Pop Kult Warlord Book Review

 Heavy is the head that wears the crown….

Heavy is the head that wears the crown….

Pop Kult Warlord: Soda Pop Soldier Book 2
by Nick Cole
Kindle edition, 318 pages
Published November 4th, 2018 by Castalia House
ASIN B07K6SRSLW

A man with decisions to make. Choices that weigh heavily on him. Heavy is the brow that wears the crown, someone once said.

I may be weird, but I found the opening chapter of Pop Kult Warlord riveting. I think I might actually watch the SuperBowl of videogames, if it existed as described. John Saxon, by now known only by his online alias PerfectQuestion, is competing in the world championship of online videogames in Havana. The game in question, WarWorld, is the ideal combination of FPS and MMO. You can LARP as a Colonial Marine in game, only communicating in scraps of dialogue from Aliens, or you can go pro like PQ did, and focus entirely on being better at putting digital bullets into digital heads than the other guy or girl in exchange for corporate sponsorship, fame, and fortune.

PerfectQuestion is a top-tier competitor, and he is in demand as a digital mercenary. In a world where e-sports pulls in billions in ad revenue, the world’s most popular and recognizable player can write his own ticket. Unfortunately for him, he is starting to feel like he is too old to be playing videogames all night, and longing for a simpler, more fulfilling life.

I’ve played a lot of videogames in my day, so I know what he means. I like videogames a lot, and I write about that frequently on my blog, but I would never trade videogames for my career and my family. The hours I’ve invested in gaming have tapered quite a bit over the years, in a natural progression of family involvement. John Saxon, alias PerfectQuestion, is on the outside looking in, and starting to wonder if the grass isn’t really greener in suburbia.

Unfortunately for him, fate has other plans. When his agent shows up with a truly sweet offer, PQ lacks any of the mundane grounding of a wife, kids, or a mortgage to effectively question whether a deal that is too-good-to-be-true really is. So he finds himself on a plane to Calistan, the Islamic Protectorate of Orange County. Once there, PQ quickly finds himself in over his head, and hilarity ensues.

Like some of my other favorite authors living [Tim Powers] and dead [Jerry Pournelle], Cole uses his favorite places in Southern California to add verisimilitude to Pop Kult Warlord. Even after the Meltdown, the rogue-AI apocalypse from the prequel CTRL ALT Revolt!, the denizens of Orange County remain much as they are now, a mishmash of different cultures jammed into some of the nicest real estate in America.

When he isn’t doing the bidding of Rashid, the Sultan’s son, PQ gets to see both the beauty and the squalor of Calistan. He can enjoy the gulls and the waves off of Rashid’s private island, drive fancy sports cars, tour slums and barrios, witness summary executions, you know, the usual. He even gets to fall for a doe-eyed Mexican beauty, who may or may not be involved with the Aztec Liberation Front [or is that Liberation Front of Azteca?]

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The Sultan has long suppressed Catholicism in his domain, but I was rather pleased to see that when PQ does finally meet up with an underground priest, he is in fact a faithful Catholic. Even in extremis, he counsels the Mexican terrorists to repent and follow the Gospel [which doesn’t rule out armed resurrection per se].

All of the intrigue and duplicity PerfectQuestion has found himself embroiled in comes to a head, and then to a fairly satisfying conclusion. I’m trying hard to avoid spoilers, since this book really is hot off the presses, but for the most part, those who live by the sword, die by the sword. In a grand sense, justice is done, but the price is often severe. Some bear that price more than others.

Finally, I should comment on the book’s structure. This is the third book I have read in as many weeks that employs a parallel structure to tell a more complicated story than a simple narrative would allow. I don’t know whether that is a mere coincidence, or just the hot stuff for authors right now, but in this case I felt like it worked out fairly well. I wasn’t surprised when I saw how it all fit together in the end, and I liked how it tied into the last volume in the series, while pointing ahead to possible future works.

PerfectQuestion isn’t getting a white picket fence anytime soon, but I look forward to his next adventure.

My other book reviews

Other books by Nick Cole

Soda Pop Soldier book review

Other books by Nick Cole and Jason Anspach

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review
Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review
Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review
Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review
Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review
Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Prisoners of Darkness: Galaxy's Edge #6 Book Review
Imperator: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Turning Point: Galaxy's Edge #7 Book Review
Message for the Dead: Galaxy's Edge #8 Book Review
Requiem for Medusa: Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations Book 1 Review

The Long View 2006-11-13: TXT, Steyn, Spengler, Tridentine

 2004 Madrid Train Bombings

2004 Madrid Train Bombings

It has genuinely been long enough that a terrorist attack that I have no personal stake in, like the Madrid bomadmbings of 2004, with 193 people killed and 2,000 injured, seems like it happened in another lifetime. At the time, I remember reading hot takes [which wasn’t a thing then, if I remember aright. Merriam-Webster backs me up.] like Steyn’s that credited that bombing with redirecting Spain’s involvement in the Middle East.

I don’t have any idea whether that is actually true, and I don’t care to find out at this point. It is more interesting to me to reflect upon what John J. Reilly said here:

I think that if the jihadis had been able to blow up subways and airliners in the US, they would have been doing so right along, no matter what the tracking polls said.

At lot of what happened in the United States post 9/11 has clearly been useless or worse, but also we haven’t had anything on that same scale since. In retrospect, our enemies really are stupid and feckless, and incompetent as well. 9/11 was shocking, but it also seems to have been sui generis. Unfortunately, there was a whole cottage industry of people turning out purple prose about the imminence of another terrorist attack on the United States for quite some time afterwards. Most of them haven’t really owned up to that foolishness, with a few notable exceptions. Despite writing things like this, John J. Reilly himself perpetuated some of this foolishness.

This quote is still useful twelve years later:

In the Reagan Administration, "small government" had semantic content: it meant the deregulation of banks, airlines, and telecommunications. That project was necessary and largely successful. However, the term "small government" has outlived its referrent. Now, like "nondiscrimination," it is used in contexts where its application means anarchy facilitated by fraud.

Both of the despicable frames mentioned here are still going strong in 2018.


TXT, Steyn, Spengler, Tridentine

Yet another educational jurisdiction is accepting text-messaging conventions on exams, and Simon Jenkins could not be more pleased:

Thank you, Scotland. First John Knox, then the Enlightenment and now the Scottish Qualifications Authority. In a direct challenge to the English at their most reactionary, the authority has declared that it will accept text-messaging short forms in school examinations. The dark riders of archaism will protest and the backwoods will howl. No spell is cast as dire as spellcheck. But the champions of reason are massing north of the border and need our support...I have no quarrel with grammatical authoritarianism. Grammar is a vehicle that needs a highway code of human communication. To parse is to prosper. Grammar evolves to reflect the new uses that language requires of it, as dictionaries include new words. Adverbs and adjectives fight the good fight against poverty-stricken nouns and verbs. Prepositions and conjunctions are hurled into the fray. A controversial time is had by all.

In contrast, spelling has become a no-go area, an intellectual tundra. While plain writing is considered a stylistic virtue, plain spelling is a vice. English orthography is an edifice of unreason. Word endings are the last gasp of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman invasions, embedded in the cultural DNA of literary Brahmins. Not to spell properly is a sign of being common, as once was ignorance of Latin. Knowing your "ie" from "ei" or -ible from -able does not affect a word's meaning one jot. It is a caste mark, its distinction deriving from its very obscurity....The Scottish examiners are adamant that they are not rewarding text spelling, since there will be no marks for it, only for accuracy of meaning. Pupils will be credited for quoting "2b or not 2b" but will get higher marks if they spell it conventionally. That they should be penalised for an offence that Shakespeare himself committed is strange.

From the point of view of orthographic reform, we should applaud this development only conditionally. The text conventions that Scotland is now tolerating are often suboptimal. It also really isn't true that Sam Johnson's Dictionary became the basis for the current conventional spelling in order to grind the faces of the poor: the striving classes required a teachable standard, and Johnson's Dictionary was the only resource on the shelf. Still, as Jenkins notes, texting is the first mass-experience of an alternative orthography for English. It is news to many people that such a thing is even possible.

* * *

Mark Steyn is disenthused about the results of last week's election; he argues that the U.S. must prove it's a staying power:

On the radio a couple of weeks ago, Hugh Hewitt suggested to me the terrorists might try to pull a Spain on the U.S. elections. You'll recall (though evidently many Americans don't) that in 2004 hundreds of commuters were slaughtered in multiple train bombings in Madrid. ... they employed a craftier strategy. Their view of America is roughly that of the British historian Niall Ferguson -- that the Great Satan is the first superpower with ADHD. They reasoned that if you could subject Americans to the drip-drip-drip of remorseless water torture in the deserts of Mesopotamia -- a couple of deaths here, a market bombing there, cars burning, smoke over the city on the evening news, day after day after day, and ratcheted up a notch or two for the weeks before the election -- you could grind down enough of the electorate and persuade them to vote like Spaniards, without even realizing it. And it worked. ...On Tuesday, the national security vote evaporated, and, without it, what's left for the GOP? Congressional Republicans wound up running on the worst of all worlds -- big bloated porked-up entitlements-a-go-go government at home and a fainthearted tentative policing operation abroad. As it happens, my new book argues for the opposite: small lean efficient government at home and muscular assertiveness abroad. It does a superb job, if I do say so myself, of connecting war and foreign policy with the domestic issues. Of course, it doesn't have to be that superb if the GOP's incoherent inversion is the only alternative on offer...

I think that if the jihadis had been able to blow up subways and airliners in the US, they would have been doing so right along, no matter what the tracking polls said. However, it does seem to me that now they have an added incentive to accelerate whatever plans they have: they believe they have the US on the run, but from their perspective, a collapse would be far better than a staged withdrawal. One of the effects of the election, ironically, is that any attacks that do occur in the US will now be blamed on Democratic capitulationism, rather than on the Administration (which of course is actually responsible for preventing terrorism).

It really is not true that the national-security vote evaporated on the first Tuesday in November. The Bush Administration made a deliberate decision after the president's reelection to make the war politically sustainable by lowering its profile, which meant making it just another of the many important items in the president's second-term agenda. The Republicans lost the benefit of the national-security vote because they had long ago stopped cultivating it.

Steyn is right about the catastrophic effects of the congressional Republicans' bovine certainty that raiding the treasury was the same as good constituent-service. However, that has nothing to do with the "big government/small government" dichotomy, a rhetorical device that increasingly impedes thought. In the Reagan Administration, "small government" had semantic content: it meant the deregulation of banks, airlines, and telecommunications. That project was necessary and largely successful. However, the term "small government" has outlived its referrent. Now, like "nondiscrimination," it is used in contexts where its application means anarchy facilitated by fraud.

Readers will know that I am a great fan of Steyn's America Alone, but as I have also observed, his attempt to link the defense against the Jihad with domestic policy is the book's great weakness. You cannot fight Churchill's war abroad and maintain Coolidge's Normalcy at home. That is exactly what the Bush Administration tried to do.

Steyn further tells us:

Whatever it started out as, Iraq is a test of American seriousness. And, if the Great Satan can't win in Vietnam or Iraq, where can it win? That's how China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Venezuela and a whole lot of others look at it. "These Colors Don't Run" is a fine T-shirt slogan, but in reality these colors have spent 40 years running from the jungles of Southeast Asia, the helicopters in the Persian desert, the streets of Mogadishu. ... To add the sands of Mesopotamia to the list will be an act of weakness from which America will never recover.

For the near term, we must remember that the outcome in Iraq has not yet come out. There is no equivalent there of North Vietnamese heavy infantry waiting to pour across the borders when US forces leave. Neither, for that matter, is there really much sentiment in the US for total withdrawal, especially from secure areas like Kurdistan. For the longer term, I would point out that the era of half-measures, bad deals, and actual defeats began with the Korean War in the Truman Administration and extended through the Clinton Administration, which did one damned stupid thing after another, with no discernible diminution of US influence. It's not that the US is so splendiferous as that the world seems to have lost capacity to generate an alternative.

* * *

Spengler takes these things in stride, noting from his perch at Asia Times that Halloween came late in Washington

The sina qua non of a ghost is that it is condemned for eternity to reenact the delinquencies of its past life. That is just what we should expect from Robert Gates [the nominee for Secretary of Defense]. As chief of the Central Intelligence Agency's Soviet desk during the early 1980s, Gates shared the consensus academic view that the Soviet economy was strong and stable. A prosperous Russia, he reckoned, would respond rationally to management by carrot and stick. Fortunately for the United States, then-CIA director William Casey recruited outsiders such as journalist Herbert E Meyer, and listened to them rather than to Gates...

If the Soviet economy was crumbling, some leftist commentators object, what justified the Reagan administration's military buildup of the 1980s? The answer is that a failing empire is far more likely to undertake dangerous adventures than a successful one. That was true of the Soviet Union, whose 1979 invasion of Afghanistan threatened US power at the moment of its greatest vulnerability. It is equally true today of Iran, which faces demographic implosion and economic ruin during the next generation...we cannot easily imagine a world in which we will not exist because the world has no use for us. Self-styled power brokers of the James Baker ilk have no place in the world when power asserts itself in its naked form and there is nothing more to broker. The realists fancy themselves the general managers in a world of hierarchy, status and security. Replace these with insecurity and chaos, and there no longer is any need for such people...For the past five years I have counseled the United States to learn to live with the chaos that it can do nothing to prevent. No matter: Americans will learn, late and at cost, the way they always do.

Actually, i was having thoughts along these lines a few weeks back when I saw Zbigniew Brzezinski on the PBS New Hour explaining that there is no such thing as Islamofascism. When he was President Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State, he never quite said there was no such thing as Communism, but there was a certain resemblance between his policy of disengaging from the Cold War and his attitude toward the Middle East today.

* * *

The Tridentine Restoration approaches, or so we may judge from this report:

Cardinal Francis Arinze, one of the most popular and powerful Vatican officials to visit St. Louis since Pope John Paul II's 1999 visit, told more than 250 people at the Chase Park Plaza Saturday morning that Latin should be used more frequently in the Roman Catholic liturgy.

The Latin language now, he said "is in the ecclesiastical refrigerator ... Mass today should be in Latin from time to time." ...In an hourlong, often humorous, address that received several standing ovations, Arinze suggested that, in order to give Catholics options, large parishes offer the Mass in Latin at least once a week, and in smaller, rural parishes, at least once a month. (Homilies, he said, should always be in the faithful's native language.) Latin "suits a church that is universal. It has a stability modern languages don't have," he said.

It is in the nature of restorations often to be substantial improvements on what they purport to restore. This variety of usage that the Cardinal describes is precisely what should have happened in the 1960s. Doing it now will not eliminate the vernacular liturgy; it will shame it into perfection.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2006-11-10: The Morning of the Day Before

I hadn’t known [or had forgotten] that John J. Reilly was among the Catholics who find the logic of Humane Vitae less than airtight. He was also among the much smaller group who thinks the doctrine is correct, it just needs to be explained a bit better.


The Morning of the Day Before

Peggy Noonan has the sanest response to Tuesday's midterm elections:

We are in a 30-year war. It is no good for it to be led by, identified with, one party. It is no good for half the nation to feel estranged from its government's decisions. It's no good for us to be broken up more than a nation normally would be. And straight down the middle is a bad break, the kind that snaps.... One day in the future either New York or Washington or both will be hit again, hard. It will be more deadly than 9/11. And on that day, those who experience it, who see the flash or hear the alarms, will try to help each other....Make believe it's already happened.

Possibly no other election in history has elicited so many acknowledgements by the losers that it was not a bad thing for their side to lose.

* * *

The only connection with UK nonprofits I have ever had is the Simplified Spelling Society, of which I have the honor to be a member. Something that always mystified me about the Society, however, was that it did not function as a not-for-profit: it has to pay taxes on its modest endowment and even on its fees. I was told that the problem was that the Society had done a bit of lobbying in the 1950s, which had branded it as a political group for all time. I thought that strange, since in America charitable tax-exemptions are not hard to obtain. Now I see that the situation in the UK is about to get worse:

Next week, the new Charities' Bill will finish its passage through Parliament. It should become law before the end of the year. In spite of being billed as "the biggest review of charity legislation in the past 400 years", it has generated very little comment. This is surprising, because the Bill will vastly increase the power of the Charities' Commission to dissolve charities, confiscate their endowments and assets, and give them to what the Commission considers a more genuinely "charitable" cause.

That threat is alarming and real. It used to be taken for granted that organisations devoted to education, to religion, or to the relief of poverty, were automatically providing a "public benefit". The new legislation dissolves that assumption. Even more worryingly, it also leaves it up to the Charities Commission to decide what constitutes a "public benefit". There is no guidance in the legislation on how that slippery notion should be defined. Ministers and members of the Commission have referred to "case law", but there is almost none, precisely because, for the last 400 years, there has been so firm a consensus that education, religion and the relief of poverty constitute public benefits.

...The motive behind redefining that notion seems to have been the desire to ensure that charities benefit all the public, not just some small section of it. That is why, for instance, schools and hospitals that charge fees are being threatened with the withdrawal of their charitable status: they are said only to benefit people who can afford to pay, and not the whole of the British public. In fact, every charity benefits a portion of the population rather than all of it

One could argue that the American nonprofit sector is too big and too irresponsible, but perhaps we should prefer it to the alternative.

* * *

Here is one of the ways the Iraq War differs from the Vietnam War, as revealed by the election on Tuesday:

Forget the war in Iraq. The political war in America this year proved to be a bloodbath for the "fighting Dems," who might more aptly be called the "fallen Dems" after Tuesday's election.

After Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett, a Democrat, nearly scored a special-election upset in Ohio's strongly Republican 2nd District last summer, bloggers and other Democrats began touting war veterans as candidates for 2006. They touted dozens of such candidates as the antidote for the Democratic Party's long-running electoral ailments on the defense and security fronts.

But if Democrats have the same low tolerance for political casualties as they have shown for battlefield casualties in Iraq, their push to recruit and elect to Congress military veterans who run as Democrats will be short-lived.

Actually, it would be a poor notion to "forget the war in Iraq," which is still ongoing. As I have remarked before, no outcome of that conflict will be acknowledged to be a victory. The opponents of the Bush Administration might accept a pretty good result, however, provided the Administration does not get credit for it. Current thinking seems to run along the lines of the plan put forward by Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware in The National Interest (a publication which continues to get a little more disconcerting every time I see it). The plan is of the variety that leans heavily on the division of Iraq into federal cantons, based on negotiations with the Sunnis of the northwest. It is not clear to me that this is terribly different from what the Bush Administration has been trying to do. It is also not clear to me that peace is in the gift of the interlocutors that Senator Biden's plan contemplates.

In any case, domestic morale in the US is not as great a constraint on policy as the recent election may have led us to believe:

The US Army exceeded most of its recruiting and retention goals for October, the service said, even as it launched a new television and radio ad campaign dubbed "Army Strong." ...Re-enlistments in October far surpassed the goals for the active army (30 percent), the reserve (14 percent) and the national guard (43 percent).

Note that these figures coincide with an unemployment rate well under 5%. This is not 1974; Any party that works on the assumption that today is like then will get its head handed to it.

* * *

Meanwhile, here's a bit of preemptive disinformation about events in the Catholic Church:

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH laid down a tough, absolute law in the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae: no condoms, no abortion, no contraceptives. Never. Now the condom part of that rule is being reviewed, and if it is changed, expect new challenges to the entire contraception doctrine, to the doctrine of papal infallibility and even to the church's abortion rules....Pope Benedict XVI has ordered a Vatican staff report on whether condoms can be approved for situations in which there is potential for HIV infection. That report is imminent, according to Vatican rumors, and it is likely that Benedict will act quickly on it given that it was undertaken on his initiative...And yet Humanae Vitae is not, in its reasoning, as absolute as one might think. Paul wrote: "A right conscience is the true interpreter … of the objective moral order which was established by God." Thus he left a sort of conscientious-objector status for those Catholics who could not believe in the evil of contraception.

The actual text of Humanae Vitae does leave quite a bit of interpretive room for maneuver, though not in the way this editorial suggests. Humanae Vitae does, for instance, distinguish contraceptive intent from mere contraceptive effect (and it is not all clear the logic of the encyclical has any application outside marriage at all). The use of condoms for epidemiological purposes would not constitute an abandonment of the basic doctrine.

Like many people, I have never found the logic of Humanae Vitae altogether compelling. Like many exercises in natural-law reasoning, it is rhetorically persuasive without ever really locking into place with a rigorous proof. The irony is that, as sociology, the encyclical is the key to understanding the demographic and cultural evolution of the developed world over the past quarter century. The logic could use an upgrade, but to change the doctrine at this point would be wildly anachronistic.

I have my own notions of a class of argument to supplement natural law for civil purposes, but I don't particularly commend it to the Vatican.

* * *

Markus Wolf has died, the head of East German espionage for many years, and perhaps the most successful (though hardly the best known) spy in history. He died on November 9, an already overstuffed date in German history. I have a long review of Leslie Colitt's biography of Wolf, Spymaster.

* * *

Will it never end? Massachusetts continues to pursue the Darwin Award:

BOSTON, Nov. 9 — Lawmakers in Massachusetts, the only state where same-sex marriage is legal, dealt what appeared to be a fatal blow Thursday to a proposed constitutional amendment to ban it.

In a flurry of strategic maneuvering, supporters of same-sex marriage managed to persuade enough legislators to vote to recess a constitutional convention until the afternoon of Jan. 2, the last day of the legislative session.

On that day, lawmakers and advocates on both sides said, it appeared likely that the legislature would adjourn without voting on the measure, killing it.

“For all intents and purposes, the debate has ended,” said Representative Byron Rushing, a Boston Democrat and the assistant majority leader. “What members are expecting is that the majority of constituents are going to say, ‘Thank you, we’re glad it’s over, we think it has been discussed enough.’ ”

You could write a blog, you could run a news service, dedicated to nothing but stories about how this sort of issue has been settled once and for all, followed by accounts of the mass movements that spring up to insist that the matter has by no means been settled. You cannot settle the matter of abortion or gay marriage or euthanasia by judicial ukase; not even if, as happened here, you are in a position to sabotage the legislative process that might reverse it. More than a generation of experience shows that the strategy just does not work. Anyone who thinks otherwise in 2006 is ineducable.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

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The Long View: Third Law Conservatism

John Reilly proposes here an interesting psychology of schism:

The usual motive for schism, however, is conservative: new groups form because they believe that the old one has departed from tradition in some way.

For groups like the Old Catholics [split from the Catholic Church after Vatican I proposed papal infallibility] and the Old Believers [split from Russian Orthodoxy after a 17th century liturgical reform], this seems just so. One might argue the Great Schism of 1054 and the Protestant Reformation fall into this pattern as well, but that might stretch the point too far, and not entirely be fair to the latter events.


Third Law Conservatism

According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that is rapidly approaching a state of badly edited omniscience, Clarke’s Third Law runs thus: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The Clarke here, of course, is Arthur C. Clarke, the venerable science-fiction writer who is credited with conceiving the communication satellite. His Third Law (the other two need not detain us) is among the most widely quoted aphorisms in the culture of cyberspace, and indeed among the enthusiasts for all new technology with an information component. It expresses the hope that matter can be wholly subjected to the imagination.

The Third Law is not without empirical support; certainly it reflects something of the experience of anyone who has lived a reasonably long life in an advanced country during the past two centuries. It also seems to be the case that the latter technological innovations are more uncanny than the former ones. Perhaps technological progress is inevitable and perpetual. More likely, it approaches an ultimate state where reality is a work of art. In any case, the point I want to make here is that the freedom afforded by technological power does not simply dissolve the world and human nature in mere caprice: quite the opposite, in fact.

Consider, for instance, Jonathan V. Last’s piece in First ThingsGod on the Internet. In that survey of religious expression in cyberspace, the author makes all the points that conservatives usually make about the cultural effects of the Internet. Religion online, Last notes, tends to become politicized, consumerist, and worst of all, denominationalist. Little groups of the saved create their webrings of the like-minded where neither authority nor informed criticism can enter. In this regard, cyberspace has lent its unique facility of disintermediation to the extension of what was already a deplorable tendency in modern religious life.

But there is this: these little cyberchapels are rarely liberal, much less daringly original. We find almost none of the new mutations of the spirit that many people (including me, frankly) were expecting only a few years ago to emerge from the ether of electronic environments.

Denominations form online for much the same reasons that they form in the outer world. Occasionally, someone pronounces a doctrinal innovation and convinces a fraction of an older religious body to break off and form a new group. The usual motive for schism, however, is conservative: new groups form because they believe that the old one has departed from tradition in some way. And in fact, conservatism in this sense has been typical of cyberspace in general. There are many reasons why conservative politics prospered in the United States through the latter 20th century, but part of the answer has to be just this pattern of refusal by newly empowered individuals to follow what they believe to be departures from historical norms of governance.

The Third Law has merit if by magic we mean the magic of fairytales. That kind of magic is normally conservative, or at least nostalgic. We see it deployed in the fantastically successful Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter film series. Purely surrealist fantasies have also been cinematicized, sometimes with commercial success, but none has had the impact of the works that present traditional themes and traditional images. To some extent, the reception of these was prepared by their familiarity as literature, but we must also consider that their force rests on the inherent power of their traditional elements: indeed, that those elements became traditional because they are powerful. The new power of illusion serves to visualize a world that never was, but that, somehow, always is.

Christian parents who worry that these series are propaganda for an occult view of the world should not be lightly dismissed. There is popular entertainment, particularly branches of popular music, which seeks to do just that. Magic in that sense, however, is magic in the sense that some anthropologists use it: magic as the illicit and private appropriation of a society’s religion. This is almost never a feature of digitalized sword-and-sorcery.

Whether on the screen or in print, this type of fantasy can be used to allegorize an orthodox religious message, as C.S. Lewis and Tolkein have demonstrated. (The Lord of the Rings is really about the relationship between grace and works, but that is another essay.) By no means do all such stories have a spiritual message, however, or even most of them. Was there ever a more secular institution than Harry Potter's Hogwarts? It is essentially a trade school. The Harry Potter stories might not work all that differently if the school had been founded to educate young prodigies with an aptitude for computer programming; instead of invoking supernatural powers, the students might as well use their dog Latin to operate voice-activated computer interfaces.

What all these stories have in common is an animate world, an ensouled world, that responds directly to the human mind. The world of animism is the most intuitive for human beings. Science itself assumes such a mind-friendly world even when it is dispelling crudely animist superstition. Given the premise of historical progress, whatever is intuitive is easy to see as inevitable. Clarke's Third Law implicitly posits a model of history in which the world evolves from material to animate.

This seems to be the real implication of Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity Is Near : When Humans Transcend Biology. The notion is pure Hegel, which is hardly a criticism. Kurzweil hangs his forecast from computer science, and suggests that a very radical disjuncture from history and biology will occur by the middle of the 21st century. We should note, however, that much the same model can rest on different premises (and indeed many lesser lights have made many of the points that Kurzweil has). Most notably, the historian Henry Adams proposed an analogous idea 100 years ago, in the essays “The Tendency of History,” “A Letter to American Teachers of History,” and “The Rule of Phase Applied to History.” The idea achieved bestseller exposure in the Adams autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams: specifically in Chapter 34, A Law of Acceleration.

Adams derived his progression from growing energy use as measured by the consumption of coal. Like Kurzweil, his acme point was projected for just a few decades in the future, which in Adams’s case meant the first half of the 20th century. The physical model he favored as an analogy to the evolution of mind in the modern era was a cometary hyperbola. The comet moves very slowly, except for its brief stay in the inner solar system. Then it accelerates with stunning swiftness until it makes its closest approach to the sun. After that, it is flung out into space, where it again moves slowly among the stars. Adams's model allowed for the possibility that Earth might literally explode when historical acceleration reached its peak, but he suggests that the human race will "change phase," like a solid turning to a liquid, or a liquid to a gas. Modernity is simply the era of transition. After modernity will follow a future that, like the premodern past, is essentially changeless.

We know a bit more about the cultural effects of technology than Adams did. As we have seen above, one of the things we know is that technology sometimes favors the archaic. It has become a cliché to note that technological progress promotes personal interaction and networks. Human beings are not herd animals, and are never entirely comfortable being part of a mass. The drift of technology is toward a future in which everyone can act like a pack animal again: the rifleman of the First World War is wholly obsolete, but the knight is back, in electronic body armor.

Important as this trend is, I would suggest that the most important conservative effects of technology are more subtle. It might be too much to say that every human being secretly wishes to live in Minas Tirith, or even in the Shire. However, it may well be the case that the heart’s desire does not volatilize in all directions when freed from the constraints of physics and economics. In the space of the imagination, there are islands of stability. Information technology allows us to explore them in fine detail, but that technology did not create them, or even discover them.

In The Anatomy of Criticism, Northrop Frye notes that the progression of history in the Bible is marked by a change in man’s relationship to the world. In the beginning, the human body is contained in the garden that is the world. At the end, the body contains the world. The body is the New Jerusalem, the symbol of the humanized universe. By no means do I wish to equate the world of fairy tales with the eschaton, even the world of very good fairy tales like Tolkien’s, or to suggest that technological progress is the engine of salvation. Nonetheless, the humanization of the world that Frye proposes is at least in part a tale of technology, and the result must be something very like the magic of Clarke’s Third Law.

The irony is obvious. Technological optimists these last few centuries have trumpeted the power of technology to supersede all historical institutions and to replace them with radically new forms of life and thought. However, when freed from constraint, the creative impulse does not necessarily pursue the radically new. Frye suggested the opposite, at least with regard to literature: the only way in which writers can really be original is by reaching back to the origins, to the small set of plots and character types that inform all fiction. Original works in this sense simply break through ephemeral artistic conventions to a fresh representation of primordial forms. Similarly, the magic of the Third Law has in recent years served more to revive and conserve old ideas than to generate genuinely new ones.

Conservatism in this sense is not necessarily a bad thing, but then neither is it necessarily a good one. No one in his right mind would want to be the subject of a fairy-tale kingdom, even one without dragons. There can be tension between Burkean conservatism and Third Law conservatism, between the conservatism of deference to sentiment and the conservatism that seeks to incarnate archetypes which history may illustrate but does not define. Perhaps the most radical of all 20th-century ideologies, Tradition, has yet to be fully heard from. Tradition in this sense comes in various forms, but at its worst, it looks directly to the archetypes and distains all actual history. As an element of fascism, it had limited scope to develop. In a world where reality is becoming a work of art, its projects may be more practical.

For myself, I do not believe that Third Law Conservatism tends to a dark tyranny. Quite the opposite: we are dealing here with another version of Hegelian optimism, which itself was only a timid restatement of Joachim of Fiore's millennialism. One takes all such notions with a grain of salt, but we are wrong to dismiss their optimism. Indeed, faith in the providential structure of history is not just comforting, it is the predicate of sanity. It must, therefore, figure somewhere into any usable conservatism.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-10-30: Premonitions and Dark Arts

 Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson (18 November 1871 – 19 October 1914)

Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson (18 November 1871 – 19 October 1914)

There is an interesting premonition of the Eurozone financial crisis here. Monetary union between Germany and Italy and Germany and Greece devastated the economies of the smaller, less productive countries. Some people saw this coming a long time ago.

There is a kind of analogy to be made to the monetary union between the several States of the United States of America. One hundred years ago, this kind of thing was current in domestic politics.

Let’s look and see how the European economies compare to US states:

  • Germany’s per capita income is $48,111 (PPP)

  • Greece’s per capita income is $26,669 (55% of Germany)

  • Italy’s per capita income is $36,833 (77% of Germany)

In the US:

  • California’s per capita income $59,796

  • Mississippi’s per capita income is $37,903 (63% of California)

  • Ohio’s per capita income is $46,732 (78% of California)

Overall, pretty comparable. I don’t know whether the EU has the kind of transfer that we have in the US of taxes from richer states to poorer states. If not, that would be a big difference.

John Reilly also mentions Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson’s 1909 novel The Necromancers. Because John Reilly mentioned it more than once, I read it. This is one of the most terrifying books I have ever read. Monsignor Benson took spiritualism, then in vogue in England, very seriously indeed. This book, plus Last Call by Tim Powers, put me off anything of the sort forever. If you want to scare yourself for Halloween, read The Necromancers. You can get a Kindle version or a Gutenberg version for free.


Premonitions and Dark Arts

Arson does not make an Intifada, but apparently the security situation in parts of France really is deteriorating. Mark Steyn has this to say to Hugh Hewitt about where it is all headed:

HH: I hate arsonists. They're not only at work here...that's because my grandfather was a fireman for 60 years. But in Paris today, two buses are torched with ten people on them last night, barely got out with their lives. It's starting again in Paris.... MS...You know, these are countries that can be very coercive, and very unpleasantly so, when they have to be. And the danger is that you provoke them, you provoke them, you provoke them. You don't get a reaction. Then when you do get a reaction, it's a kind of nuclear one. And I think that is the situation that...whether that's actually any more effective in the long run is of course an open question. But I think that actually is the situation they're heading towards now in France.

Note that Steyn seems to be hedging his assumption in America Alone that Europe in general and France in particular will simply surrender.

* * *

Speaking of the miseries of Europe, real and imaginary, here's a bit of "I told you so" from the London Times about the euro:

The Iraq invasion, disastrous though it has been, may not go down in history as the greatest political blunder of the past decade. That dubious honour will probably belong to an event most people still regard as a triumph: the creation of the euro. What we see today, not only in Italy and Hungary, but also in the other relatively weak economies on the southern and eastern fringes of the EU, is the beginning of the end of the European project....

But what does the euro have to do with the political troubles in Hungary and Italy? And how can I compare the technocratic financial problems connected with the euro to a moral and humanitarian disaster such as Iraq? These two questions have a very clear answer: democratic self-government — or, more precisely, its denial.

What we see in Eastern and Southern Europe today are the consequences of the EU’s transformation from a union of democratic countries into a sort of supra-national financial empire in which the most important decisions affecting EU citizens are no longer subject to democratic control.

I still think the euro is a good idea; the problem is that the charter of the European central bank is a sort of mutual suicide pact. In any case, these complaints remind me of nothing so much as the agitation in the United States at the end of the 19th century against the Treasury's "hard money" policies. See, for instance, William Jennings Bryan's famous 1896 address that ends, Thou shalt not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!:

* * *

Speaking of agitation, James Lileks has drawn our attention to the discussion at the Huffington Post Blog about what to do if the outcome of next week's Congressional election is not all the Democrats might wish. Lyn Davis Lear favors us with this advice:

When I asked Gore Vidal at dinner why the White House seemed so serene and at ease about the vote, he replied that, this time around, the Bush-Cheney henchmen could simply call on martial law. ...We all know the neocons won't cede power easily. They have to be aware that if the tide of Congress turns, Bush's last two years will be mired in gridlock and perhaps even be punctuated by several embarrassing congressional investigations....Therefore we should all be on alert. If for whatever reason we don't win back Congress in November the only real answer will be to take to the streets.

On the whole, the Democrats probably have cause to regret the motif of election fraud that they deployed during the recounts of the Election of 2000. There was enough genuine confusion then to make it plausible, though the evidence did not in the end back up the charge. They deployed it again in 2004, when the result was not even very close. They did so, apparently, for no better reason than to excuse an embarrassing loss. The Democratic problem now is that they have succeeded in convincing a large fraction of their constituency that the elections really are rigged. Such a belief does not encourage high voter turnout.

Paranoia can be put to sophisticated uses, however, as James Boyce later demonstrated on the same blog:

Voters have absolutely had enough of claims and counter claims and yard signs - only one question remains for us to ask ourselves- will every vote count next Tuesday?...Despite passing laws designed to guarantee that the votes be counted, there is no guarantee that next week, we will know the outcome of the races that ...I fear for the Democrats because we have not yet learned to fight until the fight is won. The reasons for this are many but the fundamental flaw lies in the basic structure of where political power exists within our part[y]..Who is leading the charge to make sure that when the cry of 'fraud' is raised, as it most certainly will be, we will have the team to fight. Sure, the DNC and others will issue statements "we will fight to make sure every vote is counted." But are there teams of lawyers at the ready? ...the increasing cooperation between online and offline power circles these past few weeks has been encouraging. This new detente will fall quickly, and perhaps permanently, apart if yet again, a Democrat is advised to 'do the right thing' and concede. The online community will demand a fight. And we can not fight this fight alone....We need to work with our elected leaders and top donors. ... We have failed to prepare....Where are our leaders?

You see what is going on here? There is no reason to doubt that the Democrats will do reasonably well. If they don't, however, the faction represented by the Netroots believe they will be in a position to make a bid for the control of the party.

* * *

I have federal jury duty on Halloween, so I may not be able to blog. However, I submit for your consideration this short excerpt from The Necromancers, by Monsignor Hugh Benson (1871-1914). The Monsignor was a Catholic priest who was once a well-know popular novelist. This book is about spiritualism, which the author both deplored and took very seriously. In this scene, a young Catholic who has been experimenting with spiritualism and who has suffered an out-of-body experience goes to a medium for an explanation of what happened to him. This medium is dangerous because he is honest:

"Very well, Mr. Baxter, I will take you at your word.... Have you ever heard the phrase, 'The Watcher on the Threshold'?"

Laurie shook his head.

"No," he said. "At least I don't think so."

"Well," said the medium quietly, "that is what we call the Fear you spoke of.... No; don't interrupt. I'll tell you all we know. It's not very much."

He paused again, stretched his hand for the matches, and took one out. Laurie watched him as if fascinated by the action.

Outside roared Oxford Street in one long rolling sound as of the sea; but within here was that quiet retired silence which the boy had noticed before in the same company. Was that fancy, too, he wondered...?

The medium lit his pipe and leaned back.

"I'll tell you all we know," he said again quietly. "It's not very much. Really the phrase I used just now sums it up pretty well. We who have tried to get beyond this world of sense have become aware of certain facts of which the world generally knows nothing at all. One of these facts is that the door between this life and the other is guarded by a certain being of whom we know really nothing at all, except that his presence causes the most appalling fear in those who experience it. He is set there--God only knows why--and his main business seems to be to restrain, if possible, from re-entering the body those who have left it. Just occasionally his presence is perceived by those on this side, but not often. But I have been present at death-beds where he has been seen--"

"Seen?"

"Oh! yes. Seen by the dying person. It is usually only a glimpse; it might be said to be a mistake. For myself I believe that that appalling terror that now and then shows itself, even in people who do not fear death itself, who are perfectly resigned, who have nothing on their conscience,--well, personally, I believe the fear comes from a sight of this--this Personage."

Laurie licked his dry lips. He told himself that he did not believe one word of it.

"And ... and he is evil?" he asked.

The other shrugged his shoulders.

"Isn't that a relative term?" he said. "From one point of view, certainly; but not necessarily from all."

"And ... and what's the good of it?"

The medium smiled a little.

"That's a question we soon cease to ask. You must remember that we hardly know anything at all yet. But one thing seems more and more certain the more we investigate, and that is that our point of view is not the only one, nor even the principal one. Christianity, I fancy, says the same thing, does it not? The 'glory of God,' whatever that may be, comes before even the 'salvation of souls.'"

Laurie wrenched his attention once more to a focus.

"Then I was in danger?" he said.

"Certainly. We are always in danger--"

"You mean, if I hadn't prayed--"

"Ah! that is another question.... But, in short, if you hadn't succeeded in getting past--well, you'd have failed."

The genteel people in this novel get up to more scary stuff than can be found in all the torture dungeons in Slovakia. And look: it's available free from The Gutenberg Project!

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-10-23: American Nadir; Empire; Art; Indult; Thanatophobia

I would concur with John Reilly here that a sung Mass, whether High or Low, is a remarkable experience. There are a variety of sung settings for the Mass, in both the ordinary and extraordinary forms, by well-known composers. It is unfortunately difficult to find one in practice. I had the good fortune to participate in a Mass in Vienna that was a Mozart arrangement.


American Nadir; Empire; Art; Indult; Thanatophobia

A Nadir of American Power is the way The Washington Post describes the current state of things:

In Iraq, things get ever uglier, and the old remedy of extra troops now seems tragically futile...Iraq is often seen as a special Rumsfeldian screw-up. But in Afghanistan, the Bush team quickly handed off to a model pro-Western leader backed by a broad NATO coalition. And what are the results there? ...It would be nice if this merely proved that tough talk can backfire. But traditional diplomacy is faring no better. In North Korea and Iran, the United States has tried every diplomatic trick to prevent nuclear proliferation, making common cause with Western Europe, Russia, China and Japan, and wielding both sticks and carrots. ...Now Russia's pro-Western voices are being snuffed out, ...In Somalia, a Taliban-style group of Islamic militants has seized part of the country. ...Sudan's tin-pot dictator thumbs his nose at Uncle Sam and dispatches more death squads.

And as if that were not enough:

[T]he United States has several economic frailties and can't seem to address any of them. Every honest politician knows that entitlement spending on retirees is going to bust the budget....Every honest politician knows that support for globalization is fraying because of rising inequality at home....In fact, it's hard to name a single creative policy that has political legs in Washington. ...I'm not predicting the end of the American era, not by a long shot. The U.S. business culture is as pragmatic and effective as its political culture is dysfunctional. But has there been a worse moment for American power since Ronald Reagan celebrated morning in America almost a quarter of a century ago? I can't think of one.

The comparison with the situation just before the Reagan Administration is instructive, but chiefly because of the differences. The US was not just suffering foreign-policy reverses in those days: it was apparently losing the long-term strategic contest with the USSR. In the 1970s, the "economic frailties" were not merely potential. The country was becoming accustomed to nearly Latin American levels of inflation, which mysteriously were occurring at the same time as high unemployment and economic stagnation. The centers of major cities were in ruins after more than a decade of abandonment and sporadic race riots. Needle-shaped warcraft from the Pegasus Galaxy swooped down over suburban streets and abducted pedestrians who were never seen again.

I made that last part up.

What is different this time is that the problem is not so much an enemy, or even a constellation of enemies, but entropy. Consider the issues connected with North Korea and Iran and the Sudan. If the US is flubbing them, then the world is flubbing them, too.

Well, these turbulent bits don't last forever.

* * *

Orson Scott Card, as we see in his upcoming book, Empire, seems to have gotten the memo about the Hellenistic Analogy:

[W]hat Torrent was saying about America and empire made perverse sense. While the other students sidetracked themselves into a discussion about whether Torrent's statements were "conservative" or "liberal," "reactionary" or "politically correct," Reuben could not shake off Torrent's premise -- that America was not in the place Rome was in before it fell, but rather in the place where Rome was before civil war destroyed the Republic and led to the dictatorship of the Caesars.

I can only repeat, though, that there is a fundamental difference between a national empire and a universal state.

* * *

Art Weekend ended yesterday here in Downtown Jersey City. Helium balloons and numbered signs marked the stoops of the houses where artists have their studios. Visitors from New York, for the most part black-clad men and unusually tall women, followed maps about the district from numbered location to numbered location.

The one confusing point about this otherwise admirable procedure is that the displays the artists put out to mark their studios were not so different from the displays that realtors put out to attract people to an Open House to view a property for sale. I could not help but wonder whether unscrupulous realtors misidentified their properties as Houses of Art, so that people who came to view the last word in neo-ironic pointillism would find themselves asked to consider the merits of a four-story walkup just 5 minutes from Manhattan.

* * *

My local parish may get some press coverage when the Vatican issues the new rules that ease restrictions on the celebration of the Tridentine Mass: we have been doing it long enough that we have more or less got it right by now. The latest rumors say that the new rules will actually create a right to the old Mass in any parish where 20 people ask for it, provided the local bishop has not specifically forbidden it.

Frankly, I have never been very keen on creating a right to anything unless you are also creating a supply. The problem is not so much the lack of priests as the lack of the cultural infrastructure needed to do the Latin liturgy right. As a matter of preference, though not of principle, I would say that the Latin Mass is not worth doing unless it is sung, and for that you need a decent schola. Organizing a schola is not intrinsically difficult, but it is beyond the capacity of most parishes today. The fact is that the typical parish music ministry is ideologically committed to sing-along choirs at maximum amplification. The result of the new indult could be a lot of dry-as-dust, unsung, Low Masses: very quick, but not very nutritious.

* * *

Thanatophobia continues to spread, with Max Brooks demonizing Differently Animated Americans in a way that recalls the militant intolerance of Mark Steyn. First it was The Zombie Survival Guide, and now we have World War Z. Throughout the media, in fact, irresponsible persons continue to encourage violence against the Differently Animated. No judicial hearing, no habeas corpus: a quick shot in the brain is the only due process that interests these bigots. Their unthinking discrimination between the living and the undead is an affront to the principle of inclusion. Putting an end to beating-heart privilege will be the final frontier in equal protection of the law.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-10-17: Refutation of the Refutation

The Long View re-posting project took a back-seat while I struggled through J. G. Ballard’s short stories, but we are back!

An interesting bit that I missed at the time this was going on in 2006 was Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio publicly criticized Pope Benedict for his Regensburg address, and some behind the scenes maneuvering occurred, possibly a rebuke of the then Cardinal Archbishop. Mostly interesting in retrospect, since nothing major came out of it.


Refutation of the Refutation

Spengler has been naughty, as many of his fans discovered when they saw this post this afternoon on The Free Republic message board:

Yesterday, the Asia Times rejected Spengler's latest essay [which argued that the very idea of "Reason" was fundamentally incompatible with the competing idea of Islam as a religion revealed to Mohammed by the angel Gabriel], so Spengler posted the essay on his forum:

My Monday essay, refused by AToL
http://spengler.atimes.net/viewtopic.php?t=1744

Now today the forum is off-line:

Sorry, but this board is currently unavailable. Please try again later.

So anyone got any contacts at the Asia Times? Anyone know what's going on?

------

I have never, at any time, known what is going one, but a quick look at Asia Times shows that the editors have relented. The new column is up: Reason to Believe, or Not

Pope Benedict XVI has drawn a collective response from the Muslim world, in the form of an open letter from 38 Islamic leaders regarding his September 12 address in Regensburg. "All the eight schools of thought and jurisprudence in Islam are represented by the signatories," according to a press release hailing the letter as "unique in the history of interfaith relations"....The pope provoked outrage by suggesting that Islam rejects reason: the open letter proves him right. They argue that there is no dichotomy in Islam between reason and faith, which turns out to mean that there is no role for reason. ...Reason, the Muslim clerics aver, is one more of the "signs in the horizon" that God sets before us to reveal His presence, like sunsets and rainbows. Now, I suppose that sunsets, rainbows, cellular mitosis and one's capacity to bisect an angle all might serve as inspiration....[In contrast, the Judeo-Christian tradition has it that the] core of the issue is human freedom. Reason is a gift from God, to be sure, but it is a parent's gift of love to a child: the capacity to doubt and even to rebel, in the hope that grace will overcome man's obstinacy.

I think Spengler's account of the role of reason in Christianity actually understates the case, at least for Catholic theology. As I understand the doctrine, reason is constituent of reality, at least in part, and even of the divine nature. Be that as it may, Spengler's list of things for Higher Critics of Islam to criticize may be what got Spengler in trouble:

1) There are numerous variant versions of the Koran, making it quite unlikely that the Archangel Gabriel dictated the entire document to the Prophet Mohammed;
2) Approximately a fifth of the Koranic text is "just incomprehensible" according to Professor Gerd R Puin of the University of Saarbruecken; 
3) Much of what is incomprehensible in Arabic makes good sense if one reads the text instead in Syriac, the liturgical language of pre-existing Christian communities in the Middle East, according to "Christoph Luxenburg";
4) The archeological evidence (assembled by Yehuda Nevo) from the Koranic period strongly contradicts the notion that a finished text of any sort existed within a century of Mohammed's death.

The text of the letter to which Spengler refers can be found here. It is extremely polite, even irenic. Among other things, the authors had the grace to acknowledge that Benedict XVI's expressions of regret about the violence that followed the Regensburg Address were just that: expressions of regret, and not apologies. Nonetheless, to read the letter with a measure of attention is not to be reassured:

You [addressing Benedict XVI] mention that "according to the experts" the verse which begins, "There is no compulsion in religion (al-Baqarah 2:256) is from the early period when the Prophet "was still powerless and under threat," but this is incorrect. In fact this verse is acknowledged to belong to the period of Quranic revelation corresponding to the political and military ascendance of the young Muslim community.

The letter's authors are correct when they say that the injunction to "no compulsion" was not made at a time when Mohammad was physically vulnerable. However, as I previously discussed on 18Sept06 and (by way of amendment) 20Sept06, it is also usually conceded that the "no compulsion" verse from Sura 2 was abrogated or at least modified by later verses. The letter does not mention the verses from Sura 9 about using force to make infidels pay the tax on dhimmis.

In the Islamic spiritual, theological, and philosophical tradition, the thinker you mention, Ibn Hazm (d.1069 CE) is a worthy but very marginal figure...If one is looking for classical formulations of the doctrine of transcendence, much more important to Muslims are figures such as al-Ghazali (d.1111 CE)...There are two extremes which the Islamic tradition has generally managed to avoid: one is to make the analytical mind the ultimate arbiter of truth, and the other is to deny the power of human understanding to address ultimate questions...

In reality, a glance at the philosophy of al-Ghazali (Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazālī) supports Benedict's argument:

[Al-Ghazali] is also viewed as the key member of the influential Asharite school of early Muslim philosophy and the most important refuter of Mutazilites. His 11th century book titled "The Incoherence of the Philosophers" marks a major turn in Islamic epistemology, as Ghazali effectively discovered philosophical skepticism that would not be commonly seen in the West until George Berkeley and David Hume in the 18th century. The encounter with skepticism led Ghazali to embrace a form of theological occasionalism, or the belief that all causal events and interactions are not the product of material conjunctions but rather the immediate and present will of God. The logical consequence of this belief in practice, and an outcome that has developed in part from it over the subsequent centuries, is a turn towards fundamentalism in many Islamic societies.

The Incoherence also marked a turning point in Islamic philosophy in its vehement rejections of Aristotle and Plato. The book took aim at the falasifa, a loosely defined group of Islamic philosophers from the 8th through the 11th centuries (most notable among them Avicenna) who drew intellectually upon the Ancient Greeks. Ghazali bitterly denounced Aristotle, Socrates and other Greek writers as non-believers and labelled those who employed their methods and ideas as corrupters of the Islamic faith.

I am at a loss to understand why apologists for Islam always try to finesse the meaning of "jihad":

We would like to point out that "holy war" is a term that does not exist in Islamic languages. Jihad, it must be emphasized, means struggle, and especially the struggle in the way of God....When God drowned pharaoh, was he going against His nature?

In any case, the authors of the letter claim to know better than Emperor Manuel II Paleologous what form "jihad" actually took around 1400 when his empire was being eaten alive by it. They do offer what might be a minor concession, however:

Had Muslims desired to convert all others by force, there would not be a single church or synagogue left anywhere in the Islamic world. The command "There is no compulsion in religion" means now what it meant then. The mere fact of a person being non-Muslim has never been a legitimate casus belli in Islamic law or belief. As with the rules of war, history shows that some Muslims have violated Islamic tenets concerning forced conversions and the treatment of other religious communities, but history also shows that these are by far the exception that proves the rule....

Reading the letter, I was struck how it mirrored what less eminent apologists for Islam have been saying since the Regensburg Address: item by item, evasion by evasion, omission by omission. Sounding for all the world like Dan Rather complaining about criticism of network news by the blogosphere, the authors reproach the pope for using unapproved sources:

You refer at one point non-specifically to "experts " (on Islam) and actually cite two Catholic scholars by name, Professor (Adel) Theodore Khoury and (Associate Professor) Roger Arnaldez. It suffices here to say that whilst many Muslims consider that these are sympathetic non-Muslims and Catholics who should truly be considered "experts" on Islam, Muslims have not to our knowledge endorsed the "experts" you referred to...

Despite the flaws in its content, this letter marks a great improvement in the Muslim responses to the Regensburg Address. Certainly it is better than murder, pillage, and death threats. In fact, this is just the sort of response that Benedict was trying to elicit. Now let's see what he does with it.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-10-16: Crunchy Convert; Cardinal Invisible; Stinger Countermeasures

pope-francis.0.jpg

Both Rod Dreher and now Damon Linker have quite publicly left the Catholic Church in reaction to the on-going sexual abuse scandals. Both of them have also publicly said that part of their reason for doing so is their disappointment in the behavior of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus in reaction to the sexual abuse scandals. 

I wasn't there, so I shan't comment, other than to note, as I have before, that since Neuhaus is now dead, we only get one side of that story.

I feel about all of this very differently than Dreher and Linker do, but I have to ask myself, what would push me over that edge? Perhaps a similar kind of revelation about my own Bishop in the Diocese of Phoenix, but I know that he has disciplined a number of priests for sexual improprieties, including reducing some to the lay state. I suppose anything is possible, but I would be genuinely surprised. 

Hints have emerged from this controversy that Pope Emeritus Benedict was quite ineffective as pontiff, but I don't find that surprising. He never wanted to be the Pope, and he got out when he had a chance. Despite being slandered as "God's rottweiler", Joseph Ratzinger is a shy and bookish man who was most at home in the university. Now it looks a lot like he resigned because he was defeated.

When Pope Francis was elected, he was supposed to be a head-breaker who could finally crush the corruption in the Vatican. I think this is an accurate assessment of his personality, it just happens that he isn't really interested in doing that job. Pope Francis is really good at the dramatic gesture, and got people interested in the Church who had drifted away, or simply had never considered it, but now it isn't clear if that was worth the price.

Another thing I like about Pope Francis; he really knows how to stick the shiv in:

The day before a newly elected Pope Francis was to be formally installed at the Vatican in 2013, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was celebrating Mass in St. Peter's Basilica when he passed out at the altar and had to be rushed to the hospital.
It was a scary moment, and especially odd to see McCarrick stricken; even at 82, the energetic former archbishop of Washington always had a reputation as one of the most peripatetic churchmen in the Catholic hierarchy.
Doctors in Rome quickly diagnosed a heart problem -- McCarrick would eventually get a pacemaker -- and the cardinal was soon back at his guest room in the U.S. seminary in Rome when the phone rang. It was Francis. The two men had known each other for years, back when the Argentine pope was Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires. McCarrick assured Francis that he was doing fine.
"I guess the Lord isn't done with me yet," he told the pope.
"Or the devil doesn't have your accommodations ready!" Francis shot back with a laugh.

Benedict never would have gotten that jibe in.


Crunchy Convert; Cardinal Invisible; Stinger Countermeasures

 

If this is the kind of blog you read, then you probably already know that Rod Dreher, famous convert to Roman Catholicism and Mr. Crunchy Con himself, has joined the Orthodox Church (a Russian Orthodox diocese in Texas, no less). Promising not to burden his readers with the subject further in the future, he explained his reasons last week in a long article in Beliefnet.com. Much of the article consists of horror stories about diocesan dissimulation in connection with the clerical sexual-abuse scandals, but I think these lines are the heart of his explanation:

As my dearest friend, Fr. Joe Wilson, has said many times, the Scandal does not exist in isolation. It is only a part of a many-headed beast.

The sex-abuse scandal can't be easily separated from the wider crisis in the American Catholic Church, involving the corruption of the liturgy, of catechesis, and so forth. I've come to understand how important this point is, because if most other things had been more or less solid, I think I could have weathered the storm. But I found it impossible to find solid ground....What I didn't understand [when I converted to Catholicism], nor anticipate, was how difficult it would be to find an orthodox [Roman Catholic] parish here. We have lots of faithful Catholic friends here, and I don't think it's unfair to say that most of them are doing what most (but not all) orthodox Catholics in this country do: grit their teeth and white-knuckle it out in their parishes, doing what they can to hang on.

Well, yes: tell me about it.

I regard myself as a sort of convert, too, having stopped going to church from the time I was in high school until I was about 30. I walked right into the Spirit of Vatican II determination to define the Church simply as a community that people joined for essentially social reasons.

Though the individual members of the clergy were usually pretty reasonable, I quickly became aware of the institutional and catechetical indifference, indeed hostility, to the real reasons for which most converts convert. As I think back, I am appalled to contemplate how much time and energy were spent on matters like the use of gender-neutral language in the liturgy, a project that no one in the pews supported, but which the diocesan and national bureaucracies ensured would be the chief topic of conversation at every conference of bishops. While they bishops and their advisors were chattering about this non-issue year after year, the priest scandal was being brought to a slow boil by the malpractice of the Church's own lawyers and psychologists. But don't get me started.

The most sympathetic reaction to Dreher's move I have seen so far comes from Fr. Neuhaus at First Things, himself a Catholic convert.

I hope every Catholic bishop and priest will read his essay, and especially those bishops and priests who are inclined to heave a sigh of relief that we have weathered the sex-abuse scandal. And every Catholic engaged in the standard intra-church quarrels, whether on the left or the right, should take to heart what he says about Catholics being more preoccupied with church battles than with following Jesus.

We should note that, at least in terms of Catholic ecclesiology, Dreher's relationship to the Church is now ambiguous rather than broken. Catholicism holds that Orthodoxy retains the Apostolic Succession and the validity of the sacraments. I would not do what Dreher did, and I don't think anyone else should either. I think that partly because Orthodox ecclesiology is somewhat defective. I have also been told that Orthodoxy, which its proliferation of autocephalous churches and schismatic groups that are not on speaking terms, is much more like American Protestantism than like pre-Vatican II Catholicism. Still, let us cut Dreher some slack. We may hope he'll be back, either by returning to the Roman communion directly, or by the reconciliation of his new Orthodox communion with Rome.

* * *

Speaking of ecclesiastical politics, there is great unrest in the Archdiocese of New York:

Edward Cardinal Egan yesterday took more fire from clergy who want him canned, after he scheduled a meeting of his top advisers at the same time as the funeral of a popular priest. The emergency session of Egan's aides has been called for Monday - at the same moment many were planning to say goodbye to Msgr. Charles Kelly, pastor of St. John and St. Mary Church in Chappaqua, Westchester County.

The timing has upset priests already being urged to challenge Egan's leadership in a letter circulated by an anonymous group of clergy....Egan is said to be furious about the letter, which was circulated earlier this week by a group calling itself a "committee of concerned clergy" and criticizing his leadership style.

The authors called Egan "vindictive," "arrogant" and "cruel."

Actually, the worst I have heard myself about Cardinal Egan is that he focuses on little besides getting the archdiocese's finances in order. Good management should never be discouraged. However, the cost of that policy has proved to be that he barely ranks as a public figure. I had occasion to mention the cardinal of New York City a few weeks ago. I found that I had forgotten the man's name, so I had to look it up. When last has the cardinal of New York been obscure?

* * *

As for the other kind of sky pilot, I see that the condition of a select few may be made a little safer:

(10-12) 04:00 PDT Oklahoma City -- In yet another reminder of the lurking threat terrorist missiles pose to airliners, the Federal Aviation Administration has begun installing anti-missile systems on its fleet of aircraft. ...

The FAA move is the latest in a stepped-up effort to protect "commercial derivative" aircraft from missile attacks. Commercial derivative aircraft are essentially commercial airliners the government has modified for official use....

The anti-missile device being installed is known as LAIRCM, or Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures System, which detects ultraviolet light coming from an attacking missile's exhaust and then directs a pulsating laser beam at its homing device, or "seeker." The laser sends false tracking information, causing the missile to lose track of the target aircraft.

The Air Force already requires LAIRCM for large transport aircraft that fly to and from Baghdad.

It is not true that bringing the troops home from Iraq would bring the war home from Iraq. The war is already here.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Linkfest 2018-08-28

 Men’s wages since 1979, broken down by wage percentile (10th is the poorest, 95th is the richest)

Men’s wages since 1979, broken down by wage percentile (10th is the poorest, 95th is the richest)

Population Immiseration in America

I've got a draft on wages over time in the wings now, but Peter Turchin has some great graphs in this article.


Museum Visitor Falls Into Giant Hole That Looks Like a Cartoonish Painting on the Floor

I think a previous linkfest included an article on Anish Kapoor and his legal battles regarding Vantablack. I'm not surprised someone fell in this thing, it really was an accident waiting to happen.


Land expropriation: learning from the Chinese

South Africa is pondering expropriating land from Boer farmers. There are lots of different angles on this subject, this one uses China as a foil.


The Untold Story of NotPetya, the Most Devastating Cyberattack in History

A cyberattack on Maersk that reads like a thriller novel. Things like this make you appreciate the Butlerian Jihad.


Tolkien 101: On Fairy Stories

Wrapping up H.P.'s summer series on Tolkien, an extended reflection on Tolkien's essay "On Fairy Stories", which contains a great many ideas that I have seen reflected in the work of many authors I like, such as Neil Gaiman or Tim Powers.


(Almost) Everyone Hates Urbanization

Kevin Drum throws cold water on the dreams of urbanists. Everyone is too wedded to the status quo and their own self-interests to really do anything that would make a big impact. Harsh, but largely true.


Facing the Elephant

I must have really different priors than John Nerst, because I just assume everyone has hidden motives, even ones hidden from their own introspection. I am honestly not that interested in motives at all. I'm more interested in behavior, by their fruits you shall know them.


Two Cheers for Ultramontanism

Not enough attention is current paid to the first Vatican Council, which has a lot to do with where the Catholic Church finds itself today. The office of the Papacy gained much prestige and power in the nineteenth century


Tradition is Smarter Than You Are

T. Greer links Chesteron's Fence with James C. Scott and Joseph Henrich. This reminds me of something Aquinas once said, that man is barely an intellect at all, so weak are our powers of reason.


The Trouble with the View from Above

An introduction to James C. Scott.




Rudyard Kipling Does Scifi: The Secret of the Machines

This is my favorite stanza of Kipling's "The Secret of the Machines":

But remember, please, the Law by which we live, 
We are not built to comprehend a lie,
We can neither love nor pity nor forgive.
If you make a slip in handling us you die! 
We are greater than the Peoples or the Kings—
Be humble, as you crawl beneath our rods!-
Our touch can alter all created things,
We are everything on earth—except The Gods!

Progress and Polytheism: Could an Ethical West Exist Without Christianity?

An exercise in counterfactual history: what would the West be without Christianity?

 

The Long View 2006-10-11: Springtime for Doomsday; Mainstream Crusade; Tridentine Indult; Idomeneo; Secure Yourself

A Canticle for Leibowitz is one of the few Catholic apocalyptic novels. It remains one of my favorites, because of how seriously, and how imaginatively, Miller took Catholic doctrine.

Will Wilson's brutal tweet about the online LARPing of Catholic space empires is on point, and the best response I could imagine is the Catholic imagination of Walter Miller.

In this blog post, John also works at the essential dilemma that we face today regarding freedom of speech and the deplatforming tactics of groups such as Antifa. If all the West really stands for is allowing Nazis and other assorted ne'er-do-wells to have rallies, then it isn't worth defending. John discussed this in the context of the intentionally offensive cartoons of Muhammad in 2006, but the principle isn't really different now. John made an argument that allowing intentional transgressions was a necessary friction, but I think that time may have passed us by.

In 2002, John made an argument that healthcare was a public good, not a public right, and I still like this argument. He said that you couldn't call healthcare a public right in the same sense you could call the right to confront your accuser at trial, because healthcare depended upon an elaborate infrastructure of technology and training, while if you were going to have a trial, your accuser could simply be produced.

I think teasing out the subtleties of this argument would be a book, at least, but I think there is something here. 

In a similar vein, the relatively homogeneous Western European societies that developed ideals of free speech had a remarkable ability to tolerate cranks and dissent, within certain bounds. Think of Toad in the Wind in the Willows. The relatively unhomogeneous Western societies we have now, don't. Much like healthcare, our capacity to tolerate blasphemy and hatred depends on our capacity to provision public life with a common meaning. When that is lacking, it doesn't matter what the constitution says; no one is getting what is promised.


Springtime for Doomsday; Mainstream Crusade; Tridentine Indult; Idomeneo; Secure Yourself

 

Alas for Millennial Studies, which made the mistake of trying to institutionalize itself in connection with the year 2000. Today, I think, few people would deny that the area is of more enduring significance. Consider, for instance, Thomas Hibbs' comments on the enduring significance of Walter Miller's 1959 novel about the interval between the Third and Last World Wars, A Canticle for Leibowitz:

[A]t a time when we are inundated with ideologically charged and artistically mediocre end-times stories — the latest entry is the CBS TV series Jericho — it is perhaps time to recommend Canticle, a novel that serves to put in question our simplistic apocalyptic oppositions between science and religion, knowledge and faith, even Jews and Christians. ...

End-times stories have become quite popular in recent years. In a recent New York Magazine piece, entitled “The End of the World as They Know It,” Kurt Anderson observes that from “Christian millenarians and jihadists to Ivy League professors and baby-boomers, apocalypse is hot...”

Buffy and other apocalyptic stories stress the recovery of a lost knowledge of good and evil, but this knowledge is typically needed, not so much to inform a living culture, but merely to fend off destruction and to do so by violent means. In A Canticle for Leibowitz, by contrast, the accent is not on destruction or even holding back destruction through violence but on preservation. The goal is integration and unification, however difficult that objective might be.

I have been saying that for years; I may be saying that until doomsday.

* * *

What are we going to call the rollback of Islam? The Reconquesta? Anyway, we will soon need a term if even a journal as clueless as The New York Times notices that Across Europe, Worries on Islam Spread to Center

Europe appears to be crossing an invisible line regarding its Muslim minorities: more people in the political mainstream are arguing that Islam cannot be reconciled with European values...Now those normally seen as moderates — ordinary people as well as politicians — are asking whether once unquestioned values of tolerance and multiculturalism should have limits....

When Pope Benedict XVI made the speech last month that included a quotation calling aspects of Islam “evil and inhuman,” it seemed to unleash such feelings. Muslims berated him for stigmatizing their culture, while non-Muslims applauded him for bravely speaking a hard truth....

In Austria this month, right-wing parties also polled well, on a campaign promise that had rarely been made openly: that Austria should start to deport its immigrants. Vlaams Belang, too, has suggested “repatriation” for immigrants who do not made greater efforts to integrate...The idea is unthinkable to mainstream leaders, but many Muslims still fear that the day — or at least a debate on the topic — may be a terror attack away...

Perhaps most wrenching has been the issue of free speech and expression, and the growing fear that any criticism of Islam could provoke violence.

On the subject of free speech and expression, we should note Stephen Schwartz's report that there was less to the Idomeneo controversy than met the eye:

First, the Berlin Opera performance of Idomeneo was threatened with cancellation because German authorities decided that showing the decapitated head of Muhammad would offend Muslims and cause violent disorders.

Such a claim might have borne some weight, except that there was no evidence that any Muslims anywhere had ever heard about the opera or cared at all about it. Excitement among the Berlin officialdom was caused by a telephone tip from an individual who surmised the opera might cause problems. As this column is written, however, German Muslim leaders have called for the opera to be shown as planned.

Second, the appearance of the severed heads in the opera was a novelty created by producer Hans Neuenfels, to express his own hatred of religion. It does not appear in Mozart's original work, which is set on the island of Crete at a time when nobody in the Hellenic world knew anything about Buddha, and Jesus and Muhammad had not yet been born. Islamophobes (because people who irrationally fear and hate Islam do exist, unfortunately) soon blew the brouhaha far out of proportion, declaring that the Berlin Opera had surrendered to expressions of Muslim rage that, as noted, did not exist, and as much as declaring that the very survival of human liberty depended on the opera being presented in Neuenfels' version.

The latest news assures the opera public and global opinion that the Neuenfels production of Idomeneo will be mounted as planned, the head of Muhammad will be displayed, and the Western understanding of freedom will be, at least temporarily, saved.

That's an encouraging outcome, I suppose. It leaves us with the satisfaction of seeing cultural provocateurs fleeing from their own shadows. More important, maybe, is that it saves us the embarrassment of needing to defend this godawful production. As I have noted, the avant garde has become subversive of liberty:

The fact is that if democracy meant nothing else than that blasphemy could be freely circulated, or that pornography was always available at the touch of a button, or that Michael Moore got to make as many tendentious films as he wanted, then democracy would not be worth having; certainly it would not be worth dying for. The fact is that we put up with these annoyances because they are necessary frictions. We have freedom of the press and contested elections because, on the whole and over the long run, they produce good government and the improvement of the human estate. They produce virtue. The lethal danger that postmodernism and libertarianism pose for the West is their embrace of the transgressive. Their mixture makes Western society repulsive abroad and, in the long run, causes the freedoms on which they depend to become a matter of indifference at home.

These people need to read A Canticle for Leibowitz.

* * *

Speaking of forward-looking preservation, we see that Benedict XVI is about to do something else that needed doing:

THE Pope is taking steps to revive the ancient tradition of the Latin Tridentine Mass in Catholic churches worldwide, according to sources in Rome.

Pope Benedict XVI is understood to have signed a universal indult — or permission — for priests to celebrate again the Mass used throughout the Church for nearly 1,500 years. The indult could be published in the next few weeks, sources told The Times...The new indult would permit any priest to introduce the Tridentine Mass to his church, anywhere in the world, unless his bishop has explicitly forbidden it in writing.

I know people to whom this move has been almost an eschatological hope. We should remember, though, that priests educated after the 1960s do not know how to say the Tridentine Mass. As for the older ones who do know how, most of them would not do so even at gunpoint. Still, this is a positive development. The old liturgy needs to stay in circulation so it can be mined for ways to perfect the vernacular liturgy, particularly with regard to music.

* * *

Finally, take note of the website in which that Stephen Schwartz item above appears: Family Security Matters. In part, it describes itself thus:

We want to be your best resource for accurate and practical knowledge that will make your families and communities safer, stronger, and more secure. This problem is too important to wait for someone else to solve it. So explore our site, sign up for membership and FSM's Daily Security Updates, and come back often to learn everything you need to become active participants in America's struggle for security and peace.

This smacks of one of Mark Steyn's suggestions in America Alone, that it would be better if ordinary people took responsibility for their own physical security rather than waiting for the government to make them safe.

As Mr. Burns said when Smithers assured him that the Jade Monkey had been found in the glove compartment of Mr. Burns's limousine: "Excellent. It's all falling into place."

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-10-06: Deus Vult; Foley Fake; Friedman's Folly; Times Hoax; Abortion & Medical Ethics

If anything, the deus vult memeing has only gotten more intense in the last twelve years.


Deus Vult; Foley Fake; Friedman's Folly; Times Hoax; Abortion & Medical Ethics

 

An old friend called a few days ago to ask me to refresh his memory about the First Crusade. What was the Crusaders' motto again?

"'Deus Vult,' I replied. "Latin for 'God Wills.'"

"That's it. Thanks, I needed that information."

"What for?"

"I'm having T-shirts made with that printed on them. I'm sick and tired of Islam."

Deus Vult may be the best slogan ever coined, but I have doubts about its use in the current context.

I don't doubt that God, in a general sort of way, would approve of the disappearance of Islam. (Islam really is just a very eccentric Christian heresy, and I begin to wonder whether its ultimate fate might not lie along a Muslim version of "Jews for Jesus.") However, nothing we could do today would include the enterprise for which Deus Vult was authorized.

The First Crusade (1095) was launched in somewhat delayed response to the Battle of Manzikert (1071), the battle that began the collapse of the Byzantine position in Asia Minor under the influx of the Seljuk Turks. More specifically, the crusade was a response to the request for assistance that came to Pope Urban II from the Byzantine Emperor Alexis II. The pope sponsored the enterprise, and the crusaders took oaths that would be unambiguously fulfilled only if they captured Jerusalem (which they did, to the surprise and annoyance of the Byzantines and their partisans among the later historians).

To put it bluntly, the First Crusade believed itself to be on a mission from God; its participants could produce documentary support for that proposition. Today, there may be prudential reasons for driving back or converting Islam, but the use of Deus Vult would imply a product endorsement that has not been authorized.

* * *

The most sensible thing yet said about the Foley Affair was Hugh Hewitt's introduction to a recent broadcast of his talkshow:

Condoleezza Rice is in Baghdad, the North Koreans are getting ready for a nuclear test, and my guest, Mark Steyn, is with me to discuss not those, but Mark Foley.

I am beginning to suspect that Karl Rove orchestrated all this, at least with regard to the timing, in order to distract attention from Bob Woodward's new book, I'm Still Relevant, Dammit!. As for the Korean nuke test, does anyone doubt that the Dear Leader is simply Rove's catspaw?

* * *

Here's the worst piece of economic history I have seen in a long time, and it comes from Milton Friedman:

It had to happen. Hong Kong's policy of "positive noninterventionism" was too good to last. It went against all the instincts of government officials, paid to spend other people's money and meddle in other people's affairs. That's why it was sadly unsurprising to see Hong Kong's current leader, Donald Tsang, last month declare the death of the policy on which the territory's prosperity was built.

The really amazing phenomenon is that, for half a century, his predecessors resisted the temptation to tax and meddle. Though a colony of socialist Britain, Hong Kong followed a laissez-faire capitalist policy, thanks largely to a British civil servant, John Cowperthwaite. Assigned to handle Hong Kong's financial affairs in 1945, he rose through the ranks to become the territory's financial secretary from 1961-71. Cowperthwaite, who died on Jan. 21 this year, was so famously laissez-faire that he refused to collect economic statistics for fear this would only give government officials an excuse for more meddling. His successor, Sir Philip Haddon-Cave, coined the term "positive noninterventionism" to describe Cowperthwaite's approach.

The results of his policy were remarkable. At the end of World War II, Hong Kong was a dirt-poor island with a per-capita income about one-quarter that of Britain's. By 1997, when sovereignty was transferred to China, its per-capita income was roughly equal to that of the departing colonial power, even though Britain had experienced sizable growth over the same period. That was a striking demonstration of the productivity of freedom, of what people can do when they are left free to pursue their own interests.

Hong Kong got rich because it was the entrepot city to China, as Singapore is for Malay World and as Miami is for the Caribbean. Only the dimmest government (like, say, the one in New Orleans) could prevent the gateway to a vast hinterland from prospering. What Friedman is complaining about is that Hong Kong is starting to implement some of the regulations that have long been a feature of advanced economies. Perhaps these regulations will be used crookedly. Ideally, though, Hong Kong's place in the scheme of things in this point in its history is to set a good example to China, whose economy is turning into the bar scene in the first-released Star Wars movie.

* * *

The readership of the New York Times is, as we know, an eccentric and in many ways psychologically fragile population. We can therefore only be astonished at the editors' cruelty in running as story as misleading as the one headlined Evangelicals Fear the Loss of Their Teenagers:

Despite their packed megachurches, their political clout and their increasing visibility on the national stage, evangelical Christian leaders are warning one another that their teenagers are abandoning the faith in droves...Their alarm has been stoked by a highly suspect claim that if current trends continue, only 4 percent of teenagers will be “Bible-believing Christians” as adults. That would be a sharp decline compared with 35 percent of the current generation of baby boomers, and before that, 65 percent of the World War II generation...The 4 percent is cited in the book “The Bridger Generation” by Thom S. Rainer, a Southern Baptist and a former professor of ministry. Mr. Rainer said in an interview that it came from a poll he had commissioned, and that while he thought the methodology was reliable, the poll was 10 years old.... George Barna found that 5 percent of teenagers were Bible-believing Christians. Some criticize Mr. Barna’s methodology, however, for defining “Bible-believing” so narrowly that it excludes most people who consider themselves Christians.

As this compressed version of the story shows, a reader who carefully read to the end of the piece would learn that this "fear of the loss of teenagers" is nothing more than a bit of scaremongering by some evangelical rally-organizers. However, the people who read the Times daily have a strong need to believe that religion is a negligible epiphenomenon to American life that will soon become extinct. I have already seen the Times story interpreted online in just that way and the prospect of a post-religious future applauded. The Times needs to hold on to its base readership, but is it really ethical for a newspaper to encourage a delusion among its readers in this way?

* * *

What would life be like after Roe v. Wade? Consider the Illegal abortion doctor struck off in Australia:

A SYDNEY abortion doctor has been struck off after the NSW Medical Board found her to be of bad character and guilty of professional misconduct.

Suman Sood, who in August became the first doctor in NSW in 30 years to be found guilty of performing an unlawful abortion, was deregistered yesterday and may not reregister.. for 10 years.

You see: no criminal trail, no manslaughter charges; it's a disciplinary procedure that can actually be carried out because the penalties are not terribly severe. That is the kind of legislation that the pro-life movement in the United States should be working on.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-09-20: Republicans Less Doomed; Matters of Interpretation

In 2006, the Democrats had big gains in the mid-term elections, a state that lasted until 2010, when the House swung strongly Republican. As John noted here, no American political party has managed to assemble a stable coalition since the end of the New Deal era.


Republicans Less Doomed; Matters of Interpretation

 

Every optimistic political forecast presented to the public is itself a piece of propaganda. Nonetheless, I think that this one has merit:

It is no longer a "given" that the Democrats will gain at least one house of Congress in the November elections ó and the latest poll shows trend that should make Democrats nervous: Amid falling gas prices and a two-week drive to highlight his administration's efforts to fight terrorism, President Bush's approval rating has risen to 44% in a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll. That's his highest rating in a year.

Republican control of the House is still iffy, but the small majority that the Democrats might acquire is likely to be too fractious to pose more than a nuisance to the Bush Administration. This is a remarkable turn around; a few months ago, I was certain the Republicans were toast. And in fact, given a reasonably competent opposition party, they would have been toast. The Democrats have failed to achieve competence. In my estimation:

They have not put together an attractive platform: On the Iraq War, they fudged the difference between the genuine anti-war position (which at least creates enthusiasm) and the War-on-Terror position by offering a "lose slowly" alternative. This position dispirits everybody. The chief Democratic domestic issue seems to be an increase in the minimum wage. For my part, I would like to see the minimum wage defined as a percentage of the median wage so we could be done with the matter. As an electoral issue, however, it suffers from the defect that most of the people who earn the minimum wage are students or in the country illegally.

They have not found plausible candidates: I see this particularly in the US Senate race in New Jersey. Incumbent Democrat Bob Menendez has good qualifications and he functions well in the ethnic politics of the urban northeast of the state, but the political history of New Jersey consists in large part of qualified candidates from the northeast failing to win statewide office. He may yet beat the empty Republican suit, Tom Keane Jr. (the "Jr." got him the nomination), but it says something about the Democratic Party that they put forward such a weak candidate in a race that ought to have been easy for them. This pattern has been repeated nationwide.

The Republican Party had the chance after 911 to achieve the level of domination of national politics that the Democrats did in 1932. In this the Republicans signally failed. If they retain both Houses of Congress this November, it will be because the electorate sees no reason to replace one party that is beyond satire with another.

* * *

Correction: A kindly Arabist corrected an assertion of mine in the entry for 18Sept06. There I said that textual priority rather than chronological priority is key to the practice of Koranic interpretation. Apparently I was mistaken. Chronological priority is indeed the issue in the matter of abrogation. However, I am also informed that the interpretation by Juan Cole that I had been questioning is problematical anyway, since a large number of scholars agree that Sura 2:256 has been abrogated. I am referred to Friedmann, Tolerance and Coercion in Islam, Chapter 3, pp. 94-95, 100-106.

* * *

Benedict's Regensburg Lecture was not holy writ, but it continues to attract interpretation and commentary, such as these surmises from Stratfor's George Friedman:

One view derives from the fact that the pope is watching the U.S.-jihadist war. He can see it is going badly for the United States in both Afghanistan and Iraq. ...Bush has been trying to portray the war against Islamist militants as a clash of civilizations, one that will last for generations and will determine the future of mankind. Benedict, whether he accepts Bush's view or not, offered an intellectual foundation for Bush's position....

This perspective would explain the timing of the pope's statement, but the general thrust of his remarks has more to do with Europe....

[W]ith his remarks, he moved toward closer alignment with those who are uneasy about Europe's Muslim community -- without adopting their own, more extreme, sentiments. That move increases his political strength among these groups and could cause them to rally around the church. ...And he has delivered his own warning to Europe's Muslims about the limits of tolerance.

Let me suggest that a key segment of Benedict's audience was the Oriana Fallacis of the world (would that she had lived even another week!), and that among that class we must number the Left-agnostic anti-Islamist Christopher Hitchens. As a diagnostic baseline by which to judge the progress of the Lecture, let us note Hitchens' column of September 18, Papal Bull -- Joseph Ratzinger's latest offense:

Attempting to revive his moribund church on a visit to Germany, where the Roman congregations are increasingly sparse, Joseph Ratzinger (as I shall always think of him) has managed to do a moderate amount of harm and absolutely no good to the very tense and distraught discussion now in progress between Europe and Islam...

The Muslim protesters are actually being highly ungrateful. When the embassies of Denmark were being torched earlier this year, Rome managed a few words of protest about the inadvisability of profane cartoons. In almost every confrontation between Islam and the West, or Islam and Israel, the Vatican has either split the difference or helped to ventriloquize Muslim grievances...

[At] Regensburg, the man who modestly considers himself the vicar of Christ on Earth maintained a steady attack on the idea that reason and the individual conscience can be preferred to faith... and dishonestly tries to make it seem as if religion and the Enlightenment and science are ultimately compatible...

Several things are happening in this column. There is Hitchens' good English-red-beef No Popery, the Left Book Club's take on the Whig interpretation of history, and a measure of the frustration felt, even among people who are not anti-religious, at the slowness of the churches of the West to recognize their peril. Hitchens is quite mistaken about the relationship in Western intellectual history between science and faith (a point about which even Stephen Gould got the memo in his last days). Here we will note that, perhaps because of his other misunderstandings, he has adopted this clearly erroneous of what the Vatican and the Muslim world have been doing since the Lecture was given:

And of course now we hear, as could have been predicted, the pathetic and unconvincing apologies issued by his spokesmen and finally Ratzinger himself. These will only serve to convince infuriated Muslims that by threatening reprisal, calling for the severing of diplomatic relations with the Vatican, and issuing a few more sanguinary fatwas, they can force yet another retreat. The usual things have happened: the shooting of a nun in Somalia and the desecration of Christian churches in Palestine. And so the ecumenical "dialogue" goes on.

What happens when he recognizes the subtlety of the Vatican's policy? One might ask that of the whole non-suicidal wing of the Left in the West.

* *

Starting to cheer up, were you? Just in time, there is a new television drama to fill your Wednesday evenings with thoughts of cosmic catastrophe:

JERICHO is a drama about what happens when a nuclear mushroom cloud suddenly appears on the horizon, plunging the residents of a small, peaceful Kansas town into chaos, leaving them completely isolated and wondering if they're the only Americans left alive. Fear of the unknown propels Jericho into social, psychological and physical mayhem when all communication and power is shut down. The town starts to come apart at the seams as terror, anger and confusion bring out the very worst in some residents.

I strongly suspect that this story of civic collapse in the face of natural disaster was inspired by last year's Katrina disaster. In fact, the only American city where you can rouse a rabble at the drop of a hat is Springfield, where the Simpsons live.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-09-18: The Benedictine Jihad II

Pope_Benedict_XVI_on_Aug_28_2010_Credit_LOsservatore_Romano_CNA_2.jpg

A long post on the intricacies of the argument after Pope Emeritus Benedict's Regensburg lecture. After all this time, the thing that strikes me really is that Benedict meant what he said, and said it deliberately, but that his point was a bit softer and more subtle than everyone assumed.


The Benedictine Jihad II

 

Spengler has never been happier, as we see in his latest column at Asia Times (Jihad, the Lord's Supper, and eternal life) regarding Benedict XVI's Regensburg Lecture:

The Islamic world now views the pontiff as an existential threat, and with reason. Jihad is not merely the whim of a despotic divinity, as the pope implied. It is much more: jihad is the fundamental sacrament of Islam, the Muslim cognate of the Lord's Supper in Christianity, that is, the unique form of sacrifice by which the individual believer communes with the Transcendent. To denounce jihad on theological grounds is a blow at the foundations of Islam, in effect a papal call for the conversion of the Muslims.

Spengler's view that Islam is a form of monotheistic idolatry comes from the theologian Franz Rosenzweig. Spengler's view that "[n]ow the same ban has been preached from St Peter's chair" is something of an exaggeration: Benedict was not speaking ex cathedra. Actually, as I now see, it would have defeated his point if he had done so, since one of his goals was see whether the power centers in Islam today can debate a debatable point. Spengler also says the Regensburg Lecture "is a defining moment comparable to Winston Churchill's 'Iron Curtain' speech at Fulton, Missouri, in 1946." I am not that Spengler is not wrong.

And what shall we say of this rare expression of hope from the mystery-man of Asia Times.

No more can one assume now that Europe will slide meekly into dhimmitude.

We will see,

* * *

The history-editing machinery that has sprung up in recent years precisely to keep ideas like Benedict's out of circulation is freezing up in response to this incident. One notes particularly this response to Benedict from the Islamist apologist Juan Cole (hat-tip to Danny Yee):

[Benedict] notes that the text he discusses, a polemic against Islam by a Byzantine emperor, cites Qur'an 2:256: "There is no compulsion in religion." Benedict maintains that this is an early verse, when Muhammad was without power. His allegation is incorrect. Surah 2 is a Medinan surah revealed when Muhammad was already established as the leader of the city of Yathrib (later known as Medina or "the city" of the Prophet).... The idea of holy war or jihad (which is about defending the community or at most about establishing rule by Muslims, not about imposing the faith on individuals by force) is also not a Quranic doctrine. The doctrine was elaborated much later, on the Umayyad-Byzantine frontier, long after the Prophet's death. ... The Pope was wrong on the facts. He should apologize to the Muslims and get better advisers on Christian-Muslim relations.

If reputable Islamic sources had given Benedict the sort of answer that Cole did, then the pope's thesis would have been undermined. Instead, the characteristic reaction from Muslim sources has been like this one from an umbrella group led by Iraq's branch of al Qaeda:

"We tell the worshipper of the cross (the Pope) that you and the West will be defeated, as is the case in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya," said a Web statement by the Mujahideen Shura Council.

"We shall break the cross and spill the wine ... God will (help) Muslims to conquer Rome ... (May) God enable us to slit their throats, and make their money and descendants the bounty of the mujahideen," said the statement, posted on Sunday on an Internet site often used by al Qaeda and other militant groups.

That does not quite prove the pope's historical or theological arguments, but it does support the proposition that there is an institutionalized streak of violence in modern Islam that at the very least needs to be repudiated.

* * *

But what about the merits of Benedict's use of Islamic sources? Cole says that the irenic verses from Sura 2 are actually late rather than early. I suspect that is a debatable point. In any case, it is certainly true that the verses used to justify holy war come later in the Quran, like these from Sura 9:

9.4: Except those of the idolaters with whom you made an agreement, then they have not failed you in anything and have not backed up any one against you, so fulfill their agreement to the end of their term; surely Allah loves those who are careful (of their duty).

9.5: So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

As I understand the matter, apparently contradictory verses in the Quran are reconciled by the principle that later ones abrogate earlier ones that cannot be harmonized in any other way. In this context, earlier and later mean earlier and later in the text, not in time of composition. [Correction: a kindly Arabist pointed out that chronology is indeed the issue in the matter of abrogration. However, I am also informed that Cole's interpretation is problematical, since a large number of scholars agree that Sura 2:256 has been abrogated. I am referred to Friedmann, Tolerance and Coercion in Islam, Chapter 3, pp. 94-95, 100-106.]

One should note that there may not be any contradiction between the verses that Cole mentions from Sura 2 and the ones cited above from Sura 9. A reasonable reconciliation would be (and often has been) that no compulsion should be used against infidels who have accepted Muslim rule and pay the tax on dhimmis. For that matter, Cole himself mentions that Muslim conquests often had the goal simply of expanding the base of dhimmi taxpayers, not of converting the dhimmis to Islam, which would have freed them from the tax.

This is not comforting.

* * *

Meanwhile, the oddest thing about the press coverage so far is the appearance of headlines that declare the pope apologized at Mass on Sunday for his remarks at Regensburg. In fact, he actually said this:

"I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims," he said, adding that the quote from Emperor Manuel II did not reflect his own opinion.

That is very close to saying, "I regret that some people have been too stupid to understand what I said." National Public Radio this morning actually characterized its report on the controversy as a report on the pope's "apology," but the report itself, by Sylvia Poggioli, said that informed analysts understood that Benedict had not apologized. She sounded surprised, for good reason: so far, at least, Benedict is off script for this kind of incident. Almost as interesting, she points out the support that Benedict is getting from the leftist European press.

The Guardian's leading article seemed to me confused, as we see from this remark:

[T]here are plenty in the Muslim world with a desire to fan the flames, while the Pope is a known conservative with a maladroit touch...

Actually, as I think we should be gathering by now, "maladroit" is the last adjective we should be applying to Joseph Ratzinger. In any event, the leader goes on to say:

Doctrinal tensions, too, can be exaggerated. It is hardly surprising that Benedict believes Christianity is superior to other faiths - he would not be Pope if he did not. But that does not make him militantly anti-Muslim. After all, the offending papal speech aimed to highlight the wrongness of conversion by the sword - whether by Muslims, or whether, as in the Crusades, by the Christians. On the Muslim side, the need to distinguish the minority of Islamist extremists from the far more numerous mainstream believers cannot be underlined heavily enough. Muhammad urged his followers to co-exist peacefully with those of other faiths, and Muslims can and do point to concepts in their faith relating to consultation and the rule of law that are not only compatible with, but supportive of liberal democracy.

Again, that is pretty much the challenge to Islam that Benedict made.

And from Le Monde we have this:

In reality, the full and demanding text of Benedict XVI...has become a convenient pretext for demonstrations against the values of the West and its cult of reason. The significance is what the pope said or wanted to say. The matter is political; theology is forgotten, and with it, the joy of intellectual dispute, or critique and self-criticism

* * *

By adopting Reason as the child of both Christian tradition and of the Enlightenment properly understood, the pope is trying to establish a sane alternative to Europe's (and America's) agnostic secularism, a cultural mood doomed by demographics and its own incoherence. The real alternative might not be either Mecca or Brussels, but these guys.

* * *

This just in from the First Things blog: the poster is Robert T. Miller:

[A] decent respect for the intelligence of the man on the Throne of St. Peter demands that we conclude that he quoted the text intentionally, knowing what the consequences would be, and did so for a reason.

And I have a suggestion as to what that reason might be. The rumor has long been that Benedict intends to take a new diplomatic approach toward the Muslim states, an approach based on reciprocity, i.e., a demand that the religious freedom accorded by European states to their Muslim minorities be accorded by Muslim states to their Christian minorities. He intends, in other words, to hold Muslim states to the same standard that the Western states hold themselves. This would be a significant break with the diplomacy of John Paul II and former Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, which avoided criticism of Muslim states in the hopes of obtaining good treatment for Christians living within their borders. Under Benedict XVI, it seems, there will be no more appeasement. ... Still, Benedict went about this noble business in a very imprudent way. ... I would not have made the point quite as Benedict did, but in opening a frank conversation about the historical use of force by Muslims in spreading their faith, Benedict has done the world a service.

The significant points about this entry are that:

(1) It appeared so late;
(2) It is not by Father Neuhaus;
(3) It does not discuss the possibility that prudence may be inapposite.

This can get only more interesting.

* * *

UPDATE 2:06 PM Indeed it just did get more interesting. Fr. Neuhaus has made a long posting wholly in support of not just Benedict's position, but also his choice of words. Fr. Neuhaus says:

It can be argued that the Regensburg lecture will turn out to be the most important statement by a world leader in the post–September 11 period.

That assessment may or may not be true. It is now certain, however, that the Vatican's course is deliberate.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-09-15: The Benedictine Jihad

 Pope Benedict XVI speaks to students and professors at the Auditorium Maximum of the University of Regensburg in Regensburg, Germany, Sept. 12, 2006. (Matthias Schrader/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

Pope Benedict XVI speaks to students and professors at the Auditorium Maximum of the University of Regensburg in Regensburg, Germany, Sept. 12, 2006. (Matthias Schrader/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

Pope Emeritus Benedict later gave a speech in Jordan that is sometimes described as an anti-Regensburg speech, but I honestly think he really believed what he said both times.


The Benedictine Jihad

 

Guy Fawkes Day came early in the Muslim world, to judge by these scenes of effigies of Benedict XVI being burned. The cause of the commotion is the address that Benedict gave at the University of Regensburg earlier this week, Glaube, Vernunft und Universität: Erinnerungen und Reflexionen.(Faith, Reason, and the University: Memories and Reflections). An English version is available here. This assessment may be premature, but it looks as if this could turn into a worldwide campaign comparable to the Cartoon Jihad. Unlike that earlier episode, the reaction to Benedict's remarks does not seem to have been planned in advance. However, the earlier incident created a network for disseminating disaffection of this sort. The Benedictine Jihad will provide an instructive test case, not least because, this time, the criticism of Islam was real.

I discussed the pope's remarks earlier here. In this entry, I would just like to summarize more precisely what he said. As the title of the lecture suggests, Benedict's subject was the intellectual climate of the universities. He was making the same kind of argument that John Cardinal Newman (and Allan Bloom, for that matter) made for "liberal education." Benedict's understanding of the matter is that the concept of "reason" has to be expanded beyond the physical sciences to include the liberal arts and theology: each discipline with its own methods, but each a necessary part of the life of the mind. The interesting aspect of the lecture was the historical dimension.

Benedict argues that Greek philosophy and Hebrew thought as expressed in the Old Testament converged on the same high evaluation of reason. The culmination of this convergence is the first sentence of John's Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word." The term for "Word" here is "logos," the rational aspect of the world in Greek philosophy and term that John applies to Jesus. Thus, Christianity is, in its essence, both Greek and Hebrew; the place where these traditions meet is reason. It is this "reason" that Christinaity proclaims as the human face of God. It is also, the pope reminds us, the metaphysical principle that created Europe.

As Benedict points out, this position has become controversial. The late Scholastics moved away from the the sort of confidence in reason that we find in the theology of Thomas Aquinas. Rather, the late Scholastics argued that God was wholly transcendent and cannot be apprehended even in part by reason, even by analogy. The extreme view of the sovereignty of God that we find especially in some forms of Calvinism continued that trajectory. Pascal put this view pithily: "the God of the philosophers is an idol." In any case, what began as a preference for philosophical austerity turned into skepticism of reason as such. The result today is that reason in the academy shrank to nothing more than logical method, tolerated in the physical sciences but carefully isolated in a philosophical vacuum. As more than one commentator has pointed out during the past two centuries, this makes impossible "the university" as it was historically understood.

What put His Holiness in hot water was his observation that this rejection of reason, expressed as an understanding of God as wholly arbitrary, was an early feature of orthodox Islam. (This is true, though as Aquinas was aware, there have been Muslim theologians as keen to appropriate the Greek philosophical tradition as were the High Scholastics.) The philosophical criticism in itself is no harsher than what Benedict said of some Protestants, or even implied about some of his own academic colleagues. However, Benedict chose to make the point through statements made in 1391 by the Byzantine Emperor Maunel II Palaeologus, to the effect that Islam was inherently destructive and coercive because it conceived of God as irrational.

The Emperor Manuel was not quite the last Byzantine Emperor, but by his day the Turks had whittled the empire down to little more than Greater Constantinople. That city would fall in its turn in 1453. Manuel had little inclination to wax irenic on matters Islamic. Benedict XVI's case is by no means as desperate as the emperor's, but he seems to share the view that this is not a time when the first priority is to find common ground.

We have reached an age in which the chief defenders of reason in the classical sense are found in the Vatican. That may tell us something about the future.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-09-11: Memorials; Media Via Islam; Evangelism; Thriller Device

 Pope Benedict XVI blesses Elisabeth, left, and Viktoria in Altoetting, Germany, on Monday, Sept. 11, 2006.  CREDIT: AP Photo/Wolfgang Radtke, Pool

Pope Benedict XVI blesses Elisabeth, left, and Viktoria in Altoetting, Germany, on Monday, Sept. 11, 2006.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Wolfgang Radtke, Pool

I'm back after a nice vacation. Let's jump back into the Long View re-posting project!

This is a reprise of Pope Emeritus Benedict's tour of Bavaria in 2006. 

The tolerance which we urgently need includes the fear of God -- respect for what others hold sacred demands that we ourselves learn once more the fear of God."
"We impose this faith upon no one," the Pope observed. "Such proselytism is contrary to Christianity. Faith can develop only in freedom. But we do appeal to the freedom of men and women to be open to God, to seek him, to hear his voice."
"The world needs God. We need God, but what God?" the Pontiff asked. "The definitive explanation is to be found in the one who died on the Cross: in Jesus, the Son of God incarnate ... love to the end.

Memorials; Media Via Islam; Evangelism; Thriller Device

 

Regarding the attacks of September 11, 2001, I have no remarkable recollections, though I live maybe a mile and a half from the WTC site, on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. In retrospect, I recall just three useful points:

(1) The National Guard and the state either had plans on-file or improvised very effectively: emergency medical facilities appeared out of nowhere. What seemed like every fire-truck pumper in creation was heading through the Holland Tunnel within two hours.

(2) The local police were clueless. They managed to panic the quiet crowd that had gathered on the river at Exchange Place. They are still no good at this kind of thing, to judge from the way I saw them handle a bomb scare in the same neighborhood a few months ago. If you want t move a crowd out of harm's way, you must promise information even if you don't have it; simply yelling at the crowd to move produces obduracy and actually slows the evacuation down.

(3) The Internet, which was designed to maintain communications even in the event of an atomic attack, stopped working completely for most of the day. It was unreliable for several days thereafter. Similarly, cellphones seem to be the one form of communication you can be sure will not work in a civil emergency.

My area is crowded with commemorations today; I'm going to one myself this evening. These memorial events are all well and good; certainly they are better than the permanent architectural memorials that have blighted the landscape since 2001. It's uncanny: all the ones I have seen are dreadful. They are maudlin and awkward; many of them incorporate rusting bits of metal from the World Trade Towers, which seemed like a good idea at the time but which now makes them look like trash. (The one successful use of WTC material is in the memorial at St. Francis of Assissi Church in Manhattan, in a little memorial to Fr. Judd, the Fire Department Chaplain who died at the World Trade Center: the Franciscans had the sense to burnish the metal and laminate it.) The memorial to be built at the World Trade Center itself looks as if it will be the worst of all.

The one saving grace about these mistakes is that, for the most part, they are strangely fragile and will be easy to throw away when they quickly deteriorate. But why are they so unsatisfactory?

* * *

Meanwhile, this news from the shabby heart of Islam:

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) - Officials are considering an unprecedented proposal to ban women from performing the five Muslim prayers in the immediate vicinity of Islam's most sacred shrine in Mecca [the Grand Mosque]....one of the few places where Muslim male and female worshippers can pray ... Some say women are already being kept away....Osama al-Barr, head of the hajj institute...He said the restrictions apply only to the five daily Muslim prayers and that women would be free to roam the premises at will after the prayers and to circle it during the main annual hajj pilgrimage.

One would think that the chief city of a world religion would be a splendid showcase of architectural treasures and a seat of learning. There are in fact such places in the Islamic world: Qom and Najaf, and even bloated Qairo, for instance. By most accounts, however, people who make the Hajj find that Mecca is outwardly as inspiring as Kennedy Airport, and the structures associated with the holy sites are as banal as a post-Vatican II Catholic Church. The interesting point about the story I quote above is that the authorities who have so poorly served the physical needs of the holy places seem also to be making arbitrary changes to the rituals at the physical heart of the religion. The Saudi regime has neither the authority nor the theologically credibility to do this kind of thing. For that matter, their propaganda of Wahhabism seems, at last, to be causing a backlash.

As I have remarked before, it is a mistake to look a Reformation in Islam: Islam is a Reformation. The instability in the religion comes from Islamism, which is archaistic but not really traditional, and for that reason not stable. It's the negative image of the liberal Christianity of the first half of the 20th century. Hard as it may be to imagine now, it could share the fate of liberal Christianity.

* * *

Evangelical Christianity at least has a future, according to the ever-dyspeptic Spengler at Asia Times, but yet he finds it wanting:

Evangelical Christianity is the source of America's strength and the long-term key to its global influence, as denominations of US origin gain converts faster than any other faith. Faith has kept the angel of demographic death away from America's shores while the first-born Christian cultures in Europe wither and die. Yet evangelical leaders display episodes of appalling silliness, betraying a bucolic backwardness that bans the enormous evangelical movement from America's governing classes....That is the misery of the West. The evangelicals have no fear of offending Muslims and say what they think; the crafty old men of the Vatican understand the issues far better, but are afraid to speak them above a whisper.

However, the craftiest of the crafty old men in the Vatican is Benedict XVI; who, on his current tour his native Bavaria, observed that the problem with the West is not Islam, but the West's own loss of the transcendent. Though he would never put it so tactlessly, he seems to agree with Mark Steyn that the jihad against the West is in the nature of an opportunistic infection. More interesting, Benedict also seems to be taking up Hocking's project of securing the "unlosables" of modernity by anchoring them in a transcendental framework:

"The tolerance which we urgently need includes the fear of God -- respect for what others hold sacred demands that we ourselves learn once more the fear of God."

On a more immediate level, Benedict continues to wax evangelical:

"We impose this faith upon no one," the Pope observed. "Such proselytism is contrary to Christianity. Faith can develop only in freedom. But we do appeal to the freedom of men and women to be open to God, to seek him, to hear his voice."

"The world needs God. We need God, but what God?" the Pontiff asked. "The definitive explanation is to be found in the one who died on the Cross: in Jesus, the Son of God incarnate ... love to the end.

Readers may be surprised at how shocking this sounds to many Christian theologians today, even in the Catholic Church.

* * *

Writing a thriller, are you? You will need at least one secret society. The World Federation of Nocturnal Adoration Societies isn't really a secret, but they do have the advantage over the Illuminati of actually existing:

History: The federation was established at a meeting of representatives of National Nocturnal Adoration Societies, organized in Rome by the Venerable Archconfraternity of the Nocturnal Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, of which they are all members, enjoying the privileges and benefits granted to the archconfraternity by Pius X in 1906...The federation is governed by the general assembly which convenes every four years, coinciding with the international Eucharistic congresses, with the participation of the delegates of the member associations; the executive board, comprising the president, the vice president, three directors including a canon lawyer, a secretary-treasurer, a deputy secretary and the ecclesiastical assistant.

There is nothing sinister about all-night prayer vigils. So, if you must use the federation as a plot device, let them number among the good guys.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Who was John J. Reilly?

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Linkfest 2018-06-18

Perhaps Monday is the new Friday around here.


Conan the Barbarian: A Review, an Analysis, and a Little Bit of a Misunderstood and Improperly Played - While Talking About the Pulps

I found this reading the Conan roundup from Monday. I also rate the 1982 Milius Conan higher than Rick Stump. I love that movie, and I am astounded by how well it holds up. Nonetheless, this is a fantastic reflection on Robert E. Howard and his influence on the storytelling of the twentieth century.

THERANOS DIDN'T NUKE THE DIAGNOSTICS BUSINESS

There are reputable companies working in the same space as Theranos, but since there is either no hype or no scandal, we don't hear much about them.

There’s a Place for Us: Revoice and Gay Christian Futures

There’s a Place for Us Part II: More on Revoice & Gay Christian Homemaking

I really enjoyed Eve Tushnet's two-parter on being a gay Catholic, and I think she's completely right that an obsession on avoiding even the possibility of sexual feelings has cramped the friendships of too many people. As Eve rightly notes, this is not limited to those who identify as gay or lesbian, but affects all of us to some degree. This reminds of things the Art of Manliness has written about friendship, from a completely different direction. Anytime I find two people with completely different perspectives and agendas talking about the same thing, I take notice. 

The Murder That Changed Germany

I read John Schindler extensively for a while, then I started to be concerned that he had lost his mind. I'm glad to see he can still write a cogent column. The murders of so many young women in Germany by migrants of various sorts was the kind of thing predicted after Angela Merkel so unwisely threw open the borders. This prediction was then dismissed as racist trash, and inconveniently, happened anyway.

Violent crime rises in Germany and is attributed to refugees

This Reuters report states the facts succinctly.

Why Working on the Railroad Comes With a $25,000 Signing Bonus

Railroad work is irregular, hard, and dangerous. Consequently, it also pays well. Of course, this kind of thing can be highly cyclical, and under railroad union rules, the guys who get laid off will be the ones with the least seniority. Nonetheless, this is really good work.

The Lesser Cruelty on Immigration

Ross Douthat pens the kind of column on the fuckup at the southern US border that I wish I had written. I am resolutely against mindless cruelty, but there has to be some level of cruelty in a rich nation's border enforcement, or that nation will end.

McMoon: How the Earliest Images of the Moon Were so Much Better than we Realised

The more classified stuff comes out that we did during the Cold War, the more sympathetic I am to the idea that innovation in the US has slowed down.

018-021_CAPA_Arqueologia_267.jpg

Time has been kind to Francisco de Orellana.

Soulminder Book Review

 The dome of the Florence Baptistry, showing the hierarchy of angels  By Ricardo André Frantz (User:Tetraktys) - taken by Ricardo André Frantz, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2267968

The dome of the Florence Baptistry, showing the hierarchy of angels

By Ricardo André Frantz (User:Tetraktys) - taken by Ricardo André Frantz, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2267968

Soulminder
by Timothy Zahn
Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy (September 23, 2014)
334 pages
ASIN B07B675RVC

For Dr. Adrian Sommer, a split second of driving while distracted leads to tragedy—and obsession. His family destroyed, he devotes his entire being to developing Soulminder, a technology that might have saved his son as he wavered on the edge of death. Sommers’s vision is to capture a dying person’s life essence and hold it safely in stasis while physicians heal the body from injury or disease. Years of experimentation finally end in success—but those who recognize Soulminder’s possibilities almost immediately corrupt its original concept to pursue dangerous new frontiers: body-swapping, obstruction of justice, extortion, and perhaps even immortality.

Soulminder is a little different that the other books of Timothy Zahn that I have read. I picked it up in late December, and I started reading it immediately, but it didn't hook me. I turned to other things, then I came back to Soulminder in March. The more I read, the better it got. This book is not a page turner, but rather a slow burner.

Part of the reason for that is the structure. This work was expanded from a serialization in Analog magazine, with three of the chapters adapted from that previous publication. Accordingly, this isn't a traditional novel, with a continuous flow, but rather is more like a collection of novellas with common characters and a common theme, sometimes with separations of many years in between the events each chapter.

Another reason why this book is different is that it is a different kind of science fiction. For a long time, my working definition of hard sci-fi has been: the method of good "hard" science fiction leaves the reader usefully instructed in certain principles of physics or biology after reading a story that otherwise closely resembles a Western. Many of the best works in the field use this formula, but it isn't the only one that works. 

Isaac Asimov had a three-part typology that explains some other ways:

In 1953, Isaac Asimov published an article titled "Social Science Fiction" in Modern Science Fiction. In that article, he stated that every science fiction plot ultimately falls into one of three categories: Gadget, Adventure, or Social.
Gadget: The focus of the story is the invention itself: How it comes to be invented, how it works, and/or what it is used for. The invention is the end result of the plot.
Adventure: The invention is used as a dramatic prop. It may be the solution to a problem, or it may be causing the problem itself, but the main focus is on the caper and how the invention's presence helps or hinders it.
Social: The focus of the story is on how the presence of the invention affects people's daily lives, whether for good or for ill. The chief distinction between this and the other two types is that the presence of the invention influences the plot rather than causing it or being the goal.

Soulminder is social science fiction in Asimov's model. There isn't any attempt to describe the scientific principles of Soulminder for the very simple reason that there aren't any. This is a technology that doesn't exist in our world, and we don't have anything that even vaguely approaches it. Thus, we can't learn about soul transfer like we learn about linguistics in The Way of the Pilgrim, or about orbital mechanics and extra-planetary habitats in The Martian. What we can learn about is what our world might be like if a technology like this existed.

The depth at which Zahn explores this question impressed me more and more as I read through Soulminder. My first hint that Zahn was up to something really interesting came in chapter two. Dr. Adrian Sommer, co-inventor of Soulminder, is on a televised panel with several religious media figures to debate the merits of his technology. Since I have a background in moral theology and moral philosophy, I found the stances each expert took to be plausibly within the range of acceptable opinion in their respective faiths, but mostly I found the whole exchange a little boring, since it was mostly a rehash of existing controversies in our world. However, it turns out the debate was really just a red herring for the really interesting question that comes up while Dr. Sommer is sitting in the green room during a commercial break: one of his clients has been caught in the soul trap after suffering an entirely expected third heart attack, but he also has an organ donor card and the hospital is about to start harvesting his organs, since he is legally dead.

On the one had, Dr. Sommer's client probably deserves a chance to be put back into his body once his infarcted heart has been dealt with. On the other hand, at least four people will benefit from the technically dead client's organs. On the gripping hand, it isn't at all clear that the client's heir/protege has pure motives when he insists that the legal precedents around organ donation be followed. This is very, very applied ethics.

And Dr. Sommer has a decision to make. He very much wants to do the right thing, even when he frequently doesn't know what that is. So he makes his decision, and he goes on, through the rest of the book, doing his best to make sure the moral monsters of the world can't take advantage of the power over life and death that he has created.

Earlier in chapter two, Dr. Sommer tries to enlist the help of the Reverend Tommy Lee Harper, a fiery televangelist who is staunchly opposed to Soulminder and all its works. Dr. Sommer suspects that Harper is a man of integrity, and Sommer is right, Harper has so much integrity that he won't help Sommer defend a technology Harper thinks is fundamentally wicked, and contrary to God's plan, no matter what the earthly stakes are. 

Sommer closed his eyes briefly. “It’s not out of bad mice or bad fleas you make demons,” he quoted quietly, “but out of bad archangels.” “You and C.S. Lewis make my point for me,” Harper nodded. “Soulminder is an archangel, Doctor, so far as earthly creations go. I’m very much afraid that it’ll be beyond your ability to keep it from becoming a demon.”
...
For a long minute Harper gazed past Sommer, at the lights of the city stretching to the horizon. Then, slowly, he shook his head. “I’m sorry, Dr. Sommer,” he said, “but I can’t help you.” The knot in Sommer’s stomach retightened. “Why not?” he asked, fighting to keep his tone polite. “You see the evil in what Marsh is doing—” “But you ask me to support one evil to keep another from happening,” Harper interrupted him. “I can’t do that.”

The ethical dilemma at the hospital bed, and Zahn's portrayal of Rev. Harper, a man who would simply have been an obscurantist villain in many a book, convinced me that Zahn had written something truly compelling, a moral thriller. 

Once I got into it, this book just kept getting better and better. The schemes, grift, and oppression that come into being just because Soulminder exists are breathtaking. Much of it is even plausibly high-minded. The professional witness program, spearheaded in my own great state of Arizona, offers up the bodies of volunteers to the souls of murder victims so that they can testify at their own trials. Justice will be done. However, it is never that simple, especially since only souls that had been rich enough in life to pay Soulminder's fees can be captured and returned, and professional witnesses tend to be the same kind of people who volunteer for drug safety trials. And that is the kind of program the United States governments run. There are plenty of less savory places in the world, and they have Soulminder facilities too. Harper's prediction has a lot going for it.

While I appreciate the moral realism with which Zahn approaches the likely consequences of soul transfer technology, I was also pleasantly surprised by some subtle philosophical points that seemed rather Thomist. For example, the body matters as much as the soul. If you find yourself in someone else's body, you can inherit their habits, emotions, and memories as well. Depending on who that person was, you may find yourself with some unwelcome side effects, like the crime lord who stole the body of a pious young Catholic who happened to share a resemblance, and then discovered that he unexpectedly felt guilty!

If you can persevere through an opening that is admittedly a bit slow [the first chapter was originally written in 1988 or 1989], you will find a work of surprising depth. Not exactly space opera, but worth your time.

My other book reviews

Soulminder
By Timothy Zahn

The Long View 2006-05-24: The Next America

 Lawful immigrants over the past 200 years

Lawful immigrants over the past 200 years

 Pew Hispanic Share of US Population that is Foreign Born

Pew Hispanic Share of US Population that is Foreign Born

Here are a couple of graphs to help illustrate John Reilly's points here. If we would really like to emulate the success of the last large wave of immigration to the United States, from roughly 1840 to 1930, it would be prudent of us to stop, and give everyone time to get used to each other. It took a lot of work last time, and it will this time too.


The Next America

 

A book published eleven years ago by Michael Lind speaks to our condition today: The Next American Nation: The New Nationalism and the Fourth American Republic . Indeed, let me suggest that before going any further in this blog entry that you read my review of the book, here. There is a link at the end of the review to bring you back.

All done?

You will note that the review is not uncritical. I don't think there is going to be another American Revolution, unless you count Reconstruction and the New Deal as revolutions. Also, I would suggest that the years since I wrote that review have proven that Lind's dismissal of the religious element in American culture is an unfruitful hypothesis, particularly for someone who hopes to reform the political system to make it more congruent with the national character. Moreover, I think that his notion of an "Overclass" is just one step above David Icke's lizard people. Still, the immigration issue has so changed things that time runs short in which to decide what in this sort of analysis is really prescient. For those slackers who did not read the review, consider this paragraph:

Lind is particularly exercised about the Overclass's nearly unanimous support of free trade. He notes that family income has been stagnant at best for the last twenty years, and that wages per worker have actually declined. Part of this he blames on the decline of unionization among the workforce, which he attributes almost entirely to government hostility. The rest he blames on foreign competition. The Overclass, in Lind's view, has deliberately and successfully driven down the wages of the average American since the late 1970s. This was achieved not only by permitting the import of foreign goods, but by actually importing foreign workers. The author spends a great deal of space trying to show that America historically has experienced heavy immigration only in spurts, all of which produced bad feeling, and which hindered the process of assimilating people already here. Multicultural America is gradually being transformed into a province of the Third World. The Overclass itself, however, dreams of becoming a post-American global elite.

Again, time has tested Lind's ideas, and in the matter of free trade I think they have been found wanting. At any rate, neither NAFTA nor the WTC have caused the disasters that were forecast: quite the opposite. Neither is it true that the globalists are responsible for keeping the borders open. From what I can tell, the political force behind that is generally conservative, even isolationist, middle-range businessmen and farmers who don't see why relegating the manual trades to a special caste of aliens should be a problem. In other words, a large part of the political dynamic is the local notables who, collectively, are far more influential than big business. Lind is worth reconsidering, however, because he foresaw that immigration would be important not just as a depressor of wages, but also because it threatens cultural dilution on an unprecedented scale.

Thus, I think that Mary Ann Glendon's piece, Principled Migration, which appears in the June/July issue of First Things, badly misapprehends the situation. She notes:

Good-faith anxieties about large-scale immigration are sometimes expressed in terms of social costs, such as a feared deleterious effect on the nation's cultural cohesion or the stability of local communities. One would like to take comfort from the fact that similar concerns were expressed at the time of the great migrations of a century ago. Though marked by conflict and competition, the story of those earlier immigrants is, to a great extent, a story of integration.

She then goes on to note some ways in which integration has become more difficult. The Democratic political machines, for instance,

that once brought new citizens into the political process at the local level have vanished. In their place...[the] newcomer from Mexico, Brazil, or El Salvador becomes a generic "Latino" in preparation for initiation into the game of divisive racial minority politics.

Particularly worrisome to her as a lawyer is that whereas "there is no place on Earth where legal values play a more prominent role in the nation's conception of itself than the United States," the 11 million or 12 million illegals "come from societies where formal law is associated with colonialism: and who, as a consequence, "may well find the United States' emphasis on legality rather strange." The earlier immigration did not threaten the rule of law; that immigration was legal.

All good points, but they are not the half of it. Glendon wholly neglects the fact that the earlier immigration succeeded because it ended. In contrast, she does not contemplate an end to the current immigration, or even a diminution. She asserts, without argument, that the United States requires "replacement immigration" to make up for the children who were not born because of 40 years of anti-natalist public policy. She deplores that policy, but does not address the possibility that high immigration is the one measure sure to keep it in place.

Worst of all is that she looks to the Catholic hierarchy for guidance, particularly the 2003 Joint Pastoral Letter issued by the Mexican and U.S. bishops, Strangers no Longer: Together on a Journey of Hope. (Why is it that the church social-documents most likely to cause misery and violence always have the most inanely irenic titles?). There we read this remarkable principle:

III. Sovereign nations have the right to control their borders. 36. The Church recognizes the right of sovereign nations to control their territories but rejects such control when it is exerted merely for the purpose of acquiring additional wealth. More powerful economic nations, which have the ability to protect and feed their residents, have a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows.

One might compare this with the Catechism of the Catholic Church (section 2241):

The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.

Note that it's hard to see how someone with a right to residence can be considered a guest. In any case, the principle is a puzzler. Kant discerned a universal right to travel, but not to settlement. Where else the bishops might have gotten these notions is a mystery; certainly there is no serious scriptural support for the proposition, as William F. Vallicella points out at Right Reason.

For anyone so inclined, the Catechism's proviso, "to the extent that they are able," would allow ample room for limiting immigration in order to forestall the development of irredentist movements and to prevent the depression of wage levels, both of which apply in the current immigration controversy. Frankly, though, I am not much inclined to accommodate this text. The Catechism is a sound document for the most part, but it does contain multicultural flourishes that have aged very badly very fast. It is the vulnerability of advanced countries that has proven to be the more serious issue. (The Latin text was copyrighted in 1994. The previous Catechism dates from the 16th century. The update was precipitous, it seems.)

As for the Pastoral Letter: well, bishops' conferences say the damnedest things.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-05-08: Unauthorized Versions

John Reilly mentions the Gospel reading from May 7th, 2006 mostly as the set-up for a Monty Python reference, but today's Gospel reading, from the second chapter of the Gospel of John, really does read like an internet meme:

15 He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables,

 As it turns out, one of the answers to WWJD? is (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻


Unauthorized Versions

 

Regarding the Gospel reading for yesterday, I was struck again by how dim the evangelist makes the apostles look. I paraphrase John to only a slight degree:

In a little while you will not see me; then in a little while you will see me.

We do not understand what these things mean.

I am going away, but I will be back.

But what do you mean, you are going away, but you will be back?

I mean I'm here now. Soon I won't be here. Then I will be here again.

We do not understand.

Let's try it like this: Step One: here; Step Two: not here; Step Three; here.

We find these words a mystery.

Look, just forget I mentioned it.

If you insist. But could we get back to the bit about the cheesemakers?

* * *

The Cheesemakers, of course, figure in one of the good parts in Monty Python's Life of Brian. (I'm not quite sure the film rises to the level of blasphemy; the problem is that it's a feature-length film with enough material for a 25-minute show.) These comments by some listeners at the edge of the audience of the Sermon on the Mount must surely be known to all students of Scripture:

MAN #1:
I think it was 'Blessed are the cheesemakers.'

JESUS:
...right prevail.

MRS. GREGORY:
Ahh, what's so special about the cheesemakers?

GREGORY:
Well, obviously, this is not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.

Monty Python's film and my version of John bear pretty much the relationship to the Biblical canon that the Gnostic gospels do: they are much later, obviously frivolous, and not intended to reflect history. Scholars have always known this. All that has changed in the last few years is that postmodern skepticism of mere facticity has reduced serious history to "just another version." The DaVinci Code, meaning the book by Dan Brown and the film based on it, does not purport to be history, but it has benefited from this collapse of intellectual integrity.

* * *

Perhaps this is the really progressive take on Brown's book. It comes from Futurechurch, one of the residual feminist groups that linger in the morbid backwaters of liberal Catholicism:

"However, while the book paints an attractive portrait of the underlying unity of male and female, it ultimately undercuts women's leadership because it focuses on the fiction of Mary of Magdala's marital status rather than the fact of her leadership as the primary witness to Jesus' resurrection. Unfortunately, this reinforces gender bias that women are only important because of the men in their lives."

You can't make this stuff up.

* * *

The backstory of The DaVinci Code is a riff on Wolfram von Eschenbach's 13th-century version of the Grail legend. In the French and British Grail stories, an order of knights guarded the Grail. In the German tradition, there was a Grail Dynasty that secretly ruled the world. The transformation of that dynasty into a Jesus dynasty, however, is a modern motif. The story of the transformation of the Grail legend is fascinating: see this review of Richard Barber's The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief.

It is a good idea to use the premier of the DaVinci film to recount the real history. Launching a jihad against it is a bad idea:

Cardinal Francis Arinze, a Nigerian who was considered a candidate for pope last year, made ..strong comments in a documentary called "The Da Vinci Code-A Masterful Deception."

"Sometimes it is our duty to do something practical. So it is not I who will tell all Christians what to do but some know legal means which can be taken in order to get the other person to respect the rights of others," Arinze said.

Lest anyone miss the parallel with the recent riots occasioned the cartoons of Mohammed, the cardinal also noted:

"Those who blaspheme Christ and get away with it are exploiting the Christian readiness to forgive and to love even those who insult us. There are some other religions which if you insult their founder they will not be just talking. They will make it painfully clear to you," Arinze said.

Cardinal Arinze is usually worth listening to, but he is quite mistaken here. For one thing, blasphemy and hate-crime laws are already being used to impose sharia in many Western countries. Christians should be trying to get those laws repealed, not to be enhancing their prestige by using them.

* * *

Here's a completely different topic: a federal proposal to make the online availability of some research material mandatory:

Scholarly publishing has never been a big business. But it could take a financial hit if a proposed federal law is enacted, opening taxpayer-financed research to the public, according to some critics in academic institutions.

The Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006, proposed last week by Senators Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, and John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, would require 11 government agencies to publish online any articles that contained research financed with federal grants. If enacted, the measure would require that the articles be accessible online without charge within six months of their initial publication in a scholarly journal.

I think this can do only good.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site