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Tag Archive: Modernity

A Letter to My Teen Daughters, Concerning Racism

Posted: Wednesday, February 3, 2016 (11:59 pm), by John W Gillis


It can be difficult for me to get a handle on what I want to say about something, especially on-the-spot. But I wanted to follow up on tonight’s brief post-dinner discussion of something I consider profoundly important in the world today, which is the role the idea of racism plays in the on-going cultural drama of the propagation of modern society’s religious dogmas. I hope you will all find the time to do me the courtesy of reading this through. I have tried to be brief, but that’s a challenge, too…

Some information gleaned from reputable-looking sites on the WWW regarding the KKK: 1

“At its peak in the 1920s, Klan membership exceeded 4 million people nationwide.”

{and then, over the course of a single lifetime—70 years…}

“In the early 1990s, the Klan was estimated to have between 6,000 and 10,000 active members, mostly in the Deep South.”

{and, finally, after having seen its membership drop 99.75% by the last decade of the century…}

“[The KKK] is estimated to have between 5,000 and 8,000 members as of 2012.”

These last numbers are from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is basically a left-wing agitprop organization which would be happy to find as many KKK members as they could, in order to prop up the relentless political narrative that “White” culture is awash in “racism”.

On the other hand, while the KKK was busy losing 20% of what little was left of its vanishing membership…: 2

“The American Religious Identification Survey gives Wicca an average annual growth of 143% for the period 1990 to 2001 (from 8,000 to 134,000)”

{so, 25 years ago, there were about as many KKK members as there were Wiccans (~8,000), and then…}

“According to Wikipedia, Wicca “is a modern pagan, witchcraft religion”.  It has been estimated that the number of Americans that are Wiccans is doubling every 30 months, and at this point there are more than 200,000 registered witches and approximately 8 million unregistered practitioners of Wicca.  And it is important to remember that Wicca is just one form of witchcraft.  There are many other “darker” forms of witchcraft that are also experiencing tremendous growth.”

So, the KKK, at 0.0025% or less of the population and declining steadily, continues to be held up as a despised symbol of a rampant moral and spiritual problem that no one can ever really find anymore, except in the hurt feelings of recompense-seeking victims, the self-righteous scoldings of crisis-seeking newsbarkers, celebrity-seeking entertainers, and status-seeking educators, or the mob manipulations of power-seeking politicians.

And yet, there are 1,000 times more Wiccans than Klansmen, at 2.5% of the population and growing rapidly, and nobody seems overly concerned about a crisis of paganism in America – or even one of witchcraft. Indeed, the very entertainers and newsbarkers who inveigh with holy wrath against the scourge of every under-pigmented Oscar nomination slate are quite at home embracing and propagating the cultural “sophistication” of paganism, and in celebrating its bloody sacrifices.

A final, important note on “racism”:

Racism is a word invented in the 1930s to describe Adolf Hitler’s anthropological views, and their political expression. These views were called neo-pagan, because he combined romantic elements of German/Norse paganism with modern, “scientific” ideas, including evolutionism. Evolutionism was a requisite component of his view that Jews in particular (but also others to lesser degrees), were of an inferior race. Hitler did not invent this idea of sub-human species belonging to a different “race”, but he brought it into the heart of Europe from the former colonial lands, and directed it primarily toward the Jews. And he sold it to a willing populace using an egotistically romantic notion of a master race.

You need to posit multiple races in order to have “racism”. On every level, this idea is deeply absurd, and offensive to the truth. The denial of genuine common humanity (never mind superiority/inferiority views, which are actually a distraction from the real evil being sold) is completely at odds with the fundamental Christian doctrine of Original Sin, and hence would render Christianity absurd – the salvational claim of Christianity being that God, in Christ, became one of us (i.e. a member of the one human race) in order that we could become like Him (i.e. divine: “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled Himself to share in our humanity” – prayer at the preparation of the gifts).

The common current public spectacle of calling political and cultural opponents of Liberalism “racists” is absurd, obscene, and despicable – as is the quarrying of “racism” under every phony fig leaf.

But that’s not because the pagan idea of a sub-human species undeserving of the respect due human dignity has disappeared with the Nazis and the last gasps of American race slaving. Far from it. It has simply migrated from the plantations and encomiendas of America, and from the death camps of central Europe, into the abortion mills of what remains of Western civilization.

So it’s not that I actually think “racism” doesn’t exist, it’s just that I think most people are dead wrong about where it lives on today. And it’s a lot easier to thump your chest about the imagined sins of “those” real or imagined people, than to confront your own. Don’t be deceived by these fools.

 

1. The first two quotes regarding the KKK are taken from www.history.com, the third from the Wikipedia entry for the KKK.

2. The two quotes regarding Wicca are taken from thetruthwins.com

The weakness of it is not due to the argument itself but to the condition of the hearer

Posted: Sunday, April 21, 2013 (8:39 pm), by John W Gillis


Published on cnsnews.com last Friday, the Rev. Marcel Guarnizo provides a lengthy response to Bill O’Reilly’s recent dismissal of “Bible thumping” in the public square over the legitimacy of same-sex marriage, including the following comments on the incompatibility of the type of law involved in establishing such a legal fiction with a constitutional order per se:

O’Reilly fails to make clear distinctions. For example, on the issue of religion in the public square, his claim that theological arguments are unacceptable in the public square is meant to indicate that if someone does not have faith in the authority of Divine Revelation, such argumentation holds no sway. This is true.

It is incorrect, however, to grant the further implication that religious argumentation should not be used in the public square. … To presume that the public square is owned [by] or exists because of the atheists of our modern day is historically false and an easy way out of a more complicated debate.

… The clamor for same-sex marriage is symptomatic of but not the root cause of our demise. The eroding of the philosophical and cultural foundations of the West is at the root of the problem. To ignore this is to miss the forest for the trees.

… The argument from faith, being revealed by God is essentially the strongest argument per se. It may not be understood to be so, by those who do not believe in Divine Revelation, but, if God exists and Christian revelation is true, it is undoubtedly the strongest. God does not have opinions, or positions on issues. God is simply Truth. The fact that the argument from eternal law cannot be used with the homosexual lobby, which is markedly atheistic, does not grant the further claim that Divine Revelation is a weak argument. The weakness of it is not due to the argument itself but to the condition of the hearer, who does not recognize Divine Law.

… If Bill O’Reilly believes in Divine Revelation and the divinity of Christ, he surely should realize that theology and reason (philosophy) are simply two different ways of arriving at the same conclusion. Theology and revelation are necessary, even in cases where one can arrive at the same conclusion [by] reason alone, because not every individual has the time or ability to arrive at correct conclusions from reason. Revelation in this sense is a service to the human conscience, for it affords another way for many people to arrive to necessary conclusions, quickly, and without the admixture of error. Revealed doctrine is a service to reason, not an obstacle.

But since Mr. O’Reilly demands "more than Bible thumping," I argue from reason, that homosexuality is simply not a normative inclination in the individual and therefore its existence constitutes shaky ground to make a norm for society as a whole. One has to take a deep breath and depersonalize the issue. We speak at this level when evaluating policy. The question before us is whether the tendency of some men and some women toward a same sex attraction is reasonable grounds to legislate for an entire nation or state.

… Now, when we discover non-normative tendencies, we seek causes. We ask: Why is this non-normative behavior taking place? We don’t start making laws for an entire population based on the non-normative tendencies of a tiny segment of the population. More clinical, sociological, and medical science is needed here, not lawyers and judges acting by fiat to institutionalize in the nation’s law non-normative tendencies of any type. This is, I submit, an unreasonable and insufficient ground for law.

… The problem here is that if non-normative tendencies become the criteria for constitutional or state law, law itself will become biographical. This atomization of law, culminates in the inability for us to have fundamental rights, as human beings. Things are institutionalized after centuries in law and custom, because they are recognized as normative, and, in the case of marriage, as a good for society. The legal institution of marriage is the normalization of that which is de facto normative in man. Marriage institutionalized in law and by religion is the proper effect the fruit of a normative tendency in man. Heterosexual, monogamous unions were not simply admitted into the marriage franchise (to which others now seek entry), it is rather the author that produced marriage as we know it. They have as it were, authorship rights over marriage since they produced the institution.

Creating institutions in law and possibly at a constitutional level, using non-normative tendencies (which are many and vary greatly in our society), as the justification is unreasonable and theoretically unsound.

Equality under the law in this sense is already being assaulted by post-modern philosophy, as unfair. Precisely for this reason, "the notion of "equality under the law," is now seen by many as failing to address the biographical preferences and tendencies of all kinds of biographical groups in society.

If we continue down that path, there will be no end, except the end of what we now know as the rule of law. It is unreasonable to legislate on constitutional order in this fashion.

Although I’m not sure how much of Guarnizo’s far-flung argument addresses the problem with O’Reilly’s libertarian indifference to non-utilitarian aspects of public life, the article nonetheless articulates a number of ideas that rarely make their way into the public discourse on this contrived controversy.

Given the hysterical nature of the thought-policing imposed on the matter (e.g. anyone who disagrees with the idiotic pretenses of the radicals is a “bigot’), it’s good to see some of the underlying intellectual errors exposed, as this piece does in pointing out how the special-interest nature of “biographical preference” law undermines the very basis of lawful order by replacing genuine equality under the law with targeted “rights” meant to benefit the politically well-positioned. Ostensibly advanced to serve the cause of “equality”, these kinds of laws are ultimately tyrannical, precisely because they are irrational, and that which is not rooted in the truth of the nature of things has no capacity to (continue to) exist on its own, and must be propped up by raw power. They are politically dangerous, socially poisonous, and morally unjust.

HT to Ed Morrissey at HotAir.

There are no negotiable or even very perplexing issues regarding our moral obligations before the mystery of life

Posted: Sunday, May 8, 2011 (3:29 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Sunday, May 8th, 2011:

David Bentley Hart, in an excellent essay posted on a remarkably robust “Religion & Ethics” section of the website of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which highlights the irremediably divergent visions of God inherent in the worldviews of modern, materialist “transhumanists,” and orthodox Christianity – particularly as expressed in Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body:

To one who holds to John Paul’s Christian understanding of the body, and so believes that each human being, from the very first moment of existence, emerges from and is called towards eternity, there are no negotiable or even very perplexing issues regarding our moral obligations before the mystery of life.

Not only is every abortion performed an act of murder, but so is the destruction of every "superfluous" embryo created in fertility clinics or every embryo produced for the purposes of embryonic stem cell research.

The fabrication of clones, the invention of "chimeras" through the miscegenation of human and animal DNA, and of course the termination of supernumerary, dispensable, or defective specimens that such experimentation inevitably entails are in every case irredeemably evil.

Even if, say, research on embryonic stem cells could produce therapies that would heal the lame, or reverse senility, or repair a damaged brain, or prolong life, this would in no measure alter the moral calculus of the situation: human life is an infinite good, never an instrumental resource; human life is possessed of an absolute sanctity, and no benefit (real or supposed) can justify its destruction.

This essay does a splendid job of articulating succinctly the great Christian eschatological doctrine of theosis, or deification, and of demonstrating how the most wicked and patently absurd eugenic philosophies and anthropologies emanating from the penumbra of the academy are really just mockeries of the great truth of God’s end for mankind in sharing His glory.

via First Thoughts

Modernity is simply the time of realized nihilism

Posted: Friday, January 28, 2011 (2:00 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Friday, January 28th, 2011:

David Bentley Hart, from the just released February 2011 volume of First Things, discussing Martin Heidegger’s reading of the centrality of nihilism in Western civilization’s cultural history and its philosophical tradition, in an article that appears to be available to non-subscribers on the website:

Modernity, for Heidegger, is simply the time of realized nihilism, the age in which the will to power has become the ground of all our values; as a consequence it is all but impossible for humanity to dwell in the world as anything other than its master. As a cultural reality it is the perilous situation of a people that has thoroughly—one might even say systematically—forgotten the mystery of being, or forgotten (as Heidegger would have it) the mystery of the difference between beings and being as such. Nihilism is a way of seeing the world that acknowledges no truth other than what the human intellect can impose on things, according to an excruciatingly limited calculus of utility, or of the barest mechanical laws of cause and effect. It is a “rationality” of the narrowest kind, so obsessed with what things are and how they might be used that it is no longer seized by wonder when it stands in the light of the dazzling truth that things are. It is a rationality that no longer knows how to hesitate before this greater mystery, or even to see that it is there, and thus is a rationality that cannot truly think.

I found this article to be a very useful exposition on the thought of Heidegger, a writer I’ve never had much success trying to read – in part because of the denseness of his writing, and perhaps more so than I’m completely comfortable admitting because of a personal revulsion against his well-known involvement with Nazism. But I’ve also lacked a broader understanding of what he was trying to get at, and this article sheds some light on that. I’m not sure I won’t still walk away from an encounter with Heidegger shaking my head in incomprehension, but perhaps I’ll give him another try.

“If the Dead are Garbage, then the Living are Walking Garbage.”

Posted: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 (9:41 pm), by John W Gillis


Every now and again, I find myself disputing with advocates of human cremation over the propriety of the process. Cremation has very rapidly become the preferred option, in certain sectors of society, for dealing with the corpses of the deceased. Whereas at one time its appeal may have been pretty much strictly economic to those not strongly influenced by oriental, non-Christian culture (or anti-Christian sentiment), it is these days often pitched as a morally compelling solution to a looming Malthusian crisis of usable land – the argument being that burial unnecessarily consumes land that could be put to more utilitarian use; the accompanying hysterical assertion being that we are running out of land upon which to live because of all the land that is left for the dead.

On the rare occasion I find myself discussing this, I try to make the case that the cremation process – which is by no means a simple incineration, but also involves a subsequent pulverizing of the skeletal remains, with the bones of the deceased being fed, as it were, into a human garbage disposal – is a disrespectful way to treat the body of a deceased loved one. To make the point that it should matter to us how the dead are treated, I’ve asked people if they would consider having their wife/husband/mother/father/etc. disposed of corporeally by being dropped into a vat of acid that would eliminate all traces of the deceased, who could then be simply drained away. I’ve intended it as an over-the-top, reductio ad absurdum argument that might give people pause to stop and think about the importance of respect for the corpse. How naive of me…

David Mills published a post at the First Thoughts blog last Friday entitled Rest in Solution, which linked to a Daily Mail article about Belgium’s plan to wash its dead down the drain, a plan which entails using a potassium hydroxide solution to eliminate the fleshly material of the corpse – leaving the bone matter to be subsequently crushed, as does burning. The big selling point? It’s more eco-friendly than cremation, which emits large amounts of carbon dioxide! Gotta watch that carbon footprint! Given the anti-burial movement’s long history of symbolic and actual rejection of Christian resurrection doctrine, I’m not quite sure what to make of the claim in the Daily Mail that the process, called resomation, comes from a Greek word for the rebirth of the human body (soma meaning body in Greek).

The body reduced to near nothingness seems to be of a piece with modernity’s contempt for the body. Moderns seem largely divided into two silently collaborating camps: those who hold a reductionist, positivistic view of human life comprising only bodily life, unsanctified by the spiritual soul – with all that implies for the dignity of the place of man in the cosmos; and, on the other hand, those who, reviving the ancient errors of Gnosticism, see the body as a kind of unfortunate storage place for a soul. But the body is an integral aspect of the human being: neither the totality of the person, nor an inessential “thing” that exists apart from the self – except in that dreadful state of personal violation we call death.

As a counterweight to the depressing, techno-sterile misanthropy of resomation, Mills provides a second link in his article, this one to a Weekly Standard article from last March by Matt Labash called: Love Among the Ruins. It tells the story of “Father Rick” Frechette’s tireless work to minister to the castaway dead in Haiti – among his other acts of mercy to the people of that broken land. I’ve taken the title of this post from the response he gives in the article to a question about why he expends so much time and energy to minister to those who are already dead, and won’t know the difference:

Frechette thinks about it a long while, then says, “If the dead are garbage, then the living are walking garbage.”

In another place, he speaks about why he carries on, offering his gifts of mercy in what seems to be such a losing battle:

“Sometimes with horrible things, you really feel there is nothing you can do. Nothing. You’re just useless. But over time, you start seeing that to do the right thing no matter what has tremendous power.”

Reading this article feels like taking a warm bath after reading that Daily Mail piece. Strange, considering what a tale of desolation and horror it is. God bless you, Father Rick. I think it’s time for a re-reading of the Book of Tobit.

Divine Manifestation and Humility: Pentecostalism and Eucharistic Hope

Posted: Friday, June 25, 2010 (12:21 am), by John W Gillis


monstrance_sm I was wondering, a while back, what kind of difference it might have made in my life to have encountered a perpetual Eucharistic Adoration chapel when I was a young man seeking some sort of religious grounding for my spiritual life. I’m wondering about it again as I sit before the Blessed Sacrament on another Sunday late-night. Specifically, I’m thinking about that year or so I spent huddled in my apartment, trying to piece together the shards of my shattered life in the wake of the disaster that was my twenties, and seeking a path to actualize my nascent faith in God.

Sitting in the Adoration Chapel each week, I see young people coming in and going out, some acting out elaborate and affected pieties, others more reserved and seemingly more recollected. I was drawn, at a similar age, toward a pentecostalism that promised to substitute an engaging and spiritually charged enthusiasm for the indulgent sensuality and attendant emotional crises I had been embroiled in, and was seeking to escape. I knew that I needed more than a prayer life, that I needed Christian community, that I needed to belong to something that was more than an idea – or worse, a projection of my own interior life.

But I was put off by the worldliness that seemed to underpin the life I witnessed in what I suppose I would have called organized religion. I was a thoroughly beaten young man at that point, an poor as dirt, and all but ready to embrace apocalypticism as the last station call for optimism. Pentecostalism in particular seemed constructed to marginalize me from the very community of the marginalized I felt spiritually bound to. On the surface, with its focus on the breaking-in to the world of the Spirit in charismata, it seems to exemplify the “in the world, but not of the world” ethos of the gospel. But in reality, it seeks the manifestation of God’s blessing in very concrete and even material forms. That’s why “the gifts” tend not toward a deep, quiet, and subtle prudence, but a public form that approaches spectacle. And that is also why the health and wealth gospel is so at home in pentecostalism. If the manifestation of God’s blessing is not actually the end of pentecostal faith, it is at least taken as evidence of the reality of grace in the life of the believer.

As a fragile, immature believer with nothing to show for my relationship with God but a deep sense of sorrow and repentance, pentecostalism was both intriguing for its promise of an affirming manifestation, and foreboding for its unspoken but unmistakable contempt for spiritual poverty and unapologetic humility. What is taken as being “not of the world” in pentecostalism is actually very worldly, insofar as it is public manifestation of blessing itself which is taken as the revelation “in the world.” In the end, I felt out of place in my poverty – not because I lacked manifestations like the glossolalia (which I had, even some fifteen years earlier, learned not to overvalue), but because I so thoroughly lacked the worldly successes that are taken to be signs of the blessing.

The sacramental economy stands in stark contrast to all that. The revelation of God is made manifest in the world in the simplest and humblest manner: a small piece of bread, water, a touching hand, a few softly spoken words. True, the Blessed Sacrament in Adoration is often enthroned within an elaborate gold monstrance; the places of worship themselves, where the sacraments are celebrated and dispensed, are often grand in form and rich in substance. Yet these displays of the wealth of the world are not understood as the blessings God gives to his people, but the blessings God’s people bring to Him in reverence. This is wealth that is “wasted” on God, as Judas had it, while God, in His manifestation, remains the bread of sacrifice: His depiction by the faithful being that of a Man crucified.

The sacraments, far from being evidence of the presence of the Spirit in the life of the believer in blessing, are evidence of the presence of the Spirit in the life of the Church, which the believer approaches in utter poverty and humility. Christ Himself, then, is manifest in humility, and the believer approaches in humility (“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you…”) to be joined in a sacramental communion of humility (“whosoever would follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me”), in which the eschatological manifestation of God’s self-revelation in humanity (“by the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity”) is pregnant as a Spiritual first fruits of Eternal life (“the guarantee of our inheritance”).

What has become abundantly clear to me is that the extraordinary charismata of pentecostalism and related religious movements have emerged as some kind of substitute for the sacraments: one more compatible with the modernist spirit of the age. I find it no coincidence that the historical context for this reemergence of the charismatic gifts aligns with the powerful rise of Modernism as a broad philosophy of culture, as well as the emergence of phenomenology as an epistemological method. Epistemologically, Modernism is basically phenomological: able to perceive knowledge only in that which is experienced, which in reality reduces ‘truth’ to, at best, factualism, or, at worst, subjectivism. One could make the argument that objectivism and subjectivism are instead polar opposites which I am here conflating, but they share a common ground in the observing self, and in a difficulty (if not inability) to overcome a consequent self-centered rationalism in order to perceive the transcendent. Pentecostalism, of course, seeks the transcendent, but it seeks it in the experience of the self; in phenomena.

Likewise, it can hardly be a coincidence that the charismatic movement in Catholicism emerged in the decade of the modernizations following Vatican II, when a deep sacramental understanding seemed to evade much of Catholic culture: pizza was known to be offered as Eucharistic sacrifice in one of the more bizarre incongruities to emerge from the era; greater symbolism came to be sought in baptismal rites through the reintroduction of baptismal baths (such emphasis on symbolism exposing a growing vacuum of meaning born of a declining sacramental sensibility); lines were blurred between lay and priestly roles; confession fell into disuse; and marriage fell prey to contraception, divorce, and other – even worse – sacrileges.

Through the 19th and 20th centuries, Modernism sowed the seeds of a wasting dissolution in the liberal denominations that had held to a semblance of sacramental theology after the Reformation, made possible because their sacramentalism was in reality only formal or religious, not essential. From Luther’s denunciations of indulgences in the 16th century, to John Smyth (re)baptizing himself near the beginning of the 17th century, to Napoleon crowning himself Emperor in front of Pope Pius VII two hundred years later, the history of the West from the Protestant Reformation to the rise of Modernism is one of accommodating a religiously Christian society to a repudiation of the authority of the Church – a repudiation not only of authority as power or religious superiority, but of authority as an ontological reality, a sacramental gift: of the knowledge of the Church as the authentic and authoritative continuing presence of Christ in the world.

The repudiation of an authoritative Church by both by Protestant Christianity and early-Modern or Liberal skepticism did less to correct ecclesiastical abuses than it did to provide religious cover for skepticism, which carried on its own program of pseudo-orthodoxy in the guise of “science,” moving steadily toward Modernism’s atheistic naturalism, even removing God from the cosmos (never mind the curriculum), by first removing the presence of God among men in the form of the miraculous, including the sacraments, but more importantly in the form of authority in the Church – more important because religious anti-papists could happily hitch their wagons to the same “progressive” worldview, unaware of and unprepared for anti-clericalism’s final destination in godless totalitarianism. And now, majorities in these denominations cozy up to abortionists, and cluck their tongues at the sight of “conservatives” who are so unenlightened as to fail to embrace the new homosex norms…

Reacting against Modernism, however, were Fundamentalism proper and the main thrust of contemporary conservative Evangelicalism. They rejected the wholesale naturalistic skepticism of the miraculous, to say nothing of atheism, but they retained a skepticism of the miraculous nature of the Church, and formed (often after initial denominational schisms) an astoundingly fragmentary collection of staunchly anti-sacramental faith communities. Furthermore, despite fundamentalist hostility toward Modernism, it is widely perceived that fundamentalism and naturalism share a common set of (modern) assumptions about the relation of facts to reality, as is evidenced in fundamentalism’s insistence on facticity in its understanding of Biblical inerrancy. What  seems less often observed is that pentecostalism, which emerged at about the same time as a sister movement, sharing similar concerns but eschewing the fundamentalism’s focus on dogmatic Biblicism for a more personal (and miraculous) religion of encounter with God, taps into the same mindset of believing exactly what is seen: experienced-based belief.

But experience is peripheral to sacramental faith, and experiential religion turns out to be a poor substitute for the sacramental life. The point of contact between sacramental manifestation and the believing community is faith in the power of God’s promise that He is indeed present, even despite appearances, if necessary. The point of contact, in other words, is not experience, not “what is seen,” but hope. Being rooted in hope, sacramental worship seeks no signs, but looks behind symbols to the realities they re-present, being open to the transformative movement of grace through the sacraments in ways that are often subtle – even humble. Not phenomena, but a still, small voice.

Despite my mildly Catholic upbringing in the 1960s, I think I would have been shocked, in the 1980s, to encounter God present under the form of bread, even sitting on an altar in a gold monstrance. I think I would have realized that, despite the trappings, God was, in all His glory, even more impoverished than me. I think that may have led me to see how profoundly true it is that for God, all things are possible, and that the meanness of my condition was not an alienating factor that kept me from full communion, but a vector for God to embrace me through the agency of His continued manifestation among men. I think I may have discovered the restorative and integrating power of genuine Christian community. I truly praise God for the Eucharistic faith of these young people; I hope they appreciate someday what a gift they have.

Eat the Rich?

Posted: Wednesday, November 18, 2009 (11:31 pm), by John W Gillis


So, a majority of people in the country, at least according to this poll, want somebody else to pay for the looming health care program – you know, like those rich people,  who are most likely rich because they’re cheats, anyway. Why am I not surprised? Isn’t this just the perfect embodiment – and inevitable end-result – of modernism’s rejection of personal responsibility in favor of paternalistic political super-structures? I suppose I exaggerate though; the actual end-results of these left wing muggings of the rich have not infrequently climaxed with their murder, not their robbery – but we’re more moral than that in this country, right?

The welfare state may start out with the intention of protecting the weak from their inability to compete successfully, but without a solid and explicit grounding in virtue, it ends up inculcating widespread irresponsibility, and finding itself having to resort to thievery to survive. How is it that we haven’t learned this yet? To those who do not look too deeply at the means being employed, confiscatory tax policies might give the appearance of achieving social justice, but they are driven by a politics of envy, systematically breaking down the bonds of communal charity, through both the embittering of the few through the violation of their property rights, and even more so in the coarsening of the many, whose capacity for gratefulness, goodwill, and even civic responsibility, is undermined by an ethic of entitlement and usurpation. If the means you employ are criminal (like, stealing), your results will not be just, regardless of what you choose to call them.

Given the opportunity, and enough easy living to break down the backbone of self-discipline, the reality is that way too many people will not only sign up for a free lunch, but will order the filet if it’s on the menu. The problem is that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and those who advertise it as such are either knaves or fools. Of course, once they’ve targeted whom they will coerce the payment from, there’s no longer a lot of question as to which they are.

Fraudulent? Does That Matter?

Posted: Monday, September 1, 2008 (12:29 pm), by John W Gillis


Few things make me feel like I was born on the wrong planet as much as the blatant denial of the meaning and authority of reality – that is to say, the reality of objective truth. This is truly a malady of modern human reason, and it seems to be rampant – maybe even epidemic. There are days I’m sure I’ve seen everything, then there are days, and I think this is one of those days, when I’m almost afraid to look out the window at the world for fear of the lunacy I might encounter.

I came across a startling statement in a Boston Globe article a couple months ago or so, which I decided at the time to let slide without comment, but the story reappeared last week, and fits too well into a pattern with some other recent stories, suggesting that we have inadequate cultural resources at our disposal, on account of our social penchant for subjectivism, with which to deal seriously with personal fraud.

The statement came from a 71 year-old Massachusetts woman named Misha Defonseca, in an article discussing her ongoing troubles with an American publisher named Jane Daniel, in which Defonseca offered what she must have thought was a serious explanation for fabricating the story behind a book she wrote at Daniel’s urging. Defonseca claimed to have been a young Jewish girl who escaped the Nazis and was raised by wolves in the Ukraine, among other adventures. The book was huge commercially in Europe, and was even made into a film in France, but the story was a complete fabrication. Defonseca isn’t even Jewish, never mind the bit about the wolves.

Defonseca’s troubles with Daniel don’t really interest me – it is a tawdry story without any redeeming characters – but her explanation for the fraud she perpetrated floored me when I read it in the Globe:

“This story is mine. It is not actually reality, but my reality, my way of surviving,” Defonseca said in a statement released by her lawyers.

What on earth is that supposed to mean? Not only did a 71 year-old woman think this statement up, but her lawyers apparently thought it could somehow garner sympathy! What if they’re right?

It’s important to understand that she did not make the story up to publish in a book for profit; she had been telling the story for years to anyone that would listen. She has spent half a lifetime feeding off the attention her “fantasy” has attracted her (not to mention the large sums of money earned over the past decade or so), and yet now that her hoax is revealed, she shamelessly tries to cling to her story by subjectivizing the grounds for judging her actions. As long as she wants the story to be true, she figures she can continue to perpetuate it at some level, denying any culpability, with no concern for the many people she deceived, no sense of genuine repentance, and no apparent understanding that the truth matters. By her own words, her life has become so intertwined in this lie that she cannot extricate herself.

In a world in which the public order has repressed religious authority as being unreasonable and oppressive of individual freedom, we see in this embarrassing episode the worst elements of religious self deception and irrational, delusional pretense coming to expression in the hope-forsaken framework of the psychologized modern mind, with its pathetic appetite for self-esteem and “affirmation,” trapped in a prison of relativistic subjectivity that is incapable of distinguishing fantasy from reality. Reality (that is, the truth) plays such an inconsequential part in her chosen shade of existence that she will likely go to the grave without ever comprehending the evil she has contributed to the world through her shameless dishonesty. But perhaps even sadder is that she has completely lost her own self in the process.

This is, after all, not her story at all, even as she so desperately wants to believe it is. It is the story of someone who never existed, the story of no one at all. It’s the story of nothing – it’s not even a story; it’s a fraud – it’s not real. Her story, indeed, can never be known, because her existence has been emptied out meaninglessly, replaced by a fraud that has no reality, no existence. No one will ever know her, because her story can never be told; eternally lost in the fog of deceit and moral corruption, she doesn’t even know herself.

Truly, the saddest thing about the indulgent “identity” culture of modernity’s narcissistic bent is that identity can never be found in the mirage of self-seeking, only lost:

Thus says the LORD:
What fault did your fathers find in me that they withdrew from me,
Went after empty idols, and became empty themselves?
Jeremiah 2:5 (NAB)

Somewhere, there are those who, as young Jewish girls, did go through the horrors of Nazism, who must feel nothing but shame for this woman, who cannot manage to be ashamed of herself.