Thursday, February 28, 2013

Eltham Traditionalists night a success

I'm pleased to report that the Eltham Traditionalists get together last night went well. We're succeeding in gradually building up numbers (still some way to go) and there was a positive atmosphere and much conversation on a variety of topics.

I'm hoping that we can maintain this momentum and grow some more during the course of 2013.

The Eltham Traditionalists website is here. Don't forget about the Sydney Trads here. There's a Traditional Britain Group here. The American Traditionalist Society is still in the process of forming - more news on this soon.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Profound falsehood of liberal autonomy theory

Whatever the problems with the Catholic Church at the ground level, there are still some interesting things being said on the upper levels.

Back in December, Pope Benedict addressed the Roman Curia on the issue of family. In his speech he attempted to do what I try to do at this site, which is to draw out the consequences of liberal autonomy theory.

This theory means that liberals think of human "being" in terms of an abstracted individual who does not have given qualities that give a direction to his life, but who radically determines or defines his own self. This is at the heart of the liberal understanding of human freedom.

But what does such a concept of human freedom mean for the family? Pope Benedict believes that it has seriously negative consequences:
The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper.

While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question. He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: “one is not born a woman, one becomes so” (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term “gender” as a new philosophy of sexuality.

According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society.

The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.

According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply.

No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will.

The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed.

But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation. Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him. Bernheim shows that now, perforce, from being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain. When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being.
So if the liberal understanding of freedom is wrong, what is an alternative understanding? Personally, I like the one given by Signorelli and Salingaros. They criticise modern thought for
the misunderstanding of freedom as liberation from essence rather than perfection of essence.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

And now an American Traditionalist Society?

Laura Wood has announced at her site that planning is underway for an American Traditionalist Society:
a new organization, the American Traditionalist Society is now in the serious planning stages. The purpose of the American Traditionalist Society would be to spread proper —that is, traditionalist — conservatism. As Alan Roebuck, who proposed the idea and who has written a manifesto, puts it, “Traditionalism restores the life-giving ties between a man and his people, their past, and his God.” Traditionalism restores wisdom and common sense. Whereas contemporary thinking is fundamentally unwise outside of the procedures of the natural sciences and technology, traditionalism seeks to fill this void and strives for justice, truth, beauty, and the proper ordering of society.

Traditionalism is not just about bringing back the good things that have been lost. It is not backward-looking, although it admires the best in the past. According to Lawrence Auster, “The past, ‘tradition,’ is but one dimension of traditionalism. Traditionalism is, first, an orientation toward the transcendent structure of the universe–the natural, social, and spiritual orders that make us possible. Each society orders itself uniquely according to those orders. So traditionalism is not just the past tradition, it’s our active relationship and tension with the order of the world, but always grasped and done uniquely and newly in each time and society according to the particularities of that society.”
It would be great for traditionalists everywhere if this American venture could take hold. I'll post further information when the ATS is ready to go.

Why a specifically traditionalist conservatism? Alan Roebuck writes in his manifesto:
The response of institutionalized conservatism to this catastrophe has been wholly inadequate, for it has assumed that our nation is fundamentally sound and that we need only oppose the latest liberal initiatives. Failing effectively to challenge the false and evil premises of liberalism or even to acknowledge that these premises now hold effective control over all aspects of American society, the organized conservatism of our day has, at best, only slowed the rate of destruction. It is therefore time for a new, traditionalist, conservatism which recognizes the dominance and falsehood of liberalism and the need to restore the traditional American way of life, yet updated to suit the times.
I'll finish by reminding local readers that another get together of the Eltham Traditionalists is taking place here in Melbourne this week; for further information you can email me at

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Review: The Doctor Blake Mysteries

There's a new TV series here in Australia called The Doctor Blake Mysteries (it's also going to be shown on UK television). It's about a police surgeon in the regional city of Ballarat in the late 1950s who solves various police cases.

I do have some positive things to say about the series, but it has to be said that this is a show with a liberal message. You get a sense, in fact, of how the makers of the show imagine a liberal hero: he is a figure people respect and look up to, but he is outside of the establishment, and he has to battle the corruption within the conservative institutions of the city, such as the police, the army and the church.

(At the end of the last episode, an admiring female journalist asked Doctor Blake why he would choose to settle in such a conservative town and he answered "I'm here to make a difference".)

Could the show have been set, say, in the Melbourne of today? I don't think so, as the establishment now is so obviously a liberal one that it's difficult to imagine someone like Doctor Blake being a "liberal lone ranger" battling conservative institutions in the pursuit of justice.

I'm not the only one to have noticed the political slant of the series:
The show is a little redolent of Heartbeat and other nostalgic shows, with our hero (and his friends) improbably liberal...while various supporting characters are wheeled out to be reactionary and Wrong.
Even so, this is not the most striking aspect of the series. What's really different is that Doctor Blake is portrayed as a grown-up man. He looks like a grown-up man, he sounds like one and at times he asserts himself as one. I'm not sure that's happened in an Australian TV series since about the 1970s.


The show also does a good job in recreating the atmosphere of late 1950s Ballarat, and the historic architecture of the city is used to good effect. I was reminded by this of the potential of television to connect people to the past.

Despite not sharing the political leanings of The Doctor Blake Mysteries, I've enjoyed the series so far. And if there's a lesson to be drawn from it, it's that we should aim to make shows like it ourselves in the future.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Upcoming Eltham Traditionalists get together

We're having our next Eltham Traditionalists meeting in the coming week, so I thought it was a good time to publish the following message I received from one of the regular attendees:
Dear Mark Richardson,

I'm pleased to know that the first Conservative Get Together of 2013 has been scheduled. I know that some wonder what we get up to, so I thought I would write this to encourage anyone sitting on the sidelines and in Melbourne to get involved. We talk about what made us a Conservative. We talk about politics, both international and Australian. We talk about our lives and what we've been up to recently. We talk about random stuff, wine, floods, history, Eltham. We talk about Liberalism in everyday life. At the last meeting we had someone mention that he sees Liberalism on the roads everyday in the selfish attitude many have when driving, with no sense that we are all a part of society and not just individuals.

We also have a drink, soft drink, wine, beer as you like. We eat a meal, reasonably priced and we talk. Nothing formal, very civilized conversation, no agenda (pun intended) just soldiers in a long war seeking fellowship before we go out and rejoin the fight. If you haven't been along I know I'd like to meet you so put aside an evening and join us.

Mark M
We managed to get a bit of momentum going at the end of last year and it would be great to continue this in 2013. There are number of traditionalist groups starting to make an appearance in various places. There is the Sydney Trads group, the Traditional Britain Group, and perhaps too the Generation Identitaire group in France.

As Mark M points out in his message, the get togethers are an enjoyable, informal way to get the ball rolling, but they serve an important function of getting to an important next stage. I do believe that it is encouraging to a wider audience if traditionalist groups are able to form in various places, rather than just having an internet presence.

So if any Melbourne readers have been tossing up whether to come along or not, I'd encourage you to email me at

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Left-wing woman criticises feminism

Chelsea Fagan, a decidedly left-wing woman, makes the following criticism of feminism:
Everywhere from Tumblr to Twitter to Facebook groups, there are women getting together and talking about what it means to be both a woman and a feminist. And in many of these circles, there is a heavy focus on “male privilege,” and what that means in an operational sense. There are near-endless blogs dedicated to pointing out everything from the microaggressions to the sweeping legislation which subjugate women. And as the (righteous) anger against some of the institutional disadvantages women face brews, it manifests in a number of ways. “Misandry” has become a cute term to express one’s disgust for the patriarchy. “Kill all men” is another. They are small slogans and concepts which aim to take back a sense of control, of autonomy. The expression of hatred towards men — one regarded as benign because of the lack of societal power behind it — has become a kind of social currency in many more radical feminist circles. It wouldn’t be shocking to see a 16-year-old white girl’s Tumblr with a picture of her holding a heart-shaped card emblazoned with “I Love Misandry” and surrounded by sparkles. It’s cute, and it’s harmless.

But the idea of leveraging a universal hatred against men, or allowing ourselves to feel as though there is a clear divide in terms of gendered power, and that it falls distinctly on the men vs. women line, fuels a slippery slope of profound privilege denying. Because to pretend as though the 22-year-old white female blogger talking about her hatred of men from the comfort of her prepaid dorm at an Ivy League school does not hold many tangible privileges over, say, the undocumented male worker who is cleaning the bathroom stalls of her building at night, is ludicrous. There are countless privileges she has over him, and countless points of access she has in our society that he will never see.
To sum up: feminists believe that men are privileged at the expense of women and this leads to anger and, amongst radical feminists, to expressions of misandry (hatred of men) as a means of reasserting female autonomy. As it is assumed that women are a victim class, such hatred is thought to be toothless and therefore harmless.

Chelsea Fagan points out, reasonably enough, that this set of feminist beliefs fails at the first step, as the women making claims about male privilege are often a lot more privileged than large numbers of men in society (she could also have pointed out that the average man works hard in life for the benefit of wife and children rather than to subjugate women, so a measure of gratitude or love is a more appropriate response than anger).

It's a good criticism of the simplistic "group rankings" which occur in a liberal society: if you belong to a group which has been tagged as privileged you lose status in society, regardless of your own circumstances.

Even so, it would be better to ditch the leftist moral focus on privilege rather than merely to refine it.

Chelsea Fagan claims that intersections of privilege and oppression define our lives, but she is wrong. I am not defined by the fact that there are people more privileged than I am in society. There will always be distinctions in status, wealth, intelligence and education. That does not detract from my identity as a man, or as a member of a particular family, ethny or nation, or as a member of a church or a community.

Nor should questions of privilege determine moral status in society. If a man has more wealth and status than I do, that does not make him of lesser moral status; I would ask instead about his integrity, his character, his embodiment of culture, his contribution to society, the quality of his role as a father and husband, his loyalty to the larger tradition he belongs to and so on.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Losing the particular

I've just read an essay titled "Living with the "Other"" by Miroslav Volf (in Muslim and Christian: Reflections on Peace, University Press of America, 2005).

Miroslav Volf is a professor of theology at Yale University Divinity School. He's a bit difficult to place politically. He seems to want to commit to both a liberal view of identity (one that is inclusive, porous, open and dynamic) whilst retaining the basic goods of a traditional view.

I don't think that's likely to work out well in practice, but it does at least mean that Professor Volf isn't entirely committed to a "dissolve at all costs" view of the world.

For instance, he writes: order to have an identity, you must have boundaries. Imagine a world without boundaries. You cannot! For without boundaries you would not have "a world"; everything would be jumbled up together and nothing distinct would exist, which is to say that just about nothing would exist at all. To have anything except infinite chaos, you must have boundaries. Hence when God creates, God separates. If boundaries are good, then some kind of boundary maintenance must be good too. Hence when boundaries are threatened (as they often are in a variety of ways), they must be maintained. (pp. 9-10)

Similarly, although Professor Volf advocates embracing the other, he does recognise that conditions apply:
But should we not maintain our boundaries so as to protect our cultural identities? Yes, we should. If I am crushed in the process of embrace with the other, this is no longer an embrace but an act of covert aggression. Whereas the will to embrace the other is unconditional, the embrace itself is not. It is conditioned, first, on the preservation of the integrity of the self. Boundaries are good, I argued earlier, because discrete identities themselves are a good. And because both are good, they have to be protected.

Earlier I have argued for protection of identities - of oneself and of one's group - by appealing to creation. To have anything at all and therefore to have "a world," you must have and maintain boundaries. Hence when God creates, God separates (and binds together, of course). One can argue for protection of identities also on the basis of redemption. Since God showed redeeming love in Christ for all humanity, the self cannot be excluded as a legitimate object of love. I should love myself, provided my love of self is properly related to the love of God and of the neighbour. And since I can love myself, I can certainly love my group because such love includes both the love of the neighbour and the love of the self (since my own well-being is often connected with the well-being of my group). Hence one is entitled to ensure that the embrace of the other does not endanger the self. (p.18)

There are some good arguments in that passage. To summarise:

i) You are not "embracing" the other if you are crushed in the process; rather you are submitting to an act of aggression.

ii) It is important to preserve the integrity of self.

iii) Our distinct identities are a good, and we should seek to preserve the good.

iv) Creation necessarily involves acts of separation and the making of boundaries.

v) God's redeeming love is not directed at everyone except ourselves. We too have a self that is properly an object of love. We are therefore not empty vessels which take on content only in our regard for the other. We too have a self to be considered, and our well-being is connected to the well-being of the group we belong to.

Finally, Professor Volf argues that we should pay closer attention to those we are most closely related to:
But do not people to whom we are "thickly" related demand special attention? A spouse and children seem to do so. Why not fellow members of the same ethnic group? Insisting that "every human being is my neighbour," some Christians have advocated that we should be impartial in our love, extending it to those to whom we are "thinly" related no less than to those to whom we are "thickly" related. Yet even those Christian theologians who, like Augustine in Teaching Christianity claim that "all people should be loved equally," insist that "proximity makes a difference"...Other Christian theologians, like Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica, have claimed that all neighbours should not be loved equally; we have special relations to some people and "the union arising from natural origin is prior to, and more stable than, all others." So to claim that love's scope is universal does not imply that we do not differentiate in how we ought to love those with whom we have special relations and those with whom we do not.

There is no good reason to wed the claim that love is universal in scope with what Gene Outka has called "simplified egalitarianism" which does not take into account that "our capacity for reciprocal help and harm is deeper and more varied with those closely related to us." The Christian claim that we should "love" all people, not just those with whom we have special relationships, does not imply undifferentiated cosmopolitanism, which would preclude giving special attention to our own family, ethnic group, nation, or broader culture. Not only is it right to maintain boundaries of discrete group identities, as I have argued earlier, it is also right to devote one's energies so that the group to which we belong will flourish. (pp.20-21)

 It seems to me that these kinds of theological arguments are important within Christianity; for Christianity to work there has to be an understanding of how a love that extends universally can be combined with the obvious goods of more particular relationships, such as those involving family, ethnic group, nation and broader culture.

As I mentioned at the start, I think that Professor Volf doesn't quite get it right, as his way of combining things wouldn't easily allow the particular relationships to survive. But at least he recognises the need to uphold both things: the universal and the particular.

If  you go to a Catholic church now, you are likely to hear only one side - the universal. A concern for the particular has been lost (unless it involves a group that has status within liberal politics, such as Aborigines - see here and here - but this then suggests that the Church isn't getting the universal right either - why should the Aborigines have a human status that others don't have?)

If anything, at a time when liberalism is dissolving particular relationships, the Church should be focused on the defence of the particular, rather than helping to drive liberalism forward by emphasising the universal.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Wendy Tuohy on motherhood

I'll begin with a positive. Wendy Tuohy, a blogger for Melbourne's Herald Sun, has once again defended the experience of motherhood:
...I never realised that being such a family person would be so thrilling. I knew I wanted it, but I didn't realise it would be so exciting. It's exciting because...I am happy enough in my own skin to find the minute-to-minute experience of average family life feels like the home my spirit should be living in.

The women whose blogs I read are, in hundreds of little ways, talking about this very thing; the fact that when they're bathing a child, or brushing one's hair, or reading with one, they're in the act of being the person they always should have been. (16/02/13)
That's a fine description of a woman finding her better and truer self in the experience of family life and motherhood.

So what's the negative? Wendy Tuohy does not politically support the traditional family of husband, wife and kids. On her blog, she advocates instead for alternative family arrangements, particularly those in which there's no father around. Her political focus too is on women doing paid work and for men to take on the motherhood role.

I don't think she realises what's at stake and how easy it is for a culture of family life to unravel. If she finds traditional family life so fulfilling, then she ought to be amongst those who are willing to defend it, rather than joining ranks with those who seek to dissolve it.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

At cross purposes: women, combat and violence

The Elusive Wapiti wasn't too impressed with a column on women in combat by Paula Bolyard. But I thought that at least there were some good things in it. She writes, for instance, about raising her boys that:
The goal was always to turn out men. Not some feminized, politically correct, egalitarian version of manhood, but in keeping with their genetically driven impulses and God-given natures, we determined to encourage them to defy current societal pressures and become real, masculine men.
And she makes an argument about women in combat that has crossed my mind repeatedly but that I've never publicly made. Are men not being given mixed messages about women and violence? In ordinary civilian life, men are told that women are different and should be shielded from all violence and that our culture is too accepting of violence against women. But men are also being presented with a lot of imagery of violent warrior women, and this imagery is likely to desensitise men when it comes to women and violence.

And the problem will only intensify if men are expected to fight in the military alongside and against women. If a man has to be trained to shoot or bayonet a woman, will he still be able to carry that masculine sense of honour of never directing violence toward women? Paula Bolyard puts it this way:
Through all of this, we clearly taught our boys that they were never, ever to play roughly with girls. We knew a time would come that they would be bigger and stronger than the girls and they needed to know that they were to never lay a hand on a girl.

In this day and age of political correctness and federally mandated gender equity, this may sound “unfair” or antiquated, but the inconvenient truth is that the process of civilizing young men involves taming their aggressive instincts. If we want them to learn to treat a woman with respect, they must be taught that overpowering her with their physical strength is never acceptable.

At the same time, they must learn that their physical size and strength are gifts that can and should be used to protect their families and property in the event of danger. Controlled strength is a sign of maturity and integrity.

As we find ourselves on the cusp of women on the front lines of combat, we must ask some important questions about how we will raise boys in the future in light of this decision.

Back in 1992, when cries for women in combat were sounding on the heels of the Gulf War, John Luddy wrote about the implications of such a decision in the Los Angeles Times:
All killing on the battlefield is not accomplished by precision-guided munitions; men must still drive cold steel into other men’s guts. Parents, picture a platoon of soldiers, your daughter among them, wielding bayonets in what we infantrymen delicately call close combat. Some are doing the sticking; some are being stuck. Therein lies the second problem with placing women in combat units. As a society, do we want to have women doing this? If so, what would be wrong with a man punching a woman under the same circumstances in which he might punch a man? One is no “better” than the other, but we react differently, don’t we?  

If we as a country insist on pushing through this barrier and throwing our women at the enemy by placing them on the front lines in combat, some important cultural and sociological changes will need to occur. We will need to raise a new generation of men who will be willing to stand by and watch women being shot, stabbed, tortured, raped and battered. They will need to be desensitized to the realities of harm befalling women. Additionally, once the United States crosses the barrier of women in combat, other countries will likely follow, so our men will need to learn to stand face to face with a woman, look her in the eye, and kill her in hand-to-hand combat.

Finally, I thought the following comment from a Vietnam veteran worth highlighting, It shows the reality of going on tour in a combat situation:
I was also a Marine grunt and the training we went through was totally brutal. I was glad I had it, because when I got to Vietnam it made me able to cope with what we did there. On operations, especially in the mountains, we walked with flak jackets, helmets, packs, rifles, grenades, machine guns, rocket launchers, sometimes mortars, carried extra rounds for the mortars and the machine guns, and were virtual pack mules.

When we ran into the enemy we could not drop the gear and leave it, because we had to attack and we did not know where the attack would end. We would run forward carrying all this gear and still fight our asses off. This might be after walking from daylight until late in the afternoon. At night we dug our fighting holes and stood watch. One man on for an hour and a half and one man asleep for an hour and a half. Just before day light we went on full alert. That meant we usually got four to five hours sleep a night. This went on day after day after day. Our clothes rotted off of us, grime was so deeply ingrained into our skin that we could pull it off with our finger nails, and we ate two meals a day and drank whatever water we could find. Sometimes we had lots of water. Other times we had four quart sized canteens and they had to last us for two or three days. We lost weight, we became walking zombies who functioned on instinct, but we functioned. Maybe one in one hundred women could do this, but she would not fit in and the men would try to protect her. It is completely stupid and asinine to put women in a situation like this.

Two new sites

I'd like to draw to your attention two new sites that have been launched and that might be of interest to you.

One is called Tweed Renegades. It's a well-designed Australian site with a blog, radio and TV. The writers of the site make this pitch:
if you want a critical view of the follies of modern society, grounded in common sense and tradition, look no further
One of the contributors, Plato Sandilands, has made some excellent comments here at Oz Conservative.

The other site is called Reclaiming Beauty. Its founder, Kidist Paulos Asrat, describes its aims as follows:
I have started a new project. It is bigger than a website.

I hope to reclaim beauty from the avant-garde, nihilistic environment that surrounds us. Rather than fight it, I thought I would start a site that would be a study of beauty, a critique of our current beautyless, or anti-beauty, environment, as well as a place to give and receive practical guides and accounts on how to acquire and reclaim the beautiful.

I hope to have a list of regular contributors to the site, who will eventually become part of a bigger movement.
I'd encourage my readers to bookmark these sites and to stop by them when time permits. I know from my own experience that building up a readership is important early on. I think it was when my readership got past about 1000 a day that I began to relax and no longer worry that my efforts weren't worthwhile.

I wish those running the sites much success with their endeavours.

Friday, February 15, 2013

How not to decide on female priests

Here's another item on the Catholic Church, one which hopefully illustrates larger issues within modern society.

A website called the National Catholic Reporter has run an editorial in support of Roy Bourgeois, an advocate of female priests:
Barring women from ordination to the priesthood is an injustice that cannot be allowed to stand.

 ...Bourgeois brings this issue to the real heart of the matter. He has said that no one can say who God can and cannot call to the priesthood, and to say that anatomy is somehow a barrier to God's ability to call one of God's own children forward places absurd limits on God's power. The majority of the faithful believe this.
A secular liberal would have argued, in support of female priests, that individual desire is sovereign, that sex distinctions shouldn't matter, and that it is the will of men rather than a natural or God ordained order which is authoritative in deciding things.

The Catholic Reporter doesn't follow exactly the same path, but it's not too far from it. We are told that we should support female priests because "the majority of the faithful believe this" (making the will of men authoritative) and that distinctions between men and women involve nothing more than "anatomy" - that it's merely a case of different body parts.

The idea of a natural order is also brushed aside, on the basis that God operates outside such an order.

Finally, although the Catholic Reporter doesn't openly make the pitch that individual desire is sovereign, it does argue that it is up to the woman herself to decide and that it is unjust if her decision is impeded.

One major flaw in the approach taken by the Catholic Reporter is that it is obvious that distinctions between men and women are more than anatomical. If you are a Catholic, you will believe that God made these distinctions for a purpose, so that they have at least some bearing on our roles and relationships in life.

And if you do seek to dissolve such distinctions, then much else follows. Concepts of fatherhood must then collapse, as will those of motherhood. The marital relationship changes to be something other than a connection between the distinctly masculine and feminine. Deep changes to personal identity must also follow, as it would become irrational for individuals to identify in a serious way as man or woman.

There is also a lack of consideration in the approach taken by liberals and by the Catholic Reporter to the good of the larger social fabric. All that is held to matter is what an individual seeks to do or become. But individual life can't be atomised in this way. We draw part of our identity from institutions, communities, cultures and traditions and we develop attachments and recognise the inherent good in the natural forms of community we belong to, such as families, ethnies, nations and churches.

Therefore the Catholic Reporter should have considered much more seriously what effect an innovation like female priests might have on the good of the Church itself as an institution.

As it happens there are already churches which have gone down the path of a female priesthood. The Reporter might have considered how these churches, such as the Episcopalians in the U.S., have fared. Are attendances rising or falling? Is there an improved or a worsened stability within these churches? Has orthodoxy on significant matters been maintained?

The problem is that the principles on which liberalism is based don't recognise the good of the larger entities to which individuals belong - what matters instead is individual desire considered alone. So liberals don't take very seriously the kind of questions I asked above. What that sometimes leads to are beliefs that seem "suicidal" or self-annihilating to traditionalists.

Finally, there is a major problem in arguing for a female priesthood on anything like liberal lines, such as the idea of the will of men being authoritative or an unimpeded individual desire to be or to do as we choose being the ordering principle of society.

The problem is that this then undermines the authority of the priesthood, whether male or female. If it is the will of men as expressed in public feeling that has authority, then it is the case that priests ought to listen to and follow what the public thinks rather than the other way round. (A letter writer in today's Herald Sun wrote: "It's time to appoint a young, vibrant Pope ...They need to take their blinkers off and listen to the people on moral issues.")

Similarly if it is unjust that my desire to be or to do what I have a mind to do is impeded, then is it not an injustice if priests use their moral authority to restrict my moral choices?

So arguing for a female priesthood on anything like liberal lines is self-defeating, as it undermines the authority of the priesthood itself.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Pope on rights

This week came the news that Pope Benedict is to retire. So one of his last addresses will be the one he made in January to members of the diplomatic corps.

I'm not entirely sure what to make of the address. Reading it you get the sense that the Pope wants the Church to speak in the same terms as that of the secular world and to contribute to a common mission together.

And yet that secular world is allowing less and less room for the Church in the public sphere.

So in the address the Pope does pause to argue that the terms used in the secular world should be understood in a way that isn't hostile to the Church.

For instance, human rights legislation is being used in some European countries to restrict public expression of Christian faith. So the Pope said of human rights:
Sadly, especially in the West, one frequently encounters ambiguities about the meaning of human rights and their corresponding duties. Rights are often confused with exaggerated manifestations of the autonomy of the individual, who becomes self-referential, no longer open to encounter with God and with others, and absorbed only in seeking to satisfy his or her own needs. To be authentic, the defence of rights must instead consider human beings integrally, in their personal and communitarian dimensions.
I find that interesting as I too see "exaggerated manifestations of the autonomy of the individual" as being a key problem in the modern West.

Also, the alternative put forward by the Pope is a promising one. He wants rights to be considered not just in terms of a self-referential individual (what I have previously called an abstracted, atomised individual) but more "integrally" including a person's life within a community (what liberals call the "encumbered" self).

It's a pity the Pope didn't draw this out more. What, for instance, would be some examples of rights that a person considered integrally would have? Wouldn't a person, considered in their communitarian dimension, have a right to preserve the communal identity from which he derives a significant aspect of his identity and his commitment to a larger society?

The American Catholic Church doesn't think so, holding instead that there is a right to immigrate:
Persons have the right to immigrate and thus government must accommodate this right to the greatest extent possible, especially financially blessed nations.
 To sum up:

a) It's a positive that the Pope is willing to make criticisms of the exaggerated emphasis on autonomy in the secular world.

b) It's a positive too that the Pope wants the individual to be considered integrally, in his personal and communitarian dimensions.

c) The Church, however, is inconsistent in defending such a concept of the human person.

d) I doubt if it's a good strategy for the Church to practise outreach to the secular world by adopting the terminology of that world, and then trying to draw a line when the terminology becomes overtly hostile to the Church. From what I've observed of suburban Catholicism, one negative effect of this strategy is that priests start to see themselves as representatives of a liberal social order (i.e. as lending their authority to that order). In other words, instead of the liberal concepts being Christianised, the Christian institution at the ground level gets colonised by the dominant priorities and understandings of liberalism.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Buildings as expressions of world views

Is it really some kind of accident that a university chose this as one of its campus buildings?

That's a building at the University of California as reported here at The Thinking Housewife. I can't help but think that this type of architecture is an expression of a modernist mindset, one that is oriented to the technical and the functional. But why be oriented this way?

Jim Kalb in his book The Tyranny of Liberalism writes that:
Since 1945, Western public life has been based on the practical supremacy of economics and the principle that social order exists to get men what they want rather than to express an essence or ideal.
So if you aren't oriented to, say, an ideal of beauty or to an expression of man's soul or essence, then perhaps you'll think more in terms of purpose or function. And that's how a campus architect explained the building at the University of California. As reported at The Thinking Housewife, that architect thought that the building was an attempt to represent the purpose of the curriculum, which has a biotechnology focus:
...he impartially ascribed the ugliness to seemingly neutral causes. One of these was the premise that the architecture should reflect one of the main emphases of the curriculum: biotechnology.
Not all modernist architecture is as ugly as the building in the photo. It's possible to build for function and have a building with, for instance, sleek, geometrical lines. But I wonder if modernist architecture went through a phase when the aim was not only to build for function, but to assert the modernist aesthetic strongly against the traditional one: hence, a more aggressive ugliness in design.

Finally, I thought I'd include a few photos of some of the traditional architecture at the University of Melbourne, by way of contrast:

If you look at the Melbourne buildings and then the California one, you get a sense of how cold and soulless the modernist architecture is. And as I've tried to explain, I don't think that's an accidental outcome, as the modernist mindset isn't oriented to a consideration like man's soul - the focus is instead more technocratic.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Gottfried Benn

In my last post I discussed an American student of literature who was repulsed by the poetry of Gottfried Benn.

That made me curious to find out more about Benn. It turns out that he was the son of a Lutheran pastor in Germany and that he began to write nihilist poetry in the years leading up to WWI.

What's interesting is that Benn, even before WWI, saw the world he inhabited as being made empty by modernity. In other words, he was not reacting against a traditional order but against the modern one.

Here is how Benn explained the process by which modernity brought about nihilism:
From the glowing darkness of the many churches...there came a trembling, heavy with tears, a drumming and trumpeting; the striving of the human heart is toward evil from childhood on. The steady consonance of this tragic chord, the awareness of being in need of salvation, gave medieval life its depth and boundlessness. Penetrated by the sense of his own limitation, man turned in prayer to a perfection that he could imagine without having witnessed or experienced, an eternal realm beyond the desolation of the earth. And this contrast between a hither and a yon (which, of opposite nature like fire and water, nevertheless interpenetrate) charged the atmosphere with electrical tension, produced deeds like thunderbolts, and illumined the heart with flashes of realization. But now came the new song, Man is good, and its jaunty tune displaced the stern chorale of the past.

Man, then, is good; that is, insofar as he appears to be bad, the environment is at fault or heredity or society. All people are good; that means all people are equal, equally valuable, with an equal voice equally worth listening to in all matters. Just let's not get too far away from the average type; let's not have any greatness, anything out of the ordinary. Man is good, but not heroic; don't make the mistake of conferring responsibility on him; he should be useful, expedient, idyllic - devaluation of everything tragical, devaluation of everything fateful, devaluation of everything irrational; only what's plausible is granted validity, only what's banal. Man is good. This does not mean that Man should become good, that he should struggle to attain to a goodness, to an inner rank, to a state of being good. No, Man is not supposed to struggle at all, since he's good to begin with. The Party will fight for him, society, the mass, but he should live and enjoy, and if he kills someone he should be consoled, for it is not the murderer but the murdered who is at fault.

Man is good, his nature is rational, and all his sufferings are hygienic and socially controllable--this on the one hand and creation itself on the other. Both were supposed to be accessible to science. From both these ideas came the dissolution of all old bonds, the destruction of the substance, the leveling of all values; from them came the inner situation that produced that atmosphere in which we all live, from which we all drank to the bitter dregs: nihilism.

Thursday, February 07, 2013


Laura Wood received an interesting letter from a young woman named Leonora, who studies and teaches literature at an American college.

The part of the letter that interested me most was Leonora's reaction to the poetry of Gottfried Benn. Benn was a nihilist/Nietzschean poet of the early twentieth century. He had a very interesting view of how the Enlightenment had brought on the nihilist epoch (which I'll quote in a future post): his nihilism was therefore not directed at the churches or at traditional culture but at the liberal Enlightenment. Even so, it was a nihilism which portrayed human life in the most desolate terms.

Leonora was forced to endure this desolate, nihilistic view of life in her literature class. It caused her a degree of distress, as she wishes to cultivate her more sensitive feminine qualities:
Sitting in that class yesterday was painful and felt like torture. I was fighting tears of anger and hurt feelings, just looked down and could not say a single word the whole entire time. I felt even worse when I realized how all the others were laughing and thought it was funny. I could not find a tiny bit of amusement in someone presenting human beings like that and talking about women in such a trashy way. I just wanted to get out of there – as far away as possible – as the again male professor kept repeating those lines over and over again, pronouncing them worse and more disgusting every time he recited them again.

My own strong emotions and reaction made me wonder if there is something wrong with me! Why did this make me so upset and angry while everyone else seemed to enjoy it? As I reflected on it later that night in bed, I realized how God has been tearing down many walls in and around my heart throughout the past six months. He has made me much more sensitive towards other people and also towards sin and things that are just wrong. He has revealed to me what it means to be a woman and how I as a woman should be caring, loving and nurturing. I am to have a soft and tender heart, feel with others and make this world a much more beautiful place. And that’s what I want with all my heart. I want to be captivating, beautiful, inviting and loving. But with a heart soft like that I can’t handle situations like the one in class yesterday.

I told a male class mate about my feelings after class and his response was, “Well, Benn wrote that to make people think and to cause exactly these controversial reactions. You shouldn’t take it personally, just think about the issues he is trying to raise.” I know I could easily try to let this not get to me, build up some walls around my heart again and not care and laugh like everyone else. But that would be at the risk of my heart, my soul, my purity, and in a way even my womanhood. Why do they expect me to do that? How can I even survive as a woman in such an environment that will constantly cause me pain without manning up?
Leonora is trying to maintain her feminine integrity in a hostile environment. It's interesting to hear this from a woman, as I think men have a corresponding sense both of the value of the feminine qualities Leonora describes and also of their relative fragility.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

The test of time

Immaculate Conception, Hawthorn
This morning I attended mass in the suburb of Hawthorn. The church is beautiful, though I was disappointed that a projector screen covered nearly all of the stained glass windows. The music was done relatively well (a very good singer) as were the readings. The priest (a temporary replacement) had an old school type of gruff personality.

But once again the main focus of the mass was a celebration of diversity and immigration. There was an almost comical moment when the priest sternly invited the congregation to examine themselves in case there was any lingering resistance to cultural diversity.

It's a suicidal theology. If Australia was once 95% Christian it can only become less so through a process of immigration, particularly since the main source countries are Asian and Middle-Eastern, rather than, say, Latin American.

In effect, the priest is insisting that the central thing in being a good Christian is to accept the decline of the Church; perhaps even to support a process in which his own historic church will one day be occupied by members of some other religious group.

Crowning of Mary
It's a contradiction. The priest is arguing "You must do X because our church is founded on fundamental truths, but I don't mind if X causes my own parish church to no longer exist in the future." If there is no fundamental truth held by the Church then why should I do X? But if there is a fundamental truth held by the Church then why should I do X if that causes the Church to be replaced by another, less truth-bearing religion?

The solution is for the clergy to carefully think through a theology that brings about its own rapid decline. Can such a theology really be right?

(I remember now that the priest said that the people being referenced in the Gospels as strangers to be welcomed were groups like the Somalis, Sudanese and Japanese  - which at the time I thought was a strange comment (the Japanese being a long way from the Holy Land), but perhaps it shows how much the priest wants Christians to be oriented to the non-Christian other, just as liberals want us to be oriented to whoever is regarded as the most other.

It's that liberal mindset of making the "test" how much you're willing to give way to the person most different to you - which for a Christian will be a Muslim or a Buddhist. But you can't expect to give way and to maintain the same place you once had. You will have a diminished place or perhaps none at all. So it's not exactly prudent to make that the "test".

And another thought: wouldn't the ultimate test of proving how open you are to Islam or Buddhism be to join one of those religions? Isn't that the logical end point of the kind of theology being preached in suburban Catholic parishes?)