Playing the Indian Card

Friday, November 30, 2007

Top Five Myths about the Papacy

I know I've heard some of these before. Perhaps you have too. Here's the truth.

Includes a nice clip of ecclesiastical music by Palestrina at the end.

The Sky Is Falling! No, Really! This Time It's For Real. No Kidding.

This could be useful: an attempt at a complete list of the things caused by global warming.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Muslim Reformation

Under the caption “Unreformed Barbarism,” the National Post’s editorial board has today opined that “Every day that Gillian Gibbons remains in a Sudanese jail is … further proof that Islam is in dire need of a reformation of the kind Christianity underwent in the 16th century.”

The implication is obvious—and incredibly offensive: that, before the Protestant reformation of the 16th century, Christianity itself was “unreformed barbarism.”

Any Catholic must beg to differ.

Islam has already, in fact, been through its own Reformation. It happened in the 18th century. As in Christianity, it was prompted by mounting foreign and secularizing influences, and saw itself as a return to base principles and primitive piety in the face of general corruption. The parallels are striking and systematic: like the early Calvinists, for example, it opposed music and dancing. It disapproved of the cult of saints. It opposed images as idolatry. It rejected mysticism and monkish withdrawal from the world.

That Muslim Reformation movement is called Wahhabism. It is the doctrine followed by the government of Saudi Arabia, one of those criticized in the editorial. It is also influential in the government of Sudan, also criticized here. Osama Bin Laden is nominally an adherent.

Good or bad, I doubt that more of the same would produce the resolution the National Post’s editorial board desires.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hillary Clinton is Doomed

A few days ago, I pointed out why Mitt Romney cannot win the Republican nomination for US president, and why Rudy Giuliani is the likely winner, based on the latest polls from Iowa.

Now I’d like to explain why Hillary Clinton is doomed.

She was likely doomed from the start for a simple reason—for a long time she has been the prohibitive favourite. This is no good for the press. They need a hose race to sell papers and ads, and so will do whatever they can to take her down. Democrats trust, believe, and obey the mainstream media. This is why it is always dangerous to be the frontrunning Democrat. Ask Gary Hart, Howard Dean, or Ed Muskie.

Hillary’s candidacy has so far probably looked stronger than it is because of a bandwagon effect: people seeking favours need to back a winner, and she looked like the winner. This means that, if her inevitability factor is lost, she could take a big hit suddenly—creating a substantial negative momentum.

And her apparent inevitability is probably now lost. She performed dismally in the already-famous debate a month ago. At the time, it did not seem to affect her poll numbers; but it may have just taken time. The results of such watershed debates usually do take time to register--what counts is not the immediate reaction of viewers watching the debates, but the legend that spins out in the press over the weeks to follow. A lot of people listening to the Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960 beleived Nixon won. Now nobody thinks so.

Recent polls indeed show Clinton's support in decline, and she now trails Obama in Iowa.

So—Obama comes first in Iowa, and the press has their big story. They run with it. Everything is Obama for two weeks. We hit the big primaries with all the momentum on his side, and Clinton looking a lot like old news. By the time the press gets bored with Obama, it could easily all be over.

It gets worse. Edwards is running third in Iowa. For him, everything depends on an Iowa bounce, and it looks like he’s not going to get it. The money will dry up. So he is likely to drop out soon after.

This cannot help Hillary. Anyone who is likely to support Hillary is already on board. She is not going to pick up any of Edwards’s backers if he bails. They all go to Obama, presumably, giving him another huge boost at the crucial moment.

And Clinton may do worse in Iowa than even the current polls suggest. I think the Flora factor may be in play: people know it is politically correct to back a woman, and so may lie to pollsters that they intend to support her, when they do not.

Yes, in theory, the same factor could be inflating Obama’s vote as well; but I suspect not. I suspect there is no longer any marked discrepancy between public and private sentiments regarding black politicians in the US. People who support Obama seem to genuinely like Obama. Obama in any case may be among black politicians what Kennedy was among Catholic politicians, or Reagan among conservatives--someone personally likeable enough that people can embrace him despite their prejudices, without a twinge of fear.

The same cannot be said of Hillary Clinton among women.

Indeed, this makes it easy even for guilty liberals to switch away from Clinton. How can they be accused of prejudice? Isn't Obama black?

Obama could still lose the nomination. He could still make some rookie mistake that upsets this scenario. But he is not, in political terms, that much of a rookie.

If not, he is my current favourite to take the Democratic nomination, to face off against Giuliani next November.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Good News Week

For some reason, good news has been breaking out all over recently. Here’s a small sample of items I have noticed just in the past week or so:

- Massive new oil find. Brazil ponders joining OPEC.

- Embryos no longer needed to produce stem cells. Dolly creator drops cloning.

- Vatican and Orthodox agree on a “road map” to union.
- Statscan reports millions fewer in Canada qualify as “poor.”
- A report from the CD Howe Institute says Canadian poverty rates have dropped dramatically over the last ten years.

- Persistent word from Iraq of a significant drop in violence there.

What next? Peace in the Middle East?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Rich Vote Democrat

This study confirms something I have been saying for a long time: the Democrats are the party of the upper class in the US, and the Republicans are the party of the working class.

Equally, in Canada, the Liberals are the party of the rich, and the Conservatives are the party of the working class. The NDP is the party of the government bureaucracy and bureaucrats. The richest ridings in Canada are almost all safe Liberal seats.

This, of course, is counter to the rhetoric. Perhaps it makes the rich feel better about their wealth to pretend they are poor, while it makes the poor feel better to pretend they are the rich.

It's a strange world.

Why Romney Cannot Win Iowa--Or the Nomination

Many feel that Rudy Giuliani’s camp cannot win, in the current race for the US Republican nomination, because Mitt Romney is topping the polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire. The thinking is that carrying these first two states will give Romney crucial momentum, with the big states voting soon afterwards. Giuliani may not be able to recover before it’s all over.

The first thing that makes this assumption false is the sudden rise of Mike Huckabee in the polls. If Huckabee effectively ties Romney in Iowa—he is shown now in a statistical tie—the Romney momentum is gone. Even better for Giuliani, no clear alternative to the ex-mayor will have emerged. And, better still, Huckabee competes directly with Romney for the more conservative vote, leaving the moderate wing clear for Giuliani.

But more—Romney faces the crippling problem of being expected now to win in both Iowa and New Hampshire. And the media does not necessarily seize upon the winner in those contests. They seize on the best story—the candidate who most defies expectations. And this is a very difficult horse to ride. If you are anticipated to be the winner, you more or less have nowhere to go but down: you can either meet expectations, in which case there is no story; or you can fall below them, in which case your candidacy is badly wounded. Either way, there is no momentum coming out of Iowa, or New Hampshire, for Romney.

In 2000, George Bush won the Iowa caucuses. But the big story was Steve Forbes’s strong second-place finish. In 1996, Dole won. But the story was Pat Buchanan’s strong second-place finish. In 1988, Dole won—but was expected to win. He lost the nomination to George Bush Senior. George Bush Senior won in 1980. He lost the nomination to Ronald Reagan. Only two winners of the Iowa caucuses have ever gone on to win the presidency.

The record for New Hampshire winners is somewhat better. But the same phenomenon occurs. In 1968, President Johnson won the New Hampshire primary—but the big news was Eugene McCarthy’s strong second-place finish, and it killed Johnson’s chances.

Of course, if Romney loses Iowa, and then wins New Hamphire, he might get some momentum for the “comeback.” But probably not. As ex-governor of the state next door, he is again assumed to have a natural advantage. Winning would mean nothing, any more than it did for Paul Tsongas in 1992, or Henry Cabot Lodge in 1964. Only losing would be newsworthy.

Huckabee, as a dark horse, can indeed get a bounce out of Iowa. But can Huckabee, even if all the cards fall in his favour, get the nomination? When was the last time the Republicans ever nominated a horse this dark? Warren G. Harding?

Rudy Giuliani is still the one to beat.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Neglected Gold Mine

A colleague on an email list for writers was contacted by a Hollywood type. They wanted to know what other stories they could film to tap into the same Catholic market—and signal success--as The Passion of the Christ, and The Chronicles of Narnia. They were naively hopeful that The Da Vinci Code, then in production, might be such a vehicle.

Shows what a vast gulf there is between the average Hollywood producer and the average Catholic. They apparently have no idea. Catholic flocking to see The Da Vinci Code?

It seems to me the answer is obvious. What are the classic Catholic stories? The lives of the saints. That’s what saints are for. Some have been burnished, cherished, refined and retold for generations, becoming perfect and gemlike as folk traditions do. Some are charming and childlike—the animal tales surrounding St. Kieran, for example. Some are as grisly as anything in the Passion, if that formed a part of its appeal. Many are stunningly beautiful; all are instructive. Some have already been very successful as movies: Song of Bernadette, A Man for All Seasons, Joan of Arc, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Molokai. If the Hollywood producers had any sense, they would be rushing more into production.

How many saints’ stories are available? There are, on average, about a dozen saints commemorated on every day of the Catholic church calendar. Imagine the gold mine lying there generally ignored. Isn’t it remarkable in itself that nobody has yet made a big budget movie of the life of Mother Theresa? Isn’t this a movie that, if well done, millions would want to see?

I’ll go further: it is amazing that writers and artists of all kinds are so neglectful of this vast, wonderful, and supremely socially valuable body of material. These are the stories all art should be concentrating on. There are, of course, also worthy Protestant equivalents: John Bunyan, John Wesley, William Booth, George Fox, “Wild Goose” Jack Miner, Johnny Appleseed, and on and on.

Much has been made of Norman Bethune; there are hundreds and thousands of better stories involving Christian missionaries.

Indeed, these are the stories we all, as humans, should be concentrating on.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Canada's Holocaust

Much has been written about Canada’s residential schools for aboriginals. They are universally considered a very bad thing—indeed, the residential school system has been characterized as “Canada’s genocide.” Or “The Canadian Holocaust.”

The federal government and the churches that ran the schools have offered those who attended compensation in the order of $1.9 billion. Some Catholic orders and Anglican dioceses have been forced into bankruptcy by the settlement. A federal website on "Indian Residential Schools Resolution" begins with a pop-up warning that merely looking at the site may “cause some readers to trigger (suffer trauma caused by remembering or reliving past abuse),” and refers sufferers to a help line.

But how terrible were the residential schools, really?

Let’s look at the claims against them, one by one:

They tried to assimilate the Indians to the mainstream culture. This is “genocide.”

Maybe it was wrong; but it was not thought of as wrong at the time. And calling it “genocide” is the worst kind of false moral equivalence. It seemed perfectly logical, and still does. Indian cultures, at first contact, were still in the Stone Age, and had not discovered the wheel. Realistically, it is hard to see how they could be preserved in their pristine state in the modern world, or how trying to do this would in any way be to the advantage of Indians. It seemed, and seems, perfectly reasonable to teach Indian children a better way, for the same reason that we seek to educate any child.

Remember too that, as recently as the Sixties and Seventies, assimilation was exactly what Dr. Martin Luther King was fighting for; what Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela were fighting for in South Africa. Were they wrong? Were Ian Smith, F.W. DeKlerk, and Bull Connor right? Were those of us who listened to King and embraced his message actually committing “cultural genocide” against African-Americans?

And remember too that this is more or less what the Indian leadership itself wanted and called for, at the time of the residential schools. They demanded such education in their treaties.

At least some schools also made genuine attempts to preserve any elements of Indian tradition that did not seem to hinder the students’ ability to make their way in the wider culture. Some, for example, had clubs teaching Indian dance.

Learning how to read and write may have been beneficial for the children; but the schools also forced Christianity on them. This showed disrespect for native Indian spirituality.

The residential schools showed up “as early as the 1840s” in Ontario, and in Western Canada in 1883-84. Appearing at this late date, it is hard to see how they could have forced anyone to become a Christian. The Mohawks of Ontario were already devout Anglicans when they arrived just after the American Revolution; in Quebec, they had been Catholic since the 17th century. In Western Canada, one who has read the story of the Riel Rebellion must know that the Metis and Indians were already overwhelmingly Catholics in 1884. The Oblates were in Northern Alberta by 1844.

Nor was forced conversion ever necessary—or legal, in Church doctrine. Christianity swept through Canadian Indian culture soon after first contact, more like a knife through butter than a sword through massed troops; just as it had earlier swept quickly though European paganism. Spiritual as they were, the Indians recognized a superior spiritual technology.

The missionaries were involved in the residential schools, not because they needed to convert any more Indians, or found any difficulty in doing so, but because at the time they were the only ones who cared about educating Indians. They were already running all the Indian schools when the government decided to take some responsibility—and donate some of the cost.

The schools destroyed the Indian family. They forcibly took children away from their families (some sources say "kidnapped"). The schools were deliberately set up far from the reserves.

As above, the Indian leaders themselves generally sought this. It is true enough that individual families could not opt out—but the same is true for everyone else. Education is compulsory—we must send our children to school, and we must accept what education the state sees fit. If this is wrong for Indians, it is wrong for all. And, for any number of immigrant groups, just as for the Indians, this means some loss of their original culture.

As to separating children from their families, there does not seem to have been any general policy to do this, although quotes can be found from various officials suggesting that it might be a good idea. First, most Indian children never went to residential schools—most stayed with their families and attended public schools like the rest of us. “Department of Indian Affairs reports... show that between 1890 and 1965 an average of 7,100 native students attended residential schools, compared to 11,400 who attended day schools in the same period." Barring truly spectacular bureaucratic incompetence, this must mean that there was no systematic policy to break up families.

Nor were the residential schools, as claimed, built deliberately far from the reserves. Most were built on the reserves, or very near them. But many reserves were small, remote, and widely dispersed; so children from other reserves were often boarded. This seems to have been only a practical measure in order to allow them to attend school.

Being boarded away from their families, even if done only in cases of need, is often portrayed as a great hardship. But if so, it is a hardship the British, Canadian, and American upper class actively seeks for their own children, and is ready to pay dearly for. Residential schools are the tradition of the Anglo-Saxon upper classes.

Indeed, in many other countries, missionary residential schools essentially identical to those provided to the aboriginals of Canada, and run by the same orders, have become the preferred educational option for the upper classes: notably, in India and Pakistan. My Pakistani first wife was immensely proud to have graduated from St. Mary’s, which she insisted was the best school in Pakistan. A Pakistani engineer I met a few years ago made the same claim for his missionary school.

A high proportion of the students attending these schools claim to have been abused. Surely they deserve compensation?

The current settlement is for everyone who attended, not just those claiming abuse.

No doubt some abuse did occur at these schools—although many claims seem to be over no more than old-fashioned school discipline, “taught to the tune of a hickory stick.”

But what is our control? Do we have any clear idea whether it was worse than at other residential schools? Do we have any evidence that it was worse, even, than at public schools of the time? We do not.

We do know, however, that child abuse even today is much more common on Indian reserves than in the general population: Health Canada claims that 40% of children in aboriginal communities are victims of abuse. A 1998 study found that half of aboriginal females, and one third of aboriginal males, had been abused, usually by someone in their extended family.

This being so, while it does not forgive any abuse that went on in the residential schools, it does make it quite possible that, on balance, sending aboriginal children to residential schools reduced their risk of being abused, not increased it. Indian home life was often blighted by severe alcoholism, violence, and extreme poverty—just the sort of conditions that, even today, can prompt a social worker to seek to separate a child from his or her birth family.

Figures suggest that thirty percent of the children who attended the schools died there. Surely that’s real genocide?

There is indeed a 1907 report, by Dr. Peter Bryce, an Indian Department medical inspector, which draws attention to a mortality rate of 30% in the schools. Some claim a cover up—though his report made the front page of the Ottawa papers at the time.

Bryce pointed out that this was almost entirely from tuberculosis:

“It suffices for us to know … that of a total of 1,537 pupils reported upon, nearly 25 per cent of ex-pupils are dead, of one school with an absolutely accurate statement, 69 per cent of ex-pupils are dead, and that everywhere the almost invariable cause of death given is tuberculosis."

In 1907, there was no effective treatment for tuberculosis, and it was fatal. So it is a bit of a stretch to blame the residential schools for not curing it. Throwing students together in residential halls may have helped the disease to spread; but would their situation really have been less crowded in a poor home on an aboriginal reserve? Let alone in a traditional aboriginal longhouse?

Perhaps not. Tuberculosis rates on reserves at the time were, according to Health Canada, among “the highest ever reported in a human population.”

Tuberculosis is now curable. My wife comes from the Philippines, though, and she still has a great fear of it. For, even if a cure exists, in the Philippines, few can afford the medical care.

And what is the resulting mortality rate, among children? My wife is one of six surviving children in her family—out of nine. A mortality rate of 33%--a little worse than Bryce observed in the residential schools. She believes this is typical, for the Philippines today.

If this was a deliberate attempt to infect aboriginal children, in order to commit genocide, the authorities of the day should have been able to do better than random chance.

And if this is the darkest skeleton in the Canadian closet, we need never fear spring cleaning.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Saudi Lashings

There has been much press lately on a woman in Saudi Arabia, the victim of gang rape by seven men, who was then sentenced to 200 lashes. Universally, the suggestion is that this is an example of Saudi discrimination against women. The Chicago Sun-Times editorializes that it is “like something out of the Dark Ages.” A correspondent writes to the National Post, “It is just another reminder of how women are treated in parts of the Muslim world and the indifference to their plight shown by so many feminists in the West.”

There is certainly room to condemn the sentence as too harsh; and the doubling of the woman’s sentence for talking to the media does not seem proper. But the one thing that is certain is this: it is not a case of discrimination against women. Conversely, the reporting of the story in the West is a case of discrimination against men.

For all news reports focus on the woman. But the fact is that the girl’s boyfriend was also in the car, also raped, and also received the very same initial sentence, of ninety lashes. If it was unjust in the case of the woman, it must have been equally unjust in the case of the man. Nobody cares. By objecting only to the woman’s sentence, the media are saying that what happens to men does not matter.

The man and woman who were raped were guilty of a crime in Saudi law: she was married, and yet was meeting another man alone, in his car.

Perhaps this should not be a crime; but that is a different matter. It has nothing to do with discrimination—unless the real issue here is discrimination against women having sex, not against women.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Perennial Philosophies

There are only a few basic philosophies of life, and they are perennial.

The Cynics of ancient Greece basically took the same approach as the Buddhists of India and the Far East, and Christian monastics: to achieve happiness, limit your desires.

The Stoics, the Confucians, the Secular Humanists, and the Marxists took and take another approach: life is harsh, but one must bear it bravely and do what one can to build a better society. Happiness comes only from such striving.

The hippies of the Sixties merely revived the simple notions of the Epicureans: if it feels good, do it.

The Hindu Vedanta and Greek Neoplatonism seem also of one school: all is secretly one, and one seeks bliss in unity with all.

Ethical monotheism forms another strand, running through Judaism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Amidist Buddhism: the point of life is to submit to a higher will and do good. Happiness comes from this, if not in this life, then in the hereafter.

Romanticism is also everywhere: in the English Romantics, the Medieval Romances, the Tantric forms of Hinduism, Taoism in China, Shinto in Japan, and Gnosticism throughout Europe and the Middle East. This tradition believes in shock therapy, arriving at truth through an inversion of prevailing ideas. Happiness is achieved through the intellectual liberation this produces, and is conceived as a return to an original purity.

I suspect that all the world’s systems and paths of life can be fitted somewhere in this schema.

I have found myself at various times attracted to all of these philosophies. However, in the end, I am an ethical monotheist.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Jim Morrison as a Poet

On a recent vacation in Goa, I picked up the well-known biography of Jim Morrison, No One Here Gets Out Alive, at a second-hand bookstore on the beach. It was a good, nostalgic read.

Michael McClure, a prominent poet of what some call the San Francisco Renaissance, and others call the West Coast Beats, says of Jim Morrison in an afterword, “I know of no better poet of Jim’s generation.”

I find this a profoundly depressing thought. Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Sixties group The Doors, was a great showman—he had a talent for exhibitionism, up to and including trying to drop his pants on stage—but was he really any good as a poet?

Some passages from his lyrics:

Riders on the Storm –complete lyrics are here.

“There’s a killer on the road
His brain is squirmin’ like a toad…”

The piece is at the level of a B horror flick—cheap thrills. “A killer”; is there any insight into human nature in that? Or isn’t this a cardboard stereotype?

Can brains squirm? Of course not. It’s a mixed metaphor, and seems to me unintentionally humorous. And so easy to fix—just use the word “soul” instead. The sound values even work better.

“Like” is also weak. It feels as if it’s there only to fill out a line.

Texas Radio and the Big Beat – complete lyrics are here.

"The Negroes in the forest brightly feathered
They are saying, ‘Forget the night.
Live with us in forests of azure.
Out here on the perimeter there are no stars
Out here we is stoned - immaculate.’"

This is the na├»vest sort of romanticism—“noble savage” stuff. If I were a “negro,” I’d want to shove one of those feathers up his pampered white upper class butt. Note the Stepin Fetchit grammar of the last line—“we is.” Though “stoned immaculate” would be a nice phrase without the dash.

One of his better lines is:

“I’ll tell you this, no eternal reward
will forgive us now for wasting the dawn.”

Still unnecessarily inarticulate, though, incoherent. What he means to say is

“No later eternal reward will absolve us for wasting this dawn.”

LA Woman - complete lyrics here.

“Are you a lucky little lady in the city of light
Or just another lost of night”

As a rhyme, City of Light/City of Night is too easy—City of Trite. It is as if the first line, with its alliteration, came easily, and he put in the minimum of effort needed to find a rhyme.

“I see your hair is burnin
Hills are filled with fire
If they say I never loved you
You know they are a liar.”

Bad grammar, and completely unnecessary if he were prepared to put in just a little effort:

“If someone said I never loved you
You know he was a liar.”

“Motel money murder madness
Let’s change the mood from glad to sadness.”

Another pennycandy rhyme; and another bit of ugly grammar. “Gladness” is the parallel to “sadness.”

“Let’s change the glad gay mood to sadness.”

But that first line is also cheap, B-movie stuff. And even so, it is incoherent. As written, it sounds as though he merely wants to be sad, instead of being saddened by what he sees. And saying “I am sad” is weak writing. Better to show than to tell.

Peace Frog – complete lyrics here.

“Indians scattered on a dawn's highway bleeding,
ghosts crowd the young child's fragile eggshell mind.”

No scan there.

The reference is apparently to something that happened to Morrison himself as a child. The problem is, it is not meaningful to others. This is shameless self-indulgence, and Morrison is guilty of it often. In “LA Woman,” he breaks into the refrain “Mr. Mojo Risin’/Gotta keep on risin,’” which has no relevance whatsoever except that it is an anagram of his own name.

“Fragile eggshell” is clumsy and redundant. Are there eggshells that are not fragile? Poetry, as famously defined by Coleridge, is “the best words in the best order.” This is not poetry. This is gas.

“Young child is also redundant. Are there children who are not young?

“Mind” is weak, because vague, and too easy. What is the first sign that you are reading a bad poem? It has the word “mind” in it.

“Scattered,” used to refer to human beings, is disturbingly cold. Hardly the mot just.

Why not:

“Arapaho thrown on a dawn pavement dying
Their shocked shades obsess the boy’s innocent I.”

Truth told, I liked the Doors in their day. They were no special favourite, but they were more interesting than most pop music.

I was always aware, though, that this was not because of Jim Morrison. I always found him an embarassment. It was the carnival sound of Ray Manzarek’s organ. The drumming was also interesting. And a couple of their songs were just good rock: “Light My Fire,” “Moonlight Drive,” and “Love Her Madly.” But Morrison was involved in the writing of only one of those. “Light My Fire” and “Love Her Madly” were completely by Rob Kreiger.

Morrison got all of the attention, first, because he was good-looking, and second, because he was an exhibitionist. He was the Britney Spears of his day.

The sad thing is that, when he killed himself, the Doors disappeared. Without Morrison, no one wanted to listen to them any more. Yet what made them good was all still there.

People are strange…

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Atheism Delusion

“He who pretends to be an honest inquirer into the truth of a self-evident thing, is a knave.” – William Blake

All Christian groups hold that faith, not just good works, is essential to salvation. The Protestants hold that faith alone is needed. Catholics hold that faith must be backed up by works. But faith is the sine qua non.

This seems a bit unreasonable if, as is commonly assumed these days, you take faith to mean “belief that God exists.”

After all, how is that a moral issue? If you perceive that logic and evidence points to the existence of God, you believe that God exists. If you perceive that logic and evidence points to the nonexistence of God, you believe that God does not exist. First, you really do not have any choice in the matter—contrary to a lot of current postmodernist mumbo jumbo, one is not really free to choose what one believes. One cannot simply choose to believe, for example, that one is smarter than Einstein, however much one might want this to be so. Furthermore, if one could, to believe in the existence of God counter to both one’s logic and the evidence of which one is aware hardly seems a moral thing to do. It would be tantamount to a lie—lying to oneself, and to others. And thou shalt not bear false witness. It would be hypocrisy.

So how does this work?

It works only if you accept one simple reality: the existence of God is not in doubt. All cultures are aware of Him. Philosophers have proven his existence in a dozen different ways. I also suspect that all of us have some direct experience of Him—a good God would want to do this, so He surely has. His existence is engraved in our reason, our emotions, our imagination, and our conscience, if we look for it.

And if we are not looking, we are culpable.

Non-Christian religions agree: for both Buddhism and Confucianism, ignorance is a sin.

This being so, Christian “faith” does not mean an intellectual assent to the truth that God exists. It means trust in God, a humble submission to his authority and his mercy.

It follows that atheists (or agnostics) are not really people who sincerely do not believe God exists. And, frankly, the anger one commonly encounters from atheists, notably Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins currently, reinforces this assumption. Why be angry at a being who does not exist? Why be angry at people for believing in Him? Is such anger directed at those who believe in Santa Claus, or unicorns, or that Oprah Winfrey is Dutch? No—belief in God is apparently somehow special, for the atheists. Atheists and agnostics are not honest inquirers, but people who, for their own reasons, have turned their faces away from God, and stuck their fingers in their ears.

Now, according to Catholic doctrine, this is what sends a soul to hell: “a willful turning away from God… and persistence in it until the end.” In a sense, it is the soul who chooses hell, and for approximately the reason Satan chose it according to Milton: “better to rule in hell than serve in heaven.” They will not submit to a higher power.

It is hard to imagine a purer instance of this than atheism—save only the case of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, that is, being confronted directly and knowingly by God and denying Him. Indeed, atheism may often be precisely this sin.

This is in essence the one sin that forces you into hell, because it is a case of choosing hell yourself. God will not interfere with free will. And truly free will means our decisions must bear their proper consequences. Otherwise our choices are not real.

Hence submission to God in love is the first of the Ten Commandments. Hence Jesus calls it the first and greatest of all commandments, summarizing all the rest.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Poison Ivy

Karl Dietrich Bracher, in his study of Hitler’s rise, The German Dictatorship, notes that the Nazis’ first and fiercest converts, aside from “food faddists, vegetarians, and nature worshippers” (p. 39), were university students and faculty. He explains this by suggesting that universities are by their nature undemocratic: “Professors and students felt … their status and prestige threatened by democratic ideas of government and society” (p. 165). So they preferred any alternative to the Weimar Republic.

Exactly: the university by its nature is the opposite of a democracy, and is antithetical to it. It is a rigid hierarchy, a self-selected elite.

This is not necessarily a bad thing—for untrammeled democracy is not necessarily a good thing. It can serve as a check and balance against popular excesses.

However, it is well to remember that the university is by its nature opposed to democracy, by its nature reactionary, and by its nature represents an upper class jealous of its “status and prestige.” Universities are, among society’s institutions, one of those most resistant to change.

Long after Marx and Freud have been discredited, for example, they remain dominant in the universities. Long after the rest of the world had migrated to desktops, universities were still working and teaching on mainframes. Any university becomes a repository for ancient traditions, passed down generation to generation. Any university seeks the ivy-covered walls that imply stability and long duration. To be able to go to university, by and large, implies that your parents are relatively rich—it is an important way in which a ruling class can perpetuate itself. It is conservatism personified.

More: the prestige and livelihood of a university or a faculty member depends upon the premise that he or she possesses some special, privileged knowledge. Change makes any such repository of knowledge relatively obsolete. Suddenly anyone can play. So progress and the university are not friends.

All well and good—there is a beauty in the changelessness of it all, in preserving the ancient verities.

But the most disturbing thing about the modern university is this: rather than acknowledging this truth, this inevitable bias, the typical university and the typical faculty member nowadays seeks to conceal it. They seek to masquerade instead as agents of change—especially of social change. This is suspect—this is hypocrisy. This strongly implies a ruling class that has grown corrupt and self-indulgent, and is doing something of which it is ashamed. It is a cover-up.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


The ultimate symbol of modernism and postmodernism in art is nakedness. Yeats used just this analogy for his aesthetic: “there’s more enterprise in going naked.” Duchamp exhibited a urinal as sculpture. Allen Ginsberg stripped to read his poetry. Jim Morrison stripped to sing his songs.

We have tried to reduce art to a bare minimum, or even “deconstruct” it. Poetry without rhyme, visual art without representation, music without tone or scale, architecture reduced to the structural minimum, all girders and glass.

But this is, surely, a dead end. One reaches the point of complete nakedness rather quickly. And once you’ve done it once, what do you do next?

After almost a century, it is just tiresome. Little or nothing has happened in the arts for about a half-century now. This is doubly tragic, for man needs art.

It is time to move forcefully in the opposite direction. For while there is something to be said for clearing the air, ultimately, nakedness is the reverse of art.

Nakedness is nature unadorned. Art is nature perfected by man’s spirit.

Nakedness is not art; nakedness is the lack of art. The clothing we wear—that is art. Art is the clothing of nature.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Mirabile Dictu

Faith is apparently required to perform miracles. Jesus says, “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Effecting a miraculous cure, he says, “your faith has healed you.” Elsewhere, he says he can do no miracles, because of the general lack of faith in those villages.

This seems to be backwards, doesn’t it? People more commonly look to miracles as proofs of faith. The New Testament pretty clearly says the opposite, that you must have faith in the first place or you’ll never see them.

Nor can this New Testament claim be covered by the common concept of “faith healing”—when what is meant is essentially the “placebo effect.” For we are not speaking only of healing here, but also of walking on water and moving mountains. No placebo effect does that.

So how does this matter of miracles requiring faith work?

Well, here’s my thought. Just imagine you were a disbeliever in all things supernatural. Or better, since I believe this is essentially an intellectually impossible position, imagine you had decided to shut yourself off from God and the spiritual realm and any consideration of them. And suddenly, before your eyes, something impossible happened. A mountain moved. How would you feel?

Very threatened; I’ll warrant. Very frightened. Quite likely, it would drive you mad.

I say this, because I have myself seen people go mad in similar, but relatively trivial, circumstances: as a result of culture shock, or because assumptions about their marriage or relationships or family that they had long held proved untrue. When merely the social organization around them stopped making sense to them. How much more so if the tumult includes the physical world: “hallucinations,” indeed.

And so, a merciful God will not do this. If you do not have faith, he is not going to perform any great miracles for you, for your protection. Even if you ask for them, and sincerely want them, he cannot.

Realizing this suggests another interesting possibility, regarding another New Testament puzzle: what happened to all those demons that possessed people in the Bible and in the New Testament? Have they all disappeared since then? Logically, mustn’t we still have demonic possessions happening today?

It is possible, mind, to believe they are now many fewer then they were then—thanks to the widespread practice of baptism and faith in Christianity, which hold them at bay. But then, these practices are now in decline. It should follow that we get an upsurge in demonic possessions, and this should show up somewhere…

Interestingly enough, it does. The incidence of “mental illness” has risen dramatically since the 1960s—since just about the time our focus on Christianity clearly began to decline.

But of course. If you accept the Bible as true, you must accept not just the existence of God, but also of both angels and demons. Demons will not share God’s compunctions about performing supernatural acts when the human supplicant is not prepared for them. Speak of the devil, and he will appear. Turn from God, and you lose protection against him.

Hence, surely, the traditional legend of the “sorcerer’s apprentice.” Hence the warnings against dabbling in magic. All hell really could break loose.

And hence the possibility that much of what we call “mental illness” is, more or less as the New Testament says—indeed, as many sufferers themselves insist--a demonic possession. It is a spiritual (psychic) “illness,” and so how would it not have a spiritual cause?

It could be the common result of becoming suddenly, dramatically aware of the reality of the supernatural, and lacking the conceptual framework to handle this knowledge. This could be caused by taking hallucinogenic drugs. It could be caused by culture shock, or a shock in one’s personal life--hysteria. Or, especially in severe cases, it could be caused by a demon, a mischievous or hostile spiritual being.

If so, of course, traditional psychotherapy is not going to help—as, indeed, it does not, for the “severely” mentally ill. The therapist is going to insist that the visions and voices and moving mountains are purely imaginary and “nonexistent”—and they are not, and the “patient” in his heart and his mind knows perfectly well they are not. In such a case, talking therapy will be purely counter-productive: striving mightily to hold the sufferer back from the fundamental restructuring of his notion of reality that he needs to perform. Interesting that all severe forms of “mental illness” are now “incurable”—while they clearly were not in the New Testament.

The bottom line is this: the modern techniques, objectively speaking, do not work. Those in the New Testament apparently did. Moreover, similar shamanic approaches, which center on casting out unwanted spirits, still do seem to work in cultures like Korea, India, or Sri Lanka today.

Time for some real “faith healing,” I’d say.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Hath Not a Jew Brains?

Gary Wills has recently written a remarkable op-ed piece for the LA Times (“Abortion isn’t a religious issue," Times, November 4). Remarkable as an indication of just how wild the anti-religious party has become.

A few highlights, with commentary:

The right-to-life people hold that [abortion] is as strong a point of religion as any can be. It is religious because the Sixth Commandment … says, "Thou shalt not kill."

No, it is not religious. Not according to Catholics. The obligation not to kill is a matter of objective morality. It doesn't matter whether you are religious or not. You still can't kill people.

Is abortion murder? Evangelicals may argue that most people in Germany thought it was all right to kill Jews. But the parallel is not valid. Killing Jews was killing persons. It is not demonstrable that killing fetuses is killing persons.

No, the parallel is exact. Jews were not persons. They were "untermenschen." Subhuman.

Not even evangelicals act as if it were. ...a woman seeking an abortion … is killing her own child. But the evangelical community does not call for her execution.

The Catholic Church does not, because the Catholic Church opposes capital punishment, and believes in the possibility of human redemption. Why wouldn’t the “right to life” apply to adult women as well as unborn children? Why is it inconsistent that it does?

About 10% of evangelicals, according to polls, allow for abortion in the case of rape or incest. But the circumstances of conception should not change the nature of the thing conceived.

I find it entirely within the realm of possibility that 10% of evangelicals are wrong; my guess is that the other 90% are more representative of the true Evangelical position. I remain unshocked that this is so.

Nor did the Catholic Church treat abortion as murder in the past. If it had, late-term abortions and miscarriages would have called for treatment of the well-formed fetus as a person, which would require baptism and a Christian burial.

This is an absurd Catch-22. You cannot baptize someone who is already dead. And someone who is not baptized cannot be buried as a Christian.

Here's what the Catholic Encyclopedia (1911) says: "Whenever it is possible to baptize an embryonic child before it expires, Christian charity requires that it be done, either before or after delivery; and it may be done by anyone, even though he be not a Christian."

But of course, any woman aborting her child is not a good Catholic in the first place.

…abortion is not scriptural. … Abortion is not … in the Ten Commandments -- or anywhere in Jewish Scripture.

False. The Hebrew Scriptures address the killing of a foetus pretty directly:

Exodus 21:

22 If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely [e] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

Not in the Ten Commandments? Wills himself has already said it is. "Thou shalt not kill" covers it decisively--given that the Bible makes no distinction anywhere between born and unborn human life. John the Baptist "leaps in his mother's womb." God "knew us before he knit us together in our mother's womb." Jacob and Esau compete in the womb.

So expecting the Ten Commandments to mention abortion specifically and separately is rather like demanding they mention that thou shalt not bear false witness on a Friday.

It is not treated … anywhere in the New Testament. It is not treated in the early creeds. It is not treated in the early ecumenical councils.

False. It was banned by the Third Council of Constantinople (7th century), as murder plain and simple. And deserving of the same punishment.

True, it is not mentioned clearly in the New Testament. But no need, given that it was already clearly prohibited in Judaism, and assuming it was not a common practice. It is unnatural in the first place not to desire children. And it was probably obvious enough to the early, Jewish, Christians that it is murder.

It was, however, apparently practiced in pagan Greece and Rome. Hippocrates, therefore, though not a Christian, prohibits it in his oath for physicians, and Roman law prescribed exile for the crime. Several of the early Church Fathers, who were in contact with Greek and Roman culture, expressly say that it is prohibited: Tertullian, Athenagoras. None say it is permitted. The Fourth Century Council of Eliberis prohibited any woman soliciting an abortion from ever again receiving communion.

Lacking scriptural guidance, St. Thomas Aquinas worked from Aristotle's view of the different kinds of animation -- the nutritive (vegetable) soul, the sensing (animal) soul and the intellectual soul. Some people used Aristotle to say that humans therefore have three souls. Others said that the intellectual soul is created by human semen.

Aquinas denied both positions. … Aquinas denied that personhood arose at fertilization by the semen. God directly infuses the soul at the completion of human formation.

This is a serious distortion of Aquinas. Is it clear from this that Aquinas expressly prohibited abortion at any stage of pregnancy?

I didn't think so.

Aristotle's view of ensoulment was popular in the late Middle Ages, but had no influence on Catholic doctrine on the matter of abortion. It is irrelevant.

Even popes have said that the question of abortion is a matter of natural law, to be decided by natural reason. Well, the pope is not the arbiter of natural law. Natural reason is.

This is another serious distortion. All morality is a matter of natural law, according to Catholic teaching. It is equally binding on all, and accessible to all through reason and conscience. There is nothing special about abortion in this regard.

Nevertheless, the pope most definitely is, for Catholics, a legitimate arbiter of morality, as is the Catholic Church. Both are infallible in this matter. They are guided by the same God who created human reason.

John Henry Newman … wrote that "the pope, who comes of revelation, has no jurisdiction over nature." The matter must be decided by individual conscience, not by religious fiat. … Newman said: "I shall drink to the pope, if you please -- still, to conscience first, and to the pope afterward."

It is deceitful to pretend Cardinal Newman was speaking here of abortion. He was pointing out that you do not go to the pope to make it rain, that science is independent of religion. Nor is one supposed to obey even the pope against one's conscience.

So tell me, whose conscience honestly demands they kill their unborn child?

If we are to decide the matter of abortion by natural law, that means we must turn to … philosophers, neurobiologists, embryologists. Evangelicals want to exclude them because most give answers they do not want to hear

Wills contradicts himself. Did the Church ignore Aristotle, then? And it is precisely science that disproved Aristotle, and demonstrated that human life begins at conception.

… One cannot be indiscriminately pro-life.

If one claimed… that all life deserved moral respect, then plants have rights, and it might turn out that we would have little if anything to eat. …. Harvesting carrots… would constitute something of a massacre.

This is a classic straw man. Christianity has never held that animals and plants have the same souls as humans, or the same rights.

If the rights of humans must automatically be extended to all living things, Wills must also allow carrots the vote.

…. It is certainly true that the fetus is human life. But so is the semen before
it fertilizes; so is the ovum before it is fertilized. They are both human products, and both are living things.

The difference can easily be explained in scientific terms. The complete code of the complete being is present in every nucleus of every cell, in the DNA. But semen and ova do not have the complete code. They are not, therefore, human beings. Hair clippings or saliva may have the complete code--though probably not--but are not stem cells. They lack the programming to be or to become a human being.

For analogy, I think any one of us can grasp the moral distinction between cutting off somebody's fingernail, and cutting out his brain. The one brings the processes of life to a halt. The other does not.

… in fact, two-thirds of … embryos produced … fail to live on because they do not embed in the womb wall. Nature … produces more embryos than are actually used. Are all the millions of embryos that fail to be embedded human persons?


Wills’s science is a bit off; it’s 50%. But either way, the fact that half die is perfectly irrelevant. We all die. Does that prove we are not human?

No, it proves we are.

The question is not whether the fetus is human life but whether it is a human person, and when it becomes one. Is it when it is capable of thought, of speech, of recognizing itself as a person, or of assuming the responsibilities of a person? Is it when it has a functioning brain?

GW clearly implies here that his answer is "yes."

This would be very bad news for the mentally or physically imperfect among us generally. If I cannot talk, I take it, I can be killed with impunity.

…. A functioning brain is not present in the fetus until the end of the sixth month at the earliest.

Not surprisingly, that is the earliest point of viability, the time when a fetus can successfully survive outside the womb.

… the onset of a functioning central nervous system with a functioning cerebral cortex and the onset of viability occur around the same time -- the end of the second trimester, a time by which 99% of all abortions have already occurred.

This is all irrelevant, but Wills is even wrong here. A good number of infants born in the fifth month survive. One of my son's classmates did. At six, she is a perfectly normal child.

Moreover, here's an article discussing ultrasounds of fetal brains at 12 weeks. They obviously must exist by that time.

Wills is not just looking for loopholes, he is inventing them.

Opponents of abortion like to show sonograms of the fetus reacting to stimuli. But all living cells have electric and automatic reactions. These are like the reactions of Terri Schiavo when she was in a permanent vegetative state. …. The fetus has a face long before it has a brain. It has animation before it has a command center to be aware of its movements or to experience any reaction as pain.

The same argument could "prove" that Jews, let alone Terri Schiavo, are not really alive.

In either case, if one is not a foetus, or a Jew, the matter is essentially theoretical.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Opinions Canada

Happy to report that, quite unsolicited, Opinions Canada has picked up this blog for their regular aggregated feed.

I do no advertising of this site. Nice to see it getting wider readership nevertheless.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Coming Catholic Renaissance

John Paul II apparently predicted that the 21st century could see conversions to Catholicism “like a tidal wave.”

Given John Paul’s saintliness, he may have been speaking prophesy. He may have seen something.

I believe it is possible. First, I think it is the logical next step for us all. I have felt, ever since the late Sixties, that this was the direction in which the zeitgeist was inevitably moving. It seemed to me that the logical and necessary Sixties thing to do was to become either a Jesus Freak or a Hare Krishna. The spiritual world was obviously the “other side” we were trying to get to. Anything else was, as we used to say, a “cop out.”

Most of us copped out.

But even for us, the good part of the Sixties may be recovered. The same big demographic, we “Baby Boomers,” is now heading into our twilight years. It is time to wake up and start thinking about what comes next.

The Sixties were a “youth culture.” We will soon, for the same demographic reasons, have an “age culture.” And it is natural for the aged to ponder the afterlife.

This alone may well make the entire culture suddenly get religion.

At the same time, modernism has spectacularly dead-ended, intellectually, in “postmodernism”—the lack of all belief or principle. There is nowhere left to go on that path. Very little has really happened in the arts or in philosophy for several decades. What is obviously needed is a massive reinjection of the fundamental principles of our civilization. That would be the Catholic Church.

Meantime, the current general antipathy towards the Catholic Church for not “changing with the times” will have tested its bona fides, in the face of general error, and will identify it clearly as the bearer of truth when the time for truth comes. The stone that was rejected is become the cornerstone—that is the way history always works.

It seems to me that even the recent upsurge in militant atheism—Dawkins, Hitchens--is a good sign. Their charges are so wild they sound hysterical—or desperate. They may be secularism’s last gasp. Rather as Oliver Stone’s movie JFK managed inadvertently to discredit Kennedy conspiracy theories generally, these sorts of wild charges, once plainly stated and generally examined, will tend to discredit atheism.

And there is another factor, at least for the developed world—which is to say, mostly, the traditionally Christian world. The assumption has been that the recent decline in religious observance was permanent, based on a conventional wisdom that, with increasing wealth and well-being, people turn away from religion. Atheists would say this proves religion is a crutch. Christians would say it proves the Beatitudes: “blessed are the poor.”

But prior history suggests this is true only up to a point. Even in the past, some people were exceptionally wealthy. Were they also conspicuously irreligious?

No. What we find is that, when people are poor, they are pious. As their wealth grows, they tend to question their old beliefs—or perhaps, to forget about God and concentrate on their acquisition of worldly goods. The middle classes tend to be less conventionally religious, or at least less religious in the Catholic sense. But this is not the end of it—once they have acquired a lot of worldly goods, and risen to the upper class, they tend to become once again conspicuously religious. British monarchs, for example, kept inconveniently converting to Catholicism. Perhaps this is because, once one is familiar with wealth, one loses the illusion that it can solve all your problems.

For the past two centuries, since the Industrial Revolution, the story of the developed world has been of a growing middle class. Hence, the materialism of the middle class, often commented upon, has grown in influence.

Now, in the post-industrial era, we in the developed world are in effect starting to move broadly into the upper classes.

The spirituality characteristic of the upper classes is therefore likely to grow. Indeed, it was seen first in the Sixties, though in an immature, adolescent, abortive form. We wanted the world, and we wanted it then—which is to say, the whole world no longer satisfied.

Already in the US, religion is again becoming socially acceptable. Presidential candidates suddenly feel obliged to at least claim to be religious. This will probably spread to the rest of the developed world in time, as all US trends tend to do. And it should deepen in the US.

The confrontation with “militant Islam,” or rather, Islamism, ought also, logically, to help this process. It tends to remind those of us who are, at least ethnically, Europeans of our essentially Christian identity. It forces us to think again, and more clearly, of the proper sphere of religion in our culture and in our lives. And, I think, we are starting to realize, partly through the example of the Muslim world, how very intricately intertwined they really are.

And then there’s China. True, it is moving broadly into the middle class, and so presumably growing less religious. But there is another factor: religion in general, and Catholicism in particular, have been suppressed in China for some time. This always works, in the long term, for more conversions.

I expect the lid to come off China very soon—the present regime, with its hostility to religion, must sooner or later fall, and I expect this to be soon. When it does, many Chinese may embrace Christianity en masse, in reaction to atheism and as an obvious alternative value system. There are signs of this—and it has already happened in Korea, next door. The Catholic Church stands perhaps in good stead here as the most repressed of religions—along with Falun Gong, but Falun Gong is not really a religion in the same sense. As in the developed world, this establishes her bona fides.

The same will probably eventually happen in North Korea and in Vietnam. As China goes largely Christian, the growing Chinese prestige may prompt many more in other parts of the world to take a closer look.

I am also hopeful of a third tidal wave: the unification of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The experience of the “Uniate” churches proves that there is no theological bar to this. With growing globalization and growing contact between East and West, this essentially artificial and geographical division should end. Besides adding several hundred million souls to a greater Catholic Church at a stroke—about a 20% increase in size--closing this wound will also help evangelization. It might also inspire a wider ecumenism within Christianity. Its possible aftermath might draw in the Anglicans and Lutherans as well.

Welcome to the Age of Aquarius.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Hallowe'en--Boo! It's Christian!

There seems to be a pervasive myth that Hallowe’en is a pagan celebration. It is supposed to be a survival of the old Celtic feast of Samhain.

It is probably not. It has a perfectly proper Christian pedigree. It is, as the name implies, the eve of All Hallows; that is, All Saints’ Day. And All Saints’ Day is itself quite ancient—as old as the Third Century AD. Which is to say, as old as Christmas. The current date has been observed since the eighth century—in Rome, making any connection with the old Celtic Samhain apparently purely coincidental. There are no Celts in Rome.

It is traditional to include the night before as part of a Christian feast: Christmas begins Christmas Eve, and Easter Sunday begins with the Easter Vigil. So with All Saints’. In the very early church, indeed, well before the Third Century, it was traditional, on the night before a martyr’s death anniversary, to go to his or her tomb and celebrate mass there on the preceding night.

Following the ancient practice, it is still traditional on this night throughout Catholic Europe to bring flowers to the tombs of one’s ancestors, and stay there overnight in vigil, in the pious hope that they, too, are now saints in heaven. This is also how it is still observed in the Philippines. Precious few Celts are involved.

It is therefore a “Night of the Dead.” All Saints’ is indeed known, in Mexico, as the “Day of the Dead.”

If children, then, dress up as corpses or mummies, they too have a right to expect some sort of reward. It is a natural way of including them, when they are too young to understand death or to remember the ancestors being honoured.

November 2, again, is All Souls’ Day—a day of prayer for all the souls in Purgatory. This too can have no relation to the pagan Samhain—the observance of November 2 as All Souls’ began at Cluny, in France. However, the tradition that a door opens on November 2, and that the souls in purgatory are able to communicate with the living through it, is associated with this feast since its beginnings. In the 11th century Life of St. Odilo, the origins of the celebration of All Souls’ are explained: a pilgrim returning from the Holy Land was shipwrecked on a deserted island. There, a hermit told him, there was a chasm through which the souls in purgatory could be heard to lament, requesting prayers, and demons could be heard complaining of how well the prayers of the monks of Cluny worked to rescue these lost souls.

In Tyrol, families leave out cakes on All Souls’ Night. They do so in Bolivia as well, and the souls in purgatory are understood to be somehow nourished by them.

It is a short step from all this to the idea that kids knocking on your door are to be given cakes as well, and that they represent the dead returning to our homes.

Here, some traditions of All Souls’ have probably simply been moved to the celebration of All Hallows—just as the traditions of St. Nicholas, whose feast day is early December, have been amalgamated with those of Christmas; as has the gift-giving of Epiphany.

Bad news: it’s a Christian feast.

I guess this will lead to its being banned in the schools. Bizarrely, so long as we think a tradition is pagan, and has to do with such things as devils, witches, self-mutilation, and human sacrifice, it is socially acceptable.

But a nativity scene? Unacceptable.