Thursday, November 17, 2011

I'm feeling a little like a lost Nietzschean

Every few years an idea, good or bad as the case may be, will emerge. It will attract some bouquets and some brickbats but 99% of the time it will have very little traction and so will recede beneath the waves until it is once again exposed at low tide. It's a little like a trivial version of Nietzsche's eternal return of the same.

The latest idea mooted in Her Majesty's realm where I now find myself is the abolition of the ministerial dispatch box, popularly known as a "red box". They hold cabinet papers and memoranda, are weighted with lead in order to sink when dropped overboard and have their hinges on the same side as the handle. (If you forget to lock yours, everything falls out when you pick it up thus reminding you!) Apparently iPads can do the same job, really quite securely and at only three and a half times the cost. Of course, there is no problem with this at all except lots of people, even highly tech-savvy people, like to read things off printed pages. And you can print things from an iPad. You can even carry a sheaf of these printed pages around with you. And the next thing you know a secret list of planned raids on terrorist safe houses is snapped by a papperazzo with his snazzy digital camera. And the next thing after that some bright spark will say, well, if you must print things then put the printed pages into a box or bag where they can't be seen. Something waterproof, preferably and maybe with an automatic security system to remind you when you've forgotten to lock it... Hmm... As this is the second if not third time we've been through this particular charade, perhaps we could just wait until the demise of Barrow & Gale (who make the red boxes) is announced before we assume that it's anything more than a pious genuflection in the direction of modernisation.

Much as I covet one of those iconic briefcases, their abolition would not cause me to lose that much sleep. There are other and rather more important ideas that resurface every fews years that could do more harm. The abolition of the National University of Ireland is one; the reform of Seanad Éireann is another. The former is not necessarily a bad idea in itself while the latter sounds attractive. Unfortunately the possibility of them being done in a sensible way, as well-thought out reforms is so vanishingly small that it's not worth pursuing. After the lies over Roscommon hospital, the barefaced lies over the Ryan report and the virtual breaking off of diplomatic relations with the Holy See, who honestly believes that a power-hungry unprincipled political hack like Enda Kenny or an unreconstructed Marxist thug like Eamon Gilmore could be trusted with a serious, delicate task like constitutional reform? Especially when that reform, if it was to yield a meaningful second chamber, would involve checks on their unlimited power to whip the legislature into line behind whatever stupid fad the Government wants to follow this week. To be fair in this regard, this shower of malicious incompetents is no worse than the last lot but at least neither of the former governing parties still exists in any meaningful way to trouble us.

So I think Red Boxes will last a while yet; I'll still vote for Seanad Éireann and the university in which I cast my ballot will soldier on because no-one has thought of a better idea. On the upside, if I get to help vote Rónán Mullen back into Leinster House next time, I'll consider it a job well done!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Knights Hospitaller go Crusading on... or do they?

The best known of all the surviving Medieval Chivalric orders is the Sovereign Military Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta, commonly called the Order of Malta. Their Ambulance Corps volunteers are a familiar sight in many parts of Ireland, and speaking as a colleague in a rival organisation, I have the highest regard for them and their skill, dedication and expertise. About the Sovereign Order itself, I am a little more ambivalent. The highest levels of the Order are, in the strict sense, religious; the Knights of Justice are vowed to poverty, chastity and obedience. (One might prefer that their religious impulse would not take them to the Church of Ireland for a solemn Anglican Eucharist... )The personal moral example of many of them is deeply edifying; one thinks of the late Frà Andrew Bertie. The corporate willingness of the SMOM to spend its members money lavishly on the poor and disposessed (for example, the Afghans after the fall of the Taleban government) is likewise edifying to an exemplary degree. It must also count heavily in their favour, to me at least, when a good friend like Jamie Bogle is a member and when a fine priest like this is one of their Chaplains. The protestations of one of their members (just before this year's Corpus Christi Procession at Harrington St) about the thoroughly religious nature of the organisation rings rather hollow however, when one considers all the evidence.

If ever in the contemporary world a crusade were needed, it would surely be on behalf of the innocent unborn or perhaps the institution of marriage. Yet, sadly, while the Order is very fond of its chivalric heritage and its demand for sixteen quarterings of nobility before a candidate is admitted to knighthood, on these vital battles it has absented itself almost wholly. For instance, the Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth in London is supposedly a Catholic hospital and moreover a foundation of the British Association of the SMOM. And yet, there is no substantive evidence of its Catholicity in its contraceptive services or abortion referrals. Nor is this an isolated instance, according to Austin Ruse of the justly renowned C-FAM, himself a Knight of Malta. In a 2009 article on The Catholic Thing website he said
in the case of two desperate situations today... where there are real and suffering victims - where the Church stands almost completely alone... under vicious and sustained attack... the Order of Malta, at least institutionally, is largely absent.
Later in that same article he detailed two nominations to the Order of Malta which were far advanced before being stopped; both were of politically influential individuals who would no doubt have been great catches for the Order but for the fact that they actively supported so-called "abortion rights" and "gay marriage". This tendency to curry favour with the great and the good, regardless of their other qualifications or lack therof is not confined to the US Federal Association of the SMOM. In France we find the distressing spectacle of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing wearing the insignia of a Bailiff Grand Cross of honor and devotion of the Sovereign Order of Malta greeting Mmme Simone Veil upon her induction to the Académie française. That same Mme Veil legalised abortion in France, something that not even the execrable ministries of the Third Republic managed, and she did so under the Presidency of none other than M. Giscard d'Estaing. In addition to his service in the Order of Malta, he also served as the principal author of the ill-fated European Constitution - yes, the one that refused pointedly to acknowledge Europe's Christian roots. With Knights like these on the Catholic side, one wonders why we need enemies!

It is not all bad, of course. We saw in 2010 that Sr Carol Keehan, the pro-abortion feral nun who eagerly supported Obamacare was forced off the board of a hospital owned by the Order of Malta. Likewise, there has been an increasing presence of SMOM representatives at the annual Washington March for Life each January. Be those things as they may, and Frà Andrew's efforts at spiritual renewal notwithstanding, the Order of Malta has a long way to go before it truly deserves the accolades that its members and admirers are so eager to bestow upon it.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Enda Kenny - Guilty of a Terminological Inexactitude?

"Terminological inexactitude" is the polite phrase that covers the reality of a person making a claim while knowing that it is untrue, or at least being recklessly careless about whether it is true or not. In ordinary language, we call that lying. Sadly an Taoiseach, Enda Kenny TD, in his speech on July 20th in Dáil Éireann did just that. He lied and he knows that he lied, and he hasn't the guts to apologise. Specifically the Holy See's response to Eamon Gilmore's demand for all sorts of explanations states in Section 2
In particular, the accusation that the Holy See attempted "to frustrate an Inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago, not three decades ago", which Mr Kenny made no attempt to substantiate, is unfounded. Indeed, when asked, a Government spokesperson clarified that Mr Kenny was not referring to any specific incident.
The Holy See in all likelihood couldn't give a fiddler's whether Enda ever says sorry but the Irish people should. Enda lied to the House, and through them to the Irish People, and should reconvene the House urgently in order to set the record straight. In the middle of mismanaging the economy (for the benefit of a European/German currency) Enda needs all the unpopular enemies he can get, so I imagine he'll continue this nauseating portrayal of himself as some sort of heroic figure confronting the evil Vatican. In this he'll be urged on and never critically challenged by the State Media Apparatus (RTE/Irish Times etc.) I had hoped earnestly that this gombeen might be an improvement on the Biffo but sadly it was not to be.

Aetas parentum peior avis tulit nos nequiores, mox daturos progenium
vitiosiorem. Q. Horatius Flaccus, Odes III, 6

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Do Immoral Laws Bind in Conscience?

I've been thinking about the moral status of of immoral laws more and more often recently. This is partly due to the state(s) I have lived in; I was born and grew up in the Irish Republic/Ireland/Éire/Eyah and have just relocated to the United Kingdom/Northern Ireland/Norn Iron/the Occupied Six Counties. In both cases, however, there is an increasing presence of laws that contradict basic moral imperatives. The litany of these is as familiar as it is depressing - civil unions (aka "gay marriage"), tax regimes that favour the single over the married, "no-fault" divorce, criminalising self-defence against an intruder in one's own home. The most egregious examples are of course abortion and euthanasia, both involving the deliberate killing of the innocent.

This is not, for Christians, a new situation in which to find themselves. Our faith had its genesis in a world that was hostile to its spiritual message, and enjoined practices that were wholly incompatible with its moral tenets. While St Paul was scrivening epistles, his highly civilised fellow Roman citizens were watching human beings kill each other for entertainment! Even so, and even as the Emperor blasphemously demanded recognition as a quasi divine authority, St Paul still enjoined obedience to him.

There has to be a limit, however. When civil authority demands that to which it is not entitled, how are we to respond? Obeying just laws in unproblematic. Dr Walter E. Williams of George Mason University offers a fairly broad guide to reacting in this circumstance, viz. "Decent people should not obey immoral laws." I don't think a careful and thoughtful scholar like Williams is advocating mere anarchy or a general free for all where individual moral insight trumps established legal standards but he does seem to be a little careless in how he puts things.

St Thomas Aquinas
has a more nuanced account and one which I think serves the purpose better. We obey laws that uphold our own moral principles, e.g. prohibitions on theft and murder. We also obey laws governing indifferent matters, such as which side of the road to drive on or what deadline to observe when filing a tax return. When faced with a morally objectionable law, however, we must ask first will the harm done by accepting this ordinance outweigh the benefit obtained by respecting the general power of the state to govern? Thus Abraham Lincoln accepted slavery in the United States even as he objected to it morally. He sought to preserve the general benefit of a flawed constitution rather than countenance a complete overthrow of it. So muct we obey immoral laws? Sometimes we must.

When do we refuse then? We refuse to consider an immoral law binding in conscience IFF it enjoins a directly sinful act on us. Thus a law that, in yesteryear, would have forced me to receive communion from the Church of Ireland cannot bind and can only be disobeyed. Likewise a law that requires a contemporary citizen directly to acquiesce in abortion can only be disobeyed. That leaves the question of a state that so systematically demands such co-operation that its very legitimacy is called into question. St Thomas seems to be in two minds on this issue so it perhaps best left for another post.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Sir Pelham Wodehouse

I was reminded this morning while reading no.4 of the 7 Quick Takes in the excellent Jen F's Conversion Diary of an article I read some years ago. It was Joseph Bottum's take on P. G. Wodehouse and I have to confess that I found it somewhat wanting. He treats the late Sir Pelham as if all he ever wrote was light-hearted and trivial; most of it was but certainly not all. Mr Bottum also took the view that there was no redemption (which presupposes a Fall) and certainly no moral sense in all of the Wodehouse canon. I dissent from these unfounded judgments, and as only a single counter-example is required to disprove a universal statement, I'll give three or 14!

The Man With Two Left Feet & Other Stories is a collection originally published in 1917 and now available in multiple editions. I had a copy that I bought for comfort reading (it's a bit like comfort eating but rather less fattening) some years ago. Having long since lost it, my beloved bought me a copy to replace it. I got more than just some typical Wodehousian goings on in a country manor, though. Instead, there were such gems as The Man with Two Left Feet wherein the socially awkward and physically maladroit narrator learns by a hard route to accept the love and admiration of his wife. The double brush with and rejection of suicide in The Making of Mac's and A Sea of Troubles is also well worth a read. The jewel in the crown however is the tale of grubby betrayal, hope despite everything and the promise of redemption that is At Geisenheimer's. The heroic patience of of the wronged party is understated but very moving. (For those whose admiration of "Plum" is centred around Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, this collection also features their debut but in a not wholly recognisable form.)

Doctor Sally definitively gives the lie to the notion that all of Wodehouse's heroes are gadabouts who get plucked from the dreamless at the unearthly hour of 11am and the trickle around to the Drones for a spot of lunch. Bill Bannister certainly gives that impression at first with his relentless wooing of the eponymous and striking Dr Sally but first impressions do deceive sometimes. Far from the idle rich he is in fact a very hard working (and thereby wealthy) country landowner and farm manager. Also one should never underestimate the romantic impact of devices capable of defeating lactobacilli!

Uneasy Money shows what is perhaps the strongest strand in Wodehouse's moral constitution. The somewhat clueless hero Lord Dawlish has a very clear, unambiguous if not wholly comprehensive moral code. His ideal man (and I suspect Wodehouse's too) is a man who is honest and straightforward. He expresses it thus
Bill was a simple young man and he had a simple code of ethics. Above all things he prized and admired and demanded from his friends the quality of straightness. It was his one demand. He had never actually had a criminal friend, but he was quite capable of intimacy with even a criminal, provided only that there was something spacious about his brand of crime and that it did not involve anything mean or underhand. It was the fact that Mr. Breitstein, whom Claire had wished him to insinuate into his club, though acquitted of actual crime, had been proved guilty of meanness and treachery, that had so prejudiced Bill against him.

It is this quality, present throughout Wodehouse's published work that absolves him, I think, from the charge of amorality for all his professed unseriousness. Wodehouse remained something of an adolescent in his writing, indeed therein lies its charm; this does not mean that the central human story of love freely given, love betrayed and love redeemed is absent from his work. At his best, it is that story that Wodehouse tells with a superlative command of the English language and an exquisite human sympathy. He isn't Tolstoy and he isn't Shakespeare but then he wasn't trying to be. He wasn't trying to be a serious author of any kind but I suspect he might have succeeded all the same, rather better than one would suspect at first sight.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The 29th Amendment to the Constitution

I'm rather fond of our Constitution. It's not perfect by any means but it's robust, durable and has earned the respect of successive generations of Irish citizens since it was enacted in 1937. It even managed to be a monarchical constitution for 11 years and a republican one thereafter, without an iota of change in the text itself. (Yes, it is very odd that Eamon De Valera wrote a constitution for a monarchy while the Blueshirts used it to throw the King aside in favour of a Republic!)

It is also a very sensible document or very reasonable, if you prefer. The common inheritance of the Anglosphere is a reflexive acceptance of the principles of Common Law. Thus in 1937 a new republican(ish) Constitution didn't mean that we dropped trial by jury or the presumption of innocence; Habeas Corpus was, if anything, greatly strengthened by the personal rights provisions of Bunreacht na hÉireann.

Now, by dint of a legislative proposal as stupid as it is malicious, this long tradition of constitutional equity is in danger of being thrown overboard. The Green Party (which seems to be composed of knaves and bigots in equal measure) and as if they haven't done enough damage already, now propose to punish someone (or perhaps just anyone they can get their hands on) for acts which were lawful at the time they were done. Think about this for a minute: suppose that I campaign for a law to ban fruit gums. The pro-fruit gums lobby then succeed in prohibiting "anti-fruit gum activism". They then seek to punish me for having broken the law, even though there was no such law at the time I performed those acts. This way lies simple tyranny.

Aside from this general consideration, there is the utterly ridiculous notion of "economic treason". Treason is strictly circumscribed in Irish law; this is specifically to allow for the greatest freedom of political action excluding only armed violent action against the State from legal protection. This new and ill-thought-out idea is, I hope, just a ploy to attract favourable media comment or the like. As a provision of the criminal law, the kind that gets people arrested and imprisoned, it is risible. On the positive side, the Greens are about to bid goodbye to the Government benches for a generation or more. Deputy Sargent, Minister Gormley, here's your coat, what's your hurry?

Monday, January 03, 2011

Real men & masculinity

Hey, if you consider yourself a man, then you need to be there - no ifs or buts!!! This is for men of all ages, including older teenagers. It is the start of something new in Ireland where men come together to get down to the business of manhood and masculinity, and how that relates to the great gift and challenge that... living Catholic Faith is. Starts at 9am, ends with mass, speakers include Mickey Harte and Bishop McAreavey. €20 waged/ €10 unwaged... come on lads, time to drop a gear and round up a carload of men, I guarantee you wont regret it!!

A little while back, I saw on Facebook the announcement reproduced above. It's for a worthy venture called the Meant4More conference. The man who posted it is someone I know and respect but I couldn't help feeling that something was a bit amiss about the whole business. The intention was to get men to come along to be edified as men and as Christians. That's laudable. Some of the language used was a bit over-bearing; if someone actually spoke to me face-to-face using those words, I'd probably be a bit terse in responding to him. However, I'll give a lot of leeway to someone who has stopped cursing the darkness and has instead begun to set flint to tinder. I think, however, that the thing that turned me off most was the fact that it was a conference. The fact that most of the re-posts and "likes" for the event on Facebook were from women wasn't lost on me either. I suppose that I've always considered that while women talk about things, men simply do them. I've learnt more about being a man from being with men who do things than from men who talk. The business of being manly is one which needs to be learned by observing and imitating good example. (That's knowledge by connaturality for the Thomists among you.) A conference, however laudable, can't really plug that gap.

I think what I am really trying to say is that if you consider that you want to be a man - in the full moral sense of embodying virtus or manly physical and moral excellence then go to a conference if you like but perhaps the RDF might be a better start. Or go and get trained to run into burning buildings when everyone else is going the other way. Alternatively we're always looking for new recruits - when, despite your best efforts, you've failed to save a life, you tend to discover what you're really made of.

For an example of manliness I'd suggest a good friend of mine, serving with the old FCA, who was guarding the back gate of a military facility. He was wrapped up against the cold but had a machine gun and some sandbags for company. The warning had come down from the camp O/C that "subversives" might attempt to infiltrate the area - they had been intercepted doing exactly that the previous week. He heard noises at 02.30 hrs, flashed his searchlight on the intruders and challenged them; they replied irately and drunkenly that they were regular soldiers and expected to be let pass unhampered. He challenged them again, this time with a 3 round burst from his weapon, deliberately high & wide of their position. They stopped in their tracks but what, I asked if they had not? He replied that he would have fired on them and killed them. He knew that he would have regretted it and lamented those deaths but his duty was clear, as was the harm that could be done if criminals were allowed to seize a government armory. That is what real men do, though, "their duty even if it breaks their hearts."

Of course, while manliness is a natural good, we are meant for a supernatural end. Where do we find the manly virtues redeemed and raised to supernatural goodness? Funny that you should ask ...