R.J. Snell: Boredom and the Cultural Mandates


Best known as a novelist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Mario Vargas Llosa has recently offered in English translation his sobering Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society. In his understanding, genuine culture is disappearing, replaced by an “entertainment culture,” while the “intellectual, artistic and literary activities that were once at the heart of culture” are “now dead … without any influence on the mainstream.”

Entertainment culture, the “civilization of the spectacle” places enormous value on “escaping boredom,” although it does so by transposing the usual desire for enjoyment into an “anti-culture” with widespread frivolity, banality, and vulgarity. “Not being bored,” while “avoiding anything that might be disturbing, worrying or distressing” has become “a generational mandate”—that is, the easy diversions of mass culture are now considered obligatory, required for the good life.

A similar impulse was apparent in the student protests at American universities this past fall. Recall, for instance, one Yale student’s claim that a professor’s task was not intellectual engagement, or free inquiry, but has a “job to create a place of comfort and home.” Or, again, the infantilizing of students given so-called safe spaces “equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies.”

Of course, it’s easy to find anecdotes such as these, and they may be unfair or selective; yet, it remains the case that an easy decadence of comfort, ease, and entertainment has inserted itself into virtually every aspect of our society.

Including, unfortunately, religion.

In my book, Acedia and Its Discontents (Angelico Press), I explore the early chapters of Genesis, along with John Paul II’s encyclical, Laborem Exercens, to argue that all humans are given four cultural mandates by God—to work, keep, fill, and govern the world as God’s stewards on earth. Or, to put it another way, God, as a wise king, gives his servants (us) the task of filling his temple with good cultural work, which will adorn his temple forever. As such, we should approach even the smallest cultural task as if the fruit of our labor will be used by God for eternity. Each of us, whatever form our work takes, labor to make God’s good creation even more beautiful, elegant, and well-furnished than it was when he rested on the seventh day. God does not ask us to maintain the earth in the same condition in which he gave it to us, but to improve it—to work, keep, fill, and govern it.

But too many Christians approach religion like pietists, as if religion does not go beyond their inner subjective life. Of course, sound Christianity certainly does involve our thoughts and emotions and interior dispositions, but it is not to end there, and such should never be thought of Catholicism, which is a fleshly, worldly, encultured faith of song and dance, painting and sculpture, monastery and convent, parish and neighborhood, food and drink, family and children, sacramental and sacraments.

Still, all too often contemporary Catholic life resembles pietistic Protestant life, concerned with my salvation, my soul, my virtues—and, alas, so often the virtues of private inner dispositions. This is a safe, bourgeois, religion of inner comfort, well-being, and subjective consolation.

Or, in the words of Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith, it is not Catholicism so much as “moralistic therapeutic deism.” Such a “faith,” however, is really about our own comfort. Perhaps explaining why it seeks so often to entertain rather than challenge, stupefy rather than awaken, ease rather than prod, and why its cultural manifestations are so often frivolous, banal, and vulgar.

So many of us bemoan the lack of vitality surrounding so much of contemporary Christian life. But until we wish to be saints, and until we understand that sainthood always involves a concern beyond our own comfort, turning instead to our priestly call to labor for the sake of the entire cosmos, we will have more of the same. Once we turn, however, we can anticipate welcoming a renewal of Christian arts and letters, poetry and music, architecture, missions, schooling, and good work.

But not without such a turn; until then, we’ll simply seek to avoid boredom. Which is not remotely enough to satisfy our heart’s deepest longing.

Copyright 2016 R. J. Snell

“Iphones” by Jessica Gale (2014) via Morguefile

R.J. Snell is author of Acedia and Its Discontents: Metaphysical Boredom in an Empire of Desire.

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The Gentle Traditionalist: Chapter One

Editor’s Note: In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we present you with the first chapter of The Gentle Traditionalist by Roger Buck.

Chapter One

BUCK-The-Gentle-Traditionalist-full-259px-400pxGPL. Those are my initials. You’ll hear my full name later. But let’s start with those. GT—the Gentle Traditionalist—would like it that way, I think. You’ll hear his real name soon too. This book isn’t mine, you see. It’s GT’s. Without him—and what he did for me—I could never have written it.

I call it a book. But, really, I’m not sure it is a book. Not in the ordinary sense, anyway. I’ll be frank with you: I’m not much of a writer. These are just some notes. Hopefully, they give you the minimum you need to make sense of my story.

That story starts in Ireland, Monaghan in the north to be precise—although I come from Winchester in England, went to Cambridge University, and work in London. I’m twenty-nine years old and I’d never been to Ireland before.

Now, it wasn’t that I was especially interested in Ireland. It was SHE. She loved Ireland. And I couldn’t help myself. I loved her. I always loved her. I know it sounds corny—but honestly, I think I loved her from the moment we met. It will sound even more corny when I tell you we met on Valentine’s Day. I met my true love on Valentine’s Day. And, later, I lost her on Valentine’s Day. Cue the sad sound of violins. But I can’t help it. Corny or not, it’s true. And, as you’ll see, it’s important to my story.

Anna O’Neill is her name. With a name like that, you might think Anna was Irish. But she was English—only her father came from Ireland. She’d grown up in Liverpool, but was working as a stenographer in Cambridge when I met her. Later, we lived together in London. She always drove me crazy. In more ways than one.

Our relationship finished when Anna said she needed a year to “find herself.” She’d had an inheritance which allowed her to quit the stenography. She then took off for some New Age community in Scotland where they talk to giant cabbages or something. But she didn’t come back, as she’d promised. She went to Auroville in India, then Ojai and Esalen in California. It went on: two years, then three, four, five. She was having adventures all over the world. Or misadventures. She wrote me emails about burning her feet on hot coals while fire-walking in Hawaii. And she got hypothermia with Yogi Star Bear—a Native American shaman—during a “Vision-quest” in Yellowstone National Park.

I also found some time to travel. I went to Africa. What I saw appalled me. It literally gave me nightmares. Maybe I should tell you upfront: I’m pretty left-wing. To me, it’s transparently obvious global capitalism has a great deal to answer for. And, after Africa, I meant to do something practical about it. By contrast, I couldn’t help but judge Anna as completely impractical, frivolous even.

Neither of us started any new relationships in this time. I trust Anna implicitly in that. In her emails, she always said she still loved me, but that I shouldn’t wait for her. We were just too incompatible. Our Mercuries were inconjunct. And mine was retrograde at birth. We were soul-mates, she said, but doomed by the stars.

One thing was certain: I never knew how to handle this New Age side to Anna. I always hoped she’d get over it. How could she believe all this stuff about star signs and cabbages? Not to mention karma, angels, and holistic frog-licking. Okay—I lied about the last. Still, it tells you something about my sheer frustration with this nutty side of her.

She even changed her name to Lotus Flower for a few years. But finally, she returned to stay with a friend in London for a whole summer. She was different. She seemed less crazy, more ordinary, somehow. And her name was back to Anna again. I felt relieved. Maybe all the New Age nonsense was over now.

But then she dropped the bombshell.

We could never be together, she told me. She had decided to take a vow of celibacy—be a nun. My jaw fell open. “A Buddhist nun?” I asked.

No, she said, Catholic—as in Roman Catholic. I couldn’t believe my ears. Never in a billion years could I imagine Anna being Roman Catholic, let alone a Catholic nun!

Moreover, she wouldn’t be like one of these modern nuns who wear ordinary clothes. She was going full-blast traditional. She’d found this convent of nuns in France called Les Religieuses Victimes du Sacré Coeur—the Religious Victims of the Sacred Heart. What a name! They were into the Mass in Latin and they were strict.

She would wear a habit, a veil, the whole bit. Anna was stun- ning—talk about a waste. But it was more than that, of course. I was gutted—beyond gutted. Gutted squared. Up to now, I really thought Anna and I would make it someday.

Now, she seemed further away than ever. Even if she weren’t becoming a nun, much more separated us than when she was simply a New Ager. Before, we were both left-wing and we shared the same basic liberal convictions. When Anna was a New Ager, at least, she didn’t think masturbation was a sin or that some people went to Hell. We both supported abortion, gay issues—stuff like that.

We were socially inclusive—and if one thing united my own secular perspectives with her New Ageism, we both agreed organised religion was pretty old-fashioned, even stupid and bigoted.

Now, Anna had suddenly developed this rigid intolerance. I really could not understand it. Yet I loved her and somehow she looked more beautiful than ever. She had this new poise and developed this enigmatic smile. It was like the Mona Lisa, I thought. But Anna was far more beautiful than the Mona Lisa! And despite her newfound rigidity, Anna actually seemed less angry than in the past. Back then, she had quite a temper. She didn’t suffer fools gladly and could explode at the drop of a hat.

It was weird: Now she was gentler, softer—more tolerant and intolerant at one and the same time. We still had fights, though. But Anna always apologised first—even when it was clearly my fault. Later, she went to confess it to her priest.

Finally, at the end of that summer, she left for Marseilles in France. I went to the airport with her. It was the worst day of my life. I thought she was gone forever. I didn’t hear much from her after that. She was a novice—a trial nun before making vows. Still, I guess she meant to break all her worldly ties.

Then, one day at the start of February, everything changed again. I heard she wasn’t in France, but staying in a big, old farmhouse outside Monaghan in Ireland. I was elated! Had she dropped the Catholic thing now, just like the New Age stuff?

No, she told me on the phone. She was still Catholic. But she wasn’t sure God was calling her to be a nun. She told me the farmhouse was big and cold and empty apart from her. I told her I had two weeks’ leave coming. Next day, I caught a plane to Dublin and drove up to Monaghan.

It was like old times, living under the same roof again. Except, of course, it was purely platonic. This gorgeous woman I loved. So near and yet so far. Unbearably frustrating. Still, we talked. We talked like never before.

Of course, we talked about her Catholicism. I tried to understand all her rigid rules. Or maybe I didn’t try hard enough. Maybe I was too upset, I just wanted to protest. In any event, Anna would clam up, rather than give me rational explanations why she believed the crazy things she did. It was always “the Church teaches this.” Or “the Church declared that”—back in the year 381 or something. It made me mad. How relevant was that today? And couldn’t she think for herself ?

Occasionally, though, she did give reasons I could understand. We were talking about Church teaching on Hell. I said it sounded pretty dour, dire, awful. She said people were already in Hell everywhere in this world, drug pushers, killers, warmongerers—why should Hell stop when you kicked the bucket?

“Take Hitler,” she said. “If you were responsible for killing six million Jews, five million Poles and millions more soldiers and civilians, would you expect eternal happiness, after you died?”

“No, but Christianity also talks about Hell being eternal,” I objected. “A million times a million years is only the first nanosecond of your infinite torment. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody —not even Hitler. I can’t believe in a God who is less merciful than I am.”

“Hell is a mystery, a terrible mystery,” she replied. “Apparently, St. John Paul II once said we cannot know for certain who will be in Hell at the end of time or indeed whether anyone will be in Hell. On the other hand: ‘better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.’”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It’s Milton. Satan in Paradise Lost. Perhaps a soul like Hitler’s prefers eternal Hell to Heaven. Like I said, Hell is a mystery, unfathomable, terrible…” Her voice trailed off. Then she added, “We can’t know what Heaven or Hell are really like. Not in this life. But, if you believe in an afterlife, it doesn’t make sense to just suppose everyone will automatically be happy, when most people in this world are not happy.”

Somehow, I could buy this. This was why Catholics talked about Purgatory and Hell. Obviously, we live on a planet of incredible suffering everywhere. Why should the next world—if there was a next world—be automatically different? At any rate, I was never against the idea of an afterlife. Indeed, I believed there must be something afterwards. Life couldn’t be that pointless. I just couldn’t see strumming a harp for eternity. Or being slowly roasted over a spit by the devil either. But if Hitler’s soul was still around somewhere, I couldn’t imagine he’d found eternal bliss.

No—as GT was to show me—Anna and I did share some basic beliefs. But I hardly realised this at the time. Still, I should be clear about this: I wasn’t an atheist or even an agnostic. I knew there had to be something out there. It just didn’t look like a bearded, old man in the clouds who turned himself into a baby to save me. I also didn’t think the Catholic Church had some sort of monopoly on the truth. And I found Anna’s attitudes towards the Church completely contradictory. For one thing, she’d gone all the way to a Latin Mass convent in Marseilles, because she couldn’t bear the new liturgy. But now in Monaghan she went to an English Mass—every single day.

“There’s no Latin Mass for miles around,” she “explained.”

“Then why go to an English Mass, if you don’t like it?”

“The Mass is the Mass is the Mass,” she said, “but you won’t understand that, unless you know what the Mass is. Christ is still present there—whether you like the liturgy or not.”

“You mean as something to eat?” I scoffed.

“I told you, you wouldn’t understand.”

I didn’t. Nor could I understand why she wanted to go to a Mass in a dead language. From what I understood, the Catholic Church had changed the Mass when it liberalised itself in the 1960s. This liberalisation looked like a good thing to me. But Anna thought the changes in the Church were slowly killing it.

Since the ’60s, she told me, there’d been massive declines in vocations—as well as Catholic baptisms, marriages, etc. People were abandoning the Church in droves. She was particularly worried that very few people bothered with Confession anymore.

The new liturgy, according to her, was a major part of the problem. Apparently, a “mystic life-force” was being drained from the Church. Anna might be a Catholic now, but she still sounded like a nutty New Ager to me.

Another point of tension between us was Ireland. She was thinking of settling down in Ireland—even though the country had little in the way of the Latin Mass. Actually, Anna always had this thing about Ireland. So this wasn’t entirely new.

Like I said, her father was Irish; he came from County Cork. And, as a kid, Anna went on holiday to her old grandmother in Cork. That grandmother had been very special to her and her times in Cork were magical—a respite from an unhappy childhood in Liverpool.

But now her old love of Ireland was mixed-up with her Catholicism—and a newfound Irish nationalism that, frankly, troubled me. She reeled out this version of history whereby Catholic Ireland had long been oppressed by Protestant England. It was hard for me to take. Even if the British had been terrible at times, what was the point in stirring up these ancient hatreds? Staying near Monaghan, we were only a few miles from the border with Northern Ireland.

Whilst Anna deplored the terror inflicted by the Provisional IRA, she considered that border a tragic thing—a horrendous gash across the country. Both North and South desperately needed the other, she said. Cut off from each other, Ireland, according to her, could not fulfil her “spiritual calling.” Whatever that meant. I just didn’t get it. At any rate, Anna might be half-Irish on her father’s side, but, basically, she was English. She’d grown up there, like I did. Indeed, she’d always loved England. As did I. Her newfound criticisms of England grated on my nerves.

Annoyingly, she also put down modern Ireland. Ireland, Anna said, had become too much like secular England or America. As recently as 1970, she told me, ninety per cent of the people still went to Mass every Sunday. It had dropped to something like a quarter in less than fifty years.

For Anna, this was a tragedy. Also, since 1970, murder in Ireland had increased sixfold and suicide had grown by four times*. Obviously, Anna linked the loss of faith to social unrest, even murder, in modern Ireland.

The nation had lost what made it special, she claimed—the Catholic Church. Apparently, it was all some Anglo-American plot to turn the country into part of the capitalist West.

Weirdly, it was just the same with her old New Age stuff. Now, she really objected to holistic spirituality, calling it “pagan.” It wasn’t really holistic, she said. It wasn’t inclusive, but exclusive. Subtly, it worked to eliminate Christ and the Cross from Western Civilisation. Much of it, she said, came from the East. But it was popularised by Anglo-American gimmicks. And now Ireland was falling for those same gimmicks.

Listening to her, it all seemed like one gigantic conspiracy against the Catholic Church in Ireland. England. America. Freemasons. President Obama. Margaret Sanger. Gloria Steinem. Hollywood. The Rolling Stones. The CIA. Helena Blavatsky. The Dalai Lama. Yogi Bear. God knows what else—maybe the Loch Ness monster, for all I knew. They were all in it together to subvert Christ’s Church on earth. Arrgh. How could she take this crazy, paranoid stuff seriously?

Still, Ireland was starting to get to me, too. In a good way. The Monaghan people were friendly—sometimes astonishingly so. We broke down in Anna’s old car one day. It was pouring with rain.

I couldn’t believe how many people stopped and helped us out. We got drenched and while one old man worked on the engine, another couple invited us back to their home to dry ourselves off and have tea. The Irish people were like that, Anna said. Ireland possessed a strange magic, I had to admit.

And maybe that Irish magic was now working on us. Because, although we fought, we also laughed a lot. In fact, I’ve told you the worst stuff. Because, you’ll see, it’s necessary to this story. But, honestly, for the most part, we were actually having a really good time during those two weeks.

So good, in fact, I started to think crazy things.

Or maybe they weren’t so crazy. I could see Anna still loved me. God knew—if there was a God—I still loved her. Clearly, she was giving up the convent idea, if she wanted to live in Ireland. There was no Latin Mass convent in Ireland and no way would Anna join a modern convent.

What if I were willing to find a job in Ireland? Would Anna marry me? She could have her Catholic life here. I could have my secular life, now that Ireland wasn’t so Catholic anymore. Heck, I’d even marry her in the Church, if that’s what she wanted.

I see now I was deluding myself. But “love is blind,” as the old cliché goes. The two weeks were nearly up. Tomorrow would be our “anniversary”: Valentine’s Day. I decided to go for broke: propose to Anna. The night before was actually very special. We were completely connected, just like in the old days. Anna even held my hand while we sat before a big, log fire in the farmhouse. She still loved me, I knew it. How could she say no?


* This figure will likely strike many as extraordinary. It did to me! What helps to ‘explain it’ is the extraordinarily low level of violent crime and suicide in Catholic Ireland before 1970. See Desmond Fennell ‘Why the Steep Rise in Suicides’ Third Stroke Did It, pg 141-145.

Copyright 2015 Angelico Press.

Roger Buck is author of The Gentle Traditionalist and the forthcoming Cor Jesu Sacratissimum. Learn more about Roger and his work at his blog Cor Jesu Sacratissimum.

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Dr. Gerard Verschuuren: From Conception to Childbirth

Dr. Gerard Verschuuren explains what happens during menstruation, ovulation, fertilization, and the development of the child in the mother’s womb and discusses when human life begins and what this means with regard to being pro-life or pro-choice. Dr. Verschuuren addresses these issues and more in Life’s Journey: A Guide from Conception to Growing Up, Growing Old, and Natural Death.

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Horrible history: G. K. Chesterton and the modern history lesson

256px-G._K._ChestertonBy Ann Farmer

In The Everlasting Man G. K. Chesterton says the most important thing to ask about history is “what it felt like”; he believed that in the study of history “we need a new thing” – something that “may be called psychological history.”[1] Ninety years on, this approach dominates British education and popular TV; but before we hail a Chestertonian revolution, there is a crucial difference: the new ‘psychological history’ is not about how people felt in the past, but about how we think they felt; more importantly, how we think they should have felt. And if we are in any doubt about that, the new psychological historians are only too happy to teach us.

In recent years, the psychological approach to history has grown in influence until it has become an almost psychiatric approach. Terry Deary’s Horrible History books enjoy enormous popularity with children of all ages, and ‘touchy feely’ history mania has taken hold of television. Members of the viewing public have been given the opportunity to live in a First World War trench; a 1970s house; a Victorian slum; a Victorian bakery – all to ‘see how it felt’. And how did it feel? The only possible answer the poorly educated modern viewer can give is that it must have felt Horrible – or, if we want to give it a touch of faux authenticity, Orrible.

But did it really feel horrible for them? The truth is that the past was both worse and better than we might imagine today; worse because unlike modern day volunteers playing at history, the men in the trenches were being fired on by real guns, and they did not know that the Great War was due to end on November 11, 1918 (to be fair, neither do many modern television viewers). But in some respects it was also better than we might think because for those who were told in 1914 that ‘it’ll all be over by Christmas’, learning that the War would last another four years, and end not in victory but an armistice, might have come as a nasty shock.

Paradoxically, in the days when death was commonplace – when newspaper sellers cried ‘Murder, ‘orrible murder’ from the street corners – life was held less cheaply than it is today; at least the murder of the innocent was not ignored or excused. Nonetheless, we would be right in imagining that the workhouses were horrible – but life outside the workhouse could be even more horrible, which explains why the workhouses were never empty. We might imagine that people felt deprived because they could spend one day (if they were lucky) at the seaside every year; but for this very reason they probably felt more intense happiness than we, in an age of multiple holidays, could possibly manage.

But were not women chafing to go out to work? That depended on the work, and mostly it was hard physical work in hot, dirty, deafeningly noisy factories, sweat shops in the slums, or eyesight-ruining, poorly paid ‘home work’, which was not so cosy as it sounds.[2] For the vast majority the aspiration was to get married and have a family – for love, not convenience; ‘love and marriage’ still ‘went together like a horse and carriage’ – with a baby carriage following close behind.

Chesterton worked alongside several women but warned of the potential for exploitation the workplace and the effects of the ‘absent mother’ on children as well as on male employment.[3] He insisted that women were too good to work outside the home,[4] and since women – and children – had not long been liberated from the mine and the factory, home was less a prison than a refuge.

With no labour-saving devices, there was little opportunity for boredom for adults, while children played with other children rather than with their parents; even more astonishingly most of them even knew who their parents were. Chesterton’s view of the future was one of work-related mother-child estrangement rather than permanently estranged fathers, but he was right in the essentials; whereas now, men meet with approval when they announce that they would like to spend more time with their children (usually when facing embarrassing revelations about their private lives), women are expected to put their children first by putting paid work first.[5]

As for women’s suffrage, poor women were more interested in their husbands having jobs that put food on the table; a vote could not purchase food or a table to put it on, and according to Emmeline Pankhurst’s daughter Sylvia, the ‘votes for women’ campaign really meant ‘votes for ladies’,[6] since poor men did not have a vote either, at least until 1918, when – it was assumed for their contribution to the war effort – women aged 30 and with a certain amount of property were rewarded with the vote. But by then even conservatives were beginning to see older women’s votes as a counterweight to newly enfranchised working men who were more inclined to be left wing.[7]

Even so, we would now see a house full of children as synonymous with drudgery – except that small families were seen by the ones with most children – the poor – as a sign of selfishness characteristic of the and decadent rich. The left-wing feminist Sylvia Pankhurst (who was not against women working) campaigned against abortion[8] while those keen to stop the poor from having children were overwhelmingly wealthy and right wing. True, female campaigners tended to have more positive slogans, and in a supreme irony some women, lulled by the propaganda of Marie Stopes and her birth control campaign about ‘every child a wanted child’, approached her family planning clinics under the impression that they could help them have a much wanted baby. But in a kind of ‘Whig history for women’, everything is getting better and better, even when in some ways it is getting worse and worse; at least nineteenth century factory owners did not kill the babies of poor women in order to chain them to the factory bench, and then claim that they were ‘pro-equality’.[9]

Perhaps the most astonishing feature of ‘new feminism’ is the ‘right to sex’ campaign, with its implication that throughout history women have been ‘denied sex’. It may come as a shock to them to learn that finding a man has never been a problem for women; the real problem has been finding a man to commit to them for life finding him, but the solution to this problem – marriage – is the very institution that they attack with such vigour as the root of all women’s problems.[10]

What can we learn from these modern history lessons? So far, that women won the war(s) and that men were too warlike[11] – even though in the Second World War Churchill had to draft women into war work, in factories, transport and agriculture; men had to be drafted into the armed forces where they actually had to be trained to kill. My mother and aunt were not alone in being more interested in looking after their small children than pining to work in a munitions factory and doing equally exhausting housework when they finally got home.[12]

But never let the truth get in the way of a good story. The Really Big History Lesson is that the past was Orrible; that ITV’s recently concluded Downton Abbey was not real history, and that we should not pine after it. But even though it is fun to play spot-the-historical-anachronism in Downton Abbey, and although its portrayal of human relationships it is far more true to life than the BBC’s many Answers to Downton, which claim to be big on ‘gritty reality’ (to be fair, nobody seems to be able to get their hatology right nowadays), Downton’s executive decreed that the cast should not be shown saying grace before meals, since “executives in charge of the series had ordered producers to “leave religion out of it”, for fear of alienating an increasingly atheistic public.”[13]

No doubt in the interests of not alienating an increasingly atheistic cultural elite, the new Call the Midwife’s series – the first not to be based on the late Jennifer Worth’s books[14] – has moved on to the 1960s and will feature women taking the Pill, throwing away their crochet needles, donning leotards, watching the telly, and becoming lesbians – probably all at the same time. What opportunities this will present for the midwives, or for the Anglican nuns who run the show, remains a mystery.[15] It will feature a thalidomide birth, however, in which a baby born without limbs dies shortly after birth; but while highlighting the continuing plight of thalidomide victims,[16] it is unlikely that the programme will tell the whole story of thalidomide’s role in fuelling the campaign to legalise abortion.[17]

And history is really repeating itself because the Zika virus is fuelling calls to legalise abortion across South America; but although we will never know what it ‘feels like’ to be an aborted foetus, we can know what it feels like to be someone who might have been aborted because they were ‘horribly deformed’ but lived to tell the tale.[18] Abortion is not a cure for anything, of course, but the subtext is that it can prevent the ‘birth of monsters’, as abortion campaigners described disabled babies back in the 1950s and not-so-swinging 60s;[19] they also advocated infanticide on the same grounds if abortion ‘failed’.[20]

Interestingly, in 2005 Call the Midwife author Jennifer Worth criticised Mike Leigh’s film Vera Drake for its implausible portrayal of backstreet abortion and its practitioners who were not, apparently, warm, cuddly, altruistic neighbourhood matrons. I exposed this re-writing of history in my own study of the sinister origins of the abortion campaign as an arm of the eugenics population control movement. Its founders and supporters were unable to appreciate that poor women had children because they liked them and took pride in them – as they still do – and that contraception, especially as used by women, was viewed by the poor as evidence of moral degeneracy in the wealthy.[21]

Worth supported legal abortion because she believed that backstreet abortion was widespread and inevitable – although it was much more widespread and inevitable after legalisation, indeed, that was the whole point of legalisation – that poor women should have abortions, not babies.[22] While mentioning the problem of poverty, Worth saw contraception, not the provision of greater financial security, as the answer; however, she did warn that Vera Drake promoted the idea that amateur abortion was straightforward and safe, and that countries where it was still illegal might copy the methods it showcased, with disastrous results.[23]

The History Lesson from so many different angles is that women have been horribly oppressed throughout history and need abortion. As noted elsewhere, the history of the poor is a blank page for all who care to scribble on it; the most industrious scribblers have been adherents of eugenics population control, and although there are now good oral history sources now available for the twentieth century, they are largely ignored.[24] Abortion is a progressive preoccupation, and increasingly we are taught to see the past through the lens of current progressive preoccupations; as Chesterton remarked: “[T]he boldest plans for the future invoke the authority of the past”; even the revolutionary “seeks to satisfy himself that he is also a reactionary”, and while evolutionist ‘pre-historians’ had insisted (without any evidence) that cave men forcibly dragged cave women to their caves, with an equal lack of evidence “as soon as feminism became a fashionable cry, it was insisted that human civilisation in its first stage had been a matriarchy. Apparently it was the cave-woman who carried the club.”[25]

Friedrich Engels was the chief propagator of such claims,[26] and ‘minority’ history is chiefly the province of Marxists; however, in some cases a minority group, believing that it knows how another minority group ‘felt’ under oppression, has actually appropriated that group’s historical garments. With public money being appropriated to fund “celebrations” for “LGBT History Month”,[27] commentators repeat the ‘fact’ that homosexuality ‘used to be against the law’, despite the fact that it never has been. Real history shows that it was another minority group that was imprisoned, tortured and executed for their beliefs (not their actions), and also had their property burned in the middle of a riot against attempts to relax the laws against them, as recently as 1778; but they are Catholics, now viewed as bigots.[28]

Sexual diversity campaigners have also claimed that prejudice against them was akin to anti-black prejudice, although they could hardly claim to have been enslaved, and bought and sold, while being unable to melt into the background of white society.[29] Minority history is enlightening when considered as part of a great cultural mosaic, but when it begins to predominate we really are going back to the past – when history revolved around the interests of one social class.

As it is, psychological history revolves around the interests of the left-wing progressive class, and under their brand of semi-detached pacifism the Great War was just pointless carnage, while the Second World War was a legitimate war against Fascism – although it would not have happened but for the First World War. As to the actual Great War (they didn’t know it was the First until the Second happened) the BBC’s centenary coverage of its outbreak, which minimised the role of German aggression and the plight of those under occupation, was not so much an anthem for lost youth as a gigantic exercise in semi-detached pacifism, a response to the much later Iraq war.

The one awkward detail in this new historical narrative is the fact that the Second World War – the one that was OK, albeit Orrible – was won with Winston Churchill at the helm, and he was on the wrong side, i.e. the Right side. Clearly this should not have happened, but the answer to this historical hiccup is to portray 1945 as a victory for the Welfare State, ushered in by a landslide election victory for the left-wing Labour Party under Clement Attlee. Unfortunately for this narrative, in 1908 Churchill pioneered the Welfare State as part of Asquith’s Liberal government.[30]

Churchill at least regarded the nation of his birth as worth fighting for, and regarding the crucial question of how people felt in the past, Chesterton knew that people fight for what they believe in, and for what they care about. One outcome of looking at history through the lens of the Holocaust (as he himself has been viewed) is that any kind of ‘fundamentalism’ – including patriotism, and even the belief in objective truth – is now viewed as the kind of ‘bigotry’ that ‘led to’ the Holocaust, although as an early observer of the now-prevailing Western view, post-Modernism, Chesterton observed that bigotry was not the holding of dogmas but the “incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.” The man who rejected dogmas out of hand, he said, believed in dogmas without realizing it, and in that “strange epoch” there were “no great fighting philosophers…because we care only about tastes; and there is no disputing about tastes.”[31].

Chesterton never exhibited signs of ‘chronological snobbery’ – he would never indulge in the progressive habit of sneering at his ancestors, or suggest that we should knock down what they had built up because it was ‘no longer needed’ – i.e. we find it embarrassing. He said that a belief in tradition meant “giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors” – the “democracy of the dead.”[32] He knew that we will only understand how people felt then when we understand how they feel now. Interestingly, during the real Great War, civilians did volunteer to spend time in the trenches of the Western Front, and we do know how one of them felt; Sir Eric Ohlson reported:

On the explosion of the nearest shell…I, in common with the other members of the party, threw myself prostrate. I did not, however, escape unscathed, for I was struck on the hand in two places by fragments of shrapnel, and another fragment hit me in the leg, the marks still remaining. The position now became serious, and so the members of our party hurried with all possible speed, continuing the course at right angles from the zone of fire, until we were suddenly brought up by a ditch about five feet wide and with four feet of water. To surmount this obstacle was imperative unless we were to be blown to fragments, and so, although the obstacle was wide and deep, it became a question of either the other side of the brook on the one hand, or eternity on the other, but the desperate nature of the situation proved sufficient to stimulate the agility of the party in surmounting an obstacle, which in cold blood they would have refused all the gold of the Indies to attempt.[33]

Some people think they know how the poor should have felt; the Marxist believed that poor people did not know how they really felt (i.e. that the real solution to their plight was Marxism) because of ‘false consciousness’; the eugenicist believed that the cheerfulness of the poor was a sign of mental deficiency. But Chesterton saw that cheerfulness as admirable.[34] He was always interested in people as people, not as problems.[35] In contrast to the evolutionist, he believed that whether living in a castle or in a cave, people were still people, but that unless we made allowances for the cave and the castle, we would gain a poor understanding of history.

Of the historian who says that historical figures may deserve credit allowing for the ideas of their time, Chesterton remarked: “There will never be really good history until the historian says, ‘I think they were worthy of praise, allowing for the ideas of my time.’”[36] Chesterton heard the voices of the past because he heard their echoes in the voices of his own time. We might wish that people in the past had felt differently, but the past really is a foreign country now, so we must listen to what they say, and take care how we translate it.[37] The futuristic historian presumes to speak for them but listens neither to the voices of the past nor to the voices of his own time, only to the siren voices of a Utopian tomorrow. Chesterton made allowances for the ideas of his own ‘today’, because he feared what the morrow might bring if people failed to listen to the voice of their yesterdays; consequently he is the true psychological (and also more reliable) historian.

[1] “No wise man will wish to bring more long words into the world. But it may be allowable to say that we need a new thing; which may be called psychological history” (G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1925/1993), p. 139).

[2] See: M. Llewelyn Davies, Ed., Maternity Letters from Working Women (London: Virago Ltd., 1915/1978). One of my grandmothers assembled feather dusters for a pittance.

[3] G. K. Chesterton, ‘The Emancipation of Domesticity,’ What’s Wrong with the World (London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1910), p. 54.

[4] G. K. Chesterton, ‘The Modern Surrender of Woman,’ What’s Wrong with the World (London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1910), p. 63; “His defense of keeping women in the home was more eloquent than most such arguments, simply because the home seemed to him a very exciting place” (M. Canovan, G. K. C.: Radical Populist (New York/London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977), p. 54).

[5] “I remember my mother, the day that we met,/ A thing I shall never entirely forget;/ And I toy with the fancy that, young as I am,/ I should know her again if we met in a tram/ But mother is happy in turning a crank/ That increases the balance at somebody’s bank;/ And I feel satisfaction that mother is free/ From the sinister task of attending to me” (G. K. Chesterton, Songs of Education: III. For the Crèche: Form 8277059, Sub-Section K, The Works of G. K. Chesterton [Ware, Herts.: Wordsworth Poetry Library, 1995], pp. 76–77).

[6] See: R. Taylor, In Letters of Gold: The story of Sylvia Pankhurst and the East London Federation of the Suffragettes in Bow (London: Stepney Books, 1993).

[7] In 1918 all adult males were allowed the vote, together with married women aged 30 and over; in 1928, all adults were enfranchised (M. Phillips, The Ascent of Woman: A History of the Suffragette Movement and the Ideas Behind It (London: Abacus, 2003), p. 230; p. 308).

[8] Suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst maintained that it was society’s “true mission” to provide the social conditions that would guarantee “happy and successful motherhood”; it was “grievous indeed that the social collectivity should feel itself obliged to assist in so ugly an expedient as abortion in order to mitigate its crudest evils” (S. Pankhurst, Save the Mothers (London: Alfred A. Knopf Ltd., 1930), p. 110); Sylvia campaigned for the welfare of poor mothers, turning a disused East End pub into a crèche for working mothers – the ‘Gunmakers’ Arms’ was renamed ‘The Mother’s Arms’ (R. Taylor, In Letters of Gold: The story of Sylvia Pankhurst and the East London Federation of the Suffragettes in Bow (London: Stepney Books, 1993), p. 30); see: R. MacNair, M. Krane Derr, L. Naranjo-Huebl (Eds.), Prolife Feminism Yesterday and Today (New York: Sulzburger & Graham Publishing Ltd., 1995).

[9] According to one historian, after the Great War everything changed for women: “Nancy Astor, the first female MP, took up her seat and women could now legally enter professions that had been barred to them… Marie Stopes’s bestselling Married Love was opening eyes to intimate dialogue between the sexes and paving the way for readily available contraception; 1919 was arguably when the modern world with its particular opportunities for more than just a few was stirring into shape” (Diane Samuels, ‘History: 1919: birth of modernity’, Jewish Chronicle, February 12, 2016, p. 45). Nancy Astor and Marie Stopes were wealthy eugenics supporters who believed in controlling the numbers of the poor; see: Ann Farmer, Prophets & Priests (London: St Austin Press, 2002); By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control and the Abortion Campaign (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2008).

[10] Veteran feminist Gloria Steinem in 1970 declared that marriage “turned women into half-people”, but at age 66 married a wealthy entrepreneur and support of her political group Voice for Choice, explaining that feminism was “about the ability to choose what’s right at each time of our lives” (Independent, September 7, 2000, p. 19).

[11] A film version of the much-loved War-time television series Dad’s Army was criticised for featuring “tokenistic ‘girl power’ moments when Walmington-on-Sea’s women’s auxiliary army save the day” (Robbie Collin, Review, Dad’s Army ‘Who do you think you are kidding? Updated Dad’s Army is let down’, Daily Telegraph, January 27, 2016).

[12] Some men simply disappeared for the duration of the Second World War, including one of my mother’s cousins; in the Great War it was reported: “Through the offices at 58, Victoria Street there have passed some 8,000 women, old as well as young. Of these 2,000 have desired to do munition work, and the rest have offered themselves for other vocations. They have ranged from the quite unhelpable, as the old lady of over 70 , who wanted ‘munition work that she could do at home,’ under the impression that it was a new form of embroidery not too fine for her fading eyesight, to the bright, capable girl, who could be sent at once to drive a motor delivery van. … Wherever a woman comes with some special domestic qualification, as the trained are of children or cookery, she is always earnestly advised to continue in it, as the calls for special work have left thee callings much under-supplied” (‘Women and War Work: How Posts are Found. The Service Bureau’, Daily Telegraph, February 8, 1916). See: P. Addison, Churchill on the Home Front 1900-1955 (London: Jonathan Cape, 1992).

[13] ‘God banished from Downton Abbey, says show’s historical advisor: Alastair Bruce said ‘panic’ over showing religion on TV meant the Crawleys could not be shown saying grace before meals’, Telegraph, November 15, 2015, accessed at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/media/11997169/God-banished-from-Downton-Abbey-says-shows-historical-advisor.html at February 21, 2016.

[14] See: Jennifer Worth, Call the Midwife: A True Story of the East End in the 1950s (London: Phoenix, 2002); Shadows of the Workhouse (London: Phoenix, 2005/2009); Farewell to the East End (London: Phoenix, 2009).

[15] “Helen George, who plays Trixie, said: ‘The fashion is changing, the music is changing, and so are the home improvements. Instead of doing crochet we’re watching telly” (‘The Pill, sexual politics and the horror of thalidomide as Midwife swings into 60s’, Daily Telegraph, January 17, 2016). The capacity of women to do both at the same time was not touched upon.

[16] ‘Call the Midwife “robot baby” could bring hope to Thalidomide survivors fighting for compensation: Programme-makers have used a specially-made animatronic baby and CGI in heart-rending storyline of baby born without any limbs, Daily Mirror, January 9, 2016, accessed at http://www.mirror.co.uk/tv/tv-news/call-midwife-robot-baby-could-7144056 at February 18, 2016.

[17] As two leading abortion campaigners recalled: “In the early 1960s ALRA [Abortion Law Reform Association] had less than two hundred members, but with the advent of thalidomide and the rejuvenation of the Executive Committee, membership grew steadily. By 1966 individual membership had passed the thousand mark” (Madeleine Simms, Keith Hindell, Abortion Law Reformed (London: Peter Owen, 1971), p. 120).

[18] “In Brazil, where most abortions are illegal, activists want the supreme court to allow an exception for pregnant women who have been infected with the Zika virus. The prospect of raising a child with severe intellectual and physical disabilities is impossibly demanding, they suggest. One woman who objects to this scenario is 24-year-old journalist Ana Carolina Caceres. She has microcephaly and has been to university, runs a blog, plays the violin and has written a book about her experiences”; Ms Caceres said: ‘“People need to put their prejudices aside and learn about this syndrome”’; when she was born her mother was told by the doctor: ‘“She will not walk, she will not talk and, over time, she will enter a vegetative state until she dies”’; Ms Caceres advised people to remain calm, take pre-natal tests as early as possible, consult a neurologist and talk to mothers with microcephalic children: ‘“Microcephaly is a box of surprises. … But what I recommend to mothers or pregnant women is that they remain calm. Microcephaly is an ugly name but it’s not an evil monster”’ (Michael Cook, February 2, 2016, Mercatornet, accessed at http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/the-wrong-solution-to-zika-caused-microcephaly/17543 at February 2, 2016). “A dispute has broken out in Brazil over whether the Zika virus is responsible for a rise in cases of microcephaly after a report by Argentinian doctors claimed a larvicide used in drinking water was instead to blame. Brazilian health officials were yesterday forced to address claims that the larvicide pyriproxyfen, which is used to control the Aedes aegypti mosquito, could be associated with a surge in babies born with the condition after one state said it was suspending used of the chemical” (‘Brazil’s rise in deformities due to “chemical in water, not Zika”’, Daily Telegraph, February 16, 2016, p. 12). The chemical is manufactured by Sumitomo Chemical, one of chemical giant Monsanto’s ‘strategic partners’ (‘Pyriproxyfen, Zika and microcephaly, Alliance for Natural Health International’, February 17, 2016, accessed at http://anhinternational.org/2016/02/17/news-alerts-week-7-2016/?utm_source=The+Alliance+for+Natural+Health&utm_campaign=7057534dcb-160217_ANH_Intl_eAlert_No_2882_17_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_aea8a87544-7057534dcb-84964703 at February 17, 2016). “Abortion advocates are pressuring pregnant women in South America who may be infected with the Zika virus to abort their unborn babies with dangerous, mail-order abortion drugs. The pro-abortion group Women on Waves is known for sailing and docking its “abortion boat” outside of pro-life countries and then offering abortions to women in violation of their countries’ protective, life-affirming laws. The group recently began targeting South American countries where an outbreak of the Zika virus appears to be causing brain disorders in babies” (LifeNews, February 1, 2016, accessed at http://www.lifenews.com/2016/02/01/group-sends-dangerous-abortion-pills-to-pregnant-women-with-zika-virus-in-pro-life-nations/ at February 2, 2016).

[19] A Eugenics Society member and vice-president of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, as well as the Abortion Law Reform Association’s legal advisor and President, Glanville Williams maintained in a chapter on “monsters”: “On rare occasions such a monster will live. It may belong to the fish stage of development, with vestigial gills, webbed arms and feet, and sightless eyes. The thing is presented to its mother, who struggles to nurture it for a few months, after which she sends it to a home” (Glanville Williams, The Sanctity of Life and the Criminal Law (London: Faber & Faber Ltd., 1958), p. 33); ALRA’s Madeleine Simms and Keith Hindell concurred: “When a woman is confronted with a medical diagnosis showing that she may give birth to a severely handicapped child, or still worse a monster, she knows she has a problem that could be with her for a lifetime” (Abortion Law Reformed (London: Peter Owen, 1971), pp. 18-19). These descriptions recall the theories of Ernst Haeckel, biological ecologist, abortion advocate and important influence on Hitler, and “one of the earliest German thinkers to discuss the extermination of ‘inferior’ human races by the ‘superior’ Europeans and the killing of the disabled” (R. Weikart, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany. Houndmills, Hants.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p. 14); Haeckel believed that embryonic development recapitulated evolutionary progress, supportin his theory with detailed drawings showing the human embryo going through a fish-like stage, complete with gills, thence passing through reptilian, early mammalian and simian stages before becoming recognisably human; he saw the embryo – and also the newborn – as not fully human, hence his support for infanticide (Ibid, p. 147).

[20] Prominent abortion campaigner Madeleine Simms recommended to parliamentarians that disabled infants be killed (M. Simms, ‘Severely handicapped infants: a discussion document’ (n.d., c.1980s)).

[21] The sources used by modern ‘reproductive historians’ were almost exclusively the works of eugenicists and Malthusians; see: Ann Farmer, By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control and the Abortion Campaign (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2008), Chapter Five.

[22] Abortion advocate Bernard Dickens noted: “[T]o a large extent legal abortion in Sweden has been made available to women who would not have had an illegal operation. Finding this mainly among happily married women, [Ekblad] comments ‘Previously, and as a rule thanks to their personal disposition, these women had taken an unwelcome pregnancy with resignation, submissively accepting it without protest. The [Swedish] Abortion Act now gives possibilities of helping them”’ (M. Ekblad, Induced Abortion on Psychiatric Grounds (Copenhagen, 1955), quoted in B. M. Dickens, Abortion and the Law (Bristol: Macgibbon & Kee Ltd., 1966), p. 161); Dickens added: “It is, of course, among this group that most pregnancies arise” (Ibid).

[23] “Mike Leigh’s award-winning film Vera Drake…is brilliant – well written, directed and acted, evocative of London life in the 1950s. But unfortunately, it is medically inaccurate. …abortion used to be a criminal offence, punishable by a prison sentence for the woman and the abortionist…until the Abortion Act 1967… No doctor who valued his career would perform an abortion and no hospital could do so. … The law encouraged backstreet abortionists to flourish. … Often [poor women] had too many children – far more than they could house and feed decently, and for them another baby would be a disaster. Contraception was inadequate”; Mike Leigh could “be excused for not knowing, but his medical adviser should certainly have known that Vera’s method of procuring an abortion – flushing out the uterus with soap and water – was invariably fatal. One of the most severe pains a human being can endure is the sudden distension of a hollow organ. Inflating the uterus with liquid will induce primary obstetric shock, a dramatic fall in blood pressure, and heart failure. Thousands of women have died instantly from this abortion method. The idea that a woman who has just had half a pint of soapy water put into her uterus could then get back up on her feet and walk around is utterly implausible. And the idea that Drake had used this method successfully for 20 years is sheer fantasy; abortionists knew of the danger of the ‘flushing out’ technique, and it was known to have been tried. I was a district midwife in London in the 1950s and I certainly never saw a survivor of that method. … The film is dangerous because it will be shown worldwide, in countries where abortion is still illegal. If women in these countries see a film that depicts abortion as no more problematic than syringeing wax out of an ear, they might try it themselves, with fatal results” (Jennifer Worth, Guardian, January 6, 2005, last modified January 12, 2016, accessed at http://www.theguardian.com/film/2005/jan/06/health.healthandwellbeing at February 8, 2016). In fact the law protected women and children, enabling the police to prevent backstreet abortion, and in practice women were never prosecuted, as their testimony was needed to convict the abortionist; for the very reasons Worth adduces, backstreet abortion never claimed enormous numbers of victims because its effects could not be concealed; however, by the early 1960s hospitals were performing thousands of abortions under the legal precedent established in 1938 by the Bourne case; see: Ann Farmer, By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control and the Abortion Campaign (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2008).

[24] See: Elizabeth Roberts, A Woman’s Place: An Oral History of Working-Class Women 1890-1940 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1985); Women and Families: an Oral History, 1940-1970 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995); Ann Farmer, Prophets & Priests (London: St Austin Press, 2002); By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control and the Abortion Campaign (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2008).

[25] G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1925/1993), pp. 63-64.

[26] Modern feminism owes a philosophical debt to Marx, and to his colleague Friedrich Engels; Engels read his communistic power preoccupation into the nuclear family and was convinced that it had been shaped by capitalism for the purpose of exploiting women, influenced by Johann Jacov Bachoven’s 1861 Das Mutterrecht (‘The Mother-Right’) (1861), which posited that early humans lived in matriarchal societies, theories long since disproved (M. Phillips, The Sex-change Society: Feminised Britain and the Neutered Male (London: The Social Market Foundation, 1999), p. 204).

[27] “The Rainbow Flag will be raised at Waltham Forest Town Hall on Tuesday 2 February to mark the start of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LBGT) History Month. … Residents are also urged to attend and show their support. LBGT History Month was initiated in the UK in 2005 by an organisation called Schools Out, which campaigned for LGBT equality in schools. … Waltham Forest is now busy planning some special events as part of the celebrations, along with commissioned partner Salon Outré” (Waltham Forest News, Issue 154, January 25, 2016, p. 2); the newspaper, funded by rate payers, is distributed free of charge.

[28] Suring the Gordon Riots; see: David Mathew, Catholicism in England 1535-1935: Portrait of a Minority: its culture and tradition (London: The Catholic Book Club, 1938); E. E. Reynolds, The Roman Catholic church in England and Wales: a short history (Wheathampstead, Herts.: Anthony Clarke Books, 1973); Herbert Thurston, SJ, No Popery: Chapters on Anti-Papal Prejudice (London: Sheed & Ward, 1930); Philip Jenkins, The New Anti-Catholicism: The last acceptable prejudice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).

[29] Feminists and students have claimed slavery’s mantle of suffering to justify their campaigns; some diversity campaigners pressed the comparison with race so far that they actually became black; according to Paul Goodman: “In essential ways, my homosexual needs have made me a n*****”; he “identified homosexuals as another civil rights group that is politically repressed and oppressed” (P. Goodman, ‘The Politics of Being Queer’ (1969), Essays of Paul Goodman, T. Stoehr (Ed.) (New York: Free Life Editions, 1977), p. 216, quoted in Kevin Slack, ‘Liberalism Radicalized: The Sexual Revolution, Multiculturalism, and the Rise of Identity Politics,’ Heritage Foundation, August 27, 2013, accessed at http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/08/liberalism-radicalized-the-sexual-revolution-multiculturalism-and-the-rise-of-identity-politics at August 31, 2013); however, some extreme black campaigners concurred: “Gay, lesbian, and transgendered rights were recognized as an issue of radical solidarity. In a 1970 open letter, Black Panther Huey Newton promoted an alliance between black revolutionaries and “the Women’s Liberation and Gay Liberation Movements” (Huey Newton, ‘A Letter From Huey to the Revolutionary Brothers and Sisters About the Women’s Liberation and Gay Liberation Movements,’ D. Hilliard, D. Weise, Eds., The Huey P. Newton Reader (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002), p. 157, in ibid). Prominent sexual diversity campaigners asserted: “Just as blacks allowed whites to render them ‘invisible’ until the 1960s, so have gays made of themselves ‘invisible men’ (and women)”; “Until a very few years ago, ‘gay rights’ was a non-issue in American history, simply because, in effect, whenever the roll was called, there were no gays to speak up!” (M. Kirk, H. Madsen, After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90s (Harmondsworth, Middx.: Plume, 1990), pp. xvii-xviii).

[30] In his earlier incarnation as a progressive Liberal, Churchill visited Germany to see how labour exchanges might help the long-term unemployed, and the following year introduced them into Britain. In a speech he described the House of Lords as ‘“five hundred randomly selected unemployed’”, pointing out that 23 dukes owned three and a half million acres of land, while 23 million people “owned not one inch” (C. Lee, J. Lee, Winston and Jack: The Churchill Brothers (London: Celia Lee, 2007), pp. 243-244). Part of the Liberal Government that introduced old age pensions in 1908 for persons aged over 70, as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1925 he introduced Neville Chamberlain’s old age and widows’ pensions bill, “the first contributory scheme of state pensions, covering more than 15 million people. In conjunction with other sources of income the new benefits freed thousands of unfortunate people from dependence on the poor law. Churchill’s involvement underlined his commitment to the idea of the state as the provider of a safety net” (P. Addison, Churchill on the Home Front 1900-1955 (London: Jonathan Cape, 1992), p. 243; he also cited the physical deterioration of the urban working class as a good reason for land reform (Ibid, p. 57).

[31] G. K. Chesterton, ‘The Bigot,’ Lunacy and Letters (1958), in Gilbert Magazine, 12 (2 & 3), (November/December 2008): 58, accessed at http://www. at May 19, 2011.

[32] G. K. Chesterton, ‘The Ethics of Elfland,’ Orthodoxy (1908), G. K. Chesterton Collected Works, Vol. I (The Blatchford Controversies; Heretics; Orthodoxy), (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), p. 251.

[33] ‘In the trenches. Civilians’ visit to the Western Front. An exciting week-end’, Daily Telegraph, January 27, 1916.

[34] The English tendency was to use “humour somewhat defiantly as a smoke-screen”; it was the “trench” humour of ‘Tommies’ in the face of death that Gilbert so much admired (M. Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1943), pp. 397–398). Of his visit to America he recalled: “The chief thing that struck me about the coloured people I saw was their charming and astonishing cheerfulness” (G. K. Chesterton, What I Saw in America (London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd., 1922), pp. 158–159).

[35] Chesterton had always believed that the “right way” was “to be interested in Jews as Jews; and then to bring into greater prominence the very much neglected Jewish virtues, which are the complement and sometimes even the cause of what the world feels to be the Jewish faults” (G. K. Chesterton, Autobiography (Sevenoaks, Kent: Fisher Press, 1936/1992), pp. 71–73).

[36] “The historian has a habit of saying of people in the past: ‘I think they may well be considered worthy of praise, allowing for the ideas of their times’” (G. K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News, August 15, 1925).

[37] “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there” (opening sentence, L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between (1953)).

Copyright 2016 Ann Farmer

Ann Farmer is author of Chesterton and the Jews: Friend, Critic, Defender.

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Charlotte Ostermann: Tension is the Antidote

DSCF8877_8_9_fused_bwThe well of discourse has been poisoned by suspicion and polarization. People are reduced to small, self-righteous positions at various opposite extremes, and have difficulty perceiving the middle ground as anything but a place of base compromise. The one who suggests there is truth to be found at a via media is rejected by both the opposing camps. At one end, are those who cannot abide the notion of objective truth; at the other, those who give credence only to objective truth.

If you have anyone to influence – children, students, readers – you hope to help them avoid both the nightmare of pure subjectivism and the dark bunker of the opposite extreme. You want to invite them up onto that narrow road where Christ alone keeps us from falling – up into glorious freedom, where they may follow Him right through the confusion into clarity. You can help yourself and others develop the capacity to bear the tension that is characteristic of the via media, and of the territory of freedom.

The antidote to the poison that has weakened and reduced us is the exercise of the ‘muscles’ – intellectual, emotional and spiritual – that have atrophied. The goal is to be able to hold together two ideas that are in tension, and hold open interior space for the help of the Holy Spirit. The result is a resolution, in the person, upon which he may, if he will, act in freedom. ‘Right thought’ is not, then, an impotent abstraction, but an impetus to right action, by which virtue – power, freedom – is increased.

I suggest we start with light weights, such as tensions between things easily acknowledged to be good. In Souls at Work, I ask readers to consider the tension between pairs of such ‘goods’ as individual and community, work and leisure, and delight and discipline. The first step is to become aware that your actions are affected by the pull of such tensions. Many people honestly have no idea that the educational models they’ve chosen, or been immersed in, embody very specific “answers” to questions about such tensions as “Should his own delight direct a child’s studies, or should we provide discipline and direction for him?” Models of healthcare, forms of government, and economic systems likewise embody “pre-fabricated” resolutions of such tensions. When a person makes no conscious effort to resolve them for himself, and to articulate a philosophic basis for his own action, that action is less well informed – more likely to be a reaction to the discomfort of tension than a free response.

The difficulty and discomfort of working to resolve opposing ideas is not, in itself, dangerous. The real danger is the avoidance of that struggle, with the result that we remain safe – but grow weaker – within a narrow and unchallenged spectrum of thought. Though we should not aim at loads too great to bear, we must attempt those that are within reasonable reach of our current capacity. Without this work, our capacity for tension atrophies. With it, with God’s help, and with the help of an intellectual infrastructure given by trustworthy teachers, we can make the climb up to that narrow road where our freedom thrives.

Copyright 2016 Charlotte Ostermann

Photo by hotblack (2015) via Morguefile

Charlotte Ostermann is author of Souls at Rest: An Exploration of the Eucharistic Sabbath and Souls at Work: An Invitation to Freedom. Learn more about Charlotte and her work at charlotteostermann.com.

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All Things Shining: Martin Heidegger, Terrence Malick, and the Uses of Splendor in Catholic Education


By Michael Martin

In the final scene of Terrence Malick’s 1998 film The Thin Red Line we hear the thoughts of Private Edward P. Train (played by John Dee Smith) as he and his surviving comrades sail away from the battle of Guadalcanal: “Oh, my soul, let me be in you now. Look out through my eyes, look out at the things you’ve made. All things shining.” Throughout Malick’s film (indeed, throughout most of his films) the director discloses to the audience a shimmering beauty, a presence, as that shimmering beauty and presence is disclosed in actual human life—despite the hardships, the sin, and fallenness that characterize our contention with the flesh. Often in the film this presence appears in the beauty of nature—the wind blowing in seductive waves across the island grass, the churning of the waves, sunlight shining through the jungle’s canopy—even as men die horribly painful deaths and mortars disrupt the landscape with volleys of desperation. Just as often it shimmers forth in sincere encounters between human persons.

Malick learned these lessons about being from the philosopher Martin Heidegger. Malick, before abandoning academia for filmmaking, had been a doctoral student working on Heidegger and even translated the philosopher’s Vom Wesen des Grundes as The Essence of Reasons. Heidegger, especially in his later work, was particularly attentive to moments of immanence in its appearing, above all in poetry, a quality Malick has turned into a cinematic art form.

Hans Urs von Balthasar describes this disclosure as a phenomenon which “causes worldly beauty gradually to become metaphysical, mythical and revelatory splendor.” Splendor is an important term here: it points to illumination, a shining-through the things of this world. The 17th century physician and mystical philosopher Robert Fludd called this phenomenon “DEI patentis soboles” (shoots of God’s access), considering it as that which makes God’s presence in the world known to us. In my own work, I have called this phenomenon Sophia, the Wisdom of God. It is my contention that such a sophiology should be the centerpiece of any truly Catholic education.

I have spent most of my life in and around Catholic education, though I did spend a few years of both elementary and high school in public education and received my Ph.D. from a public university. It really doesn’t matter, though, because there is virtually no difference between two. One has prayers at the beginning of the day and has its inmates attend Mass upon occasion, and sometimes it has a crucifix in the room or a statue of the Virgin. But that’s it. Though mission statements often attest to institutions being rooted in “Catholic traditions” of service or social justice or some other abstraction, comparing the Catholic educational model to its secular counterpart is by and large an exercise in dissecting minutiae (and what are mission statements anyway—outside of requirements of accrediting bodies run by well-meaning if misguided people upon the MBA model?) Indeed, the secular educational institution has become the superego of contemporary Catholic education, pre-school through university. It does not have to be this way.

In early 2014, I began corresponding about education with my friend, Stratford Caldecott. Here is what I wrote him:

Dear Stratford,

I hope you are well—we pray for you and Leonie every night.

I am currently working on a new chapter for my Sophia book. Its working title is “The Noble Failure of Romanticism and the Sophianic Retrieval of Rudolf Steiner.” This, especially the second part of it, should go over big in some Catholic circles! The section on Steiner will first juxtapose his imaginative but pretty unconvincing ideas on Sophia in his more esoteric writings and lectures. Then I plan to show his real, vital sophiology in his ideas about education, agriculture, medicine, economics, and beekeeping. As a Catholic—and one who received a “Catholic” education that lasted all the way through graduate school—I have often felt that Waldorf education (I was a Waldorf teacher for 16 years) is much closer to what Catholic education should be. I think most Catholic educational models amount to a secular education with prayers added at the beginning and end of the day, religion classes, and occasional visits to Mass. It is dead and deadening, for the most part, and probably succeeds in creating more agnosticism than Catholicism. A number of years ago, a former Anthroposophist I knew who had returned to the Church suggested I start a Catholic education initiative inspired by Waldorf. I probably should have, but that’s another story. Anyway, I will be turning to your work on education in that section, pleading for a creative reimagination of Catholic education. Unfortunately, I feel as if I will be screaming at the ocean and have the same impact. It’s too bad we are so far away from one another, because I think we could really do something united on such a project. I am not asking you to join a movement—Lord knows we both have other issues at hand—but perhaps my little chapter can unite itself to your work, at least in spirit, and perhaps we can get people to think about how to change. Catholic education needs a resurrection from the dead.

Much warmth to you and your family.


Here is Stratford’s response:


If you want to summarise in a para or two for my Education newsletter, I could maybe give it some publicity, and others might want to join you. Distance doesn’t matter too much these days.


This was March 7, 2014, and the last time I heard from him. He died July 17th of that year.

I did manage to prepare something for Strat’s newsletter. What follows is a reworking of that brief foray into the battle.

What’s So Catholic about Catholic Education?

Catholic education, I would suggest, which once was the model of innovation and spiritual renewal has pretty much stagnated since the Jesuit reforms in education during the early modern period. Though John Henry Newman contributed some wonderful insights, they really have not been taken up—or at least they’ve been abandoned. Catholic education, at the elementary level, often strives in the direction of apologetics (for example, the almost obligatory Pro-Life speeches rehearsed in high school), certainly a noble aim. At the college or university level, unfortunately, the project is often aimed at proving how un-Catholic the intellectual climate of the school is, as a way to prove legitimacy in the eyes of the secular educational archons. As a result, far too many people come away from Catholic educational settings as agnostics, if not headed in the direction of atheism.

We, as Catholic educators, really could take much inspiration from the spiritually nourishing forms of Catholicism implicit in Waldorf education and explicit in the work of Stratford Caldecott. The place to begin with Catholic education is in the experience of beauty and goodness which leads to truth. For some reason, and this may be a palimpsest of the intellectual commitments of the Enlightenment, contemporary education begins with truth (doctrine, apologetics, reason)—which does not necessarily lead to an experience of beauty and goodness.

My claim is that we can train students, kindergarten through university, to discern the splendor shining through the universe, Sophia, by an education grounded in beauty in its synergy with truth and goodness. I fear, inspired by the Enlightenment fetishization of reason and a poorly-applied ethos of deconstruction, we have preferred to tear down culture rather than to build it up.

Not long ago I was visiting the University of Notre Dame to give a talk on sophiology. During the question and answer period, a graduate student in theology asked me how I could pay so much attention to Sophia, beauty, and all this business while people lived in poverty and starvation, while individuals faced sexual abuse, war, and disease. She was right, of course. The answer I gave her may not have satisfied her. Unfortunately, sophiology won’t make original sin go away. But, like the beauty that bleeds through the evils of war in The Thin Red Line, beauty still bleeds through the universe. Indeed, even through crucifixion.

A Final Note:

Once when my daughter Zelie was seven, I found her weeping uncontrollably in her room. Trying to find out what was troubling her, all I could get from her was a lot of lamenting about what a great sinner she was and that God could never love her and that she would be sure to go to hell. “Who told you all this?” I asked. She told me she’d read it in a book. I asked her to show me the book. It was a children’s version of The Baltimore Catechism (the same book I, thankfully, slept through during my grade school catechism classes). Some may say that she “misread things.” Very possible. She was a child after all. Nevertheless, I threw it out.

Catholic education can do better.

“And we have the more firm prophetical word: whereunto you do well to attend, as to a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.” 2 Peter 1:19

Anyone wishing to reimagine Catholic education along with me should feel free to contact me at mmartin@marygrove.edu.

Copyright 2016 Michael Martin

Michael Martin is author of The Submerged Reality: Sophiology and the Turn to a Poetic Metaphysics and Meditations in Times of Wonder.



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Shane Kapler: Making Reparation for Our Sins?

sorrow bw

Editor’s Note: The following, a reprint from Shane Kapler’s blog Just a Catholic, would form part of Chapter 7 in Through, With, and In Him: The Prayer Life of Jesus and How to Make it Our Own.

When a non-Catholic Christian hears that Catholics believe in making acts and offering prayers in reparation for our sins and those of others, it sounds like we don’t believe that Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient to atone for all sin.  That would certainly be a problem . . . if that’s what we were saying.  But it isn’t.

Jesus received baptism, a baptism of repentance, as our representative.  He redeemed us by giving the Father the loving obedience we had denied him.  In the desert, Jesus withstood temptations to which Adam and Israel had succumbed.  Jesus lived his identity as Son even when it meant being scourged, crowned with thorns, nailed to a tree, and pierced with a spear.  By saying “yes,” and enduring it all in obedience to God’s will, Jesus redeemed the “no” of our sins.  Let me be absolutely clear: the eternal punishment of sin, the separation from God that we call hell, was atoned for – totally, completely, even superabundantly – by Christ’s sacrifice.  Having said that, we Catholics also believe that, joined to Jesus, we are called to offer satisfaction, or reparation, both for our individual sins as well as those of other members of the Mystical Body.  I’ll do my best to explain why this is.

From time to time you hear of a “jail house conversion.” Someone was baptized in infancy but received no real formation in the Faith, and went from one bad decision in life to another.  He finally murdered someone and was jailed. While in jail he experiences a profound conversion.  He understands that he has done something incredibly evil and vows to live a new life.  The visiting priest hears his confession and gives him absolution.  The convict’s sins are really and truly forgiven.  Jesus’ sacrificial death (pure love) atoned for the act of murder (hate) and reconciles the prisoner’s soul to God, saving him from hell. Since the prisoner has been forgiven in this way, shouldn’t he be released? Something tells me I’m not the only one out there saying “no.”

We understand that even though the eternal punishment of his sins have been atoned for by Jesus’ death and that heaven now stands open to the man, there is still an earthly penalty to be paid here in time and space. It’s called the temporal punishment of sin; and it’s not just the state requiring this of the man, but God.

Analogously, this is why the Church insists that even though we’ve been absolved of our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we need to perform an act of penance.  Penance is a concrete act meant both to repair, or when that is impossible, to make amends for, the harm we have done as well as to get us walking in the right direction again.  (You no doubt remember how Peter, who denied the Lord three times, was asked by the Risen Jesus to reaffirm his love three times.)

Note, the Church says this to baptized Christians, members of Christ’s Mystical Body.  A state board of corrections will not recognize it, but the Church understands that Baptism wipes away eternal punishment, as well as all temporal punishment earned prior to Baptism.   The baptized soul has been regenerated by grace and made a child of God.  As a “newborn” it is completely free of all punishment!

But when a Christian sins after Baptism, when she acts out of selfishness instead of love, then her loving Father disciplines her. “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required” (Luke 12:48).  Don’t be discouraged by this. “My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him . . . God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline?” (Heb.12:5,7).  And you are not going through this discipline by yourself – you are filled with the strength of Christ (Phil. 4:13).  Jesus’ love of the Father is so superabundant that it erupts into acts of love in our own lives, acts that make satisfaction for our sins.  “I am the vine, you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit” (John 15:5).  The branches produce fruit because of the sap they receive from the vine, and we produce acts of love because of the Holy Spirit we receive from Jesus.

We also can’t forget that the Christian life is never just “me and Jesus.”  He isn’t at work just in us, but in the whole communion of saints!  In the Body of Christ, “if one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Cor.12:26).  That is why St. Paul went on to say, “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24). United to Jesus and empowered by his grace, Paul made reparation for the sins – the failures to love – of other members of the Body.

We can consciously choose to enter into this great act of making reparation.  We intentionally ask Jesus to fill us with strength and allow us to express his love for the Father, in reparation both for our failings and those of his whole Body.  We can perform the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.  Perhaps we tighten our belts, literally through fasting or figuratively by almsgiving (Sir. 3:30). Like St. Paul we can embrace and offer up the frustrations and sufferings God allows to come our way.  Reparation can be performing a kind act, additional Mass attendance during the week, or asking the Lord to forgive another person’s sins. Any elements of the Divine Mercy are incredible prayers of reparation!  All of this spring from the same love, the same Holy Spirit, that Jesus poured forth on the Cross.

Almost everyone has heard the story of Fatima, how the Blessed Mother appeared to three shepherd children in Portugal during World War I.  Europe was experiencing the natural result, or the “temporal punishment,” of abandoning its love of God and neighbor.  Mary came to request a return to the Gospel and reparation for sin through the praying of the Rosary and acts of penance.  What many are unaware of was how the children were prepared for Mary’s visitation, over a year before, through the appearance of an angel and the prayer he taught them.  Prostrating themselves with their foreheads to the ground, he instructed them to pray three times, “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love you!  I ask pardon of you for those who do not believe, not adore, do not hope, and do not love you.”

Pope Pius XI, who became pope shortly after the events at Fatima, made a profound connection between our prayers and acts of reparation and Jesus’ Passion.  In his encyclical On Reparation to the Sacred Heart, he speculated that the angel who “strengthened” Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane did so by crossing time and space to bring him our acts of reparation!

Copyright 2016 Shane Kapler

“Sorrow bw” by jclk8888 (2015) via Morguefile

Shane Kapler is the author of Through, With, and In Him: The Prayer Life of Jesus and How to Make It Our Own and the forthcoming The Letter to the Hebrews and the Seven Core Beliefs of Catholics.

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Ann Farmer: Chesterton, Rhodes and the rise of the modern racist

256px-Gilbert_ChestertonAs the controversy over Cecil Rhodes and racism rumbles on – the latest news is that ‘Rhodes will not fall’[1] – it is interesting to recall that although both have been castigated as racists, Chesterton was an anti-Imperialist. Famously, he remarked that saying “my country right or wrong” was like saying “my mother, drunk or sober.”[2]

Ironically, in his day anti-Imperialism was a progressive stance, but now the most progressive have become regressive; neo-colonialism is all the rage, with Western progressives trying to impose ‘sexual diversity’, contraception, abortion, etc., on Africa.[3] In fact, providing you employ the politically correct nomenclature, you can address the ‘problem’ of ‘too many Africans’ – even if you are a progressive, non-white American President.[4]

For his part, Chesterton doubted whether, had slavery survived until “the age of Rhodes and Roosevelt and evolutionary imperialism,” emancipation would have happened at all.[5] One thing that especially bothered the evolutionists after emancipation was that black and white could reproduce – that they were not, in fact, different species, but belonged to the same human race; as Chesterton pointed out: “An ape cannot be a priest, but a negro can be a priest.”[6]

Chesterton claimed that Rhodes’s worst influence was not on “colonial politicians, whom he understood” but “on English gentlemen, whom he could not understand”;[7] he inspired Gandhi’s campaign for Indian independence, with his warning that Internationalism was merely Imperialism in disguise since it was “the imposition of one ideal of one sect on the vital varieties of men”;[8] he even defended the religion of dervishes against ‘progressive’ Imperialists who ranked thought above religion, and would allow capitalists to “mow down men like grass in the Soudan, to steal their land and desecrate their tombs” because they were not considered “thinking human beings.”[9]

To Chesterton, patriotism was a good thing, but when it transgressed its boundaries it became Imperialism and trampled on other countries’ rights to self-determination.[10] He supported Irish and Jewish independence, but believed that Imperialism could be economic as well as military, warning that countries could also be ‘invaded’ economically; he claimed that the “perilous power and opportunity” of “wealth and worldly success” had passed from the British Empire to the United States, but that Imperialism was still Imperialism even when advanced by “economic pressure or snobbish fashion rather than by conquest”; although he had “more respect” for the Empire spread by fighting than by finance, in “both cases,” the “worst things” were spread.[11]

Chesterton was born in 1874, and like many in that era struggled to include non-whites in his view of the equality of man, but with his adherence to Enlightenment universalism and universal religion, and with the plight of the underdog as a goad to his sense of injustice he became an anti-Imperialist. Moreover he opposed the birth control movement, which warned against the proliferation of the poor and non-white races, and tried to curb their numbers – unlike Marie Stopes and her American counterpart, Margaret Sanger, both feminist icons for their campaigns for fertility control, despite their overtly racist and eugenicist views.[12]

‘Reproductive choice’ is the latest progressive fad, even when, as in China it is not a choice; abortion is prized as a human right, regardless of the human right to life of the unborn child.[13] Hitler, too, was a fan of population control and eugenics, and saw abortion as a racial weapon[14] – which explains why Stopes was a fan of Hitler’s.[15]

Chesterton was not; in 1912, regarding Rhodes and Imperialism, he observed:

[T]he colonial ideal of such men as Cecil Rhodes did not arise out of any fresh creative idea of the Western genius, it was a fad, and like most fads an imitation. For what was wrong with Rhodes was not that, like Cromwell or Hildebrand, he made huge mistakes, nor even that he committed great crimes. It was that he committed these crimes and errors in order to spread certain ideas.

Unlike Cromwell and Hildebrand, however:

…Rhodes had no principles whatever to give the world. He had only a hasty but elaborate machinery for spreading the principles that he hadn’t got. What he called his ideals were the dregs of a Darwinism which had already grown not only stagnant, but poisonous. That the fittest must survive, and that any one like himself must be the fittest; that the weakest must go to the wall, and that any one he could not understand must be the weakest; that was the philosophy which he lumberingly believed through life, like many another agnostic old bachelor of the Victorian era.

And when it came to religion, Rhodes’s views “were simply the stalest ideas of his time”:

It was not his fault, poor fellow, that he called a high hill somewhere in South Africa ‘his church.’ It was not his fault, I mean, that he could not see that a church all to oneself is not a church at all. It is a madman’s cell. It was not his fault that he ‘figured out that God meant as much of the planet to be Anglo-Saxon as possible.’ Many evolutionists much wiser had ‘figured out’ things even more babyish. He was an honest and humble recipient of the plodding popular science of his time… But it was exactly because he had no ideas to spread that he invoked slaughter, violated justice, and ruined republics to spread them. … Fashionable Imperialism not only has no ideas of its own to extend; but such ideas as it has are actually borrowed from the brown and black peoples to whom it seeks to extend them.

Chesterton added that a recent Rhodes biography gave “an obvious and amusing proof of this”:

The writer admits with proper Imperial gloom the fact that Africa is still chiefly inhabited by Africans. …he quotes this remark of Cecil Rhodes: ‘It is inevitable fate that all this should be changed; and I should like to be the agent of fate.’ That was Cecil Rhodes’s one small genuine idea; and it is an Oriental idea. … Rhodes and Kitchener are to conquer Moslem bedouins and barbarians, in order to teach them to believe only in inevitable fate. We are to wreck provinces and pour blood like Niagara, all in order to teach a Turk to say ‘Kismet’; which he has said since his cradle. We are to deny Christian justice and destroy international equality, all in order to teach an Arab to believe he is ‘an agent of fate,’ when he has never believed anything else. If Cecil Rhodes’s vision could come true (which fortunately is increasingly improbable), such countries as Persia or Arabia would simply be filled with ugly and vulgar fatalists in billycocks, instead of with graceful and dignified fatalists in turbans. The best Western idea, the idea of spiritual liberty and danger, of a doubtful and romantic future in which all things may happen—this essential Western idea Cecil Rhodes could not spread, because (as he says himself) he did not believe in it.

Chesterton concluded:

[T]he Cecil Rhodes Imperialism set up not the King, but the Sultan; with all the typically Eastern ideas of the magic of money, of luxury without uproar; of prostrate provinces and a chosen race. Indeed Cecil Rhodes illustrated almost every quality essential to the Sultan, from the love of diamonds to the scorn of woman.[16]

Chesterton saw Imperialism as a sort of collective pride; a collective of lions is known as a pride, and coincidentally there has been more concern in the Western media about a lion killed by an American dentist than any number of dead Africans killed by terrorism, or simply by hunger and disease. Population control propaganda has been so sly but so successful that whenever disaster strikes we are programmed to think that there are too many Africans anyway. When they succeed in pulling the Imperialist Cecil Rhodes off his pedestal, perhaps the anti-Rhodes campaigners, if they decline to erect a statue to the anti-Imperialist Chesterton, will at least consider a statue to poor unfortunate Cecil the lion.

[1] “Oxford University’s statue of Cecil Rhodes is to stay in place after furious donors threatened to withdraw gifts and bequests worth more than £100 million if it was remove” (‘Cash crisis forces Oriel College to defy student activists who wanted controversial statue toppled’, Daily Telegraph, January 29, 2016, p. 1).

[2] G. K. Chesterton, “A Defence of Patriotism,” The Defendant (1902), accessed July 3, 2008, http://www.chesterton.org./gkc/murderer/defence_d_stories.htm.

[3] The constitution of South Sudan, which gained independence in 2011, protects every person’s “inherent right to life,” stating that “every child has the right to life, survival and development”, but clinics, private health centres and pharmacies hand out chemical abortion pills to women. President of the Population Research Institute Steven Mosher commented that “colonialism” was continuing in Africa “under the guise of such ‘aid’”, but that “instead of governing African countries, Western aid agencies…simply take over the country’s health ministry. Using the power of the purse, they force it to focus on population control. Instead of providing antibiotics and vaccinations, or clean water and septic systems, the donors push chemical abortions and sterilizations”; it was “almost as if they were saying, ‘the only good African baby is a dead African baby” (‘African priest begs help to end 15 years of illegal chemical abortions ravaging his nation’, LifeSiteNews, September 9, 2014, accessed at http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/african-priest-begs-help-to-end-15-years-of-illegal-chemical-abortions-rava?utm_source=LifeSiteNews.com+Daily+Newsletter&utm_campaign=7496e098f9-LifeSiteNews_com_Intl_Headlines_06_19_2013&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_0caba610ac-7496e098f9-397386287 at September 10, 2014).

[3] In Africa, with the help of ‘family planning’ practices that have helped to spread sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS has affected mainly heterosexuals (see: S. W. Mosher, Population Control: Real Costs, Illusory Benefits (New Brunswick, N. J.: Transaction Publishers, 2009); however, same-sex-attracted African-American males have been disproportionately affected: “Whereas new HIV infections were relatively stable among MSM [men having sex with men] from 2006-2009, they increased 34% among young MSM – an increase largely due to a 48% increase among young black/African American MSM aged 13-29” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ‘HIV among Gay and Bisexual Men,’ May 18, 2012 (http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/msm/index.htm), quoted in Thomas Coy, LifeSiteNews, November 13, 2012, accessed at http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/the-smokescreen-putting-young-mens-health-at-risk/ at June 6, 2013).

[4] Progressives’ discomfort at the conservative social attitudes of black communities and black African nations has led to a kind of neo-Imperialism in which whole countries have been ‘leant on’, with the enthusiastic if ironic support of America’s first non-white, but thoroughly progressive President, who told announced: ‘“[N]o matter where you are, and no matter who you love, we stand with you. Across the globe, in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas our diplomats are assisting local LGBT organizations and supporting local human rights advocates working to promote equality, create dialogue, and ensure protections for LGBT individuals”; through the Global Equality Fund, the State Department had ‘“already provided critical emergency and long-term assistance to promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons in over twenty-five countries”’; this support would ‘“continue to grow”’ – indeed, the President believed it was ‘“central”’ to the U.S. approach to human rights (Kirsten Andersen, LifeSiteNews, June 10, 2013, accessed at http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/secretary-of-state-kerry-promoting-gay-rights-abroad-at-the-very-heart-of-u?utm_source=LifeSiteNews.com+Daily+Newsletter&utm_campaign=46f0be2099-LifeSiteNews_com_Intl_Headlines_06_10_2013&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_0caba610ac-46f0be2099-397386287 at June 11, 2013). The US embassy in Islamabad held “its first-ever lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender ‘pride celebration’”, against protests from a wide variety of Pakistani groups; ironically, their anti-sodomy law, which they wished to retain, was “introduced at the time of British colonialism” (R. R. Reilly, Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything (San Francisco, Ca.: Ignatius Press, 2014), p. 201).

[5] G. K. Chesterton, What I Saw in America (London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd., 1922), p. 301.

[6] G. K. Chesterton, What I Saw in America (London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd., 1922), pp. 302–303.

[7] G. K. Chesterton, “The Patriotic Idea,” England: a Nation, Being the papers of the Patriots’ Club in L. Oldershaw, ed. (1904), G. K. Chesterton, G. K. Chesterton Collected Works, Vol. XX (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2001), pp. 616–617.

[8] G. K. Chesterton, “Our Notebook,” Illustrated London News, June 17, 1922, p. 890, in G. K. Chesterton, Chesterton on War and Peace: Battling the Ideas and Movements That Led to Nazism and World War II, Edited by M. W. Perry (Seattle: Inkling Books, 2008), p. 410; “The principal weakness of Indian Nationalism seems to be that it is not very Indian and not very national” (G. K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News, September 18, 1909 (Ibid., p. 409); “I, for one, was led by Mr. Chesterton’s article to all these reflections and I place them before readers” (Mahatma Gandhi, Indian Opinion, January 8, 1910 (Ibid.).

[9] G. K. Chesterton, Letter, “The Jew in Modern Life,” The Nation, April 8, 1911, pp. 58–59, in J. Stapleton, Christianity, Patriotism, and Nationhood: The England of G. K. Chesterton (Lanham, MD/Plymouth, Devon: Lexington Books, 2009), p. 142.

[10] G. K. Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill (Ware, Herts.: Wordsworth Classics, 1904/1996), p. 115.

[11] G. K. Chesterton, Sidelights on New London and Newer York and Other Essays (London: Sheed & Ward, 1932), p. 164.

[12] Stopes’s mantra ‘every child a wanted child’ sounded positive, but she believed that unless children were deliberately planned they must be unwanted, consequently most poor children should not be born at all: “Are these puny-faced, gaunt, blotchy, ill-balanced, feeble, ungainly, withered children the young of an Imperial race? …Mrs. Jones is destroying the race!” (‘Mrs Jones Does Her Worst,’ Daily Mail, 1919, quoted in S. Trombley, The Right to Reproduce: A History of Coercive Sterilization (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1988), p. 79). After the abolition of slavery in America the oppression continued in sterilization programmes aimed at poor Americans (black and white), as well as Margaret Sanger’s racially motivated birth control project, in which she attempted to interest the Ku Klux Klan: “It seems to me from my experience…that while the colored Negroes have great respect for white doctors they can get closer to their own members and more or less lay their cards on the table which means their ignorance, superstitions and doubts… The ministers [sic] work is also important and also he should be trained, perhaps by the Federation as to our ideals and the goal that we hope to reach. We do not want word to get out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members” (M. Sanger, letter to Clarence Gamble, December 10, 1939, Margaret Sanger Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, in A. Franks, Margaret Sanger’s Eugenic Legacy: The Control of Female Fertility (Jefferson, N. Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2005), pp. 41-46). Sanger permitted racist authors to contribute to her publications: “Part of her motivation to legalize birth control was to cut down on births among the ‘unfit,’ which included the black population” (Sarah Terzo, ‘The racist underpinnings of the abortion movement,’ LifeSiteNews, March 26, 2013, accessed at http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/the-racist-underpinnings-of-the-abortion-movement?utm_source=LifeSiteNews.com+Daily+Newsletter&utm_campaign=f5927d9e31-LifeSiteNews_com_Intl_Headlines_03_26_2013&utm_medium=email at March 27, 2013).

[13] “Amnesty International is helping lead a pro-abortion push to repeal the 8th Amendment in Ireland, which has provided legal protection for unborn babies for years. Amnesty International Ireland recruited [Liam] Neeson, an Irish actor, to do a voice-over for its commercial” (Steven Ertelt,‘People Hated Liam Neeson’s Pro-Abortion Ad So Much Amnesty International Hid the Ratings’, LifeNews, November 27, 2015, accessed at http://www.lifenews.com/2015/11/27/people-hated-liam-neesons-pro-abortion-ad-so-much-amnesty-international-hid-the-ratings/ at November 28, 2015).

[14] Hitler has been described as “perhaps the greatest applied eugenist who ever lived” (S. Trombley, The Right to Reproduce: A History of Coercive Sterilization (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1988), p. 110). He viewed the German people as a biological entity in perpetual struggle: “If the power to fight for one’s own health is no longer present, the right to live in this world of struggle ends. This world belongs only to the forceful ‘whole man’ and not to the weak ‘half’ man” (A. Hitler, Mein Kampf (London: Pimlico, 1925-26/2001), p. 234); he insisted: “He who is not physically and mentally healthy and worthy must not perpetuate his misery in the body of his child”’ (Quoted in D. Sewell, The Political Gene: How Darwin’s Ideas Changed Politics (London: Picador, 2010), p. 137). Weikart remarks that “Hitler – and many other Germans – perpetrated one of the most evil programs the world has ever witnessed under the delusion that Darwinism could help us discover how to make the world better” (R. Weikart, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany (Houndmills, Hants.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p. 227); “Darwinism by itself did not produce the Holocaust, but without Darwinism, especially in its social Darwinist and eugenics permutations, neither Hitler nor his Nazi followers would have had the necessary scientific underpinnings to convince themselves and their collaborators that one of the world’s greatest atrocities was really morally praiseworthy. Darwinism – or at least some naturalistic interpretations of Darwinism – succeeded in turning morality on its head” (Ibid, p. 233).

[15] Although when war broke out Stopes ordered Winston Churchill to bomb Berlin, in August 1939 she expressed her admiration by sending Hitler a book of her poetry (J. Rose, Marie Stopes and the Sexual Revolution (London: Faber & Faber, 1992), p. 219).

[16] G. K. Chesterton, ‘The Sultan’, The Daily News, in A Miscellancy of Men (Norfolk VA, USA: IHS Press, 1912/2004), pp. 128-130.

Copyright 2016 Ann Farmer

Photo by Ernest Herbert Mills [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Ryan N.S. Topping: Do Your Students March?

“Hey, Obama, your mama chose life!” That was our favorite chant. We were ‘first-timers’ this year. Sure, we’ve marched before, but this was the first year any of our family had slipped away for the big one, in D.C. This past weekend I, along with our two eldest boys (aged 10 and 8), joined a happy throng of Thomas More College students, as we together made the eight hour run south through Boston and New York to the capital. After coming home I read that The New York Times reported that “hundreds” had braved the weather. Hundreds? Perhaps they meant to say that, out of the tens of thousands, only “hundreds” managed to avoid being grounded at Union Station; or that “hundreds” were likely to be stranded along the highways that fanned west and south from Washington. Oh, well. Others of our students only made it back last night. As it happened, our bus was among the “billions” that did escape the storm.

So, first, who came? At 38, I was among the “old” folks. Who came were the same sorts of young people and their parents and their pastors and their teachers that travel every year along all-night coach rides, camping at inexpensive hotels and friends’ homes, and eating carrots and peanut-butter sandwiches, so they can walk during the coldest week in Washington for a politically incorrect cause that the good folks at The New York Times can’t be bothered to touch without maligning. And yet these young people don’t seem to be bothered.

Will they keep coming? Sure bet. As of 2012, 1 out of 2 Americans now self-identify as “pro-life,” and just about any university across the country has its own club to promote the cause. One reason for this shift is that word is getting out. As the gory pictures keep flashing across our screens, it becomes increasingly difficult to convince your average American that the life that is being snuffed out is not, in fact, human. Another reason is the revitalization among the churches. Young Christians have grasped that no political cause matters more. Jesus calls us to minister to the “least of these”. The coach busses are going to keep rumbling into D.C. – as this weekend showed – because believers everywhere have begun to realize that no one is smaller, more helpless, more in need of care, than the least of our brothers and sisters, in utero. For scores of Catholics and Evangelicals, being pro-life is now something these young people simply “are”. It’s become what sociologists call an “identity marker”.

And so it should be. No graver social crisis threatens. The right to life rests at the bottom floor of any conceivable system of rights. Consider: my right to drive does not trump your right to safety once I see that you have fallen off of your bicycle in front of my car. That’s true even if the light above me flashes “Green”; that’s true because your prior right trumps my lesser freedom to travel through the intersection: your right to life translates into my duty to protect. And it is no different with the child in the womb. A lot of babies are getting run over in our hospitals. Mercy calls us. So does the defense of the rule of law. Once the government can take your right to life, or allow the strong to steal it, what is property and free speech?

I am fortunate to teach at a proudly Catholic college. Still, the past few years I’ve been thinking more about Catholic education. What is it? What are the signs of its presence? Because of my belief in the principle of subsidiarity, I regard the practical imposition of the common core a disaster. I’ll say this for it, though. It’s forced Catholic parents and teachers to think again; it’s led many of us to consider the kinds of markers that express our identity as “Christian educators” and as “Catholic schools”. As one instance of this, the Cardinal Newman Society will soon make public, I am told, some of their efforts to offer an alternative model to the common core for Catholic schools. We have no choice. Given an increasingly hostile and anti-intellectual educational establishment, soul-searching among Catholic teachers will only intensify.

All this effort to uncover the core of a Catholic educational identity is laudable. And yet after joining in the March for Life this year, I was left to wonder whether schools and colleges might not find a simpler test. How about this one: Do your students march? Does your school haul its kids to the local pro-life parade? Does your twenty-something’s Catholic college carry a banner in D.C.? Nurturing Catholic identity requires more than actively joining the fight for life; but it can ask of us nothing less. See you next January along with the other “dozens”!




Dr. Ryan Topping teaches at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts. His most recent books are The Case for Catholic Education (Angelico Press) and Renewing the Mind: A Reader in the Philosophy of Catholic Education (CUA Press).

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History in the dock: Chesterton, Rhodes and the trial of politically incorrect history


By Ann Farmer

The ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign wants to remove the statue of colonialist Cecil Rhodes, who gave his name to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe and Zambia), from Oxford university. Oriel College benefits from Rhodes money, but his reputation as a racist is judged to be against the prevailing consensus on equality, and the Oxford Union has now voted with the ‘antis’.

The consensus of opinion from real people, however, is that the statue should stay; that we are judging history ‘through the wrong end of the telescope’; that we cannot judge it at all if we remove the evidence for the prosecution just because it makes us feel uncomfortable, or because our political posturing gains us a mention in despatches in the Culture Wars.

In his Daily Telegraph column Charles Moore noted that the anti-Rhodes campaign is characteristic of the modern desire to ‘put history in the dock’.[1] As he remarks: “Anyone who does not conform to current views about sex, race, equality, empire, and so on, is permitted no defence counsel, and is summarily convicted. It is not hard to find important dead people who were unsound, from a modern point of view, on the role of women, gay rights, universal suffrage or tiger-shooting.”

This is precisely the point I make in Chesterton and the Jews. Since the 1960s, emotive debates on G. K. Chesterton’s “guilt” or “innocence” have resembled a posthumous trial; the crime in question is being deemed anti-Semitic after the Holocaust, that terrible crime against humanity, but principally against the Jews.

Chesterton died in 1936 and some of the writings quoted against him by the case for the prosecution were written well before that, something that critics tend to ignore, along with his defences of Jews and very early attacks on Nazism and the religion of race, in the face of the majority’s indifference. Moreover, they fail to judge his views against his own historical background – Medieval anti-Jewish persecution and Russian pogroms, preferring to judge him in the light of a crime that occurred after his death.

And the current obsession with ‘politically incorrect’ historical figures is strangely selective; for example, the views of ‘progressive’ Left-wing figures H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw have escaped scrutiny, although their advocacy of mass slaughter for millions of innocent people, mainly disabled but also the socially ‘unprogressive’, might seem curiously at odds with the present-day preoccupations with equality; as for diversity, there is the small matter of their insistence that the Jews should disappear as a people in the interests of human evolution (Shaw), and that Nazism was merely a stage on the way to the world state, conveniently ‘clearing away’ the ‘rubbish’ of ‘stale old beliefs’ (Wells).

Some of Chesterton’s expressions would be seen as anti-Semitic today, but many of them were also used by Jews; critics have tended to take a highly selective approach, which is not difficult, since Chesterton always stated both sides of an argument. One at least has misinterpreted a poem condemning the French for their treatment of Dreyfus as an anti-Semitic diatribe. His Zionism, like that of many Gentiles, has been caricatured as driven by anti-Semitism, and even compared to Hitler’s approach.

Chesterton and people like Winston Churchill referred to the ‘Jewish problem’ – a term was in common usage, and as politically correct in its day as anything that could be dreamed up by ‘Rhodes Must Go’ campaigners – meaning a cycle of ‘friction’ with non-Jews, leading to anti-Jewish violence; they attributed this to the lack of a Jewish homeland, a political problem with a political remedy. But they were motivated by fears for Jewish security as well as concerns about British interests (being patriots, an equally ‘un-PC’ stance).

Chesterton was a humorist, and since humour, like patriotism, is a foreign concept to the PC brigade, his jokes (“A thing that someone says to cause amusement or laughter, especially a story with a funny punchline” (O.E.D.)) have been interpreted as anti-Semitic; even his anti-anti-Semitism has been interpreted as anti-Semitism. According to our stern post-Holocaust standards, few Gentile Zionists had completely ‘pure’ motivations, but it is inaccurate to posthumously paint them as Nazis.[2]

Few, if any, true anti-Semites – those obsessed with Jews, who saw Jews ‘behind everything – even the War – were Zionists. To Hitler, Zionism was anathema: “[A]ll they want is a central organisation for their international world swindle, endowed with its own sovereign rights and removed from the intervention of other states: a haven for convicted scoundrels and a university for budding crooks.”[3]

In fact Chesterton’s Zionism stands the test of time much better than the stance of present-day critics of the ‘Israel problem’. Such critics would label Chesterton as anti-Semitic, but their anti-Zionism looks very much like anti-Semitism, not least because unlike Chesterton they are living in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Despite this, such critics are silent on the implications of their criticism, for if Israel’s existence is to blame for everything – including terrorism – the ‘solution’ to the ‘problem’ is to eliminate Israel – the unspoken ‘final solution’.

As Charles Moore points out, Nelson Mandela was much more conciliatory than his present-day defenders, taking quiet satisfaction in the fact that Rhodes’s legacy would be used to promote cultural harmony; Martin Luther King looked forward to the day when men would not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by ‘the content of their character’.

To be fair to the anti-Rhodes campaign, their schooldays have been spent imbibing the milk of multiculturalism, spiced with enough blood-curdling historical atrocity to make their flesh creep, hence they are primed to see prejudice everywhere. And prejudice, they believe, inevitably leads to genocide, just as Chesterton’s jokes have been seen as ‘leading to’ the Holocaust – post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

Unlike those of us who have encountered genuine prejudice – have combated and even suffered from it – nice young people have had instilled into them the fear that they, too, might be prejudiced. With no real battles left to fight, the current crop of equality campaigners are intent on punishing the past. Like Cromwell’s posthumous critics, they are not content with dancing on the grave of the politically incorrect figures of history, but demand that their reputations be disinterred and desecrated.

No one has yet erected a statue to G. K. Chesterton, although there is a blue plaque at his former home in Kensington; but anyone who wishes to dig up his reputation for anti-Semitism needs to study the whole body of evidence. They need to study him in a balanced and contextualised manner, avoiding the careless anachronisms of dumbed-down history. Indeed, the un-historical approach can be counter-productive; in the drive to expunge racism and anti-Semitism we will merely succeed in destroying the evidential foundation on which our multiculturalism rests.

Lacking opportunities for genuine debate, future generations might even rehabilitate truly obnoxious and dangerous historical figures because some of their views tally with current political fashion. In the mania for censoring (and censuring) people like Chesterton, some might think that Hitler was at least right in his anti-Zionism. If Chesterton and the Jews can do anything to halt the rush to un-reason, the work involved will have been worth it.

[1] Charles Moore, ‘The bigger question is not Rhodes – it is the way we look at the past: By convicting the dead for being politically incorrect, Rhodes Must Fall shortchanges history’, Daily Telegraph, January 16, 2016)

[2] Gerald Kaufman, ‘Chesterton’s final solution’, Times Educational Supplement, January 2, 1998.

[3] A. Hitler, Mein Kampf (London: Pimlico, 1925–26/2001), p. 294.

Copyright 2016 Ann Farmer

Photo by Godot13 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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