On Platonic ideas

18 08 2010

Thence, Mr. Kirk glides into that singular theory of savage metaphysics which somewhat resembles the Platonic doctrine of Ideas. All things, in Red Indian belief, have somewhere their ideal counterpart, or “Father”. Thus, a donkey, when first seen, was regarded as “the Father” or archetype. “of rabbits”. Now, the second-sighted behold the “Double-man,” “Doppelganger”, “Astral Body”,” “Wraith,” or what you will, of a living person, and that is merely his counterpart in the abstruse world… From personal experience, and the experience of friends, I am constrained to believe that we may think we see a person who is not really present to the view – who may be in the next room or downstairs, or a hundred miles off. This experience has occured to the sane, the unimaginative, the healthy, the free of superstition, and in circumstances by no means mystic… All things universally have their types, their reflex: a man’s type, or reflex, or “co-walker” may be seen at a distance from or near him during his life – nay, may be seen after his death.

-Andrew Lang, in the introduction to Robert Kirk’s The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies





On the dialectical nature of modern Catholicism

17 08 2010

And notes on modern Pentecostalism

Catholic Dissent – When wrong turns out to be right

Murray was clearly shaken by this clear message to cease and desist. The following year he suffered a heart attack, but after recovery he continued to develop his theory.

By 1954 the Vatican’s patience had been exhausted. A Roman censor forbade the publication of an article that Murray had written and considered crucial to his case. Murray’s Jesuit superior ordered him to cease writing on the subject. When Murray inquired what he could write about, the superior said he might consider poetry…

Armed with all his scholarship, he publicly debated the issues with Fenton and Ottaviani and became a major drafter of the council’s Declaration on Human Freedom. In its final form, approved in a vote by the world’s bishops, 2,308 to 80, in 1965, the declaration said, “This synod declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals, social groups, or any human power . . . This synod further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person, as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and reason itself.” The words reflect Murray’s thinking and may very well have been written by him.
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On idols

17 08 2010

In India, the metaphysical Principle is regarded as both transcendent and immanent, being simultaneously supreme and accessible. Therefore, the hieratic icons, imbued with the mysterious presence of God, are likened to the deep pools where water is always available. The god Vishnu, who manifests and incarnates himself in many different ways, instructs his devotees that he, Vishnu, can be worshiped in embodied form only. So, allegedly, this mode of worship is revealed by Vishnu himself. There is no worship without the manifest forms and icons, ‘therefore humans should construct the Imperishable One in human form and worship him with utmost devotion’.

-Algis Uzdavinys, Philosophy and Theurgy in Late Antiquity





Trotsky on fascism

16 08 2010

The gigantic growth of National Socialism is an expression of two factors: a deep social crisis, throwing the petty bourgeois masses off balance, and the lack of a revolutionary party that would be regarded by the masses of the people as an acknowledged revolutionary leader. If the communist Party is the party of revolutionary hope, then fascism, as a mass movement, is the party of counter-revolutionary despair. When revolutionary hope embraces the whole proletarian mass, it inevitably pulls behind it on the road of revolution considerable and growing sections of the petty bourgeoisie. Precisely in this sphere the election revealed the opposite picture: counter-revolutionary despair embraced the petty bourgeois mass with such a force that it drew behind it many sections of the proletariat.

-Leon Trotsky, 1932

The average American has a hard time grasping that the rise of fascism only involves the state indirectly. Fascism in and of itself is a movement that begins in the streets, manipulated by the ruling class, but only as an owner can manipulate his bloodthirsty pitbull. Thus, fascism seldom begins with an increase of state power, but with a crisis of state power. There is a point at which the mobs in the street get so caught up in attacking “the enemy” that they unwittingly fall into the hands of a demagogue. That is how fascism happens, not through “health care reform” or the invasion of army troops in the street. The people impose the violence on themselves, and become their own police state.

It is interesting that the rhetorical language of fascism is despair. Despair can take many forms: pining for a simpler time, the “morning in America” moment, a purer racial past, a more homogeneous population. Despair can be more concrete in terms of putting food on the table or a roof over your head. But a major characteristic of fascism is that it has no plan, at least not one it cares to divulge. It only speaks in platitudes, points fingers, and hints at a brighter future to be won by sweat, sacrifice (and blood?). There always seems to be talk of returning to the pristine first principles of the social order, and always, a badgering cry to “throw the bumbs out”.

Any similarity between this and any current political phenomenon, real or imagined, is purely coincidental.





The Plaint

13 08 2010




The saints vs. the locusts

12 08 2010

Or: What the Doctors of the Church are really for

The doctors of the Church were considered to have special power over insects and other agricultural pests. In Socuéllamos (Ciudad Real) a lottery was held among the doctors of the Church to choose the saint for a vow against locusts and vine worms. In other towns St. Ambrose and St. Thomas Aquinas were used. Perhaps the theologian saints can be explained by the custom of ritual excommunication of grasshoppers and insect pests. In ecclesiastical trial what lawyer could present a more convincing case than a doctor of the Church?

-William Christian, Local Religion in Sixteenth-Century Spain

To clarify, what is being spoken of consistently here is not some favoring of “local religion” as the manifestation of the pure faith of the noble savage. That does not tell the whole story, nor is it fair to either the “experts” or the “plebs”. To the experts, since it is from them that much of what is “exotic” in “folk religion” originates. Often “popular religion” is really just the remnant of philosophical beliefs left behind by cultural elites in favor of a newer, more enlightened religion. Arguably, this is the case regarding such things as the evil eye in much of the Catholic world and the “dragging of the tongue” in Italy that was initially introduced to the populace by missionary friars. On the other hand, such a patronizing attitude excludes the cultural agency of the populace. The laity understood many complex theological concepts better than many would give them credit, and often better than those who sought to educate them regarding these doctrines. In some ways, they could grasp things more intuitively than many educated, ideologically driven pedagogues.

It is the existence of this “intuitive Catholicism” that seems to throw many of my readers off. I should repeat here that it is not some sort of straightfoward exchange. What we really have is a continual struggle over symbols and what they mean; ideas and how we interpret them. For the Spanish town dweller around the time of the Counter-Reformation, the office of Doctor of the Church was not primarily one of the teacher of abstract doctrines. While such duties were important to some, the average Catholic there sought to incorporate the saint into the basic cosmovision of survival and patronage. In this case, the best way to get rid of locusts and other pests was to try them in an ecclesiastical court, and invoke the “smartest” saints to be the prosecution.

It is that sense of “organic” religiosity, the very ground of belief, that I seek to study. In doing this, I hope to avoid all ideological posturing. In the trials of the locusts by the saints, we have a perfect harmony between the “high” and “low” religiosities often contrasted on this blog. In the end, they need each other, though in my estimation it is best if they remain distinct.

above: Miguel Jacinto Melendez’s St. Augustine conjuring a plague of locusts





Something funny and clever to start your day

11 08 2010

The Catholic Fascist

Probably some of the best satire I have read in years. I think this is enough to get one’s attention:

Contributors… Parker Euton is a 25 year old Catholic convert, community college student, and self-taught theologian. He agrees with most of his blog collaborators, but disagrees that the root cause of decay in America and the Catholic Church is liberalism and socialism. No, it is sodomy. Parker is anxiously awaiting God’s choice for his wife to come along, so if anyone can help God out by offering rosaries for this intention, he would be most grateful. His future wife should know that he is already in possession of a thermometer.

Please comment there and link accordingly. Spread the word.





Once more on morality

11 08 2010

A moralizing Philistine’s favorite method is the lumping of reaction’s conduct with that of revolution. He achieves success in this device through recourse to formal analogies. To him czarism and Bolshevism are twins. Twins are likewise discovered in fascism and communism. An inventory is compiled of the common features in Catholicism – or more specifically, Jesuitism – and Bolshevism. Hitler and Mussolini, utilizing from their side exactly the same method, disclose that liberalism, democracy, and Bolshevism represent merely different manifestations of one and the same evil. The conception that Stalinism and Trotskyism are “essentially” one and the same now enjoys the joint approval of liberals, democrats, devout Catholics, idealists, pragmatists, and anarchists. If the Stalinists are unable to adhere to this “People’s Front”, then it is only because they are accidentally occupied with the extermination of Trotskyists.

The fundamental feature of these approchements and similitudes lies in their completely ignoring the material foundation of the various currents, that is, their class nature and by that token their objective historical role. Instead they evaluate and classify different currents according to some external and secondary manifestation, most often according to their relation to one or another abstract principle which for the given classifier has a special professional value. Thus to the Roman pope Freemasons and Darwinists, Marxists and anarchists are twins because all of them sacrilegiously deny the immaculate conception. To Hitler, liberalism and Marxism are twins because they ignore “blood and honor”. To a democrat, fascism and Bolshevism are twins because they do not bow before universal suffrage. And so forth.

Undoubtedly the currents grouped above have certain common features. But the gist of the matter lies in the fact that the evolution of mankind exhausts itself neither by universal suffrage, not by “blood and honor,” nor by the dogma of the immaculate conception. The historical process signifies primarily the class struggle; moreover, different classes in the name of different aims may in certain instances utilize similar means. Essentially it cannot be otherwise. Armies in combat are always more or less symmetrical; were there nothing in common in their methods of struggle they could not inflict blows upon each other…
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You are alone

11 08 2010

Tú eres sola
entre las multitudes

como son sola
la luna

Y sólo el sol
en el cielo

ayer estabas en el estadio

en medio de miles de gentes
y te divisé desde
que entré

igual que si hubieras
estado sola
en un estadio vacío

-Ernesto Cardenal
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The Holy Family

11 08 2010

Just some converging thoughts, along the line of the usual.

I was reading somewhere a footnote with a quote from the historian John Bossy where he wrote something to the effect that the modernization of religion is tied into the transformation of collective religion into individual religion. I think that is a good way of looking at it. But how does that tie in more generally to what was going on in the rest of society?

Then I started to think about the cult of St. Joseph in the West. Why did it evolve so late, and why was it that St. Joseph before the modern period was portrayed as an old man, and why afterwards is he portrayed as a man in his prime? Now, don’t get me wrong. I am very devoted to St. Joseph, but I am wondering whether the interiorization of religion and the rise of the nuclear family (and its apotheosis in Catholicism in the cult to the Holy Family) have anything to do with each other.

As in all questions in the social sciences, you are never going to have a “smoking gun”. Reading certain things in the recent days, however, makes me think that there is at least a significant trend at work here. I suppose I would have to delve into the personal and state that I grew up in an extended family situation. I feel that I was not just raised by my parents, but by my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and even my great-grandmother. So the analogy between the Trinitarian God and the nuclear family (father, mother, child) is somewhat lost on me. In rural Mexican society, you felt more part of a clan than a small nuclear family unit, even on this side of the border.

Perhaps this is also why John Paul II’s theology of the body never appealed to me either. I don’t find anything particularly noble or ascetical about the nuclear family situation in that I am used to the idea that the family is about obligations to your clan, and not some “life decision”. But that is a bit of a digression.

What that has to do with the individualization of religion, I am not sure. Perhaps in such a clan-like environment, religion was most seen as loyalty to familial beliefs and rituals. When I was young, this was even more the case than it is now. Before, there was a real series of rituals of food, prayer, and social interaction that had to be observed by everyone. Now, everyone seems to be going their separate ways (and a couple of them have become evangelicals). So there was a more collective attitude towards faith. Whether or not that is a good or bad thing, I cannot say. Only that even in my mother’s family, it is an endangered species.