The following is an actual email exchange I had this week with a former undergraduate student of mine. He is still young, living in the Midwest. Kris had sent me the trailer for a film scheduled to be released next month, called “The Hunt.” In it, supposed “elites” from left-wing strongholds hunt “Deplorables” from interior states for sport. The trailer was extremely graphic and disgusting. For purposes of clarification, I made a few small changes in our exchange.
On 9 August, Kris emailed me:
Greetings, Fr. Paul,
I'm not sure if you have heard of this [new film] or not but it is an example of the extreme decadence coming out of our elites in this country. The video embedded in this page is very graphic so don't feel like you need to watch it. The idea behind it is enough to sicken a person.
I hope that you are well and I hope to get the chance to communicate with you again soon. May God bless you and yours.
My response later on 9 August:
Kris, what I saw is shocking, for the same reasons you feel it. If the hunted had been blacks being lynched, there would be a very loud outcry. And this film is called a “satire”? So such politically-motivated brutality is supposed to be humorous in some way? Yes, I had heard of it on Lou Dobbs, but had no idea that it was this graphic. I am “blown away” by what I just watched. It is sickening—literally.
I rarely indulge in any Hollywood productions, and when I do, they are old movies (say, from the 1930’s to 1950’s). I have no stomach for the nonsense generated by most of the Hollywood money-makers.
How can this country have a good future? The future is unknown, but I would not bet on the development of a real culture of life and nourishment in our country. No way.
God bless you, your wife, and your little ones,
P.S. I am still with Moses and Elijah
An additional note which I wrote a little later, as the images would not leave my mind.
Kris, that movie trailer for “The Hunt” was very disturbing.
For many years Hollywood has been glorifying violence, or using it to make big money. They are surely a major factor in the preference and taste for violence that keeps tearing families and communities apart. They sold hatred, and many bought it.
Kris responded the next day.
10 August 2019
I have found that as I grow older and more withdrawn from worldly allures, I find violent images and disregard of human life to be more and more unbearable. It was difficult to watch that video without turning my eyes away. A few years ago, I attempted to read the book that inspired the popular Game of Thrones series and could not stomach the graphic sexual descriptions and inhuman violence. Perhaps it is weakness of soul. Perhaps it is also a concern for the dignity of human beings. I do not know how I would react in a battlefield scenario. I would hope that I could do my duty without flinching and defend my family, home, and friends.
The reason this particular film stood out to me was its plot of progressive elites herding up Trump supporting “deplorables” and murdering them, scratch that, butchering them for sport. To these elites, any who disagree with their agenda (be it environmentalism, gender fluidity, sexual liberation, LGBT progress, unconditional choice, absolute progressivism, etc.) is not even worthy of being human and should be treated as animals; worse than animals for animals are our innocent friends and deserve to inherit the earth after human beings pass away into oblivion. This mentality of the elites has been growing steadily since the Obama era and came to a head with the rise of Trump. Now we see their hearts' desire portrayed in a film where they can finally rid the world of those who would hinder their progress. It is terrifying.
We do not turn on the television in our home and so our children are shielded from much of the media's influence. Every time I hear a news report or read an article in a mainstream publication, I think of the scene in Orwell's 1984 where the company workers are required to participate in the two-minute hate. An image of the enemy (Trump) is shown on the screen and all participators are required to curse, jeer, and yell at that image. It is no wonder that the extreme on both sides of the political spectrum are coming out into the spotlight.
I know that I am young (32) and I have not seen much of the history in our country, but has the polarization and conflict between the two parties ever been so poignant before? The rift between left and right, progressive and conservative, republican and democrat is so deep and intense that one is almost forced to choose a side. Could it escalate to a civil war? If so, do the conservatives have a hope of surviving? We feel as if we are constantly on the defense. What would happen if a conservative cause went on the offense? What would that look like?
Is there enough goodness left in this country to try to conserve?
After the conglomeration of big government and semi-socialism that we have experienced, is it possible to return to a republic of states grounded in enduring liberties? How long would it take to return to order and how much more will we lose before that happens?
When society falls, will the Church of Christ be strong enough to carry the survivors? If not, to what or to whom shall we turn?
The weight of the disorder is heavy and oppressing. How does one become more like St. Lawrence and laugh in light of the persecution? How do we stay light-hearted as much of the world seeks to tear us down?
The perplexities of a young father striving to find light in the darkness.
10 August 2019
I feel for your situation with a family and young children living in the midst of this culture of decadence, now intensified by sheer hatred and murderous thoughts. The trailer you sent did not change my thinking at all, but only brought a wave of anguished feelings into my heart. It is not just the scenario of leftists hunting down Trumpian “deplorables” as sport that so sickens me, but my recurring sense, previously noted, that Hollywood has immersed our population in scenes of violence, cruelty, hatred, and depravity for years now—all to make money, and to change us into the image that these movie-makers seek: a godless society without spiritual, intellectual, or moral standards. Hollywood has helped to tear down whatever has been good and noble in our people, much as leftist idiots have run loose and torn down historical statues of figures from our past now deemed “unacceptable” to their own “woke consciousness.”
I do not wish to alarm you, but you already voiced your strong and grounded concern for raising a problem in the midst of our culture morass. Often a thought returns to my mind, “America is dying.” If this is not what a decadent and dying society looks like, what could it be? What we are going through reminds me of Weimar Germany, and how it gave rise to National Socialism. Once God and right reason are rejected (and even hated), “all hell breaks loose.” The worst forces that dwell submerged in the human spirit come to the surface and find expression. Without either a genuine spiritual life or noetic controls (from right reason), what can hold a society together except force?
When I was a child, I probably did not object to seeing violence on the screen. But when I was ten or eleven, my father took my family to see “Psycho”, and soon thereafter another highly violent film called, I believe, “Homocidal.” And we viewed other such violent films. To this day, whenever I travel and must stay in a motel room, I have spontaneous flashbacks from “Psycho,” in which a blond woman is attacked and killed by repeated blows of a knife while taking a shower. One thing I learned is that these Hollywood money-making spectacles have real and lasting effects on human beings—on psyches and their lives. Such movies are not innocuous. There are various forces that have contributed to making our society a cesspool of hatred, violence, and various perversions, but surely Hollywood has played a leading role—and should give itself an Academy Aware for the most corrupting. You are wise indeed not to allow your children to watch television. My family gathered around the TV nightly. Some shows in the 1950’s were either harmless or even uplifting, but the standards and tastes kept sinking downhill. And now we have a movie about liberals hunting conservatives for sport. And we should think that such evil movies will have no effect on our citizens?
I share your concern that the political divide in our country is reaching a very dangerous point. As I see it, we are on the verge of tearing ourselves apart by hatred and violence. The divisions were indeed present and real during the Obama era, which you mentioned, but the hard core left in this country hates President Trump so vehemently and irrationally that they seem to be willing to stop at nothing to destroy him, or at least his Presidency. Their ferocity and viciousness is, I think, unrivaled in our country’s history. Or if such passions were nearly as strong before, the means to magnify and to implement hatred and other evils in human hearts were not nearly as great. The immense power of the State to spy on and destroy Trump, employed by highly partisan and lawless individuals in the FBI, CIA, and other departments and agencies, has never been used to the same extent before in our history, to the best of my knowledge, although some Presidents (FDR, Kennedy, LBJ, Nixon) did use State powers against political opponents. Now the wickedness of Obama officials and leftist extremists (and a large part of the GOP establishment) has been joined by most of the mass media (NYT, CNN, ABC, and so on) in a steady and unashamed assault on Trump in every way they can concoct. In this sense, the leftists have been hunting down “deplorables” for at least three years now—but really much longer. We are repeatedly branded as “racist” and “white supremacists” just for appreciating a number of President Trump’s policies—as I surely do as a political scientist and as a citizen. We are smeared and vilified for supporting the President in any way. Perhaps you have experienced such smearing personally; I surely have. But I recall being branded as “an extremist” in my youth when I supported and campaigned for Barry Goldwater for President. The intensity and degree of the hatred and willingness to assassinate a man’s character (and the man himself, at least in violent speech) have reached a new depth of depravity. For just one example, think of the so-called “comedian” who carried around an image of a severed, bloody head of Donald Trump. Verbalizing assaults on him and members of his family have been frequent—and publicly tolerated by the leftist “elites.” Hence, the film showing leftists hunting down conservatives for sport is actually not unexpected. It is another case of left-wing, nascent totalitarian hatred for those who think differently than they do. These “progressives” have been engaged in “search and destroy” by other means up to the present. If you wish for a concrete example, think of the corrupt and wicked little FBI agent, Peter Strzok. When I listened to him testify before Congress, I saw a shrunken, deceitful, wicked little soul on public display, and seemingly getting away with his antics. Unfortunately for Strzok and other such “Progressives” (who can “smell” Trump voters), truth will out, sooner or later. Or so one must hope in order to see justice done. But to be honest, I am not holding my breath, because these “elite” types have protected each other for years. Again, leading GOP figures and party donors have shared in this charade.
What is one to do? Hiding one’s head in the sand, or packing up and moving, or trying to live in a cocoon are not viable solutions. One must prepare one’s soul, one’s mind, to be tested and under assault if one seeks to live a good life, to act justly, to speak the truth. You will suffer for goodness in a corrupt society such as ours. That much we know, and so one must be prepared. Lightheartedness is not, I dare say, a rational response to being roasted (as was St. Lawrence). But nor is defeatism or melancholy. What comes to mind is a teaching from the prophet Jeremiah to the effect that through struggle one must gain one’s soul. One finds the same in the Gita—life is a battlefield, in which one must do one’s duty and act aright, regardless of the personal consequences. Here is a real hero to study and to imitate: the Austrian farmer, husband, and father, Franz Jägerstätter. Without choosing to speak the truth, to act justly, to refrain from evil, over and again, one loses himself. And saintly and wise Franz was pressed even by his priest and bishop to play along with the Nazis, and he refused—knowing that his family would suffer. For not being willing to fight in a war of aggression for Nazi Germany, Jägerstätter, abandoned by the Catholic hierarchy, was murdered by the totalitarian regime.
You ask, “When society falls, will the Church of Christ be strong enough to carry the survivors? If not, to what or to whom shall we turn?” If by “Church” one means the official church, then I put far less faith in “the Church of Christ” than you may do. To gain my own soul and live in dignity, I had to withstand corrupt powers within the Church—and especially from members of the clergy. For nearly 40 years now I have served within the Church as a monk, and as a priest, but receive no benefits (pension or health care), in large part because I dared to uncover and speak out against a priest who indulged in various crimes, grand theft. He was given a pension and health care, and still functions in parishes. His bishop promised our finance council that this priest would never function again; the same bishop restored this corrupt man’s faculties a few months later. Why? Was the bishop bought off? No answer was given. You can imagine the agony that such clergy have caused many lay persons who know of the deceits, stealing, and cover-up. But If by the “Church of Christ” you mean Christ, his teaching, and the faithful who are genuinely struggling to live in Christ—such as my spiritual friend, Franz Jägerstätter—then yes, for them and with them we can have hope. But the hierarchy as an institution has shown itself to be as decadent as our American culture—and both are dying. (I often think that the Body of Christ must slough off the hierarchy as a snake sheds its old skin.) At times one must even bear with foolishness from Popes, as we frequently do even now. Again from Jeremiah, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man; blessed the man who trusts in God.” And the hierarchy is “human, all too human,” so beware of trusting it. If I am truthful, respect me for it, but please do not respect me because I am an “ordained priest.” The very title of “priest” has become a source of shame to me, given what I have experienced. Titles worth having are “courageous,” “truthful,” “just,” “reliable.” In short, “Beware of wolves who come in sheep’s clothing,” even when dressed in priestly clothes and fancy liturgical vestments.
So, dear Kris, if you have felt yourself hunted at times by self-styled “Progressives” and “elites,” and by the self-proclaimed “learned professors” and by clerical hierarchs, do not be surprised. If you have not felt the tentacles of corruption reaching into you, or even dwelling in your own heart, wonder why. “For out of the heart proceeds murderous thoughts…” The only cure for corruption is virtuous activity, and acceptance of the consequences for choosing life over death, and goodness over evil.
Yours in Christ,
P.S. Kris, if you do not mind, I will post our exchange on this video on my website. The only personal information on you is your first name; I omitted your wife’s name, and made no reference to where you live. As for me, the hunters know where to find me!
I do not know what my life would be like without the beauty and joy of magnificent music. Fortunately, recordings make so much great music available to one without leaving home, or in the car with playlists, and so on. I subscribe to Apple Music, and hence have access to millions of compositions and often as performed by various artists. One can also use YouTube, and listen and watch as some outstanding musicians share their art with us.
Again and again I return to certain compositions, including the set of Beethoven’s “Late String Quartets,” which number five or six, depending on how one counts the Great Fugue. These quartets constitute the bulk of Beethoven’s last compositions, composed the two years before he died (26 March 1827). For some reason, it is especially the slow movements that have most appealed to me. They bespeak a spirit at rest, after the turmoils of one’s earlier years are over. Here one does not hear the storms and outbursts of younger Beethoven, but soulful meditations composed by a man living on the edge of eternity. The listener is drawn with Beethoven into a realm that is not altogether of this world. And it is quiet bliss into which one enters. I truly thank God that Beethoven suffered as he did, and rose above his sufferings into sublime peace and transcendental love. How far Beethoven’s spirit advanced beyond the rage of the Eroica (Symphony #3 in E-flat, a truly revolutionary accomplishment) into the sublime language of the late Quartets.
As I listen to chamber music such as these string quartets, I often recall the words a fundamentalist preacher spoke to me one day in Iowa. The man was a farmer and a minister, who had attended college, and purportedly had a degree of education. One day when I mentioned the pleasure I take in chamber music, he asked me, “Why would you ever listen to chamber music?” He asked as if I were engaged in some truly bizarre activity, such as bungee jumping off a bridge with nothing but sharp boulders below. His question utterly puzzled me. How does one answer such a question? “Why do you love the ocean?” “Why do you enjoy viewing the greatest works of sculpture?” “Why would you ever read Shakespeare?” The questions are similar: If asked without a living appreciation of such beauty, the one asking is apparently dead (or numb) to the experience of beauty or truth in great works of art or nature. For me, such questions are incomprehensible. “Taste and see for yourself,” perhaps I should have said to him. But he would not have known how or where to begin in order to awaken his appreciation for such works of art. It requires hard work, and many are unwilling to make the effort to climb the mountain.
So much is lacking in American education. I wonder how many adults in Montana, where I live, would be willing to sit and listen to a late Beethoven Quartet, or to a Schubert Trio, or to a Brahms Piano Quartet, or a Bach Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord. Not many, I dare say. Many here think nothing of drinking beer even to the point of drunkenness, or of driving pick-up trucks speeding down a road, or of yelling themselves hoarse at some high school basketball game. But sitting still and listening to musicians perform some of the masterpieces of musical composition is probably beyond the limits of their imagination. They simply have not been exposed to such works, nor have they made the effort to discover them. As I just stated, so much is lacking in American education. We do not know or care to know how dead we are to so much beauty, or to works of philosophy, or to achievements of science. “Professing ourselves wise, we became fools.” Most sadly, education in America often means instruction, if not propagandizing and brain-washing; it rarely means inspiring a human being to seek the truth for himself or herself.
In reality, one must choose to educate his own mind, his own soul. There is no substitution for self-education, and its work requires a lifetime of devotion and hard work. As I reflect back on my years in high school, college, and graduate school, although I am truly thankful to a number of my teachers and professors for the learning they shared, I am also strongly aware that much of what I gained from formal education was done outside the classroom, through browsing library shelves of books, through listening intently to great music, from visiting museums, from sharing thoughts with fellow students, and so on. Formal education is at best a shell, a skeleton. If one is to flesh one’s learning, one must spend years educating oneself in the best that human minds and spirits have brought forth over time. And that requires a searching mind, and discipline, and one of the greatest of all gifts: a genuine love for learning, grounded in a humble awareness of one’s own ignorance, and need for right education. The day one thinks, “I am an educated man,” that day one’s true learning ceases. Learning is watered by the disturbing sense of one’s ignorance and shortcomings, not in pride in one’s accomplishments. “Seek and you will find,” not “Think that you have found, you have arrived.” As I see life: “Baby, you’ve just begun!”
Now, to what shall I turn my attention? There is so much lacking in my knowledge of truth and appreciation of beauty, how shall I begin? Who or what can guide me on the quest out of relative darkness into a greater light, into a deeper and fuller vision of the whole of reality? What little steps shall I now take on this journey of a thousand years?
—Wm. P. McKane
3 August 2019
Perhaps fifty years ago, the philosopher Eric Voegelin wrote that living in a modern western society often feels as though one is living in an insane asylum. That was true then, and is considerably more true today. But it seems fitting to take the underlying thought and its engendering experience in a different but related direction: If western societies had some of the feel of insane asylums, they also had and have the feel of becoming concentration camps, set up and run by quasi-totalitarian governments and their instruments of control. Specifically, who can be alive and conscious in our American society today and not realize that increasingly we see elements of totalitarian political culture growing up and firmly lodged in our society?
At the present time, the United States of America is not essentially identical to Nazi Germany, to the Soviet Union, or to Communist China; but are we not heading in a similar direction? The degree to which political power is amplified by mass media and by mass education is startling and disturbing. The political culture of our country is no longer republican, as we were at the time of our Founding in the late 18th century; nor are we the kind of largely egalitarian-democratic society that emerged in the era of Jefferson and Jackson; nor are we simply a culture dominated by plutocrats—already visible during and just after the Civil War. Increasingly, the political power of the Federal Government—and to a lesser extent, the power of the State and local governments—has grown to such enormous scope and magnitude that none of our Founders would recognize in our regime the spirit and essence of the Constitution of 1787. They would recognize certain names, such as “the Congress,” “the Presidency,” and the “Supreme Court,” but the institutions that have developed have dwarfed and virtually drowned out the institutions set up by the Constitution as it was written and promulgated. We have broken the spirit of the Constitution by amassing largely unchecked power in the hands of the rulers and the power elite.
Even more disturbing is what has happened to the body politic, and to individual citizens under the law. For the most part, we Americans have become a nearly lawless people, who refuse to govern ourselves. We are manipulated by media and “education,” dominated by governments and self-important politicians, and nearly impervious to the call of virtue and right living in our own souls. Indeed, most Americans today either do not know, or do not want to know, that they have souls—that they are ensouled bodies. The Hobbesian belief in man as a “body in motion” has become part of the uncoded civil religion. We interpret ourselves as a people in history, with no destiny beyond what is achievable on earth. “The new order of the ages” has swallowed up the life of the spirit in the United States; we are “new men,” not perhaps in Marx’s sense of “Socialist Man” who “creates himself,” but virtually the same thing in reality. Our society does not so much inculcate individual liberty grounded on individual responsibility and acquired virtues, but on the “right” to follow one’s whims and wishes and willing wheresoever they may lead. Observe the way we Americans act, and especially among those under about age fifty or so, and one finds that as a whole, we are a virtually lawless people. Or rather, we are a “law unto ourselves”—noisy self-driven actors governed by passions which are dominated and ruled, not by reason dwelling in one’s soul, but by the powers that be, especially in the mass media, entertainment world, manipulative corporations and their “social media,” and of course, the power of the elites, whether elected or appointed.
Thinking ourselves free and a “free people,” we are in fact enslaved to mass manipulators, and to our own lower passions. We Americans are enslaved. We are slaves to ideologies, to fads, to Hollywood, to Silicon Valley, to Wall Street, to K Street (in Washington, DC), to the noise and bombast of a degenerate mass culture that exists at an astonishingly low level. But worse than this, whatever good qualities we as a people possessed one hundred or even fifty years ago seem all but bleached out now. We need to ask ourselves: Can we sink much lower as a people in history? As a people under God? (“Under God!” some would scream. “Hell, you can’t say that. We are not under God because either there is no God, or God is irrelevant in our lives, and in the destiny of our country. We are free and equal! We are our own creators and rulers.”) Are we indeed our own creators? We are so “free” that many resort to violence or violent speech against those who disagree with them. “Freedom” apparently is becoming a synonym for self-slavery. Rejecting God and reason, we Americans are creating a godless concentration-camp society in our own image.
It is more than disturbing to see and to feel what America is becoming. Many of us in the second half of our lives are painfully aware of destructive changes. Rather than “making America great again,” by our actions, inactions, and words, we are becoming neo-totalitarians, generally driven by a godless “progressive” ideology, in which “nothing is real,” except what one “chooses to believe.” We are so blind, that, even with our science, we cannot recognize the image of God in the womb of a mother, or on the face of one’s political opponent. We see nothing of any genuine worth except what serves our own purposes, what enhances our own power, or what is “convenient,” or “politically correct,” or “acceptable” to the least rational elements among us. As a recent American President rather fiendishly advised his supporters, “Get in the face” of your opponents, and “take a gun to a knife fight.” Having preached in this manner, and had his effects, it is not surprising that we have an actual Fascist group that labels itself “Antifa” (short for “Anti-Fascist”) to hide its intent, to dupe people, but in reality uses tactics similar to the Nazis and Communists in Weimar Germany: threatening others, using violence against opponents, destroys property, deceives by slogans, and seeks to overturn and destroy whatever does not suit their criteria for being “progressive.” In other words, “Antifa” is a fitting symbol of the the New Society, the “Progressive America” that is emerging in our midst. It seeks to dominate, to destroy, to inflict its will on others just as completely as the abortionist inflicts his will on the unborn human being. Indeed, in the new Progressive America, abortion is in reality the model for the new society: whatever these people deem “inhuman” or “unwanted,” can be destroyed in the name of their god, “Progress.” Abortion, euthanasia, killing the “unwanted” or “socially useless,” such as the elderly, and destroying one’s personal or political opponents by “any means necessary” to achieve their end—these are their achievements. Their goal is complete domination of our culture and society, and in true totalitarian fashion, build a “new society” and a “new humanity.” And their dream is now far advanced.
All things that enter being must perish; everything that is born, dies. Political societies are no exception. America was born several centuries ago, and in time, it will perish, despite popular illusions and beliefs. Our task, however, is not to hasten our country’s demise, but to preserve and protect the best in us and in our political society, and to uproot from our own hearts the evil that hastens the destruction of all things good and beautiful. Our country’s fate is in the balance, and so is our own.
—Wm. P. McKane
27 July 2019
22 July 2019
I enjoy and appreciate a wide variety of music, and I spend a considerable amount of time listening, sometimes analyzing, sometimes following scores. As I’ve said, I use my time far more with listening to good music than to watching movies or TV shows. Time and resources are limited.
When listening to music within the Romantic genre, I often think about Goethe’s famous saying that “Romanticism is disease.” Much of popular music in the 20th century is within the Romantic movement. It is the bulk of music to which we are exposed, unless one makes a hard effort to listen to other genres (such as Renaissance, Baroque, Classical in the narrow sense (Haydn, Mozart), or ancient Chinese music, and so on).
Last night I could not sleep because of a noisy pool party two houses away, and a young man moving things into his father’s place at midnight, right next door to me, with much banging, as he was moving a pile of furniture legs and wood (his father does wood working). So I used AirPods for concentrated listening, and to hide the screams of children and the banging of unloading wood piles. I listened with a question in mind: What is there about Romantic music that would induce a mind such as Goethe’s to call it “disease”? And note, one finds similar thoughts in late Nietzsche, once he turned on that famous Romantic, Wagner, and labeled his music as “degenerate,” which I take to be a rough equivalent to “diseased.”
I listened to a number of Romantic composers with my question in mind. First, I focused on the slow movements, saving more outwardly expansive movements (such as the 1st movement of Beethoven’s Eroica) for another time (and because I have analyzed it previously, as the work of aggression and rebellion). I listened to some Shostakovitch, Rachmaninoff, Robert and Clara Schumann, Brahms, and of course Wagner (using the central music of Tristan und Isolde, “O sink hernieder…”) There is indeed a similar quality in these composer’s works that marks them as unmistakably within the Romantic movement. My brief notes are not meant to be a criticism of the music, but analysis. In fact, I enjoy this music very much, and occasionally turn to it for its melodic beauty and emotional depth.
There seems to be what can be called a breach from reality in the Romantics, or a wallowing in excess. Listening to this music reminds me of something in Homer: explicitly, it brings to mind the passage in the Odyssey in which Odysseus has his crew strap him to the mast, so that he can listen to the Sirens without pursuing them into the waves to his own death. As you may remember, Odysseus goes wild from the Siren songs, so beautiful are they, and yet he cannot seek them out, as he longs to do. The best Romantic composers are geniuses at singing Siren songs that are so beautiful and enticing—but one enters at one’s risk. To listen in moderation (occasionally) should be no problem, but one can easily become in effect addicted to their seductive beauty. This applies to the great Romantic composers—and to no one more than to Wagner, whose aficionados / devotees are well known for being so addicted that some travel around the world to keep attending performances of the Ring or other of Wagner’s operas. (Or recall to mind how some youths followed “The Grateful Dead” from one location to another, so entranced were they by the music). This behavior displays excess.
If one listens closely to Schumann, for example, one falls in love with the beauty, and wants to keep listening. The music provides an excess of tenderness, a feeling of ecstasy, of a movement into one’s own private feelings and daydreams from which it may become difficult to escape. Pleasure is indeed addicting, and the pleasure given by the Romantic composers can be extreme, as they are geniuses of exciting chosen emotional responses.Haydn does not set out to overwhelm one’s mind with sentiment, with intense feelings (anger, love, grief, fear), but the Romantics do. And again, they are masters of engendering and one can say manipulating passions. Again, the masters in this regard are probably Beethoven (in some of his works, such as the Eroica) and R Wagner.
For example, if I listen closely (while doing nothing else) to the slow movement of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, or to the andante of R Schumann’s Quartet for piano and strings in E-flat, I feel intensely drawn in, enraptured, and taken off by a kind of Erlkönig (Goethe’s symbol) into another realm. I am charmed to enter into my own private feelings and thoughts and memories. That pull and withdraw into oneself, if not balanced by a reasoned attunement to reality as a whole is, I think, the essence of the “disease of Romanticism.” It is like good wine: one can drink it responsibly; but one can be so taken in by the taste and its effects at “relaxing one” as to become a “wino,” at which point real damage is done.
In the wise words of the ancient Greeks, “Nothing over-much,” meaning “nothing in excess.” There is no substitute for a balanced, sane life, governed by reason. I think that this is what underlies Goethe’s dismissal of Romanticism as “diseased.” It traps one in the abyss of self.
Have I been so long with you,
And yet you do not know me?
If not now, when?
If not here, where?
Have you been so long with me,
And yet I have not known you?
Did you hear me knocking?
Have you heard me calling?
If not I, then what was it you heard?
Was it the wind that knocked on my door,
Or gently rocked my heart?
Was it the call of a lonesome bird I heard,
Or the whisper of a soundless voice?
If it is you yourself, then tell me to come.
If it is not you but another, please do not bother,
Do not disturb the dust, or brush off the rust.
If you are not here, then where?
If you are not here now, then when?
Dawn is breaking, night is fading.
What else is breaking, what is fading?
When no one spoke, it just happened.
When nothing happened, it was.
You are as you are,
And still the eye of my I.
—Wm. P. McKane
26 May 2019
You yourself must find the way.
No one can do it for you,
No one can describe it to you,
No one can show it to you.
You yourself must find the way.
You yourself must hear the word.
No one can hear it to you,
No one can tell it to you,
No one can explain it to you.
You yourself must hear the word.
You have a task that you must find,
You have tasks which you must do.
You have your own proper work,
Which no one else can do for you,
Or find for you, but you yourself.
You have a burden that you must carry,
No one else can carry it for you,
No one else can relieve you of your burden.
You yourself must bear your burden,
You are your own burden: carry it.
You must be true to your truest self,
Not to the whims and wishes of passing self.
You must be true to yourself at your best--
The good that you have been, and better,
The better that you shall be, and best.
Do not place your trust in passing human beings,
Do not place your trust in institutions.
Do not place your trust in laws, or in books.
Place in your trust in that which alone endures,
As each and all else is passing away.
You have now to become what you truly are,
To let go of what you might have been,
To let go of dreams of what you may be.
You have now to become who you truly are,
Beneath the transitory pulls and dreams.
Now is the time to be awake,
Now is the time to be alive.
Those who dwell in the past,
And those who dwell in the future,
Are all passing away.
The one who loves is true to the beloved,
The one who loves is one with the beloved.
Truly to love costs oneself everything,
Truly to love transforms you into You,
And all else passes away.
—Wm. P McKane
26 May 2019
16 May 2019
I’ve made slow progress on Hesiod (Theogony and Works and Days) ever since leaving for Oregon. Barely back into reading him.
Returned to read again some very dense pages on Hegel and Hesiod in Voegelin’s last book, In Search of Order, published posthumously (1987), which he wrote in his 80’s. This short passage, lifted out of its theoretical context, explains far better than I could why am I attracted to turn to Hesiod again. It is so refreshing for a mind steeped, as we all are, in what I call “Cartesian thingism,” which was highly beneficial for the development of modern natural science, but detrimental to more human, whole-aware consciousness. Here is the lifted passage:
“Hesiod’s mythospeculation makes us aware of fundamental experiences of reality that require for their expression the language of the gods even when, in the process of differentiation, the many gods are superseded by the One God. The past of experience will not die with differentiation; it is part of the Whole of reality, of 'the things that are, that shall be, and that were before' [Theogony].”
You may or may not have a clear understanding of what Voegelin is saying; I think I do, but then, I’ve been reading him for about 45 years; and I study the context. If you think back to some of the poems I’ve been dabbling with in the past number of months, you will see some of my concrete attempts to rediscover my own experiences that engendered speech about “the gods” in the first place. I have no difficulty experiencing the moon as “a goddess,” as Siléne. And what you may not understand or appreciate in my approach to reality is that for me, sensing the divine aura in the moon is far more real than all the scientific talk I’ve heard about the moon. I do not reject the scientific talk, but it has never really engaged my imagination or mind. It is abstract, and for me, beyond experience and internally unknowable; however useful, science is a secondary kind of knowledge. But to experience the earth, sky, ocean, moon, sun, stars as gods is directly experienced, as one can remember from childhood, before oblivion set in. I think that if teachers and professors had sought to preserve the fundamental experience, and also explored the physical world scientifically, I would have been far more interested. (I do not fault them; it would take a philosopher to be able to experience the Whole and engage in science at the same time.) As it was, I preferred the mysterious Whole to the analyzed part, although I probably could not have explained it as clearly when I was 20 as I can now. That is why I so strongly reacted against Descartes when I began to study him, with his conception of human being as a “res cogitans,” “a thinking thing.” Reading him made me feel imprisoned in his flattened consciousness things. (Even his “god” is a thing, of whose “existence” Descartes can “prove.” Makes no sense to me at all.) Knowing of what the moon is made, and when, surely has its own beauty and wonder, but it remains quite alien to immediate consciousness. But to feel awed at the feminine beauty of the moon is surely part of my (and I presume, everyone’s) concrete experience. The experience of the oneness of each and of all precedes naming and analyzing; this context for human consciousness is what is absent in Descartes and his descendants.
Who was the philosopher who bemoaned how scientific consciousness had taken the mystery out of the world? Was it Nietzsche? Whoever it was, I agree, even as I appreciate the usefulness gained by science and its offspring, technology. The mystery is not out of the world for Plato and Aristotle. Recall that not long before he died (about age 62, as I recall), Aristotle wrote in a letter, “The older I grow, and the more I am alone, the more I love myth.” Why? I would say that it reconnected him to the Whole, which philosophical-scientific analysis in themselves cannot do. And myth for Aristotle would surely have meant, above all, Hesiod and Homer, perhaps also Aeschylus.
I read Hesiod to help reground me in fundamental experiences that precede analysis and even to an extent, speech (logos) itself.
10 Feb 2019
You ask me, in effect, what can one do in our society, given the problems.
I will write more later, but here is a first answer:
One thing comes to mind immediately: community need not now be limited by space-time. Because of the internet and availability of resources (such as classics from the past), the community may well take non-traditional forms. There are some things that the local community can provide—such as the kinds of socializing and friendships your children need. There are goods that can be provided only by means of a wider reach (as through the internet) and especially drawing from resources in the past.
Second, did you read my most recent posting, “Do no harm”? I am asking if my criticisms of the institutional church, especially, do more harm than good. I may copy part of the conclusion in my longer response, but for now suffice it to note that many in the pews, who could be hurt, are not putting forth sufficient effort in their own spiritual lives. They have been lazy and passive. Yes, they will be hurt But one cannot force them to be free (playing on a famous phrase from Rousseau’s Social Contract). I’ll develop the thought later.
Third, genuine faith (fides caritate formata, faith enlivened by charity) is always needed. Institutional religion does not require or build much genuine faith. Each much make the effort. (“You yourselves must make the effort,” declares the Buddha in the Dhammapada, “the Tathagatha is only a teacher.” You ask, “To whom shall we go?” Well, you asked it in the right context: to the living Christ (not an institutionalized Christ). The living Christ is the inner light. If we will not attend to that light, for whatever reason, what can be done?
Fourth, although I may be wrong, I think that the institutional church, though not all bad, has been highly corrupt, and seems to be imploding in our present day. The community of the faithful needs to endure. I am not convinced that the hierarchy, as it developed historically (bishops—priests—deacons) is any longer the best or a viable solution. The problem is not with the teachings, nor with the Sacraments per se, but with human beings for whom power and position and privilege “go to their head.” I run into one case of this problem after another. And many lay persons are waking up to it. That is why one may say, “Gentlemen, the game is over.”
Fifth, what should one do? On that I shall think, and respond in a second note. If you do not mind, I will develop my response to you (without personal comments, which are unnecessary), and post it online. Your situation is by no means unique. In fact, you are voicing what I have heard, in various ways (less articulate than yours) over the past number of years. And we are hearing a crescendo of troubled voices. What is to be done?
On a personal note, I am not surprised that your response has been to be bothered by more criticisms of the institutional church. I have heard similar responses from a traditionalist friend in Ohio as well. Traditionalistic clergy would dismiss my thinking as “liberal,” which is superficial at best. Your experience in the church and mine have been very different. I have seen far too much to keep silent. Nor do I have a family to tend, and want to believe that the church may offer genuine assistance to them. It may, and it may well harm them. More on all of this later, unless I find nothing useful to say.
Peace in Christ,
11 Feb 2019
Presently I have little of anything to add to what I wrote yesterday. The thoughts that come to mind you may not wish to hear. The most difficult question you raise is, I believe, in effect a classical question of political philosophy: “Then what is to be done?”
We do not wish to have recourse to Romantic solutions: pretending that there are no truly serious problems in our political culture, social institutions, the churches, and so on. There is also the Romantic solution of the Hippie movement, that broke from society and formed communes based on “free love” and hallucinogenic drugs. A more common Romantic or escapist solution shows up in our mass culture, with so much mindless “entertainment” absorbing the interests and time of a large portion of our society. Then there is the escapist movement in the churches; I have seen this first hand from the (usually) young clergy who want to “go back” to the supposedly good old days of the Latin liturgy. In the process, they alienate many of the older folks, who had the style of liturgy to which they had been accustomed ripped from them in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. Now some want to restore what was stripped away, but in a more artificial form (more detached from historical evolution in Christianity). In my view, to attempt the kind of removal from society that Benedict of Nursia achieved in the 6th century (based on generations of monks before him) would also be a Romantic revival, an escape that is fruitless because not possible or likely to succeed in this culture. Then there is the seemingly contrary escapism into social activism in politics, society, the churches. Not truly knowing the good or what is to be done, many dabble in all sorts of “social programs.” Often enough, they do more harm than good.
So what is to be done? For society as a whole, and for millions of peoples, I do not know, nor do I pretend to know. Even for some concrete individuals, I would be hesitant to recommend any course of action, beyond the most obvious: seek to develop one’s own character to the best of one’s ability; to seek not to be “contaminated by the world,” in the sense of the Letter of James; to break from mass culture, mass media, and crumbling political and social institutions to the extent possible; not to get caught up in apocalyptic or Gnostic dreaming; to face reality as honestly and as truthfully as one can. One must cultivate one’s own life in the spirit through study and meditation.
What I recommend not doing is clearly related, but I can be more explicit: avoid attachment to any ideology, including political or religious; avoid attachment to such crumbling institutions as the American political order, mass education, the Christian churches; avoid dependence on institutions to provide for one’s intellectual and spiritual life to the extent possible; avoid immersion in the products of mass entertainment (movies, television, pop music); avoid addictions in all forms. The task is enormous; it is not easy. Much personal effort is required.
On a more speculative note, I wonder how long Western civilization and specifically our political order will survive. An empire such as ours makes many enemies. The most powerful enemy now is Communist China. Although I may be wrong, and hope that I am, it seems that a catastrophic and extremely destructive war between these two “super-powers” could easily occur within the present generation (within twenty years or so). As I see it, we have been digging our own graves, giving the Chinese the technology and weapons to defeat us, or at least to murder millions. But then, we Americans keep murdering millions of our own infants through abortion: all in the name of convenience, which is an embodiment of the god of self. (America is absorbed in self-worship, as anyone with eyes to see can see.)
I shall continue to wrestle with the question, “What is to be done,” but I expect no easy or quick solution at all. We are “too far gone” to be spared by easy adjustments. As I wrote recently, our country is committing self-murder. The disease will run its course, with likely death of the civilization as it has emerged in history. I claim no certain or definite knowledge of the future.
The oath attributed to Hippocrates, ancient Greek founder of the art and science of medicine, has for some centuries been understood to embody the core teaching, “Do no harm.” Although the words are not literally in the original Hippocratic oath, they are surely implied. Often these words echo in my mind, perhaps because my father was a physician, who often told us that too many physicians worked for money, rather than the health of their patients, often performing unnecessary and costly procedures and operations. Our father would often say, “Let nature run its course.” Overall, his medically inspired teaching to his children was: “Do no harm.”
Before applying this principle, we reflect briefly on some of the words of the original Hippocratic oath, as translated by W.H.S. Jones in the Loeb edition, and as reported on Wikipedia online (hence readily available to readers). A few sentences from the original Hippocratic oath:
“I swear by Apollo Physician [Apollo is the Sun god], by Asclepius [god of healing], by Hygieia [literally, goddess named for Health], by Panacea [goddess, meaning “all-cures’], and by all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will carry out, according to my ability and judgment, this oath and this indenture. To hold my teacher in this art equal to my own parents….I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing….I will keep pure and holy both my life and my art. Into whatsoever houses I enter, I will enter to help the sick, and I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm…”
To do good to the patient, and not to do harm or evil, is the clear intent of the phyisicans’ Hippocratic oath. And to do good and not evil is the most succinct summary of human ethics, clearly developed as such in the dialogues of Plato, in Aristotle’s unsurpassable Nicomachean Ethics, in the Hebrew Scriptures, in the New Testament. When St. Thomas Aquinas seeks to express the core teaching of what he calls the “natural law,” he draws on the same teaching: to do good and to avoid doing evil. That is the summary of the divine and natural imperative for human beings.
In writing these little essays, am I doing good, and avoiding evil? I often ask myself this question. While I write only what is true to the best of my understanding and judgment, I am aware of an existential problem: It could be that in criticizing the churches, the hierarchy, our American way of life, and so on, my words will serve to weaken attachment to these, at a very time when there is so little for many to cling to for some sort of guidance and direction in life. That is a risk I have been taking. If my words cause one to try to dump the Christianity of the churches without having a living spiritual foundation, then they may do that person harm. If the best that one can do is to attend church (or synagogue), keep the customs as taught, share in the rituals, and be a patriotic citizen of his or her country, then that is what a particular person ought to do. If someone cannot bear the criticisms I offer of institutional Christianity and our present American way of life, then he or she may not be able to rise above the flaws and failures; keeping still and minding one’s own business may truly be what is best for that person. Only I would add this warning: beware of the subtle poison of “see no evil, hear no evil…”
The examples of Moses, of the Buddha, of Socrates, and of Jesus are often before my mind’s eye. These four men had more to offer human beings than any others I know in the course of human history. Each one was the carrier of a major spiritual breakthrough to humankind; two of them paid for the truth they spoke and lived by rejection and death at the hands of authorities in their societies. By divine intervention, Moses broke from Egypt, and led the Chosen People to freedom under God. The Buddha, borrowing from the rich Hindu spiritual traditions and practices, suspended beliefs in gods and religious practices for the movement into the abyss of peace and silence beyond all world-immanent content (whether real or imagined). In leading human beings forth into true freedom and enlightenment, both Moses and the Buddha implicitly or explicitly broke from their cultures and traditions. Socrates did not urge an exodus from Athens, but as he claims in Plato’s Apology, he had been sent by the God as a “gad-fly” to sting the Athenian people and wake them up to reality. The Athenian powers that be chose the unexamined life, which is mental death, over questioning one’s life and hence living in uncertain truth. The lover of wisdom Socrates gladly accepted physical death over certain mental-spiritual death of the unexamined life. Sentenced to death by poison, Socrates declares, “Now it is time to go, I to die, you to live; whoever of us has the better fate is unknown to anyone, except to the God.” As for Jesus, as far as we know from the textual evidence, he was and remained a faithful Jew; he attended synagogue, kept the feasts (especially Passover), revered the Law and the prophets. But above all, Jesus was utterly faithful to the God who had spoken to Moses, “I AM WHO AM.” It was this living and true divine Presence, unencrusted by doctrines and rituals, that Jesus presented to those who “listened to his word.” Did Jesus do harm? Only to those who hardened their hearts to the divine Presence active in and through him. To those who listened and responded in openness of heart, Jesus was Christ the liberator, who declared, “Before Abraham was born, I AM.” To those who chose ritualized tradition over ever-seeking God, Jesus was another false Messiah, who had to be silenced: “Crucify him.”
The Christianity of the churches has often become a stumbling block to men and women seeking to live in openness to truth. Those with more enquiring minds open to philosophy, or those who desire to practice meditation drawing from Hindu-Buddhist traditions, have often been criticized, or told to “be quiet,” or even not to read philosophy or to practice “Eastern meditation.” Ironically, the portrait of Pharisaical teaching and practices so denounced in the pages of the New Testament is often presented before our eyes by clergy in the churches: “Do as I say, not as I do.” Some of these clergy who condemn “non-Christian philosophy and religions” are themselves products of mass secular culture, including superficial pop-psychology. And above all, humanity remains humanity, and spiritually dull, power-seeking, and money-loving men and women often push their way to the top of the human heap, assuming leadership roles in the churches. Christian clergy are all-too-often as self-satisfied, as self-important, as spiritually insensitive as the Pharisees caricaturized in the Gospels. Frankly, often enough, the “faithful” in the pews may be in a similar boat. Far too many do not want the hard reality of living in uncertain truth; they prefer to remain more or less asleep in their certain untruths. They fail to ask searching questions, or call clergy to account for their shallowing preaching. In short, for those with enquiring minds and open-spirits, the churches today are all-too-often inhospitable places.
Generally, the Christianity of the churches often adds to the spiritual and mental diseases of our age, rather than help alleviate them. Ours is indeed a sick era in history. (Whether sicker or worse than other eras is not here the question.) Many human beings in our midst are suffering from a spiritual and intellectual wasteland within. From what I have seen of Protestant and Catholic churches, this wasteland is largely ignored, covered up, or increased, rather than treated with appropriate intellectual-spiritual therapy. In other words, as I survey the non-wondrous landscape of Christianity, I see so much damage being done, and insufficient good for our people. But if a truly needy soul is genuinely nourished by attending church, by singing hymns, by listening to stale or insipid preaching, by praying comfortably in public, then I am happy for that person, and would encourage him or her to continue. However, each of us must be radically honest with ourselves, and ask: Am I being nourished, becoming a better human being, by sharing in the religious practices of my church? If the answer is “yes,” that would indicate that one may well continue on that path. And yet, each one should also answer a more probing question: am I doing all that I can to grow spiritually, to be awake and alive during my own lifetime, or am I being spiritually lazy, and depending too much on outer rituals and actions?
If I did not believe that there is better in store for many of my fellow human beings, I would not write as I do. I would not criticize the Catholic hierarchy as I have done if I did not believe that it is often doing far more harm than good, and if I did not believe that “we the people” could do better than be foolishly submissive to a scandalous and morally deficient body of men. One deceives himself or herself by thinking, “the bishops, priests, and deacons are not perfect, but they are not so bad, either.” To those who deceive themselves, I seek to sound a wake-up call. In reality, however, “the cat is already out of the bag,” many men and women content to be silent in recent decades have come to understand what a wasteland is displayed to them in the ordained clergy of the churches. Frankly, it is about time that more in the pews begin to see the corruption that has been present, but often cloaked beneath clerical vestments.
“Do no harm.” I do not wish to harm the “Christian faithful,” or those more or less simple souls who cannot or will not think through problems in the churches. Many Protestants, for example, remain attached to the “holy Bible” in ways that are not mentally healthy. Still, to read the Scriptures attentively and prayerfully is a good and salutary spiritual exercise, and I would not wish them to cease, but rather, to do so more intelligently and honestly, if possible. Many practicing Catholics remain emotionally attached to the hierarchy and the rituals in ways that are not mentally or spiritually healthy; but to share attentively and lovingly in the sacramental life of the Church may give them some comfort, peace, and sense of the holiness of God. I do not wish to harm any human beings, and surely not simpler men and women who are truly doing the best they can to respond to what they believe to be their vocations, their callings, their faith.
And yet, it is good that each of us asks more questions, and not be content with the status quo, especially as the churches are dwindling in numbers, and often lacking in vitality. After all, Christ called the “poor in spirit” to follow him; he did not call the self-satisfied to remain relatively lifeless on their church pews. Furthermore, the conduct of a number of clergy has been so bad, so wicked, and so destructive, that one must speak out, must act, and must not let personal likes and dislikes cloud one’s vision. Some of these clergymen are bad human beings, corrupt in deeds and in their blind hearts. Some are just plain wicked. Do not be deceived. Worst of all, many in the churches today are being given a stone or a scorpion, when they really need spiritual bread: the living Christ, the truth of reality, and not some pretty substitutes.The “faithful” have been foolishly content with moldy bread and contaminated water.
“Do no harm.” The burden on each of us is not to harm others—nor to harm ourselves. When a bishop has let a priest-scoundrel get away with doing evil for years, that bishop has harmed many human beings—even if he tells himself, “I am being compassionate to a wayward brother priest.” How we deceive ourselves. Far better for the scoundrel and for the faithful who have been cheated and deceived if the wickedness had been publicly admitted, publicly addressed, and the evil-doer had been lopped off the tree as the dead branch he really is. Far better for the molesting or thieving priest to do time in prison, where he belongs, than to parade himself in clericals in public, as if he is a good and faithful servant of Christ. For the sake of its own presumed reputation (which is now lost anyway), the hierarchy has sacrificed the spiritual welfare of the people. And meanwhile, the scoundrel priests laugh, thinking, “I got away with it.” And what happens to the Christians in the pew? They are taught a lesson: “the Church we believed to be holy and good is in reality a corrupt and destructive human institution.” Such are the words I hear from many of the faithful who have been scandalized—not so much by the evils done, as by the excuses, the cover-ups, the pretending that nothing was wrong. As I noted above, stop pretending you are holy, Christian clergy; the cat is indeed out of the bag.
By being so blunt, as honest as I can be, am I doing harm? To those who live enshrouded in pretense, my words no doubt sting and arouse anger. So be it. To those who truly want to live good lives, how can the truth do harm? “Their wounds are foul and festering, yet they refuse to come to Me, that I may heal them.”
08 Feb 2019
Click here to read several recently added poems.