Playing the Indian Card

Friday, January 31, 2020

Gay Pride and the CPC

Saw a disturbing CBC “Power and Politics” panel on the issue of Tory leadership candidates marching in gay parades. Four panelists; with only Stockwell Day to speak for the Tories. The position one panelist kept repeating, to apparent general agreement, is that this was obligatory or else the politicians were declaring themselves “homophobic.” A more or less direct quote: “it is not enough to show tolerance. You must show that you support and celebrate Gay Pride.”

An odd standard, as Day observed, to apply in other circumstances. Do we really consider politicians who do not regularly attend Yom Kippur celebrations anti-Semitic? Are we now going to?

This new conflation of tolerance with approval is alarming in many ways. If tolerance has no value, and only celebration and support counts, we will only tolerate what we celebrate. This is the most extreme form of intolerance. All views with which you disagree would be silenced.

In the present case, what is not being tolerated is Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, religion, or ethical codes in general—a lot of targets. Celebration, as opposed to tolerance, of “gay pride” is intolerance of all these groups.

Essentially all religious and moral traditions teach that homosexual acts are sinful; but that is even beside the point. All teach that pride and lust are sinful. “Gay Pride” parades are celebrations of pride and lust, at least as explicitly as they are celebrations of homosexual attraction.

Any believing member of any of these religions, or of any other established moral code, cannot in good conscience march in a gay pride parade. Requiring this is excluding them from public life.

It is, perhaps more alarmingly, excluding anyone who sincerely follows any established morality from public life. This is a guarantee of the worst government available.

In sadly only too related news, we see a general furor over obscure leadership candidate Richard Decarie, and demands, including by prominent Conservatives, that he be barred from the race. Because he stated publicly that being gay is a choice.

He said some other things, as well, all perfectly unobjectionable, but this is the one the headlines have fixed upon.

Yet “being gay” self-evidently is a choice, in the most basic sense. While I may and may not have a choice concerning who sexually attracts me, I obviously have a choice as to whether or not to have sex with them. Otherwise, there could be no objection to rape.

Being “gay” is obviously a choice in another sense as well. If not, why do gays themselves speak of a “gay lifestyle”? There is an element of choice in being “gay,” in the minds of “gays” themselves. “Gay” does not equate to “being attracted to members of the same sex.”

As to whether one chooses to be attracted to those of the same sex—that too is unclear. We do not know, and it is deceitful to insist that we do. As recently discussed in this space, the traditional view, right up to Freud, is that we can control and are therefore fully responsible for our lusts.

We live in an increasingly intolerant age.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Ninth Commandment--and the Tenth

A noble knight of God confronts the Seven Deadly Sins.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

This passage is awkwardly split into two commandments in the traditional Catholic, Lutheran, and Jewish formulation. This requires a bit of rewriting:

9. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife.

10. You shall not covet your neighbour’s goods.

The argument for this is that otherwise you are classifying spouse as a belonging, which is wrong—not just to us moderns, but to traditional Jewish thought.

On the other hand, this would seem to condemn the same sin, “covetousness,” twice.

But one covets a person in a special way. The Hebrew word here can mean either “covet” or “lust.” One does not lust after Lamborghinis.

So it is two sins, lust and covetousness. You shall not lust after another’s wife or husband; you shall not covet anything that belongs to another.

Most interesting about these two commandments is that they presuppose the ability to control our desires. They are saying the desire is sinful, regardless of the action.

This goes against current received wisdom, which holds that desires and urges are like the weather; we can only control whether we act on them or not.

And the modern teaching, thanks to Freud, is that we should indeed whenever possible act on them. Otherwise we are repressed. And will no doubt over time go mad.

Yet we also know this is not true, if we stop and think for a moment.

Because, after all, we hold people responsible for “hate,” and punish them for it. When we marry, we vow “to love and to cherish.” Obviously, we could not do so if we thought the ability to love or cherish was out of our control.

No doubt it takes discipline to learn not to lust, not to envy. It takes discipline to be moral in general. Emotions can be addictions, and grow worse if we indulge them.

Developing good character is a matter of fighting such addictions.

Eat Chinese, You Racist!

I suppose it was inevitable. The coronavirus scare has now been declared to be racist, at least by Global News.

Global does not give a lot of details on the supposed racism; they feature a political cartoon showing a rat looking ill, captioned “Welcome to the Year of the Rat.” If there is racism in that, they do not explain it. It seems that it is now racist to even vaguely associate the coronavirus with China, even though it began there, and almost all of its victims, so far, are there.

Supposedly racist cartoon by the Toronto Sun's Sue Dewar.

They cite as “ignorant” and “misinformation” suggestions they find on social media that the virus is a product of Chinese food.

Of course, it is a product of Chinese food. According to the authorities, at least, the virus crossed over to humans from exotic food animals in the Wuhan wet market.

Ignorance? Misinformation? It is Global News that seems to be spreading misinformation. By the nature of the beast, social media works against this, by improving the information flow.

The striking thing is that the legacy media still do not seem to have figured this out. The news is the last to hear the news.

The core evidence of racism in the story, the core complaint, their lede, seems to be that business is down in Canadian Chinatowns. People are avoiding them for fear of the virus.

Problem: avoiding Chinatowns is probably sensible. It is obviously more likely that, in Chinatown, you could encounter someone who has recently been to China. And so, the risk of catching the virus is greater. Tough for the Chinatown businesses, but the virus is tough on a lot of businesses.

Global News’s report is giving poor health advice. “Visit Chinatown, make a point of eating there, or you are a racist.” Racism, real or imagined, is more important to them than the public health.

Worse, the report identifies common sense as racist. The obvious corollary: racism is just common sense.

It is hard to believe they are not intentionally promoting racism. I think they are, at a minimum, racist in their own thinking. As someone once wisely said, if you keep hearing dog whistles, you must be the dog.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Eighth Commandment: People of the Lie

Lucas Cranach the elder.

“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.”

In the World English Bible translation:

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”

The Catholic Church understands this as a prohibition against lying. Strictly speaking, it seems to refer only to perjury, to lying in a legal case. However, given that it was originally presented to a people wandering in the desert, court proceedings were probably different from, and far less formal than, we would be familiar with. There was probably little difference between a court case and any other dispute among parties.

A couple of chapters later, the Book of Exodus seems to elaborate:

Exodus 23

“Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness.

“Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit.”

These seem to cover instances in which people might otherwise suppose they are telling a “white lie,” a justifiable lie, not covered by the commandment.

The prohibition extends to malicious gossip. It extends to helping people by lying as well as harming them with one. It includes favouring the supposedly disadvantaged, as many modern governments and current judges seem inclined to do. See, for example, Canada’s “Gladue reports.”

It seems best, therefore, to take the commandment to indeed be referring to lies in general, so long as they involve material consequences. “Polite lies” would be exempt, just as would be jokes, fiction writing, dramatic performances, showmanship, and Donald Trump’s tweets.

Most interesting is the inclusion of the warning not to side with or follow the crowd. We might not automatically see that as lying. Many if not most people seem to hold the opinion that whatever “everybody says” or “everybody knows” is truth.

The prohibition here suggests that, to the contrary, anything “everybody says” should be presumed to be a lie.

And the warning is repeated: “do not follow the crowd”; “do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd.”

And you are as morally responsible if you do not assume this as if you had made up the lie yourself.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Pardon My French

We have a problem.

The Quebec press is already making noise about Peter MacKay’s weak French. It is immediately a big issue in Quebec. He has been in public life forever, they say. Why has he never made the effort to learn French?

He took no questions after his kickoff announcement. Perhaps to avoid any questions in French. He cannot do that for long.

This seems to me a fatal flaw. Never mind losing any competitiveness in Quebec. It matters almost as much in Ontario, because Ontario considers itself profoundly vested in preserving Canadian unity.

At this point, MacKay’s only credible opponent is Erin O’Toole. Erin O’Toole’s French is apparently not much better.

So it is not just that the Tories are going to end up with a unilingual leader; there will not even be a prominent candidate who speaks good French. At best, Quebec is likely to tune out. At worst, it begins to look as though they don’t think about Quebec, have no sense of Quebec. Quebec tends to nurse grievances over this sort of thing that can last for many years.

What an epic disaster it turns out to have been that the Conservatives did not choose Max Bernier last time. He was their most prominent Quebec politician. At the time, he was running on a libertarian platform, economic conservatism with social liberalism, which might have overcome the current party divisions.

Sorry to repeat myself, but the best hope for the Conservatives now is the second coming of Stephen Harper.

Failing that, the best hope for small-c conservatives may be Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party. He has more natural support in Quebec, being both bilingual and a native son, and to top that, as a libertarian Tory, he has more natural support in the West than MacKay as well.

The official Tories may soon be reduced to what they were the last time MacKay was leader.

The Virus that Wears a Crown

The beauties of nature, revealed under the microscope.

Everyone is concerned about the coronavirus. A social group I attend here in Toronto has cancelled all meetings until further notice. People are clearly panicked.

I have not commented on it yet, because I have no expertise in this area. In medical terms, my guess about it all is no better than the reader’s.

I read some “experts” saying this is all hype, that it looks no more dangerous, on the whole, then the average flu. I hear other experts saying this is the most serious public health risk we have seen since the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918-19. Whom do you believe?

And, for that matter, how much can they really know? Judgements are more difficult because it is happening in China, where government figures cannot be trusted.

On the one hand the reported ratio between number of cases and number of deaths does look to me as though this is not an especially dangerous infection. Just a fast-moving one. On the other hand, the Chinese government has now taken such drastic measures, quarantining the entire centre of the country, that it looks as though they know something we do not.

Without any medical knowledge, my knowledge of journalism, of politics, and of Chinese culture makes me think it is probably not time to panic.

Experts always have a vested interest in predicting the most dire consequences. It makes their expertise more marketable. It gains them attention and prestige.

The media always have a vested interest in predicting the most dire consequences. It sells papers, it generates clicks.

And the Chinese government?

Face matters a lot in China. The authorities are surely still smarting from criticism over their handling of SARS. They are vulnerable to criticism for downplaying and suppressing news of the early stages of the present outbreak. And so it would be natural for them to now overreact dramatically to try to prevent such criticism. “Look at how seriously we took it! We did everything we could!”

There is no reason to suppose that, because a government does something, it was the right thing to do in medical terms, as opposed to the right thing to do in political terms.

And there is more. Traditional Chinese philosophy is that a government’s legitimacy is based on the “mandate of heaven.” What is below reflects what is above. If, then nature seems to be hostile, if there is some great natural disaster, this suggests that the government has been improperly reading the will of heaven, and has lost the mandate to rule.

This still applies; it is why the first instinct was, with coronavirus as with SARS before it, to deny anything serious was going on, and to suppress the news. Because the very existence of the epidemic reflects badly on the government.

Things were looking shaky already, with the protests in Hong Kong, the trade troubles with the US, and disappointing economic figures.

The extreme measures now being taken may have less to do with stopping the virus, than with making a show of force to discourage rebellion. The government is demonstrating its raw power, and just how ruthless it is prepared to be, if challenged.

Still, this smacks of desperation. Because now, however serious the virus turns out to be, the government quarantine will case a big economic hit. And, if the virus turns out not to be particularly deadly, or mutates into something less harmful, they risk looking foolish and panicked.

This suggests how fragile they think their position is. Intimidation is, in their minds, the only card they have left to play.

Monday, January 27, 2020

The Purpose of the Moral Law

Romans 3:

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
This passage is commonly used by Protestants to justify Luther’s idea of “salvation by faith alone.”

I think they are missing it.

Nothing here suggests that the Law—the moral law—has been superseded. No; through it “the whole world” is to be held “accountable to God.” It “testifies” to whatever Jesus represents.

To suggest that nobody can fulfill the law—that nobody is justified by it—is a very different thing from saying that nobody should try to fulfill the law, or that it is irrelevant to try.

And the difference is exactly that between a good and a bad person, between Jesus’s sheep and goats on Judgement Day.

The real point of the law, Paul explains, is to make us conscious of sin. “Through the law we become conscious of our sin.”

This involves accepting that we are not, ourselves, God; we are imperfect beings. That there is a Being and an objective moral standard that is more important than ourselves and our desires.

Which is no doubt why Jesus says, in the Beatitudes, “blessed are the meek.” With William Blake’s useful clarification: “humble before God, not before men.” Jesus himself was hardly humble in the latter sense.

When Paul says it is faith in Jesus Christ that justifies us, he does not mean faith in, say, the historical accuracy of the gospel record, or faith in the proposition that the historical person we know as Jesus of Nazareth was the son of God. He does not mean calling upon the name “Jesus” in prayer.

For if he meant only using that name in prayer, “Jesus,” it would be nonsensical. That is not even the man’s real name; it is a conventional Latinization. And how is anyone to blame if they do not know it?

If he meant belief in the proposition that the gospel is historically accurate, or that this man was the son of God, the standard is both nonsensical and immoral: morality consists in seeking truth based on the best evidence available, not in arbitrarily declaring true what you want to believe. And were it the latter, what makes one arbitrary belief better than another? On what grounds could we choose one over the other, and how could God hold us accountable if we chose wrongly?

Paul must be referring here to faith in Christ in a cosmic sense: “the Way, the Truth, and the Light,” as Jesus identifies himself in the Gospel of John.

That is the Logos: the moral law and the truth. One is justified by one’s commitment to the moral law, and one’s commitment to truth. This is distinct from always obeying the moral law—it is an acceptance that one is bound by it.

I am the Way: Morality is naturally imaged as a “way,” and the metaphor is used elsewhere in the Gospels: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.” Or St. John in the wilderness: “’Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’"

I am the Light: “light” is defined elsewhere in the Gospel of John to refer to both morality and truth:

“Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”

This is no doubt why Jesus says, in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness”: the blessed are those who believe deeply in the moral law.

And, no doubt, “Blessed are the pure in heart”: those who do not dissemble or operate on ulterior motives.

For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Word

I think my local priest holds heretical views.

At mass today, for “Bible Sunday,” he insisted that the Mass was properly understood as “two tables”: the Eucharist and the Bible readings. And, he stresses, the Church venerates them equally. We foolish lay Catholics are generally, he concludes, shortchanging the Bible.

No. That is like saying reaching the road to Ottawa is just as important as reaching Ottawa; or that a picture of my wife is just as important as my wife.

The Bible tells us about God. The Eucharist is God.

Properly speaking, I fear my pastor is advocating idolatry.

The Seventh Commandment

You shall not steal.

Here we have a perfectly clear and simple obligation. No infringement on private property.

Or do we?

The word we render in English here as “steal” apparently refers in Hebrew to people, not things. Jewish authorities read this as “you shall not kidnap.”

Did you see that one coming?

Locke suggested three human rights inalienable by government: life, liberty, and property. Apparently, this commandment addresses not the third, property, but the second, liberty. One has no right to take from another their natural freedom of action.

It is, then, a prohibition against slavery—against the ownership of human beings.

This must come as a surprise to all those who say that the Bible sanctions slavery.

This was based in part on the claim that the Bible never expressly prohibited slavery—as it does here—and in part on translating the Biblical term usually rendered “servant,” as more correctly “slave.”

“Bondservant,” “bondsman,” “bondsmaid” might be better: it was indentured servitude, the system that populated early America. One was bartering one’s labour over a period in return for some financial consideration. All such contracts lapsed after seven years as a maximum.

This is now classed as “slavery,” and prohibited, by the UN; leading to recent charges, for example, that America and the Caribbean was full of enslaved Irish before Africans arrived.

The essential point in terms of Bible ethics is that this was a contract, entered into voluntarily by both parties. So it was not “kidnapping.” Other than the length of the servitude, what is the fundamental difference between such an arrangement and, say, being employed at an hourly wage or monthly salary? For that hour or that month, the employer has the right to tell you what to do, to limit your freedom of action.

But now we are left with a second problem: so stealing, according to the Bible, is not wrong? No private property? That sounds revolutionary.

No, that is still covered by a separate commandment, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.”

But there is also a critical distinction here. The sin, then is in the coveting, in the motive, not in the action of taking itself.

This is an important distinction, recognized both in traditional Catholic ethics, and by John Locke, but seemingly lost on most currently.

In principle, all property belongs to God, who created it, and so is to be shared equally, or rather, as needed. One acquires a personal right to any property through investing labour: then one has earned a special claim to it. If you pick the apple, then it becomes your apple. You have labour invested in it. More so if you planted and pruned the tree. If you plough the field, it becomes your field—you have buried your labour in it. If you build a business, by honest means, it is your business.

But this right to property is obviously only relative: the thing itself remains largely God’s. You only have a stronger claim than the next person.

The current idea that aboriginal people have some residual ownership of the land in many parts of Canada is based on a misunderstanding of this principle. Neither they nor even their ancestors have, by and large, invested much if any labour in this land. They have only survived on what it naturally produced. Accordingly, they have no ownership of it.

Now suppose someone else comes along who is in dire need. You do not need it; you only like having it. This then can trump your claim. If they just take what they need, it might be stealing under the law, but it is not immoral—because it was done of practical necessity, not covetousness.

This is the foundation for the Catholic doctrine of a “preferential option for the poor.”

This is also the essence of the story of Dives and Lazarus: Dives goes to hell for not sharing his wealth; which, without understanding this commandment, seems unfair. Wasn’t it his to do with as he pleased? In moral terms, since Lazarus needed food, and Dives had far more than he needed, he was sinning by not sharing it—he was stealing it from Lazarus.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

MacKay Weighs In

Seems to me it was a VERY good speech that hit all the right notes.

But this does not especially reflect on MacKay--he's got a really good speechwriter.

The campaign logo is also great.

A really professional effort.

He also did well by giving so much of his speech in French. He is surely aware that this is a vulnerability. I thought his French pronunciation, at least, was decent.

We'll see how it goes.

A Tangled Web We Weave

White sage smudge sticks.

Here’s a bit of a mess: a school in BC held a smudging ceremony, as a “reconciliation” measure to acquaint students with indigenous culture. Students were obliged to attend.

A local Christian parent objected, on the grounds that this was promoting indigenous religion, and forcing it on their child.

A court ruled it was permissible, because the ceremony was a part of indigenous culture, not a religious practice.

Now Convivium magazine is upset, on the grounds that this demeans indigenous spirituality by claiming it is not religious.

You can’t win.

For the record: we agree that smudging is not a religious practice. It is cultural. Christian Indians smudge. Just as an evangelical Christian might burn patcholi incense in their home, without intending thereby to venerate some Hindu goddess. If, during the ritual, the performers/participants called on some spiritual entity, then that is the problem. The school claims there were no prayers.

The confusion comes from a popular movement to elevate all manner of indigenous practices to the level of religion. Like the imaginary religious office of “elder.” Or claiming this or that natural landmark is “sacred.”

Convivium worries that the same logic might permit, say, the banning of the hijab, on the grounds that it is not really religious.

But that would be correct: the hijab is not a part of Islam. It is banned in many Muslim countries.

Convivium’s argument could as easily be used to force the authorities to allow female genital mutilation, on the premise that it is “required by Islam.” It is not; it is a cultural practice in some majority-Muslim countries.

The essential point of freedom of religion is freedom of conscience. To be protected, a cultural practice must be demonstrated as clearly required by some established faith on moral grounds.

The Growing Threat of Dollar Stores

Parkdale Dollarama, Toronto

There is a movement underway, I read, to ban or limit the number of Dollar Stores. CNN gives the case against them, briefly, as “discount chains stifle local competition and limit poor communities' access to healthy food.” 

“Advocates of tighter controls on dollar stores say the big chains intentionally cluster multiple stores in low-income areas. That strategy discourages supermarkets from opening and it threatens existing mom-and-pop grocers, critics say.”

There is, it seems to me, a problem with that logic. The Dollar Stores are not limiting or stifling competition; they are competing successfully. It would be measures discriminating against them that limit or stifle competition.

This is surely no different in principle from a town with two grocery stores deciding that Joe’s store must close in favour of Lee’s store. And on the grounds that Joe’s prices are too low?

To say the Dollar Stores are intentionally clustering multiple stores in low-income areas to discourage supermarkets from opening makes no sense either, on the obvious grounds that Dollar Stores must make a profit. If they are concentrating in a certain area, the traffic must be sustaining this; moreover, it must be more profitable to locate a second store here than in some upmarket area.

Which is hardly a surprise for a bargain store.

As to their limiting poor communities’ access to healthy food, this is arguing that giving people more choices gives them fewer choices. If there is a market for healthier food at higher prices, then it is still there for some other merchant to fill.

In fact, here in Toronto: I see a standard pattern. A Dollar Store always opens next to a discount supermarket. Often they share the same building. The two are obviously complementary. You cannot buy everything you need at the Dollar Store. I cannot believe anyone does, or could, do the bulk of their grocery shopping at one. Their business model limits the Dollar Stores, generally, to non-perishables with a longer shelf life.

You go there for the bargains, then fill out your weekly needs next door at the supermarket.

The supermarkets, interestingly, still stock the same items as the Dollar Stores. You would think, if the Dollar Stores really were so lethal to competition, these supermarkets next door would concentrate on stocking only what the Dollar Stores do not. Instead, they still find it profitable to provide full service.

So what is behind this drive against the Dollar Stores?

I think it must be simply hatred of the poor. They are unsightly. Being made aware of their existence, seeing them in your neighbourhood, makes you feel guilty.

But the sickest thing is how this is all presented as a desire to “help” the poor. CNN headlines the issue: “Dollar stores are everywhere: That’s a problem for poor Americans.”

Another telling example of the general principle that, if you are planning to do something truly nefarious, you always represent it as the exact opposite.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Is Hell Eternal?

Dives and Lazarus

A friend who was once a member of the Unification Church (the “Moonies”) recently mentioned to me that they believe no one goes to hell; or perhaps better stated, hell is not eternal.

This sounded heretical in Catholic terms—but then I remembered that von Balthasar, or Bishop Barron, advance the idea that, while hell must exist, it is still theoretically possible that there is no one in it. And that would amount to the same thing: the bad perhaps spend a long time in Purgatory, but no one is finally abandoned.

This idea is appealing, because it is hard to understand why God would create some for eternal torment. This does not seem merciful. It does not even seem fair. Suppose a very bad man, like Hitler, has caused unspeakable suffering to 20 million people. Would justice not be served if, in purgatory, he himself experienced the full measure of all the suffering he had caused? If this is not enough, wouldn’t twice all the suffering he inflicted? Ten times? That is still not eternity.

But then it seems to me there are problems with this idea. To begin with, it is hard to reconcile it with the Gospel. In the story of Dives and Lazarus, for example, Jesus seems to plainly say that Dives is in hell, and there is no path that can take him from there to heaven. Then there are the images of separating the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats. These images do not seem to work if, in the end of all, the wheat and the chaff are back together, and the sheep herd with the goats.

There seems to be, beneath this, an argument that, if everyone gets to heaven, there is no good reason for God to have created this life. This life would seem to be a testing ground, a valley of soul formation. It does not seem to do that if everyone passes the test.

To deny the possibility of hell also seems to diminish free will. What is the sense of giving man free will if he cannot freely choose the ultimately wrong course? That’s something less than true free will, then.

There is another issue as well. Not all sin is against one’s fellow man, or other creatures who can suffer. Sin is not necessarily the infliction of suffering on others. Who suffers if you secretly covet your neighbour’s wife? In this case, it cannot be atoned by experiencing suffering oneself.

The most serious sins, indeed, are against God, who cannot suffer. And it is exactly this, sin against God, that the Church says leads to hell—it is rejecting God.

Jesus, asked what is the greatest commandment, answered “To love God with your whole heart, and your whole mind.”

He called blasphemy against the Holy Spirit “the unforgivable sin.”

In the Ten Commandments, the first three (or four, depending on your division) are sins against God, not your neighbor. Being listed first suggests they are first in importance.

Is God being selfish to make sins against him so much more important?

I do not think so. Define God, or his Logos, as the Truth and the Good. Jesus says something like this: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Light.”

Now, which is worse, telling a lie, or denying that there is any such thing as truth?

Surely the latter is sinful on a higher plane.

Which is more sinful, committing a sin, or denying that there is such a thing as sin, as right or wrong?
Surely the latter.

So the first example, committing a sin, gets you to purgatory; but there has to be a higher level of retribution for turning your back on the whole premise of being good or telling truth.

Hence there must be some state qualitatively different from Purgatory to which one would go.
And, if you have rejected Truth and Good as goals, it seems impossible for any length of time in purgatory to allow you to achieve either goal.

Poilievre and the Bottom Drop Out

Something has to be going on behind the scenes in the Tory leadership race.

It was not so surprising that Jean Charest took a pass, after earlier reports from Tom Mulcair that he was definitely in. But then Rona Ambrose dropped out right after him. Weird; Charest dropping out gave her a clearer field. And now Pierre Poilievre—who had already put together a powerful campaign team, and booked the hall for his kickoff in just a day or two. Obviously a sudden change of heart. Yet he must have seen his own chances boosted in turn by the other two not running.

These were, other than Peter MacKay, the three candidates with the best chance of winning the leadership.

Are they really all dropping out to hand it to MacKay?

That does not seem right. Politicians crave power.

MacKay has obvious vulnerabilities. His French is weak; Quebec and Ontario consider this critical. That’s most of the country. He is from the Red Tory wing, the smaller wing of the party ideologically. The party split in the past over that distinction. He is not from Western Canada, where most Tories live and where separatist sentiments are growing. These are natural bases from which to mount a challenge. His own regional base, in Atlantic Canada, is relatively small.

One would expect other politicians to see a strong opportunity here, as the standard-bearer of Quebec, of the West, of the libertarian wing, of the social conservative wing. Yet the big guns are not interested.

At the same time, the Tory leadership at this moment should look highly desirable: there is every chance of winning the next election against a weak and wounded incumbent.

So some vital piece of information has to be missing. Something that Poilievre, and Ambrose, and perhaps Charest, know, that we do not know.

Another surprising and unexplained thing happened just before all this: the sudden resignation of Stephen Harper from the party fund. Harper made a sudden move; and then all these other sudden moves in his wake. Perhaps that is out clue.

The obvious reason why Harper resigned was in order to become involved in the leadership contest. He could not do that from his official post. Rumours were that this was to block Charest. But it seems uncharacteristic of such a cool, self-controlled man as Harper if this was personal.

More probably the problem was not with Charest specifically, but with what he seemed to represent: a reverse takeover of the party by its old Progressive Conservative wing. But on these grounds, Peter MacKay should look about as concerning. He too, like Charest, is a former PC leader.

So why then wouldn’t Harper throw his support behind Ambrose or Poilievre, either of whom look like they have a good shot at defeating MacKay? And why, if such support was pledged, would they immediately drop out of the race?

Because, perhaps, none of these are adequate alternatives.

As a practical matter, all these candidates have their flaws. While Poilievre is more likely to appeal, say, to the right wing of the party, that just gets us back, it seems, to where we were with Scheer.

So Harper, and now Ambrose and Poilievre, are perhaps holding off for another anticipated candidate, someone of greater stature, someone better positioned to unite the party and win the next election.

Who might that be?

Only one name comes to mind.

Stephen Harper.

Don't hold me to it--but it looks like the simplest explanation.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Sixth Commandment

Jesus and the woman taken in adultery.

You shall not commit adultery.

This, at last, is straightforward. You must not have sex with someone if either of you is married, and not to each other.

Although it has been extended in both Christianity and Judaism to refer to any sex outside marriage, strictly, it is this that is prohibited.

And the reason seems plain: violation of trust. Betrayal. Marriage is a promise of sexual exclusiveness.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

William Blake on Speaking Out

Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you.

-- William Blake

One is often advised the opposite: to hold your tongue and always keep your own council. To be judicious in your speech. Be wary of offending.

This was not Blake's way. But it was also not the way of John the Baptist or of Jesus or of the prophets, surely,

Charest Out

I’m disappointed that Jean Charest is not going to run for the Conservative leadership.

On the other hand, I can understand why he decided to stay out. There was obviously fierce opposition to his bid. So, even if he did take the post, he would have to deal with a disunited party.

Pleading the Fifth

The painter did it.
You shall not kill.

Brief and to the point. What could be simpler? Yet this commandment too has caused much disagreement. Is war prohibited? Is self-defense? What about killing animals, for food?

Many Hebrew scholars argue that the word translated “kill” here—retzach—properly means “murder.” Some Bible translations have the commandment as “You shall not murder.”

But this too is dubious, and troublesome. “Murder” is a legal term: “unlawfully kill.” This leaves the sin to the absolute discretion of the civil authority; which is not a reliable moral guide. Hitler killing Jews in Nazi Germany would be okay.

And the same word is used elsewhere in the Bible when it cannot mean “murder”: for example, it is used to describe actions of God.

Yet “kill” is also not accurate. Retzach cannot mean “kill,” in the English sense, for the Bible itself, and Exodus itself, presents killing in war and capital punishment as not just proper but at times commanded by God.

Perhaps, to get to the sense of the commandment, we need to back up to the fundamental question: why is murder wrong? We all know it is wrong, so that asking the question seems outrageous. But we need to ask: how do we know that killing is wrong?

After all, God kills everyone—sooner or later. He could have made the world differently; he did not.

And for the just, death is a reward. So killing a good person is not harming him or her.

We know that killing is wrong, I submit, because we know that, in the eyes of God, or from any objective view, all human beings are equal in basic worth. Accordingly, no one person has the right to kill another; that would be radically elevating self over other.

So the essential issue addressed by the commandment is a mortal human taking upon him or herself an action reserved to God.

Meaning killing out of self-will, as self-assertion.

Killing in war, or in self-defense, would be licit, given that one is killing under necessity or command. The war itself might be licit or illicit. Capital punishment could be licit, if necessary to preserve public order. But this is a dubious claim in modern times and ordinary circumstances. It might become licit in a time of war, emergency, or insurrection.

Killing of animals for food, or for other purposes, is licit, because animals are not our spiritual equals. Once you extend the commandment beyond fellow humans, you get into trouble. Is it murder, then, to swat a mosquito? To kill a cancer virus?

Obviously, human life often requires us to kill other creatures for our survival.

We should no doubt avoid cruelty to animals, and frivolous killing. Just as we should avoid excessive force in self-defense, or bloodthirsty methods in war.

For my part, speaking for myself, the commandment inspires me to be vegetarian. After all, I can survive quite comfortably in most situations without killing any sentient animals. So is it perhaps an expression of selfishness to do so?

The bulk of the Christian monastic tradition, at least, agrees.

But, outside of Lent and Fridays, the same obligation has never been considered general. It is good to be vegetarian, It is not necessary to be vegetarian to be good.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Fourth Commandment

Finding Jesus in the temple: Tissot
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”
This is often cited as a requirement to obey your parents. This is probably the context in which most of us know it best, because we probably heard it presented this way repeatedly as children—and quite possible not since.

But this cannot be the core meaning.

It makes sense to advise children to obey their parents; their parents, being adults, will usually know best. But the Commandments are not for children. Below the age of reason, seven according to traditional thought, children cannot sin. Above the age of twelve, they are apparently under no obligation to obey their parents. Because Jesus clearly did not in the Gospels.

That is, he did not depart Jerusalem with his parents, but remained in the Temple, declaring it his true father’s house—implicitly denying his biological parents had any authority over him.

At the Wedding at Cana, when Mary asks him to help by performing a miracle, his immediate response is “What have I to do with you, woman?”

Below the age of twelve, was little Jesus obedient to his parents? There is nothing in the gospels. The one source we have is the Infancy Narratives of Thomas, from the First or Second Century. In it, Jesus is notably disobedient and disrespectful, to parents and teachers, and his relationship with his mortal father Joseph is tense. The Thomas Infancy Narratives were never accepted as authentic by the Church. But some of its incidents are repeated in the Quran. Obviously, some significant group of people took them seriously, for them to be preserved until today and spread beyond the Roman world in the days when all manuscripts were hand-copied.

So obedience to parents or deferring to their authority, is not the meaning of this commandment.

Which ought to be self-evident in any case. The average parent is, necessarily, no better a moral guide than the average person. Greater experience may give them an advantage over someone younger, especially in the case of a young child. But we know this is not conclusive. Otherwise, we would not bother with elections; we would just make the oldest among us king. It is entirely probable that, in any given case, an adult child will be a better judge, or more moral, than their parent.

And after all, deferring to another for moral judgements is an abdication of conscience; we are moral agents because we choose between right and wrong. It is what raises us above the animals.

From this perspective, an adult child automatically submitting to their parent’s will is being immoral.

To defer to another adult is also a violation of the concept of human equality. The consistent teaching of the Gospel is that we are all brothers, and all children of God. To defer to some fellow mortal instead of to our true father becomes an idolatry. Jesus even said, “Call no one father but your father who is in heaven.” “He who does not despise his father and his mother for my sake is not worthy of me.”

The Catholic Church extrapolates from this commandment an obligation to respect civil authority. This seems right. Even though the law is often wrong, even though the government is often corrupt, it is important to obey it in most ordinary circumstances to preserve public order. The same surely applies within the family, as a social institution—so long as it is operating as such. If everyone just does as they want, no social institution can function; the result is chaos. So clear lines of authority must be established.

But then, just as there can be just wars, despite the commandment not to kill, there can be just revolutions. Governments can be oppressive.

In such a case, resistance become a duty. So Augustine, long before the American Declaration of Independence; so Aquinas. Von Stauffenberg led the plot to assassinate Hitler as a devout Catholic. St. Thomas More was executed for treason. Jesus was executed by the civil authority—on the charge, even if false, of insurrection.

So too with a bad parent. Suppose, as with Huckleberry Finn, your father is a hopeless alcoholic. Is it your moral duty to go out and find him more gin?

Jewish sources understand the word we translate as “honour” to mean something like “repay a debt.” And it is a Hebrew word. That is, given that your parents supported you in childhood, you are morally obliged to support them in their age. This explains why the commandment is followed by a promise or a justification: “so that you may live long.” If we make a point of taking care of the aged, we all get to live longer. The alternative, in uncivilized societies, if often to leave the aged on the ice to starve, once they become a burden.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Classism in Canada

Members of the English upper classes throng around Harrod's, early 20th century.

Canada has never had a formal ruling class. Actually, “never” is not right. New France had a ruling class under the seigneurial system. But since the British Conquest, it hasn’t. Everyone was a freeholder.

We North Americans tend not to realize how unique this is. It is foundational. Everywhere in the Old World, class something you were born into, it was unambiguous, and it was enforced by law.

Although that system has been abolished, profound effect linger. At my college in Saudi Arabia, I was the sole North American for some years, and hung out with Brits and Irish. They would dismiss someone, for example, as a “peasant”; as though that were saying something to the latter’s discredit. You don’t hear “peasant” as a common insult in Canada. Or they would refer to tradesmen disparagingly as “cowboys.” As if there were something wrong with being a tradesman or a cowboy.

Same in China. My students were acutely aware of one another’s background. One doctoral student, his fellows warned me, was “just a peasant.” Not to be taken seriously.

While there, as is traditional, I took a Chinese name. I chose “Shi Jiang.” Literally, “Stone River”; the image appealed to me. It meant roughly what the name of my home town, Gananoque, means in Iroquoian.

My students were most concerned. They felt it undignified for a college professor. “You shouldn’t take that name! That’s a working class name!”

Because “Shi Jiang” is also the Chinese term for a stonecutter or stonemason.

Compare Canada: Alexander Mackenzie, our second Prime Minister after Confederation, was a stonemason.

Even  other parts of the Americans had established upper classes. Here, Mexican aristocrats.

And don’t get started on India and the remaining influence of the caste system.

We in Canada lack this influence, like the US and Australia. This is what it means when the Declaration of Independence declares that all men are created equal, and are entitled to equal protection from the law.

We no longer understand how revolutionary that was. Revolutionary to none so much as my Irish ancestors, Catholic and Protestant, who formed the bulk of the population of English Canada in the 19th century. It instilled in them a fierce loyalty to this land, which immediately could not be swayed by any American or Fenian invasion, or any tragic events back in Ireland. Here, everyone pulled together.

But perhaps all this is changing.

Because we have never known class, perhaps we no longer understand the danger.

Alexander Mackenzie.

We are admitting immigration now at unprecedented levels. These newcomers are liable, indeed likely, to retain their notions of class, and bring them with them. In smaller numbers, they might soon see differently; this is less likely when the numbers are so large.

Worse, for decades, our Canadian immigration system has been favouring the well educated and well heeled, on the premise that these will most likely soon be net contributors, instead of net drags, on the economy and the tax rolls. A reasonable assumption—but since we are drawing newcomers largely from the Third Word, this means we are importing the resident ruling classes.

They, of anyone, will be disinclined to shed their classist attitudes.

Has anyone else considered the probable result?

All this is amplified by another factor: ironically enough, our democratic system.

Some years ago, I got involved in local politics. I learned from a local alderman that the only way to achieve office was to have some organized group behind you. More than money, you needed volunteers, to knock on doors, put up posters, and get out to vote for you because you were one of them.

This means that, despite the theories, local democracies can be controlled by small groups—cliques.

In Canada, because of the Westminster system, all politics is to some degree local—office is achieved riding by riding. Such tight-knit, organized groups can easily take over nomination meetings, then significantly advantage their chosen candidate in the election.

This explains why identity politics is so powerful: organized minorities with strong self-identities thus magnify their power far beyond their numbers.

And, in effect, they can become a de facto ruling class; even a legally enforced ruling class.

We see this power being exercised by the teachers’ unions; by CUPE; by the feminist lobby, the gay lobby, and the professions. The farmers, the farm lobby. Regardless of what the majority of the population wants, or what is in their interests, the various parties tend to bow to their agendas and interests.

Tammany Hall devouring democracy--19th century cartoon by Thomas Nast.

And the same principle works well for tribal groups of immigrants, who will come out for one of their own. The alderman who explained the system to me back in Kingston was Greek; his machine was the Greek community. In the old days in Toronto, it was always the Orange Lodge. In the big city machines in the US, it tended to be the Irish Catholics. When I ran for school board in Toronto once, I found myself caught in the crossfire between the Italian candidate and the Portuguese candidate.

All this is bad enough. But our new ethnic tribes are not just close-knit, enabling them to take power; they are also largely composed of people who view themselves as upper class, with upper class attitudes and with upper class expectations or privilege and advantage.

And official multiculturalism is actually encouraging and underwriting this process. In fact, the sacred cow status of multiculturalism is perhaps itself an example of a ruling class carving out for itself special and separate privileges.

Besides killing off multiculturalism, and changing our immigration system, we should introduce some counterbalance to local control of all offices. Such as an elected senate, elected proportionally from national lists.

Jerusalem Today

David Olney, the man who wrote this song, died peacefully on stage yesterday of a heart attack.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Week in Pictures

King's University College Faculty Protest Anti-Abortion Film

I've Seen the Future, Brother. It is Murder

The Spirit of the Age?

A troubling thing; a poetic friend has sent me a really fine poem he wrote. But it is a fantasy about raping some woman. Perhaps also killing her.

Recently George Elliott Clarke was forced to pull out of a Regina reading because he had planned to read poetry by Stephen Brown. Clarke has edited some of his work, and obviously considers him a good poet. Brown was convicted of murdering a local girl.

What is going on here?

It is hard enough that we cannot trust government, or the clergy. Now it seems we cannot trust poets either.

Even though they, to the extent that they are good poets, have a direct line to the spiritual world—“inspiration.”

Leonard Cohen seems to have seen this coming. In “The Future,” he refers to

“All the lousy little poets coming round,
Trying to sound like Charlie Manson.”

It is all a reminder, in the first place, that, if poets channel spirits, not all spirits are good spirits. There are demonic forces.

Sensitive souls are connecting, it seems, to some deep rage. And it seems to be a rage against women. Perhaps aroused by feminism, perhaps by the “sexual revolution.”

Cohen also may have seen that. The lines just before those quoted above are:

“You’ll see your woman hanging upside down
Her features hidden by her fallen gown.”

We are in a post-Christian phase, as a culture, and perhaps the pagan rules again apply.

Perhaps we are hearing from the Erinyes.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

William Blake on Social Justice

Blake is not always right, but in the end, I think he is the greatest philosopher that England has produced.

He does it in gnomic phrases.

He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars: general Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer, for Art and Science cannot exist but in minutely organized Particulars.

So much for "social justice warriors."

The Third Commandment

God creating the universe; from a 13th century English psalter.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. You shall labor six days, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to Yahweh your God. You shall not do any work in it, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your livestock, nor your stranger who is within your gates; for in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore Yahweh blessed the Sabbath day, and made it holy.”

The Sabbath is a gift to man, as Jesus elsewhere asserts, rather than something that might go against our natural inclinations: who does not want a holiday? It seems odd, therefore, that it is in the Ten Commandments, as a moral imperative.

The commandment does go on to demand not only rest for ourselves, but for anyone in our employ, or under our direction. This may require self-sacrifice; it often seemed to under Ontario’s old “blue laws.”

But this does not explain why the commandment not only includes but leads with the need to rest ourselves.

It is perhaps therefore significant that unlike almost all the other commandments, it does not begin with the words “Thou shalt,” or “Thou shalt not.”

It begins with the word “remember.”

It is perhaps a call to what Buddhists call “mindfulness.” Although often misunderstood to mean attention to the immediately sensed, the original word translated “mindfulness” is actually closer to this English word: “remember.”

The Sabbath many be set aside for remembering. The sense of the first four words of the commandment may really be, “Remember on the Sabbath day, in order to keep it holy.”

Here in Exodus, in context of citing the commandment, we are reminded of the creation of the cosmos by God. When the commandment is reiterated in Deuteronomy, reference is made to the Passover and the escape from bondage in Egypt. We are called to remember these things.

“Remembering” here does not only mean our personal memories. It does not in Buddhist “mindfulness,” for to Buddhists each soul has memories of past lives in many realms of existence. And it demonstrably does not here—we do not personally remember either the creation or the exodus.

Limiting the memory to the personal is a modern convention, that Plato would have scorned as much as Jung. Memory in this Platonic sense assumes a vast store of innate knowledge. We are born, as Blake said, like a garden fully planted, programmed by the Creator.

But we need not go that far. Memory obviously includes not just personal sense experience, but all that we have read, or been taught, or even dreamt. It includes the stories that form us: the vast literary landscape of the Bible, the Odyssey, the Ramayana, Aesop’s fables, the legends, the fairy tales.

Iowa Forecast

My prediction: Bernie Sanders wins the Iowa caucuses. He is surging at just the right time. Warren’s attack on him for supposed misogyny will garner him sympathy votes. And the caucus system favours candidates whose supporters are more committed. Sanders’s supporters are.

I think Biden will disappoint. It is not just that his supporters are likely to be less fervent. The caucus system also favours those with second-choice growth potential. As the front runner and with his name recognition, and running on electability, those who are inclined to support him are already on board. As well, a huge proportion of the Iowa Democratic electorate are reported in polls as undecided. It more or less follows that they are looking for someone other than Biden, whom they all already know well.

This offers a big opening for a surprise by some dark horse candidate with really strong on-the-ground organization.

I think, thanks to her assault on Sanders, Warren will perform worse than expected, which may be a crippling blow to her candidacy. The proverbial wisdom is that only three candidates tend to remain viable after Iowa. If Warren badly underperforms expectations, her support naturally moves over to Sanders; and it handicaps his most dangerous regional rival in the New Hampshire primary soon to follow.

Buttigieg’s fifteen minutes have passed; I think his support is on the decline, and so he is unlikely to surprise in Iowa.

I look to some darker horse from the second tier to surprise, but I cannot predict which one.

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Second Commandment

Something smells.

“You shall not misuse the name of Yahweh your God, for Yahweh will not hold him guiltless who misuses his name.” (WEB)


“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”

This is ambiguous; so much so that Judaism has chosen to prohibit using the name of God, in any variant, in any circumstances, just to be safe. This is why English Bibles commonly refer to God as “Our Lord,” or “The Lord,” avoiding the use of the proper name.

But why is this a problem? Who is hurt by the misuse of a word? Would not, as Shakespeare said, a rose by any other name still smell as sweet?

It is commonly understood as a prohibition against making a false oath; against perjury, and against breaking promises or contracts. This seems reasonable, since in the Bible itself oaths are taken in the name of Yahweh.

But then, why not say so directly? Why be this circumspect?

Catholics believe this is a prohibition against cursing. Which again seems reasonable enough.

But again, why not say so directly?

Perhaps because it is about something more literal as well.

Literally, to misuse a name, or use a name in vain, is to apply it to the wrong person or thing: to look at a cat, for example, and call Puss a dog.

This may be an important issue; because Confucius, in the East, more or less makes it the first commandment in his moral system. Asked what would be his primary task if given power, he responded, “the rectification of terms.” 

Master Kung--Confucius.
“A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.” – Analects 8:3:4-7, Legge trans.

This may not matter on the simple physical level: if you call a cat a dog, it just seems silly. If you call a rose a stinkweed, it fools no one. It increases in importance as the things referred to become more abstract; it matters a great deal more, for example, if you call lust love, or prejudice justice. The potential for deception is far greater, and the consequences far more severe.

Logically, then, the greatest danger begins with misidentifying the most important entity, God: and this can stand for the whole issue.

This is more or less the same point Orwell made with Newspeak in 1984. It is vital that language should always be in accord with objective reality, and not manipulated for political purposes. Otherwise you can just declare “freedom is slavery,” and start enslaving with abandon in the name of liberty. All manner of evil can thus be justified. Perhaps this is why, in turn the Devil himself is called the “Father of Lies.” Tinkering with the language itself is a kind of primordial meta-lie.

Jesus declares in the New Testament that “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” is the one unforgivable sin. It is the same sin cited here:

“Then one possessed by a demon, blind and mute, was brought to him; and he healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. All the multitudes were amazed, and said, “Can this be the son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “This man does not cast out demons except by Beelzebul, the prince of the demons.”

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your children cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if I by the Spirit of God cast out demons, then God’s Kingdom has come upon you. Or how can one enter into the house of the strong man and plunder his goods, unless he first bind the strong man? Then he will plunder his house.

“He who is not with me is against me, and he who doesn’t gather with me, scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age, or in that which is to come.”

The sin itself is illustrated by the passage: the Pharisees, knowing that Jesus had exorcised by the power of the Holy Spirit, said it was done by the demon Beelzebul. They were, in effect, calling the Holy Spirit the Devil. They were taking the name of the Lord in vain. 

Jesus exorcises the man both blind and mute.

There is another subtext here: what opens the eyes and allows us communication is from God; what closes the eyes and prevents effective speech is from Satan. Correct use of terms and concepts allows things to be seen clearly, and allows dialogue to occur.

Again, Jesus gathers together; Satan scatters. Devil, “dia-bol,” literally means “to scatter.” And an obvious instance of scattering is to separate the word from the object.

For every word is a “sym-bol,” a drawing of things together: most fundamentally, word and referent. The sound or visual character, and the thing it represents.

The image of the strong man being bound also seems relevant. Given the context, an exorcism, the plunderer would be the possessing demon. The demon gains possession of the will by first binding the self with the misapplication of terms.

This may be why, in turn, an essential act, perhaps the essential act, in any Christian or Muslim exorcism is getting the demon to clearly state his name. Rectify terms, and the possession must end.

Perhaps this is also why John the Baptist came before Jesus: in order to make the Truth apparent, we must first “make the ways straight for the Lord,” and this is a speech act. For that is what the Baptist does: he speaks. He is a herald.

This tendency to falsify language is, sadly, becoming endemic in our society. It is the driving force behind political correctness. Abortion is called “choice.” Government expenditures are “investments.” We are now required to assert that, if a man says he is a woman, he is a woman. And we must say he is, despite all appearances to the contrary, or face serious consequences. The list is growing faster than it can be enumerated. It is all, to quote Orwell, to “make lies sound truthful, murder respectful and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

There is another curious part of the passage. So curious it must hold some special meaning:

“If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your children cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if I by the Spirit of God cast out demons, then God’s Kingdom has come upon you.”

Why this reference to children? Would it not be more natural to say, “by whom did your fathers cast them out”? Wouldn’t that have made his point stronger, showing that this was established usage? Wouldn’t it be more natural to warn that their forefathers, not their children, would judge them for such a sin? Do children commonly judge the acts of parents?

It seems there is something peculiar about this sin that inverts this more natural order.

It sounds like Hans Christian Andersen’s fable of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” 

The sincerity of a child is a threat to any corrupt social order based on a shared falsification of terms. Given such a situation, in which fundamental concepts are being falsified, it is children who are going to be best able to spot it. Because they are looking at it all with fresh eyes, without preconceptions—in this case, falsified preconceptions.

This may be why “a child shall lead us,” as the New Testament says. This may be why Jesus says “suffer to come unto me the little children; for of such is the Kingdom of God.”

This may explain in turn why, as Freud and many others have observed, it is the brightest and most perceptive children who come to be abused in any dysfunctional family.

He Who Pays the Harper Picks the Tune

Stephen Harper has resigned from his Conservative Party post in order to fight against Jean Charest getting the Conservative leadership.

And if Harper does not like Charest, it seems unlikely that MacKay would be his choice either. Both are “Red Tories.”

Tom Mulcair brings up another rap against MacKay. Rona Ambrose is sitting out it seems in part because her French is weak. She caught flak for that during her interim leadership. But MacKay’s French is weaker still.

Which, Tom Mulcair points out, raises an interesting possibility. What happens if no one else looks like they can beat Charest? Might Harper himself run?

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Book of Consolation

All the Way with Jean Charest?

The new frontrunner.

Peter MacKay has, as expected, entered the Conservative leadership race. He becomes the front runner. 

I am not keen on Peter MacKay.

He won the Progressive Conservative leadership years ago by cutting a secret backroom deal with David Orchard. The deal was, in large part, that he would not, under any circumstances, allow the PCs to merge with the Canadian Alliance.

This was in May, 2003. In October, 2003, MacKay merged the party with the Canadian Alliance.

It was a historic display of lack of principle.

Why would we want such a man as prime minister?

To be clear, I was delighted at the party merger. The real problem was the original pact with Orchard, which sold out the party and the conservative movement for personal ambition. But this was then compounded by the breach of trust.

MacKay is all about MacKay.

One pressing issue in the current leadership race is that the new leader must be ready to hit the ground running, to assume the prime ministership at any moment. This is a minority government situation. There will be little time to find their feet, little time to introduce themselves to the public.

This looks like a MacKay strength, because of his long resume; but his conduct as PC leader suggests otherwise. He won a leadership, and within a year surrendered it. It looks as though he really had no idea or plan for what to do with it.

It looks as though he is not temperamentally a leader.

Also in the race, so far, are Pierre Poilievre and Erin O’Toole.

Poilievre looks great in parliament; he is fluently bilingual, and has Western roots. Yet I fear he is handicapped by this vital consideration, that the new leader be ready to assume command. Poilievre’s talent is in opposition. One remembers John Diefenbaker: the segue into government is not an easy one, it is in many ways an opposite role, and Dief turned out not to have the personality for it.

Poilievre would have made better sense last time, when the task appeared to be to rally forces for a long haul in opposition.

He might be great, but it’s a bit of a shot in the twilight.

I like O’Toole. However, he too is not ready for this. He only came third last time, in a weaker field. His government experience is as Minister of Veterans Affairs, not a major portfolio. He has no natural regional power base—coming up through the military means he is not really from anywhere.

Jean Charest has not announced, but rumours are swirling around him.

I like Jean Charest. He has at least as impressive a resume as MacKay; and it includes actual governing experience, as Quebec premier.

Yet there seems to be a lot of resistance to him within the party. I think there is a special resentment, in the West, towards there being so many national leaders from Quebec. They feel, by comparison, excluded.

One can sympathize, but in pragmatic terms, Quebec is important; it has a lot of seats. The Tories already have the West secured; Atlantic Canada is not seat-rich; and Ontario too likes leaders from Quebec, while Quebec is not impressed by leaders from Ontario.

Somebody has crafted a pre-emptive assault by pointing out that Charest has been advising Huawei. This supposedly makes him a Manchurian candidate. Kind of like Trump with Russia.

I’m not impressed by this claim either. My greatest criticism of the current, Trudeau, government, is that it has been trying to hector other countries on how they should conduct their business. Given Canada’s lack of either financial or military might, this does no good for anyone, and only harm to Canadians. I’d rather stick to trying to be friends to everyone, and being fair to everyone. And doing business with everyone.

Stephen Harper, rumours say, also strongly resists Charest’s bid. He has just resigned from the Conservative National Fund, reputedly so he is free to work against Charest.

I think this is a matter of protecting his legacy; if Charest wins, it will no longer be Stephen Harper’s party. It will be the old Progressive Conservatives again.

I too would prefer it to remain in Harper’s mold. And, frankly, I am probably not going to vote Conservative next time, with Charest or any of the others here as leader. But this is also an indication of how competent a leader Charest is. MacKay too comes from the old PC, yet Harper does not so fear him.

At this point, I think the CPC would do best to choose Charest.