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Merton's "Unspeakable"

A correspondent sent me the following passages from Raids on the Unspeakable by Thomas Merton:


How religious is natural law?

In the Crisis piece mentioned in the previous entry, I suggested the relationship between the two was ambiguous. A blogger who wants to maintain a strong distinction between natural law and religion called me on it, so I had to develop my thoughts a little.


Existence as violence

A correspondent referred me to a post by a “progressive Christian” blogger as a sign of a new frontier in inclusiveness. The post picked up on another blogger’s claim that “the self is inherently violent.” The example used was blogging, which involves self-assertion that comes at the expense of other bloggers.


Review of Garry Wills' Why Priests?

The following review of Garry’s Will’s Why Priests? appeared in the June 2013 Chronicles:

Garry Wills identifies himself as a Christian. He says he accepts the creeds, along with prayer, divine providence, the Gospels, the Eucharist, and the Mystical Body of Christ as the body of all believers. He thinks it a bad thing that “article by article, parts of the Creed are fading from some churches.” He also identifies as a Catholic, and tells us he prays the rosary and is devoted to the saints.


The state and the sacred

Here’s another column at Catholic World Report, this one on the essential sacredness of the state. If you say “no, the state is simply practical” then some aspect of the simply practical will become sacred.


Mixing it up over Maistre

An old libertarian friend, Todd Seavey, posted an entry in his blog regarding The Works of Joseph de Maistre that complained about Maistre and mentioned me, so in response I posted a couple of comments that I think make sense even apart from the original setting. The point at issue, as you will see, was Maistre’s sometimes startling emphasis on the role of violence in human life.


More on Islam, women, and the West

A correspondent, who had read my previous comments on women in Islam, asked whether I thought he was hysterical to say Islam enslaves women. He lives in a part of England where Muslims have recently become more of a presence, finds the routine sight of women in niqab shocking, and can’t understand why intellectual Western women take it in stride as an addition to multicultural richness or whatever. What, he asked, could ever serve as a wake-up call?


Liberal theosis

Modern thought can’t make sense of man. Science wants to treats him as part of single system of cause and effect, and liberalism also takes that approach when considering social policy. The problem though is that science and liberalism need scientists and liberals as they understand them—that is, they need thinkers, observers and agents who are autonomous and therefore outside the system of material causation.


Two films with food mysticism (spoiler alert!)

A blogger’s complaints about foodies put me in mind of a couple of award-winning and actually quite good movies I saw recently about food and drink as religion, Sideways and Babette’s Feast.


Propositioning the nation

Princeton professor Robert George gives a remarkably pure presentation of the “America as proposition nation” thesis here. If you want to know what that thesis is, watch the clip—it’s only a couple of minutes, and it’s a collector’s item.

Here are a few obvious issues the thesis raises:


Reason and religion

Four religions:

  1. Liberalism: A single human world ordered only by reason, based on pure (content-free) concepts. Freedom says you ignore the content of human goals and promote all of them simply as such, and equality says you ignore the content of human qualities so you treat all men as equal in value. Put them together and you get liberalism.

Liberalism and its meaning for Christians

[Originally published in the Spring 2005 issue of The New Pantagruel]

Liberalism has enormous power as a social reality. When liberals call themselves “progressive” they make it stick. Their views dominate all reputable intellectual and cultural institutions. Judges feel free to read liberalism into fundamental law, even without historical or textual support, because it seems so obviously right.


From scientism to PC

Conservatively-minded people who favor the scientific outlook to the exclusion of other sources of knowledge point out that PC, the insistence that human differences don’t exist or don’t matter or shouldn’t be allowed to matter, is anti-scientific.

That’s true, of course. It’s also true though that scientism—the view that knowledge is not knowledge unless it’s scientific—leads to PC, basically by causing impossible difficulties on the mind/body front.


Whither knowledge and power?

A recent discussion with Bruce Charlton on knowledge, society, and the Eastern and Western Church provokes reflection.

It’s notorious that involvement in particular activities makes it hard to keep their connection to the whole in mind. Standard examples include making money, attention to the opposite sex, and attempts to control things generally. Hence the monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.


Inquiring minds want to know

Various correspondents have proposed or at least asked about Christian justifications for homosexuality. Here’s a sort of canned response that seems to address most concerns:

I don’t view the issue as basically a question of authority. We need a definite way of life, and that requires authority, but legitimate authority is normally rational. It asks for what is best and promotes what is best, and those things can be discussed. For me, at bottom, it’s not even a specifically religious issue. It’s more a matter of natural law.


Musical interlude

I’ve done paintings and movies recently, so why not music? Here—if you’re in the mood—is a Buxtehude setting of Psalm 41:2-3, Quemadmodum desiderat cervus, ad fontes aquarum, ita desiderat anima mea, ad te, Deum. Sitivit anima mea ad te, Deum, fontem vivum. Quando veniam et apparebo ante faciem tuam? (“As the deer longs for the springs of waters, so longs my soul for thee O God. My soul thirsts for thee, God, the living spring. When will I come and appear before thy face?”). It’s sung by Charles Daniels, with the Purcell Quartet.


PC: The Cultural Antichrist

Here’s a talk I gave yesterday at the annual conference of the H. L. Mencken Club.

The title of my talk is PC: The Cultural Antichrist.

It’s an odd title, but political correctness is an odd tendency. It’s a bit uncanny. It doesn’t fit in with how we normally think about things. That’s why we don’t know what to make of it. People try to laugh it off, but it doesn’t laugh off.


The Mohammedan mind and ours

I just finished an advanced review copy of The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist, by Robert R. Reilly. It’s a clear and informative book that quotes lots of primary sources and deals with basic issues in an intelligent way.


Christianity: Metaphysical boon or bane?

Some commenters at Alternative Right have seconded the complaint of the European New Right that Christianity is responsible for our current metaphysical problems. The reason, they say, is that Christianity separates soul and body, universal and particular, Christ and Caesar. The result in each case is that the latter gets debunked in favor of the former, and we end up with a global undifferentiated scheme of nothingness. For that reason we ought to go back to paganism, or the pre-Socratics, or do what non-Western societies do, or whatever.

My response (consolidated and edited) was pretty much as follows. It’s a bit choppy and unresearched, and I’m sure there are people who could improve it, so do comment!


The alternative right goes ultramontane?

My comments on what an “alternative right” might be have provoked enough comment at Alternative Right to call for continuing the discussion.

Jack Donovan has called for a rag-tag alliance of right-wingers, Richard Spencer for a coalition against bad things. Both can serve a function, and I agree with the project. Still, the direction of events has been against us for a long time so something more is needed.



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