A patriotic parade

Childe Hassam’s “Allies Day, May 1917” hangs in the National Gallery of Art on Constitution Avenue:


If you look on this far long enough, you’re transported to that time in America—a time before the Great War shattered the faith of Western nations and when the Anglosphere was still a living reality; when Western nations were connected by deeper ties than commerce and economics. National Gallery of Art offers this:

A patriotic whirlwind overtook mid–town Manhattan as America entered the First World War in the spring of 1917. On Fifth Avenue, the British Union Jack, the French Tricolor, and Stars and Stripes were displayed prominently during parades honoring America’s allies. The colorful pageantry inspired Childe Hassam, who dedicated this picture “to the coming together of [our] three peoples in the fight for democracy.” Hassam’s flag paintings were first shown as a group in New York’s Durand–Ruel Gallery in November 1918, just four days after the armistice was declared. Thus, the works, originally created to herald America’s entry into the war, also served to commemorate its victorious resolution.

Hassam had studied in Paris from 1886–1889 and was strongly influenced by the impressionists. In many respects, Allies Day resembles the vibrant boulevard paintings of Monet and Pissarro. Like these contemporary French artists, Haassam selected a high vantage point overlooking a crowded urban thoroughfare to achieve an illusion of dramatic spatial recession. But, rather than using daubs of shimmering pigment to dissolve form, he applied fluid parallel paint strokes to create an architectonic patterning. Although he shared the impressionists’ interest in bright colors, broken brushwork, and modern themes, Hassam’s overall approach was less theoretical and his pictorial forms remained far more substantial than those of his European contemporaries.

Unreasonable foreign assistance

Lauretta Brown of National Catholic Register reports on the increasing push amongst Democrats to make it a priority for American tax dollars to fund optional, non-medically indicated abortions for foreign nations. I’m quoted in the piece:

As the 2020 Democratic presidential race heats up, many of the candidates have called for the repeal of a long-standing ban on the use of U.S. taxpayer funds for abortion overseas.

Seven of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates recently confirmed their opposition to the Helms Amendment, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, author Marianne Williamson and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

Permitting taxpayer dollars to fund abortions overseas also was included recently on the wish list of a coalition of abortion groups and was added to the Democratic Party platform in 2016.

The Helms Amendment, named for its author, the late Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., says that “no foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” It was enacted as a permanent amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1973 shortly after abortion was legalized in the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. …

Tom Shakely, the chief engagement officer at Americans United for Life, agreed, telling the Register that the 2020 Democrats were making an extreme break against long-established bipartisan bans on taxpayer-funded abortion.

“When Roe was imposed on America in 1973 by seven men on the U.S. Supreme Court, elected officials responded by making clear that no American taxpayer would be expected to fund abortion overseas and that no taxpayer dollars could be used to either coerce or motivate anyone to perform abortions overseas,” he emphasized. “That’s what the simple, commonsense Helms Amendment makes clear.”

“It has been the American consensus for nearly a half-century, and it’s a sign of the needless extremism of our time that some politicians believe that trashing the Helms Amendment and spending precious American tax dollars to promote abortion internationally makes any fiscal or ethical sense,” he said.

Reasonable foreign assistance can take many forms, but never abortion or other forms of violence or encouraged self-harm.

September 11th, 18 years later

It’s September 11th. We’re sharing and remembering the events of that day, and as I do every year I remember where I was: a freshman in high school, watching the World Trade Center ablaze during my second period history class. But how do you commemorate September 11th if you don’t remember it—because you were too young, or because you’ve become ideologically warped? Daniel Byman writes:

Today’s students … lack a sense of historical perspective. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was an average of more than one airplane hijacking per week globally, and those two decades saw hundreds of bombings in the United States by groups ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to the Weather Underground. Indeed, on U.S. soil, both terrorist incidents and fatalities are down in the post-9/11 era compared with the years before.

However, because 9/11 defines what a terrorist incident can do, a bombing or shooting, especially if done by a Muslim in the name of jihad, looms far larger in the imagination than it did in the past. It is hard for students to picture a country remaining relatively calm about a 1970s-level pace of attacks. It is also difficult for them to imagine a U.S. government with only dozens, not tens of thousands, of counterterrorism officers.

Although most students would be loath to admit it, based on class discussions they often seem to agree with Trump on some of his assumptions about how to respond to the terrorism threat. They are skeptical of intervention in the Middle East, especially on a massive scale. However, they also accept a grinding set of miniature wars, with air strikes and special-operations force deployments in much of the Muslim world on a near constant basis. They are also comfortable working with dictatorships in the Middle East, seeing this as a necessary price for counterterrorism cooperation. Perhaps most important, they often see every emergence of a jihadi group as a potential threat to the United States, and thus Islamic State-linked attacks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sri Lanka are seen as proof of a continued danger to the United States.

The events of 9/11 are increasingly a memory, and without education that memory can easily become a caricature. Americans who are not fortunate enough to study at an elite university are particularly susceptible to vague threats being used to justify unnecessary government spending or an administration’s preferred policy, without a recognition of how the dangers facing the country have changed since 2001. Capturing all the nuances surrounding 9/11 is vital, but the proper response today also requires recognizing that terrorism is constantly evolving, and when it strikes again it may not come from an expected or familiar source.

Newman’s ‘buried inner fire’

A New York friend recently shared the excerpt below on John Henry Newman’s style of preaching. I’ve had a devotion to Newman for a long time, and prayed for his intercession at Brompton Oratory when I was in London in 2012. I wish I could be in Rome next month for his canonization. Anyway, I’m not sure what the source of this passage is, whether book or article or something else:

Newman’s matter and manner of delivery made no bid for popularity. He preached non-controversially on self-denial and the hunger for holiness, and on the majesty and awe-inspiring and all consuming love of God for man. One of his converts simply wrote that he ‘rooted in their hearts and minds a personal conviction of the living God’. But his speech was quick and his voice was low, and though it had a strangely musical quality, there was nothing obviously oratorical to attract the hero-worshipper, as he did not either vary his tone or move about or even gesture. Rather, he entered with such an imaginative power into the doubts and temptations of his hearers that they were caught up into a sense of the drama within themselves, even as they were transfixed by his projection of the utter reality of the supernatural world and by the sheer simple directness of his language describing it. Preaching or writing, he was calm and passionless as marble, and might well feel ‘like the pane of glass … which transmits heat yet is cold’. Yet his very restraint hinted at the fire within, suggesting a spiritual depth the more fascinating for being so artlessly concealed.

These qualities are summed up by Hurrell’s younger brother James Anthony, who came up to Oxford in 1835. Newman disliked Evangelical preaching of the Atonement for its want of reserve, and for bandying the most sacred doctrine of Christ’s suffering about like a talisman or charm to convert. His own preaching of the Passion was exactly the reverse. As Froude recalled it, Newman paused in his recital:

“For a few moments there was a breathless silence. Then, in a low, clear voice, of which the faintest vibration was audible in the farthest corner of St. Mary’s, he said, ‘Now, I bid you recollect that He to whom these things were done was Almighty God’. It was as if an electric stroke had gone through the church, as if every person present understood for the first time the meaning of what he had all his life been saying.”

Treat the doctrine in tones of quiet, though it is tremendous; even hide it; then when you unveil it, strike, and strike to the heart.

It was this quality of hidden power, of an heroic self-control over a buried inner fire, that was missed by Matthew Arnold, when he wistfully recalled Newman’s preaching in old age. “No such voices as those which we heard in our youth at Oxford are sounding there now. Oxford has more criticism now, more knowledge, more light; but such voices as those of our youth it has no longer … Newman … was preaching in St. Mary’s pulpit every Sunday … Who could resist the charm of that spiritual apparition, gliding in the dim afternoon light through the aisles of St. Mary’s, rising into the pulpit, and then, in the most entrancing of voices, breaking the silence with words and thoughts which were a religious music—subtle, sweet, mournful.”

I’m generally turned off by homiletics that sound like performance art. In a sense, Newman’s style of preaching sounds like a performance, but in the true sense of the word—no artifice, but an attempt at pointing toward the transcendent and true, in the same way all good art and beautiful things do in pointing beyond themselves.

This isn’t Disneyland

Rochester Cathedral, an English church which dates to the 13th century, recently had a miniature golf course installed—not outside, but inside. There are a lot of metaphors for the disappearance of Christianity as a living force in Western nations, but the visual of a place built for transcendence being converted into a place for amusements captures it better than words. Now, with that as background, here’s this:

An allegedly drunk man who launched into a foul-mouthed rant at cathedral staff over a crazy golf course has pleaded guilty to common assault.

Micheal Feeney berated visiting chaplain Margaret Moore about the “disgraceful” golf course built inside Rochester Cathedral.

The 67-year-old, who occasionally prays at the cathedral, raged at staff and visitors after a free nine-hole golf course was installed in the nave of the 13th-century building.

He shouted: “This isn’t f***ing Disneyland, this is a f***ing cathedral, this is a f***ing disgrace.”

Feeney pleaded guilty to riotous, violent or indecent behaviour in a churchyard and one count of common assault at Medway Magistrates’ Court in Kent on Tuesday. …

“The response to the crazy golf has been amazing,” Reverend Nathan Ward said.

“A time is coming when men will go mad,” said Saint Anthony of Egypt in the 4th century, “and when they see someone who is not made, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.'”

Socialism’s impulses

Fran Maier writes on Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s foreword to a fellow Russian dissent’s book on socialism:

The Socialist Phenomenon, published in English by Harper & Row in 1980, is now out of print. But it’s in the public domain and available free on the web in multiple formats. In a time when presidential candidates blather smoothly on about “democratic” socialism, it makes for useful reading.

A Lenin Prize-winning mathematician and a Soviet math genius of global standing, [Igor] Shafarevich (like his friend Solzhenitsyn) eventually turned to Russian Orthodox Christianity. He became a leading Soviet dissident…

…the author analyzes what he sees as the four essential features of socialist thought: abolition of private property, abolition of the family, abolition of religion, and a relentless quest for communality or equality. These features appear in different ways and degrees in different socialist experiments, but—so Shafarevich argues—they’re nascent in all socialist thought.

The heart of the socialist impulse, for the author, is a structural hostility to the idea of human individuality and an almost suicidal nihilism toward the future of the species. None of this is explicit or even dimly perceived by most of the faithful of the many socialist variants—least of all, perhaps, by comfortable and secure American “democratic” socialists. But in the end, all streams of socialist thought flow in the same direction. “Socialism,” writes the author, is that “which remains of the spiritual structure of mankind if the link with God is lost.” And consciously or (more often) otherwise, it finally “aims at organizing human society according to new principles which are compared to the instinctive actions of insect societies.” …

As Solzhenitsyn wrote in his foreword, Shafarevich’s text “convincingly demonstrates the diametrical opposition between the concepts of man held by religion and by socialism.” The bitter irony is that “it was written by a mathematician of world renown,” because in a world where true scholars of the humanities had been crushed in the name of a perverse socialist humanism, “practitioners of the exact sciences must stand in for their annihilated brethren.”

“The heart of the socialist impulse … is a structural hostility to the idea of human individuality and an almost suicidal nihilism toward the future of the species.”

‘One life, that my dear land may live’

Happy Labor Day weekend—an appropriate time for honoring our country and those who forged her. Do you know the story of Nathan Hale? Here’s William Ordway Partridge’s tribute:

One hero dies—a thousand new ones rise,
As flowers are sown where perfect blossoms fall;
Then quite unknown, the name of Hale now cries
Wherever duty sounds her silent call.

With head erect he moves and stately pace,
To meet an awful doom—no ribald jest
Brings scorn or hate to that exalted face:
His thoughts are far away, poised and at rest;

Now on the scaffold see him turn and bid
Farewell to home, and all his heart holds dear.
Majestic presence!—all man’s weakness hid,
And all his strength in that last hour made clear:
“My sole regret, that it is mine to give
Only one life, that my dear land may live.”

Camille Paglia’s provocations

Emily Esfahani Smith writes on Camille Paglia as “maverick critic and scholar” on the publication of her latest book:

Like Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom who sprouted adult-like from the head of Zeus, Paglia appears to have entered the world fully formed. She was born in working-class Endicott, New York, in 1947, when thousands of immigrants were arriving in the upstate town looking for work in the shoe factories. Her mother, Lydia, and her four grandparents were Italian immigrants. Her father, Pasquale, was the only member of his family to attend college, later becoming a professor of Romance languages at LeMoyne College in Syracuse. “I got my intellectuality, studiousness, and severity from my father,” she told New York magazine in 1991. “And I got my energy, optimism, and practicality from my mother.” Her sister, Lenora, was born when Paglia was 14.

Paglia’s early childhood was, she said, a “total immersion in Italian culture.” She and her parents lived with her maternal grandparents in the Italian section of Endicott. Her paternal grandparents lived two long blocks away, next to a Sons of Italy hall. Though her parents spoke English at home, Paglia was otherwise surrounded by people who communicated in “mutually unintelligible Italian dialects.”

Endicott was in many ways like a rural Italian village—which meant that Paglia saw how gender dynamics worked in the premodern world. Her grandmothers were matriarchal, goddess-like figures, who ruled home and hearth. They dictated the affairs of Paglia’s daily life. “Eat!” they’d command her in Italian. “Sleep!” Even more severe were the petite elderly Italian ladies who would visit their homes. “You had to watch out for them,” she said, “because when they kissed you, they’d bite your earlobe.” When Paglia and her parents moved from Endicott to the top floor of a dairy farm in Oxford, New York, where her father taught high school Spanish and her mother worked as a teller at the local bank, she encountered more tough women—farmers working the animals and land. Paglia dedicated Sexual Personae to her grandmothers and a paternal aunt.

Looking back, Paglia saw that her grandmothers had their own sphere of power at home, separate from the male sphere—where older women ruled. “Young women were nothing” in that world, Paglia said. Today, it’s the opposite: women try to gain power in the male sphere of work and lose status culturally as they age. “You’re unhappy,” Paglia said of today’s professional women, “because you’re spending all day long in this mechanical professional world. But we willingly put up with that because we want the financial autonomy and freedom.”

Her childhood also instilled in her an appreciation of men, especially working-class men—the plumbers, factory workers, and policemen who keep the world going. Paglia’s paternal grandfather was a barber, and her maternal grandfather operated a leather-stretching device at the Endicott-Johnson shoe factory. Four of her uncles served in the military during World War II, and her father was an army paratrooper. “One of the reasons I’m not anti-male,” Paglia told me, “is because I saw the sacrifices made by my father’s generation in those men.”

Paglia encountered her first works of art with her family at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Endicott. The stained-glass windows and polychrome statues of the saints entranced her.

If you haven’t heard/watched Camille Paglia’s conversation with Jordan Peterson, give it a shot:

‘Satan is no principle’

When we experience good and bad things in our lives, they are invariably things that are incarnated in the world—meaning they’re a physical part of our world; they touch us as human beings.

When we experience the love of friendship and courtship and marriage, that is a love that comes from a person—it’s not simply an emotional feeling or a chemical response, because true love (agape) requires the commitment of choosing to love even when it becomes difficult or when the way seems uncertain. There is always a concrete being, a concrete person, at the heart of the good we experience. The same holds for the experience of the bad things in life—their source isn’t simply in ideas, or abstractions, or chemical responses which produce subjectively attractive outcomes.

All that is either good or bad might be thought of as whispers or echoes of their ultimate authors. We’re ultimately talking about God, the author of life, and the Devil, the being who rejects the good and gives rises to despair, dysfunction, and all the things we experience as hellish and which point to the permanent loss of life.

That’s my layman’s preface for Archbishop Chaput’s reflection on the recent comments from Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ:

Earlier this month the leader of a major Catholic religious order was reported as saying that Satan “exists as a symbolic reality, not as a personal reality.”  True, his words may have been misinterpreted or taken out of context.  But if so, it’s not the first time; he said much the same in 2017.

Jesus, of course, was rather explicit about the devil as a personal reality, having dealt with him firsthand, as the Gospels note.  So is the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  So is Pope Francis.  And so was Romano Guardini, who wrote in The Lord:

“Satan is no principle, no elementary power, but a rebellious, fallen creature who frantically attempts to set up a kingdom of appearances and disorder.”

And again, Guardini, in The Faith and Modern Man:

“In reading the New Testament attentively, we come across a number of passages where Jesus refers to the Adversary of God and man — Satan. He speaks of him as the enemy of light and goodness, or the author of physical and mental disease, or He challenges him to open conflict. This fact has greatly embarrassed contemporary men, and they have tried — in so far as they have sought to hold on to Jesus at all — to eliminate from their mental picture all idea of Satan. They have evaded the troublesome words and acts, and have concentrated attention on the ‘purely spiritual-ethical’ aspects of the person and Gospel of Jesus, or they have stated plainly that belief in Satan belongs to a primitive mode of thought, or to a decadent time. What of this appears in Jesus is merely a survival from a past not wholly shaken off.

“But let us be perfectly clear on this point, for knowledge of the existence of spiritual beings, rebellious toward God and hostile to men, among them their ruler, Satan, belongs ineradicably to the picture of Jesus and to His consciousness of His mission. Without this consciousness, indeed, there is no Jesus.”

In a time of internal and external difficulties for the Church, it would be helpful — to put it kindly — for the leader of a major, global Catholic religious community to avoid creating havoc on matters of fundamental belief.  It’s a simple request.  It shouldn’t be too much to ask.

I forget where I read this, but someone put it this way: Christ wasn’t tempted in the desert by a symbol.

Faith without affiliations

Nathaniel Peters writes on the persistent faith of Americans—just not the sort of faith that we might expect:

Roughly one fifth of Americans, and one third of young Americans, are what the Pew Research Center has dubbed “Nones,” people who claim no religious affiliation…

Some might consider the rise of the Nones to be proof of the “secularization thesis”: that “modernity inevitably produces a decline of religion,” as Peter Berger put it. However, as Berger himself came to see over the course of decades, that thesis is false. Instead of secularism, modernity produces pluralism, “the coexistence in the same society of different worldviews and value systems. . . . The problem with modernity is not that God is dead, as some people hoped and other people feared. [Rather,] there are too many gods, which is a challenge, but a different one.” …

The decline of religious affiliation among those with a weak identification marks not only a decline of cultural Christianity, but a new norm for American society, a norm that is replacing a broadly Christian culture. What is the new norm? Certainly not a militant skepticism or atheism. Fourteen years ago, Christian Smith and Melinda Denton coined the term “moralistic therapeutic deism” for the religious beliefs of the next generation, which sees God as “something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist.” Many now describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” believing in some such supernatural force but seeing no need for the bonds of religious community and authority.

More recently, scholars such as Adrian Vermeule have noted the religious character that contemporary political liberalism has taken on. Its protests and denunciations have sacramental and liturgical elements. It makes the free exercise of the will its highest good and works to tear down any barriers in its way, social or biological. It now has a liturgical calendar, too.