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The Night Soil Collectors and Their Kin
Saturday, September 5, 2015, 2:13 PM

James Altena, an editor of Fanfare, the preeminent classical music review, has probably listened to more classical music recordings than have even been recorded. In a recent email conversation on the world’s worst poetry he referred to “one of the most (unintentionally) hilarious recordings ever made–a Chinese Communist Party agitprop song titled, ‘The Night-Soil Collectors Are Descending The Mountain.'”

A good egalitarian, as Chinese Communists are expected to be, would see no humor in that at all, for he can by his principles recognize no difference in level of occupation between an angelic doctor and a night-soil collector.  Each, like the premier and the platypus, is worthy and necessary; there is no higher or lower.  He can’t see the reversals of lesser and greater that are a necessary part of so many jokes.  This is one of the reasons the true liberal tends to be so grim, his humor, such as it is, consisting almost exclusively of irony, mockery, and ridicule–the humor of unhappiness, always tainted and bitter.

To the sane, the romantic exaltation of night-soil collectors is akin to panegyrizing the potato or hymning the hyena, in which there is considerable potential for imaginative humor that would not occur to those for whom this can only mean denigration of a worthy and important vegetable, or contempt for a valuable member of the African food chain—and most likely an expression of underlying racism.

I would refer the care of their souls to Fr. Reardon, who, finding ethnic jokes universally contemned, set out to find an ethnicity that no one could criticize him for making fun of.  He is a man of historical learning, and settled upon the Hittites, who have been extinct for several thousand years.  Finally he was safe and could make the necessary transpositions:  “There were these two Hittites, Pat and Mike . . . . ”


Christina’s World
Monday, August 17, 2015, 3:39 PM

Christina Hoff Sommers is a courageous and outspoken opponent of the dehumanizing and destabilizing effect of radical feminism on modern society.  She has a particular concern for the cruel and demoralizing treatment of boys by the pathologizing and suppression of healthy maleness, particularly in school environments where the orthodoxies of radical feminism hold ever-increasing sway.

In a recently published interview with Bill Kristol (http://conversationswithbillkristol.org/video/christina-hoff-sommers/  ) she makes a number of clear-sighted and refreshingly sensible observations, but like others who have  shown themselves willing to swim against so many institutional tides in the habiliments of moderate feminism, fails to understand that the egalitarianism of that espousal itself is a threat to the life of boys because it and radical feminism are lesser and greater intensities of the same thing.  Both disallow maleness, one through active hatred of the male, the other through denying him the prerogatives of maleness by making each sex equal to the other in all significant respects, even while protesting the more damaging aspects of full-blown gender feminism.

Sommers forthrightly deplores the suppression of normal maleness by school authorities, but does not understand that the play of boys (significantly, she mentions as an example the sorting out of “pecking order” on the playground) is a manifestation of the inescapably hierarchical desire for invention and order characteristic of maleness with which women must come to terms if they desire happy and fruitful concourse with the male.  If the woman refuses him in his maleness, she must do what she can to escape it–she must live apart from or at war with him–but if she accepts in him what Sommers regards as natural and healthy, she must subordinate the egalitarian impulse and keep it within the boundaries of the order for and upon which he desires by his very nature to stand.  There are two possibilities here, and no sustainable others.  This is the great argument of nature and history against feminism: “It is hard to kick against the pricks.”

She notes in the interview, as she has in her wonderfully empathetic The War Against Boys, perhaps the best-known of her books, that society is reforming itself in such a way as to open up places for girls and close them down for boys, and asks where the place is for boys in times when their maleness is being treated as a sickness by radical feminist bullies.  Surely a place where boys and men should be able to be themselves while treating the woman with deference and respect, accepting counsel from her, and rejecting the barbarism of exaggerated and unsanctified maleness, is the Church as the repository of the grace that rules the family.

But how can a church that is itself afraid of maleness and anxious to grant voice or authority to “moderate feminism”–an egalitarianism that will not give way to the natural hierarchialism in which only maleness can be accommodated–be such a place?  It is becoming increasingly difficult to find a church that is strong enough to be unapologetically the Church, holding in power and charity to its inescapably patriarchal constitution.  There is no middle way here, and the churches that try to take one will find themselves torn apart, for Christianity and feminism of any kind cannot coexist.  Nor should Christian girls be abandoned to the belief that feminism, even of the “moderate” variety, is compatible with their faith.  It is only a slower poison than the radicals offer.

A Parable of the Kingdom?
Monday, August 10, 2015, 4:02 PM

I think I saw a Parable of the Kingdom in church last Sunday: The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a much admired young man who, arising from his seat in our little church orchestra, ascended to the chancel to sing a fine aria in a voice of operatic quality, whereupon he descended, returning his seat in the little orchestra and taking up again the soft instrument he plays there, unheard by us in the back row who play the loud ones.

* * * * *

It occurs to me these lessons are all around us, but we are not at fault for failure to perceive them in their profusion.  We aren’t supposed to.  The Word of God pervades his creation, which is our appointed home, and which provides the medium in which that Word is not directly and perpetually experienced–because it is the setting ordained by the Word itself to provide the context and relief necessary to show himself to us as The Other within sameness’s mise en scéne.  So when perception of the infinite within the finite comes, it arrives in the character of a sudden inspiration or denouement, sometimes in the midst of contemplation (as for the Magi), and sometimes not (as with the shepherds), but always as something “out of the blue.”



C. S. Lewis, Sexual Desire, and Homosexuality
Friday, August 7, 2015, 2:18 PM

My reading in the C. S. Lewis corpus began with the books found in my father’s library: first Screwtape, then Mere Christianity and the Great Divorce, and then the most difficult of them, Pilgrim’s Regress, which I read every year for about ten years until my gradually increasing stock of philosophy was great enough to understand most of it.  This was apparently Lewis’s least favored of his own works, a Jugendschrift the recollection of which did not please him for a number of reasons.  For me, however, it has always been, next to the Great Divorce, the most helpful of his books, not least because in its protagonist, in whom one can see the young Lewis, I can also see myself.

This is because I read the principal theme of this polythematic book as the awakening and fulfillment of desire, to Lewis’s account of which I resonate strongly.  It is a story of a child named John, properly raised but unhappy with the world and disturbed with the formal and somewhat hypocritical orthodoxy of his family’s religion, who is awakened to joy and beauty in a romantic vision of an Island in the West in which he detects, providentially, nothing at all of religion. This begets a Sehnsucht that seizes him so powerfully that it provides impetus to search for that island in a pilgrimage of the mind and spirit that ends at Mother Kirk, the Church, not as herself the fulfillment of his desire, but the true and only path to its realization.  The Pilgrim has come full circle, back to the place where he began, back to “religion,” but it is not what he once knew, for he now sees everything, including religion itself, through the eyes of an informed and living faith.  He now knows with far greater clarity what he desired, where it is to be found, and how he must proceed to find it.  His “regress” is re-taking the itinerary he once followed to find the Church, now seeing the true shape and meaning of the things he once tried unsuccessfully to understand on their own terms.

The story of human desire in its broadest sense, as Lewis tells it here, finds its ethical component in connection with the “should be” of an ever-increasing understanding of its object and intensification of the quest for its fulfillment.  It, too, is a movement from lesser to greater, as with St. Anselm’s fides quaerens intellectum,  or St. Bonaventure’s intinerarium mentis in Deum, or John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress—not one of which is depicted by its writer as something optional in the phenomenology of spiritual life.

In the Regress one encounters sexual emergence as part of the evolution of desire. In the early days of his romantic awakening John discovers and acts upon erotic attraction, which he quickly discovers to be mere lust–something that because of its strictly chthonic and ephemeral character cannot be the object of his desire, although once awakened, his intercourse with the “brown girls” becomes a perennial and shameful feature of his own existence.  Lewis’s own life can be read in these terms, for while he is understandably shy and somewhat secretive about his own sexual history, what he thinks should be known about it is readable in what he has written, which includes evidence of great sympathy for those who remain in the grasp of the brown girls, whether hetero- or homosexual.

In the Great Divorce, for example, a man tormented by an evil lizard that sits on his shoulder giving him reasons to remain a slave to his lust, finally gives an angel permission to kill it.  The beast, with its back broken, metamorphoses into a great stallion upon which the man, now its master instead of its slave, rides into glory. Most commentators see in this story a reference to redemption from homosexual desire, written by a man who had beloved homosexual friends.

In what I recall of my own sexual awakening, Lewis’s reference to an early ignorance of the object of desire rings true: unless perhaps if one is raised among animals, as few nowadays are, desire is awake before one knows its proper end. Early, uninformed desire tends to have an undifferentiated quality, and thus a “homosexual” aspect.

If nature follows its proper course, this will drop away as soon as it becomes evident what the other sex is for, as it does for most and did for me.  If, however, something goes wrong (psychologists tell us what these things might be) at the early, strongly formative stages of life—something that is contrary to nature, to the state of things as willed and intended by the Creator (of which theology speaks), then the homosexual component of infantile desire may prevail, so that those who later identify themselves as homosexual from birth are not wrong if they detect no interruption in the development of their sexual selves from earlier to later years.  What often goes unrecognized in these days of welcoming acceptance of sexual perversion as normal and to be celebrated, however, is the “something wrong” in the medium of their existence that did not allow nature to take its proper course, so that their genetic sexual destiny was inhibited–so that what is a benign feature of infantile desire has not undergone the gravitic rotation necessary for normal and fruitful adult existence.

It does not occur to me that this in itself is the fault of those afflicted with homosexual desire except so far as we all participate in the sin of Adam which makes for every conceivable aberration in our personalities.  Of the seven deadly sins, and the others they beget, all of us are born with proclivities toward one or more, variously announced in our besetting sins.  Thus the homosexual is truly the brother of the greedy, the proud, the gluttonous, the spiritually lazy, the angry, and those who indulge in unlawful heterosexual lust—that is, he is truly one of us, and the remedy for his sin is exactly the same as the remedy for mine.  It’s just that he is wounded in a different place.  Only when we recognize this, remembering what the Lord taught about the speck and the log, can we help him find the same relief we seek for ourselves.  If, as according to the Westboro Baptist people, “God hates fags,” then he must necessarily hate us all.

The Westboro Baptists, however, as hatefully as they act, are right so far as they believe that the proud and unrepentant homosexual, according to the clear and ineradicable teaching of apostolic Christianity, will be condemned to hell with all proud and unrepentant sinners.  Since Christians are under continual siege by angry and vindictive Sodomites, we should not be blamed for teaching in response what the scriptures in so many places say about them.   In the midst of battle, however, it is the duty and discipline of Christians to teach with equal clarity the truth of divine mercy toward sinners who repent and sue for grace, and of wrath toward those who do not, and to live themselves under the fear of God their belief should inspire. This is not difficult to understand: there is no excuse for ambiguity on the subject from those reputed to be teachers of the Church, and Lewis is a good example of how such things can be thought about and done.


Scouting for Boys–The Best of Times
Friday, July 31, 2015, 1:13 PM

After some years absence I am now returning to Mere Comments, at least in a small way.  I left primarily because while I was drawn to reading the responses to my postings, I found them frustrating and depressing.  For every reasonable and thoughtful response–whether in agreement, disagreement, or a mixture of both–there seemed to be one from someone who maliciously misread me, two that were off-subject, and three that followed one of the first two. (Well, perhaps that is a bit of an exaggeration–but only a bit.)  Knowing at the beginning that encounters with the free-range nincompoop were par for this course, facing the naked reality made me complain to my wife with increasing frequency that I didn’t have to put up with this stuff, so I left MC blogging to hardier souls.

Now that I have ended my twenty year employment in the public library and my encounters are mostly with my family and people associated with the Fellowship of St. James, I can go weeks on end without having to deal with a nincompoop, which our society is breeding in ever-larger numbers.  It’s not that I miss them, but feel guilty that I’m probably not pulling my weight.  Besides that, there seem to be a number of philosophical fragments and concluding unscientific postscripts batting around in my head that can’t all go into Touchstone Quodlibets.

Most of these don’t appear to me as simple expressions of personal opinion, but digests, ruminations, of a spiritual and intellectual patrimony that I have an obligation to  pass on.  This, indeed, is one of the greatest advantages of the conservative–that he is called principally to conserve.  His task is essentially mimetic, to meditate upon and repeat in his own words what has already been said.  As such he dwells in a very rich land and enjoys the luxury of never having to make a fool of himself by coming up with something new.  As Mortimer Adler forcefully noted, in what is generally called the humanities we are not obliged to advance as though we were technologists.  Rather, we are called to participation in the Great Conversation, where the principal desideratum for both Jew and Greek is the acquisition and transmission of Wisdom.  So begins my Second Series.



This may be the height of the glory days for the homosexuals who wish to invade the Boy Scouts, as well as for the organization that is welcoming them.  The Boy Scouts has now made itself into something in many ways like a liberal religious denomination that, dying, commends the taste of its own blood.  How many families even that in theory approve a very loose sexuality would send their daughters to sleepover outings where men with normal heterosexual appetites stayed in the tents with them at night?  Likewise, when smoke of all the ideological incense from the Boy Scouts holocaust those liberal families are presently inhaling with such righteous satisfaction clears away, how many of them will want to send their sons to what may or may not be a gay sexual initiation at a Boy Scout event?

I have a hard time believing that many who are professedly pro-gay really want queer sons, or would be at all happy with something their ideological commissars require they welcome.  This is because I firmly believe, and have seen much evidence, that many liberals actually love their children.  Few, despite what they confess about “welcoming,” are so far gone that they can be at heart benignly neutral about what nature continually confronts them with as the sexual perversion of a son, just as there are few who find meaningful religion in churches that now scorn the faith of their fathers as fundamentalism.  Both will die slowly for the same reason–severance, as a plant pulled from the soil–from their source of life, which among the Boy Scouts included a pledge to be morally straight.

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