Friday, September 27, 2013

Letter to an Atheist - from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Dear Pope… Dear Professor…

Benedict XVI engages with Italy’s best-known atheist, asking why he overlooks freedom, love and evil.
Benedict XVI | 27 September 2013

While the world was still digesting a wide-ranging interview with Pope Francis on Monday the Italian daily La Repubblica published excerpts from a letter Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI sent to a well-known atheist, the mathematician Piergiorgio Odifreddi – the Richard Dawkins of Italy.
Benedict was responding to a book Odifreddi wrote in 2011 titled, “Dear Pope, I’m Writing to You”, says Rome correspondent Edward Pentin. The book is a critique of certain arguments and lines of thought found in Benedict’s theological writings, beginning with his 1967 volume Introduction to Christianity and including the book Jesus of Nazareth, which he wrote as Pope.
The extracts show Benedict as his usual gentlemanly, though frank, self, calmly weighing the popular writer’s claims and countering his exaggerations and omissions.

It was Odifreddi himself who decided to publish Benedict’s letter. Writing in La Repubblica on Monday he said that few people “can understand the surprise and excitement” you feel on receiving “an unexpected letter from a pope.” He said the letter was delivered on September 3, and he waited to publish it to make sure he had Benedict XVI’s permission. The depth of his answer was “beyond reasonable hopes,” Odifreddi said, and he was particularly surprised that Benedict read his book from cover to cover and wanted to discuss it, as it had been billed as a “luciferian introduction to atheism.”

Odifreddi said the entire 11-page letter will be included in a new edition of his book. He said that he and Benedict may disagree on almost everything, but they have “united in at least one common goal: the search for the Truth, with a capital ‘T.’”
The published experts follow.
* * * * *
Dear Professor Odifreddi,

(...) I would like to thank you for your very detailed critique of my books, and similarly aspects of my faith. Such an endeavour is largely what I meant by my address to the Roman Curia on the occasion of Christmas 2009. I have to thank you very much for the way you faithfully followed my text, seeking earnestly to do it justice.

My opinion about your book as a whole, however, is itself rather mixed. I read some parts with enjoyment and profit. In other parts, however, I was taken aback by the aggressiveness and rash nature of your argument.(...)

Several times you pointed out to me that theology must be science fiction. In this respect, I'm surprised that you still feel my book worthy of discussion. Let me make four points in relation to this issue:

1. Is it fair to say that "science" in the strictest sense of the word is just math? I learned from you that, even here, the distinction should be made between arithmetic and geometry. In all the specific scientific subjects each one has its own form, according to the particularity of its object. It is essential that you apply a verifiable method, which excludes arbitrariness and ensures rationality in their different ways.
2. You should at least recognize that, in history and in philosophical thought, theology has produced lasting results.
3. An important function of theology is to keep religion tied to reason and reason to religion. Both functions are of paramount importance for humanity. In my dialogue with [sociologist Jurgen] Habermas I have shown that there are pathologies of religion and -- no less dangerous -- pathologies of reason. Religion and reason need each other, and to keep them constantly connected is an important task of theology.
4. Science fiction exists, moreover, in the context of many sciences. What it offers are theories about the beginning and the end of the world as found in Heisenberg, Schrödinger and others.

I would designate such works as science fiction in the best sense: they are visions which anticipate true knowledge, although they are, in fact, only imaginative attempts to get closer to reality.

There is, however, science fiction on a grand scale even within the theory of evolution. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins is a classic example of science fiction.

The great [molecular biologist] Jacques Monod wrote some sentences which he has inserted in his works which could only be science fiction. I quote: "The emergence of tetrapod vertebrates ... originates from the fact that a primitive fish ‘chose’ to go and explore the land, on which, however, it was unable to move except by jumping clumsily and thus creating, as a result of a modification of behaviour, the selective pressure leading to the development of the sturdy limbs of tetrapods. Among the descendants of this bold explorer, of this Magellan of evolution, some can run at a speed of 70 miles per hour ... " (Quoted from the Italian edition ofChance and Necessity, Milan 2001, p. 117ff.).

On the issues discussed so far this is a serious dialogue, for which - as I have said repeatedly - I am grateful .

The situation is different in the chapter [of your book] on the priest and Catholic morality, and again in different parts of the chapters on Jesus.

As for what you say about moral abuse of minors by priests, I can - as you know - only take note with deep concern. I have never tried to hide these things. That the power of evil penetrates to such an extent in the inner world of faith is for us a source of suffering which, on the one hand, we have to endure, while, on the other, we must at the same time do everything possible to ensure that such cases are not repeated. Nor is it reassuring to know that, according to the research of sociologists, the percentage of priests who are guilty of these crimes is not higher than that found in other similar professions. In any case, one must not present this deviance ostentatiously, as if it were a nastiness specific to Catholicism.

On the other hand, if we may not remain silent about evil in the Church, neither can we keep silent about the great shining path of goodness and purity which Christian faith has traced through the centuries. You must remember the great and pure figures that faith has produced: Benedict of Nursia and his sister Scholastica, Francis and Clare of Assisi, Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, the great saints of charity like Vincent de Paul and Camillo de Lellis, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and the great and noble figures of nineteenth century Turin. It is also true today that faith leads many people to selfless love, in service to others, sincerity and justice.(...)

What you say about Jesus is not worthy of your scientific rank. You question whether, after all, we can know anything about Jesus, suggesting that we can know nothing about him as a historical figure, and so I can only invite you to become a bit more competent from a historical point of view. In this regard I recommend especially the four volumes that Martin Hengel (an exegete from the Protestant Theological Faculty of Tübingen) published together with Mary Schwemer: this work is an excellent example of historical accuracy and very broad historical information.

In the face of this, what you say about Jesus is reckless talk that should not be repeated. That there has been too much exegesis written that lacks seriousness is, unfortunately, an indisputable fact. The American Jesus Seminar you have cited on pages 105 ff only confirms again what Albert Schweitzer noted in his Geschichte Leben-Jesu-Forschung (The Quest of the Historical Jesus) -- that is, that the so-called "historical Jesus" mostly reflects ideas of the authors. These flawed historical works, however, do not compromise the importance of serious historical research, which has led us to true knowledge about the figure of Jesus and confidence in proclaiming him.(...)

I also forcefully reject your statement (p. 126) that I presented the historical-critical method of exegesis as a tool of the Antichrist. In treating the story of Jesus' temptations, I have merely presented Soloviev's thesis, according to which historical-critical exegesis can also be used by the antichrist - which is an indisputable fact. At the same time, however, always -- and in particular in the preface to the first volume of my book on Jesus of Nazareth -- I explained clearly that historical-critical exegesis is necessary for a faith that does not propose myths with historical images, but calls for a genuine historicity and therefore must present the historical reality of its claims in a scientific manner. You are not even correct when you tell me that I would be interested only in meta-history; quite the contrary, all my efforts are aimed to show that the Jesus described in the Gospels is also the real historical Jesus, that it is a story that really happened. (...)

By the 19th chapter of your book we return to the positive aspects of your dialogue with my thinking. (...) Even if your interpretation of John 1:1 is very far from what the evangelist meant, there is a convergence that is important. If, however, you want to replace God with "Nature", it begs the question: Who or what is this nature? Nowhere do you define it, and thus it appears as an irrational deity which explains nothing.

But I want especially to note that in your religion of mathematics three themes fundamental to human existence are not considered: freedom, love and evil. I'm astonished that you just give a nod to freedom, which has been and is the core value of modern times. Love, in his book, does not appear, and it says nothing about evil. Whatever neurobiology says or does not say about freedom, in the real drama of our history it is a present reality and must be taken into account. But your religion of mathematics doesn’t recognise any knowledge of evil. A religion that ignores these fundamental questions is empty.

Dear professor, my criticism of your book is in part harsh. Frankness, however, is part of dialogue: Only in this way can understanding grow. You were quite frank, and so you will accept that I should be also. In any case, I very much appreciate that you, through your confrontation with my Introduction to Christianity, have sought to open a dialogue with the faith of the Catholic Church and that, notwithstanding all the contrasts in the central area, points of convergence are nevertheless not lacking.”

(Translation by MercatorNet assisted by Google. For the Italian original see La Repubblica.)

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Pope Francis and Caravaggio - by Cornelius Sullivan

NAPLES, FLORIDA - Pope Francis said, "That finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him. Like Matthew. It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, ‘No, not me! No, this money is mine.’ Here, this is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff."

These words are from: Pope Francis, interview with Father Antonio Spadaro, S.J., editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal, released on September 19 in answer to the question "Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio now [Pope Francis]?"

This interview has immediately provoked considerable public controversy. The pope mentioned Caravaggio three times in the extensive, wide-ranging interview. It is not an accident that he chose to talk about this painter. Caravaggio is a painter of saints and sinners, and American author Francine Prose has titled her biography of him, Caravaggio, Painter of Miracles.
The interview has spawned a plethora of enthusiastic articles in secular media speculating that the pope has changed Church teachings on homosexuals, abortion, and contraception. We can look at the interview and see if that is indeed true.

The pope's link to Caravaggio's great painting of The Calling of Saint Matthew is a link about mercy. 
In the interview, Pope Francis said on the Gospel story of the calling of Matthew: “Jesus saw a publican, and since he looked at him with feelings of love and chose him, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’" And the pope continued, "when I had to come to Rome, I always stayed in the neighborhood of Via della Scrofa. From there I often visited the Church of St. Louis of France, and I went there to contemplate the painting of ‘The Calling of St. Matthew,’ by Caravaggio."

Caravaggio killed a man in a sword fight duel in 1606. At that time he was the most famous painter in Italy. He was banished from Rome, a fugitive in exile with a price on his head. He never returned and died mysteriously at age 38.

There was no predicting that the young artist from Lombardi would become one of the world's greatest religious painters. It began suddenly with The Calling of Saint Matthew in 1600. Before that, as a young artist he barely survived on the streets of Rome, making small still life paintings and working for other artists. Art historian Sir Kenneth Clark has named The Calling of Saint Matthew the painting that changed the history of painting.

Just fifty years after the High Renaissance in Rome, where Michelangelo and Raphael presented the theology of the Church ideally transcendent in a heaven in the sky with Classical grace, Caravaggio brought the new Counter Reformation faith to the ground. He was a startling realist, inventing his own dramatic light on his models, his street friends, illumining and transforming them into saints. It was the time in Rome where Saint Phillip Neri and his followers on the streets of Camp Marzio lived a new classless faith.

It is not difficult to see how these realities resonate with the humble new pope.
Because Caravaggio was a brawler, fighter, and eventual murderer, always in and out of jail, being self-righteous was never part of his personality. He is a great artist because even when he painted the executioner, probably posed for by one of his friends, we get the feeling that he loves the man, and he is able to show us his humanity.

The part of the recent interview that has become controversial is when Pope Francis said, "We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive methods. That is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I am reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time."
He has not changed church doctrine. In the concept, "condemn the sin, and love the sinner," he has moved the accent to the latter.
Discourse, no matter how correct, does not change hearts. Pope Francis does, and that is his job.
Pope Francis said, “proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things.” These are what make “the heart burn: as it did for the disciples at Emmaus....The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.”

And about the proposal of the Gospel he said, "Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We must consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being."

I maintain that Caravaggio excels at portraying "the mystery of the human being" and that is why Pope Francis contemplates and understands his message in paint.

Coincidentally, the Gospel for the day that the interview was released was about the woman, a known sinner, in the house of a Pharisee, who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears.

At a pub in a Catholic university town, I was a mostly silent participant in a lively discussion about the pope's statements on the hot issues. An older writer proposed that it was about not having a narrow, negative focus on some issues while also not proclaiming the larger good news. A younger, more zealous theology student took a more critical view. When I mentioned the Gospel of the day, the young man said, "yes, and Jesus said, 'go and sin no more.'" I think that -go and sin no more- is from the woman taken in adultery, a different passage, maybe it was implied here,  but the central message of this gospel and the additional examples that Jesus used are about how the one who is forgiven much has great love. Jesus said, "her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love." Luke 7: 36-50

At the same time that some Catholics are worried about the pope being soft on important issues, the secular media is ready to definitively pronounce that church doctrine has been changed on controversial matters this week. That is even though most of them have never taken the time to know what the authentic teachings of the church are on gays, abortion, and contraception. Someone should tell them that the teachings of the church are clearly defined in The Catechism of the Catholic Church. We can see that Pope Francis, even while calling for compassion and understanding, has told us that those teachings are the same this week as they were last week.

The paint of Caravaggio the sinner, who portrayed Matthew the tax collector sinner, speaks to the pope today.
The Calling of Saint Matthew, Caravaggio, San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Fertility, Faith, and Culture

Paul Adams

I started to respond in the combox to Joseph Pearce's response on the Ink Desk blog of St. Austin Review to Austin Ruse's response to Sanyeev Sanjal's report (which I guess you have to be a Deutsche Bank customer to get) on the effects of the current global fertility decline.  Neither a report of a report of a report nor a post here can adequately cover all the findings, projections, and possible effects, but I think caution and a still wider perspective are needed.

Demographic projections have proved notoriously unreliable because people's behavior changes in ways demographers cannot predict.  It is true that demographic decline can lead to economic, cultural, and civilizational decline, as happened with the Roman Empire.  But that example also shows how the situation can be reversed as the rise of Christianity brought with it a new social and sexual ethic as well as, in consequence, a differential ability to survive plagues (see Rodney Stark's The Rise of Christianity, ch.4 on all this).  More recently, Mary Eberstadt's book, How the West Really Lost God, shows a profound effect of fertility decline on Christianity - decline of the family and fertility leads to the decline of Christianity as well as vice versa, in a double helix type of relationship.

But we should be cautious about the economic data.  There are factors than can offset some of the economic effects of fertility decline.  For example, Joseph's statement that "The proportion of the population who are of working age will shrink and the proportion who are retired will expand" needs to be qualified with the recognition that the overall dependency ratio reflects the proportion of children below working age as well as of adults above it.  Fewer children means fewer schools, fewer women at home caring for them (and so more in the workforce), less delinquency and associated costs, and so forth. At the other end, the number of seniors out of the workforce is a function of the retirement age for public and private pensions and this can be expected to continue to rise.  Immigration can offset the decline in native workers, although the effect is temporary (in many cases, though not so much in the UK, immigrants adopt host country patterns of fertility as of diet, etc.) and is complicated at a global level when poorer countries lose their most educated workers and professionals to richer ones so can end up with fewer children, more elders, AND fewer and less productive workers.  And then there is the effect of productivity increases, which enable fewer workers to produce as much as or more than the workers before them.  These are hard to predict over a long period, especially at global levels.

Still, with all these qualifications, the demographic winter is upon us.  Iran, to take one case, is undergoing the most rapid fertility decline in recorded history.  I have no doubt that such rapid declines will prove economically, socially, politically, and culturally disruptive and debilitating.  The same is true for other countries Sanyal/Ruse cites - Brazil, Mexico, and the rest.  Anyone who has visited Italy or Greece in recent years after an absence of a few decades is struck by the change in the attitudes toward children, family, and faith.  The cultural implications of a narcissistic turn away from children, from the future, from the demands that children make for self-giving and sacrifice and adult responsibility are profound.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Pope Francis Prays for Peace

Cornelius Sullivan

Holy Mary Protectress of the Roman People, Santa Maria Salus Populi Romani

Naples, September 11, 2013

Pope Francis last weekend called for a world wide weekend of prayer and fasting for peace, peace in Syria, in the Middle East, and in the world. Since then suddenly war has been put on hold, at least for a while.  Unexpectedly the plans for the United States to punitively bomb Assad have halted.
It appears that no one has noted that the Pope's call for world wide fasting and prayer for peace has done anything. He was heeded, listened to, people did pray. The United States, even though leading from behind, has said that the threat of attack has caused Assad to blink. Can the idea proposed by Russia to control chemical weapons be feasible during a civil war? These are some of the issues being debated now.
No one has connected the sudden change in circumstances, the bombing pause, with the prayers of Pope Francis and the world. Allow me to point out how the actions of  Popes in other times, with the prayers of the people, have brought about improbable changes.
In 590 AD Pope Gregory the Great with hundreds of pilgrims carried an icon of the Virgin Mary processing from the Basilica of Saint Mary Major through the streets of Rome praying for the end of the plague. The icon is called Santa Maria Salus Populi Romani, Holy Mary Protectress of the Roman People. Almost at Saint Peter's Basilica they all saw a vision of Saint Michael the Archangel above Hadrian's Tomb sheathing his sword signifying that the plague would end. After the same vision occurred later at the same place, at the time of the Black Death in 1348, that mausoleum received its new name, Castel Sant'Angelo. The castle is at the end of the wide boulevard leading to Saint Peter's Square, Via della Conciliazione.
The first full day of his papacy, at 8:05 in the morning, Pope Francis  went to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major to pray before the same icon, Santa Maria Solus Populi Romani. He returned there again a short time later to pray at the beginning of May, the Marian month.
A Time article by Elizabeth Dias chronicles last Sunday's events at Saint Peter's:
The prayer service began when four Swiss guards processed        through the square with the icon Salus Populi Romani, Mary, the Queen of Peace and the Protectress of the Roman people. (the same icon that the Pope has visited twice) The Pope led the Rosary recitation, a meditation, and a Eucharist ceremony. Bible readings from the Gospel of Luke focused on Mary, and thousands of people in the square followed along with a 51-page booklet the Vatican produced for the service. Priests heard confessions under the St. Peters colonnade.
When not being carried in a procession, the icon is displayed in Saint Mary Major in great artistic splendor in the Pauline Chapel, named after the Borghese Pope, Pope Paul V. Tradition attributes the icon to Saint Luke and says that Saint Helena, Emporer Constantine's mother, brought it to Rome from the east.
After his election Pope Francis was seen as a refreshing revolutionary, but we can now see an aspect of him that is like Pope  Gregory, who with the people, connects with the world employing time honored popular devotions; a Marian procession, the Rosary, confessions, a Eucharistic celebration, and then a piazza filled with prayers for peace.   

Vision of Saint Michael The Archangel, 2011, oil, 30x40", by the author.

Cornelius Sullivan at home

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Conformism, Reputation, and Reality

Paul Adams

Publication of two very different articles, one in the Guardian (UK), the other in the liberal American Catholic magazine Commonweal, bring to mind the gap that often exists between the merit of a public intellectual’s work and the “dynamics of reputation and public debate,” as the first author, Stefan Collini, calls it.  

Collini’s article commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of a celebrated (or notorious) lecture by literary critic F.R. Leavis in response to the earlier lecture by C.P. Snow on the “Two Cultures.”  The specifics of the exchange of lectures will be of little interest to most today, I expect, though they were a major event in my English student days. 

Snow was, Leavis argued, a classic case of a figure entirely without literary or scientific significance - he aimed to bridge the gap he discerned between the "two cultures," scientific and literary.  His reputation was based on his own self-confidence and endorsement by a literary-cultural-journalistic elite which had no serious critical standards but for whom all was vogue and being in tune with the times - the lemmings argument for inevitability.  Leavis was denounced on both sides of the Atlantic (e.g., by Lionel Trilling) for being too rude, dismissive, and personal, but his point was not about Snow himself. 

Bottum's essay - famous for being famous, as they say - is also interesting as a cultural phenomenon, an assimilation to the hive mind and just too much “because there's nothing there," as the Catholic Thomist philosopher Edward Feser puts it. The essay is rambling, personal, and needy, an incoherent argument - except there is no argument - that the Catholic Church should acquiesce in same-sex “marriage.”   It calls for the Church to reject the position laid out ten years ago by the CDF, signed by Joseph Ratzinger and approved by Pope John Paul II, that “In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection” (emphasis added).

Bottum's piece must be engaged both at the level of what it attempts to do, the musings or arguments it sets forth, and its symptomatic significance as a moment in the life of the Church and of American elites.  Michael Pakaluk captures both aspects in his brilliant satirical piece.  He shows both the incoherence of Bottum’s non-arguments and his feeble desire to go along to get along rather than stand firm in the face of the soft persecution Catholics face in the West.  We are not presently called to be martyrs for marriage like John the Baptist and Thomas More, but face denial of jobs and promotions, rejection of applications to college and dismissal from professional programs.  Good Catholics and other Christians are being driven out of business, Catholic Charities pushed out of fields it excels in like adoption and foster care or helping women caught in sex trafficking.

Snow and Bottum are very different public figures, but there is similarity in the way both were embraced by the kind of political and cultural elite represented fifty years ago by the Sunday papers and smart weeklies and today by the New York Times.  Leavis’s concern with Snow was not personal, despite the attacks on his lecture as rude, dismissive, vicious, and in general, over the top. The gap between Snow’s evident lack of any real talent or achievement and his self-confidence and acceptance as a public authority on literature and science called for a kind of diagnosis of the state of a culture in which no serious critical standards were in play.

Why does Bottum's piece deserve any attention at all?  Surely not on the basis of any merit.  Not because he is or was a good fellow.  The NYT rushed to boost him with a special trip to Bottum’s home in South Dakota and a puff piece in the paper because it so well fits the narrative of "Conservative Catholic caves on SSM."   The self-styled “paper of record” gave similar prominence to David Blankenhorn's jumping ship as a prominent defender of marriage and opponent of what he himself described as the hijacking of our most child-friendly institution by those whose real interest was not marriage, parenthood, or children but respect for their sexual relationships.  The story in Blankenhorn’s case was "Marriage expert, critic of SSM, folds.”  For Bottum, who was no expert on marriage and had written nothing of substance about it, the story was “Catholic conservative, former editor of First Things magazine - a vehicle of conservatism and orthodoxy in religion and culture - abandons opposition to same-sex marriage.”  Or more succinctly, as the title of the NYT article put it, “A Conservative Catholic Now Backs Same-Sex Marriage.”   Bottum has stepped back from what he appeared to mean when he approved the subtitle of his own article in Commonweal, “A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage,” saying now he accepts the Church’s teaching on same-sex unions, just holding that she should stop opposing them in the public square.  

Neither Bottum nor Blankenhorn has a single coherent argument for abandoning the defense of marriage, doing no better than saying it’s the way elite opinion has gone and it’s over.  There is this longing to come in from the cold and be liked again that Pakaluk nails in his satire on Bottum’s essay. (I commented on Blankenhorn's jumping ship on marriage here.)  Both statements, given prominence by the country’s most prominent champion of same-sex “marriage” and elite values, the NYT, show this weariness and desire for acceptance.  If Bottum had been a liberal Catholic or secular liberal, and never editor of FT, no-one would have cared.  The instant fame of the piece has nothing to do with its merits and it's not fallacious (ad hominem) to say so.  It's an expression of a cultural collapse bigger than Bottum but of which he and his sudden liberal admirers are symptomatic.

At one level, this cultural collapse is an expression of the collapse of marriage and all the other consequences of the sexual revolution, defined as  the ongoing destigmatization of all varieties of nonmarital sexual activity accompanied by a sharp rise in such sexual activity, and has its technological base in the contraceptive pill that became widely available in the 1960s.

At another the phenomenon of intolerant conformism to elite opinion reminds us of Tocqueville’s critique of the democracy he saw at work in the United States of the 1830s. In a section entitled, “The power exercised by the majority in America over thought,” he asserts, shockingly to American democratic sensibilities, “I know of no country in which, speaking generally, there is less independence of mind and true freedom of discussion than in America.” Indeed, he says, “There is no freedom of mind in America.”

An aspect of this irresistible power of public opinion, which he sees as inherent in democracy (American Lockean style at least), pointed to by the Snow and Bottum cases, is the particular force of conformism in elite opinion.  The incapacity for independent critical thought and judgment among the cultural elite of the day in England that Leavis diagnosed, and that enabled a man lacking in any talent but self-confident self-promotion, is also evident in the rapid transformation of homosexual “marriage” from joke to dogma in ten years.  Indeed, Brendan O’Neill, who coined the phrase, sees it as a class marker, a sign of cultural superiority, based not on a mass movement but on the pressure, so evident in Bottum and Blankenhorn, to be accepted in the right circles.

Such a phenomenon depends, precisely insofar as it flies in the face of reality, of the truth about the human person and about marriage, on a high degree of coercion.  The coercion is in part that imposed by the cultural elite on its own through determining who is admitted or excluded or denied advancement in its charmed circles.  In part it is the narcissistic bullying, intimidation, and entrapment by homosexualists of those, like wedding photographers and bakers who will not celebrate, against their conscience, travesties of marriage between same-sex couples who are inherently incapable of consummating their union.  But increasingly, the coercion involves the direct use of state power to push people into believing that 2+2=5, or - since belief cannot be commanded or forbidden in this way - at least into not saying or acting as if it were not so.  (On this, see Douglas Farrow’s Nation of Bastards, which showed us from Canada’s experience the implications of SSM for the hypertrophy of state power and the erosion of civil society and religious freedom.)

As King Canute (Cnut the Great) demonstrated so beautifully, the power of any ruler or ruling elite is limited in the face of a reality that is prior to politics and human power and will.  Every English schoolboy learns some, usually the wrong, version of the story, but this is the earliest and most powerful, as told by Wikipedia

Henry of Huntingdon, the 12th-century chronicler, tells how Cnut set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the tide to halt and not wet his feet and robes. Yet "continuing to rise as usual [the tide] dashed over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person. Then the king leapt backwards, saying: 'Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.' He then hung his gold crown on a crucifix, and never wore it again "to the honour of God the almighty King".  This incident is usually misrepresented by popular commentators and politicians as an example of Cnut's arrogance [as though the king thought he actually could command the waves].

Whether either version is accurate or fair to the great king is not the point.  What matters for us is the limits the story illustrates on man’s capacity to make himself a god.  Marriage is a natural institution based on the reality of how humans reproduce and what is necessary for them, and especially their young, to flourish.  It is not, or cannot for long be whatever the state says it is.  As Horace put it, natura expelles furca, tamen usque recurret: “You may throw nature out with a pitchfork, but she will keep coming back.”

In England's green and pleasant land

This "hymn" is neither Christian nor nationalistic, nor do most of those who sing it lustily at sporting events as a kind of English (as opposed to British) national anthem, have a clue what it means. Still it stirs the heart of (almost) every English man, woman, and child.  The Dean of Southwark caused quite a stir when he banned it from use in his cathedral. 

'Papal Bounce' Credited for British Confession Boom:

Between Pope Francis and Benedict XVI, British clergy report confessions are on the rise.

The Catholic Church in England and Wales observes Home Mission Sunday this Sept. 15, a day of prayer and celebration for the work of evangelization.

Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton told the Daily Telegraph that “significant numbers” of young people are going to the sacrament of reconciliation. He said this is “a good sign” that means they are connected with the Church even if they are sometimes not regular Sunday Massgoers.

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