The Anglican Church of Tasmania Sells Up

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(Photograph: ABC, 2018)

The Anglican Church of Tasmania is selling 55 churches and a considerable portfolio of other properties.

Its survival strategy appears to be congruent with its sister branches elsewhere in the Western world. Having haemorrhaged most of its believers as a consequence of no longer proclaiming anything of worth, it has astutely recognised that the only way to keep the religion lumbering on for the immediate future is to approach the church in much the same way that a corporate headquarters approaches its outlets: cull the weak, close the unprofitable, sell the fat. In other words, the ruthless application of economic rationalisation.

The sell-off will raise about $30,000,000 for an estimated 200 survivors of abuse at the hands of Anglican clergy in Tasmania. But it is likely that the sale will generate three times that amount which will then be ploughed back into the very parishes that were unable to sustain the churches they sold in the first place. It thus kills two birds with one stone. It neutralises the issue of abuse survivors and also creates cash.

If there is anything that demonstrates the unenviable conundrum of the Anglican Church, it is this. With congregations in free fall decline, the only means to raise liquid revenue is to sell their property. But raising money for your heart by selling one of your kidneys is never going to be a sustainable strategy.

The financial situation of the Anglican Church more broadly reflects its theological situation where it increasingly represents a hollowed shell, propped up by the pillars of tradition which are so flexible in meaning as to reach the point of utter indifference. The rotting edifice is occupied by ageing liberals and once-radicals from the 1970’s who seem to think they can capture the affection and attention of people by being edgy and “not stuffy”. Such as allowing the Vagina Monologues to be recited in their churches.

In any case, the Bishop of Tasmania Dr. Richard Condie has his work cut out for him since he not only faces the burden of a rapidly thinning flock but also opposition from the very faction of theological liberals that have worked so tirelessly to shrink the number of souls in his cure.

They describe him as “fundamentalist” because he believes what St. Paul wrote about homosexuality. The bishop has even made statements in which he hints at the centrality of scripture. He has said that within the Anglican Communion there has been an “…erosion of confidence in the truth of the Bible that has led to an erosion of teaching about sexuality, the uniqueness of Christ, the resurrection, about abortion, euthanasia, and all kinds of things, such that this is not recognisable as historic biblical Christianity“. In other words, the communicants and clergy of the Anglican Church, many no longer recognisably Christian, are in desperate need of evangelism.

It gives one some indication as to how far off the ranch the Anglican Church has travelled when a “fundamentalist” within their ranks is anyone who believes the Bible. It also explains why they have a shortage of Christian communicants. To have churches brimming full of Christians, you need to present actual Christianity, oddly enough.

My sheep hear my voice and they follow Me… But they will not follow a stranger, but will flee from him, because they know not the voice of strangers.

Sex for Breakfast, Death for Lunch: The Sons of the Sexual Revolution (Part I.)

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This is a three part feature series written in response to the van attack in Toronto which killed 10 people. Part I. considers some of the male-centric identity groups that have appeared in the last decade. In Part II. the Toronto terrorist’s particular sub-culture – the “incel” movement – is explored in more depth. Part III. finishes the feature series with a demonstration of how orthodox Christian theology can answer objections, philosophically overturn the new morality, offer renewal to the damaged, and properly interpret the sociological forces at work in our time.

  1. Unfinished Business: The Sexual Revolution
  2. Pick Up Artists (PUA)
  3. Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW)

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION

It may not seem that our society is lurching toward a crisis point when you are squirrelled away in a warm home on a rainy morning.

Life seems to trundle on with apparent normality; the sun continues to rise, the seasons come and go. And yet, for all of this, the substructure of our civilisation is being dismantled by the ongoing effect of the sexual revolution which in the past week has turned lethal. Within Western nations there are ferocious disagreements about the proper constitution of sexuality, gender, and family and since these things are so elemental to the human condition, everything is touched by the conflict – law, religion, sport, entertainment, and politics.

The upheavals in these domains have plunged Western society into troubled airspace. Issues of sexuality, family and gender are centrepiece moral and ideological conflicts. It is fair to say that an internal war is being fought over the regulation, identification and management of sex and gender. In the process, the foundations that have been taken for granted by Christian civilisation are being smashed apart along with the institutions that once adorned them.

Many examples could be provided to illustrate how far this revolution has spread. Just this week The College Fix published the findings of a video experiment. Students planted small yellow signs on the grounds of five Catholic college campuses that read: “God’s Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman“. The student researchers claimed that every sign they installed was vandalised or removed within minutes. Some were tampered with by college staff while others were interfered with by students, but none lasted longer than ten minutes. A couple of these signs were later replaced with pro-homosexual marriage signs which were, of course, left undisturbed.

The fact that this quiet tussle occurred within the institutions that the Roman Catholic Church charges with propagating a semblance of a Catholic worldview in their people, shows the depth to which the ideas of the sexual revolution have penetrated and how much further they have yet to run. University campuses are at the forefront of the cresting wave, breeding a new generation of radicals. What we observe is not encouraging and does not bode well for the future.

Conflict is the summary word. Far from bringing harmony, the sexual revolution has engendered vast conflict. Sexual and family conflict have exploded in severity and volume. Scandals in respected institutions are common. Worse, much of this is now aired publicly for broad consumption which exercises a further warping effect on people’s minds and hearts. The more people hear, see and read of sexual mayhem across the complex of human interaction, the more it encourages suspicion, feeds pharisaic codes of behaviour, and expands the appetite for pushing boundaries.

Revolutions have a habit of spiralling out of control. The sexual revolution, as a distinct cultural force, is no different which is why sexual issues are now among the most savagely fought over within our society.

As competing forces interact revolutions create enemies within and without. Factions coalesce, often implacably opposed to each other. Rivalries form; outcast villains reinvent themselves; schools of exclusive thought emerge; and enmities harden. For some people, the initial triumphs of the revolution are enough. They become the conservatives. In other circles, the boundaries are still too tight, too fuddy-duddy, and must be pushed even further. And so radicalism turns in upon itself, creating feverish hothouses of intellectual agitation. These, in turn, grow their own offshoots. As centres of agitation blossom they come into conflict with each other, a good example being the recent rivalry between lesbian feminist groups and transgender feminists.

Two weeks ago, we saw the dynamic of radicalism at work. The sexual revolution has bred a new and unique form of terrorism which targets gender.

Much of the world now knows the name Alek Minassian, who killed 10 people in Toronto by driving a van down a sidewalk. Minassian is the latest instalment in a list of young men who commit mass murder due to their sexual grievances which they have transformed into the manifesto of victimhood and oppression.

Alek Minassian belonged to a men’s movement known as the “involuntarily celibate” or “incel”. The incel movement is obsessed with sexuality and gender. It often lurks in cyberspace’s shadowy fringes where incels can connect with each other without too much scrutiny. Even so, their forums do get shut down sometimes. This is because incels have an uncomfortable tendency to sink into violent fantasies involving rape, murder, or the active harassment of women. They tend to encourage each other toward deviant or predatory behaviour that in some cases is criminal, and in other cases should be taken as a coded plea for psychiatric assessment.

But incels are not alone. Minassian’s vile act has caused the spotlight to fall more brightly upon a wide range of male-centric gender movements that are growing alarmingly across the world as the sexual revolution introduces more destabilisation into human relations. Each movement is an outgrowth of the sexual revolution in its own right, but interestingly, in some cases may be seen as a grotesque act of protest against it. It hardly need be said that each is putrid and vile in its own way.

This confederation of male movements – despite the fact they sometimes violently disagree with each other – do share a number of things in common. First, a negative view of women (and of modern society, supposedly run by and for women). Second, a distorted view of sexual intercourse. And thirdly, a putrescent view of masculinity that is strongly informed by Darwinian fantasy.

PICK UP ARTISTS

“Pick Up Artists” (PUA) or the “seduction community” consists largely of men who languish in the teenage fantasy that they can transform themselves into a living Adonis and have women fall at their feet left and centre. Whereas most teenage boys, even at their most hormonal, never lose the ability to distinguish between their fantasies of female availability and the stark limitations of reality, the men who are drawn into the PUA community seem to be locked into the fantasy with a childlike obsession.

The fundamental premise underpinning the PUA movement is the belief that women are susceptible a range of seduction techniques. You do need need to be particularly attractive for these techniques to work. They have a life and power of their own independent of the man wielding them. So much are these techniques regarded as a sovereign panacea that it forms the internal narrative of the subculture. The literature of the PUA community abounds with stories of fat, middle-aged, bald, sweaty men who walk into a bar alone at the beginning of a night, and leave at the end of the evening with one (or perhaps two) gorgeous women on their arms. The claim that men can obtain dating prowess through process alone is an article of faith within the PUA community. They truly believe that their techniques can more than compensate for kilos of extra flesh or sketchy personal hygiene.

The techniques themselves are risible. For instance, one technique called “negging” encourages men to subtly attack a woman’s insecurities with backhanded compliments that allegedly will then make her work for his approval. A PUA might look at a woman’s shoes, for example, and say, “Wow! Nice shoes. They look comfortable” or, “That’s a lovely dress. I saw a lot of people wearing that shade last year“. It is believed that negging makes a man more interesting to a woman. PUAs explain that the average woman is habituated to receiving flattery and compliments from men and associates this with weakness. Therefore a man who “negs” her will seem more interesting, less docile, and project the allure of confidence.

All this is based on the much-ballyhooed claim within PUA circles that women fall for jerks and predators while they merely “friend zone” nice guys. Street wisdom of this sort is the foundation for many PUA techniques. It’s the sort of conclusions one would draw if they observed merely a narrow slice of human interaction, such as the goings on in a rowdy bar. Such is the childish nature of the foundation into which the community places its faith. Nonetheless, the PUA community energetically asserts that these techniques work and, when properly applied, will enable a man to have sexual relations with virtually any woman he desires.

The Guardian, in its review of an expose of the inner working of the group, made this observation:

The jargon of the art, as explained in both The Game and The Layguide, is aggressive and militaristic. Going into clubs and deploying your newly found techniques is called “sarging”, supposedly named after someone’s cat but inevitably evoking “sergeant”. The woman you want to seduce is the “target”; her friend might be an “obstacle”; a male friend who accompanies you is your “wing”. These latter terms were taken by Mystery from the film Top Gun, in an apparently unconscious tribute to that film’s fervid atmosphere of homoerotic competition. The places in which seduction is practised are known collectively as “the field”, as though the protagonists were soldiers or spies. If they come home with a woman’s telephone number, a basic token of success, they write a “field report” and post it to the internet for appreciation and commentary. (“Sad sack artists”, The Guardian, 2005)

Give the character of the “seduction community” it is not surprising to discover that the PUA community consists of a few highly promiscuous men and many, many virtually celibate men. There is a smattering of men in between these extremes who can “pull” dates and have intercourse. They are involved in the community because they want to refine their abilities and pull better dates and have more intercourse.

This produces a group dynamic in which the majority lovelorn defer to the promiscuous, who represent (in their eyes, at least) the apotheosis of the art of seduction. The most promiscuous PUA are held in awed reverence. They take pretentious nicknames like “Mystery” and are attributed nearly mystical powers by the men in their orbit. The writings and media materials of these “seduction artists” form the basic manifesto of the group. In some cases, having sexual intercourse with multiple women and then writing about how they did it seems to be their full time occupation.

Such an obsessive focus on sexual intercourse suggests a severe dysfunction. This is confirmed by one former PUA by the name of Neil Strauss. Strauss became an iconic figure within the community and his writings continue to form the backbone of PUA techniques. Nonetheless, he has since abandoned the community and published an expose of it. He describes the way his mind worked as a PUA:

While waiting for his drink, Strauss falls into conversation with a group that includes two middle-aged tourists and a young woman. The woman is in her 20s – tanned, blond, wearing denim short-shorts. Game-klaxon! I watch to see how Strauss will react to her, only he doesn’t. He chats with the tourists, about nothing much. Then he chats with her, about nothing much. And then he walks away.

“The old me would have been performing everything for her attraction,” Strauss says when we’re out of earshot. “Thinking of sex with her. Or how to lure her away from her boyfriend, what have you. Even in, like, a work meeting – if there was a woman in that meeting, everything I said was for her, to get her phone number afterwards.”

If this seems abnormal, it’s because it is. It represents the substructure of a mental disorder, perhaps several. Interestingly, the dysfunctional nature of this behaviour was apparent to Strauss while he was still a practitioner of “the art” and a luminary within the PUA community.

Yet even when he reached a point where he wanted to pull away from the community, he was unable to disentangle himself. The inability to stop a destructive pattern of behaviour is usually a criteria for a psychiatric disorder.

Strauss reflects on this period of his life with a classic illustration of addiction:

He kept on spending, by his reckoning, “thousands of hours, thousands of dollars” in bars – preying. It was a lifestyle, Strauss says, that fast became “a recipe for self-hatred”.

Ultimately, Strauss discovered that a lifestyle built around radical promiscuity – both the practice of it and the teaching of other men to behave in this way – was neither healthy nor satisfying. He realised that the lifestyle was actually the external projection of a troubled and unstable psychology. The uncomfortable boundary line between his personality and the techniques he promoted is a topic addressed by several feature articles written on him by magazines and newspapers.

It is remarkable to consider that the fevered jetsam and flotsam of a troubled psyche can constitute the lifestyle advice pursued by thousands of men in the PUA community. It is a little like following the lifestyle advice of a doctor who is a cocaine addict and a kleptomaniac: the dysfunction of the expert tends to invalidate the advice he offers because it calls into question its true genesis. Nobody wants to (or ought to) base their life on the outflow of another person’s psychological disorder. That’s a recipe for making the madness spread.

By opening up his psyche to trained therapists for the first time, Strauss learned he had quite an assortment of mental and emotional conditions. In short order, he was diagnosed with anxiety syndrome, depressive disorder, two forms of sexual disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. “It was like a hammer hitting me on the head,” he says. “I really thought I was normal.”

The misogynistic qualities of this community are self-evident insofar that even to subscribe to these ideas requires a degraded and monochromatic view of women as a mandatory prerequisite. The average PUA views women not as people with their own inner life but primarily as a means to his own gratification. The PUA is seeking gratification of sexual desires as much as the gratification of his ego and pride, and it often seems this latter distinction means more to them than sexual release itself. Having sex is an accomplishment that attracts a certain status within his circle. It’s not dissimilar from a group of hormonal teenage boys who boast to each other about the girls they’ve kissed.

The female quality that matters most within the PUA subculture is physical attractiveness. In fact, it is quite normal for a PUA to refer to women as numbers on a sliding scale ranging between 1 and 10. “I saw a 9.5 talking with an 8 the other day, and I went straight in to get numbers from them both“. Women are viewed essentially as disagreeable and evasive robots who will, nonetheless, dispense the desired action if you punch in the right programme.

In the world of the Pick Up Artist, men must take their cues from nature. They must be dominant and in control of conversation, since women (even if they deny it) have an innate evolutionary desire to be dominated. They must also be flashy and showy, like a male peacock. Indeed, “peacocking” is a term they use to describe wearing some distinctive article of clothing or jewellery – perhaps a feathered hat or an oversized skull ring – in order to stand out from the crowd. They are inspired by apes and lions and the dominant postures these display to assert themselves over females. They attempt to practice the same subliminal body language cues which allegedly make women swoon in submission, or at least, make them unconsciously more susceptible to submitting to a sexual advance. Thus it is that relationships, according to the PUA community, are not about the love and delight a man discovers in a woman – her mind and spirit as well as sexual intercourse – but about sex and the techniques required to get it.

Strauss, in an interview with The Atlantic, give some insight into how extreme it gets:

It’s true, that’s when I went to such an extreme that everything’s a technique. The guys would practice taking photos with each other to see how they could look more dominant in a photo. They engineer their behavior to such an insane degree.

It is a sub-culture that is so lunatic in its method – like the formulas of a mad scientist who thinks he has cracked the secret to immortal life – that only a particular kind of person could ever be drawn into this sub-culture. The requisite quality is a simple faith in techniques and programmes to penetrate the mystery of relationships, which nobody illuminated by real world experience could ever maintain with a straight face. But an attendant quality within the PUA community is either a severe lack of social skills or personalities that approach sociopaths where manipulation and power are the keys to the entirety of the human existence. Worryingly, their own materials seem to testify that the closer to true sociopaths a PUA approaches the more successful he appears to become. It does not say much for the community at large.

The “game” appeals to the mindset that supposes everything can be reduced to a technology, a program to follow. “Think of tonight as a video game,” Mystery instructs his students before taking them out sarging. And so it attracts the kind of men who are super-analytical but interpersonally hobbled. As Strauss wryly notes of the eventual population of the dream Los Angeles seduction house: “The point was women; the result was men. Instead of models in bikinis lounging by the Project Hollywood pool all day, we had pimply teenagers, bespectacled businessmen, tubby students, lonely millionaires, struggling actors, frustrated taxi drivers, and computer programmers – lots of computer programmers.” The sell is that, with the special techniques they learn from Mystery and other gurus, the ubergeeky can often give a convincing simulation of being a regular human being, even if, like one sarger in this book, they are in fact near-sociopaths.

MEN GOING THEIR OWN WAY

“Men Going Their Own Way”, usually abbreviated MGTOW, is another sub-culture that has congealed in the “manosphere” over the past decade. Unlike the PUA sub-culture which consists largely of the would-be promiscuous, this community consists of men who commit to living a life without romantic obligations, without children, and without strong attachments to society and the national community.

Adherents of the MGTOW lifestyle claim that society has become so feminised it is now actively hostile to men as a deliberate policy of administration and governance. This hostility toward men is primarily seen in the uneven sentencing between genders who may commit similar crimes (judges and courts come under special censure by the MGTOW movement), but these men also decry the gender ideologies pumped out by universities as well as the generalised marginalisation of male pursuits in modern culture. They argue that the Western world was built by men, yet has now embraced a feminine ideology that leaves no room for full-blooded male expression and identity.

Like many social protests, there is a kernel of truth behind the trappings. There is merit to the argument that the roles of men as fathers, workers, builders, creators, and leaders are no longer really honoured and supported. Unfortunately the MGTOW movement goes much further than this to assert that the remedy is to abandon society altogether. Many MGTOW will claim that any man who does not identify as part of the MGTOW sub-culture has become a useful idiot of the social feminisation programme. Furthermore, the men who defend the social system and the place of women are “white knights”. A white knight is any man who has become docile and deferential to both women and the feminised social system.

MGTOW claim that men have been emasculated across a range of domains. Sadly, it is not difficult for MGTOW to find ample evidence of the unfair treatment of men. Unlike the men’s rights movement, however, they do not posit solutions and therefore do not even attempt to work for change. To do so is pointless MGTOW argue because the social arrangement is so wildly unbalanced in favour of women that any change is scotch-taping a gaping crack or rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking Titanic. Since the cards are rigged to yield aces for women, reforming the card table is pointless.

Instead, the MGTOW solution is to disengage from work, social obligation, children, and politics, and above all, to disengage from women. For most MGTOWs this involves embracing a bachelor existence and making no effort to look for a long-term relationship. This does not necessarily mean all MGTOW forswear sexual relations; some MGTOWS will engage in sexual activity with prostitutes or have a string of short term relationships with women. Such sexual relationships are considered acceptable within the sub-culture providing the relationship is entirely about the man’s gratification and serves his desires, goals and interests. He comes first.

This means that MGTOW typically relate to women with a conscious and premeditated lack of attachment, even with those they are having sex with. More advanced MGTOWs actually embrace their virginity or celibacy and commit themselves to keeping it – something known as “the full monk”.

Given this attitude toward sex and relationships one might be forgiven for thinking that MGTOW must be a relatively niche phenomenon, perhaps isolated to a smattering of disgruntled men, cracked misogynists and borderline misfits. It is hard to imagine too many men forgoing sexual relations for the sake of a lifestyle philosophy.

(One of the reasons God planted sexual desire into the human creation was to propel the two genders together and cause them to both need and desire union. To surmount this God-given impulse requires a great deal of rebellious effort. Martin Luther once observed that sexual desire arose from the original command God gave to his creation to “be fruitful and multiply”, and consequently, the yearning for sexual congress “was the last thing to die in man”.)

But far from being limited to a bag of human odds and ends, the MGTOW movement and various localised versions of it – such as the Japanese “herbivore men”; the soushoku danshi (“grass eating boys”) – now boast a significant and growing number of practitioners of this lifestyle. In Japan, 60% of men in their twenties, and 70% of men in their thirties are now classified as “herbivore men” with no interest in romantic or sexual relationships at all.

The rise of this phenomenon has caused something of a moral panic in Japan. A lack of romantic enthusiasm among their young men combined with rapidly declining population does not give demographic cheer. It is worthwhile seriously weighing up the long-term societal damage. It gives us some inkling into the population cost that a movement of this sort could one day have.

Although there are some regional distinctions between soushoku danshi and MGTOWs – MGTOW are a lot more aggressive in promoting their ideas unlike their Japanese counterparts – yet the worldview of both shares the common disengagement with traditional male roles:

Yoto Hosho, a 22-year-old college dropout who considers himself and most of his friends herbivores, believes the term describes a diverse group of men who have no desire to live up to traditional social expectations in their relationships with women, their jobs, or anything else. “We don’t care at all what people think about how we live,” he says.

Many of Hosho’s friends spend so much time playing computer games that they prefer the company of cyber women to the real thing. And the Internet, he says, has helped make alternative lifestyles more acceptable. Hosho believes that the lines between men and women in his generation have blurred. He points to the popularity of “boys love,” a genre of manga and novels written for women about romantic relationships between men that has spawned its own line of videos, computer games, magazines, and cafes where women dress as men.

Fukasawa contends that while some grass-eating men may be gay, many are not. Nor are they metrosexuals. Rather, their behavior reflects a rejection of both the traditional Japanese definition of masculinity and what she calls the West’s “commercialization” of relationships, under which men needed to be macho and purchase products to win a woman’s affection.

Neither does the MGTOW movement only encompass burnt out adults (young or old) whose dating or marriage experiences have turned them cynical and jaded. The media has reported on a growing number of teenage boys who are entering the movement as early as the age of 15. These represent a distinct and significant sub-set of the the movement – the TGTOWs: Teenagers Going Their Own Way. For these teenagers, relationships are fraught with the potential for abuse, dysfunction, pain, and breakdown. and many of them are deeply mistrustful of women. They have seen girlfriends make accusations against male relatives or friends, or they have had horrendous familial experiences. They thus choose to disengage early and seek for a life lived in secure solitude inside a small controllable circle.

It is a view of the self and of broader society that is close to a kind of moral solipsism: “the self is all I can trust“. Other TGTOWs maintain nearly exclusively male friendships, play a staggering amount of video games, work a minimal job, make no progress toward the usual accoutrements of adulthood like home ownership, and satisfy their sexual impulses with pornography.

A distinct flavour of revenge permeates the MGTOW movement. It is impossible to encounter any tendril of the movement without being exposed to its acidic hostility toward women, non-MGTOW men, and the social structures that hold a nation together. This thirst for vengeance is reflected in a recent MEL magazine expose of the MGTOW sub-culture. The quotes from its adherents shine a very strong light on the deep sense of alienation and anger these men seemingly experience:

MGTOW (pronounced “MIG-tau,” at least per everyone I spoke with) is a worldwide social phenomenon and online community of heterosexual men who have chosen a lifestyle that avoids legal and romantic entanglements with women at all costs. A Man Going His Own Way values self-ownership above all else, believing that he — and only he — has the right to decide what his goals in life should be. He refuses to surrender his will to the social expectations of women and society since he believes both have become hostile toward him.

Some MGTOW make a pledge of celibacy. (“Cut off the **** supply and raise awareness against the millions of chicks that use men and disrespect our natural role.”) Some engage in sex with prostitutes exclusively. (“The only honest women.”) Others sleep with tons of women; they’ll just never marry them. (“Even if a man has only three lovers in his entire life, he is getting more than his own grandfather — who had to marry her first.”)

The movement’s prescription is to vent its rage and punish the whole of society by deliberately opting not to fulfil any constructive or meaningful role in it. To varying degrees (since some MGTOW are quite successful men), its adherents choose social parasitism as a lifestyle. In its most extreme manifestation they purposefully build nothing, contribute nothing, serve no one, and do not participate in any form of familial life. Additionally, they actively preach hostility against the institutions that hold society up and promote a corrosive attitude of ambivalence and mockery toward these.

Although it may be tempting to regard this movement as too silly for words, it cannot be denied that their strategy is plausible. Any widespread male withdrawal from social life would lead to adverse long-term effects. For this reason the MGTOW movement should be considered potentially the most destructive of all the misogynistic movements, because while this movement is not an immediate danger to life and limb in the way that the incel sub-culture has become, yet by growing to a critical mass (and it is growing rapidly) its effects would be far more destabilising and hazardous.

MEL’s expose gives a good taste of their attitude toward the world at large:

Most MGTOW will tell you it’s more of a philosophy than a movement, punctuated with a serious helping of ZFG (“zero f***s given”). MGTOW are unapologetically selfish and, unlike men’s rights activists, aren’t looking to change the status quo, but instead trying to opt out of marriage, fatherhood, cohabitation and/or whatever else society expects of them — like a flock of indifferent ostriches.

Smitty the Great Oneanother MGHOW, employed a slightly more combative analogy in his description to me: “MGTOW are the Viet Cong of the gender war. The men’s rights activists don’t like us because, while we agree with them on some things, we won’t be their cannon fodder in a war we know they can’t win. Pickup artists hate us because they can’t make money off us. Feminists hate us because we won’t fight them. And women hate us because we won’t give them what they want.”

The MGTOW sub-culture produces streams of video content on the internet that tends to focus on the worst excesses of feminism (such as the infamous “Trigglypuff” recording), or instances of poor female behaviour. Interviews with women who lament the lack of male attention they receive are quite popular, and are taken by MGTOWs as evidence that the movement is gaining traction. Videos of feminist speakers, protesters, academics, or bullies are almost ubiquitous.

Given this preoccupation with poor female behaviour, it is not surprising that at the hub of MGTOW philosophy lies very negative views of women. Women are almost always presented as unreliable, entitled, spoiled, ruined by feminism, spiteful, arrogant, unfeeling, hurtful, money-hungry, and dangerous. Avoiding romantic entanglements is typically presented as a self-protective behaviour.

Digesting a steady diet of skewed materials of this sort, women are spoken of in terms that would curdle milk. Terms like “slut” or “whore” as a normative term of reference for a woman is quite usual. Women are sometimes referred to by their genitals. The abuse is not coherent. On one hand women are often insulted for being “ugly”, fat, stupid or insufficiently attractive but on the other hand, attractive women are attacked because they are attractive. Their appearance opens them to excoriation for their clothing, makeup, or poise. Their sexual activities are speculated over with malicious satisfaction.

Women who have professional qualifications – such as judges, doctors, lawyers or politicians – are regarded as innately dangerous. The common assumption among MGTOWs is that professional women will always act to the detriment of men. It is a striking historical inversion insofar as it resembles the attitude seen among radical feminists of the 1970’s for whom all men were agents of a mythical patriarchy.

Clearly the men involved in the MGTOW movement are angry and resentful. The community crackles with rage and hostility, and this is not only directed outwards. Sometimes the guns are turned upon their own, as MEL magazine notes:

I found the last three weeks I spent in the MGTOW Manosphere to be, for better or worse, reminiscent of 6th-grade recess — playful, petty and short-tempered. Make no mistake: These guys are bullies. Or as they put it, “Turning betas into men is a group effort, no one is in charge … and a good amount of time is spent shooting flaming arrows at each other for no apparent reason.” Immature? You bet.

A typical example of the profanity-laced commentary can be found on this forum (caution: contains extreme language and seriously degrading content). Below is a typical sample, censored for moral purposes:

You guys out there who aren’t Australian, don’t understand just how ******* **** women in Australia are. The courts, the laws and the police are totally against men, the police are the worst white knights you could ever imagine too. Unless you are Chad Mc**********, Australian women will not be nice to you, even during general interactions in a social environment. They’re totally ****, I mean I wouldn’t even **** an Aussie girl with someone elses **** let alone my own (again).

The above sample of MGTOW discourse hints toward a classic MGTOW narrative, which may be described as “The Lamentation of a Good Man“. These are saccharine mini-autobiographies in which the author will describe himself as good-looking, hard-working, athletic, adorable, funny, clever, and basically an all round excellent egg. Despite these qualities, his relationships either do not last or he cannot enter into a meaningful one. Women treat him poorly. He does not find the relational Shangri-La.

The lamentation usually concludes with the MGTOWs revelation that his experiences have proven that women are shallow and fickle. They cannot recognise a good prospect when it is right in front of them and can never be trusted. Of course, it does not occur to these men that their conclusion and its self-serving premise is so tragically flawed that it actually reveals their problem.

Like most sub-cultures, MGTOW embraces a spectrum of men from those who want no children or long-term relationships but are happy to have temporary relationships, all the way to the ultimate fulfilment of the MGTOW philosophy which is disengagement from the broader economic and social structure of his country, and going “off the grid” altogether. At this extreme, MGTOW allies itself with other conspiratorial groups that also preach against the federal government, although the MGTOW solution – to hide away in a cabin somewhere as a completely self-realised individual – is a passive response that does not fortunately lend itself to violent behaviour.

Book Review: “The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions”

The long read: a review of David Berlinski’s book, and his treatment of the arguments of militant atheists.

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(Book Reviewed: THE DEVIL’S DELUSION, By David Berlinski.)

David Berlinski has the distinction of being both an educated and intelligent man which is not at all the same thing. Neither has his long march through academia sandpapered away his sense of intellectual curiosity. In this book, he investigates with an uncompromising independence of mind the nonsense so often breathed by militant atheists in the name of “science”. It is too easy to accept atheistic claims because their views now circulate through our environment like the thin fumes of an odourless gas. Berlinski’s book is an excellent antidote to this intellectual numbness.

He writes what he knows. Berlinski holds a PhD in philosophy and also has engaged in molecular biological research at world-class universities, so he possesses worthy academic credentials for the book he has chosen to write.

Berlinski is a critic of evolution and maintains a sunny disposition toward intelligent design – the theory that biological life shows unmistakable evidence of creative purpose. To criticise evolution is almost enough to render him a leper among the academic community regardless of his impressive intellectual accomplishments. It is axiomatic that he who criticises evolution will find it progressively harder to be unsympathetic to God or “religion”. And to allow “religion” – or worse, God himself – to enter into the airless box of the secular empire is a nightmare of such proportions that atheist writers like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins can scarcely describe it without resorting to apocalyptic language.

Both Dawkins and Harris (et al) come in for scathing rebuke in this book. Whatever Dawkins and his ilk may think of themselves, Berlinski is deeply unimpressed with the vacuity of their arguments especially those that appeal to “science” to establish their atheism. In fact, the title of the book is a none-so-subtle stab at Dawkin’s own magnum opus of polemic atheism, “The God Delusion“.

But whereas Dawkins’ work is exceedingly poor, Belinski’s is exceedingly good. Berlinski crafts solid and logical expositions while Dawkins draws liberally upon nearly every irrational argument ever discovered by humankind over the literate portion of its history. Reading “The God Delusion” is an exercise in frustration for this very reason. Rarely have I ever wanted to hurl a book so forcefully against the wall.

For people who can spot rhetorical fallacies, Dawkins amply illustrates the danger of presuming ourselves to be wiser than our craft. Like nearly all celebrity atheists, Dawkins writes as an amateur philosopher, historian, textual critic and theologian. Unsurprisingly, his iconic book – be it ever so thick – is emblazoned with the author’s ignorance from cover to cover. In contradistinction, Berlinski writes to his strength. Trained in philosophy and systems analysis, Berlinski deftly places his finger on the weak points of atheist rhetoric and crumbles their contentions into a finely-ground powder.

The thrust of Berlinski’s argument is that atheists misapply science in order to give atheism a legitimacy it does not deserve. He argues that atheism consists of a mass of conclusions without the slightest shred of evidence. In other words, the brand of militant atheism pushed by the likes of Dawkins and Harris are based on twaddle – it is sophisticated twaddle that many people struggle to penetrate in our educationally deficient age, but it is still twaddle. In fact, early in The Devil’s Delusion, Berlinski suggests that is every bit as much a pseudoscience as mumbo-jumbo ideologies that have circulated through human minds over the last century, and perhaps also destined be consigned to the dustbin of history.

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Any student of history will recognise that similar “scientific” pretensions arose in the 19th century within the radical left. Their “scientific ideas” obtained the status of inviolable fact even when the implementation of them caused incalculable harm. The originators of communism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, boasted that their Utopian ideology was thoroughly scientific in nature. Likewise, the more extreme anarchists like Mikhail Bakunin also supposed that their theories were somehow underpinned by a foundation of science.

Berlinski challenges this by pointing out that appealing to “science” is a little like a leader of a People’s Republic appealing to “democracy”. It is a principle that can be used to give a justification for practically anything. Berlinski wryly points out that atheists refer to science share an uncanny similarity to the claims of spiritualists to be receiving messages from the other world:

The title of Victor Stenger’s recent book is: God: The Failed Hypothesis – How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist. Stenger is a professor of physics. He may have written the book, but it is science, we are to understand, that has provided the requisite demonstration. Like a nineteenth-century spirit medium, Stenger has simply taken dictation. [Emphasis in the original].

Importantly, Berlinski invites the reader to consider atheism as if it were a piece of flotsam or jetsam floating down the crowded river of human history.

Although militant atheists like to suppose that “atheistic science” is objective truth – the only truth indeed and therefore a license to bulldoze any other belief – Berlinski suggests that militant atheism is actually a reaction to social and political events within the modern world. Unwittingly, militant atheists are merely reactionary puppets:

Does any of this represent anything more than yet another foolish intellectual fad, a successor to academic Marxism, feminism, or various doctrines of multicultural tranquillity? Not in the world in which religious beliefs overflow into action. For Islamic radicals, “the sword is more telling than the book,” as the Arab poet Abu Tammam wrote with menacing authority some eight hundred years ago. The advent of militant atheism marks a reaction – a lurid but natural reaction –  to the violence of the Islamic world.

But the efflorescence of atheism involves more than atheism itself. Of course it does. Atheism is the schwerpunkt, as German military theorists used to say with satisfaction, the place where force is concentrated and applied; and what lies behind is a doctrinal system, a way of looking at the world, and so an ideology. It is an ideology with no truly distinct centre and the fuzziest of boundaries. For the purposes of propaganda it hardly matters.

Berlinski goes on to puncture the bizarrely self-congratulatory attitudes taken by militant atheists, shown in the galloping ego that runs through their work. Militant atheism often seems a kind of club for schoolboy toffs who award each other grandiose titles and share an unreal bubble where they can snicker at others less fortunate than themselves while lunching on mother’s sandwiches. One example is their predilection to calling themselves as “the Brights”, presumably in contrast to the rest of us who must be “the Dims”.

Oddly enough, militant atheists find it very difficult to understand why the Dims do not share their elevated self-evaluation. Berlinski writes:

…members of the scientific community are often dismayed to discover, like policemen, that they are not better loved. Indeed, they are widely considered self-righteous, vain, politically immature, and arrogant. This last is considered a special injustice. “Contrary to what many anti-intellectuals maintain,” the biologist Massimo Pigiucci has written, science is “a much more humble enterprise than any religion or other ideology.” Yet despite the outstanding humility of the scientific community, anti-intellectuals persist in their sullen suspicions.

Scientists are hardly helped when one of their champions immerses himself in the emollient of his own enthusiasm. Thus Richard Dawkins recounts the story of his professor of zoology at Oxford, a man who had “for years… passionately believed that the Golgi apparatus was not real.” On hearing during a lecture by a visiting American that his views were in error, “he strode to the front of the hall, shook the American by the hand, and said – with passion – ‘My dear fellow, I wish to thank you. I have been wrong these fifteen years.'” The story, Dawkins avows, still has the power “to bring a lump to my throat.”

It could not have been a very considerable lump. No similar story has ever been recounted about Richard Dawkins. Quite the contrary. He is as responsive to criticism as a black hole in space. “It is absolutely safe to say,” he has remarked, “that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution that person is ignorant, stupid or insane.”

There are multiple examples of this sort of hubris lampooned by Berlinski. Of course, in addition to the vast storehouse of material drawn upon in the book, one could readily add the moralising articles that appear in publications like the Scientific American.

Over and over again, militant atheists claim (despite examples to the contrary, like the infamous Piltdown Man hoax) that scientists are honour bound to respond to evidence. Scientists accept that they are in error when there is proof. This represents an extraordinary nobility possessed by scientists alone.

Yet, an uncompromising submission to truth is a virtue that has been known to ordinary people and to scholars in many disciplines – including theology – for several millennia. To salute the practice of intellectual humility as if it were historically recent and isolated to practitioners of the scientific method, (or worse, to believers in atheism), is to demonstrate profound self-preoccupation.

As Berlinski notes, militant atheists transit from reasonable claims into the territory of dogmatism. They assert that science is a good thing, a claim to which nobody would object because the scientific process has undeniably produced many good discoveries.

But they cannot stop at that point. They thunderingly declare science to be the only good thing, superior to every other human endeavour, with the power to confer upon scientists themselves a moral quality unknown to the Dims. They then assert that scientists are the premier good people because they are the most intellectually honest vessels. And then, as if the balloon of their pomposity were not inflated to grotesque dimensions already, they then point the collective finger at religion and blame the sum of human evils upon it.

Berlinski succinctly deals with this:

The physicist Steven Weinberg delivered an address [at the “Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason, and Survival” conference]. As one of the authors of the theory of electroweak unification, the work for which he was awarded a Nobel Prize, he is a figure of great stature. “Religion,” he affirmed, “in an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

In speaking thus, Weinberg was warmly applauded, not one one member of his audience asking the question one might have thought pertinent: Just who has imposed on the suffering human race poison gas, barbed wire, high explosives, experiments in eugenics, the formula for Zyklon B, heavy artillery, pseudo-scientific justifications for mass murder, cluster bombs, attack submarines, napalm, intercontinental ballistic missiles, military space platforms, and nuclear weapons?

If memory serves, it was not the Vatican.

Every morally sensible creature accepts that religion can be a force for evil, and frequently is. None of this surprises knowledgeable Christians. This is precisely what the Christian religion predicts. There really should be an inexhaustible kaleidoscope of quarrelling religions, each tailored to the various predilections of mankind’s evil heart, because the devil is the father of lies and many men are eager to be deceived.  Religion gives a thin glaze of respectability to impulses that are barbaric, greedy and cruel.

But the conclusion that science must always be an unadulterated good and that scientists are of sanctified character, always honest and always pure, is sheer claptrap. Anyone with regard for history will know that scientists have participated enthusiastically in atrocities and horrors, equal to the most fanatical scimitar wielding religious extremist. The most odious regimes have produced scientists who violated the laws of man and God in experimenting on people. Scientists have engineered nightmarish weapons and developed theories, like eugenics, that thinking people find abhorrent.

This discussion really crosses into moral theology, and Berlinski takes the time to address the concepts of good and evil. Militant atheists enjoy tossing these words around like confetti, but studiously avoid explaining why their definition should be accepted by anyone else.

Berlinski cites Dawkins:

“Perhaps,” Richard Dawkins speculates, “I… am a Pollyanna to believe that people would remain good when unobserved and unpoliced by God.”

To which Berlinski cynically responds:

Why should people remain good when unobserved and unpoliced by God? Do people remain good when unpoliced by the police? If Dawkins believes that they do, he must explain the existence of the criminal law, and if he believes that they do not, then he must explain why moral enforcement is not needed at the place where law enforcement ends.

Understandably, Berlinski cannot resist quoting Sam Harris on the issue of morality since Harris veers, like a car driven by a drunkard, from arrogance to fatuous philosophy:

Sam Harris has no anxieties whatsoever about presenting his own views on human morality… “Everything about the human experience,” he writes, “suggests that love is more conducive to human happiness than hate is.” It goes without saying, of course, that Harris believes that this is an objective claim about the human mind.

If this is so, it is astonishing with what eagerness men have traditionally fled happiness.

The book is packed with a rich vein of these observations, as Berlinski proceeds to deconstruct one argument after another, never stopping for too long at any one place.

He uses words sparingly. He has trimmed nearly all the textual fat from his writing, leaving the reader only worthy substance. The book is therefore pithy, with a lot of material packed into every short section.

The attentive reading will find himself re-reading sections, and pondering over them long afterwards. Indeed, The Devil’s Delusion is a book that warrants being read multiple times, if only as a refresher into the unutterable absurdity that is atheism, notwithstanding the sophistic lipstick smeared awkwardly upon its pompous features, as it tries to cavort on the dance floor, flaunting the tattered boa of “science”.

Finding a Secure Identity in an Insecure Age

If there is one thing that has definitively occupied scholarly minds in the last decade it has been the issue of personal identity.

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If there is one thing that has definitively occupied scholarly minds in the last decade it has been the issue of personal identity. The question “how do you identify?” is now a major flash point in the culture. This was amply demonstrated by the combative interview held between the Canadian academic Jordan Peterson and Cathy Newman, a British journalist working for Channel 4.

Peterson is a rare species of social academic because he has both interesting and novel things to say and the average listener cannot help feeling edified for having heard them. This is a tremendous contrast to the majority of social academics who either have nothing interesting to say or merely repeat whatever is current and fashionable.

Nonetheless, despite having a gift on her programme, Newman opted not to tap into the rich seam of intelligent material she could have explored, but instead chose to repeatedly badger Peterson on matters of identity politics.

The popularity of this interview undoubtedly owes something to the fact that Newman’s performance was such a candid combination of pomposity and stupidity. The relative strengths of intellectual formation between two people and their respective viewpoints could hardly have been more starkly displayed. In this instance, Newman was incapable of fairly or meaningfully representing Peterson’s views. She attempted to attribute to him the worst possible motives about women and transsexuals and seemed unable to understand anything that he was saying.

The timbre of discussion powerfully captures the vicious and unreasonable mindset that has swept across our institutions of learning and communication until nothing else seems to matter. Like the insatiable red dragon in the Revelation, identity politics has consumed everything in its path. No other intellectual endeavour or philosophical framework seems able to muster enough velocity to escape its gravitation.

Identity politics is the centrepiece of student radicalism. But unlike universities in the past where student obsessions were regarded as extra-curricula activity – the byproducts, perhaps, of enlightened brains united to youthful passion – identity politics has tunnelled its way into the curriculum itself and attached itself firmly to the syllabus. Such courses at major universities are little more than indoctrination.

As people are encouraged to find meaning in belonging to victim groups – each higher or lower on the hierarchy of victimhood – we increasingly witness various identity groups engaging in rhetorical warfare with each other, competing for the spoils of being recognised as the most oppressed. Each group wants to be on top. Each wants to be preferred. Each wants to be acknowledged above any other. And so Jewish students square off against pro-Palestinian students; feminists and transsexuals collide; American patriot organisations and civil liberties groups; feminists and pro-Islamic groups; environmentalists and trade unionists.

The ultimate aim for them all is power.

Our society has become something like an unsettled hen house, with every hen fighting for place, pecking their perceived inferiors and being pecked in turn. All of this is attended by hot envy, outrage, and even violence.

The social wreckage arises from insecure identities; identities grounded in the sinful nature. Yet, cutting through this dynamic comes the opening words of St. Paul to the Philippians like a refreshing cup of water:

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

St. Paul, in the inspired text, provides a simple greeting and establishes his identity. He is a servant of Christ Jesus. That’s all he is.

He’s not a white man, black man, or a Jew. He’s not a working-class stiff, a poor man, or a victim eager to obtain special regard. He does not inflate his sense of self-importance by ascribing to himself a immaculate class identity. Neither does he identify himself by race or wealth or education.

Instead, St. Paul finds his identity in simply being a servant of Christ Jesus. St. Paul pours his energies into the Lord’s kingdom, teaches the Lord’s gospel, lives out the Lord’s holy will, and labours for the expansion of the Lord’s glory. He places himself at the disposal of Jesus who now occupies the very centre of his life as Master and Ruler.

St. Paul’s own goals, dreams, aspirations, and achievements have been long forgotten and when he recalls them, they are so irrelevant that he considers them to be “manure”  in comparison to his King. He has a new identity and it is the most glorious and most wonderful identity anyone could ever covet: to be a servant of the Jesus Christ.

Later in this letter he mentions that he is a Benjamite and has been a scrupulously observant Jew. But he has discarded all of these former things. As he explains in this  letter, he counts it all as a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord.

The man who seeks this identity – and finds it – is a man who finds a truly secure identity. He will not marinade in self-pity. He will not think, “I deserve better in life but have been robbed by people with privilege and oppressive power“. He will not become paranoid, and be forever on guard for perceived sleights. He will not be always looking for fresh opportunities to be “offended”. He will not seek for political victory over other people; forcing others to speak and behave differently to slake his thirst for power and validation.

The man who becomes a servant of Christ Jesus and sees such an identity as the most privileged calling a person could ever have is filled with gratitude and brokenness. Such a man is truly content with knowing his Master and will be satisfied – indeed, will rejoice – to be a servant of Jesus. He will find satisfaction in serving to the extent that he has been granted by the Father – whether it is scrubbing toilets or running a transnational corporation. There is humility, generosity, gratitude, and sheer wonder to be had when finding a new identity in submitting to the King of kings.

It is a supreme paradox, but one taught by none other than the Lord himself. Crucifixion of the self – the purposeful and deliberate rejection of the old identities rooted in the sin nature – does not lead to being oppressed and downtrodden, but actually leads to life eternal. To a blossoming and indomitable life. “He who loses his life shall find it,” the Lord taught us, “And he who saves his life shall lose it”.

For mankind was created explicitly to be the servants and the friends of Christ. By him and for him were all things created, wrote St. Paul. In re-assuming this identity, a man can indeed find a peace and stability that passes all understanding. A peace that all the public rallies and all protests held in all the legislatures of the world could never afford. There is liberty in being a servant of Jesus. Far more than one can ever find in the soul-twisting, nature-distorting world of identity politics with its grasping for power and moral glory over others.

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The Loss of Transcendence

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Ecclesiastes and the Christian historian

One of the philosophical principles generally accepted by historians is that no one can fully appraise or appreciate the time in which they actually live. People have often tried to give definitive and authoritative explanations of their own time period – it is a staple of opinion columns in newspapers – and many minds have flailed around trying to make sense of things. But invariably they arrive at deficient conclusions. The broad failure of this intellectual effort has been long recognised by some of humanity’s most enlightened minds. Ecclesiastes wrote nearly three thousand years ago: “Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions.

It is not wise, asserts The Teacher, to approach historiography in any way that romanticises the past, unreasonably magnifies its wonders, and airbrushes away its horrors. Yet over again, we see that people think exactly in this way. Ancient Romans of the Imperial period looked back fondly to the days of the Republic. In their minds, Imperial Rome was decadent and immoral. But in contradistinction, Republican Rome had forged its heroes in the fires of glorious combat, had produced its white-bearded scholars, and the citizenry had breathed a luminous atmosphere of enlightened values.  Nearly two millennia later, we find the same thing in the minds of Frenchmen in post-revolutionary France. Only they looked back to the Ancien Régime with nostalgia for the glories of Louis XIV, the “Sun King”.

In modern times we have entered our own period of longing, told through the hundreds of romanticised historic television shows and movies that mostly give us a version of the past as modern people wish it had been. And our times are strongly characterised by an attitude that Chesterton described as the “cult of simplicity”. He meant the yearning people have (or claim to have) for “nature”. To go back to supposed cleaner and healthier way of life before the grime and plastic of industrialisation.

Ecclesiastes’ basic point is that people fail to appraise the past accurately. They unwisely forget each time period has it own unique blend of good and evil, and in forgetting this, they come to unwise conclusions about their own lives. They neither see their own time properly nor the past. To fail to see the one is to fail to appreciate the other. And like the man who brings his face very close to an oil painting until it blurs into meaningless colours and patterns, human eyes often water with the effort of dealing with history.

Developments that will be seen as monumental in a few decades may be shrugged at carelessly in the present. History is garlanded with examples. Guglielmo Marconi is considered the father of radio yet his invention was received with a distinct lack of enthusiasm in the early 1900’s. He was told by the authorities to check himself into a lunatic asylum. Yet, from our standpoint more than a hundred years later, the tremendous importance of radio is readily seen. Without Marconi’s work, Hitler could never have come to power; the Second World War could never have been fought; the culture could never have been unalterably shaped by radio entertainment. Even baseball would not be the sport it is.

It is only in the rear view mirror of history, as we get greater distance from the period we consider, that it becomes evident which forces and attitudes shaped it. But, does this mean that our own time period must always be scorched earth to us? That it is merely dead ground, shrouded in heavy fog; dense; impenetrable? Not all. It is possible to understand our time through a process of comparison. But it must be done carefully so that we do not run afoul of the warning given by Ecclesiastes who, after all, was sharply insightful when it came to the condition of man and the sociology of mankind.

We must lapse into neither apocalyptic nor romanticised thinking. We must avoid arriving at conclusions that view the past as unspeakably wonderful or our own time as unspeakably evil. Neither must we arrogantly imagine that our current state – after a mere two hundred years of industrialisation – has advanced us morally and spiritually to be wiser than our forebears. Only a sober and sensible comparison can serve as the flare in the night that lights up our age for us to see rightly.

Loss of transcendence

I contend that if there is one thing revealed by a side-by-side comparison between the present and the past, it is the profound loss of any concept of transcendence in our time. Transcendent beliefs and experiences have been evacuated from the public and moral sphere in the Western world in a way never seen before in human society.

Let me first define my terms. By transcendence I mean the social and moral anchoring of humanity to a realm that is higher than itself. For me, transcendence is a shared sense of significance that imbues life with a richer meaning than mere existence itself. It is a framework that aggressively denies the view that we are organic machines whose only real function is to consume, replicate, acquire, and amuse ourselves before death.

A sense of transcendence always lets man brush his fingertips over things that are eternal. By feeling the infinite, he is properly integrated into the stream of time. Man lives a transitory life. We all are pilgrims, transmitters of a sacred trust; a precious deposit of truth that must be safely handed on until the ending of the world. To quote Alan Bennett, “Pass the parcel boys. This is the game I want you to learn. Pass the parcel! Not for me; not for you. But for someone, someday. Pass it on!

An awareness of the transcendent is what enables a person to experience emotions and thoughts that can only arise when standing before something monumental. Awe; veneration; reverence; wonder; self-conscious humility; gratitude; adoration; and genuine worship. Unlike our forebears who valued these experiences and went to great effort to establish settings in which they might occur (churches, museums, galleries etc.), modern people have surgically excised this whole emotional domain from their psychology. Especially among the young, the words awesome or wonderful are now only terms of approval. They are unhooked from what they once signified. The term irreverent is a synonym for good and prides is synonymous with healthy.

Transcendence has been replaced with a narrow band of utilitarianism that presents an entirely different universe of values. Few things are considered sacred anymore. Important things are also consumable. Anything new is good. Anything old is bad. The is no reverence, not even for time itself. Amusing ourselves to death, wrote Professor Neil Postman in his seminal work. The number of human hours wasted on entertainment, particularly screen based entertainment, is probably higher now than ever in history.

Does it work? people now ask. Does it matter to me? They do not ask: Is it right? Is it good? Does it matter to God? There is no longer a common  template of transcendent principles against which all things are tested and measured for worth. In this sense modern man is worse off than the pagans, for at least they had their heroic men, their legendary philosophers, mythologies, gods, and their epic poems against which they could judge their present.

It may have been a deficient template, alien to the concept of holiness and overburdened with immoral deities, but it was undeniably transcendent. It crossed the threshold between the material and the spiritual. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, in these ancient stories we may even see faint echoes of a longing for Christ. Prometheus, man’s greatest benefactor, stole from the gods their flame and fought with Zeus on man’s behalf.

The assumption that anything new is better than anything old has become more and more ingrained until it now dominates the latest generation so completely that they are hardly even aware of what the past was like before their august advent into the world. Terms like “updating“, “moving with the times” and “modernising” have become synonyms for good. These terms are applied not just to the domain of technology but also to morality, lifestyle, and behaviour. To update one’s household furniture is a good thing, requiring no further explanation since it is obvious that the new is always better than the old. When a politician speaks of updating the law to fit the times, it is never questioned whether “the times” would be better off fitting the law than the other way about. It is never questioned because these terms are complete microwavable arguments in and of themselves. If a house is repainted in the latest style and someone asks what was wrong with the old style, one may simply rebuke the questioner with the phrase, “We must move with the times, mustn’t we?” and this is considered a satisfactory, even unanswerable, response.

Modern Protestantism must reclaim a sense of transcendence

I am convinced that the loss of a transcendent sense is not isolated to unbelievers but also to Christians. The decline is most accentuated among Protestants but no group of Christians is really immune. This inescapable deduction flows from the most elementary observations. Consider following image:

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This is St. Helen’s Church in the small village of Lea, West Lindsey district of Lincolnshire. This church is a typical representation of small, country churches found throughout Europe. It was built in the 12th century and during the 900 years since, has been restored several times. It features items – pews, stained glass windows, towers, roofing, paintings and so on – that date from nearly every century between its construction until now. The east window of the northern aisle features stained glass from 1330, a century that was particularly busy for the church.

Several things are noteworthy. First, this is a building constructed for a very small village. Lea’s current population is just over 1,000 people and the village is so small that it has no shops. Other than the church, its two major communal institutions are a tennis court and a small primary school. Major metropolitan centre it is not.

Over the centuries, the local population would never have much exceeded what it is today. Yet despite the small number of people that would have worshipped here, Christians of the 12th century constructed a building that required a significant investment of capital and labour, and was obviously intended to be permanent. The builders of St. Helen’s expected it to be in use for a very long time. They were not building something that might – maybe – last for merely a hundred years. They were building something that would be used by their great-grandchildren. It would last for as long as God willed, maybe even to the ending of the age.

The building reflects an attitude of confidence about the future and a collective concern for coming generations that is quite foreign to modern man. They may not have been historians but the villagers who built and worshipped here 900 years ago would have known about the prophets, biblical kings, apostles, and probably a good deal of hagiography. They would have been trained to see their faith as one that stretched back through the mists of time to the dawning of the world. Their confidence in the long history of the church and in a transcendent God resulted in a stability of purpose. This building, in other words, was a vote of confidence in the future.

Secondly, note the aesthetics. Although only a small country church and therefore built with some degree of economy and functionality in mind, the designers and builders were still keen that it should offer a clear expression that something special occurred in this place that occurred nowhere else. For it was here that the community gathered to offer up their communal worship of God, the King of Creation in whose hands their lives rested.

For many centuries this would have been the most ornate building in the village and certainly among the largest. Situated more-or-less in the dead centre of the village, its tower reaches higher than any other structure; its windows are long and beautifully outfitted with stained glass. There are a number of Gothic features on the tower and the interior is colourful. Nothing is disposable. Everything is built with durability in mind.

The building is doctrine and faith taking form in stone and wood. It reflects a formality and otherworldly concept of worship. The fundamental attitude behind this building is that worship involves being lifted into the heavenly realms; of handling carefully the sacred trust of the Faith. It is an act of coming into a sanctified place to kneel before an omniscient and holy God, and there participate in something awesome and mysterious. Participating, it must be said, not as individuals who happen to be sitting in a group; but as a community approaching the only true God together.

This building, although one among many churches just like it, represents an entirely different way of thinking to our own. Contrast with this:

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Could meaningful worship be offered up in a setting like this? Of course. Christians have worshipped in caves, in prisons, and holes in the ground before. Our Lord promised that wherever there are two or three gathered in his name, there he would likewise gather in the midst of them. We are all familiar with the Christians in the Roman catacombs during the early centuries of persecution.

These arguments for the “democratisation” and “de-formalising” of worship are so well known by nearly every Protestant of the last hundred years that they trip from the tongue with hardly any thought. And yet, so soon forgotten, is that in the long intervening years since the ascension of Christ, the predominant and favoured form of worship of the overwhelming majority of Christians everywhere has been decidedly toward the elevated and formal. Borrowing from the forms of worship laid down in the Old Testament, Christians have sought to worship in an atmosphere of sacredness and other-worldliness, with a true effort to maintain a faithful continuance of worthwhile practices laid down by dozens of generations.

I would argue that their sense of the all-pervading holiness and greatness of God – as the One before whom man in his smallness bows – has been largely dispensed with and modern worship is more akin to the receipt of information.

I am not suggesting that reverent and meaningful worship cannot be offered up in a variety of formats, neither am I advocating for a particular form of worship. Only that a study of the past conveys a very different attitude toward life and toward God from what is generally expressed today. The difference is the loss of a heavy sense of transcendence, and this has diminished the practice of the faith, and I believe driven people from it. In some way, an informality in worship renders it something less than that which our forefathers of faith experienced and practiced, and passed to us.

Political Correctness: A Parallel Morality

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It is not possible to read the Bible for very long before one comes to realise that central to its message is the concept of law.

The Law of God enters very early into its pages. Before Moses brought the stone tablets down from Sinai in an awesome – even staggering – demonstration that God is the supreme legislator of the universe, there are hints of an inviolable moral construct. Joseph appeals to this, for instance, when resisting the advances of Potiphar’s wife.

Much of the Old Testament is an exploration of the splendours of God’s Law. The lengthy 119th psalm is an extended meditation on God’s law and the excellence of its precepts- those things that are moral, behaviourally, and spiritually “legal” are always beautiful, noble, and exalted. It is a moving psalm insofar as it reveals much about the author, a faithful priest whose life had not been a bed of roses, but who had discovered through it all that God’s Law was a bedrock foundation that even offered consolation.

Modern evangelism does not often present God’s Law in this light!

The New Testament does not hesitate to introduce us to Jesus of Nazareth, who is identified as the “Word made flesh“. In his own words, the Lord tells us that he did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfil it. Christ, therefore, is the embodiment of God’s Law; the solitary perfect man who follows the Law when all around him are lawbreakers.

Later, St. Paul provides an infallible and inerrant interpretation of Christ’s life and ministry, explaining the interplay between Law and grace, and how it is now possible that lawbreakers can be spared the penalty of their spiritual criminality. St. Paul explains that these people who are now saved from the wrath of God the Final Judge, can be renewed in a divine rehabilitation that makes them desire to be true, upstanding citizens of the Kingdom, obedient to the King and to his righteousness.

From beginning to end, the scriptures are soaked with Law. Indeed, the Law of God is the earthly manifestation of God’s character and nature.

The concept of law itself, though pivotal in scripture, is not isolated to Christian societies. Law has emerged in all human societies in all places and at all times. Man may be a natural rebel against the laws of God and even the laws of man, but his own heart and mind bears the indelible imprint of his godly origin – the imago dei –  and so laws and rules flow out of his character nearly spontaneously. Man may lay in moral ruins, like a fallen castle, but the very ruins themselves bespeak of a time when he was erect and walked tall.

Even criminals operate according to codes, rules, and laws. The notorious Italian mafia – the cosa nostra – who have no respect for the laws of either God or man, and pillage and loot according to their whim, nonetheless enforce iron discipline upon each other. They mete out death penalties, tortures, and savage beatings for violating rules that they themselves have legislated.

In this we can see how the imago dei is inescapable, even in a group as revolting as the Mafia. Ironically, the Mafia’s existence is predicated upon rebellion, yet even they have found it necessary to establish laws in order to maintain cohesion within their rebellious group.

A natural capacity for law is expressed early in children. Though they quickly learn that rules often curtail exciting opportunities and tempting pleasures, children are natural lawmakers. Watch any group of children playing a game together, and it will not be long before one or other is appealing to rules, or making rules up, or arguing over the rules.

Neither is the law merely a matter of doing what works, although laws certainly serve the practical purpose of maintaining harmony within a collective of people. But there is a deeper, intangible moral universe underpinning laws that everyone is innately programmed to both understand and recognise. For instance, all people are able to identify laws that are actually forms of injustice – such as those that typically emanate from despots. No child needs to have “rules” and “laws” defined for him or her. They may need to be taught what the rules are for a particular place or situation, but they never need to be taught what rules are. This understanding is native, as it were, straight out of the box.

In our time – a time of universal moral chaos – our culture is in the process of supplanting God’s Law, hitherto communicated through scripture, nature and conscience, with a parallel law. It is manifested primarily in political correctness, and is every much a binding legal code. Sometimes it even has the force of parliamentary law behind it. Yet this new moral code of our times is a direct antithesis to the moral law given by God. It is a challenger to the throne of the Heavenly Legislator. Nearly at every point – in a manner that exceeded even a few ancient pagan societies – the new moral code contradicts God and his Law, which is maligned as bad, retrograde, and repressive.

A prominent example is sexuality. God’s law condemns all forms of sexual behaviour outside of a covenanted union between a man and his wife. But the new morality commands people to not only refrain “from judging” but to celebrate all the forms of sexual expression that carry God’s explicit censure. Thus, our times are marred by sexual abomination and purposeful gender confusion, and this in turn, inflicts great damage upon everything else. Or, take the laws pertaining to fidelity. God’s Law calls men to a life of worship of himself. But the new morality celebrates all religions, and claims some kind of validity for them all.

Movies and music are full of the new morality, with its debased language; its constant innuendos; its crass materialism; its coarse and guttural sensibilities. (No wonder historians in the past used to say that without marriage and all the attendant restraints on human appetites, civilisation is impossible.) It is seen in activist groups, like feminists who wish to impose a whole constellation of outlandish and ridiculous ideas upon the populace, and are halfway to succeeding. It is seen in the theory of climate change which, when taken to extremes, becomes an ideology in search of law.

It is everywhere around us, these new rules and sensibilities. Woe betide “offending” someone who is a member of a protected group of class! Woe to those who dare to speak plain truths into a world governed by this new parallel moral law (I had a comment erased from The Guardian some weeks ago because I had the temerity to point out the reality that homosexual unions are, by definition, sterile).

Yet even so, like the writer of Psalm 119, we can still take comfort from the Law of God. Its penalties as far as Christians are concerned have been lifted by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the work he has wrought on the cross. Whatever else may happen, we can stand on this expression of God’s character as a rock foundation. Forevermore it will be a “lamp for my feet and light to my path”, a sure anchor, worthy of our delight and meditation, and that which surely spells the way to a happy, fulfilled, and ultimately purposeful life.

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The Unhappy State of Modern Roman Catholicism

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Protestants who are considering a return to the Roman Church need to look a little closer. There are serious crises brewing in Roman Catholicism, from dissident cardinals, to open theological disunity, to clerical scandals, and a pope whose purposes and aims are an impenetrable fog.

Lately it has been astonishing to me how many conservative (basically orthodox) Protestants have been looking toward Roman Catholicism with longing eyes.

Tired of the liberal direction of their own churches, they think they see something unchanging and solid in Roman Catholicism. It looks so ancient; so united; so deep in history; the dust of the saints seems to hang in the sunbeams shining through the high windows of St. Peter’s. They long (as we all ought to) for stability and connection with faithful forebears. So much so that they indicate that they are ready to swallow a little Mary veneration and papal infallibility if only to belong to a church that opposes the progressive trend and gives them back their Christian history.

These Protestants are standing on dangerous territory. They have lost sight of the reasons the Reformation happened in the first place. They have lost confidence in the centrality of the Word of God. In many cases they lack a strong concept of Christian history, or perhaps, have a fantasy version of Christian history that never existed in the first place. They have lost sight of the fact that the practice of pure Christianity can and does change form from age to age.

Long ago it was practised by fishermen in small homes with glassless windows, and in prison cells, and on long and dusty roads. And then it spread throughout Europe, Africa and eastern Asia where it was practised principally in Latin and Greek in small village chapels. It was practised by an antecedent church that would later mutate into the Roman Church.

Five hundred years ago its form changed again. Under the guidance of God, it began to be practised, believed and disseminated by the Reformers, then the Puritans and the great missionaries, who wore their sombre black teaching gowns and took the Good News to the colonies; to the far reaches of the earth.

Today, pure Christianity is increasingly practised by small cells. Sometimes small faithful cells of true believers who remain together in the rotting body of a larger church. Or more frequently, Christians who gather in plain, simple independent local churches and dispense with the robes and the stained glass and get back to basics with the exposition of the pure Word.

Anyone contemplating a return to Rome needs only to look at its present situation to realise that there are no answers there. The Roman Church has entered a state of decline. It is in free-fall without any possibility of arrest.

Its doctrine and teachings are un-reformable (always the hazard of “infallible government”). It is sclerotic, shackled to traditions that have long passed usefulness or even good sense, and has become so indifferent to its own teachings that it is unwilling to enforce them on privileged members like celebrities and politicians.

Its adherents are often poorly catechised – something even acknowledged by the church hierarchy – with suggestions that maybe half of Roman Catholics do not know what their church really teaches about transubstantiation and the Eucharist, even though this is the centrepiece sacrament in Roman theology. (A Protestant might cynically observe that such widespread ignorance is the Roman Church’s strength.)

Many Roman Catholics are anchored more by familiarity to custom and allegiance to the pope than the official truth claims made by their church. Indeed, knowledgeable Roman Catholics worry about papolatry, defined as the elevation of the pope to a quasi-divine figure. Examples of this abound, from a nun who says that Pope Francis loves you even from the other side of the world to Vatican officials asking Filipino Roman Catholics to use images of Christ and not of the pope.

In popular demonstrations of Roman Catholic pride, singers and dancers have displayed a giant head of the pope with a dove hovering above it, as in the case of the 2015 Argentine mardi gras (caution: I have provided only a link to a secondary website with a clean photograph. If you research this further you will come across photographs of the event which featured dancers in very impure costumes. Best avoided.). Their float featured near-naked dancers cavorting before the papal visage, summoning up images of that ghastly pagan dancing in in the movie classic Solomon and Sheba (1959). To the best of my knowledge, this float was never repudiated by the church’s hierarchy.

Upon Jorje Bergoglio’s election, cute Youtube cartoons quickly appeared which presented him very nearly as a perfect saint. When he visited the United States, a Roman Catholic group put up a Twitter theme featuring the word HOPE with the Pope’s head as the letter O. In an effort to reign this in, some Roman Catholic blogs dealt with comments regarding “blasphemy” against the pope. Protestants are forced to wryly observe that blasphemy is always an offence against God. Even when men spoke against St. Paul or St. Peter, they never charged their accusers with blasphemy!

But Rome’s obsession with human mediators and human intercessors does not just end there. During the “Year for Priests” all kinds of Roman Catholic Youtube videos appeared glorifying the priesthood in audio-visual displays akin to worship. The most disturbing of these featured a song by Brian Flynn who sings, “You are a priest forever, in the line of Melchizedek, in persona Christi ad majorem dei gloria“.

For a Protestant, the full lyrics are unendurable. The song appropriates the words written to the Hebrews about the glory of Christ our High Priest who supersedes any earthly priesthood. The song-writer takes that glorious teaching and applies it to feeble, mortal, sinful men who claim they have power to bring Christ down from heaven on their command and render him present on their altars! Who do these priests think they are? And where in sacred scripture is such a power ever bestowed upon men? Most assuredly, it is not ever given to men.

If the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church knew what they knew now, I suspect they would never have elected Jorje Mario Bergoglio as pope.

Pope Francis has been treated very kindly by the media, far more so than his predecessor. Initially this was because he seemed to promise a new direction. The media believed that he might change Roman Catholic practices and introduce a wave of 1960’s style policies, like ordaining women priests, giving communion to divorcees, and softening the line on practising homosexuals.

We were hammered with talk of something called the “Francis Effect”, which turns out to be almost entirely a media construction. It is a textbook example of the sort of “phenomena” the media falsely discovers, spends months chattering about in broad abstract terms, before realising that it never existed in the first place.

Under Francis’ leadership, the Roman Catholic Church has lurched from disaster to disaster, both internal and external. It exposes the ever-broadening contradictions, inconsistencies, and disunity within the Church itself, as it navigates the 21st century with all the acuity of a rudderless vessel.

Numbers of Roman Catholics in the developed world continue to fall. There are massive and widening internal divisions within the Roman Church, between the progressives who wish to pull in a more liberal direction akin to their Lutheran counterparts, and the conservatives who often wish to pull in a more traditionalist direction and return to the Tridentine forms of worship. This chasm will result in schism. It is well and truly on the cards now, and this is being muttered about even by very conservative Roman Catholics whose allegiance to the Vatican is absolute.

The Synod on the Family (2014-2015) exposed both internal machinations and deep theological divisions. And the resulting encyclical Amoris laetitia has clarified nothing and instead prompted months of debate and disputation, some of it very unpleasant. There is now virtual open warfare between the highest ranking members of the hierarchy over the encyclical, with four cardinals going public with their “dubia” or “doubts”. And this hasn’t just been a recent development. Even while the dust was still settling from the Synod, the words began to fly with cardinals openly calling each other out over this.

Meanwhile, the progressive editor of La Civilta Cattolica, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, who gets interviews with Pope Francis and produces the only Roman Catholic magazine to be examined under draft by the Secretariat of State of the Holy See, has been using Twitter in a manner that has prompted journalists to write lengthy and detailed exposes. It has been suggested by these websites that the tweets have been aimed at those very same cardinals who went public with their “dubia”.

Francis’ public comments have certainly been fodder for misinterpretation. From the “who am I to judge” comment in relation to homosexuals to the implication that good atheists might enter heaven. Many defenders were quick to point out that these may have been misunderstood, misinterpreted or misquoted. Maybe they were, but one cannot help noticing that if this is the case, Francis has been the unfortunate victim of this on many, many, many occasions. At some point, blaming the translator starts to seem a little empty.

Satirists, like the famous Lutheran Satire, were not so forgiving. Their humour has a cold zing to it because they sourced their material more-or-less verbatim from Francis himself:

They lampoon some of his comments. For example, the report in which the Pope said that youth unemployment and loneliness among the elderly were the most urgent problems facing his church. Not the salvation of sinners, apparently.

But then we come to the here and now.

The latest remarks from the pope this week were so off-colour I initially thought they were satire or “fake news” when I first read them on an Italian news site. But alas, they appear to have been quite real. In speaking about media coverage of scandals and corruption, the Pope referred to sexual arousal over faeces and eating faeces, explaining that this is what the media do when they chase negative stories. In turn, the Spectator in the United Kingdom published an analysis of this, and asked whether or not it was time for the pope to retire.

Yet, the pope and his church have still other problems. Recently, it lurched from the progressive angle and banned all men with homosexual tendencies from the priesthood. There is multiple news coverage of this and it is not very clear what the Roman Church is saying. Whatever it is saying, however, it seems the church is able to judge something after all regarding homosexuality.

According to news sources, from this point forward, a man with homosexual tendencies, even if he is committed to priestly celibacy and continence, will not be allowed to serve as a priest. Some of the comments from the Daily Mail readers suggested that this would decimate the priesthood if it were enforced on existing clergy. Their glib comments do point to something serious. The fact that this ruling has been made at all suggests that there are many such men entering the priesthood. It also suggests that such men may be a source of trouble for the Roman hierarchy.

In fact, at least three Roman Catholic bishops have been involved in sexual scandals in the past 10 years or so. One was even videoed having sexual relations with another man. This is to say nothing of openly gay priests. We do not know how many such men carefully conceal their sexual activities, but some groups suggest that around 50% of the Roman Catholic clergy may be homosexual. These claims are made by liberal and conservative groups. (See: source 1, source 2, source 3, source 4.)

The pope is meant to bring unity, which is the big drawcard for conservatives in embattled denominations. But conservative Roman Catholics within the Roman Catholic Church are growing increasingly dissatisfied themselves. These conservatives are eyeing traditionalists groups with increasing longing. Since Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum issued in 2007 gave priests far greater freedom to celebrate the old Latin form of the mass, the traditionalists have started to grow in number. Their enclaves have expanded, but for many of them, the Roman Church is still not traditional enough.

Consequently, traditionalist schismatic groups like the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) continues to grow and continues to reject any rapprochement that involves accepting the present doctrinal state of the Roman Catholic Church. (A move that seems rather wise in light of the explosive growth of the SSPX and the equally evident decline of the parent organisation.)

Although they would deny it, the Society of St. Pius X is essentially a breakaway church, developing into a parallel organisation practising a robust Tridentine Catholicism. It has an ever-expanding constellation of seminaries, schools, nursing homes, university institutes, churches, chapter houses and monasteries. But more than this, the SSPX is a vivid demonstration of just how much the “unchanging” Roman Catholic Church really has radically changed in the past 70 years.

The two religious groups bear virtually no relation to each other at all. The form of worship is different; the whole premise of their respective ecclesiology is different. Neither is this just a superficial flourish. Modern Roman Catholicism is simply not the same religion that it was in the 1950’s and earlier. The church defended by G. K. Chesterton  would be unrecognisable to him today.

It reminds us all that the only unchanging authoritative centre of true Christianity is that which God himself has given us. Namely, his word, which cannot change.