Playing the Indian Card

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

A Journal of the Plague Year

I was not an early supporter of Trump; he was almost the last guy I would have picked for the presidency within the 2016 Republican field. I would have supported him against Clinton, but not against just about any other Democratic nominee.

But America seems to have some special Providence that keeps throwing up the right man at the critical time. I thought Reagan was a mad choice too, at the time; yet he won the Cold War. Lincoln came from nowhere. Washington was an improbable hero, a lousy tactician who almost got himself killed in his first battle. U.S. Grant was an obscure shop clerk and a drunk.

I now realize Trump is the ideal man for these times. Tough, optimistic, flexible, able to bargain and make deals.

Watching him, my admiration for businessmen of the entrepreneurial class increases.

A Hasidic doctor in the New York suburbs reports almost 100% success with seven hundred patients using hydroxychliriquine, azythromycin, and zinc on the onset of symptoms. No deaths, no intubations.

This feels right on the premise that this is all from God: salvation comes from the Jews.

Missing Mass

My portlisting pal Xerxes is mocking the Catholic Church for cancelling masses.

“My Catholic friends were told they had to attend mass every week. Even during epidemics. Because the wafer and wine, as the symbolic body and blood of the sinless Christ, could not transmit germs.”

This is a grave misunderstanding of Catholic teaching, and so perhaps must be addressed.

The wafer and wine are not, as he says, the “symbolic” body and blood of Christ. They are the actual body and blood of Christ.

Nor did Catholic doctrine ever hold that this means they cannot transmit germs. That would be like saying they cannot get dirty if dropped on the floor. Great pains are traditionally taken to prevent just this.

If a virus can adhere to ordinary bread, it can adhere to the consecrated host. All the “accidents” of bread and wine remain. That means that they still weigh what they did, look as they did, and act as they did. If you drink enough communion wine, you will indeed get drunk.

Does Xerxes want to argue that God would never allow anyone to die as a result of taking communion? That makes no sense; God allows us all to die, good people as well as bad, and no matter how many times you have taken communion.

As to Xerxes’s point, that masses were not cancelled during previous plagues: this is because medical science did not know about germs until about the middle of the 19th century. Before then, the dominant assumption was that infectious diseases were spread by bad smells: the miasma theory.

On this understanding, a church full of incense should be about the safest place to be. Now we know better.

I have no sympathy with those who complain that the Church has abandoned them by shutting the doors. You could as justly complain that the church abandoned us all years ago by closing its doors when masses were not scheduled, preventing us from going in to pray at will. It was, and is, a practical necessity. This falls under the principle that “Thou shalt not put the Lord your God to the test.” Going to church and assuming it is God’s duty to protect you from the usual laws of nature is necromancy. It is claiming authority over God.

And, of course, God is everywhere. He is with the hermit in his cell. He is with the imprisoned martyr. He was with the persecuted church in Korea that had no priests for thirty years. We have our choice of online masses on the Internet every day.

Monday, March 30, 2020

The Death of Comic Books

Left to right: Snowflake, Safespace, Screentime, Trailblazer, and B-Negative.

Marvel Comics has released a series supposed to be hep and with-it for the youngsters of Generation Z, “The New Warriors,” showcasing heroes named “Screentime,” “Safespace,” and “Snowflake.” The brainchild of a writer named Daniel Kibblesmith.

This looks like the end of Marvel Comics; perhaps of comics generally. If not the world.

I was, in my younger days, a fierce devotee of Marvel Comics, back in the Silver Age. Like everyone else, I’ve also enjoyed the recent movies, for the most part, with my own kids.

I do not love the movies so much as I did the comics, and I have not followed the comics for some time.

This is because I discovered mythology; I discovered the stories in their original versions.

The secret to the success of 1960s Marvel was that Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and their gang knew the stories. Probably because they were all Jewish kids growing up reading the Torah. They were retelling the essential stories in modern Spandex.

The “super-hero” is simply the legendary hero, as he always has been. Heroes have superpowers. Perseus could fly; Herakles had superhuman strength.

Superhero comics before Fantastic Four, however, were missing an essential element: heroes lead troubled lives. They have problems; they are outcasts. Robin Hood; the Heroes of the Water Margin; Samson and Delilah. The creators of Superman and Batman missed this.

Superheroes—heroes—come from the storehouse imagination. We are inclined to think that the imagination is random and limitless. To the contrary, to the imagination only some things are real—vivid to the mind’s eye—and they are a limited set. Every culture has dragons, and dragons have certain known features. There are no dragons in nature. Every culture has unicorns, and unicorns have certain identifiable features, although there are no unicorns in nature. Every culture has fairies, elves, ogres, and so on.

The bright colours and the solid line art are also part of the mix; it is no coincidence that the art in comic books resembles the art of the stained glass window. This is how things appear in the imagination: bright and distinct. Lines are solid; there are few shadows or gradients. Things simply are, or are not.

Kibblesmith seems to have no sense of any of this. He has read nothing. Hero legends, tapping the storehouse consciousness, speak of things eternal. Trying to be “trendy,” regardless of the trend, is anathema to the genre. It is like putting contemporary references in a cowboy movie.

One problem faced by the comic book author is that there are only a limited number of compelling superpowers. This is why there are so many near-duplicates in the DC and the Marvel universe. Iron Man, for example, the man made of metal with a fatal flaw, is Talos, the bronze giant of the Argonautica. The Thing is the Golem. The Flash, of course, is Hermes, Mercury. Everyone dreams of flying, like Superman. Everyone dreams of being invisible.

Kibblesmith does not get this, and tries to invent new powers. “Snowflake” throws projectiles shaped like snowflakes. There’s the stuff of legends. “Safespace” generates forcefields that arbitrarily protect others, but not himself. Not too useful in a bar fight. “Screentime,” thanks to the effects of “Internet gas,” is directly connected at all times to the Internet. Meaning, I guess, that he does not need to pull his iPhone out of his pocket like everybody else.

Snowflake and Safespace are plainly meant to reflect current ideas of fluid “gender identity”: the visibly male “Safespace” is pink, the visibly female “Snowflake” is baby blue, and supposedly “non-binary.” The message is the postmodern message that the imagination and its archetypes and associations are purely arbitrary and subject to conscious manipulation.

This is the opposite of the core message of comic books.

It is all mythically illiterate. Kibblesmith and the current Marvel are, like the sorcerer’s apprentice, playing with powers they do not comprehend. It will not go well for them.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Tim Pool on Talk of Revolution in Italy

A Journal of the Plague Year

The Service Canada centres have been shut down, after civil servants walked out, fearing for their personal safety. This despite the fact that “social distancing” measures had been put in place at the centres.

I can sympathize with their fear, but this is hard to forgive.

Clerks and shelf stockers are soldiering on in the grocery stores; pharmacists are still dispensing; truckers are still hauling. Doctors and nurses are risking their health hour by hour. We need essential workers to stay on the job, or things can quickly get much worse.

Many people are being thrown out of work, and suddenly urgently needing government services.

And the government itself is abandoning its posts. It is deserting in the face of the enemy.

This is a grave stain on Canadian honour; a breach of the Canadian social contract.

Yes, in theory, services are accessible online. But just try navigating them online at the best of times. Now imagine a disabled senior doing it. Not everyone even has internet access; and the libraries and the community centres, with free access, have been shut down.

A responsible government would be ordering civil servants back to work. If they refuse, they lose their jobs. If necessary, military personnel are brought in to replace them.

This dereliction of duty by the government should not be forgotten when the fog of war clears.

In China, meantime, there are signs of unrest as a result of the virus; I see a YouTube video of a mob overturning a car to break through a quarantine roadblock in Wuhan.

Riots are not rare in China; it’s probably nothing.

Most intriguing is that there are uniformed police in the shot, and they are doing nothing to prevent it. They look as though they might even be participating.

When the organized and armed forces, the police or the military, are no longer prepared to execute orders, things can turn quickly. I think of Ceausescu in Romania, who lost control of the nation in the middle of a speech.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Zombie Apocalypse Is Real

I suddenly understand why zombies of the cinematic sort have now become such a popular theme in various forms of entertainment, in graphic novels and on screens large and small; why the simple plot line of a zombie apocalypse has become so compelling.

It is because we are all living through it.

The strange deep sense of satisfaction that the zombie stories produce is the serenity that comes from at last confronting some unspoken truth. It is catharsis, in Aristotle’s sense; it is like lancing a boil.

I am not referring to the coronavirus; even though, eerily, in most iterations of the zombie apocalypse, it is a virus that zombifies.

It seems more as though the Wuhan pandemic has thrown the other, more serious infection into stark relief: like a bolt of lightning lighting up the night sky. The “zombie apocalypse” that dates back to Night of the Living Dead in 1968, has been growing within our imaginations like a vivid premonition, a bit disjointed, as in dreams.

There’s been a virus going round since about then.

Many press voices, as the coronavirus hit North America, were most concerned that it not be called the “Chinese virus,” and with the “racism” of people who suddenly were not eating in the restaurants of Chinatown. Those were the lead stories.

Many journalists, commentators, tweeters and social media memes are blaming Trump for the virus and saying that he murdered everyone who has died from it. Others are blaming the virus on Christian evangelicals. Others blame it on the lack of tax-funded public health care in the US.

Objectively, of course, these are perfect non sequiturs; and show a dangerous lack of focus.

For more traces of some strange zombification, witness the mainstream Democrats who have locked down in line behind Joe Biden, continuing to insist that he is the one man America needs as president; despite obvious indications of a narcissistic personality, and now clear symptoms of dementia. Also a dangerous disconnect from either reality or ethics: objectively, aside from policies, electing such a man would be perilous for the republic. A recent editorial in the Atlantic headlined something like “Just Don’t Die, Joe Biden.” It looks like the selection by zombies of a zombie president. I’d say intentional, if zombies had intent.

Or witness the congresshumans and US senators who insist on imposing carbon emissions reductions on airlines getting relief aid in an emergency bill; or they will not support the bill. Let everyone die, then. Or demanding additional minority hiring quotas for businesses getting relief; or they would not support the bill.

These people seem to be operating without a functioning brain. Or rather, more properly, without a soul, without real awareness. The brain, as a mechanism, still functions, driving the legs forward one after the other. Zombies; the same sense is expressed by the currently popular gamer phrase, “NPCs.” “Non-player characters”: people who seem to be only simulating consciousness, like the algorithm-generated opponents in a computer game. Their reactions are mechanical, predictable, and over time reveal that there is no thought behind them.

The coronavirus, with such other uncanny events as Biden’s abrupt dementia, or the locust swarms in Africa, simply reveal to us where the zombies are. Hand of God, perhaps.

What is the real virus? Something that infects brains. That much our premonitions told us. “Postmodernism” and its intellectual littermates have stripped modern thought, beginning with the academics and spreading out through the professional elites, of its moorings, the essential guiding principles of the soul: the Good, the True, the Beautiful. Sat, Cit, Ananada. You can say “God,” to combine the principles, but even outside of monotheism, these three navigational goals remain the meaning of life.

Contemporary thought has turned away from all of them. This amounts to zombification at the mass level. To remove all spiritual moorings is to remove the soul. One simply lurches around responding to simple instincts, like hunger. Eat. Brains.

A real crisis, calling for a serious response, reveals the problem.

If this meaninglessness virus corresponds to postmodernism on the intellectual place, on the psychological plane it corresponds to narcissism. Narcissists have pulled out all their moorings. They seem to live to a limited script, unable to see what is really around them. Fliess described them as “ambulatory psychotics.”

Unfortunately, it is further the case that narcissists, postmodernists, zombies are programmed to destroy. It is Pope St. John Paul II called “the culture of death.” Like a virus, the prime directive is to spread, by eating the next brain.

Perhaps the current crisis is a godsend. Perhaps we can now rally and fight.

Something Strange

... and I have no expertise to bring to bear.

But someone has crunched numbers from the US and concluded that deaths from flu-like illnesses and from all causes  are actually DOWN in the US this year. 

This seems to be so much counter to everything else we hear that I am nonplussed.

But if true, deliriously good news, surely.

Friday, March 27, 2020

The Simple Law of Love

A Wall Street Journal article speculated on a Third Great Awakening as a result of this virus.

Yet if God sent this virus as a means to shake and wake, I fear He has more work to do.

It’s incredibly simple, really. The meaning of life is to seek the truth, the good, and the beautiful.

But most people avoid or deny the truth, have little sensitivity to beauty and deny there is such a thing as the good.

All that is arbitrary, “culturally conditioned.” Truth is just a matter of opinion. Evil just a matter of a “misunderstanding.” Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I have written here before of the simplicity of truth.

The good is even simpler.

It is love.

Jesus gave it as “Love God with your whole heart and your whole mind; and love your neighbour as yourself.” St. Augustine shortened it to “love, and do what you will.”

Love means you seek the best for the other. Just as you would for yourself.

It is simple enough to grasp that anyone who pretends not to get it must surely be lying.

They get it; they do not want to do it.

Journal of the Plague Year

Today was my weekly grocery shopping. I went during the pre-opening hour reserved for the elderly and infirm.

There was no lineup this time, although the store was busy. Social distancing was impossible. There is no way you can anticipate the movements of others, and most if not all were paying it no heed.

There were few bare shelves; although powdered milk was still out. They even had toilet paper.

I wore gloves, and used a pencil to enter my pin code at checkout.

Each cashier was suddenly behind plexiglass. All were masked and gloved. There were strips on the floor to guide social distancing, although nobody was paying attention to them.

As I went through the cash, one guy came up to the next cash with four crates full of sanitary wipes. The store owner told him he had to put them back. He tried a second time, and was forced to return them again. Shouting. He left with one crate, told not to come back that day.

Boris Johnson now has coronavirus, as well as the UK Health Minister.

Another milestone: the number of confirmed cases in the US now surpasses the number in China. This despite the fact that the US has only a fraction of the population. And the numbers are still growing fast.

However, the important number is the total deaths compared to the total infected. On that, the US is doing far better than China. Either they are doing better on treating, or better on testing, or both.

Dr. John Campbell, one of the two YouTubers I most trust on this crisis, reports that hopes the virus will be slowed by warm weather look vain.

Reports from Madrid that doctors are not allowing patients over 65 on ventilators. They are just given sedation and left to die.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

A Journal of the Plague Year

Steampunk coronavirus selfie.

It feels like a corner was turned today.

Dr. Fauci, who was the pessimist at Trump’s press conferences on the pandemic, is now quoted as saying "I know we'll be successful in putting this down now, but we really need to be prepared for another cycle."

This looks like a backhanded admission that the hydrochloroquine treatment works. It also looks like he has reason to believe the virus is seasonal, and will naturally begin to abate, as flu viruses often do, as summer approaches. Perhaps the thesis that the virus needs a narrow band of temperature and humidity to spread was at least partly right.

Although abating for summer is only temporary relief, it does buy us a bit of time to be better prepared in the autumn.

The Oxford study, suggesting that the virus is significantly less deadly than we thought, is also getting widely circulated. It does not sound right to me, but perhaps I am missing something. Others who presumably understand better than I do are impressed.

Perhaps the reason Fauci and others in government have been downplaying hydrochloroquine is because they did not have enough of the drug. Since it was already available on prescription, people could pressure their doctors, producing a possible run on the drug. And they felt they needed the limited supply to protect health care workers. Just like with face masks.

India has now banned exports of the drug.

They would not do this if it were not effective.

Same for Nevada suddenly banning the drug’s use for COVID-19.

They are worried about protecting limited supplies.

Unfortunately, India is a major world source for generic drugs. We have to hope there are sufficient production facilities closer to home.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

A Journal of the Plague Year

A beautiful spring day. A day of superlatives. India is in the largest lockdown/quarantine in history. Wall Street had its biggest one-day surge since 1933. The US just passed the largest spending bill in human history.

Oxford University has released a study arguing that, for all we know, the fatality rate for coronavirus is low. They theorize that fifty percent of Britons may already have been exposed. If so, the proportion of deaths is quite small.

I think this is delusional thinking. If fifty percent of the UK population has already been infected with only 433 deaths, how do you explain that Italy, with about the same population, has 7,000 deaths. That would mean almost 1000% of Italy must have been infected. Excuse my Italian, but is my math that bad?

I don’t know what they’re doing about testing in the UK, but Canada and the US are in effect doing random sampling now, and they are finding when they do test random samples, only a small percentage test positive for the virus.

Cruising with Coronavirus on the Ship of Fools

One wants to believe that the clear and present crisis would bring us all together, forgetting our differences as we face, as humanity, a common enemy. As we all sing to one another from our balconies.

One wants to believe. Sadly, that is not the real world. It would be pleasant indeed if all our differences were due to simple misunderstandings, and all along we just needed more good will on both sides. But if it were so, we would be pretty dumb not to have done that long ago, without the crisis. People do not rape and murder over some silly misunderstanding.

The crisis is instead making our differences sharper, clarifying the distinction between sheep and goats. The good people are showing how good they are, doing what is necessary, even taking great personal risks, to help others more vulnerable. But the bad people are showing how bad they are, exploiting the crisis.

Unfortunately, some of those bad people are at high levels in government. The Democrats in the US Congress have taken the need for emergency legislation as an opportunity to force through 1,400 pages of measures largely unrelated to the crisis. Measures that could never pass a vote in the Senate as currently constituted, and cannot possibly be debated or even seen in time for a vote. In effect, they have put a gun to the heads of all Americans, to subvert democracy and seize power.

In Canada, the problem is with the sitting government. They took the parallel emergency bill as an opportunity to rush through the power for themselves to spend, tax, and borrow for the next 21 months without reference to parliament. This is, in effect, the suspension of the Canadian system of government and the seizure of dictatorial powers, by a minority government. It is only too reminiscent of Hitler’s legislation after the Reichstag fire.

In both countries, it looks as though the malefactors are now backing down. But aside from the mendacity of the original proposals, it seems they are delusional. They do not seem to grasp that we are all in this together; they do not seem to grasp that what they are doing will discredit them if they ever have to go before the people again.

A basic law of the universe: people who are confirmed malefactors tend to be delusional as well. You almost have to be, because to consistently choose the wrong, you need to somehow trick your own conscience.

The left have been mad as hatters for some time. A story widely circulated only a day or so ago blamed Trump because a couple drank aquarium cleaner in hopes of immunizing themselves against the virus. Someone in my Facebook feed claims that Trump has murdered everyone in the US who has died of coronavirus. Young people are licking toilet seats, and putting the video online. Reports come from Britain of people slashing ambulance tires, or running up and coughing in the faces of old people. A boomer friend asserts that, having grown up in the fifties, he is immune—the many childhood diseases he suffered through have given him all the antibodies he will need.

A lot of people are in denial here.

Perhaps Joe Biden is the reigning example: a symbol of it all. He’s been deliberately propped up on all sides to take the Democratic nomination, despite the growing public evidence that he is becoming senile. Faced with this alarming fact, the Democratic establishment continues to do nothing.

Even though doing nothing now dooms them in November, or the entire nation in January.

If a truth is unpleasant, they will just deny it. And they will even respond aggressively to anyone who asserts it.

The coronavirus, I still keep hearing, is no worse than the flu.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

A Journal of the Plague Year

Took my exercise stroll up to the corner to check whether the supermarket had instituted special shopping hours for the elderly and disabled. They had: 8-9 am, Tuesday and Friday. That should be a convenience, since there was a longer lineup to get in this time, even early in the morning. Perhaps half a block, with the shopping carts.

A bus went by with no passengers.

A Journal of the Plague Year

Yesterday, back-to-back announcements from Boris Johnson in the UK, Doug Ford in Ontario, and Donald Trump in the US. Johnson was belatedly, but firmly, shutting everything down. No gatherings of more than two people. Ford was shutting all non-essential businesses.

And Trump was talking about getting people back to work.

Without his medical officer Fauci present, he was speaking more expansively of the hoped-for chloraquine treatment. He called it possibly “a gift from God.”

My notes say “evidence of the hand of God.” I’m not sure if those are Trump’s words, or my own.

Because I see evidence still of the hand of God. I previously thought it might be meaningful that the virus hit in China, where it is apt to destabilize an anti-religious government; and in a millenarian cult in South Korea, probably killing it. And in Iran, with an unstable Pharisaic regime that has been causing trouble in the region. Yet it was mysteriously sparing other countries. In hitting Europe hard, it seems to be targeting the “open-borders” concept of the EU.

Now it is in the US. In the US, where is the outbreak concentrated so far? In New York City, and along the West Coast. This is the heartland of the Democratic Party. Of more relevance, although the two overlap, this is the heartland of the postmoderns, the intersectionals, the woke.

At the same time, the various reactions to the virus seem to separate the sheep from the goats.

I think there is still room to suspect this is the hand of God.

If the chloraquine treatment does prove effective, and rolls out soon, this feels like the best divine end game. Like deus ex machina, a sunbeam breaking through the clouds.

In his speech, Trump seemed to give an explanation for the mystery I have mentioned here several times: why the virus seems to have largely spared several nations close to China. The Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, all should have been harder hit, but, until recently, seemed largely exempt. It looked to me and others as though it were related to climate. And Trump apparently thinks so too; but in an indirect way.

It is, he suggests, because they are malarial regions.

As a result, their hospitals and pharmacies stock a supply of chloraquine. It is used to treat malaria. Italy or Iran did not. Hearing of early success with the drug—as I did myself, on the internet, from Thailand—doctors were perhaps prescribing it for the cases they encountered. The cases tended to clear up quickly, and this reduced the time during which folks were infectious. So, less spread.

If things are starting to get out of hand now even in these countries, that kills the climate hypothesis, but does fit the chloraquine one. They have probably now depleted the local supply of the drug, and are unable to get more in, given growing international demand.

Monday, March 23, 2020

A Journal of the Plague Year

A friend with an Iranian wife confirms that Iranians are touchy-feely on greeting, like Italians. They kiss three times on the cheek, and embrace.

This seems to reinforce my thesis that the greater severity of the virus in Iran and Italy has to do with the dose you get at first exposure. A good argument for social distancing. You might get it from surfaces or air transmission still, but it is likely to be a mild case.

And reassuring in terms of the risks in Canada. Canadians are reserved.

Premier Ford was just on the television mandating the closure of all non-essential businesses, and extending the school closures. His health minister reassured everyone that they had ample medical supplies. Does that mean for what’s happening now, or what will be happening in two weeks?

Liquor stores remain open. Some are kvetching, but I think it is the right call. Some people are going to need that, at this of all times.

Pluralism and Indifferentism

Mary is commonly shown with a serpent at her foot. Here Guan Yin baptizes a dragon at hers.

William Lane Craig, of whom I am a huge fan, says that the biggest challenge for Christian apologetics today is “pluralism.” By this he means what Catholics call “indifferentism”: that all religions are equally true.

Craig rejects the claim that all religions are equally valid, reasonably enough, because they directly contradict each other. Islam, for example, condemns the Christian idea of the Trinity as idolatry, shirk: God is one. Buddhism denies the existence of a soul. Hinduism worships many gods. They cannot, therefore, all be true.

Objection, as Thomas Aquinas would say: I argue that if God exists, he is not going to allow us to be led astray. He is the good shepherd. He is not going to reveal truth only to the Europeans, or only to the Jews, and abandon everyone else. He is not going to penalize you for being born in Africa instead of Israel. The fundamental truth must be available to all.

Therefore, all major religions must at least be fundamentally true.

There is evidence that God has done this, too. How else explain the uncanny similarities among religions, on matters not subject to rational deduction. Why does every culture have a story of the Great Flood? Why does every culture have dragons, although they do not exist in nature? Why the uncanny similiarity in iconography between Mary in the West and Guan Yin in the East? How were the Romans or the Greeks able to identify their own gods worshipped far afield, wherever they conquered?

If they disagree on some point, as of course they do, there are several possibilities. One may be wrong, and the other right; but this point is not essential to salvation. Personally, I would put the Muslim or Protestant prohibition on images in this category: it is wrong, but as images are only a means to an end, not using them is not critical. I would hold the Buddhist or Hindu practice of vegetarianism morally superior to Christian or Muslim dietary rules; but not enough so to lose anyone’s salvation.

Or one may misunderstand what the other is really saying. Recently, Catholic and Lutheran authorities seem to have come to this conclusion regarding their different terminology over the Eucharist. I think this accounts as well for the Muslim disagreement with the Christian Trinity. The Muslims think this means three gods; yet Christians would find that interpretation appalling. Muslims speak of ninety-nine names of God; Jews speak of ten emanations of God. Some are personified. Is that so different? Are they, too, polytheists?

The ten emanations of God.

So too with Christian criticism of Hinduism as polytheistic. Only a terminological difference, I believe. Hinduism believes in one “Godhead,” Brahman, which appears in many manifestations, “gods.”

Or they may be responding to different issues. For example, the obvious differences between Buddhism and the other major world religions can be accounted for by understanding Buddhism’s prime concern as psychological, rhetorical, rather than philosophical. Christian or Buddhist morality seems more personal, Jewish or Muslim more social, in its concerns.

When there is an apparent conflict among the major faiths, it is useful, and perhaps our duty, to look more carefully, and decide why. But even this cannot be of critical importance; God would not make salvation available only to the smarter among us. Sincere adherence to any major faith—I’m inclined to say any faith, so long as it is sincere―ought to be sufficient.

Craig points out a second common argument for asserting that all religions are equal: that God by his nature is beyond human understanding. Therefore, it is absurd to suggest that any religion has the real scoop: “God is not Christian.” Christianity cannot contain him. In effect, the argument is that all religions are false.

This is the argument by which I conclude that Christianity is superior. God IS Christian.

The argument is perfectly sound, so far as it goes, and is asserted by Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism almost as presented here: God is beyond human understanding.

But the fact that we cannot comprehend God is not decisive. It is not up to us. A loving and all-powerful God would want to reveal himself to us. Whether the image he offers us is comprehensive is not relevant: it is his chosen image, and he, being God, knows best. But, being God, we must also assume that he is capable of making it comprehensive, too.

Not wanting to abandon us, wanting us to know him, this is what he must have done. Sometime, somewhere.

Christianity asserts that he has expressed himself to us as Jesus Christ.

Buddhism, Judaism, or Islam offer no rival claimants. Hinduism does, with its concept of the avatar: Krishna, Rama, and others.

But Krishna or Rama seem literary characters, existing only in the mind’s eye, unrelated to any period in history or known historical persons or events.

Jesus, on the other hand, has clear historical warrant for his physical existence. As Craig has argued, there is even good historical warrant for his resurrection. This makes him, at least, a more comprehensive and definitive manifestation of the divine.

Therefore, while all religions are true, there seems solid reasons to believe Christianity is the gold standard.

World distribution of the two largest faiths, Christianity (red) and Islam (green).
Now go back to our premise, that God would not withhold the truth from anyone. It follows that he should also historically favour the spread of the faith that offered the most efficient path to salvation. Other faiths may endure because they are more efficient for those raised to a specific culture or set of circumstances. Islam, for example, might be better tailored to Arab sensibilities. Its allowance of polygamy makes practical sense in a desert environment. Conversely, it is virtually impossible to follow the fasting rules for Iftar above the Arctic Circle.

Accordingly, the simple fact that Christianity is the largest and most widely distributed of world faiths seems further evidence that it is right—and not merely by the ad populum illusion. On this one issue, God has reason to be pulling the levers behind the scenes.

I am not at all keen on missionary activity directed at followers of some other major faith. Doing so seems a waste of effort. Adherents of other faiths must be fine so long as they are sincerely following it. Jesus himself says so: if a Jew cannot be a good Jew, he cannot be a good Christian. The proper mission field is among those who have fallen away, or who are despondent, or have no faith.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

A Journal of the Plague Year

Out on my daily rambles, I do not really see much—since I am practicing social distancing, and so no going in any shops that might still be open. I do see that others are not practicing social distancing—not keeping the suggested two metres apart. I see them standing around in small groups, and often blocking exits and entrances so that others cannot possibly keep their distance.

I note with concern that the local laundromat has closed due to the virus. How are people going to do their laundry? Should be okay for me; there are machines in my building. And, at worst, I have enough clothes to go without a laundry for several weeks. Especially if I am not going out.
There are still, it seems to me, some mysteries surrounding the coronavirus.

Why did it seem to spare the tropics for a time? It is now apparently spreading in the tropics as well, but at least it seemed to stall for a time.

And why does the death toll seem so much higher in Italy or Iran than in Taiwan or Korea?

Why are some young people with no underlying comorbidities dying? While others barely have any symptoms?

It might be that how bad a dose you get depends on how heavy the initial exposure is. Italians, after all, are a lot more touchy-feely than Koreans or Chinese. You meet a friend, you hug.

I don’t know about Iranians.

If this is right, it seems a second good reason for the “social distancing” regime. It may not only reduce the number of cases, but reduce the severity.

If you’re going to get it, good idea to try to make it a light dose, and out the other side.

I hear people saying that the world will never be the same again. I don’t know, how much changed because of the Spanish flu? But some things may change.

Perhaps our existing school and university system. Everyone is about to learn about studying and teaching online. It is intrinsically cheaper and more convenient; are we going to go back to the old way?

If we learn online, we will be able to choose the best course and the best teacher for each subject; that’s surely a big advantage. Hard to go back after that to our little silos. The costs of the old way were already spiraling beyond sustainability anyway.

Globalization and open borders are another likely casualty. We now see the need to keep essential supply chains at home, or at least with reliable allies. We see the need to have doors on our countries as well as on our homes.

Some have said the EU has already, in effect, fallen apart, as the countries in the Schengen zone have closed their borders to each other.

Some worry about governments expanding powers to handle the emergency, and whether that power will be easily relinquished later. On the other side of the ledger, a lot of government regulations suddenly look unnecessary and annoying.

This should also give a boost to the practice of working from home; everyone will have developed systems to do it, and had some practice. As with schools and universities, it is a cheaper and more convenient alternative; for workers and for businesses.

If we begin more often to work at home, this diminishes the value of living in cities. In which real estate was already becoming insupportably expensive.

Cities now also suddenly seem unhealthy. They are virus sinks.

Cities may begin to shrink. This will not help their housing markets, of course.

With the value of the internet demonstrated in this crisis, there may be a push to guarantee internet access to everyone, as we now consider it essential that everyone have access to electricity and running water.

And, as I noted previously, we are getting to stress test our societies and governments. We may clean house as a result.

Another Pandemic Altogether

It is hard, in the midst of a historic pandemic, to write about anything other than the coronavirus. About which, unfortunately, I have no expertise to offer. But there is another virus, more dangerous, to which I have recently been exposed.

The subject my student is studying in her grad program, “Critical Pedagogy,” is a Marxist take on “constructivism.” It is the dominant philosophy now in all branches of “education,” from kindergarten through the ed schools, up to doctoral level, and far enough afield from there to include the language schools.

The basic premise is that knowledge is “constructed,” as opposed to discovered. Learning is, in the words of the present paper, “a process of collaboratively constructed knowledge.”

It follows that the teacher cannot actually teach anything. The paper criticizes traditional education for seeing students as “empty agents who receive knowledge from teachers.” An image often used is of the learner as a passive empty glass that the teacher, in the bad, old way, is filling up with knowledge.

This sounds good. But that is not how traditional education worked at all. Genuinely traditional education means the Socratic method—that is, asking questions to provoke the student to think, rather than feeding him facts. And Bacon’s scientific method: don’t take anyone’s word for it, do the experiment. Nor is this true only of the West. Confucius said, “I show a student one corner of the problem. If he cannot discover the other three corners himself, I have no more I can do for him.” His collected sayings, which we call “The Analects,” model this method. Nothing is said plainly; they all require consideration and interpretation. They are hints.

Jesus did the same, of course, with parables. He might well be ranked as a third great teacher.
Traditional education used this method precisely because they did not see truth or reality as an arbitrary construct. Plato, our source for Socrates, understood all knowledge as innate; we are born with it, or we could not recognize it in the sensory world. Accordingly, all the teacher need really do is jar the memory.

But even without this “Platonic” view, which Confucius clearly shared, so long as objective reality exists in any form, the teacher’s job remains to teach the student how to reason, how to learn, how to discover things for himself.

Traditional education, accordingly, taught debate, logic, rhetoric, parliamentary procedure, mathematics, and the scientific method: ways to think, ways to arrive at knowledge.

Constructivism yanks this rug right out from under the enterprise. If, as it asserts, all truth is arbitrary, there is nothing at all to teach or to learn. One simply decides what one wants to be true. No role here for education at all. No role for anything but pouring things into empty vessels—indoctrination.
For of course, in a classroom, each individual student cannot be allowed to make their own reality; those realities will conflict. So what is one to do?

Here’s where the “collaborative” bit comes in. The stock constructivist response is that everyone in class must agree on the same reality.

This is at best a stopgap—the students will, sooner or later, need to leave the classroom, and their shared reality will not conform with the equally arbitrary shared reality of any given larger group.
But even within the class, on what basis, given that all realities are arbitrary, is one proposed reality to be preferred to another? On what basis does one come to a consensus?

Critical pedagogy, and constructivism generally, masks this with an implicit appeal to democracy: it is decided by majority vote. This is, in philosophical terms, the ad populum fallacy: majority opinion is no indication of truth. But even that is irrelevant; if truth itself is arbitrary, the only basis for preferring majority over minority truth in the first place is might makes right: the majority has the power to suppress the minority if it dissents.

It is significant that constructivism never gives any thought to parliamentary procedure or to how consensus is to be arrived at. For after all, if all realities are arbitrary, there is simply no room for debate. The biggest bully gets their way.

Of course, in a real constructivist classroom, it is the teacher who has ultimate power. It is the teacher’s chosen reality that will prevail, under the guise of “consensus.”

One begins to see why constructivism in various forms has become so popular among teachers. It gives them the most absolute power possible over the students in their class, and imposes no actual obligations on them to do anything they do not choose to do. It makes the classroom model a totalitarian dictatorship of Orwellian dimensions.

It is interesting, and alarming, that the essay my student was assigned was actually authored by two professors at the Islamic Azad University in Iran. That suggests how pervasive this ideology is: it dominates even in a supposedly Islamist university in a supposedly theocratic state.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

A Journal of the Plague Year

I recommend Scott Adams’ YouTube channel for the best current take on the crisis. Adams is reassuring.

Adams suggests the US government may be talking less hopefully about chloraquine than the known facts warrant.

They may not have enough of it yet. They do not want patients beginning to demand chloraquine while they are rationing it to the cases where it seems most needed.

And there is the risk that, if they knew there was something like a cure, people would prematurely start breaking quarantine and lockdown, swamping the system.

Critical Pedagogy and Jack the Giant Killer

One of my graduate students is taking a course in “Critical Pedagogy.”

The name does not reveal the true subject: it is the systematic assertion that teachers should devote all their in-class efforts to promoting revolution against the system, rather than teaching the assigned subject. What Jordan Peterson refers to as “cultural Marxism.”

My student cited a typical thesis in this subject: “Jack and the Beanstalk” told from the perspective of the giant.

Interesting, because I only recently saw the same trick in an assigned textbook for young learners: “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” from the perspective of the wolf.

This reveals a core appeal of such ideological approaches. They make it easy to write a thesis. You just take any classic text, and do a “feminist view,” or a “Freudian view,” or a “structuralist view” or whatever. It is purely formulaic, mechanical. It takes no talent or insight; it is like filling in the blanks on a form.

It also explains why these ideological fads fade: after a while, you need a new ideology, or you run out of thesis topics. They come, they go, and no new knowledge nor insight into the works is generated.

The idea behind reading “Jack and the Beanstalk” from the giant’s point of view is no doubt to subvert cultural norms and show the violence inherent in the system. Jack, after all, is a murderer and a thief.

But this is working from the false assumption that Jack was ever considered a hero.

There is nothing new or transgressive about seeing an apparent villain in a fairy tale as a hero, as the suggested thesis topic does with the giant. This is the basic plot, for example, of “Beauty and the Beast.” “Rumpelstiltskin” hinges on an apparent hero turning out to be a villain. The tales school us in trying to see things from all perspectives.

We see an example in “Jack and the Beanstalk” itself. A pedlar trades five beans for Jack’s cow. We as listeners of course assume, as Jack’s mother does, that he is a con artist. But it turns out the beans really are magic. He was a good guy after all.

Is the tale prejudiced against giants?

Clearly not; the giant’s wife, the giantess, is a sympathetic character.

So it is obviously part of the original story that one is supposed to see things from the giant’s viewpoint as well as Jack’s. Jack’s moral position is meant to be ambiguous. He is a “trickster,” a figure familiar in folklore of all lands.

Why there are such stories, in all cultures, is an interesting issue. It might make a good thesis.

It might also make a good thesis to consider the moral questions raised. They are not simple. Is Jack justified in stealing because of his need? Is Jack justified because the giant is a cannibal? Is the giant’s wife betraying her husband, or is it her duty to protect a stranger? What determines the real value of a bean or a cow? On what grounds can we judge a voluntary exchange either fair or unfair? Is Jack justified by self-defense in killing the giant pursuing him? Even though the giant is trying to recover stolen property?

All fascinating questions, that the story is skillfully and deliberately raising.

All missed by this “critical pedagogy approach,” which comes at the tale from the novel and rigid perspective that the giant must be supposed to be right in whatever he does.

Because, hey, he is the giant, he is rich and powerful. And might apparently determines right.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Journal of the Plague Year

Did my grocery shopping today. I have enough supplies laid by for a couple of weeks of quarantine, but I do not want to use that now in case I need it later.

There was a short lineup at the entrance; a security guard was letting in only five at a time. Social distancing. But the wait time was not long.

A sign on the window warned that they were out of toilet paper, an advertised special. More coming, it promised, in 48 hours.

Customer carts and reusable shopping bags were not allowed in. Reasonable; but I had to leave my cart and bag outside, which was worrisome.

The meat counter was stripped bare. But it was restocked before I had finished shopping. Eggs were out; but restocking began while I was there, and the clerk handed me a carton. Lots of bread; a selection of cheese. The one item I wanted and could not get was powdered milk. There were a few other bare shelves among the non-perishables.

On the way there and back, I passed three city buses, running as usual. Each had only one passenger.

When I arrived home, there was an email from Walmart seeking employees, probably to stock shelves. The grocery outlets at least are doing a good business.

As I wrote that paragraph, there was a sudden downpour outside my window. Doubly odd—I have just come back in, and I had not noticed a cloud in the sky. And this is the first rain of the year. It is still winter for one more day, by the calendar.

And as I type this, it is suddenly again bright and intensely sunny outside my window.

I want to see it as a sign.

I now know how to spell chloraquine. I have been hearing or reading about it for months; first about its use in Thailand. There has more recently been a peer-reviewed French study, with a control group, that found it 100% effective against coronavirus with a sample of a few dozen patients.

This is a drug we already have in circulation; we have been using it since the 1930s. Since we have used it for decades, we know it is safe. Since it is already in production, we can get it out quickly. If we can get it out quickly, might the need for lockdown and quarantine be over in weeks?

It almost looks like a miracle.

Trump just held a press conference, and the reporters were asking about it. His surgeon-general, Dr. Fauci, was talking down the possibilities, calling the claims “anecdotal,” insisting that we need more trials, while Trump was almost openly disagreeing with him, saying “What have we got to lose?”

This might have been a deliberate good cop-bad cop act, at least on Trump’s part, getting public pressure to build and force the government’s hand, while the government could avoid blame if it did not work out. Everyone with a sick relative is going to be on Trump’s side in this little debate.

Meantime, Belgium and Poland are apparently already using it as standard treatment. We should soon all see for ourselves how that goes.

Even if the Americans really do need to do more tests, why need such tests take any longer than the usual course of the ailment. They should not lack for test subjects; they can run tests concurrently. If, say, the virus usually lasts two weeks, and clears up in three or four days with the pills, we should have test results in a couple of weeks.

Trump scolded the press at his conference for sensationalizing and making things look worse than they are. I think that is right; it is the natural tendency. Bad news makes the better story. I think things may be far better than they look at the moment.

I think we may be looking much better in about two weeks.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Waiting for Godot

We imagine ourselves as Vladimir or Estragon, wandering aimlessly through our modern-postmodern wasteland wondering why Godot has not yet come.

It is a damnable lie.

Godot—God—has no reason to hide from us. Remember the story of the Garden of Eden. It was Adam and Eve who hid from him.

We are only conning ourselves that we are looking for him. If he were to appear, we would crucify Him.

The wasteland is our protective shell of lies, that keeps us from having to think. Then we can go about our daily lives untroubled, worrying only about in which ditch to sleep. It is the matrix; it is the idolatry we have inherited from our parents.

We find any sincere quest for truth profoundly threatening. Leave aside Jesus; Socrates was executed for asking too many questions.

We would rather believe the obvious nonsense of Marxism, long ago disproven; or of Freudianism, long ago disproven; of postmodernism, or existentialism, or for that matter of “Hallelujah Chorus” Christianity, which obviously contradicts the gospel, but looks easier. There are many such idols of the tribe. The one thing they have in common is a denial of moral concerns.

Here’s the plain truth. God is both omnipotent and benevolent. He will hide nothing. All it takes is a sincere quest for the truth, and truth begins to be apparent. “Seek and ye shall find.”

This is why Descartes was able to conclude that anything we perceive with clarity and distinctness must be true.

Of course God would not have abandoned us in some wasteland without direction.

Here’s how simple it is: the point of life is to seek truth, and the good, and beauty. As soon as you seek truth, you have found it, because the sincere effort to find truth is the essential truth of life. As soon as you seek good, you have found it, for the sincere effort to be good is the essential good. As soon as you seek beauty, you have found it, for the quest for beauty is the most beautiful of stories.

As Vladimir might well have mumbled to Estragon, “Now where did I put my nose? I’m sure I left it around here someplace…”

Wednesday, March 18, 2020


Reassuringly, the local supermarket flyer came out today as usual.

And, cheekily, their front page claimed a special price on toilet paper. Canada should run out of toilet paper about when Newcastle runs out of coal. Also a special on dried beans. 

Definitely doing their bit to tamp down anxiety. Galen Weston has promised not to raise prices during the pandemic.

Journal of the Plague Year

© 2012 Kassy. Licensed under CC-BY.

While the economic consequences of the coronavirus look grim, I did a little surfing online, and it is not clear the last worst plague, the Spanish Flu, or other epidemics since, did much lasting damage. It is hard to separate its effects from those of the First World War; but had they been that dramatic, surely it would not have been so hard.

Apparently, the clearest effect is that, like the Black Death, it caused labour shortages and drove up the price of labour. Which is not a bad thing for the poor, if not perhaps the economy as a whole. And it prompted an extension of the social safety net. If the economic fundamentals are sound, there is no reason why such a virus should be more than a temporary hit, so that everything can come back once it’s over.

The question is, are the fundamentals sound?

It seems to me that the experience is going to cause some long-term changes—a systematic effort to “decouple” from China and bring supply chains for critical supplies home to North America and Europe. Quite possibly a strong boost for technological changes that were making sense anyway: online education, working from home, a general exodus from the big cities, robotics, online conferencing. Maybe a boost for the concept of a Guaranteed Minimum Income.

I’d worry about the housing and mortgage market; I’d worry about the viability of the universities.

An article in Quillette makes the same argument I was making: that the virus is stress-testing different societies, and Europe and Iran (and perhaps North America—we’ll see) are revealing themselves to be decadent in comparison to East Asia, Eastern Europe, Israel, and Jordan.

“In an interview published yesterday, the director of a hospital in Madrid was unusually forthcoming. Still traumatized by the images of the emergency care unit where he works, Santiago Moreno confessed that ‘we have sinned from too much confidence.’”

That maybe sums it up.

“A week ago, the Spanish government actively encouraged all Spaniards to go to the streets and join dozens of very large marches for gender equality. When asked about the infection hazard, one minister publicly laughed.”

One town in France, she reports, in response to early signs of infection, organized a Smurf convention to lighten spirits.

“At the time of the Madrid marches and the Smurf convention, I was returning from a long journey in Asia and could not help noticing the contrast. In India, or Singapore, or Vietnam, people were dramatically changing their behaviour to adapt to the coronavirus. They were going out less, avoiding large groups, taking turns on the elevator and, of course, wearing masks everywhere, even if perhaps they looked less elegant in them.”

And she concludes: “it carries a dark foreboding for the future of a continent which seems to be poorly prepared for a world beyond normal times.”

We may hear less in future of the immense agonies and injustices supposedly borne by this or that special interest group. Just as an immune system, lacking enough to fight, will sometimes turn on its host, if we lack enough real problems, we start inventing them.

Gerry's Shrine

At the pub in Portugal where he used to perform, they've put up a little shrine to my recently-deceased brother, Gerry.

It makes me think of Rupert Brooke's war poem, "The Soldier."

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
"England" should be "Canada," in this case, but that does not scan.

It is a time for death, it seems.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Upside of the Coronavirus

Hans Holbein
This afternoon I did my first ever over-the-phone doctor’s appointment. It was a bit confused; it was obviously almost her first too. I got a clean bit of health, and she assured me I was not high risk for the coronavirus.
And she said “Bless you” before we signed off.

We may see here the great benefit of this plague; and it may explain why God sent it.

For as I have noted, there is no dodge by which, if God exists at all, we can pretend He does not will such things.

Last week, it would have been unacceptable in Canada for a professional to say “bless you” to a client, neither knowing the other’s religious beliefs.

I saw this morning the shop clerks busily restocking shelves at the supermarket, and I felt an upwelling of love for them, thinking of them as real heroes.

In other words, we have here clear evidence that this thing is bringing us closer to God.
It is the very same reason for which He sent plagues in the Old Testament.

It is sadly human nature that, so long as things are going well, we stop appreciating it, grow selfish and ungrateful, and stop thinking about God or Right or Truth or our fellow man or much else.

It seems to me it may well be that, as a result of this plague, we may start pulling back from the culture of self and death and moral relativism into which we have been tailspinning. Or at least more of us may.


Out for a morning walk for exercise, dropped in to the local grocery out of a sense of reportorial duty.

Happy to report that the bread shelves and eggs shelves are already fully resupplied, and store staff were putting the last sealed meat packages in to restock the meat shelves.

It looks as though our supply chain for basic food stuffs is still pretty solid.

The store was doing brisk business; people are still stocking up.

Saw a city bus go by--with only one passenger.

Local restaurants are, of course, closed, with signs on the window: take-out only.

A Journal of the Plague Year

Have been trying to send money to my family in the Philippines through PayPal. Had weird problems: not able to access my PayPal account despite repeated calls to their help centre. Tried again this morning.

Got a recorded message.

Their help centre is closed due to coronavirus.

First sign of financial systems shutting down?

A few minutes ago, the Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, looking almost tearful, announced a ban on all gatherings of more than 50 people. All religious services, all schools public and private, all theatres and cinemas, all libraries. Effective immediately.

Today the local clinic phoned—the clinic that was unexpectedly closed yesterday. The receptionist told me NOT to come to the clinic, that all business would be handled over the phone.

Canada shut its borders yesterday. France announced a lockdown.

Things feel surreal; as though I wake up to a dream. It is still only 9:30 in the morning.

Over the last few days, we have heard several government sources talking about things going on this way until August or September.

Monday, March 16, 2020

A Journal of the Plague Year

It seems we are living through a historic time.

It occurs to me therefore to give a daily on the ground account of how it is all affecting this mortal in this little corner of Toronto’s east end. Some day it may be of some historical interest.

Went up to the corner this morning to pick up some Vitamin D. I had seen on a YouTube video (I think it was Dr. John Campbell) that it has been shown to protect against respiratory diseases generally. I had been told in the past that I had a deficiency; so now seemed the time to take that seriously.

Thought at the same time I’d pick up a few things at the grocery store.

I found the local clinic was closed today—notice on the door. No reason was given.

Then at the grocery store, the first signs I had yet seen of real public concern. I had been there for my regular shopping on Thursday morning, and then there were no signs of anything unusual. This morning, the meat section was mostly stripped clean, the bread racks bare, the egg section empty, the selection of cheese slim. I could not pick up powdered skim milk; they were cleaned out. I could not get my preferred brand of tea. I saw no toilet paper on sale; but people were wheeling out big packages of paper towels. The shop still had lots of sanitizing hand soap.

News of things shutting down is coming in hourly. It is hard to keep track.

Jesus Met the Woman at the Well: Take 2

“Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his children and his livestock?”

The story of the Samaritan woman at the well, last Sunday’s reading, looks like another parable of the need to overcome the natural idolatry of parents or ancestors. This is especially true if we come from a dysfunctional family; it is always true in any case.

For two wells, two waters, and two authorities, are contrasted: the physical well, and the spiritual well of the Logos; the physical water and the spiritual, or “living,” water of the Gospel; Jesus and ancestral custom, personified as Jacob, the eponymous ancestor of Israel.

And the answer is obvious: Jesus is the higher authority.

“So the woman left her water pot, went away into the city.”

She discarded the water of her ancestors. This is an either-or choice. “He who does not despise his father for my sake is not worthy of me.” “Family values” are not a part of Christianity, but radically apart from Christianity.

The point is signed and underlined by her being a Samaritan. The Samaritans and the Jews had irreconcilable differences regarding the proper place of temple worship; as the story reminds us. Both cannot be right. And Jesus unambiguously tells her her ancestors were wrong.

“You worship that which you don’t know. We worship that which we know; for salvation is from the Jews.”

So she faces the eternal human dilemma: accept the unconsidered assumptions inherited from your father, who at best was no more than a man, or fight through for truth.

It is here perhaps that it becomes significant that she is apparently an outcast in her own community: coming at the unseasonable hour to get her daily water, to avoid encountering others. It is naturally enough those kicked to the bottom of the social totem pole who will find it easiest to see the shared delusions. They obviously have less to lose. See the Beatitudes on this. Children are also more apt to see, having not yet been so thoroughly indoctrinated. “For such is the Kingdom of God.”

I had noted previously that the woman must have been socially rejected because she was living in adultery. I was wrong. By the rules of ancient Israel, concubinage was respectable; consider Abraham’s concubine Hagar, the mother of Ishmael.

She was more likely to have been rejected for having five husbands. A surprising fact; so surprising that it proves Jesus was not just using intuition or playing probabilities, but had true supernatural knowledge. There are two possibilities: either the husbands divorced her, socially branding as a terrible wife; or they died, suggesting she was a jinx. Or a poisoner. Either would explain her social isolation. And either would amount to a profound experience of rejection.

I think we can also infer that she must necessarily also have been extremely attractive and/or accomplished, to have had five or six suitors despite this.

When the woman asks Jesus for the living water, why does he respond, “go, call your husband?” Why need her husband be involved?

Precisely because this is a social problem, a sin of the fathers visited upon the fourth generation. It would not be enough for her to see the truth, so long as she is committed, through marriage, to that corrupted social order. Unless she is, like Peter, to abandon spouse and family, they too must be brought along.

The woman responds that she has no husband. Jesus agrees that this is true, and reveals that he knows her entire marital history.

But if he knows her entire marital history, and knows this to be true, why did he tell her to bring her husband?

The point is that she both has and does not have a husband, depending on how you look at it, surely. The reference might be to concubinage, in which case Jesus might be accused of having spoken with less than perfect accuracy on the first occasion. This is not a plausible inference, however, since he is omniscient, and immediately demonstrates this. It seems more likely that the woman actually did have a husband, and was lying.

Why would she lie?

Oh gentle reader, you are innocent in the ways of romance. This woman has just met a handsome stranger at a well. Meeting at a well is the usual first act of a Biblical romance—Jacob himself, whose well this is, met his wife at it. This appears to be a woman with a reputation for playing the field, as it were, and who is apparently naturally highly attractive. Admitting she is married might kill the fun.

If so, she actually has had six husbands, counting the present one, and Jesus would amount to the projected seventh—a magical number for the Bible.

So when Jesus says her present husband is not really her husband, he is making a more general point, about family ties.

We all both do and do not have earthly fathers; for our true father, Jesus reminds us elsewhere, is always and only our father who is in heaven. We all both do and do not have husbands; for our true husband is always Jesus, the Seventh, the Sabbath spouse. Earthly spouses are, in the end, transitory and arbitrary, like well water. Any five or six might do.

We must not elevate family ties to divine status; and this is the usual temptation.

“So when the Samaritans came to him, they begged him to stay with them. He stayed there two days. Many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘Now we believe, not because of your speaking; for we have heard for ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.’”

This fulfills Jesus’s requirement that the Samaritan woman bring her husband. She brought the entire community, and they had to be converted as a group.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Any Child Can Do It

An online resource for teachers recommends having younger students write poetry, because it is easier than prose. Poetry, they explain, does not need full sentences, or punctuation, or capitalization. Quite literally—this is the point of the teacher recommendation—any child can do it.

And in terms of contemporary poetry, they are right.

But this is also odd, because traditional poetry is extremely hard to write, far harder than prose.

So when we talk about modern poetry and traditional poetry, are we really talking about the same thing?

Seems instead that modern poetry is just prose without punctuation or grammar. Perhaps on an emotive theme.

And it is not surprising then if few any more are interested.

Today's Reading

The woman comes to the well at noon.

This is unusual. The usual routine would be to go to the village well first thing in the morning, before the heat of the day, and get the water for your household’s daily needs.

The woman has instead waited until noon, making her labour more difficult, in the dry, hot climate, presumably in order to avoid meeting others. She is a social outcast.

And we know why; she is living with a man adulterously.

Jesus reveals her sins to her. As a result, she is able to access the true living water.

The story models the sacrament of confession.

Advice from the Leonard Cohen Facebook Group