Sir Ken Robinson is a a writer, researcher, adviser, teacher and speaker. Here is one of his recent TED talks. We are all in some way connected to the schools in our community. We need to alert each other about the problems in schools that affect us all.
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In the Houses of Worship column in last week’s WSJ there was a jarring piece on how priests were barred from the chaotic bombing scene after the Boston Marathon:
The heart-wrenching photographs taken in the moments after the Boston Marathon bombings show the blue-and-yellow jackets of volunteers, police officers, fire fighters, emergency medical technicians, even a three-foot-high blue M&M. Conspicuously absent are any clerical collars or images of pastoral care.
This was not for lack of proximity. Close to the bombing site are Trinity Episcopal Church, Old South Church and St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine, all on Boylston Street. When the priests at St. Clement’s, three blocks away, heard the explosions, they gathered sacramental oils and hurried to the scene in hopes of anointing the injured and, if necessary, administering last rites, the final of seven Catholic sacraments. But the priests, who belong to the order Oblates of the Virgin Mary, weren’t allowed at the scene.
The Rev. John Wykes, director of the St. Francis Chapel at Boston’s soaring Prudential Center, and the Rev. Tom Carzon, rector of Our Lady of Grace Seminary, were among the priests who were turned away right after the bombings.
Jennifer Graham, Faith at the Finish Line
While the author of the piece pointed to security concerns as a rationale for the policy that barred priests and religious from the scene, clearly much more was going on in my beloved secular paradise of Boston. Jennifer Graham (the author) referred to “a poignant irony that Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy who died on Boylston Street, was a Catholic who had received his first Communion just last year. As Martin lay dying, priests were only yards away, beyond the police tape, unable to reach him to administer last rites — a sacrament that, to Catholics, bears enormous significance.”
Ms. Graham is a “religion” editor from the Boston Globe, a newspaper that has savaged the Catholic Church with such glee in recent decades that the idea it would appoint any kind of religious whatever is utterly laughable. The Globe hates, nay detests, religion and I have witnessed Catholics forbidding even their death notices to be published in it. Yes, it’s that bad. Ms. Graham’s title carries the weight and authority of a Senior Editor from the Daily Show among the faithful here in Boston: a complete and utter joke.
The mind-set of the Globe and of its sister liberal publications is aggressively arrogant and secular. A good example of it long ago in the movie, “Mash:” a priest is pushed away from a badly wounded patient by the doctor, as being of no consequence. In general the man is portrayed as a fool. That mindset of the ‘60s – -not just anti-clericalism but an ascendant and sick atheism — is now dominant in both the Globe and the medical profession, for that matter. It explains in no small way why the Philadelphia abortionist, the gentlemanly Dr. Kermit Gosnell, was aided and abetted by his medical colleagues and the liberal press in his city for so long.
Seemingly unrelated but read this review of the blasphemous “Testament of Mary” now on Broadway:
If you’re a lapsed Catholic, preferably Irish, who now believes that Christianity is the principal source of evil in the modern world, then I encourage you to see “The Testament of Mary,” a modern-dress solo stage version of the 2012 novella by Colm Tóibín in which Jesus’ mother (played by Fiona Shaw) proclaims to all and sundry that her son was (A) crazy and (B) not the Messiah. It’s your kind of play, and then some. If, on the other hand, you’re a Christian of the old-fashioned sort, you’ll likely go home praying for fire, or at least a plague of locusts, to descend upon the Walter Kerr Theatre and its blasphemous occupants.
…The members of the audience, whose unswerving secularity is comfortably taken for granted by Mr. Tóibín and his collaborators, are invited to snigger along with Mary at her son and his disciples, and snigger they do, over and over again. Rarely have I heard laughter so smug as that which greeted this line: “He gathered around him, I said, a group of misfits, only children like himself, or men without fathers, or men who could not look a woman in the eye, men who were seen smiling to themselves.” Nudge-nudge, wink-wink.
Terry Teachout, WSJ drama critic
So why not ban priests from disaster scenes with their silly sacraments claiming more than psychological comfort to their recipients? Science knows that “Extreme unction” is a cultural conceit. What the hell is that anyway? Well, Catholics believe it has the power to help body as well as soul; it gives grace for the state into which people enter through sickness and approach death. Through the sacrament a gift of the Holy Spirit is given, that renews confidence and faith in God and strengthens against temptations to discouragement, despair and anguish at the thought of death and the struggle of death; it prevents the believer from losing Christian hope in God’s justice, truth and salvation. But screw all that mumbo-jumbo say our totalitarian secular guardians. Go back to raping your children.
Thankfully not all cities are like Boston:
It was jarring for Father Wykes, who, as a hospital chaplain in Illinois a decade ago, was never denied access to crime or accident scenes.
“I was allowed to go anywhere. In Boston, I don’t have that access,” he says.
But Father Wykes says he has noticed a shift in the societal role of clergy over the past few decades: “In the Bing Crosby era — in the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s — a priest with a collar could get in anywhere. That’s changed. Priests are no longer considered to be emergency responders.”
The Rev. Mychal Judge is a memorable exception. The New York City priest died on 9/11, when the South Tower collapsed and its debris flew into the North Tower lobby, where Father Judge was praying after giving last rites to victims lying outside. The image of the priest’s body being carried from the rubble was one of the most vivid images to emerge from 9/11.
Jennifer Graham, Faith at the Finish Line
Pray that your City doesn’t become the outrage we constantly suffer here in Boston. The local Imams have a better chance of comforting the suffering before a Catholic priest does here. It is nothing short of ironic that the godless culture of death and licentiousness these secular nitwits have spawned is one of the chief reasons it has come under attack by Muslim jihadists. It was here, after all, that homosexual priests became the center of a worldwide scandal and distortion in the Church and caused a split between the faithful and the Church that exists today.
This is the triumph of the secular over the Church here in Boston: go back to raping your children why don’t you? This appears to justify Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy who died on Boylston Street, not receiving his last rites: a sad, sad day in many ways. “Boston Strong” chant the Fenway Park secular faithful. Hell no, sez I. This is a city so weakened and so corrupt, it can invite only your prayers. Pray for anyone wearing a “Boston Strong” T-shirt.
A review of Paul Vitz’ Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism, a reblogging of a article in Humanum. Ms Rice holds a B.A. and an M.A. in theology from the University of Dallas and The Catholic University of America, respectively.
With the prevalence of divorce and the ever-rising rate of out-of-wedlock births in the US, sociologists have begun to study the effects of growing up without a father in the home. In seemingly every measurable category, the lack of a sustained, committed father-child relationship puts the child at a disadvantage: lower IQ, lower academic achievement, higher anxiety, higher rates of disruptive behavior, lower self-esteem, higher rates of drug use and violence, and an increased chance of child abuse have all been linked with the absence of fathers from their children.
In his 1999 book Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism, psychologist Paul Vitz proposes another likely effect of the loss of the father on children: a distance from and doubt of God, which leads in many cases to profound atheism. Vitz develops his proposal as an inverse to Freud’s projection theory of belief in God, which proposes “wish-fulfillment derived from childish needs for protection and security” as the major psychological factor leading to religious belief in God (p. 6).
Without giving credence to Freud’s conclusion that psychological factors in belief render the belief itself suspect or false, Vitz notes that the projection theory in fact offers just as plausible an explanation for unbelief as for belief. Taking up the insight that a child’s “psychological representation of his father is intimately connected to his understanding of God,” Vitz proposes to test a “defective father” hypothesis, in which an “atheist’s disappointment in and resentment of his own father unconsciously justifies his rejection of God” (p. 16). His method is a historical survey of the biographies of prominent atheists and theists, particularly major figures in the development of modern atheism and their interlocutors on the side of faith.
In the column of founders and major proponents of modern atheism, Vitz addresses nineteen cases, from Voltaire, Thomas Hobbes, and David Hume, to Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, Joseph Stalin, and Sigmund Freud himself. In each case, the “defective father” hypothesis holds to some degree. Each of these men experienced a rift in his relationship with his father: whether the early death of his father, or abuse, neglect or abandonment at his hands, or an unattractive weakness or overbearing character in his father, which led to a personal break and rejection of the father’s values.
In a few cases, these men themselves draw a parallel between the absence of their fathers and the absence of God. Explaining his mother’s inability to impart her waning faith to him in the face of her husband’s careless neglect of the family, H.G. Wells relates: “My father was away at cricket, and I think she realized more and more as the years dragged on without material alleviation, that Our Father and Our Lord, on whom to begin with she had perhaps counted unduly, were also away – playing perhaps at their own sort of cricket in some remote quarter of the starry universe” (p. 51). The lack of stability from a father’s care appears to leave a void that a discredited God cannot fill, and that instead requires the search for a new principle of order and flourishing, e.g., mathematics (Russell), existential philosophy (Sartre), totalitarian political order (Stalin), and so on.
In his selection of a “control group” of theists, Vitz focuses on prominent intellectual defenders of faith against the atheism or skepticism of their times and reveals a more varied set of circumstances. Blaise Pascal’s father retired from the law on the death of his wife to devote himself to the education of his children, while Edmund Burke was separated from his father at a young age because of health, but was instead raised with the help of three maternal uncles who impressed him with their integrity, benevolence, and faith (p. 65).
G.K. Chesterton spent his childhood at his father’s side, imbibing his love of literature and beauty, while Martin Buber lost his mother and was separated from his father at an early age but was raised by grandparents who were attentive and loving. Albert Schweitzer was able to describe his father as “my dearest friend” (p. 86), while Abraham Heschel lost his father at the age of ten but felt himself from an early age to be following in the spiritual footsteps of several Hasidic rabbis whose example guided his growth.
In the examples of theists Vitz cites, the lives of those whose loss or estrangement from their fathers that would seem to locate them in the “defective fathers” category also included the secondary influence of some kind of substitute father figure. And although many of the theists were sons of devout, and even ordained, men (Paley, Schleiermacher, Schweitzer, and Barth were all ministers’ sons), Dietrich Bonhoeffer was raised by a devoted father who was himself agnostic and in a household whose Christian practice was mostly nominal. The commonality appears to be that a father or father-figure in each of these cases was able to provide a stability, affection, and attention that at the very least did not impede the development of faith in God.
The initial conclusion to be drawn from Vitz’s survey is that the historical evidence appears to support his hypothesis that the childhood experience of a “defective father” is a contributing psychological factor to the rejection of God in adulthood. Further, Vitz is able to contextualize this formative experience of the prominent atheists he identified with several further shared personal characteristics that appear to contribute to their skepticism regarding belief: high intelligence, overweening ambition, and the free choice to reject the strictures that belief in God might place on the realization of personal development.
Indeed, many of his examples would seem to share the understanding of God’s role in their lives that Sartre attributed to fatherhood in general: “‘Had my own father lived, he would have lain on me full length and crushed me’” (p. 30). In this way, the modern “romance of the autonomous self,” free from all restraint, plays directly into a rejection of belief in God (p. 136).
In substantiating his hypothesis of a projection theory of atheism based on the experience of a “defective” father, Vitz shows that the Freudian dismissal of religious belief based on psychological projection is illegitimate: the ultimate truth (or falsity) of religious belief cannot be determined by psychological factors (p. 145). However, for the general reader, Vitz might have strengthened his presentation by stepping outside this Freudian frame.
His discussion of the relationship between family dynamics and belief in God is interesting not primarily for polemical reasons, but insofar as it resonates with the experience and truth of the human person as such. In a fallen world, every father fails in some degree to reflect and interpret the fatherhood of God, and yet many children implicitly or explicitly reconcile that gap with trust in the providence and faithfulness of God. A discussion of this universal human experience would have added a greater depth and credibility to the selective historical survey of exceptional figures that forms the bulk of Vitz’s observations and argument.
Moral rearmament to serve the cause of the nation is not the Church’s primary and essential task. Religion serves a higher creed than man can comprehend. Again and again we see the prophets, and One greater than the prophets, announcing the doom of their people, when on the short view they should have been devoting their energies to restoring the national morale. Certainly no modern government, whether totalitarian or democratic, would tolerate the behaviour of Jeremiah the prophet at the time of his nation’s need: in fact in most countries today his treatment would be condemned as unduly mild, and he would be executed out of hand as an agent of enemy propaganda.
Yet on the long view Jeremiah is justified even on national grounds, since, thanks to him and his like, his people still survive while the successful powers to which they bowed their neck have one after another gone down to the dust. Better for Israel, some may say, if they had shared the lot of other peoples and not continued to drag their weary way down twenty-five centuries of suffering. But that is where history, like religion, transcends the order of culture and enters the penumbra of divine mystery.
And the Church, no less than the ancient prophets, is the servant of this higher order. She is the hierophant of the divine mysteries, not the teacher of human science nor the organizer of human culture. But if it is not the Church’s business to organize culture, neither is it that of the State. It is an intermediate region which belongs to neither the one nor the other, but which has its own laws of life and its own right to self-determination and self-direction.
To restore order in this sphere is the greatest need of our civilization, but it can only be achieved by a power of its own order, that is to say by the power of ideas and the organization of thought. But it is not possible to do this by any kind of philosophic or scientific dictatorship, as was the dream of the idealists from Plato to the present day, for the intellectual world is as divided as the religious world, and philosophy has lost its ancient prestige and its hegemony over the other sciences.
Nor is it possible to restore spiritual order by a return to the old humanist discipline of letters, for that is inseparable from the aristocratic ideal of a privileged caste of scholars. A democratic society must find a correspondingly democratic organization of culture, which should be distinct from political democracy, but parallel to it in another field of activity. At the present day, when everyone is educated a little, and when no one can master the whole realm of knowledge, it would be invidious to distinguish the scholars from the unlearned, especially since under modern conditions a man may attain vast scientific knowledge without any corresponding breadth of culture.
In these circumstances it seems to me that the form of organization appropriate to our society in the field of culture as well as in that of politics is the party — that is to say a voluntary organization for common ends based on a common “ideology”.
But is an organization of this kind conceivable in our divided and disordered civilization? That is the vital question on which the future of democracy depends.
The totalitarian parties, as I have pointed out, owe their success to their achievement in this field — the organization of national life and culture outside the political sphere. But since this function is not really consistent with the political basis of their activity, they transcend politics in both directions — by aiming at a super-political end and by using sub-political methods of violence and lawlessness in order to attain it. They become persecuting sects, like the Jacobins before them, rather than free organs of public opinion.
Now it is the fundamental principle of the old English school of political thought that the national society and national culture transcend politics. It is common both to the Left and the Right, and was insisted on by Tom Paine as strongly as by Edmund Burke. Government, says the former, is no sacred mystery, it is simply a national association for carrying on the public business — res publica — and the greater part of the order that reigns among mankind is not the creation of governments, but is due to the free activity of the civilized community.
Society, says Burke, is not an artificial legal construction, it is a spiritual community, “a partnership in all science, a partnership in all art, a partnership in every virtue and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead and those who are yet to be born.”
But while English thinkers, whether Liberal or Conservative, recognized that society transcends the State, they did not realize the need for any deliberate organization of the nonpolitical social functions. They believed that these things could be safely left to nature and to the free activity of individuals or, alternatively, to nature and social tradition. They did not see that some form of social control is necessary in the economic world in order to protect the individual and society itself from exploitation, and that some social discipline is no less necessary in the world of culture to save the national tradition from disintegration and destruction.
Today the liberal individualism and the conservative traditionalism of the nineteenth century have alike disappeared, and the policy of laissez faire, which has already been abandoned in economics, is rightly being abandoned in culture also. Nevertheless, this need not involve the abandonment of the traditional English principle of the limitation of the State to its own political sphere. It is still possible to create an organization of national culture which would not be directly dependent on the State or on any political party; and I believe that a society so organized would be not only more free but in the last resort also stronger than a totalitarian State which is obliged to narrow and even impoverish its culture in order to keep it completely dependent on political control.
But in order to do this it is necessary to have a clear consciousness of our aim, and to pursue it with as much determination and perseverance as the servants of the State have shown in their domain. Hitherto the children of this world have shown themselves not only wiser but also more capable of self-discipline and devotion than the children of light. The Machiavellian virtue of the statesman, low as it may be, has been a real thing, whereas the higher ideals of the humanist and the philosopher have been bloodless phantoms which were not strong enough to arouse passionate devotion or effectual action.
Yet few would deny that it is possible to serve the community in other fields than politics, or would hold that such a vocation is intrinsically less capable of arousing devotion and enthusiasm. What has been lacking hitherto is any satisfactory basis for common action, and for lack of this there has been an appalling waste and misdirection of the highest spiritual resources of the community which have been left to run wild or to expend themselves in an unworthy servitude to economic interests.
What is necessary is some organization which is neither political nor economic, and which will devote itself to the service of national life and the organization of national culture. At the present time in democratic countries the realm of culture has become a no-man’s-land which is given up to anarchic individualism and at the same time invaded from different directions by the organized powers of the State, and financial capitalism.
Thus the press, the cinema, and the theatre, which exert such an enormous influence on public opinion and popular culture, are as yet almost free in democratic countries from any direct interference by the State: yet their freedom is limited and their cultural value diminished in every direction by the financial motives and the capitalist organization that determine their character. The field of education, on the other hand, is relatively free from this slavery to economic forces. But here the State has already acquired almost complete control, and it would seem as though the power which the State has thus obtained over the mind of the community must inevitably bring about the triumph of a totalitarian order.
Nevertheless, there remains a free element, a survival of the humanist tradition, which gives even our bureaucratic educational machine a leaven of freedom and liberal ideals. It is easy to condemn the snobbery and Philistinism of the English public-school system. Yet one must admit, I think, that it does stand, however incompletely, for this principle of the service of the national culture, apart from any political or economic motive; so that one is conscious of the presence of something which comes neither from State organization nor the power of money, but which is the fruit of the unbroken corporate tradition of centuries of national life.
It is inevitable that under existing social conditions some of them should have acquired a definitely aristocratic character as the preserve of a wealthy and privileged class, but this is by no means always the case. The school which I know best, and which is in a sense the archetype of the whole system, has never had any marked aristocratic or plutocratic character. It has always maintained its original function of training scholars who would be good servants of the community. In this it has been faithful to the spirit of its founder, the good chancellor, who was the trusty servant alike of King and Pope, of State and Church, of England and Christendom.
And thus it has preserved its place through all the social and political changes of five centuries as an independent spiritual organ of the community, a living example of an organized cultural institution which is neither the creature of the State nor the servant of the financial powers that dominate democratic society.
Now if it is possible for a school to have an independent cultural tradition and, as it were, a soul of its own, why should not the same principle of free organization be applied to other fields of culture which at present lie derelict and which otherwise will become the drill fields and machine yards of a totalitarian State?
The main cause is the absence of any spiritual power to take the work in hand and the lack of any clear sense of national aims and social responsibility in matters of culture. But the time has come when we can no longer afford to neglect the non-political and non-economic sides of national life or to leave them to the unorganized activity of individuals.
The new totalitarian parties and regimes have discovered that nations do not live by bread alone and they have attempted to capture the soul of a nation by violence and to use the total psychological force of the community in their relentless drive towards world power. Thus what is at stake is not the literary culture of a privileged minority, but the spiritual life of the people. It is only by the free organization of national life, according to the spirit of our institutions and traditions, but in new forms adapted to twentieth-century conditions, that we can save, not only our national being, but also the ways of life, the forms of thought and the spiritual values which are the principles of Western Civilization.
We have behind us a long tradition of freedom; not, it is true, of democracy in the modern sense, but of individual liberty and corporate self-government. Our parliamentary institutions are not the artificial creation of liberal idealism, as in so many countries; they are an organic part of the life of the nation, and they have grown up century by century by the vital urge of social realities. We are too old to change this tradition for some imported ideology. If parliamentary institutions are irreconcilable with a totalitarian party regime (and I believe they are) then the new system is not for us. We must find some other method of reorganizing and strengthening the nation.
The British parliamentary system is of its very nature non-totalitarian, and its success through the ages has been largely due to the limited character of its aims and its powers. It has been the monarchy rather than parliament that has been the symbol and guarantee of national unity, and the monarchy, even more than parliament, depends for its very existence on its limited character. But what has always given the English system its unique strength and social solidity has been the existence of a social unity behind the monarchy and behind parliament, a unity of which they are the political organs, but which itself transcends politics. It is this unity which makes it possible for our party system to function on a basis of common understanding without dividing the nation into two hostile camps with mutually exclusive ideologies.
In the past this unity was taken for granted: it was an unconscious social fact arising out of the natural structure of society, from the life of the people and the national tradition of culture. But to-day not only is this structure changing, it is also becoming self-conscious owing to the advance in psychological knowledge and the organization of sociological and economic research. And it is on this ground, rather than in the field of politics in the strict sense, that it is necessary to plan and organize, if any fundamental reform is to be made in the life of the nation.
It is true that the totalitarian States have attempted this fundamental work of social reconstruction by direct political action. But by so doing they have, as we have seen, made the party into a super-political organization which has some of the characteristics of a religious society, and at the same time they have destroyed personal freedom and narrowed the national tradition of culture by subordinating the higher super-political activities of the community to the intolerant and rigid tyranny of political partisanship.
In the past Western society was made up of a number of interpenetrating orders, political, economic, cultural and religious, each of which was either autonomous or possessed a considerable degree of de facto independence. The political order was only a part, and in theory at least not the most important part, of the social structure, and within the political order itself the party held a relatively humble and unhonoured place. The idea that the spiritual life of society should be ruled and guided by a political party would have appeared to our ancestors a monstrous absurdity. The spiritual order possessed its own organization, that of the Church, which was held to transcend all the rest in importance and which exercised a profound influence on human life from the cradle to the grave.
But the time has long passed since the Church held undisputed sway over the mind and conscience of western culture, and the loss of Christian unity has brought with it a loss of spiritual order and of the sense of spiritual values in society at large. First, with the Renaissance, secular culture emancipated itself from the tutelage of the Church and created an independent order of humanism and science. Then with the industrial revolution economic life emancipated itself from the control of the State and created the vast system of financial, commercial and industrial relations which we know as the capitalist order.
Thus there have arisen outside the traditional historic organizations of Church and State these two independent orders to which western civilization owes a vast increase in its material and spiritual resources, but which on account of this lack of organization and social direction, have become centrifugal and disintegrating forces. This first became plainly evident in regard to economics, and it was here that the first conscious attempt was made to restore unity of direction and bring the economic order under the control of the community. This was the origin of Socialism and, in a sense, of all the totalitarian movements, for the attempt to unify the political and the economic orders led almost inevitably to the confusion of social categories and the attempt to extend State control to every sphere of social life.
Even in England, I believe that the decline of our political system dates from the day when the Trade Unions renounced their non-political ideal of being masters in their own house and aspired to be masters also in the House of Commons. For this led inevitably to the supersession of the Liberal Party, which was a vital organ of English political life, and the intrusion of a new principle which if logically carried out would involve a totalitarian order. For if all the workers are embodied in the unions, and if the T.U.C. decides the policy of its parliamentary candidates, it is obvious that the English party system could no longer exist, and the whole political order would be subordinated to an organization based on industry and governed by purely economic considerations.
Actually, of course, these possibilities have failed to materialize and the Labour Party, instead of absorbing the political in the economic order, has helped to bring some measure of social responsibility and control into the capitalist system. Nevertheless, the creation of a party that has a non-political economic basis and introduction of the principle of class war into the party system have undoubtedly weaker and narrowed the basis of agreement on which that system rests, and there can be little doubt that an attempt to realize the full socialist programme by constitutional means would strain the parliamentary system to break point.
But if it is dangerous to attempt the fundamental reorganization of economic life purely political means, it is far more danger to bring politics into the order of culture, for this means the invasion of the human by the hand of power. This is the original sin of every totalitarian system, and this is why the English mind revolts instinctively at the idea of the forcible imposition by the State of any kind of ideology.
When Humanism emancipated secular culture from ecclesiastical control, it applied the traditional mediaeval ideal of the freedom of spiritual power to the realm of science and art. It sought not the destruction of the spiritual power, but the creation of an independent spiritual power in the natural order; and since then the freedom of scholarship and science and art has been the keystone of western culture.
But the republic of letters was never a lawless one. Citizenship could only be obtained by a long and toilsome discipline which made the scholars no less a closed and privileged order than the clerics of the mediaeval Church.
But modern civilization, while retaining the ideal of freedom of thought, and even extending it to regions which were formerly outside its domain, has at the same time destroyed the framework of social and intellectual discipline on which this freedom rested. With the growth of popular education at one end of the scale, and the development of scientific specialization at the other, the intellectual order dissolved into a vast and formless chaos controlled only by the power of the state over education and the power of capital over the press. Where these powers do not operate, the strange shadow world of the intelligentsia remains the last refuge of cultural independence like the last spot of dry land on which man and beast crowd together in uneasy fellowship before the rising floods.
Unless some order can be brought back into this chaos, nothing can save it from the ideological police of a totalitarian State, and there is already no lack of evidence of what that involves in the loss of spiritual freedom and the lowering of cultural standards. Better perhaps that the State should organize our culture than that it should be left to the mercenary leadership of the popular press and the financial exploitation of its intellectual and moral weakness. But it is a choice of evils, either of which is equally hostile to the freedom and humanity of western culture.
But what of the other spiritual power which still survives and still maintains its ancient claim to be the guide and teacher of mankind — I mean the Church? There is no doubt that the Church is by its nature and tradition better fitted to deal with problems of the spiritual order than the State can ever be. “Let us not forget,” wrote Nietzsche, “in the end what a Church is and especially in contrast to every `State’, a Church is above all an authoritative organization which secures to the most spiritual men the highest rank, and believes in the power of spirituality so far as to forbid all grosser appliances of authority. Through this alone the Church is under all circumstances a nobler institution than the State.”
Nevertheless it is today impossible to return to the undifferentiated unity of medieval culture. The rise of humanism and the modern sciences has created an autonomous sphere of culture which lies entirely outside the ecclesiastical domain and in which any direct intervention on the part of the Church would be resented as an intrusion. Moreover, the Church is herself weakened by religious division and invaded on her own territory by the forces of anti-clericalism and paganism, and by the unlimited claims of the totalitarian State. The greatest service the Church can render to western civilization at the present time is to keep her own inheritance intact and not to allow her witness to be obscured by letting herself be used as the instrument of secular powers and politics.
It is true that the present crisis is producing constant appeals to the Church to use her influence in the cause of “moral rearmament”. There is a tendency, especially among the English-speaking Protestant peoples, to treat religion as a kind of social tonic that can be used in times of national emergency in order to extract a further degree of moral effort from the people. But apart from the Pelagian conception of religion that this view implies, it is not wholly sound from the psychological point of view, since it merely heightens the amount of moral tension without increasing the sources of spiritual vitality or resolving the psychological conflicts from which the society suffers.
Written at the close of WWII, this essay warns of the rise of a democratic totalitarianism no less dangerous that the fascist totalitarianism so recently defeated. We live in an age of school shootings and a secular system itself which is indifferent to humanity and the human person. Christopher Dawson saw it coming. Some today still refuse to see it and babble on about “gun control” as we hurtle towards an abyss.
Four years ago I wrote a small book on Religion and the Modern State which was an attempt to reconsider the problem of the’ relations of Church and State as they were affected by the rise of the new political ideologies. I pointed out that the issue was not merely a conflict between Democracy and Dictatorship or between Fascism and Communism. It was a change in the whole social structure of the modern world, which affects religion and culture as well as politics and economics. The forces that make for social uniformity and the mechanization of culture are no less strong in England and the United States than in Germany and Italy, so that we might expect to see the rise of a democratic totalitarianism which would make the same universal claims on the life of the individual as the totalitarian dictatorships of the Continent.
I think that events have justified this diagnosis of the situation and that few people to-day will question the existence of this totalitarian trend even in our own country. It has indeed become the most vital and urgent problem of our time, how this trend is to be reconciled with the traditions of liberty and individualism on which not only the English State but the whole fabric of English culture and social institutions has been built.
Everybody recognizes the need for national unity and national organization, but there are few who realize how fundamental are the changes that this involves in our national ways of life and ways of thought, and fewer still are prepared to pay the price. For if we copy the methods of the dictatorships in a merely negative and defensive spirit, we shall lose our liberty and the distinctive virtues of the English social system without gaining any new inspiration or vision. While if we go the whole way and attempt to base our organization on the positive creed of a political party, we shall run the risk of producing a social conflict which will divide the nation instead of uniting it.
It is easy to take a pessimistic view of the situation and to say that England is now paying the price for the material prosperity and economic domination that she has enjoyed for the last century, and that she must now yield place to the younger and more ruthless powers that have learned in a hard school to adapt themselves to the new conditions. But even if this be true, it is no excuse for an attitude of passive resignation. The change we are witnessing is something much greater than the rise and decline of particular States. It is a transformation of civilization such as the world has never known before, and it affects every nation and every continent, whether they are young or old, whether they are weak or powerful.
What is it that is happening? The old civilization of Western Europe which was so deeply rooted in the Christian and Mediterranean past has produced something different to itself which has no roots in the experience of our race — a marvelous, mechanical monster that threatens to devour the culture that created it.
For the most disturbing feature of the new situation is the growing inhumanity of our civilization. It is not that we are personally less humane: on the contrary we are horrified at the cruel sports and cruel punishments of our forefathers in the not remote past. It is the system itself which is indifferent to humanity and which forces its servants and masters to be indifferent also.
We see this in detail in the case of the motor-car which exists to serve human pleasure and convenience and yet inevitably seems to bring mutilation and death to large numbers of harmless people. We see it on a large scale in the way that the modern industrial system, which exists to serve human needs, nevertheless reduces the countryside to smoking desolation and involves whole populations in periodic troughs of depression and scarcity. But we see it in its most extreme and devilish form in modern warfare which has a nightmare quality about it that is hardly reconcilable with a human origin or purpose.
When we saw the recent preparations for war — the gas masks, the digging of shelters and the preparation for the wholesale evacuation of the population from the towns — it seemed no longer to have anything in common with the old warfare of armies set in array and the human thrill of battle. It was rather as though a human ant heap was threatened with destruction by some gigantic impersonal force.
If the world abandons itself to the domination of these inhuman powers, it matters little which nation or which group of States is successful, for this power is alien to every nation, and its victory means defeat for humanity as a whole.
The militant ideologies of the Left and the Right may, no doubt, help nations to endure the shock with fortitude and even with hope, but they are like drugs which render the nerves insensible to the pain of the operation without in any way changing its character. For these gigantic forces seem to demand some superhuman power, some pure intelligence, to govern them, if they are not to become devilish instruments of destruction; and the more completely a nation, surrenders itself to the blind urge to power, the more easily are they carried away. by the relentless drive of events which is pressing European civilization towards disaster.
The fact is that the same fundamental issues confront all the peoples of Europe, and the Fascist States are no more anxious than the democratic ones to make a complete break with the past. On the contrary, they have taken their stand in the maintenance of national traditions and national culture, and the traditions of Latin and Germanic culture are really no more adapted to mass organization and mechanization than are our own. It is only in the region of politics that their tradition of authoritative government and, military discipline have made it easier for them than for ourselves to accept a totalitarian system, but this is not altogether an advantage since it causes the real nature of the change to be obscured by the romance of ideological myths and passionate loyalty to the personality of a leader.
But we have to face these problems in cold blood without any passionate belief in an inspired leader or a new gospel. It is therefore harder for us to take decisions, harder for us to choose a definite path, while on the other hand we still have room to look around and to learn from the mistakes of those who have attempted to solve the problem by drastic revolutionary methods.
Now the existing totalitarian regimes have all originated in the same manner: viz, by the capture of the State machine by a political party which has then proceeded to reorganize the whole life of the community according to its programme and ideology. Under the regime of parliamentary democracy, the State had become a neutral impersonal organization which was operated by whatever party or combination of parties happened to predominate at the moment, and since rival parties and rival interests tended, with universal suffrage and representation, to cancel one another out, the democratic State was incapable of deciding fundamental issues and the whole government became weak and inept.
Fascism and Communism owed their triumph to a policy of revolutionary action which restored to the State a single will and purpose. But in order to do this they narrowed the basis of citizenship at the same time as they widened the range of political action. Alike to the Communist and the National Socialist the Community transcends the State, and the party is not a cog in the machinery of government, but the inspired organ of the Community or the nation and it possesses a divine absolute right to override legal and constitutional restrictions and to use the State as a means of realizing its super-political ideals. For the State exists only to serve the people; and the Party, or the Leader of the Party, is the only authentic embodiment of the will ‘of the people.
Thus the new parties have little in common with their democratic predecessors. They are more like a religious order which exacts total obedience from its members and which trains them by a strict discipline to become the instruments of the corporate purpose. But while a religious order is always in the last resort the servant of the Church, the totalitarian party is the master of the State and bends it to its purpose. It is in fact more like a Church than a State, since its membership is based on the profession of a creed or ideology and on faith in the gospel of the leader rather than on citizenship. Nevertheless, though the Party is above the State and assumes super-political functions, there is an inevitable tendency for it to become fused with it sooner or later.
Alike in Russia, Italy and Germany, it is no longer possible to distinguish the party from the government, so that the upshot of the revolution in all three cases has been an immense increase in the power of the State and in the range of its activities. Never perhaps in the history of the world has the State been so omnipotent and its power so highly concentrated in the hands of the ruler as in the three great totalitarian States today. There have been vast empires in the past, and emperors and dictators who seemed to possess unlimited power over their subjects, but never before have they been able to mobilize all the political, economic and psychological resources of the ,community and turn them to whatever end they chose.
De Maistre wrote in a striking phrase of the revolutionary will of the First French Republic as “a battering ram with twenty million men behind it “, and this is ten times more true of the will to power of the new totalitarian State, for apart from the greater population and wealth of the new States, their mechanization and their intensive organization of intelligence and propaganda give them a power of which earlier ages had no conception.
Now the problem which confronts us today is how the democratic States are to make themselves strong enough to exist in face of the new powers, without abandoning the principles of personal liberty and tolerance on which they are based. And it is a problem on which the future of the world depends, for if the three great western democracies, England, France, and the United States, fail to preserve and maintain their tradition of freedom, no other powers in the world will be strong enough to do so, and the whole spirit of western civilization will be changed.
From the western political standpoint the regime of the totalitarian party State represents a brutal simplification of social life, a one-sided solution which ruthlessly sacrifices some of the highest cultural values to the cult of power. Yet this should not prevent us from recognizing that its achievements are genuine ones or from admitting the weaknesses and vices of our own liberal democratic system and the tendencies towards social degeneration which exist in democratic society.
If Western civilization is to be saved it is necessary to find some way of removing the divided aims, the lack of social discipline and the absence of national unity that are the weaknesses of democracy, without falling under the tyrannis of dictatorship and the fanatical intolerance of a totalitarian party. And we cannot do this by politics alone.
No constitutional change will touch the roots of our weakness, for it is the life of society and not merely the government of society that needs reordering. It is through their realization of that truth that the dictators have earned their success. They have not been content to govern and tax and legislate, they have aspired to change the spirit of a people, to rescue it from apathy and despair, to give it faith in its mission and hope in its future. And if they have done it by crude and brutal methods, by the sacrifice of individual freedom and by the suppression and oppression of minorities, they would say that it is better to do it so than not to do it at all.
But we on our side must ask whether it is not possible for a free nation to do all this without losing its freedom and by methods which do not conflict with the social traditions of our race. After all, Communism had behind it the tradition of autocratic violence which had already revolutionized the Russian State in the days of Peter the Great, while National Socialism can appeal to the tradition of a State that was built up by military discipline and the ideal of a people in arms.
There is not a single thing good about war, not a thing. And yet we still fight whether to protect our way of life, out of revenge or practicality, to acquire land and strategic value, minerals, wealth. It never ends, and our children always die. The Catholic Church has considered theories of Just War (Bellum iustum), although, to be truthful, all war is on some level deeply unjust and violates our purpose and heavenly nature as imago dei.
Just war theory is a doctrine of military ethics of Roman philosophical and Catholic origin, studied by moral theologians, ethicists and international policy makers, which holds that a violent conflict ought to meet philosophical, religious or political criteria. It thus becomes an apologia for whatever particular war that is its object.
At the root of the paradox of war, why it is unjust and necessary at the same time is the very nature of our world: why it needs to be saved and why the strong are always called upon to protect the weak. It wasn’t lost on all (at least not this Catholic) when a marine guard of six bore each of the four coffins of Ambassador Stephens and the three others who died in the Libyan Embassy attacks by Al Qaeda. Twenty-four marines cared for them in death. Why had they not been available to them in life? We learn now through Ambassador Stephen’s journal and other intelligence sources that the danger was more than evident in the months leading up to the attack. But the political narrative was “Osama Bin Laden is Dead and General Motors is alive,” not the failure of Mr. Obama’s inept Middle East policy. Osama is alive and well, thank you. And GM, in all honesty, is not doing that well either.
Barack Obama was elected in 2008 upon a theory that the war in Afghanistan was just because we were fighting the perpetrators of 9/11 and their protectors, the Taliban. A contrast was implicitly drawn with the previous administration’s war in Iraq where reasons for war seemed untenable following revelations that Saddam Hussein did, in fact, not possess weapons of mass destruction. Never mind the fact that he was a bad actor and his removal from the world stage was a good thing, politics deemed we call one war bad and the other good.
The good war has turned into a disaster we are told. Time to pull out, the losses are unbearable and the nature of the losses — Afghan troops being infiltrated by the Taliban and then turning on their benefactors, the UN troops who train them — is an insult we cannot tolerate. How times have changed.
I think of just one engagement, the Battle of the Bulge in WW-II, which lasted from 16 December to the end of January, roughly 6 or 7 weeks rather than the eleven years we have been in Afghanistan. U.S. forces lost were almost 20,000 killed, add in the wounded, those captured by the Germans, and others the total losses were brought to nearly 80,000. Just one battle. From a military perspective, the 6,500 killed in Afghanistan and Iraq — a little over twice the number of people killed on that day, 9/11 spread over eleven years — is so low as to be an anomaly even for U.S. forces, which (like UK, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand forces) in general suffer casualty rates far lower than that of armed forces of other nations in similar circumstances.
Yet the media and the left and even some of those on the right tell us there is nothing no longer to fight for. We should turn our backs and let Afghanistan sink back into a dismal tribal miasma of fanatical Muslim jihad. We hear nothing it seems about the drug war in Afghanistan any longer. Yet those poppy fields fuel the supply of heroin to Europe and beyond. The evil of that alone would seem to justify some sort of commitment but that earlier justification is no longer mentioned. The sacrifice of our troops for Afghan women and children is no longer mentioned.
The following is a story from the WSJ of two Christians who fought in Afghanistan. Amidst the tragedy and horror of that war, one paid the ultimate price. All for nothing? I’ll let you be the judge.
A Marine’s Death Brings Together His Dad and His Battlefield Buddy — Michael Phelps for the WSJ
HOOVER, Ala. — Two years ago, Matthew Proctor dropped to his knees in the Afghan dirt and watched his best friend bleed to death.
These days, when dreams get disturbing or guilt eats at his gut, there is one person the former Marine corporal is likely to call: Thomas Rivers Sr., his dead friend’s father.
When Mr. Rivers, 60 years old and a pharmaceutical executive, feels himself sinking into black depression or misses the pleasures of raising a son, it is the 24-year-old Cpl. Proctor he confides in or invites over for a boat ride. “He lost a best friend, and in a sense I lost a best friend as well as my son,” says Mr. Rivers. “That is a bond we share.”
War sunders some relationships and forges others. More than 6,500 Americans have died in Afghanistan and Iraq, leaving gaping holes in families across the nation. Out of duty or kindness, guilt or need, the troops who survived often step forward to fill the voids their buddies left.
After Army Cpl. Benjamin Dillon, of Edinburg Township, Ohio, was killed in Iraq in 2007, one of his fellow Rangers — ravaged by post-traumatic stress — moved in with the corporal’s brother. He stood guard at Cpl. Dillon’s grave on Memorial Day. “There’s no doubt he was looking for a family, and we were, too — to have something to hold on to,” says the corporal’s mother, Linda Dillon.
Maj. Chad Hubbard took it upon himself to watch over the family of a Marine casualty he had never met, Cpl. Adam Galvez of Salt Lake City. Over the past six years, Maj. Hubbard has written, called and visited the corporal’s parents. At first he was driven by a sense of duty. Soon he discovered that the family helped him cope with his own grief over men lost in Iraq.
Messrs. Rivers and Proctor barely knew each other before Marine Lance Cpl. Thomas Rivers Jr., 22, stepped on a buried bomb. Now they have a friendship that bridges the decades between them. “They both want to see each other get through this,” says Charon Rivers, the lance corporal’s mother.
Neither man would say that Cpl. Proctor has replaced Lance Cpl. Rivers, or that Mr. Rivers has displaced Cpl. Proctor’s father. But those around them sense a bond that verges on the paternal. Cpl. Proctor and Mr. Rivers hunt and boat together. Through Cpl. Proctor, Mr. Rivers has come to know his son the warrior, not just the high-school student. And he gets a second chance to guide a young man.
Cpl. Proctor talks to Mr. Rivers about problems — his volatile anger, for instance — that he won’t broach with his own father. “You need to walk him through how to make his own decisions,” Mr. Rivers says of Cpl. Proctor. “I think I need that. I miss that with Thomas.”
Among the Marine infantrymen, Cpl. Proctor and Lance Cpl. Rivers stood out. Both grew up in upper-middle-class homes and attended college-prep Christian schools.
Growing up in Nashville, Cpl. Proctor always had the military in mind. Bored in school, he joined the wrestling team and looked forward to the day he could enlist. “He has always been intense,” says Dan Proctor, his father, who co-owns an airplane-maintenance company.
Lance Cpl. Rivers grew up slight, at 5-foot-8, but bulked up in high school and played football in Hoover, a suburb of Birmingham. In eighth grade, he wrote an essay about wanting to become a Marine. He collected Marine T-shirts and posters and, like Cpl. Proctor, reported to boot camp after graduation.
Both were devout Christians. At Camp Lejeune before their deployment to Afghanistan, Cpl. Proctor stood before the 150 men of A Co., 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment and announced he would be holding Bible study. The only other Marine who showed up was Lance Cpl. Rivers, who had a line from Psalm 91 tattooed across his back: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”
In Afghanistan, some of the Marines used a Ouija board. The two friends would pray nearby to counter what they considered satanic influences.
Lance Cpl. Rivers was nimble enough to cross religious and social lines. He could both profess his Christianity and scrap with the bouncer at a strip club. Cpl. Proctor’s outspoken faith irritated many other Marines, leaving Lance Cpl. Rivers’s friendship vital to him.
In early 2010, their platoon was sent to a patrol base in a part of Helmand province notorious for makeshift insurgent minefields. The platoon was short of engineers trained to sweep the ground for bombs and Navy corpsmen to aid wounded Marines.
At 6 a.m. April 28, Lance Cpl. Rivers led his first and last patrol out of the base, with Cpl. Proctor, also a lance corporal at the time, as his No. 2. The plan was to relieve another squad occupying a mud-walled compound and retaliate against insurgent mortar teams hitting the patrol base.
Half an hour later, the nine men arrived at the compound. Lance Cpl. Rivers offered to stand guard for a tired Marine. He passed through an opening in the wall, stepped to his left and triggered the pressure-plate of a hidden bomb.
Cpl. Proctor saw dust billow up from the other side of the wall and felt the concussion. He ran into the compound and saw his friend on the ground. Lance Cpl. Rivers’s feet had been blown off, and his legs were mutilated. Shrapnel had blown up into his torso.
The Marines swarmed Lance Cpl. Rivers, frantically strapping tourniquets onto the remains of his legs to try to stanch the bleeding. Cpl. Proctor checked on another wounded man and radioed for a helicopter.
Then he knelt beside Lance Cpl. Rivers, who drifted in and out of alertness. Back at Camp Lejeune the Marines had talked about wounds they didn’t want to survive. As Lance Cpl. Rivers lay in front of him, Cpl. Proctor remembered his friend saying he didn’t want to live without legs.
“Oh my f — ing God,” Lance Cpl. Rivers moaned. “My f — ing legs. Just f — ing kill me.”
“Rivers — you’re fine,” Cpl. Proctor told him. “Everything’s going to be OK.”
As the minutes passed, Cpl. Proctor took his Bible out of his pouch and asked his friend if he wanted to hear Psalm 91.
“Yeah, yeah, do that,” Lance Cpl. Rivers said, according to Cpl. Proctor.
“You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday,” Cpl. Proctor read.
A corpsman arrived. He performed mouth-to-mouth breathing and pressed Lance Cpl. Rivers’s chest to help his heart beat. Still, the pulse faded away. In a calm voice, Cpl. Proctor radioed the command post: “Be advised…time of death 7:11.”
Back at the patrol base, he curled up in the fetal position outside his tent and sobbed. He remembers raging at God: “Why would you take away the one Christian brother that I have?”
In Alabama, Mr. Rivers was up early as usual, getting a cup of coffee for Mrs. Rivers. He heard a car door slam outside and saw three men in uniforms walking up the drive. He opened the door. “You’re not here to tell me that my son’s dead,” Mr. Rivers said. The Marines nodded.
Mrs. Rivers phoned Cpl. Proctor’s mother, Dee Anne Proctor, fearful she might have lost her son, too. The women had hit it off at a dinner the night before they sent their sons off to war. Mrs. Proctor drove down from Nashville to comfort Mrs. Rivers.
A couple of days later, Cpl. Proctor called the Rivers house from Afghanistan. Mr. and Mrs. Rivers were hungry for information about how their son had died. Cpl. Proctor told them he had read the Bible to Thomas as he faded. He assured them that the death wouldn’t be in vain; already nine Marines had joined his Bible study.
“I am here for you…. It’s what Thomas would have wanted,” Cpl. Proctor wrote to Mr. Rivers. “To watch over you, comfort you, and love you. Something I absolutely love doing. And is actually very helpful and therapeutic. I feel a sense of need to comfort you all. Please allow me to.”
Mr. and Mrs. Rivers chose to skip the battalion’s homecoming at Camp Lejeune; the thought of watching other sons step off the bus without theirs was crushing. Instead they arrived a few days later for a memorial service and stayed in a rented condominium with the senior Proctors.
Cpl. Proctor showed the Rivers photos of the compound where their son died. Mr. Rivers pushed Cpl. Proctor for details of his son’s injuries. “I’ve been in the medical field for 24 years,” Mr. Rivers remembers saying. “I want to know what happened.” He found comfort in the description that followed because he realized his son, once wounded, had had no chance of survival.
For his part, Cpl. Proctor felt weighed down by guilt over his friend’s death.
“It was Thomas’s time,” Mr. Rivers assured him more than once.
Cpl. Proctor, his father and Mr. Rivers went to a cigar bar near Camp Lejeune where they smoked and downed Jack Daniel’s, Lance Cpl. Rivers’s drink of choice. They talked about Thomas and Scripture.
Cpl. Proctor realized later it was at that moment he decided to devote himself to the Rivers family. He saw in his friend’s father a man steeped in wisdom he could no long share with his son. “I can be a protégé,” he told himself. “I can listen.”
On leave, Cpl. Proctor traveled to Hoover before going home to Nashville. He slept in Lance Cpl. Rivers’s room, among the trophies from pinewood derbies that Mr. Rivers and his son had entered together.
Afterward, he went to a party at a friend’s fraternity house in Tuscaloosa. In Afghanistan, Cpl. Proctor had spent hours daydreaming about conversations he would have with friends once he returned home. He was excited to see a woman he had known in high school, and had thought about while overseas. “How are you?” she asked.
“I’m not too great,” he answered. “I just got back from Afghanistan.” She excused herself.
Cpl. Proctor was stunned. He collapsed on the floor, crying as hard as he had after Lance Cpl. Rivers’s death. His host, Will Long, emptied the room, but another guest barged in and refused to leave.
Cpl. Proctor snapped. He felt the adrenaline of combat. A beer bottle in his hand, he lunged for the intruder’s face. Mr. Long stepped between them.
“What is wrong with you?” Mr. Long asked.
Cpl. Proctor soon recognized the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. He dreamed of killing his friends and hurting puppies. He chose to talk over his episodes with Mr. Rivers, not his own father.
“I can’t talk about episodes of PTSD nearly as well with my father as I can with Tom because I feel Tom can relate,” says Cpl. Proctor. They both were traumatized by Lance Cpl. Rivers’s death, he reasons.
In the months that followed, Mr. Rivers and Cpl. Proctor grew closer. They would text or talk a couple of times a week. Cpl. Proctor left the Marine Corps last year and enrolled in a Nashville Christian college.
The Rivers family published a short religious tract about their son’s death. The booklet highlighted Cpl. Proctor’s role, especially how he says he drew other Marines to Christianity — and away from demon-worship — after Lance Cpl. Rivers’s death.
The booklet, distributed by the thousands among the troops, further alienated him from many of his comrades, according to Cpl. Proctor and several former members of his platoon.
On weekends, Cpl. Proctor sometimes visits the Rivers family at their weekend lake house. He helps Mr. Rivers whack weeds and clean spiders off the motor boat. They spend hot afternoons drinking beer on the water, Mr. Rivers dragging Cpl. Proctor behind the boat on an inflatable raft.
Mr. Rivers worried that the corporal’s father would see him as trying to usurp his role. But Mr. Proctor encouraged the relationship. On some subjects, he felt Mr. Rivers could speak to his son in a way that he no longer could.
“I’m very hesitant to give him advice because he has matured in a pressure cooker,” the 55-year-old Mr. Proctor says of his son. “He has a lot of wisdom about him that I don’t have.”
When Cpl. Proctor met a girl he thought would make a good wife, he pursued her “like some fortress to be captured,” his father recalls. It was Mr. Rivers who advised the corporal to ease off.
When Cpl. Proctor was negotiating the purchase of a house last year, his father pushed him to play hardball. It was Mr. Rivers who suggested how big to make the counteroffer.
Last December, Mr. Rivers took Cpl. Proctor to kill his first deer, just as he had done when his son was 10. “It’s the first time I’ve been out here with someone who’s not Thomas,” Mr. Rivers told Cpl. Proctor.
Mr. Rivers outfitted him in camouflage and an orange hat. They spent two days in the woods, texting to each other over the 150 yards that separated their blinds.
“Should I bag it or wait?” Cpl. Proctor texted when he spotted a small buck.
“If you want it, shoot it. How long are the spikes?” Mr. Rivers responded.
“Can’t tell…a foot?” Cpl. Proctor wrote.
“Shoot it,” came the response. Mr. Rivers smiled when he thought about how he and Thomas used to text while hunting.
Mr. Rivers striped the young man’s cheeks with the blood of his first kill.
In recent months the roles have reversed. While Cpl. Proctor’s PTSD has eased somewhat, Mr. Rivers has struggled under a shroud of depression so severe that he thought himself ill and ordered blood tests. One bad night he dreamed he had taken Thomas’s place and died in the bomb blast. Another night he saw the incident from Cpl. Proctor’s viewpoint, kneeling next to his dying son.
“It was like you’re in the bottom of a well,” Mr. Rivers says.
On the second anniversary of the death, several of his son’s high-school and Marine friends visited the Rivers house. Mr. Rivers felt the walls closing in on him. Normally gregarious, he sat alone in virtual silence.
Later he called Cpl. Proctor, and they talked of Thomas.
“I’m really missing him right now,” Mr. Rivers told him.
Lord Sacks, the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, wrote a perspicuous essay published over the weekend in the Wall Street Journal. It concerned the events of the London Riots. It was almost impossible, wrote the Chief Rabbi, to regard those happenings in the same context as the recent royal wedding: “the eyes of the world were on London as a dashing prince and a radiant princess, William and Kate, rode in a horse-drawn carriage through streets lined with cheering crowds sharing a mood of joyous celebration.” “Same city, different planet,” he concludes after having lived through this:
It looked like a scene from Cairo, Tunis or Tripoli earlier in the year. But this was no political uprising. People were breaking into shops and making off with clothes, shoes, electronic gadgets and flat-screen televisions. It was, as someone later called it, shopping with violence, consumerism run rampage, an explosion of lawlessness made possible by mobile phones as gangs discovered that by text messaging they could bring crowds onto the streets where they became, for a while, impossible to control.
While it seemed to take everyone by surprise, The Chief Rabbi thought it shouldn’t have. These events have been preordained, in a sense, since the 1960’s when one of the most radical transformations in the history of the West occurred.
“In virtually every Western society in the 1960s there was a moral revolution, an abandonment of its entire traditional ethic of self-restraint. All you need, sang the Beatles, is love. The Judeo-Christian moral code was jettisoned. In its place came whatever works for you. The Ten Commandments were rewritten as the Ten Creative Suggestions. Or as Allan Bloom put it in “The Closing of the American Mind”: “I am the Lord Your God: Relax!”
He continues to paint a picture of what he sees:
You do not have to be a Victorian sentimentalist to realize that something has gone badly wrong since. In Britain today, more than 40% of children are born outside marriage. This has led to new forms of child poverty that serious government spending has failed to cure. In 2007, a UNICEF report found that Britain’s children are the unhappiest in the world. The 2011 riots are one result. But there are others.
Whole communities are growing up without fathers or male role models. Bringing up a family in the best of circumstances is not easy. To try to do it by placing the entire burden on women — 91% of single-parent families in Britain are headed by the mother, according to census data — is practically absurd and morally indefensible. By the time boys are in their early teens they are physically stronger than their mothers. Having no fathers, they are socialized in gangs. No one can control them: not parents, teachers or even the local police. There are areas in Britain’s major cities that have been no-go areas for years. Crime is rampant. So are drugs. It is a recipe for violence and despair.
That is the problem. At first it seemed as if the riots were almost random with no basis in class or race. As the perpetrators have come to court, a different picture has emerged. Of those charged, 60% had a previous criminal record, and 25% belonged to gangs.
The UK is a society in collapse and it has left in its wake an unsocialized group of young people, deprived of parental care who don’t do well in school are more susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse, less likely to find stable employment and more often than not (as the figures show above) more likely to wind up in jail. Then comes a painful recognition, one you won’t find in the conservative press or the liberal policy blogs:
The truth is, it is not their fault. They are the victims of the tsunami of wishful thinking that washed across the West saying that you can have sex without the responsibility of marriage, children without the responsibility of parenthood, social order without the responsibility of citizenship, liberty without the responsibility of morality and self-esteem without the responsibility of work and earned achievement.
What has happened morally in the West is what has happened financially as well. Good and otherwise sensible people were persuaded that you could spend more than you earn, incur debt at unprecedented levels and consume the world’s resources without thinking about who will pay the bill and when. It has been the culture of the free lunch in a world where there are no free lunches.
We have been spending our moral capital with the same reckless abandon that we have been spending our financial capital. Freud was right. The precondition of civilization is the ability to defer the gratification of instinct. And even Freud, who disliked religion and called it the “obsessional neurosis” of humankind, realized that it was the Judeo-Christian ethic that trained people to control their appetites.
While the abandonment of the Church by the European cultural elites is clearly apparent, you can see the same phenomena in my neighborhood of the Archdiocese of Boston: masses held where the largest group of attendees is the elderly. This despite the presence next door of a parish school that seems reasonably well attended. It is a well-off parish that regularly contributes in the top five to its Archdiocese. Yet there is little in the way of fellowship. The bible study group closed down after enduring Jerome as its leader for six months.
In 1983 one of the great American men of political theory, and an unrelenting observer of his country’s social, moral and political life, Russell Kirk wrote the following:
And as literature sinks into the perverse, so modern civilization falls to its ruin
This “diabolic imagination” dominates most popular fiction today; and on television and in the theaters, too, the diabolic imagination struts and postures. The other night I lodged at a fashionable new hotel; my single room cost about eighty dollars. One could tune the room’s television set to certain movies, for an extra five dollars. After ten o’clock, all the films offered were nastily pornographic. But even the “early” films, before ten, without exception were products of the diabolic imagination, in that they pandered to the lust for violence, destruction, cruelty, and sensational disorder.
Apparently it never occurred to the managers of this fashionable hotel that any of their affluent patrons, of whatever age and whichever sex, might desire decent films. Since Eliot spoke at the University of Virginia in 1933, we have come a great way farther down the road to Avernus. [vocab: Avernus was believed to be the entrance to the underworld, and is portrayed as such in the Aeneid of Virgil. The name comes from the Greek word άορνος, meaning "without birds", because according to tradition, all birds flying over the lake were destined to fall dead] And as literature sinks into the perverse, so modern civilization falls to its ruin:
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity….
If a public will not have the moral imagination, I have been saying, then it will fall first to the idyllic imagination; and presently into the diabolic imagination — this last becoming a state of narcosis, figuratively and literally. For we are created moral beings; and when we deny our nature, in letters as in action, the gods of the copybook headings with fire and slaughter return. I attest the moral vision of men like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn; some have begun to make a stand, in the republic of letters, against the diabolic imagination and the diabolic regime. A human body that cannot react is a corpse; and a body of letters that cannot react against narcotic illusions might better be buried. The theological virtues may find hardy champions in these closing years of the twentieth century: men and women who remember that in the beginning was the Word.
From The Moral Imagination by Russell Kirk
I’ve been reading this sort of commentary all my life. It took me way too long to choose sides but in 2006 I finally became a convert and believer of the Catholic faith.