A revealing test

Bruce Charlton writes

I think this is one litmus test of a functional Christian church – how would, how do, the members including leaders react to one of themselves being ‘martyred’ by political correctness for his clear unambiguous adherence to unpopular/ ‘evil’ church doctrine. Is the instinct to shun ‘bad publicity’ for the institution or to leap to assist and form a spear bristling shield wall?

Would church members rally-round, provide psychological support – would they raise money among themselves to physically sustain a member who lost his liveihood as a consequence of SJW persecution? Would senior leaders of the church get on the phone or visit ASAP to pledge their support?

What a difference that makes! That is certainly what ought to happen in such situations – the ‘hero’/ scapegoat would then know that the people *who mattered* were on his side. This is surely what churches should be doing for their members in these times (and some certainly are): so each Christian knows that it is *us* against the world, not just me against the world.

I’ve always assumed that if I were exposed and denounced by SJWs, even if only and explicitly for my adherence to Catholic moral teachings (not my admittedly heterodox beliefs on racism and immigration), the Church (meaning my parish and diocese, assuming they found out about it) would insist that it is a tolerant, merciful organization that has nothing to do with hateful homophobic bigots like me.  I would not be excommunicated, but Mass attendance would become a socially awkward affair.  I don’t think my parish or diocese is particularly bad, by the way, but my guess is that not one in a thousand would stand up for someone the secular press was saying mean things about.

What do you think?  Am I being pessimistic?  Would the Church be correct to disown me?

The scandal of the idea of mortal sin II: practical problems

Staying out of mortal sin is difficult for almost everybody (something I’ll elaborate on in part III), and only a minority of Catholics really even try.  Given this, it’s remarkable more Catholics don’t just throw up their hands and say “Well, if I’m living in mortal sin anyway, I might as well enjoy myself and do whatever I want.”

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More on those disturbingly diverse engineers

My last post reminded me of this anecdote from Martha Nussbaum

In the United States, by some estimates fully 40 percent of Indian-Americans hail from Gujarat, where a large proportion belong to the Swaminarayan sect of Hinduism, distinctive for its emphasis on uncritical obedience to the utterances of the current leader of the sect, whose title is Pramukh Swami Maharaj. On a visit to the elaborate multimillion-dollar Swaminarayan temple in Bartlett, Ill., I was given a tour by a young man recently arrived from Gujarat, who delighted in telling me the simplistic Hindu-right story of India’s history, and who emphatically told me that whenever Pramukh Swami speaks, one is to regard it as the direct voice of God and obey without question. At that point, with a beatific smile, the young man pointed up to the elaborate marble ceiling and asked, “Do you know why this ceiling glows the way it does?” I said I didn’t, and I confidently expected an explanation invoking the spiritual powers of Pramukh Swami. My guide smiled even more broadly. “Fiber-optic cables,” he told me. “We are the first ones to put this technology into a temple.” There you see what can easily wreck democracy: a combination of technological sophistication with utter docility. I fear that many democracies around the world, including our own, are going down that road, through a lack of emphasis on the humanities and arts and an unbalanced emphasis on profitable skills.

Guess what liberals–you don’t own total internal reflection!  A person can be a whiz at optics or electronics while being a Hindu nationalist who thinks the Muslims are screwing up everything or a Swaminarayan Hindu who thinks the Guru is to be obeyed without question.  Notice how what really bothers her is not that the guy is a fanatic, but that he knows our technology.  The cartel that’s supposed to keep science and technology away from illiberals has somehow been bypassed.  The cure, of course, is “humanities and arts”, i.e. indoctrination.

The real reason engineers are overrepresented among Islamic terrorists

Social scientists Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog have written a book trying to explain the intriguing fact that engineering graduates are strongly overrepresented among Islamic terrorists.  In fact, they find it’s not just Islamists; “neo-Nazi”, “white supremacist”, and “neo-Stalinist” movements are also disproportionately filled with engineers.  Readers familiar with the standard Frankfurt school slanders of conservatives won’t be surprised by the conclusions in the linked article.  Engineering schools and terrorist movements both attract people who are uncomfortable with moral ambiguity, who don’t appreciate other peoples’ perspectives, who uncritically accept the social status quo and existing hierarchies.  I really do wonder if social scientists sit back and read their own bullshit, or if cultural Marxism just goes on autopilot.  The idea that the trigger-sensitive, microaggression witch-hunters in the humanities and social sciences have some exquisite appreciation for moral ambiguity is pretty funny in itself, but suggesting that Islamist recruits suffer from an uncritical acceptance of the status quo is just preposterous.

In fact, many of the comments in that article make little sense for the ostensible topic of the cause of terrorism, but make much more sense in terms of the actions they seem designed to motivate.  Again, if Islamism and terrorism are the issues, why complain that engineers aren’t taught to question authority?  What sense does it make to criticize an “ideology of depoliticization”?  Wouldn’t such an ideology be great for someone who might otherwise be attracted to Islamism or some other “extremist” movement?  Similarly, why worry about a drop in “public mindedness” and “social consciousness” of students during their engineering years?  Muslim terrorists are extremely public/socially minded.  Why worry about diluted general education requirements?  What does that have to do with anything?

Here’s a clue.

Gambetta and Hertog chose proxy measures for these traits among Western European, male college graduates polled by the European Social Survey. The need for closure and embrace of hierarchy, for example, were correlated with survey questions that elicited opinions on social norms, immigrants, income inequality, and the likeliness of a terrorist attack. Disgust was indexed to how likely respondents were to disagree that “gays are free to live as they wish.”

Economics graduates often topped the list, the authors found, but engineering students most consistently scored higher across all of the measures.

By way of contrast, Gambetta and Hertog also explored which traits and disciplines applied to the opposite end of the political spectrum. Disgust seldom cropped up among those on the political left. And groups like the Baader-Meinhof Gang, in 1970s Germany, and Italy’s Red Brigades included few engineers but attracted plenty of social-science and humanities majors.

(Let me rephrase that bit about disgust measures:  social conservatives are better at math.  Note also the assumption that no one could have reasons to think sodomy should not be tolerated.)  Now I’m starting to see the pattern:  what’s worrying about engineering students is their intellectual and political diversity.  Because these programs don’t exclusively attract white-hating Leftists (unlike, say, anthropology), and because there is little political indoctrination in engineering programs or in the math and science classes they must take from other departments, ideological uniformity is never achieved.  And, in fact, this does explain everything.  The Red Brigades gets the humanities and social science majors because it affirms the basic worldview of the global Leftist order into which these students are indoctrinated.  It is just more zealous in following accepted beliefs.  Engineers, by contrast, are not indoctrinated into Islamism or white supremacy, but because they’re not strongly indoctrinated by their program at all, there’s a lot more scatter in their beliefs, so they end up being overrepresented in all these heretical movements.

There’s also this surprising admission:

Perhaps, then, the reason engineers turn up so frequently among jihadists is not because of their nationality or religion but because of how they think. Would it be going too far to say that?

The body of research on the psychology of terrorism remains too thin to draw many broad conclusions, says Jeffrey I. Victoroff, a clinical associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, who studies terrorism.

The need for closure, he says, is an example of systematic thinking, or a preference for conducting analysis without the distraction of emotions. In some cases, systematic thinking is accompanied by traits like self-aggrandizement and low levels of empathy. But that cluster of characteristics isn’t necessarily dangerous, he says. Maybe one person in five has them, he guesses. These people might seek rule-bound jobs, like engineering or computer science. They probably wouldn’t blow themselves up.

Do we see a hint that the problem with engineers is not just intellectual diversity but a tendency for abstract, systematic thinking?  Old-school Marxism used to attract these types (as did Catholicism, Calvinism, Islam, and a number of other systematic worldviews), but they don’t thrive as well under Leftist orthodoxy, where staying out of trouble depends less on correctly reasoning from official Leftist beliefs and more on avoiding unwritten social taboos and anticipating when conspicuous displays of compassion or outrage are to be expected, skills which require empathy more than logic.

Of course, Dr. Victoroff is correct and reasonable to point out that a habit of systematic thinking isn’t necessarily dangerous.  The whole article is filled with reassuring statements like this.  But if systematic thinking isn’t a problem, why are we talking about it at all?  The impression we are supposed to take away, although often not explicitly stated, is always clear enough.  There are still majors where people can graduate without demonstrating the correct opinions and internalizing elite social taboos, and this is bad because it leads to things like al-Qaeda.


The irony of Disney opposing Georgia’s religious liberty bill

is that the Walt Disney Company probably does more to promote nostalgia for traditionally feminine and masculine archetypes (not to mention for medieval, white, European monarchy) than American Christians.  You can take that as a statement about Disney’s hypocritical double game or about the ineffectuality of today’s Christians, but it’s quite arguable.

Christians are to be persecuted because they can’t practice plausible deniability like Disney and the purchasers of its products.  (The little girls who are its ultimate consumers, on the other hand, are always threatening to give the game away.)  I sometimes get the sense that Disney executives don’t really like their product and try to be extra PC to compensate.  I foresee fairy tales being more and more regarded the way we used to regard pornography; nowadays, it’s just a different aspect of human sexuality that we repress.

One wonders what the world of these anti-discrimination laws coupled with the the gay-rights media lynch mob will be like.  Potentially anyone who expresses moral disapproval of homosexuality could be turned into an unemployable social pariah, a fate most people find worse than death.  If around half of the country remains firm against the sodomy agenda, it will be completely impractical to do that to all of them, but I expect the vast majority to cave.  Still, ruining even one percent of the population would still be quite an exertion, white a burden on the rest.  More likely, it will work like Steve Sailer’s metaphorical “eye of Soros”, where ruin will randomly be visited on some people who express forbidden thoughts but not others.  I’m reminded of the episode of Star Trek:  the Next Generation with a planet where the punishment for every crime, no matter how trivial, is death, but the police only monitor one spot per day, and no one knows where that spot is.

I sometimes hear calls from Christians to boycott companies that are calling for our persecution.  By all means, if you want to avoid buying products from Disney or the NFL or whoever because you think it’s cooperation in evil or just they’ve made you so mad you wouldn’t enjoy their products anyway, go ahead and do it.  But I’m always against organized, announced boycotts from our side for the simple reason that they will certainly fail to hurt their target, and it’s bad for all sorts of reasons to demonstrate your weakness to the enemy.

The scandal of the idea of mortal sin I: theoretical problems

Mortal sins themselves are often scandalous.  For example, my mortal sins might set a bad example for my kids.  However, in this series, I want to talk about the scandal of the idea of mortal sin, ways that the idea of a single act condemning a person to hell offends our sense of fairness and motivation, and how this sense of scandal can be diffused.  In this first part, I’ll consider one’s response to the idea of some people in the abstract die in mortal sin.  In the next part, I’ll discuss the motives of a person realizing that he is personally in a state of mortal sin.

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When movies actually made fun of revolutionaries

It now seems a marvel that a movie like Monty Python’s Life of Brian could ever have been actually made.  Sure, it’s set up to be a spoof of Bible movies, but it actually spends most of its time making fun of revolutionaries, particularly of the anti-colonial type that one would have thought were untouchable to comedians even then.  The Monty Python crew brilliantly poked fun at all the activist-revolutionary traits:  the violent factionalism, fetishization of parliamentary forms, preposterously inclusive committee-speak position statements, delusional gender-bending, and moral inconsistency.  Nowadays, the “Loretta” scene is probably a hate crime in itself.  (“What’s the point of fighting for his right to have babies when he can’t have babies?”)  “What have the Romans ever done for us?” is very close to “What have the whites ever done for us?”.  It’s rather daring to point out how easy it is to answer either question.  The crowd chanting in unison “Yes, we’re all individuals” is a perfect image of our freethinking Leftist student bodies.  Even the movie’s closing musical number, the nihilistic “Always look on the bright side of life”, is really a joke at the expense of a belief very popular among the elite.  The idea that life being meaningless and death meaning extinction should be truths that make us happy was the serious belief of intellectuals then and as it is now.  What makes the final scene funny is just how implausible it is that anyone in a really dreadful situation could actually be cheered by such thoughts.

To my knowledge, none of the Monty Python guys suffered any social consequences for this movie.  Those were different times, it’s true.  But perhaps our enemy is also a bit less fierce than he appears, at least to certain kinds of attacks?

Points in favor of letting other people do your thinking for you

Point # 1

It’s okay to accept beliefs from other people on trust without independent verification.  We all do it all the time and couldn’t function otherwise.  A person is obliged to have positions (or at least working hypotheses) on many more areas than he can personally study.  However, when you do this, it’s important to remember that that’s what you did.  Also, keep in mind this great anti-democratic insight:  it’s okay to not take positions on a bunch of issues.

Point # 2

Why am I a Catholic?  Because that’s the religion my parents taught me.  Being a conservative, I’m proud to admit it!

But Bonald, that method can’t possibly be a reliable way to get at the truth.  It means that if you had grown up in India, you would have with as much justification become a Hindu.

Of course, and if I’d have been born in India it would have been stupid of me not to have been a Hindu.  Hunduism is definitely better than whatever shit I’d be able to come up with on my own.  It’s a major world religion, so it’s probably got something going for it.  And even if it started out as complete BS, the greatest minds of one of the world’s great civilizations have been pouring wisdom into it for millennia.

The only case that my own self-made worldview is likely to be as wise and true as what I inherit would be if my parents had just made up their own religion or philosophy, and even then there’s no reason to think that I’d do better than them.  Come to think of it, even in this case my parents’ made-up beliefs would have the edge over mine, because there are two of them and they’ve been alive longer to think about these things.

Nor should one dismiss the spiritual benefits that come from knowingly retaining the rites of one’s ancestors.

Point # 3

Of course, truth trumps other concerns.  Which is more likely to lead to the truth–methodological doubt and relying only on one’s own independent reasoning skills or blindly accepting whatever one is taught?  The latter, obviously!

Fortunately, there are intermediate positions between these two extremes that yield even better chances of getting at truth.  When in doubt, though, error to the side of blind faith.

I’m not pro-life; I’m anti-abortion

Gabriel Sanchez notices that some Distributists are trying on their version of the Seamless Garment, the idea that one isn’t really “pro-life” unless one agrees with (in this case) John Medaille’s positions on health care, trade deals, education reform, and God knows what else.  One is, at best, merely “anti-abortion”.  Drawing connections is an important part of thinking, but so is drawing distinctions, and it is the service of good words primarily to help us with the second task by being as narrow and precise as possible.  I never much liked the word “pro-life” anyway because it sounds more general than what it usually means, and this is held as a reproach against the true, noble, and righteous position of anti-abortionism.

I define the anti-abortion position narrowly and will resist any attempt to broaden it.  Being anti-abortion (“pro-life” as we used to say) means believing abortion should be criminalized.  Nothing more, nothing less.

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The strange affair of the Phantom of the Opera

In spite of his crimes, I prayed over his remains and asked God to have mercy on him.  Why did God make a man as ugly as that?

I am sure, quite sure, that I prayed over his remains the other day when they were taken from the ground at the place where the phonograph records were being buried.  His corpse had been reduced to a skeleton.  I recognized him not by the ugliness of his head, for all men are ugly when they have been dead a long time, but by the gold ring he wore.  Christine Daae had undoubtedly come and slipped it onto his finger before burying him, as she had promised.

The skeleton lay near the little fountain, where the Angel of Music first held the unconscious Christine Daae in his trembling arms after taking her into the cellars of the Opera.

— Gaston Leroux, from The Phantom of the Opera

Anybody can write a bad play or movie; finding the successful completion of a story is hard.  But to make an adaptation that ruins a good book, that calls for explanation.  Somebody had the solution in hand but didn’t take it.

Most people have some idea of Erik, the Opera Ghost, but it’s often warped by the cultural memory of bad movies.  Gaston Leroux could have written a generic horror story where the monster is killed by the hero, or about a lunatic who had acid thrown on his face, or a “social” novel about a disfigured but harmless genius who is misunderstood by society, but he didn’t.  He wrote something much more interesting, and gave us a far more memorable character.  Erik was monstrously deformed from birth and has never known any life where he didn’t horrify any who saw him.  An extortionist, kidnapper, and murderer, he is not misunderstood.  The few members of human society who know of his existence correctly understand him as a threat.  The book is blessedly free of moralizing.  And yet, in the end Erik is redeemed, and The Phantom of the Opera is the story of his redemption.

Unlike most stories about the degradation of stories, this one ends with a happy ending.  Fans of the book should all be grateful to Andrew Lloyd Weber for giving us a Phantom musical that, while taking its own liberties with the plot, gave us back an Opera Ghost with all his essential properties intact.

If you like The Phantom of the Opera–the book or the musical–it’s because you like Erik.  Not that there’s anything wrong with Christine, Raoul, or the Persian, but they’re not interesting in themselves.  They exist for the plot.  Of course, to like Erik one needn’t (and shouldn’t!) approve of his behavior.  Nor is your interest in him reducible to pity, although he is a pitiable character.  Our minds don’t return to those characters we merely feel sorry for.  No, the first thing to know about Erik, a key to his appeal, is that he is a genius.  Architect, inventor, composer, singer, ventriloquist–there’s nothing he can’t do.  The world is against him, but he consistently outsmarts them all.

And yet he has a handicap worse than his physical deformity.  Erik isn’t crazy; it might have been a mercy if he were not so lucid.  But he has had almost no positive human contact.  As a child, his own mother would not stand physical contact with him, but would run and throw him his mask.  When Erik has had to deal with people, he gets what he needs by terror, bribery, or compulsion.  By and large, nothing else would have worked, but as a result he has no experience relating to people in any other way.

Now imagine such a person falls in love.  What is he to do?  He must know that he can’t win Christine with abduction or threats, but once kick-starting her career and impressing her with his genius stops working, it’s all he knows, so it’s what he falls back on.  Perhaps this story works better for this generation than previous ones, because of the high profile nerds have given to the mildly autistic personality.  We’re ready for a story about a genius who doesn’t know how to talk to girls.

So why do so many versions mess it up?  I think it’s the end, when Erik releases Christine and Raoul, that is too much of a scandal to contemporaries.  Not that we have trouble with the idea of a bad guy redeeming himself.  But we conceive redemption in a Pelagian rather than a Christian way.  The bad guy starts being good and accumulates good deeds to balance his bad ones.  Darth Vader stops being bad, and then he saves Luke.  Good deeds, not just repentance, are needed for a story audiences will accept.  But Erik’s redemption only consists of him stopping the bad things he’s doing, realizing their wickedness or at least futility and allowing himself to be motivated by an unselfish love for Christine.  He releases his captives, returns some extorted money, and dies shortly thereafter.  He wins Christine’s respect, as seen from her keeping her promise, but this is his only victory.  No good thing happens because of his existence; in the end, he just mitigates some bad effects of his existence.  If life were a scorecard for adding up good and evil deeds, this would be an intolerable ending.  If the point of life has to do with one’s spiritual state, with learning to love, then one can find it a very satisfying ending.

One needn’t call The Phantom of the Opera a Christian story to say that it’s a story that requires its audience to have Christian-informed sensibilities if they are to find it satisfying.  Leroux hits the right notes in the above quote.