sheer cacophony.  But… but Doctor, why must you insist that Beatrice bestowed upon you the secrets of this healing power so that we might go forth and Conquer the World for Goodness?

Oh, how I dread that formula, in all of its versions!  World conquest—and always, always for “goodness”!  Millions of hearts have coddled it, if their tongues have not exactly expressed it… and not all of those hearts, by any means, were bad ones from the outset.  Yet none was ever made better after nursing such a spiritual virus.  This world is imperfectable: at best, we hold our own against sin.  True hope lies elsewhere.

Perhaps I’m especially distressed by Dr. Alexander’s video because I have just published The Eternal Moment: Seeking Divine Presence in the Present on Amazon.  You can read there at much greater length of my concern over “future-worship”, our time’s dominant form of idolatry, if you’re interested.  I urgently suggest that you get interested.  Beware of “ascending” staircases whose bottom step rests upon today’s earth and whose top step merely reaches tomorrow’s earth, or the next day’s.  Such climbs tend to go steeply downward, from heaven’s perspective.

2020: Will the Awful Horror Be a Silver Lining?

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My son is gone again, a thousand miles away… safely back in his sanctuary city.  That is to say, safely on the ground, as in no longer airborne on the jetliner of a nation that has allowed hundreds of Al Qaeda and Hezbollah to penetrate its wide-open border.  On the ground of a southwestern city overrun by drug cartels whose coffers have probably already bought off substantial numbers of local politicians and law enforcement personnel….

Happy New Year!  And many, many thanks to our president and our Republican representatives for rubber-stamping a spending bill that will count illegal residents on the next census, thereby awarding perhaps three dozen more seats to Democrats around the country… in return for 700 miles of border wall.  I think I’ve seen this year before, and it wasn’t pretty.

But are there silver linings?  Well, of course!  One just has to know where to look.  The Chinese, for instance, will surely be uninterested in prodding us into outright war, or even in taking advantage of our unprotected power grid, as long as we continue to make such haste toward their own system of government.  They’re already working hand in glove with the cartels; and if ninety percent of us should starve or freeze in a protracted blackout, who would buy their poisoned drugs and trashy electronics to keep their military dictatorship afloat?  Come to think of it, maybe Xi Jinping should secure our grid after the fashion of his own, lest a purely natural solar flare should neutralize the strategic gun held to our heads.  Losing nine customers out of ten isn’t a spot he wants to be in.

And as for the rise of the managerial state, voted into perpetual power by blue-collar drones who can’t speak the language and need massive public assistance to negotiate every aspect of life… bring that on, too.  The sooner we all look like California, the better.  Seriously.  The dollar will collapse, no more money will be pouring from the public spigot, people will stop coming here, those who are stuck here and on the public pap will riot in the streets, our elected gun-grabbers will have no more remotely defensible “mandate” to disarm law-abiding citizens, some of the personnel we pay (now in funny-money) may actually be freed by the courts to defend us….

Or they may do so on their own—forget about the courts.  We’re already seeing the “sanctuary movement” break out of its originally subversive bounds and nose its way in neo-constitutional directions.  The Virginia response to invasion-and-occupation has been genuinely heartening.  I have long puzzled over just how secession might realistically take place.  It hadn’t occurred to me that the Left would point the way by shredding rule of law through the fiats of radical metropolitan city councils.  But that door is now wide open, along with our national border-in-name-only.  It’s Wild West time.

Back to the “People’s Republic” of China… do we really need an aggressive policy to contain the Taliban, now on the rise again, when the Chinese oligarchs have made it so clear in Xinjiang Province that they intend to exterminate Islam?  Iran has buddied up with them for the moment because sadistic totalitarian oligarchs tend to flock together… for a while.  A brief while.  But the mullahs, too, will be “re-educated” by the Chinese in a few short years if they should somehow manage to cling to power.

And that leaves Putin.  I have more respect for this man’s political acumen than for that of any other head of state on the planet (though I wouldn’t like to be sharing his soul when the Death comes a-knocking).  The Russian plutocrat has to know that his ravenously insatiable neighbors will want Manchuria in the not-too-distant future… as well as, oh, any other little pieces lying about the chessboard.  He has to know, as he plays with the other devil for his soul, that this one has designs on all his worldly accomplishments.  Sometimes the best policy is to hunker down and let the killers slaughter each other.  (I wish that had occurred to Churchill eighty years ago… but then, FDR was already deep in Stalin’s pocket.)

I’m sorry to be such a grumpy old man as 2020 slouches toward Hollywood to be born.  My wife and I passed an unforgettable week with our son.  Maybe the thought of what he and his generation will face after I’ve fled this world has left me bitter… or maybe I’m just a bit angry at his insistent self-insulation from all the threats around him, which he denominates “politics” and waves away as silly distraction.  That’s one of the leftist machine’s most brilliant achievements: anesthetizing vast segments of the population to bored indifference as humane society is destroyed for decades to come.  I’m sincerely joyful that my boy has discovered religious faith and is progressing by leaps and bounds in spiritual understanding.  He gets the “salvation” part.  Now he and his peers are steaming full-speed-ahead into the Awful Horror part.

The joy is real, and it doesn’t disappoint… but it’s also not of this world, and we have to get from here to there.  Fasten your vests and limber up the lifeboats.

 

Crosscurrents: God’s “Presence in the Present”

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I’m not feeling terribly optimistic about current events–yet I don’t wish to pollute my or anyone else’s celebration of the birth of Hope with excessive brooding over our ephemeral world.  Allow me, then, to share with you one chapter from the rough draft of a book that I plan to see finished in 2020.

I intend for this final chapter of the book’s first part to summarize by compacting several assertions made about the “numinous moment” or “event outside of time”.  Yet before I attempt that act of stitching together, an analogy may be helpful.  I’ve been racking my brain for an adequate one—for a parable, almost, that could convey to our linear-thinking minds how real time might match up to time as we know it.  I at last came up with something akin to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

Imagine that you are walking across fog-strewn terrain toward a vague but steady light source.  You really have nowhere else to go that offers any apparent sense of destination; for the mist curls so thickly about your feet that you can’t even see your shoes, and that shimmering beacon on your horizon is your single reference in the soupy haze.

Unrevealed to you, then, in any very clear manner is the enormous but very gradual staircase across which you walk.  Its steps are suited to a giant’s feet, each being perhaps three yards wide; yet despite their great breadth, they rise by only an inch at a time.  You’re actually cutting across these stairs at a broad angle.  The result is that you can advance for fifty or sixty yards along one step before you stumble into the next one’s rise.  Naturally, since you can’t see your feet, you conclude at every mild stumble that the ground beneath you is a bit uneven.  You have no notion of slowly ascending a great staircase rather than moving ever forward toward the light which—you hope—will be the refuge liberating you from the milling gloom.

Those stairs that come at your progress laterally and throw it off balance once in a while are, of course, meant to represent the “outside of time” moments that subtly take us by surprise once in a while… and then, usually, are forgotten at once, since we assume that our attention should be fixed on forward motion.  The biblical phrase “stumbling block” had a part in helping me weave this strange analogy, for we indeed tend to treat such moments as interruptions or distractions.  We dismiss them with whatever explanation is ready at hand and get back to the serious business of “progress”.  Yet what could be more serious, in a spiritual sense, than climbing the giant’s staircase and seeing where it takes us?  If only we knew that it was there beneath the haze—that the little trips that sometimes throw us off stride all have an order!  But our senses aren’t equipped to provide such information directly.  Any knowledge of the stairs would have to be pieced together with extreme patience, most of it requiring a certain amount of inattention to that forward motion we think so full of promise.

For what kinds of experience, exactly, should we keep an eye peeled?  In the course of Part One’s ramble, I believe I have volunteered three at various points.  The first would be personal experiences that have stubbornly stayed with us for years, many (perhaps most) of them deeply rooted in childhood.  In discussing the sort of encounter that I myself recall as having knocked me off my stride and stood me upright, I did not mention anything as numinous as an angelic visitation, a message delivered in God’s voice, or a Near-Death Experience.  That’s because I have never lived through any event of the kind.  I suppose that those of us to whom God does not speak plain English in a deep, unmistakable voice have a little trouble fully believing those who claim to have been so contacted.  We don’t necessarily disbelieve them… but we wonder if their personality may be of a naive and very excitable type.  Everybody has dreams, and some of us have vivid dreams.  (Here I may include myself: my dreams are always in color and sometimes more “high-def” than any waking experience.)  A stable person understands, though, that you take a dream with a grain of salt.

Near-Death Experiences I find to be far more intriguing.  No doubt, some people massage a rough stay in the hospital until it looks like a trip to the Beyond, just as some people innocently mistake an escaped balloon that catches the sun’s last light for a UFO.  When so many witnesses of sound mind and solid character, however, testify so resonantly to the presence of something that greeted them as their vital signs flat-lined, I can’t wave their words aside.  (For that matter, a seasoned pilot makes a very good UFO witness—and there are several such reporters of strange aircraft.)  In attempting to retrieve a particular title for citation here, I found that the medical doctor/author whose name eludes me is veritably buried on the Internet under a mass of similar professionals who have documented the NDE over the past forty years.  Take your pick of them all.  It’s a pretty impressive witness list, however you arrange it.

But, no, I have presented in my discussion no such mind-boggling evidence.  The encounters I tried to describe do not grab you by the lapels, shake you, and announce sonorously, “I come from the other world!”  They simply don’t fit into the routine… and they fail to fit in after a fashion that you can’t forget, because it so insistently seems to mean something.  Just what it may mean, you never manage to decide satisfactorily.  It’s there, sticking out… and you can’t smooth it away as the reasonable effect of some handy nearby cause.

Which brings me to a second kind of experience, and a clearly related kind: art.  If I had to define an art object (or if I were given the chance to do so—for this is my wheelhouse), I should start by saying succinctly that it “expresses the inexpressible”.  Then I should probably try to express myself better and end up making a mess of my definition… because the paradox here is ineradicable.  A work of art assembles material impressions in such a way as to leave you convinced that their collaboration encodes a vital message, a whole greater than the sum of its parts.  You proceed to write an article or a book about the work, if you’re a scholar—and the more words you weave together in trying to nab the message, the more fish slip through your net.  What we academic types always seem to miss about art is its most fundamental characteristic: that it forever points to something not quite there.

Art, I’m convinced, is an angel that God sends to all of us.  The winged visitor might be a painting, a temple, or a mere tune—or the simple-seeming lyrics of the tune; but whatever his specific shape, the cherub manages to whack us lovingly upside the head and make us stumble a little on the invisible step of the giant’s staircase.  All true art calls us to faith.  It does so just by nudging us out of our determined forward stride for an instant.  Its subject by no means has to be the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, or anything related to any item of orthodox belief.  When I was an officer in a regional division of the Conference on Christianity and Literature, a lot of paper- and article-submissions passed under my eye—and the vast majority addressed some issue in the work of John Milton, C.S. Lewis, Flannery O’Connor, or some other overtly Christian writer.  I always regretted such narrowness of focus in our undertaking.  I wish we could have faced the academy head-on with the confident assertion that all true art comes from God.

For the academy needed a good stiff slap in the face—or punch in the nose—from those of us whom the angel had smacked… but we instead huddled around “our” authors who, for the most part, had been banished from contemporary college classes, anyway.  As I described in an earlier chapter (and will not reiterate now), our ailing culture’s intelligentsia have exploited the free pass we gave them to dismantle art entirely, presenting its essential mystery as no more than a cheap kind of hypnotism practiced by the powerful upon the oppressed.  That thick-headed, empty-souled program of demoralization should never have been allowed to pass unchallenged.

But it was… and so, as a culture, I think our sense of the mystical lurking in material things all around us took refuge in nature.  Again, the overlap with other kinds of numinous experience is obvious.  Many of my personal “outside of time” moments involved a particular natural setting, and many of the arts draw heavily upon nature, as well.  In their quasi-scientific zeal to explain everything away in some “sensible” deterministic fashion, our intellectuals like to attribute our visceral bond with nature to a genetically hardwired response to life on the savanna.  Of course we like trees!  They represented safety from lions when we were naked apes.  Of course we like purling streams!  Every living creature needs water, and water that runs swiftly is least apt to cause illness.

You can hardly win at this game if you protest, “No, it’s not the tree’s height and the stoutness of its limbs for climbing that I like.  It’s the intricate play of shadows in the pine needles—it’s the soughing of the branches in a breeze.”  What do you know?  You don’t have a Ph.D.!

One of the responses that most fascinates me is the one we register to distant sounds.  A far-off train whistle or dog’s bark… such “racket” can induce a deep sense of peace when, a mile or two away, it is scarcely heard.  Isn’t that because of its delightful (yet painful—delightfully painful) hint that even the most energetic spurts of life are but bursting bubbles on a vast ocean’s surface?  The abyss of meaning here is grandly unfathomable.  And how on earth would the evolutionary biologist disarm such a spiritual phenomenon?  Would he say that our apelike ancestors of course perked up when they heard distant sounds, because those were warnings of approaching predators?  But the approach of a predator would ignite an impulsive fear, not stir up a leisurely meditation—and to argue that the reaction has evolved as we have become less susceptible to predators might explain a diminution of fear, but couldn’t conceivably explain the emergence of pleasure.  Why can our “best and brightest” not accept that their explanations won’t reach every nook of the forest?

I will wander off target again if I don’t take care… but I might point out, in passing, that even we non-scientists are now sabotaging our relationships with nature through intrusions of progressive thinking—through cultic outbursts of “future-worship”.  We can’t simply let the indefinite play of light and shadow in a forest or down a mountain glen speak to us of the unspeakable: we have to bend that moment into “activism”.  We must “save nature” by outlawing the removal of underbrush and deadwood, by replacing mines with the “renewable energy” of wind turbines.  In the process, we create tinderboxes that will incinerate millions of acres in the next wildfire, and we erect killing machines that slaughter hawks and other high-flying species by the tens of millions annually… but we sleep better at night, because we have come home from our nature hike with a “mission”.

I’m no fan of the internal combustion engine.  I recall dropping a word or two about my long walking tours in Ireland and Scotland, and I routinely walked to and from work before my retirement.  I’m not out of sympathy with the general distaste for our high-tech pace of living—not at all.  But, please… let nature live!  Don’t be the doctor who starts cutting out organs when a little bedrest would cure the patient.  After putting up bluebird houses around our property, my wife and I have seen families of bluebirds a dozen strong congregate around the watering dish almost daily.  That’s a good feeling.  We don’t really have to go beyond that and agitate to increase the percentage of ethanol in gasoline—which will cause yet more meadowland to be put under the plow, which will destroy yet more wildlife habitat.  Every experience of nature doesn’t have to feed into a political agenda… does it?

To the extent that it does, or that we let it do so, we seal off what may be perhaps our decaying culture’s final portal upon the numinous.  I have come to adopt a single word in my thoughts for the ungainly phrase, “numinous experiences”, which I shall begin using from here on out.  I call these “outside of time” encounters, or smacks in the side of the head, or glimpses out the train’s window, or nudges off the tunnel’s track… I call them crosscurrents.  We need to yield to these rare transverse currents whenever they briefly stroke us: we need not to attempt to wrestle them onto a vector that parallels our forward motion.  They won’t go there.  They are all telling us the same thing, and it is this.  “The purpose of what you do is not the purpose you offer when explaining what you do.”  Our actions are indeed purposive, if we are good people—but not purposive in any sense that we can define, since their ultimate objective is not of this world.  When we nevertheless succeed in reducing our explanations and definitions to terms that make complete sense in this world—and when we thereafter adjust our actions to suit the verbal formulas we have produced in mutilating efficiency—we become less good.  We lose touch with the spirit.  We skew our forward motion so that we no longer trip over the occasional, invisible step of the giant’s staircase.  We proceed, instead, along a perfectly flat surface, paying attention only to its “corrected” smoothness that permits a speedier advance… and we climb the staircase no farther, nor do we even notice that we’re straying from the beacon at our lower level.

“Radicalized” Teenage Girl With Kitchen Knife Shows Us the REAL Threat to Our Nation… Uh, No

“White teen girl detailed plan for racist attack on black churchgoers in notebook, police say”: that’s literally the title (with only first word capitalized) of the Washington Post article trumpeting a non-event.  Ponder those words.  A white girl scribbled some troubled thoughts about murdering congregants at a black church.  Essentially, this is the content of a “story” that made headlines throughout the Southeast, and upon which WSB-TV Atlanta lavished at least three minutes on the evening of November 19.

Once you know more details, the episode becomes even more… non-eventful.

The “white teen girl” was sixteen years old.  Not eighteen or nineteen: sixteen.  She had apparently amassed a collection of… no, not handguns, not bombs or grenades, not clips for assault rifles: knives.  She collected knives.  So now we have a sixteen-year-old white girl with “knives”, in the plural.  There was no indication that she had trained with the Mossad, or that she possessed a black belt in some ancient Japanese art of firing out blades at a rate of five per second.  As far as we know, she has only two hands.  As far as we know, members of the Bethel AME Church in Gainesville, Georgia, are not exclusively octogenarians or manually challenged female invalids.  And of course, as anyone can be pretty sure of knowing, the Church was a “gun-free” zone, making it a target even for someone with no more than a kitchen knife (the species of blade involved in this case).  Our Gal Gadot wannabe was too respectful of the law, it seems, to equip herself with deadly weapons illegally.  Sometimes the “gun-free” idiocy works.

The WaPo article bestows much quote-space upon one Sergeant Kevin Holbrook, who was most likely the blond, baby-faced young man I saw interviewed on WSB news.  That lad is going far.  He pressed all the right keys to sound just the right notes.  The girl’s notebook contained “manifesto-type” ravings, observed the officer with wisdom beyond his years (and training).  He continued, as WaPo reports faithfully: “There were many writings and drawings, different depictions, and a lot of hateful messages in it….  As far as the details go, they were down to very specific information.”  Turns out that Holbrook is also something of a theologian.  Carnage of innocents was averted, he concludes, “by pure grace”: had the normal Wednesday night Bible study not been canceled, the teen fiend would not have found the compound’s buildings empty when she visited them, a dagger clutched Bluebeard-like in her teeth.

The church’s pastor, interviewed by WSB, confirmed God’s intercession in the canceled Bible study—and confirmed, further, my own inference that no men attend this church and that no women there are capable, say, of lifting a chair or coming at an assailant from behind.  But… might God be whispering to these good people that Bethel AME should host a self-defense class in the near future, if not actually persuade a retired soldier to slip a Glock inside his coat during services?

Now, the pastor and the sergeant weren’t quite on the same page as to motivation.  The former, while admitting that the sixteen-year-old had to be very troubled, wanted her tried as an adult (tried for snooping around the sanctuary with a knife in her belt); the latter was convinced, as he revealed in his WSB interview, that she was “radicalized” by “white supremacist” websites.  Now, if our would-be mass murderess were hypnotized by Internet conditioning, then she can scarcely be held fully responsible for her acts; but if she is actually to be prosecuted as a full adult, then the assumption must be that she had complete possession of herself—more so than one would expect of an ordinary sixteen-year-old.  And in that case, the “radicalizing white-supremacist websites” are utterly irrelevant.

An aside: I wonder how long Sergeant Holbrook has dreamed of using the word “radicalize”?  Doesn’t it sound cool?  But you can’t use it to describe, say… I don’t know: say a jihadist website.  I’m afraid you can’t even use the word “jihadist” any more.  I didn’t write that.

But “white supremacist”, now—you can and should drop that phrase early and often, at least if you hope for a long and ascending career path in law enforcement.  White-supremacist songs… white-supremacist holidays… white-supremacist weather and condiments and ways of pronouncing the word “tergiversation”: it’s everywhere!  The white-supremacist menace is everywhere!

Just be grateful that white supremacists honor gun-free zones.  Can you imagine if….

Meanwhile, the city of Atlanta continues to have daily drive-by shootings, daily convenience-store robberies at gunpoint, daily brawls that go ballistic when someone pulls out a handgun—and the crimes are almost always black on black.  But the city’s African American community shouldn’t allow its collective eye to be diverted from the real problem, which is…

The KKK is back!  White people are coming for you—and with knives this time!

WaPo wraps up powerfully, “The girl’s arrest comes as black churches and other houses of worship around the country have faced a wave of violence and intimidation.”  See, you hadn’t even heard about that!  I’m afraid it’s not quite clear to me whether the adjective “black” is intended to stretch to “other houses of worship”, or if the latter is clever MSM code for “mosque”.  (Of course, to WaPo, all Muslims are dark-skinned, so my interpretive confusion is a non-issue.)  And you certainly shouldn’t be misled into thinking that Christian churches everywhere are under escalating attack from outfits like WaPo to surrender their orthodox views on marriage, on gender, on the value of hard work… that’s not intimidation, it’s the inevitable friction of Neanderthal-meets-Homo Sapiens.  The real story here, once again, is that whites are out to murder blacks.  If you didn’t know that… well, what are news outlets for?

Sergeant Holbrook and his crack team apparently lost no time analyzing the girl’s Internet activity and ferreting out the insidious influence of WS propaganda; but they haven’t yet had the leisure to visit her high school and find out if,  just maybe, she had been routinely beaten up by black girls and decided upon the church attack as her revenge.  Wouldn’t it have been wonderfully Christian if she had stormed through an open church door, knife drawn, and then been talked to tears and surrender by the suffering Christ’s words of peace delivered by a true believer?  Maybe an invitation to sit with the group and pray instead of a call to 911?  We’ll never know if that might have happened—if someone other than Pastor Try-Her-As-An-Adult might have stood up and borne God’s message.

And we’ll never know about that high school situation, either.  Something tells me that the girl would have confessed that part of her motivation right out of the gate—and that our ambitious young investigators would instantly have buried it deep in the “unusable” file.

Squishy Faith vs. Hard Reality

I have become a Ryan Bomberger fan.  It appears that his October 7 post on townhall.com has been lifted without explanation from the archive, so I cannot now adequately reference it; but the discussion concerned whether or not evangelicals should be supporting Donald Trump.  Predictably, plenty of the mainstream media’s jabber-puppets have chastised the Christian community as a pious fraud for not denouncing a man so rude and worldly—a hard pill to swallow, when one considers that none of these self-anointed Jeremiahs has any faith beyond secular utopianism (or any recognition of moral stricture beyond leaving the boss’s parking space vacant).  One might as well listen to a jackass criticizing an eagle for not flapping his wings enough when he flies.

Bomberger was having none of it—nor was he won over by the argument of his co-religionists that Trump is foul-mouthed and says (generally via Twitter) hurtful things.  Naturally, the standard reply to such protests is that the anti-Trumps are one and all in favor of very late-term abortions, up to and including abandonment of a child “mistakenly” born alive; that one and all promote the chaotic non-enforcement of our border which has produced a magnet for human traffickers, child-molesters, and other two-legged monsters; and that one and all, therefore, have a lot more to answer for than a crude Tweet.

This was Ryan’s approach to dismissing, or diminishing, the so-called Christian objection.  I don’t know why it left me unsatisfied: certainly I disagreed with nothing in the article. I believe I was rankled, however, by all the things left unsaid.

Such as… well, we’ve been listening to a placatory Church now for most of my time on earth, its hat in hand, its head humbly bowed, its lips murmuring, “Who am I to judge?  Let him without sin cast the first stone.  If two gay people wish to marry… who am I to judge?  If two heterosexual people wish to cohabit and raise children outside the formal bonds of marriage… who am I to judge?  And I’m not going to judge our Muslim brethren, by any means!  Why should their faith be inferior to ours?  I wish they wouldn’t behead people… but those who do such things aren’t true Muslims, you know. And then there were the Crusades, where we behaved abominably!”

Oh.  And now you don’t want to dirty your hems by walking through the muck of Donald Trump’s Tweets.  Thank you for that sudden—very sudden, one might say random—burst of moral enlightenment, o ye beacons of the Christian faith!

I find myself wondering how these “good Christians” would have received a marine who returned home in 1945 after surviving Iwo Jima.  Would they throw him a parade down Main Street in Middleville, USA?  Excellent—good for them!  Let’s give the lad the key to our not-quite-city!  But what would have happened if the church-every-Sunday town fathers had discovered that the returning hero had collected an ear or two from Japanese corpses?  Would they pause to consider that the boy had passed several sleepless nights under fire, watched several of his buddies have their guts shot out, and seen his own young life flash before his eyes several times as he stormed machine gun nests in caves?  Or would they stop at the reflection, “Oh!  How brutal!”

I’m betting that the parade would have been canceled if our “good Christians” of today had lived seventy-something years ago.  Fortunately, they didn’t.  My grandfather wasn’t that kind of simpering, whiney, safe-zone-seeking study in moral anemia.  Neither was yours.  They would understand that when you put a man through living hell, he’s apt to do a lot more than exceed the exclamatory limits of, “My goodness gracious!” when his pal from boot camp loses the right side of his head.

I didn’t vote for Mr. Trump in 2016.  I didn’t like the “Lyin’ Ted” lie one bit, nor the insinuation that Cruz Senior had been implicated in the JFK assassination.  Those remarks were Bush League (and, no, the namby-pamby Bushes would never have made them… which was one of the few things I liked about the Bushes: they didn’t play in that league of cheap shots and behind-the-back trips).  But Trump has swallowed his own medicine times ten times ten since his election.  How many days, weeks, and months of 24/7 slandering by a pack of slavering media jackals could any of us put up with before we started shooting the bird at CNN?  Oh, Jeb would never have done such a thing, under any circumstances (and he would never have needed to; he would have been busily tossing the jackals some carrion).  Ted Cruz would have come back with a classier response… and he wouldn’t have come back from Iwo Jima with Japanese gold teeth in his pocket, either.

I can only speak for myself.  I get mad—really mad—when someone defames me.  If someone were to call me a Nazi before the camera, I wouldn’t smile: I hope I could confine myself to William Buckley’s, “You call me that again and I’ll punch you in your goddam mouth.”

Would I be less of a Christian for registering such a reaction?  Is that really what we’ve boiled our Christian faith down to: an insipid pabulum that amounts to never “hurting” anyone?  I’ve struggled for years with this bloodless, invertebrate morph of the faith in seminaries and at national conferences.   I thought we stood for truth; I thought we acknowledged our incapacity to grasp ultimate truth in our present state, but also accepted the direction of inner imperatives that forbade us to make peace with the self-serving prevarications of men.  I thought we humbled ourselves in confessing our passionate excesses—but that we also scorned death itself when ordered by despots to stand passively by and witness brutal abuse of helpless innocents.

I do not recognize my faith in the creed of our castrated male leaders and of our testosterone-charged females.  I will not apologize because my abiding by the rules of grammar makes you feel the oppressive fingers of the “patriarchy” or because my recipe for tacos smacks of “cultural appropriation” to you.  I’m not “sorry” that you feel “hurt” or “offended”.  On the contrary: your decision to feel hurt when you know nothing of my motives—or know damn well that they were not malevolent—offends me.  What kind of friend says to another friend, “I never want to see you again!  The way you said, ‘Hey there, old boy!’ reminds me of my father’s greetings—and he used to beat me!”  You’re insane if you mean that seriously.  As a Christian, I’ll tell you as much straight up and help you work through your problem, if you like.  The one thing I won’t do is help you pretend that you don’t have a problem.

I will most certainly vote for Donald Trump in 2020, foul mouth and all.  And I will do so as a Christian, because the campaign of incessant slanders and legalistic bullying launched against him by whited-sepulcher political hacks and prostituted propagandists sickens me to my stomach.  Just as indigestible to me are those who piously whine that a good man never “hurts” anyone.  I have no fraternal affinity left over for them: not any more.  If you won’t slap in the face a man who wants to leave babies unprotected, to surrender young girls to kidnappers and pimps, to deprive people of the right to self-defense, to brainwash schoolchildren into thinking that all sex is good sex, to invite unvetted adventurers from terrorist breeding grounds into quiet communities, to give mega-corporations free access in bidding wars to buy his patronage as he dangles restrictive legislation… if you won’t scream “scoundrel!” in that man’s face because it might hurt his feelings, but neither will you support the man who would stand up to him because the language might turn foul… if that’s where you are in your “faith”, brother, then you’re an empty fraud, and quite possibly a pompous idiot.

Let Freedom Ring… Where? How?

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This roundabout discussion begins with a strange “revelation” that struck me earlier in the month.  Question: why does almost nobody in either house of Congress appear concerned about a 23-trillion-dollar national debt (not counting unfunded liabilities that would run up the tab at least fourfold)?  Some of our elected representatives can’t count, granted; and some are so deeply mired in graft and corruption that their interest in their fellow citizens’ future is equivalent to Marie Antoinette’s.  Yet I consider it obtusely cynical to consign virtually every member of both parties to one of these two categories.  What about the members who can do addition without their fingers and toes and who have also graduated to a modicum of normal adult responsibility?  How can they sit by and watch the dollar’s purchase power overheat and explode?

Answer (revelation): they must genuinely believe that the dollar’s collapse will be a good thing.

How can they believe this?  Because in such calamitous circumstances, the nations of the world would have to become—in a word much beloved of President Clinton whenever he discussed economic issues—interdependent.  All nations having grown equally insolvent, various political rivals around the planet will have to patch up their differences and create a single worldwide system.  Though I understand pitifully little about banking, it seems to me (based upon my limited research) that the world banking industry has already taken large strides toward assuming control over everybody’s finances, thanks to digitalization and other “initiatives”.  Baron Rothschild et al., for example, have a very clever plan for transforming “carbon credits” into a single world currency, centrally controlled by… Baron Rothschild et al.

All the same, would that be such a insufferably bad thing—I mean, one big clunking system?  The truth is that we haven’t yet seen a World War III, with over half a century having been run off the clock since the Cold War’s first dark days.  China, for all her saber-rattling, obviously knows that she can bring us to our knees just by standing back and watching us collapse under the effects of our own moral flabbiness.  No need for her to push buttons that may envelope the planet in radioactive dust for centuries: just let the Yanks continue to forget how to procreate, to snarl at each other because of skin color, and to medicate themselves with gateways to what Baudelaire aptly called “artificial paradises”.

Okay… I can see how some worldly-wise attorney whose understanding of human nature and history hovers at imbecilic levels would buy into this vision enthusiastically.  No more war.  No more borders.  No more doctors for some but not for others.  We know that Congress’s membership now includes several genuine, outspoken socialists—and many, many more on the Republican side have imbibed of Socialism Lite and decided that they can get used to the slightly sickening aftertaste.  Besides… well, I no doubt drew too heavy a line earlier between the principled and the corrupt.  You can endorse the “no more wars, no more borders” scenario in principle and also calculate, in the back of your mind, how you and your children are bound to enjoy certain privileges as members of the governing elite.

For the rest of us, though… I ask sincerely: what would be the disadvantages of living under a one-world government whose citizens are now forced to settle their differences without mushroom clouds?

I suggest that we can effectively prophesy daily life in such a “terminally safe” world just by looking closely—or, even better, viewing distantly for enhanced perspective—the beams and joists rising all about us right now.  Let this picture settle into focus. We would be fed constantly the “soma” of the broadcast media to sustain our state of contented ignorance and somnolent amusement.  We would be disarmed to ensure that the rare individual who went off his meds wouldn’t pose much of a threat.  We would be watched around the clock by indefatigable electronic eyes.  If we strayed into a public expression of “unproductive” criticism (and all criticism of the Unit, of course, would be classed as unproductive), Nanny Google would send us into time-out.  (In the classic BBC serial, The Prisoner, the extreme form of time-out—utter social ostracism—follows the Village Council’s verdict that one’s behavior is “unmutual”.)  Intrusive oversight wouldn’t stop at utterances, either. Our very facial expressions and body language would be monitored and graded.  The “People’s Republic” of China is already blazing the trail with ubiquitous surveillance cameras and a system of “virtue points”.  Those detected in moody or uncooperative attitudes would see their “credit score” docked sufficiently to deny them travel rights, perhaps, or to thwart their children’s entry into a good school. (Egalitarianism notwithstanding, the “right school” will remain a secret passage into the oligarchic elite’s corridors of power.)  I believe the Trump Administration has nodded in the direction of allowing similar surveillance to influence Second Amendment rights.  Nothing to worry about just yet, just now… but if you pay attention to the sand vibrating under the soles of your shoes, you can indeed discern the thump-thump-thump of some rough beast slouching toward Bethlehem to be born.

So… there’s your choice.  Option One: life without fear of nuclear holocaust or immolation in Walmart’s bread aisle when a psycho’s girlfriend splits, at the cost of having your brow movements monitored as you brush your teeth.  Option Two: risk of all the fears eliminated in Option One, but with minimal cost of invisible surveillance and moralistic lecturing from Super-Nanny.  The more elderly of us will resist the first choice as its popularity swells, and we’ll probably end up in a mass grave after we flunk out of Re-education Camp for the third time.  The younger of us will be right at home with two-way mirrors everywhere they go, since they actually invite such constant universal exposure into their lives already with their “devices”.

Die, then, old warhorses!  Ye shall not by much precede the generation of asses who win but a few more years before the Committee on Social Harmony euthanizes them as they wait for a hip or knee replacement.

But is there really no alternative?  Are not our so-called “sanctuary cities” in fact pointing us in its direction?  What if we created discrete communities wherein people could live by their own rules—what if we went in that direction rather than transforming the entire human race into robots with uniform behavioral programming?  Let the West Coast, for instance, have marriage of species to other species or of one to three, five, or ten; borders that appear only on paper; one school curriculum, one income, one housing module, and one doctor with one bag of meds for all and sundry; free weed; and elections modeled after Major League Baseball’s All Star Game, where you vote as many times as you like.  Let those happy campers become a province of China, for all I care: they already are, for all I can make out.

On the other side of the continent, let the Southeast insist upon postings of the Ten Commandments in all public places.  Let her citizens be required to carry self-defensive weapons upon exiting the front door.  Abolish school districts: let each school teach that curriculum which concerned parents approve.  Let marriage exist only between a man and a woman, and let vandals who deface monuments cool their heels for a few months in the calaboose.

Let residents of one area who flee its “horrors” to a more congenial space be required to have settled in for five years before they enjoy full voting rights; and let regional legislatures be required to approve new law in two sessions with an intermission of at least two years between confirmations.  Build in some stability, some “drag”. Give customs and manners a fighting chance against George Soros and Mark Zuckerberg. Let cultures separate out according to their preferred values… and let surrounding cultures honor the shift of ethos that accompanies crossing a boundary marked on paper.

Why is this vision a pipedream?  Idealistic critics will say, “We went through all this Tenth Amendment crap with slavery.  If higher moral principle had not trumped regional special interests, human beings might still be laboring under the whip in the Deep South.”  Well… the rude release of illiterate and unskilled slave populations into “freedom” was in fact responsible for much of the misery that descendants of freedmen carried well into the next century; and the considerable opposition to slavery within the South would have expelled it even before the Civil War, perhaps, if national politics hadn’t introduced a complex friction of economic interests (cf. Marc Egnal’s Clash of Extremes).  May I point out, too, that many of our idealists who would raise this protest make no such noise when Muslim immigrants insist upon introducing the brutality of Sharia into their new neighborhoods?

The real obstacle, of course, is practical.  What will keep regional equivalents of the insatiably power-hungry Chinese elite—or the Chinese themselves—from occupying Alabama if New Mexico becomes a convenient launching point? Should states (and I mean all political states, not just the late-great “united” ones) solemnly undersign a treaty that will require each to come to the rescue if a bully invades a weakling? But we know this won’t work. Our current domestic politics show us nothing if not that progressive ideologues treat promises with contempt—and why wouldn’t they? Since reality is “evolving”, the circumstances involved in the promise you made yesterday are already irrelevant tomorrow.

The Chinese will lie, as they always do (unless truth proves more expedient in specific instances); and their ally states from California to Washington will connive at the lying, since their governing elite is more Machiavellian than that founding father of calculated duplicity. I see no alternative but for more principled states to bend their principles—near the breaking point sometimes—in the formation of effective counter-alliances. The Southeast, for instance, could team readily enough with Israel… but to muster the muscle necessary for browbeating China into retreat, it might also have to pact with Putin. India is another obvious friend; but Indonesia? Some of the more stable, adult-friendly Islamic republics?

This is a new pair of unsavory options. Do you lock arms with a neighbor who beats his wife as the pirates come streaming off their ship… or do you board up your own doors and windows, hoping for the best? The survival of states where the individual may still be free to grope his way toward God will almost certainly depend upon alliances with other states whose god is not ours.

Putin at least claims to be Christian, and at least makes an outward show of valuing the nuclear family and a modest level of public decency. He sent the obscene Pussy Riot crew to prison for a year: not an act that sits well with an American constitutionalist, but vastly preferable to Ted Wheeler’s allowing Antifa to bludgeon harmless bystanders. Aleksandr Litvinenko was probably poisoned on Putin’s nod… yes, and Vince Foster probably didn’t commit suicide. Putin seized Crimea—after a public plebiscite overwhelmingly approved the annexation. Putin silences dissident reporters, we hear; minister’s daughter Angela Merkel silences them at least as well with the help of former East German propagandists policing the Internet and wielding “hate speech” like a Stasi thug’s choke-hold. Our Pythoness, Wikipedia, warns that Putin’s trusted advisor, Aleksandr Dugin, is a fascist—but Dugin seems very confused himself about his pedigree: an anti-communist who admires Lenin and a Russian nationalist who treasures culturally diverse traditions.

When the most important thing is at last to have co-signatories in the mutual defense pact who keep their word, it may be that belief in God—some immortal god, any creator-god—is the only relevant factor in resisting the aggressive holy war of Secular Utopians, whose god is tear-it-all-down Whimsy. Societies whose members hold something immutable and sacred beyond this world’s terms are under vast attack. (I’m not keen on the Koran—but we “Islamophobes” should notice what the Chinese are doing to the Uighurs.) While not all such “believing” societies encourage the individual search for the divine, the alternative is an annihilation of the divine in bursts of individual petulance that soon settle into an animal sameness (lust, fear, envy, and the rest).

Of course, if our critical requirement for alliance is a belief in a higher power that postpones utter joy and perfect justice to another dimension, then a good many of our “Christian” ministers and priests will have to ally themselves with our adversaries. We would have to banish them to California, if they aren’t already there.

In summary, I would dare to say that a realistic hope for humane civilization is possible… but only if we don’t hope for too much humanity from our military back-up.

Me and MPC: “Christianity Lite” and the Death of the Spirit

For the purposes of this “dialogue”, I’m going to personify the doctrine that I see (on websites) and hear (in services) coming out of contemporary Methodist and Presbyterian USA congregations as MPC.  I will also lay as a ground rule that we will not bandy Bible verses.  I freely concede that I would lose such a tennis match to anyone who has spent years in a seminary… but I find, in any case, that bending Scripture into heated discussions is equivalent to wrangling over whether an Inkblot Test portrays a dog on a chain or a prickly pear cactus.  That kind of exchange isn’t very edifying.

ME: My thumbnail definition of Christianity would run something like this.  Every human being has a soul, and all souls are unique and precious to God.  They are constantly called toward closer union with Him, and that coalescence becomes a state beyond time that discovers utter fulfillment.  Yet souls resist the call as they pass from earthly childhood to adulthood, and they may be lost when the ends of this world replace the higher, inexpressible ends that work through this world’s matter to make themselves more visible.  Hence a radical reorientation in the adult—a “birth from above”—is required to lift his nose out of the glittering muck.

MPC: Yes, of course.  God calls upon us to serve others… and we fight fiercely against that duty as we busily feather our own selfish nest.  It’s a shock to us to realize that we’re often not living life even when we are busiest—but we busy ourselves with the wrong things.  We are immersed in life, but not in living it. For we must act in the here and now in order to serve others.  Airy pieties do not feed the hungry, cure the sick, or clothe the poor.  The way to the Kingdom is through energetic activity.  We must give generously of our time and possessions.  We must fight on all fronts against worldly forces that starve the less fortunate or hold them in chains: that is our high calling.

ME: Is it?  In a way, certainly… but your explanation appears to me to risk confusion.  Isn’t part of our calling also to dissuade other people from surrendering their lives to utter immersion in worldly affairs?  Yet if I will achieve my high purpose only to the degree that I fight poverty and injustice, then it seems reasonable that I would spend every waking hour soliciting donations or filing motions; not only that, but I should probably also amass a maximum of wealth so that I might devote it to those worthy causes.  And it would also seem that the impoverished and the unjustly imprisoned cannot live fulfilling lives without the intercession of energetic, wealthy benefactors like me.  Yet I personally find that such people are often light-years ahead of their “benefactors” spiritually.

MPC: Which is precisely why we must assist them rather than standing by in idle complacency.  They’re our brothers and sisters!  We would readily recognize the common humanity in them if we did not allow social convention to insulate us from the greater need, the higher calling.  Our membership in the arbitrary socio-economic communities into which we were born keeps pulling us down into a torpid, “us/them” mindset that paralyzes us.

ME: Yes, I’ve often noticed that you’re an inveterate enemy of social convention.  You don’t like settled communities, do you—except those church communities of your own design, some of whose orders of worship and representations of duty can be… pretty inflexible.  Somewhere in all of your “replacement conventions” is the line one crosses into introductory cultism.

MPC: That, of course, is an invidious portrayal of our mission and not deserving of a response.  Yet it is true that we must labor tirelessly to loosen the glue that holds people inactive because they believe their brethren to be only among those who speak their language, wear their kind of clothing, and live in their kind of neighborhood.

ME: Well, there’s no condescending generalization at all in that portrayal, is there?  But let’s stipulate that human communities (your communions, too, by the way) tend to brainwash people—for I see no need to mince words: we’re talking about behavioral conditioning.  Do you not find it perfectly absurd to maintain that any human being can mature healthily and successfully in a cultural vacuum—an environment where the day has no tendency to rhythm and social interaction no predictable niceties?  People would go paranoid en masse!  They would live trembling under rubble like the survivors of Troy after the city was sacked and burned.

MPC: And this, brother, is just why our communions groom that “cult” of worshipful daily life at which you sneer.  People need organization—and how better to organize their lives than around acts of loving concern and ritual sharing?

ME: You have now negated the moral value both of loving and of sharing, though you have blundered into a very honest description, I believe, of your objectives.  What I see in all this is you of the priestly caste prescribing virtuous behavior to your… flock, shall we call them… and they obeying mindlessly in the confidence that their prophets know better than they what is to be done.  You will tell me, perhaps, that playing Moses to the herd is an onerous burden, and one that you would willingly have rejected if not impelled by a higher voice.

MPC: Mock on, brother.  We are not strangers to persecution.  But the sad truth is that the oppressed would remain in chains and the poor sit starving in their hovels if all were such as you.  Yes, people require leadership.  They must be organized.

ME: Organized to accomplish the bare necessities of living, yes—but their will must be left free!  Look: is your objective to enter the figure “zero” in the Homeless and Starving categories, even though you have to program the populace rigorously to reach that end; or is it to facilitate the discovery of a passage to God among individual souls?

MPC: This is more of that airy speculation which, if indulged, would indeed leave thousands of people homeless and starving.  We promote action, not “feel good” formulas.

ME: I consider that very, very debatable.  But let’s stay at the practical level.  Do you dispute that even the bluntest pagan will share food with his starving neighbor out of primitive decency?  In fact, small tribal societies are the most generous in the world at this kind of thing.  Yet you say that vast communities of givers must be orchestrated to maximize the efficiency of the relief effort (once again casting yourselves, I notice, in the role of the unit’s collective conscience).  Shouldn’t your calling, rather, be to awaken people far and wide from their fixation with mere physical survival, and beyond that from their determination to strike a admirable pose before the eyes of the masses?  If you can do that, then they will embellish their rudimentary decency with higher service—perhaps with less money-making and more dedication to playing with their children or cultivating trees that survived the developer’s bulldozer.  If you awaken people to indefinite ends, that is, you may just find that you get most of the definite results you want.  A man who pauses to notice the stars is at least as likely to play Good Samaritan as a robot programmed to change tires for stranded motorists.  But no!  Not good enough!  You’ve hopped several squares at once in this board game, as it were: you’ve directed everyone just how to be concerned and where to give.  You’ve created efficiency.  Your gospel might as well be a Stalinist five-year plan.

MPC: Oh, yes—it was bound to come to this sooner or later, wasn’t it?  The “c” word, the “s” word.  We’re communists, then… we’re socialists, is it?  Well, I know you don’t like to hear the Gospels quoted… so let’s try a different citation.  As a matter of fact, the plan that Jesus lays out for human society is essentially a socialist one, and there’s no reason why he wouldn’t have uttered, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

ME: Ah, yes: Saint Karl!  But let me shift this… discussion… to a different footing.  Let’s grant that the Christian’s high mission is to feed the hungry and clothe the poor.  And let’s say that the mission is accomplished, as it may indeed be.  Obesity is already reaching epidemic proportions even in some Third World nations—and look at the so-called refugees pouring into Europe who are sporting Nikes and Land’s End workout suits.

MPC: The poor are always with you, brother… but pardon my slip of the tongue!  I quoted Scripture!

ME: No harm done—you happen to have quoted it very ineptly.  Christ utters those words exactly to underscore that the objective is not a smooth-running social machine.  But say, if you can possibly imagine, that one day you awaken to find no hungry to feed and no naked to clothe.  You’d be done, wouldn’t you?  Your church would have no further reason for being.  You need the needy!  You desperately need them.  You need them to be needy.  If they didn’t exist (as Voltaire quipped of God), you’d have to invent them.  Your purpose, your direction… it would be gone.  Your god would be dead.

MPC: How puerile!  How pitiful!  And all of this just to justify your sitting on your pile of loathsome lucre instead of helping your fellow man!

ME: Not an answer… and, by the way, you have no idea how I live or what my income is.  We can compare homes and cars later, if you like.  But okay, let’s stay with your new theme of rationalizing an egotistical choice with hifalutin motives.  Let’s talk about justice for a minute—a word you strain with even greater overuse than “gift”.  You exhort your congregation not to go to bed at night if the day hasn’t included some step toward bringing more justice into the world.

MPC: And, no doubt, that disturbs you for some strange reason.

ME: Yes.  It disturbs me because… how do you know?

MPC: How… do we know what?

ME: Where the just course lies?  How do you, miserable human being, know that a boy’s life of relative poverty isn’t preparing him for an adulthood of noble, enduring, invincible accomplishment?  You haven’t even visited the boy’s home!  How do you know that the dark-eyed alien facing twenty years for child-molestation isn’t actually a child-molester?  You haven’t even reviewed the case against him!  You cram individuals into sweeping categories that fit your script—and then you proceed with the script, ignoring specific circumstances and significant evidence.  You have no time for details: you have to create a fairy tale in which you play the plumed hero on a white charger!

MPC: Whereas you, once again, would just leave the boy mired in poverty and the disenfranchised suspect rotting in jail while you interminably dig for “further evidence”… all so that you don’t have to move a muscle.

ME: You’re claiming that I rearrange reality to favor my complacency—yet you can’t so much as conceive of the possibility that you do the same, at a much worse level, by brushing over details in generating just the little drama where you can play the hero, the true believer.  You never seem to harbor the slightest suspicion that perhaps what you call “justice” is a very simplistic reading of a complex situation.

MPC: Yes, everything must always be complex, mustn’t it?  Complexity is always an excellent excuse for doing nothing.

ME: And doing nothing is usually a better alternative than doing the wrong thing—such as destroying initiative in young people to have them be the little victims you pull from the fire, or releasing a mass-murderer upon the public who has been cast as someone wrongfully condemned by a racist jury.

MPC: My goodness!  We wouldn’t be speaking just a little bit stereotypically there, would we?

ME: No!  Not typically at all!  Specifically!  I speak of specific cases that get nudged aside in your stereotypes… and you refuse to allow the reality of exceptions to your rule.  Anyone who questions your categories is “stereotyping”!

MPC: I can see little hope for discovering common ground in this conversation.  I’m afraid the action of the spirit must precede any such exchange if significant compromise is to be reached… and the spirit has simply not touched you.

ME: What spirit, precisely?  For that’s the final point I would have made, the endgame.  What in your system, finally, is spiritual?  What you project forward into the “eschaton” is the truly perfected human society, where nobody does anything he doesn’t want to do, where all have their needs utterly fulfilled… and I don’t see where God fits into the picture, except as the architect of the whole thing: a boy with an ant farm between two pieces of glass who wakes up one morning and finds that his insects have finally figured out their tunnels.  The ultimate purpose of the human soul is to crawl happily about in human tunnels, visiting a friend here, a friend there.  Nothing but friends, everywhere!  But no God.  Where is the fusion with God’s mind in which the Christian is supposed to hope and to which he is meant to summon others?  Where is God’s mind?  Where is the intersection of the galaxies, the music that plays outside of linear time?  I see nothing in your miserable utopian prison but human architect ground out by very human minds.  It sickens me!

MPC: Peace, brother.  We’ll all pray for you.  Struggle can be fertile.  Our doors are open to you whenever you wish to enter.

… And so it goes.  Please view my brief new videos, The Perverted Concept of Justice in the Secular-Utopian Church and The Perverted Concept of Giving in the Secular-Utopian Church, if these subjects interest you.

The Seventies: Our First Full Decade of Cultural Decline

(I’ve been utterly preoccupied this week with preparing a re-edition of a novel invisibly published almost twenty years ago: Footprints in the Snow of the Moon. I hope to have it accessible on Amazon by mid-week. In writing the preface, at any rate, I decided that I could post an excerpt here that might not be uninteresting to IC’s audience.)

I heard a television documentary declare recently that Sharon Tate’s murder at the insane hands of the Manson gang was the end of the Sixties.  The remark wasn’t intended chronologically: its implication was plainly that the depraved brutality of the deed corrupted the “Sixties dream” and exiled American culture from the Eden of free love and rejection of social hierarchy.  If only, if only a few crazed loons hadn’t flown off the preserve!

In a far more significant sense, the Manson murders (there were several, by the way) were the climax of the Sixties—the necessary, inevitable dark fruit of a poisoned tree.  When human beings are freed of their inhibitions, the animal impulses that come to the surface vying for control may be lamb-like one instant… and then lupine the next.  Not that any wolf deserves to be defamed by comparison with Charles Manson: no, the human being wholly liberated of shame or guilt is an infinitely more atrocious creature than anything we can find in raw nature.  Thanks to his imagination, he can indulge a lust that has no analogue in any merely brutish chemistry: not a lust for sex or food, but for dominating the will of others—libido dominandi.

In unmooring the individual will from the cables with which two and a half millennia (punctuated by a few notable lacunae) of Judeo-Christian and classical Stoic morality had secured it, the Sixties set a generation of directionless young people loose upon each other—looking high and low for what they “wanted” and what they considered “relevant”, brushing aside entire systems and institutions that they considered “old” or “patriarchal”.  Frankly, this thumbnail sketch of the Sixties ethos is already in error: only the final years of the decade grew “radical”.  Most of the cultural clearing-and-leveling labor was accomplished in the Seventies.

Now, I will not maintain that the decade of flaring cuffs and collars, bushy unisex hair styles, and anorexic pop-singers saw a proliferation of drug-addicted mass-murderers.  Manson, let us say, was the face reflected in the pool at the chasm’s bottom.  For if human beings are distinct from the purely animal in bearing their blessed curse of free will and imagination, their distinction remains grafted upon an animal substrate.  They like to move in herds.  The herd lifts from the individual’s shoulders the complex burdens of freedom.  The hand of Satan that scrawled “helter skelter” in Sharon Tate’s blood no doubt hazed many a young “free spirit” away from the edge.  Indulging impulse was tamed (superficially and for the time being) into a social endeavor, and even a sociable one.  In those passive, pacifist Seventies, it turned out that you could “find yourself” while looking and acting exactly like the legions of “seekers” all around you; and this was indeed unsurprising, because it also turned out that our “self” was essentially a construct of DNA—our instinct to mate, our natural aversion to forced labor, our inbred terror of physical threat, our primate comfort in belonging to a group.

Statistical outliers—rogue elephants—would register a dangerous resurgence in the Eighties, when the cult of pleasure irresistibly fed into a cult of acquisitive hunger.  For most of the intermediate decade, however, I observed my peers to be lingering in an insipid sameness, neither searching for a guru in India like the Beatles nor snorting cocaine to amass royal fortunes on Wall Street.  The Seventies were a trough between crests.  They were a lull in whose wash uninspired hordes supposed themselves to be riding the wild surf.

The word “infantilism” would leap to mind if the present time had not laid yet a better claim to it.  Today, as I sit writing, college students are (as an abandoned cliché once had it) “much as nature might have left them”.  Several years ago already, my undergraduates hadn’t a clue what I intended when, as we read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight together, I associated the evocation of fertility in Arthur’s all-green visitor with the recovery of longer days after the winter solstice.  Most of them didn’t know what a solstice was.  Now their younger brothers and sisters are lecturing all of us on the planet’s climate and ordering us to “shut up” if we raise an objection.

In comparison, the overgrown children of the Seventies were at least not rude brats.  And they had developed a decisive gender—very decisive!  In that they could be said to have blazed a trail into puberty that leaves their contemporaries far behind.  Yet their hair still grew long in the pristine ringlets whose first formal shearing brings mothers to tears.  Their bodies were of the supple quality that allows toddlers to absorb infinite falls without taking much harm.  In fact, it was wrong of me to celebrate puberty in them with such confidence; some of the girls, at least, had found a way to resist menstruation.  I know I mentioned anorexia in passing.

Wasn’t abortion part of the same bid for “prolonged innocence”?  Children don’t become mothers and fathers, so… so pregnancies just shouldn’t be happening.  Something was amiss there.  Reset the clock and go back to playing in the nursery: those two months of alarming discomfort never happened.

Well, our overgrown children today appear to have discovered the full Mansonian potential of sacrificing small, fleshy masses with little fingers and tiny noses.  It’s a rite performed to a known god whose name I shall not repeat.  In that respect as in so many others, I prefer the “terminal adolescence” of the Seventies.  Observers of the scene back then could still see that something was wrong; and the gullible young fools sucked into doing the wrong still had, as often as not, an inkling that they had been led astray.  It was a time suitable to be the backdrop of a morality play, whereas today… today we find only the appalling chaos fit for writing what the ancients would have called a catabasis: a journey through Hell.

Why the difference?  I think it consists entirely in this: fifty years ago, vestiges of those twenty-five hundred years of Western culture lingered among the herd’s hoofprints.  Today, they’re all gone.  Fifty years ago, the young who had jettisoned the cargo of Western civilization in favor of “relevance” (which, in terms of college work, involved a much lightened reading list: a very happy accident in the Decade of Pleasure) had still seen Franco Zeffirelli’s version of Romeo and Juliet and Robert Bolt’s Man for All Seasons at the movies.  Today’s graduate students have cut their narrative teeth on comic-book superheroes—about whom some of them will probably write a dissertation.  I devoutly hope that a few of our twenty-first century crop will find their way out of Hell, having heeded a spiritual voice within that can easily outshout the Call of the Sociopath if attended to… yet Hell is where they are, where they have to search for exits.  Fifty years ago, exits higher up the road were still open.  They just weren’t being well maintained.

Nothing distresses me more in retrospect about that lost decade than the invertebracy of the Christian church in the face of so many formidable challenges.  As a young man navigating the day’s troubled waters, I had a keen sense that most Christian denominations were responding to the times, “Wait!  Don’t leave us behind!  We’re one of you!  Love, peace, togetherness, a better world… that’s what we’re all about!”  Yes… and that was apparently all they were about: no sin, no guilt, no repentance, no abstinence, no difficult ascent through stones and briars, no resistance to worldly seductions.  No comfort.  In my experience of the Seventies, the Church desperately fought against irrelevancy by rendering itself irrelevant.  Those whom it courted abjectly had already found what they craved in the here-and-now; or if their souls were not wholly drained of breath and secretly craved a lifeline to the Beyond, the Church had cast aside that line in its zeal to fashion a better here-and-now.

Again, one might make precisely the same claim of organized Christianity in the twenty-first century, and make it with a vengeance; but the trend began when trousers rode low, their buckles spread broad, and their bottoms belled wide.

I could write lengthily about the “charismatic” movements that sometimes spiraled into cultism during this decade—but I should be wandering too far afield from the subjects addressed in Footprints, which do not include these.  If I lend any emphasis at all to the matter of religion here, it’s because the novel struck me so powerfully—as I edited it after almost two decades—as groping for the spiritual.  This, too, seems to me characteristic of the Seventies: I mean, groping clumsily after something fulfilling and immaterial… and not being able to find it.  Finding substitutes for it in all the wrong places.  Yet again, yes, one might say as much of any generation of human beings.  The difference is that most such generations were graced with some form of organized faith that offered a clear alternative to sex, drugs, wealth, and power.  The Seventies, having inherited from the previous years a contempt for all reverend institutions, were left with a Church that embraced the secular world’s facile opposition of sex and drugs to wealth and power, as if those pairs defined adversarial ends of a spectrum.

The charismatic represented less a third way—a midpoint on the spectrum—than a retreat into that infantilism (too young for sex, too young for power) typical of the era’s approach to other moral crises.  There was no genuine escape from this world’s traps (and Sartre’s Huis Clos, whose title literally translates such despair, was taught in every sophomore French class).  Those who survived the day’s Charybdis of rival forces circling the same focal void and were at last spewed out upon Odysseus’s stunted fig tree faced a bleak, lonely prospect.

One of my faithful collaborators in the charitable venture, The Center for Literate Values, gave the original novel a kind review (what else would you expect of any officer in a public charity?)—but voiced a mild regret that the book did not investigate faith as a solution.  I won’t say that I took the criticism under advisement in my rewriting.  Rather, in my rewriting, I discovered that the forces I had unleashed in these fairly ordinary Middle Americans (ordinary on the surface—the only level at which anyone is ordinary), most of them well under thirty, needed to “blow up the world” a little more.  There needed to be more frustration with the options offered by a relatively smooth-purring, profitably hedonistic society now free and clear of the Vietnam nightmare.  I don’t say that there needed to be more options: faith often grows exactly because more is needed but no further options are possible.  I felt a considerable pressure to let something intrude into my “dystopic pastoral” which would lighten life’s burdens, paradoxically, by acknowledging that burdens don’t disappear in this life.

I had to make the narrator turn somewhat more consciously mature at the end.  And I did so: that’s the book’s major change.  Some may persist, “But I still don’t see his faith taking shape.  Where’s his faith?”  My answer: not in the things and people of this world—but running straight through them; not in the institutions of this world, but thriving in spite of them.

How many people in fact weathered the Seventies with a spiritual insight of such elevation?  Well… as a novelist, I don’t do statistical analysis.  I try to present the most instructive case, and sometimes I thereby present the least probable.  I will bring to general attention, however, that the narrator’s retrospective places his final thoughts in the late Nineties: he’s had plenty of time to mull it all over.  If you were “on the ground” during that somnolent spiritual war which was the late Seventies, you didn’t yet know that promiscuous sex might harm your body as well as your soul: AIDS was yet unheard-of.  You didn’t know that foreign nationals might plot to murder thousands of your neighbors in the midst of their routine: plane hijackings always ended with a rerouting to Beirut or Tripoli, usually after the passengers were swapped out for a million bucks.  You didn’t know that school children might so much as fantasize about gunning their classmates down: video games and our sociopathologizing “social media” were a glimmer in some developer’s eye.

I doubt that we learned much of anything from the Seventies, in short, while they were being played out.  Any lesson would have come years later (and it doesn’t appear that most of us have learned the full lesson, even fifty years later).  What I like about the Seventies as an artist, though, is precisely that they are “pure” of mixed motive when one scans them for moral cautionary tales.  At the time, no one would have known just how risky to bodily health and mere survival were many trendy new habits.  The only reason for resisting them would have been abstract: a stand in principle uncomplicated by a gun pointed at the head.