Saturday, April 3, 2010
IMAGINING EVIL (series)
Note: In the Imagining Evil series, I challenged the reader to consider the question of whether people (you,me) presently have the capacity to imagine the existence of evil in our world, and especially (as the question was urged differently in the Mole series)or to imagine (see) what may be coming or, in fact, may already be here. As I look back on this series, I think it could serve as the basis for a semester course, except for two problems: (1) no university will allow me to teach it; (2) the class would vaporize after the first session, the innocents running for the hills, leaving behind only a few goths and wackos hungry for the evil itself, man.
Imagining the Horror of Evil PART ONE
In about 1988, during my years in the Washington bubble, I took a class in creative writing at the Bethesda, Md., writing institute. In a short story class, I wrote a story which imagined that in the near future, people over fifty would be required to report yearly for a “life” evaluation. The evaluation added or subtracted points on an ID card. The evaluation looked at every aspect of a person’s life and assigned a point value that represented the person’s present worth to society. If the point value fell below a certain number, the person was summoned to a “session” in a public school building or other such facility where they would voluntarily submit to euthanasia for the good of the society.
My hero in the story had been doing reasonably well, keeping his job and bank account, but one day he went to a large urban public library to get a well known classic. The classic no longer existed on the shelves, but my protagonist noticed that there were ten copies of the latest romance steamer by (let us say) Jezebel Daniels, whereupon he began screaming violently at the librarians and the sick culture that had produced them and so forth and so on. That, plus several other instances such as regular non-appearance at community social functions for older singles, earned him a failing grade and a summons to the next “event” at Wade Elementary on Saturday morning.
The rest of the story (I regret that this brilliant fiction has been lost) involved the hero’s daring escape into the hills of West Virginia. Given present day technology (this story was written in the earliest days of the internet and before GPS) the escape would be highly improbable now that we have achieved much more of the Orwellian nightmare than Eric Blair could imagine. The most interesting part of this episode from my past life was the sequel: according to the rules of this class, the writer of the story was not permitted to speak while the rest of the class, provided with photocopies of the story in advance (“photocopies”: see Wikipedia) criticized the offering. What ensued was an almost hysterical reaction from twenty or so pseudo-literati, mostly over 40, from the DC beltway culture.
Quite simply, they bypassed any literary merit the story might have and went for the author, who was immediately judged to be a cultural throwback and reactionary, something on the order of a preliterate pterodactyl with devious political views. It was difficult to tell what made them angrier, the prescience of the story or their fears that it could be true, so they finally dismissed it as passé and outré while they insisted that elders were now more appreciated than ever. It was as if I had unmasked everything by suggesting the unimaginable.
In terms of science fiction, my story was really old hat. Soylent Green had covered some of these themes and more a decade earlier, but the emphasis had been on the horror of cannibalism. And I had not heard of the earlier Logan’s Run (due for a remake next year). My story went for the unthinkable center, that a compassionate government would assess the value of individual lives and dispatch those that did not serve the needs of society.
You can bet that my reviewers, all of them card-carrying liberals who viewed the world outside DC as an uncharted territory of stupidity and religion (“here be dragons” as some of the medieval maps say) knew that what I was saying was entirely possible. The year after Soylent Green brought us Roe vs. Wade, which became within minutes the philosophical centerpiece of modern liberalism. It wasn’t new, it had been there all along, but now it could become the very foundation of the new America we were, it was said, creating as we “moved forward,” the mantra and battle slogan of the new era. At its core, of course, was the idea that the state assigned value to individual life and legitimized murder to demonstrate its power.
Now, twenty-some years later, the liberals have their greatest moment since the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And within months of the election of Obama and his myrmidons, we have the following: the admission of a Supreme Court Justice (Ruth Bader Ginsburg) that she thought Roe vs. Wade was about preventing the birth of undesirables; the creation of a Health Care plan which envisages requiring elderpersons to submit to health evaluations every five years for “end of life instructions,” and makes abortion a part of regular health care in all hospitals, including Catholic ones; the insinuations of the President of the U.S. to the effect that old sick people need to suck it up and take a pill; and his blatant statements to the effect that opposing abortion is something “that we are now past, like the culture wars”).
The message: a new day has dawned for the whole world. Obama may not be a smart man, but he is the man in whom the terrible tendencies of a century have found their latest prophet. Nazism, socialism, Marxism, fascism: all agree on the central doctrine. The State decides what human life is and eliminates all who do not fit into the perfect society. Had Pope Paul VI been able to put “future notes” into Humanae Vitae, he could have documented his prophecy that the acceptance of artificial birth control would lead inexorably to abortion, euthanasia, eugenics, body engineering, and—what shall we call it?—endless medical manipulation to create perfect urbanites without souls. They won’t even have to vote. The system will know what they want and need from their chick-like twittering.
If my reader is responding with the same tush, tush, “alarmist,” it couldn’t happen, and all that I received from my story in 1988, I don’t know what to say. How do I read the times? My bellwethers are mad women like Hilary Clinton who can visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe one day—“who painted that?” she asks of the miraculous serape—and attend a conference on Margaret Sanger the next, where she proclaims that genocidal Eugenist a secular saint. Or Senator Barbara Boxer who, when asked by a journalist, “just when does a foetus become a human being, Senator?” replied, “why, when the parents bring it home from the hospital.” At that moment, you see, the state has conferred humanship upon the child. These are not leading minds or instigators, they are the kind of people, like Obama himself, who have no thoughts, only steady tendencies is a certain direction. The progenitors of their thoughts may be found in Architects of the Culture of Death, one of the most helpful books of our time, a philosophical blueprint for where we are now. In the brains of people like Clinton and Boxer it is no longer horrible but perfectly obvious and rational.
The imagining of complete horror is difficult because we cannot believe it. Yes, the movie audience flocks to every imaginable horror movie, but there is always a barrier in the mind that says, no, not to me, not to us, not in our civilized time. The million people who lived in Budapest felt that way in October and even in December of 1944. When their newspaper told them that the worst battle of World War II outside Warsaw and Stalingrad was nearly upon them, they cooked their goulash and sausages and played their concerts and believed otherwise; least of all did they grasp that the worst civilian massacre of WWII was coming to this beautiful, ancient, cultured city on the Danube. So they did not believe and did not prepare. By Christmas day it was upon them, a million civilians, including the 100,000 Jews in the ghetto not yet shipped by Adolf Eichmann to the concentration camps, trapped between the German Nazis and their Hungarian allies and the Russian communists and their Hungarian allies. All the mass graves have not yet been found.
The full story, insofar as it can be pieced together from military records and eyewitness accounts, may be found in The Siege of Budapest: 100 Days in World War II by Krisztián Ungváry. It is not easy reading, particularly the detailed accounts of the battles, but the author has included many photos and eyewitness accounts that help us imagine the horrors. His line of vision is merciless and unwaveringly objective. Permit me one picture:
After Christmas a number of motherless babies were left in the maternity ward of a hospital, where it was becoming increasingly impossible to feed them for lack of mother’s milk and other nutrients. In despair the nurses clutched the babies to their breasts so that they might at least enjoy the warmth of a human body before fading away. After a while, the nurses found themselves producing milk, and the babies were saved from starving to death.
During the recent political campaign, we learned that Barrack Obama supported a law that would permit doctors to take infant survivors of botched abortions and place them on a table to die without such care. Even in the worst of the Budapest nightmare, the civilians of Hungary could not imagine allowing such an atrocity or thinking of it as “health care.” But many of them had been sold another eugenic monstrosity, the anti-Semitic lie, which the new Fascist Hungarian government of the Arrow Cross was prosecuting with increasing ferocity as thousands of Jews were line up on the embankments of the Danube and machine gunned while the mad monk, Father Alfred Kun, shouted “in the name of Christ, fire!”
There is no link between that horrible world and this, you may say. Particularly if you are a young reader and have no sense of modern history, you might think such horrors are the stuff or period pieces. The question now, in 2009, is can you imagine the horrors that are here now? If you are attached to a dozen electronic instruments a good part of the day, it may be that you can’t see what is front of you or, if you do, pronounce it boring and go back into the haze of fantasy. Eichmann? Buchenwald? Hitler? Mass graves? Evil doctors?
Consider this: President Obama’s new “science czar,” John Holdren, once floated the idea in a textbook that forced abortions, compulsory sterilization, and an international authority that would control all population levels and natural resources would become necessary to save the planet. No questions were asked, and John Holdren— MIT, Stanford, and an expert at the Kennedy School of Government— was confirmed unanimously by the United States Senate in 2009.
The Eichmanns are among us. The Nazis are here. At your elbow.
The ordinary citizens of Hungary, Protestant and Catholic, prepared for Christmas and prayed while they were caught between the rockets and flamethrowers of the Fascists and the Communists and between Hitler and Stalin. Both sides agreed with the modern doctrine that the state defines human life and decides who us worth living. Both sides ordered their armies into suicidal strategies even when they knew it was worthless, when Soviet tanks were already only sixty kilometers from Berlin.
So who or what won the war? Can you imagine?
Imagining the Horror of Evil: The Apocalyptic Imagination: PART TWO
A friend who has read some of my musings wrote me that I have an apocalyptic imagination. Well, not me, really; it’s the imagination of the Church, which is inherently apocalyptic, that is, focused on the “lifting of the veil” (Apokálypsis) at the end of time. In this sense, not to be apocalyptic is not to be Catholic at all, which is the dire risk many run today by being focused only on this world and this time.
I believe that the inner soul of the Church is a desert soul, the soul of Christ in the desert, not the faked-up community soul of the Novus Ordo liturgy manqué. Those priests who fan the crowd hoopla forget that Jesus, like his forerunner John, was of the desert, and that St. Paul spent two years there. They forget that Jesus always left the crowd and returned to the desert to pray. They forget that true retreats are always into solitude, silence, and contemplation, not the sort of party nonsense that now falsely claims that name. Whenever the Church has been on the edge of complete surrender to the world, like the Jews who turned to Baal and the golden calf, the voice of God is heard by Elijah and the Desert Fathers and the hermits of Ireland and Italy and St. Romuald and Blessed Charles Foucauld.
When St. John the Apostle saw the “lifting of the veil,” tradition says he was a hermit living in a cave on the isle of Patmos. I picture him leaving the cave at night and walking the Mediterranean beach, listening to the waves rustling the pebbles. There he saw the astounding vision, the final revelation of the New Testament, in which the Gospels reach their staggering climax. However dizzying this vision, it cannot be explained away by German exegetes or witty seminary professors. The victory over the beast is the last act of the story, toward which all is moving. That victory must inform all our imaginings of history and all our theology.
Students of today, examine your imaginations. When you think of “history,” what images come to mind? A kind of slow upward oozy spiral from the dark days of lizards and medievals into the bright bursts of revolution and the rise of present day kindergarten twittered civilization? If you do, the odd thing called liberalism and its relativism factory—public education and the media—have succeeded in shaping your imagination for happy, mindless living.
What is the story we are in? Present day academic prattle is all about “narratives,” as if we were all living in tiny self-manufactured stories or off-the-shelfs from the academic Wal-Mart. St. Augustine first understood the absolute Christian story of history as beginning with Creation; reaching its eternal fulfillment in the Incarnation, the Cross, and the Resurrection; and achieving its full revelation in the Last Judgment. He also had some powerful things to say about the nature of time, pretty much to the effect that the liberal version in the previous paragraph is hooey.
In the first part of this midnight musing, I suggested that our imaginations may be at fault because we do not see the history we are in, for the simple reason that we do not see. As St. Augustine himself learned at the hands of the Manichees, it is possible to see everything upside down and backwards. If that is the case, one will be like the narrator of Apocalypse Now (or The Heart of Darkness) and not see “the horror, the horror!” I will also suggest that Novus Ordo Catholicism, the Church Somnolent, does not see it because it is obsessed with various imaginary theosophies that deny real evil.
The true apocalyptic imagination is the Christian imagination. The first modern liberal, Martin Luther, wanted to remove the Apocalypse (or Revelation) from the Bible because he could not find the Christ of his imagination in it. Not finding it, he jettisoned the book as “neither apostolic or prophetic,” an act not fully appreciated until W.H. Auden’s poem, “September 1, 1939,” in which Auden unearthed “the whole offence/ From Luther until now/That has driven a culture mad,” thereby linking the madness of the Nazis to the birth of Protestantism. Madness, in just about any psychology, derives from a disordered imagination, as superbly analyzed by William F. Lynch, S.J., in Images of Hope: Imagination as Healer of the Hopeless, a classic. In it, Lynch saw the deep connection between a disordered imagination and a disordered theology, which is also a disordered vision of history. The twentieth century spawned dozens if false utopian visions but two triumphed in Germany and Russia, each with its own version of history and an apocalypse: a super race ruling a thousand year Reich, and a transformed human nature ruling a classless worker’s paradise.
Just the other day, a friend alerted me to the fact that a nearby university history course on the Civil War includes the following text: Intimate Matters: History of Sexuality in America, by John D’Emilio. The book promises this sort of fare: Today's commercialized sexuality, promising personal fulfillment through intimate relations, is contrasted with the family-centered, reproductive sexuality of the prudish New England colonists who nevertheless produced bastards and engaged in adultery, sodomy and rape. The authors cram into 400 pages balanced discussions of racial sex-stereotyping, Chinese slave rings, abortion, same-sex relationships, women's rights and AIDS-engendered conservatism. The Civil War, or more properly, The War of Northern Aggression, always stirs my imagination, but I was not prepared for phallic symbols in cannon and balls, nor had I thought that gun carriages were fraught with family symbolism.
Ah well, whatever that course teaches, it is not much worse than the fare most students in American colleges and universities are getting in their humanities courses. This I know from my recent teaching experience in the same university which, by all indications, is much more conservative than most these days. Parents who send their sons and daughters to such places for economic reasons should be forewarned, but most will not care. The fact is that we live in a decadent, disordered, “post-Christian” society that increasingly has more in common with the Nazi and Marxist utopian visions than with anything sane, even good pagan societies. But now, you see, there is the 21st century utopian vision: a kind of bastard amalgam of the Nazi and Communist versions, but with the promise of a complete departure from nature and natural law: the transgendered society, with its final elimination of marriage, family, and children produced by natural means. Courses like the above are catechetics for the future glimpsed by C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man, by which he meant the abolition of human nature.
From the perspective of such a society, what is the apocalypse? If not Nazi, Communist, or Christian in its teleology—that end point toward which it is moving—then what is it? Science fiction has toyed with this for a century from H.G. Wells to C.S. Lewis to Blade Runner and The Matrix.
I would suggest there is a commonalty to these and many other such fictions: the endless building of machines and the intelligence behind them is right out of Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, the same tune, many variations, but all ending in the same gnostic prison: a brain hooked to a computer. “Everything is possible,” says Neo in The Matrix, which in the end means that nothing is possible, that there is no end, no purpose. Just an endless video game. Let’s play it again! Until Matrix XCVLIII comes out, and then again. “Virtual reality” means there is no real reality. If everything can be imagined, nothing true can be imagined. Neo’s pitiful rebellion is pointless, Nietzsche’s rebellion against sanity raised to—no, not the highest or next level, because with the destruction of all purpose comes the destruction of all hierarchy. No one thing is better than any other thing. So, why not marry a spineless sea slime? This is truly horror imagined from the Christian perspective. But in the transgendered trans-species society, there is no horror, only febrile repetition of arbitrary will. “Whassup, man?” Nothing.
The desert calls.
The Imagination Dead: The Church Somnolent: PART THREE: Imagining the Horror of Evil
In 1914 the Parliament of England passed a conscription bill that would draft the Irish to fight in the trenches of France. Immediately, the united Catholic Bishops of Ireland issued a manifesto declaring this "an oppressive and inhuman law which the Irish people have a right to resist by every means, consonant with the law of God." The Irish had been oppressed, a mild word for what took place, since Oliver Cromwell had invaded Ireland and slaughtered the clergy and destroyed the churches and convents. An excellent way to learn about this period is through Walter Macken’s excellent Seek the Fair Land, in which we meet a heroic Catholic family and a saintly priest caught in vicious slaughter by Protestant armies. According to the New York Times of that day, the conscription act had driven the Irish people into the hands of Sinn Fein, the party of independence, and kept Ireland out of World War I.
I was struck by this immediate and direct action of the Bishops of Ireland against a political tyranny. Contrast that with this: In the early part of this century, I was writing weekly columns for a site called Peter’s Voice. Through I was made aware of Bishop Macram Gassiz of the Sudan, who came to this country to wake up the American bishops and people to the massive murder of Christians by Muslims in the Sudan. And I was aware that Bishop Gassiz’s pleas were being met with indifference and the kind of halting smiles people give when they are not going to give.
There were two problems with the good bishop’s campaign. One, it is now politically incorrect in the Catholic Church to acknowledge the true nature of Islam and the absolute irreconcilability of this religion with Catholicism; two, it is especially politically incorrect in the American church to think that Muslims should be converted to the True Faith; and third, the Church American has entered a long, slow, deathly sleep of mind and conscience.
The essay today is about the Church persecuted, militant, triumphant, and a new category, the Church Somnolent, which should just about eliminate much of the very audience I said last time I am trying to reach. But give me another few sentences.
Using firearms and explosives, thousands of Muslims destroyed the Christian village of Korian in the province of Punjab in eastern Pakistan. A Christian family in the village had been accused of blaspheming Islam.
A distillation of testimony from survivors and former guards, newly published by the Korean Bar Association, details the daily lives of 200,000 political prisoners estimated to be in the camps: Eating a diet of mostly corn and salt, they lose their teeth, their gums turn black, their bones weaken and, as they age, they hunch over at the waist. Most work 12- to 15-hour days until they die of malnutrition-related illnesses, usually around the age of 50. Allowed just one set of clothes, they live and die in rags, without soap, socks, underclothes or sanitary napkins.
Following an August 1 attack by 800 Muslims on Christians in the northeastern Pakistani city of Gojra, Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad led a protest against government tolerance of anti-Christian violence. Bishop Coutts charged that “a banned Islamic group which wants to ‘purify’ Pakistan by making it a strictly Islamic, theocratic state” wants non-Muslims to “either convert to Islam or leave the place … They want a sort of religious cleansing.”
Paramilitary troops patrolled the streets of a town in eastern Pakistan yesterday after Muslim radicals burnt to death eight members of a Christian family, raising fears of violence spreading to other areas.
Hundreds of armed supporters of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an outlawed Islamic militant group, set alight dozens of Christian homes in Gojra town at the weekend after allegations that a copy of the Koran had been defiled.
They threw stones, burned homes, and pursued those fleeing, firing wildly. In the end, nine people were dead. Seven of them have the same last name, Hamid, and belong to the same family clan as Fr. Hussein Younis, a Franciscan. They include two children (in the photo by Saqib Khadim, the coffins). Their only fault is that they were Christian.
It took place in Pakistan, in Gojra, in the province of Faisalabad in eastern Punjab. There are 1.3 million Catholics in all of Pakistan, and the same number of Christians of other denominations, out of a population of 160 million, almost entirely Muslim. But the intolerance against this small, poor, peaceful minority has become a fact of life, exploding at times into bloody aggression.
MADISON - As Gov. Jim Doyle was telling Wisconsinites on Aug. 17 that he would not seek a third term as governor, the Catholic bishops of Wisconsin were letting the faithful know of their "deep concern" about the recently approved state budget that requires them to provide contraceptive services to those for whom they provide health insurance. "This mandate will compel Catholic dioceses, parishes, and other agencies that buy health insurance to pay for a medical service that Catholic teaching holds to be gravely immoral," the bishops wrote.... "This mandate violates not just our religious values, but also our constitutional rights. The right of conscience established in the Wisconsin Constitution protects the minority from the majority..." the bishops wrote. Insurance coverage in two dioceses - Superior and La Crosse - is not affected by this mandate because self-insured entities are exempt from the contraceptive provision. The statement, released through the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, noted that "as Catholic teachers and pastors, we strongly object to this blatant insensitivity to our moral values and legal rights."
The bishops said that as they deal with the mandate the budget has placed upon them, they will "continue to affirm and communicate the teachings of our faith." "No legislation can repeal or annul our commitment to upholding the dignity of human life and the means by which each life is conceived," they wrote.
And now--April 2010? Consider the behavior of Cardinal George and the NCCB in the case of Obama's socialism. What utter rot.
Can you imagine?