Tag Archives: Age of Unbelief

The Meaning of Life

Well said again, Mr. David P. Goldman

Woody Allen had it down pat in “Antz” (An ant on a couch tells an ant psychiatirst, “I feel so insignificant!,” to which the ant psychiatrist replies, “That’s a breakthrough. You are insignificant.” I’m not out to proselytize, but the choice is digital: either the Maker of Heaven loves you, which makes you significant, or the idea of a Creator God is as of the same ilk as Richard Dawkins’ Flying Spaghetti Monster, in which case you are insignificant. In the latter case, get over it.

He talks about Heidegger, Faust, philosophy, and of course the meaning of life.

 

Eliot and Moral Decay

Where to lay the blame for moral decay? Over at Penllyn Studio there is an excellent article, Fidelity and the Cultural Shift, but I wanted to disagree a bit on the location of the blame 🙂  Whenever people have desired to have consequence free sex, they have found a way. And (at least according to my new favorite exposition on culture: How Civilizations Die: (And Why Islam Is Dying Too)) People desire to have sex and no kids when their culture has arrived at despair. This feeling is really evinced in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. Here is a portion: (long portion… but worth reading and thinking about.)

II. A Game of Chess

The Chair she sat in, like a burnished throne, 77
Glowed on the marble, where the glass
Held up by standards wrought with fruited vines
From which a golden Cupidon peeped out
(Another hid his eyes behind his wing)
Doubled the flames of sevenbranched candelabra
Reflecting light upon the table as
The glitter of her jewels rose to meet it,
From satin cases poured in rich profusion.
In vials of ivory and coloured glass
Unstoppered, lurked her strange synthetic perfumes,
Unguent, powdered, or liquid – troubled, confused
And drowned the sense in odours; stirred by the air
That freshened from the window, these ascended
In fattening the prolonged candle-flames,
Flung their smoke into the laquearia, 92
Stirring the pattern on the coffered ceiling.
Huge sea-wood fed with copper
Burned green and orange, framed by the coloured stone,
In which sad light a carvèd dolphin swam.
Above the antique mantel was displayed
As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene 98
The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king 99
So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale 100
Filled all the desert with inviolable voice
And still she cried, and still the world pursues,
‘Jug Jug’ to dirty ears.
And other withered stumps of time
Were told upon the walls; staring forms
Leaned out, leaning, hushing the room enclosed.
Footsteps shuffled on the stair.
Under the firelight, under the brush, her hair
Spread out in fiery points
Glowed into words, then would be savagely still.
‘My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
‘Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak.
‘What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
‘I never know what you are thinking. Think.’
I think we are in rats’ alley 115
Where the dead men lost their bones.
‘What it that noise?’
The wind under the door. 118
‘What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?’
Nothing again nothing.
‘Do
‘You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember
‘Nothing?’
I remember
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
‘Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your head?’ 126
But
O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag – 128
It’s so elegant
So intelligent
‘What shall I do now? What shall I do?’
‘I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
‘With my hair down, so. What shall we do tomorrow?
‘What shall we ever do?’
The hot water at ten.
And if it rains, a closed car at four.
And we shall play a game of chess, 138
Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.
When Lil’s husband got demobbed, I said –
I didn’t mince my words, I said to her myself,
HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME
Now Albert’s coming back, make yourself a bit smart.
He’ll want to know what you done with that money he gave you
To get herself some teeth. He did, I was there.
You have them all out, Lil, and get a nice set,
He said, I swear, I can’t bear to look at you.
And no more can’t I, I said, and think of poor Albert,
He’s been in the army for four years, he wants a good time,
And if you don’t give it him, there’s others will, I said.
Oh is there, she said. Something o’ that, I said.
Then I’ll know who to thank, she said, and give me a straight look.
HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME
If you don’t like it you can get on with it, I said.
Others can pick and choose if you can’t.
But if Albert makes off, it won’t be for a lack of telling.
You ought to be ashamed, I said, to look so antique.
(And her only thirty-one.)
I can’t help it, she said, pulling a long face,
It’s them pills I took, to bring it off, she said.
(She’s had five already, and nearly died of young George.)
The chemist said it would be all right, but I’ve never been the same.
You are a proper fool, I said.
Well, if Albert won’t leave you alone, there it is, I said,
What you get married for if you don’t want children?
HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME
Well, that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot gammon,
And they asked me in to dinner, to get the beauty of it hot –
HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME
HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME
Goonight Bill. Goonight Lou. Goonight May. Goonight.
Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight.
Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.

From: http://eliotswasteland.tripod.com/

Now that was a lot of quote, but the direction of the current is clear, even though the poetry is dense and often intentionally inscrutable. From the opulence of the room to the woman who has withered herself in order to avoid having more children to the ADHD-like interruptions at the end; whenever a culture makes the Ecclesiastes discovery – that everything is meaningless, a chasing after the wind – they throw out their morals and they discard their hope for the future, the latter of which is most visible in childbearing. Without God, as I touched upon last post about the Higgs Boson, everything is meaningless, hopeless and nothing: so why have to deal with children just to experience a few years of sexual activity? So I think that the Pill, the laws, the media: it all sells a nihilistic culture what it wants.

Update: When you go over to read the Penllyn Studio article, do look at the artwork for sale: a fantastic example of artwork as a physical visual presentation of wholesome and true philosophy (and it is quite beautiful too…).

A Canticle for the Vatican

This article at National Review Online really struck a history buff nerve. It also reminded me of one of the great pantheon of ‘Good Books I Like’… The Vatican Secret Archive Unveiled.

Some of the documents — written on such various materials as parchment, vellum, paper, and birchbark (the medium for an 1887 letter from the Ojibwe Indians to the pope, “the Great Master of Prayer, he who acts in Jesus’s stead”) — bring to mind epic moments and historical turning points across ten centuries: the handwritten records of Galileo’s trial before the Inquisition; Pope Alexander VI’s bull Inter Cetera (which might be translated, “Among Other Things”), dividing the New World between Spain and Portugal; the 1530 petition from dozens of members of England’s House of Lords, asking Pope Clement VII to annul Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that the Tudor king might marry Anne Boleyn; Gregory XIII’s calendar of 1582 with the “missing ten days” in October, an excision that rectified the inaccuracies of the earlier Julian calendar; a letter from Mary Queen of Scots to Sixtus V just before her execution; Polish king John III Sobieski’s 1683 letter to Innocent XI, reporting his victory over the Turks at the Battle of Vienna; letters from Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln to Pius IX during the U.S. Civil War.

My favorite is the letter on Birchbark… but this all reminds me of the fantastic book ‘A Canticle for Leibowitz‘. In the book, mankind has decided after a horrific nuclear war that knowledge and learning were the ultimate cause of the war, and so, with true human blindness, they burn every book, and kill every scholar. (Although the book is set much later, the events of this time are very interesting to me.) Basically, a man named Leibowitz founds an order of Catholic monks to preserve as much knowledge and books as possible. Eventually, in one of the books three parts, the world’s new scholars come to a monastery of these monks to learn what is left.

And now back to the Vatican archives. They should strike a reminder that rather than suppress the truth of history, the Church has been a consistent ‘rememberer’ of the past. I am sure suppression of the truth has happened in the Church… obviously, the church is made of people. But by and large, the church was the repository of learning and reading and writing and what history they could keep during the dismally dark and horrific time when the Roman armies were no longer keeping the barbarians out of what is now Europe. And now again, we have a whole class of people who would rather forget the past which is embodied in these documents.

Well,  A Canticle For Leibowitz has much appeal, with deep understanding of the flaws of mankind, and the work of God in Sanctification. Also, the depiction of mankind returning and ever returning to the same bad and evil ideas is very compelling. At every stage, God saves His remnant. It is a good book, go read it, its summer… you should have time 🙂

Ghost Story

So the other night I watched The Woman in Black and that started me thinking about ghost stories in general. For instance, I cannot figure out why people in ghost stories always run behind doors and lock them, they aren’t keeping out zombies. Ghosts can obviously appear behind you anywhere, they are haunting a location, that location is their playground, so beating a traditional ghost is simple… LEAVE! However, I am not actually hear to snark on the genre, it is too convention filled to mock. I like conventions in stories, like the grand sagas and ballads all had plot conventions. No, I found some parts of the film interesting from an altogether different viewpoint.

The Woman in Black is set in the late 1800’s and it set me thinking about this era, the Lunatic laws, the loss of faith in Europe, Matthew Arnold, and then back to the ghost story. The ghost in question was the mother of a little boy who was proclaimed a lunatic and had her son taken away. (See G. K. Chesterton’s Eugenics and Other Evils)The film makes fairly clear that before her son was taken she was mostly normal, if a little obsessive. But as she is further and further removed from their son, she goes crazier and crazier until her son is lost in the marsh and his adoptive parents (her sister and brother-in-law) escape the car but desert the boy to the quicksand. So she hangs herself and becomes the ghost of the story, who is a ghost of horrible vengeance, who drives the children of the neighboring town to kill themselves.
Enter the hero, with his Victorian sentimentality. Once convinced his own son is in danger, he dredges up the body of the boy, and lays it in the tomb with his mothers body… which has no effect on the ghost at all. And thus we see the people of an industrial age, having lost their faith, and willing to believe in anything. The hero talks in vague terms about his dead wife waiting for him, and others toss about half-believed platitudes about souls going up to heaven, but no body believes anything, and everybody is grasping for something to believe.

Enter Matthew Arnold and Dover Beach.

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast, the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,

Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

So what interested me most about The Woman in Black was the final score. Ghost: at least 12, Sentimentality: 0. So I thought of another, this time American ghost story rather than a Victorian one. Bag Of Bones by Stephen King. (If you read it, it is pretty good just be ready to skip some pages when King gets horrible describing in minute detail the origin of the ghost.) In this case, the ghost takes a few children from each generation, all with names starting with ‘K’ as revenge for her child. However our hero is an impractical enough person to realize that a ghost seeking more and more vengeance cannot be satisfied. (A sentimental mistake of the Victorian lawyer who was the hero of The Woman in Black.) Our hero in this case, once he realizes that there is indeed a ghost, and a particular, very sweet little girl is the target (name starts with ‘K’ and descended from original villain from a century ago.) he comes up with a practical American plan, find the body of the ghost woman and pour lye on the bones… which works for the story. Ghost: Several every generation, Practical hero: 1. A much better score, for a different culture.
However, I leave you with a great very short ghost story. This one is quite good. (The ghost doesn’t do any killing… so there isn’t much scoring I can do…)
Andrew Klavan’s The Advent Reunion. Here is video one of about 6. Do listen, it is well done.

The End of the Affair: Graham Greene

Here is the first book to be reviewed that I have read since I started the blog. (I have read a few others, but I liked this one most.)

My local library had a book sale, mostly books donated for the purpose to raise the library some money. So I went and browsed around and found an exceptionally beat up copy of The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. It is so beat up that I keep it in a bull clip so I don’t lose half the pages. (Fortunately, it only cost me a quarter.) My triumph was complete when I read the book, it is truly a treasure.

The books center is expressed in Sarah’s diary, after she has died, and the narrator Bendrix is reading it. ‘O God, if I could really hate you, what would that mean?’

The plot generally is this. The narrator is Bendrix (last name), an author who sets out to tell the story of his hate for a former mistress, her husband, and perhaps ‘that one other’. The story is so subtle at the beginning that by missing the import of one or two words here and there, or just by missing the words themselves, one might never guess that God is involved at all. It starts with the spite filled Bendrix agreeing to have a private investigator follow his former mistress, so that her husband doesn’t have to go. He does this, and all his future actions out of spite and hate. But he wonders, as does several others, where the hate and the love begin and end. He remakes contact with Sarah (A serial adulteress, who for some reason, love? Remains married to her husband throughout.) and Sarah dies. I am not really giving away anything about the story by saying that, the story is about Bendrix’ hate, not Sarah’s death.

Although the feel of the story is quite different, the book deals with the same idea as Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis. The major difference is this: in Till We Have Faces, Orual thinks her hate is love, and here, Bendrix (and Sarah too) seems to think his love is hate. Both deal with the sinfulness of un-sanctified human love, but The End of the Affair more boldly paints the idea that strong emotions overlap with their opposites. The idea that one would not Hate a God that you believed did not exist. One might have a distaste for that non-existent god, but one could not hate him. However, one can hate the God that does exist, and in this age of unbelief, Hate can very well be the first step to adoration.

One last interesting observation, one more reason to read the book, is to think about how God might use sinful human passion to bring his elect to himself. There is a particularly potent entry in Sarah’s diary that I will abridge for here. That way you can enjoy thinking about it before you read the book (which you should do… )

‘Did I ever love Maurice (Bendrix) as much before I loved You? Or was it really You I loved all the time? … For he gave me so much love and I gave him so much love that soon there wasn’t anything left when we’d finished but You. For either of us. I might have taken a lifetime spending a little love at a time, doling it out here and there, on this man and that. … You were there, teaching us to squander, like You taught the rich man, so that one day, we might have nothing left except this love of You.’

The book, Sarah’s faith, (and Grahame Green in general) makes me think of a verse from Chesterton’s The Ballad of the White Horse.

Belief that grew of all beliefs
One moment back was blown
And belief that stood on unbelief
Stood up iron and alone.