Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Christ in the Waste Land

Christ in the Waste Land


Voiced by Amazon Polly
Thirty-six years ago a small slim book crossed my desk at the offices of National Review in Manhattan. Its title was The Restitution of Man: C.S. Lewis and the Case Against Scientism; its author, Michael D. Aeschliman. I slipped it into my briefcase and began reading it over a martini on the flight back to Wyoming. At home, I finished the book and wrote an enthusiastic review for the magazine. Now it is back in print in a third edition, this time from Discovery Institute Press in Seattle, with a new foreword by James Le Fanu, the British medical doctor and a columnist for the Daily Telegraph, and other new material. It is good to make its acquaintance again. Aeschliman describes his aim as being “to recover, refurbish, and defend… [the concept of] the irreducible sacredness and ultimate value of the human person: person, not just thing; subject, not just object; end, not just means; essence, not just existence; soul, not just body; value, not just fact.”
It is a concept that has been subverted, attacked, and mocked since the 18th century, and in the 21st century categorically dismissed by a majority of the scientific “community” and by progressives generally. “Modern science directly implies that the world is organized strictly in accordance with mechanistic principles,” William Provine, a contemporary philosopher, asserts. “There are no purposive principles whatsoever in nature. There are no gods and no designing forces that are rationally detectable… modern science implies too there are no inherent moral or ethical laws… free will, the freedom to make uncoerced unpredictable choices among alternative choices of action, simply does not exist… there is no ultimate meaning for humans.” Provine’s conclusion, based supposedly on scientific principles, is bad science and not really philosophy at all, as the ancient philosophers practiced the discipline. Science is alive and active and productive in the material world only. Beyond the world of facts, things, and sensations, it is as helpless—and as useless—as Leviathan beached on the Bonneville salt flats. By comparison with science’s ignorance of metaphysical matters, Scripture and theology are adept at perceiving the metaphysical implications of biology.
Science has never disproved claims regarding “the sacredness and ultimate value of the human person” as its subject and it cannot do so now, as Aeschliman so passionately and convincingly demonstrates. Despite its title, The Restoration of Man, while centered upon Lewis, considers his work in the wider context of the centuries-long intellectual counter-revolution. So widely does Aeschliman range across this anti-secularist tradition that he has appended a 30-page “Glossary of Biographical Identifications” running from Acton and Addison to Yeats and G.M. Young. Indeed, this book is a dense—yet also accessible and compelling—compilation of references and quotations amounting to a rich literary pastiche. The final two paragraphs in the “Afterword” suggest the author’s modus operandi. I quote them at some length, though in part:
In the ongoing cultural struggle… that is modern mental-intellectual life, Lewis, along with such writers as G.K. Chesterton and T.S. Eliot, sought to recover, renew, refurbish, and extend the age-old tradition of “Logocentrism” deriving from Plato and the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. This tradition has universal scope and significance. As Eliot said, “Man is man because he can recognize supernatural realities”—such as truth, validity, obligation, and mentality and meaning themselves—“not because he can invent them.” However, “it is in man’s power,” Lewis noted in The Abolition of Man, “to treat himself as a mere ‘natural object’ and his own judgments of value as raw material for scientific manipulations to alter at will.”

Aeschliman concludes, in his own voice:
the integrative metaphysical-ethical vision is the irreducible, indispensable prerogative, privilege, and patrimony of human civilization itself. No one over the last century has done more to convey, defend, and illuminate it than C.S. Lewis.
The scope of The Restoration of Man is limited to literature, literary history, and apologetics. Nevertheless, the book does, I think, cast light on political developments and events in our own time, in particular those subsumed within the category of the social and political phenomenon called “populism.” This suggestion, which may seem startling, is supported by Aeschliman’s assertion that the “integrative metaphysical-ethical vision is for everyone.” Eliot was saying as much in his vision of a “wasteland” that blights everything and everyone equally. Though the artistic and intellectual classes were the first to recognize it for what was (and is), a century after he wrote the poem the reality of the desolation of the modern human and natural landscape is being experienced by people of all classes and walks of life, and at every educational level—except, ironically, the highest ones.
The modern wasteland is an unnatural creation, and therefore a humanly distressing and painful one. It is the inevitable result of the attempt to abolish man and (regardless of the present panicky and strikingly hypocritical concern for the future of “the planet”) nature as well. What the sensitive antennae of educated people a hundred years ago apprehended, the thicker and more clumsy feelers of the lower classes are registering today. The masses have awakened to the scientific and liberal elite’s antihuman project and they are rebelling against it, sensing not just that they are being treated as less than human and more like “objects”—but that the world itself is becoming increasingly inhuman.
A world that was once palpably (and often painfully) real is rapidly becoming a world of mental abstractions. However, people cannot live on abstractions, any more than they can survive on moonbeams. The elite class, on the other hand, thrives on them, or thinks it does—provided it continues to enjoy the wealth that manipulating abstractions earns for it and that allows its members to climb above the wasteland and escape it.
Image: The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt

Christ in the Waste Land

Christ in the Waste Land


Voiced by Amazon Polly
Thirty-six years ago a small slim book crossed my desk at the offices of National Review in Manhattan. Its title was The Restitution of Man: C.S. Lewis and the Case Against Scientism; its author, Michael D. Aeschliman. I slipped it into my briefcase and began reading it over a martini on the flight back to Wyoming. At home, I finished the book and wrote an enthusiastic review for the magazine. Now it is back in print in a third edition, this time from Discovery Institute Press in Seattle, with a new foreword by James Le Fanu, the British medical doctor and a columnist for the Daily Telegraph, and other new material. It is good to make its acquaintance again. Aeschliman describes his aim as being “to recover, refurbish, and defend… [the concept of] the irreducible sacredness and ultimate value of the human person: person, not just thing; subject, not just object; end, not just means; essence, not just existence; soul, not just body; value, not just fact.”
It is a concept that has been subverted, attacked, and mocked since the 18th century, and in the 21st century categorically dismissed by a majority of the scientific “community” and by progressives generally. 
“Modern science directly implies that the world is organized strictly in accordance with mechanistic principles,” William Provine, a contemporary philosopher, asserts. “There are no purposive principles whatsoever in nature. 
There are no gods and no designing forces that are rationally detectable… modern science implies too there are no inherent moral or ethical laws… free will, the freedom to make uncoerced unpredictable choices among alternative choices of action, simply does not exist… there is no ultimate meaning for humans.” 
Provine’s conclusion, based supposedly on scientific principles, is bad science and not really philosophy at all, as the ancient philosophers practiced the discipline. Science is alive and active and productive in the material world only. Beyond the world of facts, things, and sensations, it is as helpless—and as useless—as Leviathan beached on the Bonneville salt flats. By comparison with science’s ignorance of metaphysical matters, Scripture and theology are adept at perceiving the metaphysical implications of biology.
Science has never disproved claims regarding “the sacredness and ultimate value of the human person” as its subject and it cannot do so now, as Aeschliman so passionately and convincingly demonstrates. Despite its title, The Restoration of Man, while centered upon Lewis, considers his work in the wider context of the centuries-long intellectual counter-revolution. 
So widely does Aeschliman range across this anti-secularist tradition that he has appended a 30-page “Glossary of Biographical Identifications” running from Acton and Addison to Yeats and G.M. Young. 
Indeed, this book is a dense—yet also accessible and compelling—compilation of references and quotations amounting to a rich literary pastiche. The final two paragraphs in the “Afterword” suggest the author’s modus operandi. I quote them at some length, though in part:
In the ongoing cultural struggle… that is modern mental-intellectual life, Lewis, along with such writers as G.K. Chesterton and T.S. Eliot, sought to recover, renew, refurbish, and extend the age-old tradition of “Logocentrism” deriving from Plato and the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. This tradition has universal scope and significance. As Eliot said, “Man is man because he can recognize supernatural realities”—such as truth, validity, obligation, and mentality and meaning themselves—“not because he can invent them.” However, “it is in man’s power,” Lewis noted in The Abolition of Man, “to treat himself as a mere ‘natural object’ and his own judgments of value as raw material for scientific manipulations to alter at will.”

Aeschliman concludes, in his own voice:
the integrative metaphysical-ethical vision is the irreducible, indispensable prerogative, privilege, and patrimony of human civilization itself. No one over the last century has done more to convey, defend, and illuminate it than C.S. Lewis.
The scope of The Restoration of Man is limited to literature, literary history, and apologetics. 
Nevertheless, the book does, I think, cast light on political developments and events in our own time, in particular those subsumed within the category of the social and political phenomenon called “populism.” 
This suggestion, which may seem startling, is supported by Aeschliman’s assertion that the “integrative metaphysical-ethical vision is for everyone.”
Eliot was saying as much in his vision of a “wasteland” that blights everything and everyone equally. 
Though the artistic and intellectual classes were the first to recognize it for what was (and is), a century after he wrote the poem the reality of the desolation of the modern human and natural landscape is being experienced by people of all classes and walks of life, and at every educational level—except, ironically, the highest ones.
The modern wasteland is an unnatural creation, and therefore a humanly distressing and painful one. 
It is the inevitable result of the attempt to abolish man and (regardless of the present panicky and strikingly hypocritical concern for the future of “the planet”) nature as well. 
What the sensitive antennae of educated people a hundred years ago apprehended, the thicker and more clumsy feelers of the lower classes are registering today. 
The masses have awakened to the scientific and liberal elite’s antihuman project and they are rebelling against it, sensing not just that they are being treated as less than human and more like “objects”—but that the world itself is becoming increasingly inhuman.
A world that was once palpably (and often painfully) real is rapidly becoming a world of mental abstractions. However, people cannot live on abstractions, any more than they can survive on moonbeams. 
The elite class, on the other hand, thrives on them, or thinks it does—provided it continues to enjoy the wealth that manipulating abstractions earns for it and that allows its members to climb above the wasteland and escape it.
Image: The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt

crisismagazine.com/2019/doublethinking-1984-after-70-years


https://www.crisismagazine.com/2019/doublethinking-1984-after-70-years

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Simon & Garfunkel - My Little Town (Audio)

Abuse of Language Leads to the Abuse of Power

Abuse of Language Leads to the Abuse of Power


The great Thomist Josef Pieper penned a short book in the late seventies on how totalitarian regimes use words to gain control over the masses: Abuse of Language – Abuse of Power. Pieper’s treatise came to mind as I read that the Canadian government is no longer going to refer to ISIS as ISIS (that is, the ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or sometimes just the “Islamic State”). Rather, they will use the more neutral term “Daesh,” so as to avoid, they say, painting all of Islam with the bloodstained brush of terrorism. Ironically, not only does this name (which is in fact an Arabic acronym) mean more or less the same thing as ISIS, but the terrorists of ISIS have threatened to cut the tongue out of anyone using it.
Of course, this opens up many questions, not least the relation between Islam and terrorism. Taken to its logical conclusion, this change in nomenclature would mean that no terrorist act can, by definition, be termed “Islamic,” even if the terrorist confesses it so with his dying breath. Whence, therefore, Allahu Akbar? Is any and all bloodshed in the name of Allah no longer Islamic? Who is to say? What therefore do we make of Islamic “radicalization,” which literally means “going back to the root”? Do we not mean by this returning to the very origins of Islam that, even to the most irenic of historians, is steeped in blood and carnage? Can a change in name change this reality?
Well, no, but it can change our perception of reality, the “reality” of our thoughts, ideas, and opinions.
This is by no means the first time a regime has used Orwellian language to mollify evil: Hitler had his lebensraum, carving out a little bit of “living room” for “real” Germans in central Europe. No worries, just a little blue-eyed Aryan expansion. Oh, and we also have to “cleanse” the race of “impurities,” culminating in the “final solution.” Little written record was kept of Hitler’s decisions; it was all dark and secret, for light exposes the truth. The “labour camps,” wherein one was worked to death, or transported to the gas chambers, had the infamous sign in wrought-iron over the gate, Arbeit macht frei, “work will make you free,” a demonic parody of Our Lord’s words that, rather, it is the truth which shall truly set you free.

Few could outdo the Communists in their use of doublespeak: “Five-year plans,” “free the worker,” the “People’s Party,” “equality for all,” “enemies of the State,” and, proclaiming all the lies in official form was their official paper Pravda, which did anything but speak the “Truth.”
Beware of Soft TotalitarianismThe so-called “hard” totalitarian regimes are on the wane, but beware the soft variety, which is creeping into our very brains and thoughts, as our government, schools and their mouthpieces in the media, subtly alter the meaning of our language and its terms. Ponder the following:
Gay, which until quite recently meant “happy” or “joyful,” now applies to a group that engage in unnatural vices that will make them anything but happy and joyful.
The same goes for queer, which once meant “odd” or “out of the ordinary.” Now, it is a term of “pride,” which, along with gay, now forms “Gay Pride.” Are they proud for being happy? If memory serves, I recall a local brewer years ago marketed a beer that they called Pride Lager, bedecked with a pink triangle as its label, targeted to the homosexual community. It did not fare well. As you can guess, no one wanted to be seen with one in his hand, at least outside a “gay” bar.
From gay, to gender, a term once upon a time applied only to inanimate objects, while the term sex was used for people, as in “male” and “female.” Now we are taught a fluid notion of sex or, pardon me, gender, and even our traditional terms are fraught with discriminatory overtones. We are no longer male, nor female, but rather somewhere on the spectrum of who-knows-how-many (some say infinite) possible “genders.”
Hence, the expectation to no longer use the all-encompassing, and inclusive, “he” or “his,” but the awkward and clumsy “he and she,” “she or he,” or, alas, “s/he,” to say nothing of all the bizarre neologistic pronouns carved out of the thin air of political correctness, zhe, zir, shi and so on, soon to be prescribed in law. A column this morning in the National Post cautions against state interference in this gender war, but declaims from its media-moral throne that we should in all fairness use whatever pronouns people want us to use.
But do not pronouns mean something, and point, or not point, to an underlying reality? Why would I want to be complicit in someone else’s disordered “gender fluidity” or, as they now say, “dysphoria”?
I wonder how long it will be before Hamlet’s monologue, and much else in literature, is bowdlerized:
What a piece of work is man!… And, of course, woman, or, er, is that womyn? Humyn, anyone?
In the midst of an address to seminarians on his recent pilgrimage to Georgia, Pope Francis warned that there is a great enemy to marriage today: the theory of gender. Today there is a world war to destroy marriage. Today there are ideological colonizations that destroy, not with weapons, but with ideas. Therefore, there is a need to defend ourselves from this threat.
The Illiberal Liberal Prime Minister of CanadaOf course, if one were so to “defend oneself,” he (and, yes, she) would be accused of bigotry, hatred, and being anti-freedom. Speaking of which, here in Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau and his cronies govern under the mantle of Liberal, derived from the Latin verb liberare, to free, or set something free. Even heterodox Catholics have adopted this term: They are “liberal,” while we benighted knuckle-draggers are “conservatives” or “traditionalist” (or something worse). As truth would have it, such “liberals” are anything but for true freedom.
Case in point: Trudeau and parliament recently legalized euthanasia, which, as its Greek etymology attests, literally means a “good death,” eu-thanatos. Who does not want a good death, surrounded by a priest and family, having received the Last Rites, breathing one’s soul into eternity, and carried to heaven by the Angelic Host. But that is not quite what they mean, as some healthcare worker injects a semi-compliant patient-victim with a syringe full of potassium chloride in the dead of night.
Trudeau has also made clear that his government will always and everywhere defend a woman’s “right to choose,” which, translated, means the right to have her unborn child killed. This issue seems “settled” in Canada, at least so far, but not so in Poland, already with one of the strictest abortion laws, but which the other day voted against a bill to outright ban the grisly procedure. The legislators were swayed by a host of protesting women, presumably educated into ignorance, out marching for their “right” to choose what is good for their own bodies.
Well, what of pro-choice? Why does that term bring to mind being pro-abortion? Are we not all pro-choice, in any real sense of that term? Saint Augustine’s phrase for “free will” was liberum arbitrium, which translates more precisely as “free choice.” After all, as Augustine rightly reasoned, we cannot not will our final end, which is God whom we all desire by nature. Rather, all we can really choose are the means to this end, whether well or badly. So everyone, not least Catholics who have the fullness of truth, is “pro-choice.” It’s just that some choices are evil, and lead us away from our final end, and from the common good of society.
Pope Saint John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae puts the point even more forcefully in speaking of the ‘unspeakable’ crimes of abortion and infanticide, and I cannot put the case more eloquently and clearly than he:
But today, in many people’s consciences, the perception of its gravity has become progressively obscured. The acceptance of abortion in the popular mind, in behavior and even in law itself, is a telling sign of an extremely dangerous crisis of the moral sense, which is becoming more and more incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, even when the fundamental right to life is at stake. Given such a grave situation, we need now more than ever to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of self-deception. In this regard the reproach of the Prophet is extremely straightforward: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Is 5:20). Especially in the case of abortion there is a widespread use of ambiguous terminology, such as “interruption of pregnancy,” which tends to hide abortion’s true nature and to attenuate its seriousness in public opinion. Perhaps this linguistic phenomenon is itself a symptom of an uneasiness of conscience. But no word has the power to change the reality of things: procured abortion is the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth.
Time to Take Back the LanguageBy so altering the terms of our language, the powers of darkness have proved themselves wiser than the children of light. By co-opting the common and customary meaning of our words, with shrewd epistemology, they have altered our thoughts and concepts, which connect us with how things really are, or are not, which in turn is how Saint Thomas defined truth, adequatio rei et intellectus: a conformity between the mind and reality, a relationship that is forged, built up and maintained by what we mean by the words we use. Josef Pieper argues that it is in changing our use of language that totalitarian regimes change our notion of truth. We are enslaved not with guns and tanks, but by the ignorance resulting from the warping of our words and thoughts. We, and by that I mean especially our young people attending modern state-controlled educational establishments, are being turned into a nation of mind-controlled zombies.
Who of them connects “happy” anymore with “gay”? Perhaps they think of “gays” as joyful, happy people, surrounded by hateful bigots wanting to take away the source of their, er, joy? That is often how they are portrayed in films and sit-coms.
And who considers abortion “murder” anymore, except a few fringe “anti-choicers”? Even bringing the topic up in any discourse is considered bad taste. We will soon see the same thing with euthanasia, made even more palatable with the antiseptic phrase “medical assistance in dying.” Helping someone to die used to be “accessory to murder,” a federal crime, but no more, so long as the person has, and here we go again, “terminal,” or now the subjectively even more ambiguous “unbearable” suffering.
We are in strange waters here. As our minds get muddied and fogged up, we must breathe in the pure and clear air of truth in how we use our words, which shape our thoughts, which in turn influence our actions, for good or for ill.
Here is some advice: A good place to start in forming our minds is a decent primer on Aristotelian logic, then move on to some scholastic philosophy and theology, the two primary hallmarks of which were clarity and precision: To say what you mean clearly, and cut away what you do not mean. And amongst the greatest of the Church’s minds in training us how to think is Thomas Aquinas, held up by the Church as the paradigm of theological method, of the synthesis between faith and reason, and a source of much of the established terminology of the Church (and our culture).
John Paul II went so far as to praise Thomas in his 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio “as an authentic model for all who seek the truth. In his thinking, the demands of reason and the power of faith found the most elevated synthesis ever attained by human thought, for he could defend the radical newness introduced by Revelation without ever demeaning the venture proper to reason.”
The American author Flannery O’Connor supposedly read a page of the Summa every night, a practice that bears much imitation.
After that, read good books, essays, articles, encyclicals. Look words up, find out their etymologies and meanings, and use them correctly, even if, especially if, it is politically “incorrect” to do so.
Let’s take back the language, so that our thoughts and our reasoning may be as clear, pure and, yes, as courageous in the truth as Christ asks of us, so that our “yes, may mean yes, and our no, no.” Anything more, comes from, well, you know…
Editor’s note: Pictured above, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau (right) delivers remarks in honor of the U.S.-Canada relationship at a state luncheon in his honor (March 2016). (Photo credit: Wikicommons)

A Remedy for the Abuse of Language

A Remedy for the Abuse of Language


Voiced by Amazon Polly
The line between medicine and poison is a fine one. The same drug can cure when administered by an expert and harm, if not kill, when misapplied. Some drugs always cause harm, but are consumed for some apparent benefit; they, too, are pseudo-medicinal. This is true for souls as much as it is for bodies.
Plato understood this. Logos (word, reason) is curative when used rightly, when administered by someone who knows how to speak and reason well—for Plato this was a genuine philosopher, while Christians will correctly add that above all it is he who is Logos itself. By contrast, logos is poisonous when misused, and this by anyone careless in thought and speech, but most egregiously by the sophists, those ancient Greek charlatans who deliberately played with words to persuade crowds that down is up, ugly is beautiful, and evil is good. Even worse than misusing language, they presumed to be able to teach others to do the same. Worst of all, they were successful. Their misapplication of words has spread widely and deeply. Sophistry isn’t an ancient relic; between purveyors of fake news, manipulative advertisers, political panderers, and postmodernist professors, sophists are alive and well paid, even if intellectually quite unwell.
Today’s sophists have doubled down on the age-old reversal of natural orders: not only are bad things good and ugly things beautiful, but good is downright bad and beauty, if not ugly, is at least numbingly boring, which is as severe an aesthetic condemnation as any nowadays. To modify Ivan Karamazov’s thesis, if God is widely rejected, everything is permitted, except for one thing: faith in God.
In his brief study of St. Thomas Aquinas, Chesterton writes: “The Saint is a medicine because he is an antidote. Indeed, that is why the saint is often a martyr; he is mistaken for a poison because he is an antidote. He will generally be found restoring the world to sanity by exaggerating whatever the world neglects, which is by no means always the same element in every age. Yet each generation seeks its saint by instinct; and he is not what the people want, but rather what the people need.”

He who administers medicine deserves praise, but for doing this he is not heroic, let alone saintly. The saint does not merely treat unhealthy patients; he administers an antidote, a cure for a poison ingested willingly, which is also why the saint is typically hated. To those who love their illness, the one who diagnoses and cures is noxious. To those who benefit from peddling the poison, he is an enemy to eliminate. Not all saints are martyrs, but, because they unavoidably offend dealers and users, they are always so potentially. Martyrdom lies at the limit of saintly courage.
Of course, we are not here considering a physical poison or one restricted to an individual soul; the problem is wider. Not only the body and soul but a whole culture can be poisoned, and with it most of the human beings—bodies and souls together—who participate in it. Ours surely is. (I hope no one minds too much that I treat the American and Canadian cultures as relevantly similar in kind and in toxicity levels.)
But if a culture can be poisoned, it can also be cured. Because each age has its own disorders, to which most cling and which many defend, even violently, each age will have its own saints. If Chesterton is right, every generation will also look for its saints, despite itself. We would do well to look for ours.
Chesterton continues: “As the nineteenth century clutched at the Franciscan romance, precisely because it had neglected romance, so the twentieth century is already clutching at the Thomist rational theology, because it has neglected reason. In a world that was too stolid, Christianity returned in the form of a vagabond; in a world that has grown a great deal too wild, Christianity has returned in the form of a teacher of logic.”
Where do we stand today? What do we neglect? What has poisoned the twenty-first century? And who are the saints with the antidote?
There is, evidently, much wrong with the world; thus, there is much need for saints. Our world is irrational and wild enough to still need St. Thomas, and, although we couldn’t call our culture stolid, the petulance and self-indulgence of our century would find in St. Francis’s impassioned adoration of all creation an edifying countermodel. For these ills Thomas and Francis are more than worthy guides. Nonetheless, let me suggest that neither the vagabond nor the teacher of logic gets to the heart of the contemporary matter. The twenty-first century neglects romance, logic, and much else, but it has abandoned something even simpler: words. Our age, as Josef Pieper put it decades ago, abuses words.
The Abuse of WordsWords serve two related functions. First, they express something about reality. I can be wrong about how things are, but my words, when sincere, tell someone how I understand the world. This points to the second function of words: they communicate. I don’t just express something about the way things are; I express it to someone. I speak to share with another person my understanding of how things stand and, ultimately, to join with that person in a mutual understanding. We abuse language when we either sever the connection between words and reality or eschew genuine communication—or both. Because humans live in a real and knowable world with other humans, to abuse words is to reject our human condition; it is anti-human.
That words today don’t always refer to real things should be evident enough. Instead of dwelling on the obvious cases, let me consider something subtler, and for that reason possibly more insidious. Take for instance the growing use of public consultation and of open governance structures to inform organizational decision-making. There is nothing in principle wrong with consultation or governance, but there is in how they are oftentimes used. Consider the case of the University of Tulsa, which recently eliminated many programs in the Arts and Sciences, several of which were thriving and highly regarded. According to University of Tulsa Professor Jacob Howland, who has been front and center in the resistance to these cuts, “faculty were repeatedly assured that this process would be transparent, inclusive, and data-driven. In fact, it was none of these things.” Of course it wasn’t. “Transparency,” “inclusion,” and “data-driven” don’t mean what they ostensibly mean.
“Transparency” means that some putative consultation takes place that adheres to jargon-laden procedures that are understood by no one, not that deliberations are public and open to rational scrutiny, let alone that feedback is taken seriously; “inclusion” means including those who already agree while excluding those who might make trouble; “data-driven” means that supposed facts and anecdotes are found to justify decisions, not that decisions follow a thorough consideration of all available evidence. In short, the transparent is opaque, the inclusive is exclusionary, and to be driven by data is to be driven by ideology, with pseudo-evidence compiled in support of it after the fact. This is all backwards. In such cases, words no longer refer to real things and, maybe more importantly, they try to manipulate an audience. This is not communication; this is propaganda. Bless Professor Howland for not being so easily manipulated.
What’s Wrong with the WorldRecently, I was sitting in a coffee shop with a copy of Edward Bernays’ Propaganda, the classic defense of public manipulation. A young man walked past, pointed to the book, and announced it was one of his favorites. Although my face communicated something like “you’ve got to be kidding,” I instead said, “I like it, too; it’s a perfect example of what’s wrong with the world.”  According to Bernays, propaganda is “the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses.” Right, and that’s why it’s wrong. But he chillingly adds that propaganda “is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.” The point is not merely that humans sometimes try to manipulate others, whether privately or publicly, but that manipulation is the properly democratic way to order civil society. Bad is good and down is up!
It gets worse: “It might be better to have, instead of propaganda and special pleading, committees of wise men who would choose our rulers, dictate our conduct, private and public, and decide upon the best types of clothes for us to wear and the best kinds of food for us to eat. But we have chosen the opposite method, that of open competition. We must find a way to make free competition function with reasonable smoothness. To achieve this society has consented to permit free competition to be organized by leadership and propaganda.”
Open and democratic competition certainly involves debate and persuasion by the best argument, which seems better to me than a micromanaging committee of “wise men.” Public reasoning is not manipulation; it is the opposite of propaganda. One can only think otherwise if words have already been severed from reality and from genuine communication. Indeed, Bernays is here clearly using propaganda to defend propaganda, employing an obvious false dichotomy—a fallacy one learns to avoid in freshman logic (only to forget in sophomore literary theory). He gives us two, and only two, options: either a despotism of supposed wise rulers who control everything, even diet, or else democracy, which necessitates the widespread and unseen manipulation of the citizens’ habits and opinions. These are clearly not the only options; indeed, they are among the worst ones imaginable.
Bernays concedes that “the instruments by which public opinion is organized and focused may be misused,” but adds that “such organization and focusing are necessary to orderly life.” What sort of propaganda is excessive and misused according to him, I can’t tell. Whether propaganda can go too far or not, on this view, it is indispensable to a flourishing democracy; thus, it is good, not just permissible, to speak falsely. The upshot is obvious: truthful speech is bad, or at least very stupid. Good is now bad!
To whom will we turn to find words used as they ought to be?  Thankfully, there are many options. Indeed, most of the classical tradition of Western religion, philosophy, science, and literature can help. Unfortunately, this is the very tradition under threat in the institutions designed to promote and preserve it; propaganda has infiltrated the university. Nonetheless, if we are willing to read and listen, our condition might improve.
I’ll leave it to others to select the patron saint for the twenty-first century (though, if asked, I’d vote for St. John Paul II), but there are plenty of wise, if not saintly, writers who insist on using words rightly, one of whom we know well: the recently departed Fr. Schall, who also included great lists of worthy writers in his own books. What makes writers like Fr. Schall curative is their basic belief that language, imperfect as it surely is, does tell us something non-trivial about the world. Because words are effective, we can communicate, and if we can communicate, we might be able to inch closer to genuine communion with our fellows, by which we might even regain some modicum of cultural health. The antidote for us might be what Chesterton called common sense, i.e., the view, shockingly controversial to some, that “the difference between chalk and cheese, or pigs and pelicans, is not a mere illusion, or dazzle of our bewildered mind blinded by a single light; but is pretty much what we all feel it to be. It may be said that this is mere common sense; the common sense that pigs are pigs.”


Benedict: “From Where Does Evil Come?”

Benedict: “From Where Does Evil Come?”


The former students of Pope Benedict have an annual seminar (Ratzinger Schülerkreis) to think about his vast and profound intellectual accomplishments. This year’s meeting was held Castel Gandolfo. On August 30, in the Church of the Teutonic Cemetery in the Vatican, Pope Benedict gave a brief, penetrating homily in German to the group. The general subject of discussion was “How do we speak of God today?” (L’Osservatore Romano, September 4, 2015).
The Gospel reading in the Pope’s Mass was from Mark 7. This passage concerned the Scribes and Pharisees questioning Christ and the disciples about washing hands and utensils in dining. Christ was annoyed with these gentlemen for concerning themselves with external cleanliness when inside they were avaricious and vain. Christ concluded with the famous passage: “Nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him impure; that which comes out from him, and only that, constitutes impurity” (Mk 7:15, 20). In other words, the world’s problems are not external to our souls but originate there. We cannot reconstruct the world in order to reconstruct ourselves. We always have to attend to ourselves first.
At this group’s meeting three years previously, using the same text from Mark, Christof Cardinal Schönborn, O. P., a former student and colleague of Pope Benedict, posed the issue in this manner: Must one first be “purified exteriorly and not only interiorly, and [does] evil only [come] from within?”
Obviously, Schönborn pointed out, we have two separate but related issues here: 1) what do we mean by “exterior” or “interior” purification? And 2) is evil exclusively from “within”? Benedict’s answer to these questions is very insightful: “Truth, love, and goodness come from God, render man pure and are met in the world which frees us from the ‘forgetfulness’ of a world which no longer thinks of God.” The headline of the article in which this session was reported is this: “The Forgetfulness of the World.” A world that does not “think” of God forgets him. This “forgetfulness” is not morally neutral or indifferent. It describes what we are.

Notice that Benedict’s answer is that ultimately neither our “outsides” nor our “insides” are at the bottom of reality. A third possibility exists and must be considered if we are to see the real problem. We first receive “truth, love, and goodness” from God. We are not their makers. They do not come from nowhere, or from ourselves, except in the sense that we are created with powers to both know and recognize, and freely accept or reject them.
A world that has forgotten God will jeopardize and undermine truth, love, and goodness. Why? Even the truth, love, and goodness we think we have without God will turn on us, and corrupt our very being if we fail to locate and recognize their ultimate source. We have been given a world that necessarily leads to God.
Truth, love, and good do not exist by themselves in some abstract cloud. We will not be able to grasp the meaning of truth, love, and good with our own reason and insight if we deny their divine origin. This is the great temptation: to redefine reality so as to maximize our own autonomy in defiance of God and nature.
II.
Benedict takes up the question as it is posed. Can evil come from the “outside”? An affirmative answer would be contrary to the words of Scripture, which explicitly say that what corrupts us comes from the “inside.” To answer the question, it is necessary to “broaden” the scope of our thinking. We need to read the Gospel in “its integrity.”
Clearly, some things from the outside can harm us, or embarrass us, as the Pharisees maintained. Washing pots and pans, as well as ourselves, are cleansing actions from the outside. Washing dishes after meals is a daily chore, even with dishwashers. Most hospitals today have signs everywhere urging everyone to wash their hands frequently. In the history of surgery, one of the great discoveries was the simple fact that if doctors and nurses washed their hands, the incidence of infection and disease would decline. Today, almost everyone in hospitals is covered with wraps, coats, gloves, or nets for the same reason.
But, of course, Christ was not giving a lesson in hygiene. We can figure that out by ourselves. Before Christ, both Plato and Aristotle were aware of the advantages of cleanliness to human health. If we consider the Gospel as a whole, it is obvious that external cleanliness is a good thing, and required if we are to deal properly with most human sicknesses or wounds. To have such concern is itself “good so that death does not prevail” when it need not.
But in addition to epidemics of various diseases, many of which we can control, we find such a thing as an “epidemic of the heart.” This disorder is interior. The language is analogous. That is, just as something wrong can happen if we do not follow the rules of hygiene, so something will go wrong if we do not understand our souls, and what corrupts them. Such interior disorder can be avoided when we exercise self-control. Our psychological and spiritual health and our harmonious relationship with others depend on self-mastery, and being accountable for our deeds.
III.
The initial outlines of this self-control are found in Aristotle’s discussion of the virtues, as well as in the Commandments. The epidemics of the disorders of the “heart” are the various vices that we put into ourselves by our sins and failures to rule ourselves. Such “corruptions and impurities” are not neutral. We are naïve to think that one sin or vice does not open us eventually to another, then another, then yet another. Finally, says Benedict, “they lead a man to think only of himself and not of the good.”
Notice in this last passage that Benedict did not say what we might have expected him to say. He did not say that the vice “inside” us makes us think of ourselves, and not of others. He said “of the good,” not “of others.” Why is this important? Obviously, vices can in fact also involve others, and usually do. That possibility is what is so dangerous about them. It is also why we are to be concerned with scandal given to others. Our sins and vices corrupt us, and, through them, we can occasion the corruption of others if we do not first understand that our concern for others must itself already be rooted in “the good.”
For this reason, “interior hygiene” means organizing ourselves habitually, not around “ourselves” but around what is “good,” and, ultimately, around “worship.” Why does Benedict bring worship into this discussion? Because without it, without a real awareness that God is the source of the good, we forget him. We cannot find anything beyond ourselves.
This concern with our “insides” is not self-exaltation, but its opposite—a form of humility. Benedict speaks in classical terms of “purity of heart.” He recalls John 15.3: “You are already made clean by the word which I have given to you.” Benedict then affirms, “One becomes pure by way of the Word.” Obviously, the Word and the Good must be connected. Benedict goes on: “The Word is much more than words, because it is through words that we encounter the Word himself.” Remember, the question being asked is about the relation between “inside” and “outside.” Does evil come only from “inside”? And if someone is virtuous inside, what does that have to do with his “outside”?
The Word, of course, as Benedict says, is “Jesus Christ himself and we also encounter the Word (that is, Christ) in those who reflect him, who show us the face of God and who reflect his meekness, his humility of heart, his simplicity, his kindness, his sincerity.” In our experience, such manifestations will probably come from different people we meet. I recall Benedict saying that we see the real face of the Church, and hence, of Christ, in the saints that it produces over the ages. This is what he is saying here, I think. We meet people whose inside goodness is reflected in their faces, in their outside.
How does Benedict respond? We arrive at the “Word” through “words.” What can this juxtaposition mean? A word, in whatever language we speak, refers to something out there, but it is inside of us. It is how we possess what it is. When we learn something, we change; we become more, but what we know does not change. We are the ones who are enriched.
Why talk about this? It is because Christ is identified precisely as “the Word made flesh.” His truth reaches that truth that is God, or better, as he said, “I am the truth.” Thus, Benedict concludes that he hopes that “the Lord grants us the ‘hygiene of the heart,’ by way of the truth which comes from God: that is, the power of purification.” If it is to be our “insides” that are to be purified, we need to begin on the “outside” with the truth of what we are, and what we are to seek in our lives.
If there is a “truth” in any of us, as there is, it is there, not because we put it there, but because it was given to us. But it was given to us in such a way that we are free to accept it and grow because of it, or reject it, and “forget” God. Once we choose to live in a “godless” and “untruthful” world, once our “words” do not lead us to the “Word,” to the Logos, we are left alone among those who know no “truth” but their own wills. Such is the “forgetfulness of the world” that we see at work in our culture.