Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Ordination of women to Christian priesthood

Official arguments on this topic - which in recent times has been and remains one of the litmus test issues of Christian churches (an issue which divides institutions, which defines ideologies, which encapsulates positions) - tend to be abstract and resolutely to avoid ad hominem, personalized, individualized evaluations.

Understandably so, since this is one of the hot button topics with potential to generate hatred, resentment and destruction.

But such abstract arguments rapidly become incomprehensible and unconvincing - and unsuitable for making important choices. Indeed, abstraction is a way of reducing the emotional temperature - but carries with it the cost of reducing the relevance and clarity of any conclusion reached. Abstracted debate may be calm and reasonable - but abstract discussions also tend to be interminable and ineffectual.


In practice, we must make judgments as best we can - we have to take sides (because 'not taking sides' on this issue is in fact to take the side of ordination of women to the priesthood).

And since we can perceive people but cannot perceive ideologies (cannot perceive complex webs of abstract principles) - then we do need to judge the individuals (as best we may; knowing that our personal judgment is not the same as divine judgment - yet that we necessarily live and die by our personal judgments).


On that basis, my judgment is that argument in favour of ordination of women to the priesthood is never made by 1. serious real Christians who 2. believe in the reality of the priesthood.

Although the first part covers most of the advocates, the second part is extremely important and neglected; because there are serious real Christians who do not believe in the reality of priesthood - and who are therefore not-against/ or in-favour-of women performing the duties of a pastor. 

Especially, some Protestants are of this type - they do not distinguish a priesthood, do not distinguish 'ordination', perhaps do not distinguish 'a church'. For them, Christianity is about individuals, not an organization (not even a divinely-sanctioned organization); and therefore the issue of 'ordination' is merely one of church order, of functionality, of the matter of the expediencies of organizing an implicitly secular institution - and therefore there is room for legitimate disagreement.


But among those serious real Christians who believe in the reality of the priesthood there is unanimity on this issue.

Note: Of course, some specific person may self-identify or strategically present-himself as being a serious real Christian, when judgment suggests that he is not; and that he is instead primarily operating on the basis of some other 'ideology'. Likewise, someone may say that he believes in the reality of the priesthood, but observation suggests that this is untrue. Such falsehoods and errors are not necessarily matters of legalistic or logical 'proof'; but are nonetheless very obvious to common sense and personal experience; and it would be extremely foolish to ignore them. Certainly, such obviously-fake pseudo-exceptions do not refute the above thesis.   

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

The novels of Barbara Pym - an overview

I do not read many novels these day; but I do read and re-read the 'comic' novels of Barbara Pym (1913-1980).

She is a discovery of the past fifteen or so years, and an absolute delight to me. I would not say that the books are in any way 'essential reading' or an exceptional source of human wisdom - but they are worthwhile stuff; and people who like this sort of thing will find them the sort of thing they like.


In an obvious sense, Barbara Pym writes about the world she knows, and the people she knows, a world which is now gone - but is English, upper middle class, genteel and based-around the Church of England (although aware of the decline in that institution, so that it is inhabited mainly by spinsters and elderly women, and celibate clergy).

So it is a world of vicars and curates, Parish meetings and jumble sales and church festivals, discussions of High Church ritual (incense, robes and the like) - a world firmly based on church life but yet a world with very little real Christianity anywhere (I get no sense at all that Barbara Pym was a 'genuinely religious' person)^.

It is also a world of scholarly activity - on the fringes of academia: journals, editors and their assistants, typing, proof reading, index-making - and especially of anthropology (Barbara Pym was assistant editor of an anthropology journal).

Also a world where people have learned and quote poetry, English lyrical poetry, and use this to express their deepest emotions.


So far this sound terribly staid and conventional, and it is; but what is very unusual is Barbara Pym's built-in assumptions about men and women. She was unmarried, but apparently had several sexual 'affairs' as an undergraduate in Oxford and at other points in her life. She also moved on the fringes of a homosexual subculture which intersected with High Church Anglicanism.

In particular, Pym seems to assume that women are mostly attracted to men's looks (in the same way that men obviously are usually mostly attracted to women's looks). So her books always have a handsome but vacuous - often charmless and inept - man around whom various women are buzzing.

The heroines generally despise these handsome men, but seem helplessly attracted - and often marry them, or seem just about to marry them, as the book ends - providing the semi-romantic structure of the basic comedy plot.

Also, there are no children in her novels, and indeed a positive hostility towards the idea of children.

All this is very a-typical for women - and particularly of women of Pym's station and era.


Strangely, this oddness about men and children was a factor from the very early novels, written in her early twenties. Some Strange Gazelle has as the central character a (very nice) middle aged spinster who has spent her whole life helplessly in love with a handsome senior clergyman that she met while an undergraduate at Oxford University (he is now her neighbour, and married to someone else). This 'Archdeacon' has no attractive qualities, except his looks and good education; he is dull, selfish, unromatic - but she wants merely to serve him in little things.


Anyway, the best of Pym's novels are those she wrote before 1970; the later ones I find unreadable.

The early ones are fresh, lively, and somewhat broad in their comedy - with the characters being somewhat caricatured; but very well worth reading nonetheless. They are Some Tame Gazelle, and the posthumously published Crampton Hodnet and Civil to Strangers.

The very best are Excellent Women, Less than Angels, No Fond Return of Love and (posthumously published) An Unsuitable Attachment.

These all have really likable heroines (those of EW, NFRL and AUA being strikingly similar - rather 'plain' but pleasant-looking, dowdily dressed, socially anxious and over-sensitive to suffering; compulsively helpful and full of good works); with eccentric (but realistically so) casts of characters, great genial good humour, and close observations of the minutiae of life.

Jane and Prudence is a bit below this level, with rather annoying eponymous central female protagonists, and a rather intrusive and jarring 'anti-men' undercurrent. And the least good of these novels is A Glass of Blessings which is written in the first person by a vacuous and un-Pym-like 'glamorous' heroine.


I could not honestly recommend Barbara Pym to many people, she must surely be a minority taste - and I realize how unappealing these novels sound in summary! Nonetheless I personally find them a sheer pleasure to read; and as soon as I have finished going through them, I look forward to the next re-reading.

As a measure of how much I like them, I have read all the novels twice to my wife at bedtime (so clearly she loves them too) - in addition to several private (silent) readings and listening to a few as audio-books.

In fact, it was an audio-book of No Fond Return of Love, borrowed from the library, which began the whole thing...


^See also:

Bed and Breakfast - small is beautiful

I would advise any non-British who visit this country (if possible and convenient) to stay in 'Bed and Breakfast' accommodation, and not an hotel - because (and obviously I am generalizing from my personal experience) the people who run B&Bs are such decent and pleasant folk that it is an enhancement to any holiday.

Although they presumably make a living from it, the cost of staying in a B&B is so modest for what it entails, and the breakfasts are usually so delicious and lavish, that I think it is mostly a wish to meet a range of people and give them an enjoyable experience that motivates B&B owners. At any rate, they always seem to enjoy chatting and finding-out about their guests.

To stay in an hotel is usually an experience of alienation - bleak, impersonal, mechanical - whereas to stay in a B&B is often to have your belief in the goodness of individual people enhanced.

Perhaps this is one reason (in addition to its natural beauty) why Keswick is such a wonderful holiday place - because its accommodation provision is dominated by scores of individually owned B&Bs; each with a different character reflecting the owner's.

But I have been in B&Bs in several and wide-spread parts of Britain, and they share this homely and human quality.

Small is beautiful!

Monday, 25 August 2014

Charles Williams and the mythologizing of everyday life


An insightful, heavily-referenced discussion of sex difference in intelligence


"Good at multi-tasking" = "Unable to concentrate"

The truth-inverting concept of 'multi-tasking' proves to be a major nuisance in modern life; in encouraging what is already a big problem of short attention span, distractability, not to focus, inability to attend, failing to be here-and-now and living in real-time.

Multi-tasking might have a reality in terms of someone who is simultaneously able to perform multiple skilled processes in parallel.

In this sense, Glenn Gould the great pianist was described as able to do more than one skilled task at the same time, each at a very high level; and this goes along with this unsurpassed ability to play the different voices in a fugue (or other polyphonic, contrapuntal form of music) as if each had independent existence.

Yet when Gould was aiming to attain the very highest level of skill - as when performing a piece for a concert or recording - he was totally wrapped-up in it; such that he seemed to be entranced and oblivious. No multitasking there!

For lesser mortals there is much greater need for unitary concentration, for focus, in performing a difficult task. And if this is lacking - then the task is being done sub-optimally.

In practice, when people claim they are multi-tasking they are simply allowing themselves to be distracted - and accepting the necessarily lower level of performance which results.

(Thus social networking while attending a lecture, or listening to loud music on headphones while studying for a test, or browsing the internet while watching TV - and so on.)

And when women claim (as they so often do!) to be better-at-multi-tasking; insofar as this claim has any meaning at all, it merely means that women are (by and large, and leaving aside pathology) worse-at-concentrating - for which there is a great deal of anecdotal as well as statistical evidence.

Highest performance entails greatest and most sustained focus: the ability to concentrate is an ability, not a deficit.

Further reflections @:

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Strategies for the (re-) enchantment of everyday life (The concept of Paradise)

Modern mainstream everyday life is experienced as dull, literalistic, prosaic, trivial, meaningless, dull, confrontational... an iron cage, as Weber described it

On the one hand is the psychologically-crushing conformism of work; on the other hand the pointless, momentary, emotionally-manipulating distractions of leisure.

We crave a life that is mythical, poetic, truthful, virtuous, engaged; a life of growth and yet bliss; a life stretching-ahead with development yet satisfying here-and-now ... we crave Paradise (leaving aside Heaven, for the moment)... yet I think it fair to say that most people have difficulty in conceptualizing Paradise in any coherent way.

Such Paradise as we can know is individual and idiosyncratic.

For someone who loves poetry it may be like living inside poetry (where words and phrases and chunks of experience mean so deeply and complexly, and everything harmonizes and unfolds organically).

Or living inside any form of active artistic creation - standing at a confluence of past and future; referencing back to predecessors, building structures and meanings; engaging and enriching; pointing forward to future possibilities...

Or a life inside science; in that world of sunlit cool perfection and insight, of understanding unfolding upon understanding - the heart-leap of discovery and the clinching satisfaction of proof - endless horizons...

Or myth. To live inside myth may be to perceive that all the minutiae of life are bound-up into a story that has special significance - an unarticulated and perhaps un-articulable sense of inevitability and rightness - felt below explicit consciousness - maybe dread-full or maybe exhilarating but always significant.

Or a mini-world of human relationships bound by love - to be inside such gatherings of love, and to participate in their change and growth - to join in the reciprocity and exchanges of love.

From such microcosms we may be able to - we ought to - extrapolate Paradise; which is our proximate hope for eternal life (and Heaven lying beyond).

A concept of Paradise enables Hope - and Hope (and only Hope) enables us to get past some (ideally all) of what life throws-at-us in the way of the iron cage - or maybe even by perceiving that there is organic life outside the iron cage, to escape and inhabit (for periods short or long) that better world.

Note added: I should not fail to mention that we can Hope for Paradise precisely because we have known Paradise. This is why Paradise is not experienced as wishful-thinking, nor as something just 'made-up' - but as a species of discovery. Before this mortal life, as spirits, we actually experienced Paradise. If things go well in this life we may know better than Paradise - or we may simply return to Paradise, but enlarged. Or, and this is the risk - we may choose to reject Paradise and become self-exiled as defiant despots of our own hellish domain. Or, and this is the ultimate Hope, we may eventually choose to go beyond Paradise - with all that that choice may entail. At present, I personally cannot see or aspire beyond Paradise; but I perceive that Paradise gets its meaning only from what lies beyond.  

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Charles Williams takes classical theology to the limit

Unfortunately, I cannot find an online copy of Charles Williams essay "What the cross means to me" - which is published as The Cross in the selected essays entitled The Image of the City edited by Anne Ridler, 1958. 

But I have seen several scholars represent it as Williams deepest, most heartfelt and most characteristic essay on theology - the fruit of a life-time of study and intense reflection on Christianity.

It is a rigorous and unsparing, indeed shocking, following-through of the implications of classical theology - and God's omnipotence. Here are some edited excerpts:


The original act of creation can be believed to be good and charitable; it is credible that the Almighty God should deign to create beings to share His Joy. It is credible that He should deign to increase their Joy by creating them with the power of free will so that their joy should be voluntary. It is certain that if they have the power of choosing Joy in Him they must have the power of choosing the opposite of Joy in Him. 

But it is not credible that a finite choice ought to result in an infinite distress... that the Creator should deliberately maintain and sustain His created universe in a state of infinite distress as a result of the choice.

This is the law which His will imposed upon His creation. It need not have been.

Our distress then is no doubt our gratuitous choice, but it is also His. He could have willed us not to be after the Fall. He did not.


Now the distress of the creation is so vehement and prolonged, so tortuous and torturing, that even naturally it is revolting to our sense of justice, much more supernaturally. We are instructed that He contemplates, from His infinite felicity, the agonies of His creation, and deliberately maintains them in it. The whole creation groaneth and travaileth together. 


Williams confronts head-on the implication that (in its classical theological interpretation) Christianity attributes all the evils of the world to God, and the vast and (it is said) infinitely-prolonged suffering of creation is to be attributed to God as well. 

(In the sense that the sufferings in Hell of those who have chosen wrongly are here assumed to be infinitely prolonged.) 


For Williams, it was not ultimately acceptable to attribute evil and suffering to Satan and demonic activity - since although the 'War in Heaven' was absolutely real to Charles Williams (indeed a matter of direct daily experience), this situation of spiritual conflict between good and evil had also been set-up and sustained by God, and was equally His responsibility. 

This is merely the stage-setting of Williams argument. The focus and conclusion of the essay is that despite all that can be said against the Christian concept of God; at least, alone of all gods, the Christian God subjected himself (i.e. Jesus Christ) to that same justice which He established. This self-infliction of divine law is (but only this, and only just, we sense) regarded as sufficient to justify Christian justice. 

But the sense of outrage at the nature of this divine justice is there, and is the most striking thing about the essay.

The sense that God, surely, 'ought to' have annihilated the souls of those who chose against Him; rather than maintaining them eternally in torment.

"He could have willed us not to be after the Fall. He did not."


This essay of William's made a strong impact on me, because he follows through the implications of divine omnipotence so thoroughly and unsparingly - for example, pointing out that (according to mainstream Christian theology) the tree from which Christ's cross was made, and the nails driven into him - the instruments of torture - were, from the beginning, brought into existence in full knowledge of the purpose to which they would certainly be used. 

Williams implications are, I think, a correct, honest and necessary following-through of the implications of that standard, mainstream, classical philosophical Christian theology which goes back to the early church Fathers - very early in the history of the Christian church; but not back to its very beginning and the time of the Apostles: there is little or nothing of this kind of theology clearly or explicitly recorded in the New Testament.  

I therefore now read Williams essay as a reductio ad absurdum of standard, mainstream, classical philosophical Christian theology. And since, although this type of theology has been usual for maybe 1800 years of the history of Christianity, and among many of its greatest exponents - and it not therefore to be written-off lightly - it is not a necessary part of Christianity; because we don't see it in the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles or the accounts in the Epistles. 


So, I interpret Williams great essay as an unflinching and insightful and true account of Christianity as it emerged in the form which - historically - became dominant. And Williams found that he could, albeit only just, endorse Christianity thus emerged and conceived.

But Williams did not - here - consider the possibility that these major difficulties were historically contingent, that they were additional-to, and not an intrinsic part-of, the mode of Christianity described in the Gospels and for the Apostolic era.


The Good News is that a rigorous and unflinching Christian does not have to accept the very-nearly-intolerable situation described by Williams. 

For what is to me, clinching evidence; just contrast the (joyous, hopeful) feeling you get from reading about and thinking about the life and message of Jesus Christ in the Gospels... with the bleak and transfixing horror from contemplating the implications of  standard, mainstream, classical philosophical Christian theology with its model of salvation-damnation and its description of Hell. 

Why Williams did not consider that the fault lay in later developments of theology rather than Christianity itself- or did not take it seriously - is a topic for another essay. But to reject standard, mainstream, classical philosophical Christian theology and to return to the plain and commonsense mode of thinking of most of the New Testament seems to me like a fair and proper and rigorous way-out from the impasse Williams described so memorably and chillingly. 


Charles Williams (not CS Lewis) may have presided over Inklings meetings 1939-45


Friday, 22 August 2014

Warnie Lewis's evaluation of Charles WIlliams


How to argue - the outcome-comparative method ("And then what? Compared with what?")


The proper way to evaluate an argument in real life situations is to accept the validity of premises (provisionally) and follow them through to their conclusions - then to evaluate the premises in light of the conclusions by comparison with the outcome of other premises.

In other words - two maxims are combined: "And then what?" followed by "Compared with what?"

On the lines of: "Assuming this is true; then what it implies is that... Whereas if this is true; it implies that..."


The outcome-comparative method is is contrast with the usual method of arguing-against; which is to reject premises on absolute grounds, as being biased or incomplete (but then all premises are biased and incomplete...).

And to argue-against using absolute standards: when if an argument has any (apparent) flaws, by abstract and impartial standards, then it is rejected (but then all arguments are flawed).


The point is that the premises you already believe and argue from may be more biased and incomplete than the premises you are evaluating; the argument you have already accepted may be more flawed than the argument you reject - and this will become apparent further downstream, when the consequences are compared.


The usual methods of arguing are simply pseudo objective, pseudo-rational excuses for holding-onto what we already believe, or changing our beliefs to whatever we happen to want to believe; methods to ensure that any other arguments (and I mean any other argument) can be rejected, without any problem whatsoever.

The usual methods are, in fact, characteristic of 'clever silly' people; and perhaps become more common with increasing cleverness.

Most typical is the person who prides himself (preens himself) on being rational, logical, skeptical, evidence-based - but whose opinions are effortlessly dictated by the zig-zags of fashion, group-think, status-seeking and psycho-social expediency.


One big difficulty in doing what I recommend is that bad arguments typically obscure their premises, deny their true premises, or present false premises. The real premises may be very obvious - but will seldom be explicit.

Indeed, people will tend to state as premises what are in fact their conclusions - or state as premises what are actually their intentions - their hoped-for outcomes.

So the outcome-comparative method is not instant, not easy, nor is it uncontroversial; and it may be actively confrontational, since it entails disbelieving other-peoples' accounts of their beliefs, and telling others what they really believe.

This doesn't matter when thinking in private, but in public discourse it can be problematic. But of course, in the end, real-thinking is something that everybody has to do for themselves.

Or not.


It is therefore often necessary to infer the premises of an argument which is being evaluated; and to check whether this fits with what people actually do, how they actually proceed. And ignore what they say they are doing.

I have noticed that argument in the usual style of argument pretends to objectivity, while in practice enforcing the most extreme subjectivity. It prevents a person from ever getting to the point of making an overall comparison of the arguments in the sense of how they work-out in their consequences.

In other words, the usual style of argument serves permanently to block even very clear and obvious truth and reality.

IF, however, you can get past the usual method, and compare the outcomes of rival premises, then things are, sometimes, very much clearer and comprehensible.


Thursday, 21 August 2014

Tolkien a lunatic? Some would say...


Beauty as an index of the *quality* of Goodness

Following from:

Beauty has quantitative and qualitative aspects.

The Beauty of a great Gothic Cathedral such as York Minister

 is quite different from the Beauty of Briggflatts, the seventeenth century Quaker Meeting House:

Both are very beautiful; and the Beauty of each indicates - because it derives from and is an expression of - the nature of the devout Christian denomination from which each was sprung.

The richness, complexity, intellectuality, hierarchy, formality of Medieval Western Catholic Christianity (conceived in the 13th Century) - compared with the simplicity and plainness and clear-burning individualistic intensity of early Quaker spirituality.

So the Beauty of the best buildings is a precise-but-incomplete picture of the faith which enabled that Beauty to be achieved.


The best of modern Christian spirituality is - in my opinion - to be found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; however I have not personally explored or experienced any of their meeting houses or main Temples (analogous to cathedrals) in the way I have explored the two examples above.

But I would say that it looks from photographs as if the most beautiful of Mormon architecture reflects the quality of the LDS faith as precisely as do the above two examples.

It seems to me that the best Mormon architecture is as exact (albeit incomplete) a picture of the faith as are York Minster or Briggflatts - and therefore the gives us a picture of both the quantity and the qualities of the best Christianity which is attainable in the modern world.


To make a comparison between denominations using Beauty as an index, it would be necessary to 'control for' time and place: modern conceptualizations compared, and in the same locations.

There would be one question of which was the most beautiful, but the other and equally important questions would refer to the nature of Beauty, the distinctive quality of Beauty.

(For example - it is when a building is conceptualized that is most relevant and revealing - not when it is completed. Creation is very different from implementations; creation is very different from copying.)

So the comparison would need to be modern US Mormon architecture (or other form of production) with modern US Catholics and Quakers - and would involve an empathic feeling as the basis of comparison.

I think such a comparison would bring out and clarify many of the active and operative qualities in these denominations - their biases and incompletenesses, as well as their strengths and depths.


The same matter of quality applies to the Beauty of women.

Of the four beautiful females described in Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien - the richest and deepest Beauty is ascribed to the golden-haired wise and ancient elf women Galadriel who represents Morning - as she was born in Valinor and came to Middle Earth as one of the first High Elves; and also to the dark-haired and younger Arwen (in some sense reincarnating Luthien) who represent the twilight of the High Elves in Middle Earth and the mixing of elves with Angels and Men.

There is also Goldberry - wife of Tom Bombadil, who has Beauty of a different order: more earthy, spontaneous and primal - as befits a (probable) nature spirit (the spirit of the river, of water).

Eowyn has the fresh, ephemeral, immensely-courageous yet near-despairing beauty characteristic of Mankind - she is probably the most intensely beautiful of all these women: with the brief and burning intensity of a flame.


Properly understood; the quantity of Beauty is a measure of Goodness, and the quality of Beauty is an index of the nature of Goodness - and when comparing Beauty with Beauty, quality is often the more revealing comparison.

After all, if something is Beautiful, that is enough; and there is something wrong about applying a ruler to actual Beauty, or trying to put real Beauties into rank order.


JRR Tolkien - an "unfortunate" man? (in 1936)


Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Beauty as an index of Godliness (and goodness)


Wells Cathedral, Somerset

Since Beauty is as aspect of The Good, then it is an index of Godliness - no less than virtue.

And the creation of Beauty is something very special.

By and large, modern Man sometimes inhabits beauty:

[Merton College, Oxford - from The Meadows]

But cannot match the beauty of the past.

Well, so be it. Modern Man is not as Good as men of the past were Good - nor is he as intelligent, nor as creative; so he cannot match such Beauty.


But what modern Man does is revealing of the state of his soul.

Modern man, sometimes from spite, but sometimes from ingrained active evil (from having come to believe that ugliness is beauty, and beauty is kitsch) does not even try to create beauty. Rather he sabotages Beauty by juxtaposing ugliness, and destroys Beauty where he dares; and makes ugliness by which he reveals the true state of his soul.

The soul-crushing vileness, the nihilism of the modern built environment - its architecture, the planning, its aspirations - is an index of the true state of modern man.

The proliferation of concrete and glass office block in drab colours, with no windows and open-plan design is a precise image of the souls of the managers, the bureaucrats, the politicians, the planners and architects who designed and built it - just as the Cathedrals and Colleges of medieval England are an exact image of the souls of those who wanted and made them.


Modern Beauty is not so rich, deep, intense or satisfying as ancient Beauty - how could it be? - there is at best in our work a lightness, a sunny-coolness, a child-like naivete...  yet a society lives in the creation of Beauty and there is a perennial freshness in any genuine and heart-felt attempt to Make Beautiful Things whether they are pictures, movies, poems, stories, pieces of music, of buildings.

[Civic Centre, Newcastle upon Tyne]

I find it nauseating that the anti-Good inhabitants, the thieving, monopolizing colonists of ancient and religious Beauty, appropriate and exploit it for their ugly, lying and wicked programmes. 

When the secular Leftist occupiers of the English Cathedrals and Colleges, built in the past and on devout Christianity, advertise their destructive agendas using the prestige and awesomeness of Christian creativity; they boast of that which they despise in order the better to subvert traditional values and true religion. 

They do not own Beauty, they are not even trying to make Beauty - they are a bunch of pirates, looters, carpetbaggers; who regard Beauty as - at best - a resource to be mined; and at worst and increasingly as a backdrop to gleeful vandalism. 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

How people get trapped by the meaninglessness of their lives

The things people do to avoid facing up to the meaninglessness they are afraid of destroy their possibility of finding meaning.

From a comment by Adam G

The asymmetry of religious and secular politics

 A religious politics is one that tries to establish the conditions necessary for the practice of - and beyond that the thriving of - its religion. And the religion provides the meaning and purpose of life.

By contrast, secular politics has not meaning or purpose - it is a means not an end, and it is a means which denies the reality of ends.

In practice, therefore, secular politics never stops, it just keep on expanding - secular politics is totalitarian by its nature. Yet this totalitarianism is not about meaning or purpose - it is about means to an end which is denied.

So, secular politics might be about freedom (or equality) - but cannot answer the question 'freedom for what' (or equality for what?) - but must assert that freedom (or equality) is in and of itself good, and that there cannot be too much of it - so everything is about wrangles over whether or not policy x truly increases 'freedom'/ 'equality'.

Politics becomes a fight over definitions, and definitions are arbitrary and incomplete and biased - yet definitions direct policy because there is nothing else to direct it. So with secular politics there is a totalitarianism of definitions which, actually, nobody believes in - and the only alternative is another set of definitions.

(And this model itself contains the definition of 'religion' - a real religion is one which can coherently, without leading to paradox, provide meaning and purpose to politics. SO the traditional monotheistic religions are religions in this sense, while ideologies such as communism, fascism, socialism, liberal democracy are revealed as not really being religions.)

Monday, 18 August 2014

A deep aphorism

From Lord Vader (!)

Happiness consists of joy and sorrow, while unhappiness consists of pleasure and misery.

The Old Straight Track


When I read Alan Garner's Moon of Gomrath fantasy novel

it was about 1974 - and therefore the wonderful description of The Old Straight Track was something arcane.

The end of the book referenced this idea to Alfred Watkins book of the same name; and my history teacher told me that the OST idea was unproven, but not disproved either.


The OST idea was that English people of ancient prehistory, probably neolithic, had made long distance, straight roads across the landscape, using a simple surveying method requiring just sticks - and navigating from one sacred point of high ground to another.

These points could be identified by the presence of ancient landscape features such as burial mounds, stone circles, and - it was said - the site of old Christian churches (which were assumed to have been built on these same sites).

The tracks could therefore be located using 1 inch to 1 mile maps (supplemented by two and a half inches to the mile detailed maps) - by trying to find straight lines that joined ancient landscape features, especially on hill tops.

A minimum of three 'points' was needed - but the more the better. Then you were supposed to walk the track, preferably with a camera, to look for other features and assess plausibility.


So I started hunting for Old Straight Tracks, using an Ordnance Survey maps of the Mendip Hills in Somerset - I just found this actual map a few days ago, and it is covered in neat pencil circles drawn with a compass around ancient sites and churches, and with a cross-cross of straight pencil lines trying to join them. The Mendip Hills are extraordinarily rich in these sites, so I managed to find a few possibilities.

What is interesting about this episode are the negatives.

I was looking for prehistoric Old Straight Tracks - and not 'Ley Lines'.

I don't think I had ever heard of Ley Lines. But Ley Lines are not exactly the same as The Old Straight Tracks, as originally described by Watkins; because he was talking about roads, while Ley Lines were/are conceptualized as primarily energy/ spiritual phenomena.


The second negative is related to this. My Mendip map included Glastonbury, and it would now seem blatantly obvious that Glastonbury - especially the Tor - ought to be a major focus for Old Straight Tracks or Ley Lines - yet I did not circle it!

This is because in the middle 1970s, Glastonbury had not become the nationally/ internationally known focus of New Age people and ideas it has since become. Or more exactly, the status of Glastonbury as a spiritual/ religious centre was only just coming out of a rather low ebb of a few decades - because it had been well known in the 1920s and 30s as evidenced by the early Glastonbury Festivals of Rutland Boughton and associated mysticism, and the great mega-novel A Glastonbury Romance by John Cowper Powys - but both of these were pretty much unknown (The reviving Picador paperback reprint of GR came only in 1975).


So my annotated map of Old Straight Tracks is something of an historical artefact. If it had been done just a few years later, I would have had to accept a spiritual dimension (or baggage) along with the Old Straight Tracks, and I would probably have assumed that any valid STRs in Somerset would be converging-on or radiating-out-from Glastonbury.

By the way - I personally no longer think it plausible that the ancient English did use straight roads, and in official circles the idea is nowadays generally regarded as untrue and having no significant support.

Which is a bit of a shame. However, among the New Age spiritual folk, in the form of Ley Lines, OSTs are sometimes a major focus of belief; and are referenced in dozens of books as the major theme, and hundreds or thousands of books as a significant phenomenon - being applied internationally and not just to Brtain.

'Ley Lines' is now almost a household word - albeit in a rather low status and 'flaky' kind of way.

So Alfred Watkins speculations have been a spectacular success - but in an extremely different domain of knowledge from that he envisaged when he wrote The Old Straight Track in 1925.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Dreams as another world

Subjectively, phenomenologically, dreaming mostly seems like another world.

To drop-into a dream is to drop into an on-going' narrative - something which was already-going before I began to dream it, and which continues after I waken.

Also, dreams usually feel like another time, another place, and without connection with my waking life except for it being 'me'.

(A few dreams are connected with waking life, but these are rarer and seem to be shorter and less complex - the kind of dreams I get when frequently dozing and waking.)

In commonsense terms, dreams feel like the mind goes somewhere else - moves in space and time, in dreams I am both a time traveler and a place traveler; in other words that experiences of 'shamans' are the normal experiences of dreams.

(This sounds much more exciting than it really is. My major experience of dreams is boredom and futility - just b&f in other times and places.)


Saturday, 16 August 2014

The basic set-up of the modern world: isolating people, inducing them to yield to temptation, then ensuring that they do not repent

The basic set-up of the modern world has been well-designed to induce people to choose their own damnation - which is actively to reject the salvation that Christ has already won for each of us.

It is not easy to do this, because any and all sins can be repented, and in that sense anybody can be saved.

Yet it certainly looks as if a lot of modern people do not want to be saved - that they will reject salvation because they have been persuaded that good is evil; and vice versa.


The situation is most extreme among the ruling elites. And the situation is mediated by the Mass Media.

The basic set-up is to ensure that young people leave home without getting married and without any commitment to the church - that they leave home, typically to go to college - and that the environment they live-in is meaningless, purposeless, and lacking in any real human relationships.

Instead, there is a pleasure-pain axis of discernment - and an expectation that those who are of high status are those who experience pleasure; and high status pleasure is mainly about sex, travel and intoxication. 


When somebody leaves home to go to college they seldom have any commitment to the subject they study - in fact they study a smorgasbord or smattering of subjects which by definition cannot have an overall meaning. So work is ruled-out as a source of meaning and purpose. Work is meaningless and merely passing exams and getting grades does not substitute - that cannot possibly be the primary focus of a life.


And because marriage is ruled-out, and celibacy is despised, there is no meaning to relationships except pleasure - at least diversion, but the aim is ecstasy.

So the sexual life becomes a purposeless, meaningless search for emotions - fighting against the tendency of humans to habituate to pleasure - to get used to pleasure and stop responding.

Thus relationships become serial exploitations - perhaps mutual exploitations (that is supposed to be the 'moral' type of relationship), perhaps attempts to get what you want - a lot of it and frequently and with variety - without giving anything away (this is the high status form of modern relationship).


Travel has become a vital part of the currency of modern youth life - it offers variety, stimulus, it promises to overcome habituation - and it includes hope of sex with new people and of intoxication without consequences. 


Sex and travel are rare, expensive, hard to attain (which is why they function as status symbols) - and because euphoria is available in bottled form and as pills, intoxication becomes de facto the actual aimed-at hope for more and more people. People spend their lives anticipating obliteration of their own self-awareness, and recollecting previous successes in this area.

But it is difficult to make this out to be a high status and admirable thing to do, but fortunately the mass media have provided the necessary resources. And so long as intoxication is fun, and no higher purpose than fun is regarded as real - then intoxication becomes a kind of bottom-line.


So, modern people live in an environment in which they are:

1. Existentially alone. Not married and no family, no (real) friends, no church, not even any aim to get these.

2. In a world where the highest value and hope is to travel, have sex with multiple desirable partners, and beomce intoxicated.

3. In sum - they are empty yet surrounded by temptations, utterly isolated, and having no reason not to yield.

In a nutshell, everybody does yield - sooner or later: 'everybody' falls into this hedonic and meaningless and purposeless life.  


AND THEN, the mass media does its most important work, because none of this would matter if it was repented. If the futile, comfort- and sensation-seeking life was recognized as evil and rejected.

But what actually happens is that the futile life of desperation is depicted as good, cool, fun, the best - in a million media outlets.

So to recognize futility and separation as evil; and to restore meaning, purpose and marriage and family relations as the proper purpose of earthly life and religion as the proper purpose of mortality; is regarded as the only real evil.

In sum, the basic set-up of the modern world is that the evil, futile, meaningless life of self-subversion is depicted as good; and therefore the only recognized evil is to subvert the life of self-subversion.