Tag: Western civilization

Crisis Films

Crisis Films posted in Eleison Comments on September 24, 2011

Two interesting films have already appeared about the arrival in the USA of the financial and economic crisis which has been threatening since 2008 to undermine the whole Western way of life. Both films are well made. Both are persuasive. Yet one says the bankers are heroes while the other says they are villains. If Western society is to have any future, the contradiction deserves thought.

The documentary film Inside Job consists of a series of interviews with bankers, politicians, economists, businessmen, journalists, academics, financial consultants, etc. There emerges a frightening picture of greed and collusion in fraud at the top of American society in all these domains. Free enterprise was the justification for the financial de-regulation of the 1980’s and 1990’s, which gave to the money-men steadily more power until they were able to bring under their control all politicians or journalists or academics of influence. Thus a process of merciless plundering of the middle and working classes is still going on. The anger of the victims is building towards an explosion, but at least for the moment the money-men cannot stop gorging at the trough they have so well designed for themselves. “Greed is good. It makes the world go round,” say the banksters.

In the second film, Too Big to Fail, the dramatic events of autumn 2008 centring around the collapse of Lehman Brothers, a major New York investment bank, are re-constructed. Hank Paulson, then Secretary of the US Treasury, is shown making a classic free enterprise decision by refusing a government bail-out to let Lehman Brothers go bankrupt. But the result is such a shock to the global financial community, threatening a meltdown of worldwide finance and commerce, that Paulson with his comrades in government and with the help of all the leading bankers of New York has to persuade the US Congress to approve a taxpayer bail-out of all the big banks which cannot be allowed to fail. He just succeeds. The system is saved. The government and bankers are the heroes of the day. Once again capitalism is proved to be the marvel we always knew it was – thanks to socialist intervention!

Then are the bankers heroes or villains? Answer, heroes at the very most in the short run, but certainly villains in the long run, because it needs very little common sense to realize that, all society requiring selflessness, no society can be built on greed, meaning selfishness. In any society there will always be the haves and the have-nots (cf. Jn.XII, 8). The managers of society who have the money and power absolutely must look after the masses who have neither, otherwise there will be revolution and chaos. Of course the globalists are planning on this chaos tomorrow to give them world power the day after, but while they may propose, it is God who disposes.

Meanwhile Catholics and anybody who cares about the future should go to see both films and then ask themselves some hard questions about capitalism and free enterprise. How on earth could capitalism be saved this time only by socialism? Is government then really all that bad? Is capitalism really all that good? How can a society possibly depend on greedy men to survive? How can it have got itself into such a dependency? And is there any sign right now that anybody is asking such questions? Or is everybody’s worship of Mammon – let us call things by their name – proceeding unchecked?

Unless Jesus Christ absolves men of their sins through his priests, no post-Incarnation system of society can ultimately work. Capitalism only ever lived off the Catholicism from earlier centuries. It is today’s exhaustion of Catholicism that spells the death of capitalism.

Kyrie eleison.

Why Suffering?

Why Suffering? posted in Eleison Comments on March 19, 2011

The latest dramatic shifting of tectonic plates off the east coast of Japan, causing both inland the biggest earthquake Japan has known for many years and along its eastern coast an absolutely devastating tidal wave, must be raising in many minds the classic question: if God exists, if he is all-powerful and all-good, how can he possibly allow so much human suffering? The classic answer is not too difficult in theory, at any rate when one is not suffering oneself! –

Firstly, suffering is often a punishment for sin. God does exist, sin does offend him. Sin takes souls to Hell whereas God created them for Heaven. If suffering on earth will put a brake on sin and help souls to choose Heaven, then God, who is certainly in command of the tectonic plates, can without difficulty use them to punish sin. Then were the Japanese people especially sinful? Our Lord himself tells us not to ask that question, but rather to think of our own sins and to do penance, otherwise “you will all likewise perish” (Lk. XIII, 4). Would it not be astonishing if there were no Japanese people now wondering whether Western-style materialism and comfort are really what life is all about?

Secondly, human suffering can well be a warning, to turn men away from evil and keep them from pride. Right now the whole godless West should be questioning its own materialism and prosperity. By the steadily increasing rate of earthquakes and other natural disasters all over the world over the last several years, the Lord God is certainly trying to get the attention of all of us, maybe in the hope that he will not have to inflict on us the worldwide “rain of fire” of which his Mother warned us at Akita (in Japan) in 1973. But right now, is there not every likelihood that because they are doing the suffering, the Japanese are profiting more from their disaster than is the distant West? Those countries may in fact be lucky which are getting now a foretaste of the Chastisement threatening to come.

Thirdly, God may use human suffering to highlight the virtue of his servants. That was the case with Job, and with Christian martyrs down all the ages. Few Japanese people may today have supernatural faith, but if the Japanese now humble themselves beneath what they sense to be the mighty hand of God, they will earn natural merit and at least on the natural level give him glory.

Finally, there is God’s own answer to Job, who by Chapter 36 of his Book is still not satisfied with any explanation for his suffering that he or any of his family or friends have been able to come up with. I paraphrase: “Where were you, Job, when I laid down the foundations of the earth? Did you design the tectonic plates? Who do you think keeps the sea normally within its bounds, and stops it from flooding dry land? Can you really think I did not have my own good reasons to let it just now wash over the north-east coast of Japan?” See the Book of Job, Chapters 38 and 39. And Job at last submits. He is satisfied with the answer, and confesses that he was wrong to be calling in question the wisdom and goodness of God (Job 42, 1–7).

Let us ourselves do penance, be warned by Japan’s disaster, hope to give glory to God in our own trials to come, and recognize above all that God alone is God!

Kyrie eleison.

Sixpenny Civilization

Sixpenny Civilization posted in Eleison Comments on November 27, 2010

The life of the French painter, Paul Gauguin (1848–1903), has been made into a film, a TV series, an opera and at least two novels. Something in that life must speak to modern man: the stockbroker who is putting bread on the table for a wife and five little children and throws it all away to become a revolutionary artist, spurning all of Western civilization on a distant island in the South Pacific. But does not Gauguin’s restless end suggest that he may not have found the solution dreamt of there by so many souls?

One fictional presentation of Gauguin’s life was written 16 years after his death by a well-known British writer of the first half of the 20th century, W. Somerset Maugham, who visited the South Pacific to gather at first hand material for “The Moon and Sixpence.” This title for his short novel based on Gauguin sounds strange, but in fact it goes to the heart of the matter. In 1915 had appeared Maugham’s masterpiece, “Of Human Bondage,” a novel basically autobiographical. A critic had accused the book’s hero of being “so busy yearning for the moon that he never saw the sixpence (a small British silver-coloured coin of that time) at his feet.” In other words, Maugham was so longing for some unattainable ideal that he was missing out on a lesser but practical happiness available at hand. Maugham retorted, “If you look on the ground for sixpence, you don’t look up, and so miss the moon.” In other words, there are higher things in life.

The use of this moon-sixpence contrast for his novel’s title shows clearly what Maugham thought of Gauguin. The normal happiness of the middle-class stockbroker and family father is the sixpence. Throwing it all away to become an artist is the moon. Now let nobody think Maugham condones throwing away living and family. Maugham presents the artist Strickland, his Gauguin, as being horrifically selfish, hard-hearted and cruel. Yet Maugham also presents him as being a genius who was basically right to pursue his artistic vocation, whatever the cost may have been in sixpenny happiness to the artist himself and to those around him.

In other words, says Maugham, most people’s lives in today’s Western civilization are sixpenny lives. But life itself is worth much more than sixpence. In the brief span that men are given to live on earth there is something so much more valuable, that in pursuit of it a man is basically right, if need be, to trample any number of sixpenny pieces into the mud.

In real life Gauguin died, at least posthumously, a famous and fulfilled artist, but humanly still restless and rebellious. Maugham has the measure of both the genius validated and the humanity frustrated. But has Maugham solved Gauguin’s unsolved problem? How can genius and life be opposed to one another, and both be human? The problem looks as though it is widespread and deeply rooted. Is there a solution? See next week’s “Eleison Comments.”

Kyrie eleison.

Hopeless Escape

Hopeless Escape posted in Eleison Comments on November 20, 2010

Currently showing in London (Tate Modern) is an exhibition of another great master of modern art – or is that a contradiction in terms? – the French painter Paul Gauguin (1848–1903). Men need pictures, as they need a vision of what life is all about. Today, electronics largely supply the pictures, but in Gauguin’s time painters still had an enormous impact.

Born in Paris in 1848, Gauguin after various travels and occupations became at the age of 23 a stockbroker, and two years later he married a Danish woman who gave him five children over ten years. At this time painting was for him only a hobby for which he had talent, but after a failed attempt in 1884 to go into business in Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen, he abandoned his young family in the following year and returned to Paris to become a full-time artist.

In 1888 he spent nine weeks painting together with Van Gogh in Arles, but it ended stormily. Back in Paris he was not gaining enough money or recognition, so in 1891 he set sail for the tropics, “to escape everything artificial and conventional.” The rest of his life, except for one prolonged return to Paris, he spent in Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands, colonies then of French Polynesia in the South Pacific. There he produced most of the paintings on which rests his fame, but still he was fighting against Church and State, and only his death in 1903 prevented him from having to serve a three-month prison sentence.

Like Van Gogh, Gauguin began to paint in the somber and conventional style proper to later 19th century art. However, as with Van Gogh and at about the same time, the colours became much brighter and the style rather less conventional. In fact Gauguin was the founder of the Primitivist movement in art, and soon after his death had a considerable influence on the brilliant but also rebellious Picasso. Primitivism meant going back to primitive sources, because Europe felt as though it was burnt out. Hence the turning to African and Asian models, a notable example being “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” of Picasso. Hence Gauguin’s flight to Polynesia in 1891, where he regretted the intrusion of Catholic missionaries, and where he studied and built into his art pagan gods of the local pre-Catholic mythology, including several quasi-devilish figures.

But does the vision of the Tahitian paintings of Gauguin, which are surely his best, represent a viable solution to the problems of the decadent West which he spurned and left behind him? One may think not. The paintings now on show in the Tate Modern exhibition are original and colourful, but the Tahitian people he paints, mostly young women, remain somehow torpid and dull. Gauguin’s Tahiti may be an escape, but it is not a hope. Gauguin may have been right about the decadent West, but the earthly paradise he fabricated in his Polynesian art left him restless, and he died still rebellious. There remains some problem that he has still not solved.

Interesting is the fictional version of his life by the well-known English 20th century writer, Somerset Maugham. See next week’s “Eleison Comments.”

Kyrie eleison.

Blessed Cave

Blessed Cave posted in Eleison Comments on October 16, 2010

How absurd it is to separate grace from nature! The two are made for one another! How much more absurd to conceive of grace as though it makes war on nature! It makes war on the fallen-ness of our fallen nature, but not on the nature, coming from God, which underlies that fallen-ness. On the contrary, grace exists to heal that underlying nature from its fallen-ness and falls, and to elevate it to divine heights, to a partaking in the very nature of God (II Pet. I, 4).

Now nature without grace may lead to Revolution, but grace scorning nature leads to a false “spirituality,” for instance Jansenism, which also leads to Revolution. Of the gravity of this Protestantising error, which sets grace against nature instead of against sin, I was reminded on a seven-day visit to Italy which took in a visit to four mountainous sites, to which four great medieval Saints, all in the Breviary and the Missal, fled, to get close to God – in Nature. They were, in chronological order, St. Benedict (March 22, Subiaco), St. Romuald, (Feb.7, Camaldoli), St. John Gualbert (July 12, Vallombrosa), and St. Francis of Assisi (Oct.4, la Verna).

From Camaldoli and Vallumbrosa, high in the hills around Florence, two monastic Orders took their name and origin in the 11th century. In la Verna, high in the Tuscan Apennines, St Francis received the stigmata in 1224. All three locations are now reached with relative ease in bus or car, but they are still surrounded by forestland, and they are high enough above sea-level that they must be bitterly cold in winter. That is where these Saints went to commune with God, far from the comfort of cities with their “madding crowd,” still madding enough even in the rather smaller cities of those days.

Perhaps the site which struck me most was Subiaco, an hour’s car journey east of Rome, where St Benedict as a young man spent three years in a cave perched on a mountainside. Born in 580 A.D., as a young student he fled from the corruption in Rome, and took to the hills at the age of 20 or, some say, 14! – if so, what a teenager! From about 1200 A.D. a full-scale monastery began to be nested in the mountainside around the spot made sacred by this young man, but one can still guess what he found there in his search for God: clouds and sky above, the torrent rustling in the valley far below, nothing but wild woodland on the mountain-face opposite, and for company nothing but the birds wheeling to and fro off the steep cliff-face . . . alone with Nature . . . God’s Nature . . . alone with God!

Three years, alone with God . . . those three years so enabled one young Catholic to possess his soul, with Christ, in Nature, that his famous Benedictine Rule enabled the collapsed Roman empire to mutate into soaring Christendom, now in turn collapsing as “Western civilization.” Where are the young Catholics today, who will save Christendom by re-possessing their own souls by re-possessing, with Christ, their nature?

Mother of God, inspire our young men!

Kyrie eleison.

Embattled Sisters

Embattled Sisters posted in Eleison Comments on May 1, 2010

Two teaching Sisters from the same girls’ school wrote to me recently, one daunted, the other hopeful. No doubt Sister Daunted is also hopeful, while Sister Hopeful is also daunted, because Catholics must close their eyes in order not to be daunted by the soft apostasy creeping up on us all, while at the same time they have to be losing their Faith if they are losing the Hope that goes with the Faith.

Sister Daunted writes, “The world’s grip on our girls is tight.” Absent from her own country for three years, when she came back she found, “The change in mentality of our girls is noticeable. We struggle to maintain principles and morality.” Mark you, this school is surrounded and supported by Catholic parents holding to Tradition, it has a constantly rising enrolment, and many parents make serious sacrifices to ensure that their girls are taught there. Yet here is a Sister telling us from the inside of a “mentality” problem also rising.

This is because our entire Western society is falling away from God, and because man, as Aristotle said, is a social and not just an individual or familial animal. Therefore a boy or girl can have good parents, a good family, even a good school, but if the society outside home and school does not share the Catholic values striven for inside, then the boys and girls, especially from adolescence, will sense its anti-Catholic thrust, and will come under more or less severe pressure to “go with the flow.” Today that pressure is severe, to the point of daunting the good Sister, because any true educator today feels like someone standing on a sea-shore and trying to stop the tide from coming in. But at least Sister has her eyes open and is not deceiving herself that the girls’ schooling solves all their problems, as the girls’ parents can be tempted to think.

However, no doubt she shares also the relative optimism of Sister Hopeful, who writes to me that when the girls put on a theatrical performance at school, people coming from the world “are amazed that the girls can memorize lines and lines, and also that the rest of the schoolchildren in the audience are listening and watching, and not playing with their cell-phones.” She goes on, “When you hear comments like that, you realize what we do somehow manage to achieve, and you can be grateful for it.”

In brief, as St Joan of Arc said, it is for us to give battle and for God to give the victory. Providence deals us all a certain hand of cards which we may not always like, but it is up to us to play it as best we can. I am reminded also of Evelyn Waugh’s dauntless answer to a woman who complained of his being so nasty despite his being a Catholic. “Madam,” he replied, “You have no idea how much nastier I would be if I was not Catholic. Without supernatural aid I would hardly be a human being.”

Kyrie eleison.