Past the Million

Looking at my blog statistics, I started this blog in January 2012 after having deleted The English Catholic. It has been going for nearly nine years. It has been viewed 1,005,050 times. The daily rate of viewing tends to fluctuate between 100 and 200.

Thank you all for your fidelity and interest, which encourages me to write new postings with an original mind.

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Freedom and Tyranny

I find this lecture very powerful in the effort to affirm our individual freedom as opposed to being the property of the totalitarian state or other group of dominant dogs. I recommend listening to it with attention.

An essential condition is keeping a critical mind in regard to anyone else’s promises. Scepticism is particularly important in our critical thought about the “orthodoxies” and the legitimacy of doubt and the suspension of judgement. Newman was surprisingly sceptical in regard to Catholic doctrines, which gave force to his convictions when he accepted them. It is not so much an attitude of denial but rather of requiring more information in order to reach a judgement. This is an interesting dialogue on this subject.

We have to challenge excessive certitude, both in others and ourselves. There are many things in our everyday life where we have to keep our thought critical and free. I think particularly about a lot of the hype surrounding the Covid pandemic, the so-called “Great Reset”, conspiracy theories, populist politics, the very dangerous turn in human psychology which becomes almost analogous of the movements of a hundred years ago.

Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew x.28.

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Excita, Domine…

This is a spiritual conference for the Sunday Last before Advent. I have not recorded Mass today.

To be frank, I am going through a period of tiredness and SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and I am sure that the lockdown has taken its toll. I also face personal issues.

Indeed we need to wake up, become aware of the threats around us and our own individuality and relationship with God. The confusion caused by things we are told officially, but don’t stand up, also adds to the tiredness and our morosity.

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Morality or Wholeness

One of the finest moral theologians I have known of was Fr Servais Pinckaers OP (1925 – 2008) who taught at Fribourg University. I was one of his students, and am proud of that fact. He is one of those who sought to wrest morality from legalism and casuistry to give it a spiritual basis. His insights and teaching were brought back to me as I continued to read Alan Watts’ Behold the Spirit. Watts is severe about the institutional Christianity, both Protestant and Catholic, which he knew in the 1940’s when he wrote this book.

After many long chapters covering mystical theology, Watts wrote a brilliant analysis of Christian morality and the question of its basis. He begins:

The intellectual revolt of the modern world against what has been understood as Christian morality cannot be dismissed as mere perversity. The picture of the Church as a valiant minority holding grimly to its position against a vast rebellion inspired by the devil is an oversimplification which may appeal to those who love to strike heroic attitudes, but it renders the conventional Christian blind to his own moral failure.

I read that and then I consider the agitation of conservative Christians on the subjects of sex, homosexuality and abortion. Bring about a repressive state and all will be fine. Put them in prison, execute them, anything – as long as the Church is seen to be pulling the levers with the “secular arm”. Many of us resent the morality of infancy and adolescence and the way we are preached at without any consideration for the person. Fr Pinckaers had found that morality had sunk into legalism and superficial social conformity without any understanding of its inner meaning. Much of moral teaching, especially regarding sexuality, is founded on a Manichaean rather than a Christian attitude. What is even worse is that morality is set up as the finality rather than the consequence of Christian life.

I once wrote a posting on the various stages of maturity of a human individual which also applies to humanity as a whole. Treat adolescents as children, and they will revolt. The teaching method is just not not the same. Old Testament teaching was aimed at a human civilisation in its infancy. For humanity in its infancy, the Church’s teaching is authoritarian and legalistic, but not too rigorous. There is always some breathing room for childish naughtiness. After the self-conscious following of extremely high ideals by the adolescent, the adult settles into maturity. Morality comes from the presence of God in the heart. Fr Pinckaers insisted on a liberty of perfection, as opposed to a liberty of indifference, like learning to play a musical instrument: the freedom comes from hard work and asceticism. For the child, the right way comes from obedience, for an adolescent the aspiration to high ideals and the adult from that abiding presence of God.

Teaching a child morality is like training a dog according to the Pavlov theory. Good actions get rewards and bad actions merit punishments. I recall this verse from Psalm 37: The unrighteous shall be punished: as for the seed of the ungodly, it shall be rooted out. The righteous shall inherit the land: and dwell therein for ever. It reads like a headmaster’s address to morning assembly. The boys caught smoking in the bicycle shed will meet their dues in the headmaster’s study! Fortunately, there is a higher meaning in the Psalms as we are nourished each day in the Office. The enticements of heaven and hell, together with the prevailing notion of salvation, are characteristic of this infantilisation. At one time, the Church could bring hell to earth in the form of the Holy Inquisition.

The medieval Church’s response to sexuality was brutal repression. That was fine for dealing with physical instincts, less for modern man with the power of the imagination and fantasy. The Church was also direct in its positive precepts, like alms-giving or serving in the Crusades for example. The combat against sin was seen in militaristic terms in the same way. Luther would be the one to turn against this brutal effort to replace it with faith and divine grace. Protestantism reacted from the medieval vision of repression of sin and the quest for mysticism by a return to the Old Testament. The Reformation evolved towards a simple reduction of the Christian way to morality. Catholicism largely followed suit. Catholicism at its worst is bigoted, guilt-ridden, puritanical and morbid. Watts identified the Reformation as an adolescent stage of humanity against the Humanist and Renaissance background. There was a desire at first to make of gratuitous faith in God a priority over personal effort and merit.

Mature morality depends on union with God, love instead of hatred and violent repression, a view from above. As St Augustine said “Love, and do what you like“. If love is true, we can only do the right thing.

Dealing with evil violently brings out new evils of bitterness and bigotry. In days of old, evil was met with witch-hunting, burning people at the stake, torture and even Satanism – the very evil they sought to extirpate. The combat against sin must be freed from hatred. There was a point in the quote of Oscar Wilde “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful” (The Picture of Dorian Grey). This was no flippant rebuff of Victorian morality to justify sexual laxity but a much more profound intuition.

Not everyone is in a state of maturity, as we have found in the current pandemic. Most people take it seriously and follow the rules with the idea “Heaven help the politicians if they are lying to us!” We suspend our judgement and focus on the important thing of avoiding the disease and protecting other people. Those who are still psychologically children need fines and a good thrashing to keep them from saying that it isn’t their problem and go ahead with their social pleasures! This truth has come home to me very dramatically. The moralising church has its role, but not for all.

This is why I grow weary of hearing the same message about abortion. Abortion is something that is appalling, but the problem will not be solved by repression and relentless preaching, even less by acts of terrorism and fanaticism. Rather, the Church could turn towards improved social services, better care for the women who get pregnant “by accident” and better possibilities about getting babies adopted in the best conditions. This is only an example.

We must work at a new approach to Christianity for those who are tired of the things that repel them. This was a theme of Vatican II and its ideal of renewal, but collective stupidity and groupthink took over and offered something even worse. Something other and more profound exists, rather than secularism and atheism. It has to come out of each one of us…

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Sturm und Drang

It sometimes happens that I give the same title to two different postings. The last time was in January 2017 when I discussed Christian eschatology. Indeed as we approach Advent I find a number of Catholic and Orthodox bishops discussing this theme in relation to our dependency on electronics, internet, mobile phones and an increasingly technocratic world. That is not my theme today.

In its historical meaning, Sturm und Drang, meaning more or less “storm and drive” was a pre-Romantic movement in German literature and music in the latter half of the eighteenth century. It represents a movement of emotion in reaction to the rationalism of the Enlightenment, an emotional turbulence and individuality against  ideals like rationalism, empiricism, and universalism. The mood turned to emotional extremes and subjectivity. The two hallmarks of this movement were an aspiration to freedom from despotism and a love of nature.

Music is certainly the most effective means of expressing subjective human emotion. Little describes anger, fear and terror more than Mozart’s Dies irae and Haydn’s Insanae et vanae curae.

This time, I link to the Kings College Cambridge version to make a change from the St John’s College version. It would seem that Haydn was not self-consciously Sturm und Drang, but the influence is there. Here is his Symphony no. 39 (Tempesta di mare), and the final movement is especially angry whilst being restrained by the composer’s rationality.

His 45th is in F# minor which is a dark flavoured key.

The harmony is intense and stretched to the limit. The dissonances are within the classical rules of preparation, suspension and resolution, but they represent emotions rarely found in late baroque and rococo or so-called “classical” music. The themes contain huge leaps and unpredictability. Tempos and dynamics change rapidly and unpredictably to reflect strong changes of emotion. The music drives and races forward, too angry and strong for its constraints.

Here is Mozart’s 25th Symphony in G minor, immortalised by the film Amadeus, which emphasised the Sturm und Drang theme.

Here is Gluck’s Dance of The Furies from Orphée et Euridice (Paris 1774)

It is exciting to listen to, and stimulates our own emotions. Sturm und Drang as a fashion waned quite quickly, but its central emotions continued into the Romantic movement beginning with Göthe and men like Novalis. It would seem not to be appropriate to identify Sturm und Drang with a notion of early Romanticism, at least not in terms of strict musical style. However, the mood was changing and would develop into something new. A good question is to ask whether Beethoven was a classicist or an early Romantic. Personally, I am wary of this strict classification, since I see Romanticism long before and after the Romantic era, and we are all a mixture of different philosophies of life and expressions. How could the Eroica Symphony be anything but Romantic?

Yes, the harmony and form are classical, but there is a whole feeling in this work that escapes the Enlightenment.

What is clear is that Sturm und Drang continued into the Romantic era, whether through music, art, literature or philosophy. It is very difficult to define as is Romanticism, because clear thought depends on a philosophical system. Authors of this tendency shared a feeling of alienation from this world, the wild seeking to escape what is false, artificial, intellectual, rationalised. I have often felt personally more at ease with wild plants and animal life than with potted or cut plants and animals in cages or domesticated.

I took my dog for a walk along a country lane near my village on this overcast day with clouds of iron and steel. The Atlantic wind was blowing quite strongly but there was no rain. It was shortly before dark as the colours of nature began to become less and less distinct. I felt an extraordinary sense of well being in this early evening gloom. It is what made me decide to write this posting. I remembered the storm in Portugal in August 1971 when I faced the darkening clouds and the wind coming from the ocean. My mother was concerned for my safety and I had to leave that source of strength and wildness. My feelings are the same as those of men born two centuries before I was. I was a Romantic before I ever heard the word at school.

We humans are formed by the modern social world. Even without becoming completely alienated, we can be inspired by the natural world or the mountains, the forests and the sea. We must not judge mental health in the narrow context of society. We have to see and understand the relationship of humans with other species, environments and ecosystems. In my own life, it is not without accident that I spent as much time outdoors as possible as a child, building dens in trees and watching birds and insects. Sturm und Drang is a powerful milestone and archetype in the human psyche.

Here is one of the most moving passages from the 1984 film Greystoke: Legend of Tarzan, which illustrates my point.

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Guillotine et Bouffe-Curé?

I received a kind message from an American friend forwarding me this text about the closure of churches during the present lockdown in France.

Dear friends, I would like to ask for your prayers for Catholics in France, who are leading a terrible battle for the reinstatement of the Holy Mass. They lost the legal challenge last week, but the silver lining is that their Bishops joined them in the challenge. Now, they are lawfully organising peaceful protests for tomorrow, in more than 100 places throughout the country- all lawfully predeclared, according to the Law, to the relevant authorities. But the French authorities have today forbidden those lawful demonstrations to take place outside churches. They can go ahead, but in other public places. In one city, the authorities have forbidden those taking part tomorrow to pray, “even in silence” (their words!). Yesterday, the French Prime Minister, Gerard Darmanin*, made threats towards Catholics, saying he would not hesitate to prosecute…The French Catholics need our prayers, they are fighting for religious freedom, not just for France, but for Europe. Thank you and God bless you.

* The French Prime Minister is Jean Castex. Gérard Darmanin is Minister of the Interior.

I live in France and we all know about the lockdown. I am rather clear about this whole thing. There is suppression of religious freedom only if this Covid-19 pandemic is a hoax and part of a conspiracy to bring mankind to some kind of Orwellian dystopia. Could this be an elaborate hoax even with the high numbers of people in hospital suffering from Covid-19 and not primarily from other diseases? How could this diabolical plot be known only to conspiracy theorists and no one else? Only in these conditions would closing churches be constitutive of a persecution rather than a hygiene measure as during the Spanish Flu of 1918-20.

Lockdown affects us all. It is designed to limit our social life which is the primary cause of infection. This second lockdown has been designed to allow work and the economy as much as possible. Many shops have to close to keep people out of the streets as much as possible. Closing churches is only a part of this strategy. The problem is the lockdown. Is there any other way to fight the pandemic other than “letting rip” and hoping that not too many people will die or getting the population vaccinated? Either there isn’t or we go the way of the conspiracy theorists – and regret it when we catch the virus.

I think this pandemic can teach Christians – Catholic, Orthodox and Reformed – that religion isn’t first and foremost political action and socializing. We can learn about solitary contemplative life, praying the Office and devotions, reading the Scriptures and the Fathers, learning some theology – many things that can be done from home. Priests can “stream” Mass or make video recordings, which can help to an extent. The flood will subside and the sun will shine again, and the churches can be made ready for a new revival like in the Romantic era of the Oxford Movement and the holy Curé d’Ars. I think the French Revolution was worse than our pandemic, and we should get some perspective…

Here is my Mass of this Sunday with the readings and my address in French.

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To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite

I have been looking at an old article from 2013 on Western Rite Orthodoxy, a new proposition. I am staggered by the number of comments that followed my review of some ideas put out by Fr Anthony Bondi of the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia. I once (in about 1988) had some romantic notions about Orthodoxy, and I still do have a feeling of respect and esteem towards that Church in its various more or less “canonical” incarnations. I was a student at Fribourg at the time, and saw Dr Ray Winch each time I passed through Oxford to visit my family up north. I notice in my stats page how a few are digging up these old postings.

I read Rod Dreher articles as he publishes them and I have his Benedict Option. My four times to the USA for short visits showed me the vast cultural difference over there from the old Europe where I live and where people have largely lost the religious instinct in their cynicism and indifference. America seems to be going the same way as conservative religion (and its “liberal” counterpart) is so little convincing to the critical and curious mind. The development of the Woke ideology seems to be having an effect in the academic world, and we all seem to be dwelling on the idea of a collapse of civilisation and the coming of hell on earth in the form of some Orwellian dystopia. Dreher’s ideas are noble enough, but need to show more understanding of psychology and the cultural aspect of humanity, at least if the ideas were to be applied in Europe.

The world of blogs has changed over the past years and the tone has become very quiet. However, blogs still have their place when common interests unite diverse personalities. Possibly my blogging activity has been one of the most enduring because I am not concerned for popularity. I say what I believe to be right, and the reader has the option of reading it or ignoring it. For the first time in many years, I had two comments from what I surmise would be a Roman Catholic “true church” zealot telling me to be a layman in my local parish. Could he be right? I find myself summoned always in the same direction – Lasciate ogni speranza voi chentrate. I might as well be living in Siberia and told to travel by bus to work! I deleted the comments as coming from someone who has nothing positive to say, a disciple of the Father of Lies. Water of a duck’s back… as they say.

Some very good people have become Orthodox and have adapted very well to their new spiritual world. Their cognitive dissonance was healed. Others tried to transpose medieval and post-Tridentine RC ecclesiology onto Orthodoxy, but it didn’t quite fly. The neat scholastic categories don’t quite fit. After my university days and my time in seminary, the idea of Orthodoxy melted away into the ether and then Roman Catholicism followed it into a world with which I do not relate. After a time in “vagante land” with its absurdities (which I was the first to embody), I approached the Anglican Continuum. That was 2005. I had become aware of my own emotional and affective shortcomings when dealing with human nature and its dog pack mentality of alphas and dominators. The Anglican Continuum was quite different from the Church of England of my teens and early twenties, and I had to accept that something had passed definitively into history.

Throughout the time I spent as a Roman Catholic (1981 to 1995), I had Romantic notions about the Sarum Use or more precisely a local and northern European Catholic world unaffected by the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. That was the kind of “Orthodoxy” I sought during those long nights talking with Ray Winch in his home in Oxford. His idea was a kind of Romantia, a remote community of canons that would have quietly continued through the vicissitudes of everywhere else. Unfortunately it is an Idealist concept which is inaccessible to materialistic “realism”. I came close in some of the Forward in Faith parishes in France with old priests ordained long before Vatican II. Fr Montgomery left his mark on me, even though I ignored his ideas about putting all the “money” into the SSPX bank!

This article on Orthodoxy has one of the longest threads of comments I have ever seen attached to one of my postings. I respect those who have become Orthodox or Roman Catholic in their pilgrimages of life. Going to a Church to re-find what has been lost usually brings disillusion. I took refuge in the Anglican Continuum in 2005, and when the TAC dissolved before the wall of Roman canon law, I found my way to the ACC. This Church under the leadership of Archbishop Mark Haverland and excellent diocesan ordinaries like Bishop Damien Mead, has a diverse patrimony between Old High Church fidelity to the Prayer Book, a vernacular form of post-Tridentine Roman customs and an emerging Sarum revival at a tiny and very humble scale. All Churches are imperfect, and none are made to serve individual interest. However, there is sufficient in the way of a notion of diversity to gather these strands of Romantics and nostalgics – that our Sehnsucht may bring us to the contemplation of God – which is what a Church is for… Perhaps that is only possible with very small Churches like ours which rely more on human relationships than bureaucracy and rigid rules.

Experience has shown that a Church has to be incarnate in human culture – in all is diversity, not the caricature of modern secularism but the deepest aspirations of us all. As we face threats to our civilisation and humanity unseen since the end of World War II, the Church has to be something to which we can relate at a spiritual and emotional level, and not mere at an intellectual level of apologetics and sales pitch. I return to that author I discovered a short time ago, Alan Watts, who expressed exactly my most intimate intuitions about Christianity and a lot of the bullshit that represents the chapel the Devil built alongside the Church built by God. I re-read that bullshit in a few of the comments, written through mindlessness and ideology. We have all done it and caused so much damage. So many of my friends were zealous converts, and now silently yearn in their homes as they found themselves alienated from anything resembling parish life and the pastoral care of a real priest.

Then on the other side, I am a priest, and have said Mass alone (other than the presence of invisible spiritual entities) for years. I’m not complaining. What gives me the right to sell Anglicanism to French country folk? Nothing. Their own parish church offers a Sunday Mass just twice a year, and it is lay-led funerals for the rest of the time. The ship has sailed and the future of western civilisation is elsewhere – perhaps Islam or Communist China with a zest of globalist capitalism in exchange for a Covid-19 vaccine for which we are desperate. At the same time, there may be something we know nothing about but which could bring us light and a joie de vivre. That is the virtue, not of optimism, but hope.

As we do what we can in our tiny communities and our diaspora, we are not called to “convert” to the noisiest zealot or salesman selling spiritual spam. We are called to seek God, with or without a church building, a liturgy or parish community. That is our vocation.

To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
To defy power which seems omnipotent;
To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates

Life may change, but it may fly not;
Hope may vanish, but can die not;
Truth be veiled, but still it burneth;
Love repulsed -but it returneth. Percy Bysshe Shelley

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Flogged and Excommunicated!

During my stay more than twenty years ago with the monks at the Abbey of Triors, I was quite surprised by some of the chapters of the Rule of St Benedict. No community I know of uses corporal punishment, but that was not always the case.

Chapter 30: How Boys Are to Be Corrected

Every age and degree of understanding should have its proper measure of discipline. With regard to boys and adolescents, therefore, or those who cannot understand the seriousness of the penalty of excommunication, whenever such as these are delinquent let them be subjected to severe fasts or brought to terms by harsh beatings, that they may be cured.

Corporal punishment was still used in English schools in the 1960’s and 70’s. I was lucky never to have been caned, but I frequently got “six of the best” with a leather slipper between the ages of eight and twelve. I saw the effects of caning – as many bloody welts across the buttocks as the number of strokes given. A particularly harsh punishment is seen in this except from Lindsay’s film If… which is a satire of the English public school in the 1960’s.

The following scene from Tom Brown’s Schooldays shows one of the greatest and most enlightened educators of the nineteenth century, Dr Arnold of Rugby. O tempora, o mores.

I have to be honest, but being whacked did not make of me the stoical stereotype of an Englishman. It made me hateful or afraid of the one who was punishing me, including my own father for a time, often following a misunderstanding rather than stubbornness in wrongdoing. I have taken the liberal attitude in taking the side of abolishing corporal punishment. I recent years, I have followed news from my old school in York. It became coeducational and based on developing interest and curiosity, helped by intelligent teaching methods so that the pupil will work diligently and take his or her place in the community. How the old alma mater has improved! Already, when I was there in the 1970’s, our enlightened headmaster Peter Gardiner had almost done away with the cane and replaced fagging with daily house duties. He went much further by improving activities like sports and music.

We often bewail the way that many young people are not properly educated, and even qualified engineers write their own language very badly. This is something I constantly find in the texts I get for translation. The most common grammatical error in French is confusing a verb in the past participle and the infinitive – because they sound the same. More importantly, there is a profound cultural problem causing young people to lack respect for their elders or even other people in general. Even so, corporal punishment seems too simplistic in the conservative “make men of them” rhetoric.

Someone in the British Navy in the eighteenth century had the foresight to say “It is said that a flogging makes a bad man worse and breaks a good man’s heart“. Oscar Wilde wrote in his Ballad of Reading Gaol:

For they starve the little frightened child
  Till it weeps both night and day:
And they scourge the weak, and flog the fool,
  And gibe the old and grey,
And some grow mad, and all grow bad,
  And none a word may say.

What about monasteries in the medieval era? The idea of using punishment and sanctions like excommunication shows that the notion of vocation has developed. If someone feels that he is called to that way of life, surely he will work of his own accord to comply with the rule, the commands of his superiors and the will of God. Everyone falls short of the mark, but usually a person’s remorse and contrition is punishment enough. We all have to pick ourselves up and make a new attempt to climb the mountain.

If flogging and excommunication were needed at one time to keep novices in order, it is because they were sent by their parents to become Oblates – as my parents sent me to be a boarder at St Peter’s. Boarding can be an excellent experience for some youngsters, since they get more time for work and play, and they spend their holidays with their families. When examining any aspect of history, we have to be careful not to judge the values of those times by our own modern moral values. That would be the crime of anachronism. For example, the Inquisition might seem outrageous to us who are used to the notion of a right to freedom of conscience, but it was a fairer legal system than the average sheriff’s court dealing with highwaymen and robbers among others. In a monastery, corporal punishment was seen as a last resort when all other disciplinary measures were unsuccessful in bringing about a rational response.

Sometimes, children and adults will not respond to rational argument. I observe Dr Arnold’s dialogue with Tom Brown about the stolen chicken. It is when Tom Brown attempted an irrational explanation seemingly in bad faith, at the brink of lying, that the Doctor decided that “it is a tradition I’d best beat out of you“. Had Tom Brown admitted to stealing, he might have been spared the whacking on conditions like compensating the owner of the chicken and promising not to repeat the offence. Not all educators were up to this finesse of moral discernment.

We live in an imperfect world in which children and young people turn bad because of the bad example of their elders and those who should know better. I write from the point of view of one who has been privileged. Even so, I think there are better ways to reason with young people having won their respect than by flogging them or putting them in prison. Perhaps, in a more Christian world, some young wayward people could be entrusted to monasteries and do what monks do: pray and work, ora et labora. Others could be entrusted to the Armed Forces to be taught respect, obedience and a useful trade so that they can find work when they return to normal life. Community service is standard nowadays for those who would benefit from it.

And this to end on a note of humour:

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Trinity XXII

Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity in the Use of Sarum.

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Fair Discussion and Heterodoxy

Exactly like at the time of the first lockdown, I am dismayed about how eminent experts on epidemics and viruses are shouted down and subject to ad hominem attacks, especially with political overtones. I already wrote a couple of articles, which you can read again: Scepticism and Freedom of Thought and Science or Ideology?.

My attention has been drawn to Dr Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University who has become noted for a controversial position in the Great Barrington Declaration. I don’t have the scientific knowledge to judge whether these people are right, but I do wonder if the science is being discussed rather than the authors being attacked on political lines. Dr John Campbell discusses it quite fairly in this video:

Are our governments right in putting us back into lockdown, or is there a way of isolating and protecting vulnerable people (I might be one myself) and letting the disease burn itself out through the rest of the population that is less at risk of serious illness or death? I have noticed that lasting immunity has been questioned by Imperial College, which would cast a doubt on “herd immunity” and even the viability of vaccines. Dr Campbell asks where the references and evidence are in favour of the Barrington position. Dr Gupta gets a chance to respond about lasting immunity and also talks about the papers with scientific references that have been published.

There is a certain amount of scientifixc discussion going on, which is reassuring. I do believe that both Dr Gupta and Dr Campbell are both intellectually honest.

The problem is that this intellectual honesty is not shared by all, whether by way of vested interests or political ideology. A lot will be decided today or tomorrow by the American Presidential Election. Will the deadlock break or are we going to the wall because of ideological inertia and groupthink?

When the powers that be lack coherence and transparency, we are tempted to see a conspiracy, for example the creation of an “Orwellian” world dystopia where everyone comes under totalitarian control. Where are the infection figures coming from against which we can measure the number of seriously ill people in hospital, those in intensive care and those who have died specifically from the consequences of this virus? Are the cases counted in reality or projected by a computer programme with an algorithm?

I am also very sceptical about the so-called collapsology theory corresponding with the alarmist of extreme environmentalists of the Extinction Rebellion tendency. I have tried to read explanations of this way of thinking, but I find too much langue de bois or arrogant verbosity. That said, western civilisation that has been strongly influenced by Hellenism and Christianity seems to repose on very little. All civilisations come and go, and I am certainly influenced by some of the Romantics and one book in particular by Nicholas Beryaev, The End of our Time, London 1933.

We as a species have to make progress with returning to the laws of reasoned debate and intellectual honesty. Words no longer have the same meaning for different people in discussion or debate. We are increasingly immersed in a kind of bullshit thinking that destroys reason. This has become extremely apparent in American politics but over this side of the Atlantic too. Even when we lack the scientific qualifications of those we think we can trust, at least to an extent, we feel that we are in a morass of cognitive dissonance and lies all around us. There have always been con-men in history, but their art seems to have become mainstream. They have the power to control and topple governments in the name of reason and science, but without the most elementary notions of knowledge at a philosophical level.

Are we going to put our vulnerable people under a bell jar and let the virus rip until it burns itself out? Are we going to have “stop & go” rolling lockdowns indefinitely and only then think about how to deal with the economy? Are we going to be told in a year’s time that all attempts to produce a vaccine have failed? This experience tells me that if we get something like Ebola or a form of AIDS that can be transmitted through the air like flu and colds, it would be the final curtain on the western world.

Would the “great reset” or hard ecologist people have a response? For 8 billion people in this world? Personally I think of the idea of retreating even further into the country. But doing what to live? Using a computer and internet? Still depending on the modern world for food and medical care when needed? Do I not care what happens to the others, most of whom I imagine would have to be put on trains to gas chambers? The answer seems to be that pandemics happen to cull the human population without anyone being morally responsible for their deaths or choosing who would die and who would live. We do our best to escape, but we can do precious little about organisms that replace humans at the top of the food chain!

What I will say now is not “politically correct” in today’s rejection of the Ars Moriendi. Alle Menschen müßen sterben. We are all called to die. It is a fact that even in the ideal conditions, we die alone and face the afterlife independently from any priest who has given us the last Sacraments and family members who have prayed. Obviously, in this pandemic, we are going to take it seriously and take precautions. In any other situation, we have to take care and preserve our lives and those of others, whether driving a car or just walking through a town where we might get robbed and murdered. There is always an element of risk, an idea that seems to be absent in the sayings of the medical and technocratic establishment. I write this knowing that I will pass on one day – and my treasure will be other people’s trash.

Our time is one of apocalyptic anxiety, probably something like the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in the days of Fra Dolcino and Joachim de Flore. Those were ages profoundly marked by the Bubonic Plague and the decadence of the feudal system. Oddly, in the nineteenth century, there was an apocalyptic trend as churchmen in the days of Pius IX feared the influence of Freemasonry and other conspiracies, often blamed on the Jewish community.

I have seen this same kind of thought in the traditionalist Roman Catholic world and in some right-wing political tendencies. The enemy is named great reset and new world order. Those who denounce this “conspiracy” are marked by a dualistic mentality between the “goodies” and the “baddies”. The big problem is that the spiritual combat is not “other people” but ourselves, our own souls. I have just been reading a conference given by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò very recently, and it could have been one given at the end of the nineteenth century in the face of French and Italian anti-clericals.

I mention this conference as being fairly typical of the reaction against our incompetent and mendacious politicians and the equivalent in the Church. There is certainly a deeply evil tendency like the thugs Hitler recruited to run his empire. I have mixed feelings about the present Pope, between his talking in public about pastoral issues that are best dealt with by parish priests in the intimacy of the confessional. At the same time, my intellectual parameters are not those who would conclude a conviction similar to that of the sedevacantists.

Our time seems to be one that concerns more than simply the institutional Church, but civilisation as a whole. This civilisation was built on Hellenism and Christianity, something profoundly humanist in the most noble meaning of this word. Take away what remains of this civilisation and what remains? Iran after the downfall of the Shah? Chinese cruelty and Communism? Post-humanists who would revive a modern version of Nazism or connect our brains to computers.

One thing I notice too frequently with the medical profession is the rejection of spirit, the treatment of the human body and mind in materialistic terms. It considers death as an ultimate evil to be avoid at all costs. What Viganò seems to denounce is the very same thing as Alan Watts in the same quote I have given on this blog:

The present low ebb of Church religion consists in the fact that rarely, even for Church people, does it give the soul any knowledge of union with the reality that underlies the universe. To put it in another way, modern Church religion is little concerned with giving any consciousness of union with God. It is not mystical religion, and for that reason it is not fully and essentially religion.

That text was written in 1947, long before Vatican II or Pope Francis. That is important to remember, especially among those who are Catholics but not subjects of the Roman communion. We are often told to wake up and become political activists and militants, but our awakening has to be within.

I return to that wonderful little book I have by Rob Riemen, the Dutch thinker, To Fight Against This Age. He calls the ideologies of our time a form of Fascism, and I sympathise with his thought. Fascism is a form of Socialism, collectivism over the individual person. It incites resentment, anger and fear, a need for scapegoats and hatred of personal thought and spiritual life. Other than Christian authors, we need to learn from philosophers like Thomas Mann and Albert Camus with their experience of totalitarianism in the 1930’s and 40’s. The solution to the virus, our quacks and lying politicians, our lockdowns and “new normals” is a return to Christ and to European humanism with its universal values of truth, beauty, justice, and love for life―values underpinning any democratic civilization.

For the time being, we are obliged to go along with the lockdown and dutifully wear our masks – just in case there is someone with the disease we might get too close to. We are blind. We don’t know which scientists have the best or truest ideas. In these days of opposing ideologies and truths, we have to learn scepticism and a healthy enquiring mind. We can learn a bit about the science with work and curiosity. A little introduction:

On each of these pages, we will find references and related subjects. For us ordinary people not aspiring to the medical profession, we can at least learn an elementary form of the science. This knowledge will help us to be critical of some of the bullshit we are encountering today, especially the media and their scaremongering. Let us replace our anxiety with knowledge and critical thinking, keeping our minds open to learning from people like Dr Gupta and Dr John Campbell.

The more we learn and keep an open mind, the less we will be seduced by violent ideology and groupthink.

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