I may have mentioned this before, but one of my favorite novels is C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. It was the final part of what is known as Lewis’s Space Trilogy. A brief summary of the book is available at this link. The villain in this book is an entity called the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments - N.I.C.E. – which seeks to build a Utopian society based on science. Of course they are basically nothing more than totalitarian, atheistic thugs.
My admiration for the book is based on the fact that Lewis was a prophet. At least, that’s what struck me when I read this headline and accompanying story:
Britain on course for ‘three parent babies’
Britain is on course to become the first country in the world to legalise the creation of IVF babies with three biological “parents” after the fertility watchdog announced that the public is in favour of the controversial technology.
And then Bob Grant’s voice entered my head: They’re sick and they’re getting sicker.
But hey, evidently a majority of people would be down with completely re-working the laws of nature.
A major consultation found that a majority of people would back the therapy, under which a small part of a mother’s genetic material is swapped with that of a healthy donor to eliminate the risk of passing on a host of hereditary diseases to her child.
By removing faulty DNA from the mitochondria, which is always inherited from the mother, experts believe the child and future generations could be spared from a collection of devastating conditions affecting the heart, muscles and brain.
And this is how we’ll convince people that we aren’t entering Frankenstein-levels of biological tinkering. You see these great minds are merely making sure that no one should endure the burden of an imperfect child. Don’t you feel so much better about this project now?
And then on top of the ethical and moral concerns, there’s this:
The HFEA, which carried out the consultation, advised ministers that if they do legalise the therapy, donors and patients should remain anonymous and have no right to contact one another.
Yeah, that always works out well.
And if you’re concerned that we’re at risk of making Gattaca a reality, don’t you worry your little heads off.
Dismissing fears that allowing the treatment could be the start of a “slippery slope”, she emphasised that the therapy – which could become the first treatment to alter the human germ line – would only be available for people at risk of passing on mitochondrial disease.
For now. Oh, she didn’t actually add those words, but I’m sure that’s what she meant, at least if she had a moment of honest self-reflection.
Fortunately, despite the repeated insistence – based on absolutely no data presented in the article – that this procedure has broad public support, clearly not everyone in jolly old England has lost their ever-loving minds.
But opponents of the technique have questioned the moral justification of engineering embryos, and questioned how the resulting child’s sense of identity might be affected by the knowledge that they have three biological parents.
Dr David King, Director of Human Genetics Alert, said: “Historians of the future will point to this as the moment when technocrats crossed the crucial line, the decision that led inexorably to the disaster of genetically engineered babies and consumer eugenics.”
Now, now, Doctor, our best and brightest have assured us that we have nothing to worry about. That should make us all feel much better.
I look forward to seeing this play Freud’s Last Session when I have an opportunity:
Toward the end of the play Freud’s Last Session, a fictional conversation about the meaning of human life between Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis concludes,“How mad, to think we could untangle the world’s greatest mystery in one hour.”Freud responds, “The only thing more mad is to not think of it at all.” The combined sense of the limits to human knowledge and the unavoidability of the big questions is one of the many impressive features of this dramatic production, the remote origins of which are in a popular class of Dr. Armand Nicholi, professor of psychiatry in the Harvard Medical School. Nicholi penned a book, The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life, which the playwright Mark St. Germain turned into an off-Broadway play, now in its second year in New York and just beginning a run in Chicago.
I had a chance recently to see the successful New York production, directed by Tyler Marchant and starring George Morfogen as Freud and Jim Stanek as Lewis. The play is not perfect; some of the dialogue is wooden, the result of the attempt to squeeze elements from the major works of the two authors into their conversation. Nicholi does a better job of this in his book, largely because he is free from the dialogue form. But the theatrical revival of the dialogue is what stands out in this production. In this case, the theater is an arena for the contest of ideas. There is a healthy reminder that philosophy itself has taken on various dramatic and literary forms; indeed, philosophy as a theater of debate hearkens back to the very founding of philosophy in the Platonic dialogue. Something of that original sense of philosophy as a live debate between interlocutors whose views and lives are at stake is operative in Freud’s Last Session. Continue reading
I have never much enjoyed Lent, of course the purpose of Lent is not enjoyment. Repentance, mortification, fasting casts for me a gray pallor over this time of year. Like many things in life I do not like, foul tasting medicine, judges who insist on strict adherence to the law, honest traffic cops, I benefit from Lent. It reminds me of my sins and the necessity to amend my life. This is especially good for me because we live in a sinless age.
Prior to say 1965, people enjoyed sinning just as much as we do, but most did not delude themselves about what they were doing. Promiscuous sex was just as fun then as now, but few were able to convince themselves that what they were doing was not, deep down, wrong. A trip to an abortionist might “solve” a small “problem”, but the destruction of human life that went on in an abortion was acknowledged by almost all. Standards of morality, as even a cursory study of human history reveals, have often been ignored by men, but the standards remained.
Now we live in a new and glorious day! If something is physically pleasant then there can be no sin about it. Good and evil have been banished from our lexicons, to be replaced, at most, with “appropriate” or “inappropriate” behavior. If over a million innocents have to die for one of our pleasures each year it is a “small” price to pay, and in any case we aren’t the ones paying the price. Some of our friends find gratification in sexual behaviors that were near universally condemned a few decades ago? Not a problem! We will rewrite the laws to make their behaviors “appropriate” and give a hard time to those retrogrades who do not adjust their concepts of “appropriate” and “inappropriate” to match ours. We will celebrate those with great wealth and seek to emulate their lives, no matter how squalid, unless they hold political opinions that are “inappropriate”. We will create wealth out of thin air to care for the poor through that magical device known as ”government”, the same poor that we would never personally lift a finger to aid. Lies will cease to be lies if we wish to believe them, and the term lie will soon be banished in any case. Too “judgmental”, the closest thing we have remaining to sin.
The things you find on Youtube! The above is taken from the only surviving audio reel from CS Lewis’ BBC broadcasts that eventually appeared in print as Mere Christianity in 1952. This talk was broadcast on March 21, 1944. Here is a transcript of what Lewis said: Continue reading
Considering all the extravagant evil in the world, I have always found it remarkable that so many people do not believe in the existence of Satan and his fallen angels. Pope Leo XIII I believe foresaw this, which is why he gave us the prayer to Saint Michael. In 1942 CS Lewis in The Screwtape Letters wrote what may be an epitaph for the age in which we live:
When humans disbelieve in our existence we lose all the pleasing results of direct terrorism and we make no magicians. On the other hand, when they believe in us, we cannot make them materialists and skepics. At least, not yet. I have great hopes that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalize and mythologize their science to such an extent that what is, in effect, a belief in us (though not under that name) will creep in while the human mind remains closed to belief in the Enemy. The “Life Force,” the worship of sex, and other aspects of psychoanalysis, may here prove useful. If once we can produce our perfect work — the materialist magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshiping, what he vaguely calls “Forces” while denying the existence of “spirits” — the end of the war will be in sight. But in the meantime we must obey orders.
Man without God is nothing but prey for Satan. With God and Man united Satan is impotent. Alexander Solzhenitsyn when asked why Communism seized power in Russia, used to say the following:
More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.
Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened. Continue reading
The two churches nearest to him, I have looked up in the office. Both have certain claims. At the first of these the Vicar is a man who has been so long engaged in watering down the faith to make it easier for supposedly incredulous and hard-headed congregation that it is now he who shocks his parishioners with his unbelief, not vice versa. He has undermined many a soul’s Christianity. His conduct of the services is also admirable. In order to spare the laity all “difficulties” he has deserted both the lectionary and the appointed psalms and now, without noticing it, revolves endlessly round the little treadmill of his fifteen favourite psalms and twenty favourite lessons. We are thus safe from the danger that any truth not already familiar to him and to his flock should over reach them through Scripture. But perhaps bur patient is not quite silly enough for this church – or not yet?
At the other church we have Fr. Spike. The humans are often puzzled to understand the range of his opinions – why he is one day almost a Communist and the next not far from some kind of theocratic Fascism – one day a scholastic, and the next prepared to deny human reason altogether – one day immersed in politics, and, the day after, declaring that all states of the world are equally “under judgment”. We, of course, see the connecting link, which is Hatred. The man cannot bring himself to teach anything which is not calculated to mock, grieve, puzzle, or humiliate his parents and their friends. A sermon which such people would accept would be to him as insipid as a poem which they could scan. There is also a promising streak of dishonesty in him; we are teaching him to say “The teaching of the Church is” when he really means “I’m almost sure I read recently in Maritain or someone of that sort”. But I must warn you that he has one fatal defect: he really believes. And this may yet mar all.
CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
Christopher Johnson, a non-Catholic who takes up the cudgels so frequently for the Church that I have designated him Defender of the Faith, has a brilliant fisk at Midwest Conservative Journal detailing how upset some Episcopalians are at the Pope, because so many other Episcopalians are swimming the Tiber:
I said once before that if one of the marks of a genius was the ability to drive otherwise-sane people absolutely bat crap, then Pope Benedict XVI is Albert Einstein. Come to find out that some Episcopalians are STILL bent about the Ordinariate. Last weekend, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly did a story about a Maryland Episcopal parish that recently swam the Tiber:
In Bladensburg, Maryland, the Catholic service unfolds smoothly, a comfortable routine for priests and parishioners alike.
But one year ago, members of St. Luke’s parish were devout, devoted Episcopalians. This is the first Episcopal church in the country to convert to Catholicism under Vatican rules designed to attract disaffected Episcopalians.
Father Mark Lewis and his congregation preferred Roman Catholic order to the Episcopal tendency to make crap up as they go along.
We left the Episcopal Church not because we were running away from the issues of the Episcopal Church. We left the Episcopal Church because we were running to the Catholic Church. We came to the point where we realized the theology of the Episcopal Church is what was lacking. The theology of Rome, the authority of Rome, the unity in the Holy See and in the bishops: that was appealing to us.
As did Father Scott Hurd.
There is a real hunger amongst some Episcopalians and Anglicans for authority. It was the question of where can true Christian authority be found that was a key element in this community’s journey.
There wasn’t one particular reason, said congregant Stephen Smith. There were a whole lot of reasons, each building on the last.
There’s not any one real incident you can point to, but it’s like the strands of a rope giving one by one, and each one weakens the rope as a whole.
Anne Marie Whittaker agrees.
All of a sudden it was do-your-own-thing mass, and there was a lot going on, for instance, a clown mass. I would come in and someone put a red nose on me! I saw children circling altars. One by one, parishes started to succumb to some of these practices in order to attract people, and it made it difficult for me to worship in that atmosphere.
Maryland Episcopal Bishop Eugene Sutton tried hard to be diplomatic.
I like to say that we are really one spiritual family. We believe about 90 percent of things in common. Where we disagree is on matters of authority and some other spiritual matters. But the important thing is that we are not fighting; we are not in competition with one another.
On the other hand, the Rev. Ian Markham, president and dean of the Virginia Theological Seminary, didn’t even try to hide his anger at the papists.
There’s quite a lot of traffic currently going both ways between the two traditions, especially at the level of congregants. What’s interesting here is you’ve got entire congregations and clergy making the shift. So, yeah, I think the Roman Catholic Church is a threat, because we’ve lost the sense of our theological understanding and identity.
There was a perception that this was poaching by the Roman Catholic Church of Anglicans around the world. It was discourteous, it was stealing sheep, it was unecumenical.
Stealing sheep? Unecumenical? In what way?
It’s viewed as not recognizing the value of and integrity of our traditions.
I’ve been covering the Current Unpleasantness since it began nine years ago. And while some of you might feel the need to get into a theological argument with that line, I have arrived at a point where words like those just make me smile.
I wonder if Markham realizes how pathetic he sounds; I can’t conceive of an Orthodox or Roman Catholic Christian uttering those words or ever feeling the need to. Because those words could not possibly occur to any person who is confident about his or her Christian tradition as Markham seems to imply here. Continue reading
When the creation of man was first mooted and when, even at that stage, the Enemy freely confessed that he foresaw a certain episode about a cross, Our Father very naturally sought an interview and asked for an explanation. The Enemy gave no reply except to produce the cock-and-bull story about disinterested love which He has been circulating ever since. This Our Father naturally could not accept. He implored the Enemy to lay His cards on the table, and gave Him every opportunity. He admitted that he felt a real anxiety to know the secret; the Enemy replied “I wish with all my heart that you did”.
Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis
Christ died for me. The death of Christ on Calvary has immense theological significance: the salvation of all mankind, the redemption from sin and the opening of the gates of Heaven. I understand all of that on an intellectual level. However, on Good Friday the fact that the Creator of All died for me, one of His creations, always hits me like an emotional freight train. All of my life I have been fascinated by courage, especially sacrificial courage where men die to protect others. We are such a flawed species, but capable of the heights of nobility when love and courage combine. Then we put aside the great fear of death, and truly understand why we are here: to love. Continue reading
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
C.S. Lewis Continue reading
Stanley Fish, probably the most noted American literary theorist of our time, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times on March 12, 2012 called Two Cheers for Double Standards in which he demonstrated how deeply wed he and other members of the Left in this country are to the Orwell axiom from Animal Farm that some animals are more equal than others:
If we think about the Rush Limbaugh dust-up from the non-liberal — that is, non-formal — perspective, the similarity between what he did and what Schultz and Maher did disappears. Schultz and Maher are the good guys; they are on the side of truth and justice. Limbaugh is the bad guy; he is on the side of every nefarious force that threatens our democracy. Why should he get an even break?
There is no answer to that question once you step outside of the liberal calculus in which all persons, no matter what their moral status as you see it, are weighed in an equal balance. Rather than relaxing or soft-pedaling your convictions about what is right and wrong, stay with them, and treat people you see as morally different differently. Condemn Limbaugh and say that Schultz and Maher may have gone a bit too far but that they’re basically O.K. If you do that you will not be displaying a double standard; you will be affirming a single standard, and moreover it will be a moral one because you will be going with what you think is good rather than what you think is fair. “Fair” is a weak virtue; it is not even a virtue at all because it insists on a withdrawal from moral judgment.
I know the objections to what I have said here. It amounts to an apology for identity politics. It elevates tribal obligations over the universal obligations we owe to each other as citizens. It licenses differential and discriminatory treatment on the basis of contested points of view. It substitutes for the rule “don’t do it to them if you don’t want it done to you” the rule “be sure to do it to them first and more effectively.” It implies finally that might makes right. I can live with that. Continue reading
Part 13 of my ongoing survey of the follies of many modern day Jesuits. Georgetown University, founded in 1789, is the oldest Jesuit college in the United States. Last week it found itself at the center of the debate over the HHS Mandate. How the powers that be at Georgetown reacted to all of this is instructive.
On February 16, 2012 Representative Darrell Issa (R. CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on the ramifications of the HHS Mandate in regard to religious freedom. Democrats had the opportunity to present witnesses. Initially they were going to have Barry Lynn, a Methodist minister and Leftist political activist, and head of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, but for some reason that fell through for the Democrats. They then proposed Sandra Fluke, identified as a third year law student at Georgetown. Issa refused to allow her to testify on the grounds that she wasn’t testifying about the religious liberty issue but rather about a perceived need for contraception. The Democrats, who realized that they were in trouble on the religious liberty issue, used this as an argument against the hearings, arguing that women were banned from the hearings as speakers. This was a lie, as there were two panels which testified in opposition to the Mandate at the hearing. The second panel included Dr. Allison Garrett and Dr. Laura Champion who testified as to the dangers that the HHS Mandate poses to religious liberty.
On February 23, 2012, Nancy Pelosi (D.CA), minority leader, organized a Democrats only “hearing” at which Sandra Fluke gave her testimony. Go here to read that testimony. Among other statements she said that in three years contraceptives could cost a law student three grand.
The idea that someone at Georgetown Law School, an elite school that costs over 50k a year to attend, was crying poverty over the alleged cost of $1,000.00 a year, a sum about $800-$900 too high in relationship to the actual cost, to make illicit whoopee has its comedic possibilities, and this was seized upon by Rush Limbaugh on Wednesday February 29:
What does it say about the college co-ed Sandra Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex, what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps. (interruption) The johns? We would be the johns? No! We’re not the johns. (interruption) Yeah, that’s right. Pimp’s not the right word. Okay, so she’s not a slut. She’s “round heeled.” I take it back.
This caused an uproar and on Thursday March 1, John J. DeGioia, the first lay President of Georgetown, released this statement: Continue reading
His epitaph is Athanasius contra mundum, “Athanasius against the world.” We are proud that our own country has more than once stood against the world. Athanasius did the same. He stood for the Trinitarian doctrine, “whole and undefiled,” when it looked as if all the civilised world was slipping back from Christianity into the religion of Arius—into one of those “sensible” synthetic religions which are so strongly recommended today and which, then as now, included among their devotees many highly cultivated clergymen. It is his glory that he did not move with the times; it is his reward that he now remains when those times, as all times do, have moved away.
Something for the weekend. O Holy Night sung by Celtic Woman. I can think of nothing more appropriate for Christmas Eve than this passage from On the Incarnation by Saint Athanasius:
For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world. In one sense, indeed, He was not far from it before, for no part of creation had ever been without Him Who, while ever abiding in union with the Father, yet fills all things that are. But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us. He saw the reasonable race, the race of men that, like Himself, expressed the Father’s Mind, wasting out of existence, and death reigning over all in corruption. He saw that corruption held us all the closer, because it was the penalty for the Transgression; He saw, too, how unthinkable it would be for the law to be repealed before it was fulfilled. He saw how unseemly it was that the very things of which He Himself was the Artificer should be disappearing. He saw how the surpassing wickedness of men was mounting up against them; He saw also their universal liability to death. All this He saw and, pitying our race, moved with compassion for our limitation, unable to endure that death should have the mastery, rather than that His creatures should perish and the work of His Father for us men come to nought, He took to Himself a body, a human body even as our own. Nor did He will merely to become embodied or merely to appear; had that been so, He could have revealed His divine majesty in some other and better way. No, He took our body, and not only so, but He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father—a pure body, untainted by intercourse with man. He, the Mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt. Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men. This He did that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of His resurrection. Thus He would make death to disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire.