The Christian Review 2015

Governor Christie — Go to Green Bay!

Deal W. Hudson
January 8, 2015

Following the victory of the Dallas Cowboys over the Detroit Tigers, longtime Cowboy’s fan, Gov. Chris Christie, gave Jerry Jones a hug — Jones is the owner of the Cowboys.  Since Christie was sitting in the owner’s box his impetuous embrace was caught on TV and broadcast to the nation.

The pummeling soon began: Fox commentator Terry Bradshaw was “appalled,” the Daily Beast asked if Christie would “regret his Cowboy hug,” and those New Jersey politicos defeated by Tunnelgate started rumbling about another ethics investigation. The Democratic co-chairman of the joint legislative committee, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, that led an investigation into the George Washington Bridge scandal, said Christie sitting in owner Jones’s skybox looks “very suspicious.”

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Such furor over Christie’s loyal devotion to the Cowboys and his delight in their playoff victory makes me wonder, once again, why anyone wants to serve in public office. Accused of bad taste, bad politics, and bad ethics, Gov. Christie now faces the decision of whether or not to attend Sunday’s playoff game between Dallas and the Green Bay Packers at Packer Stadium.

If Christie is the man I think he is, he will not only go to the game but will give Jones another, even bigger, hug if the Cowboys beat the Packers in what will be the most highly rated professional football game of the year.

Over the years, Christie has gained many admirers for his boldness in responding to the kind of media questions that make most politicians duck and run.  His return to commonsense was refreshing to many of us who have grown nauseous with media bias and inane political correctness.  It’s as if male politicians have embraced a castration complex as a fait accompli.

Bradshaw was completely off base in his reaction to Christie’s jubilation — wouldn’t any fan in the proximity of Jerry Jones started whooping it up?  The Daily Beast, of course, will grasp at any straw to undermine the Republican Christie’s appeal. And the New Jersey legislature, well, need it even be said? They’ve been trying to hang Christie from the day he was elected.

From one lifelong Cowboy fan to another: Governor Christie, go to Green Bay on Sunday!

By the way, if Christie was a Detroit Tigers fan and had thrown his arms around Mike Ilitch, I would be saying the same thing.

The American voter may have lots of quirks, but one thing they will not do: Penalize a politician who dances around and starts shouting when his favorite football team wins!

A Writer Who Questions Whether or Not Jesus is Real

Deal W. Hudson
January 10, 2015

Madeline St John (1941-2006), pronounced “sin-gin,” is a writer who never caught on in the United States, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was her early death in 2006. When Carroll & Graf published three of her novels in the late 90s, I was certain American readers would be intrigued by this writer whose Anglicanism and Britishness, though born in Australia, is both charming and morally serious. She published only four novels before her death, The Women in Black (1993), A Pure Clear Light (1996), The Essence of the Thing (1997), and Stairway to Paradise (1999). Her work deserves to be widely read by those traditional readers who are in the habit of recommending only writers now long-deceased.

To my mind, St John deserves to be grouped with writers such as Ron Hansen, Donna Tartt, Oscar Hijuelos, Jon Hassler, Marilynne Robinson, and the Swede Torgny Lindgren — whose literary achievements have been widely recognized in spite of rather traditional moral and spiritual attitudes. St John would undoubtedly be surprised to find herself mentioned in such company. Her books contain nothing of the historical gravitas, for example, of Hansen’s Hitler’s Niece (2000), the exotic lyricism of Hijuelos’s Empress of the Splendid Season (1999), or the confessional realism of Lindgren’s masterwork Sweetness (translated and published in 2011). The comparison to Marilynne Robinson, however, is more apt. Robinson’s four novels, the latest being the award-winning Lila (2014), are situated domestically and address matters of faith directly.

St John’s books are disarming in a way the others are not: Her characters inevitably, under the pressure of life-changing events, calmly pause for tea. Composed entirely of short chapters, filled largely with dialogue, her novels begin with the offhandedness of a soap opera and end with the wallop of an Ibsen play.

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I suggest starting with A Pure Clear Light — it traces the return to Christianity of Flora, whose husband Simon is carrying on a red-hot affair with Gillian. The halting steps of Flora toward her recovery of faith are convincingly presented. Her two children accompany their mother to church but are puzzled by her sudden change of habits. Her daughter finally asks why she should go to church: “‘Because,’ said Flora, ‘there are two possible worlds, the one in which Jesus is real, and the one in which he is not, and it actually does matter which of these two worlds you believe you’re living in.’” The emptiness of the relationship with Gillian is gradually revealed to Simon by the “clear light” of Flora’s example.

Another reflection on the difference between love and narcissism is found in The Essence of the Thing, nominated for the Booker Prize in 1997. This tale is both more acerbic and troubling than A Pure Clear Light. It begins with the sudden and unexplained breakup of a relationship that appeared, to both family and friends, headed for the altar. In Jonathan’s decision to leave Nicola, the exposure of his shallowness, and, especially, the onslaught of Nicola’s painful loneliness, St John catches the sad spectacle of serial relationships devoid of marital purpose. After Jonathan moves his things out of their apartment, Nicola returns to her bedroom, “a habitation now only for denial, desolation, and grief: for whatever dark spirits are sucked into the vacuum left by the departure of tenderness, love, and trust.”

In St John’s last published work A Stairway to Paradise (1999) Alex, a married journalist, and Andrew, a newly divorced academic, duel for the favors of the India-bound Barbara. As in her previous novels, St John explores the reasons men cheat on, and sometimes leave behind, the women who have loved them and borne their children. All the men in St John’s fiction create capsules of insulated time and space where their false loves can gestate. The women grow tired of this fantasy, as in the case of Barbara telling Alex she can no longer pretend their affair does not affect his wife and children: “It’s not separate from the rest of our lives, or the rest of our selves, or the rest of the world,’ she said. ‘It only feels as if it is. That’s the whole point of it. Don’t you see?’”

St John is not timid: Her characters talk about choosing between a world where Jesus is real or He is not, and they come to conclusions about what real love may allow and what it will not. Yet in spite of grappling with the big issues, her writing remains lithe and lively, her ear for the moral undertones of conversation unparalleled in this generation of writers.

Obama’s Decision Was Repugnant

Deal W. Hudson
January 12, 2015

I really don’t understand this President.  It’s one thing to say, I don’t like this President, or I don’t agree with this President, but to say, I don’t understand this President, is even more alarming to me.

Obama’s decision not to accept the invitation of French President François Hollande, to march side-by-side in France’s historic protest against terrorism is repugnant.  I use that term on purpose: When I was in sixth grade, I asked my teacher, Mr. Hoppe, “what’s the worst thing I can call a person,” he replied, “repugnant.”

So, President Obama, I want to tell you, “Your choice not to join arms with the nation who gave us the Statue of Liberty in 1886 is repugnant.”  Why? If you knew the history of the special relationship between this nation and France, your first impulse would have been, “Of course, I’ll go!” You would have told your staff, “Let’s make this happen, regardless of my schedule.” Sadly, President Obama who had nothing on his schedule for January 11, 2015, didn’t go to Paris and didn’t say why.

World leaders walk alongside French President Holland, but without President Obama.

World leaders walk alongside French President Holland, but without President Obama.

Even a CNN commentator, Jake Tapper, remarked from Paris that he was “ashamed” by the lack of U.S. presence, meaning Obama, Biden, or Secretary of State Kerry. Need it be said that CNN, as a news organization, probably has done little than promote Obama and cover for his mistakes for the past seven years?  CNN didn’t cover for Obama this time. Why? Because it was repugnant.

Not only did the nation of France officially recognize our common commitment to freedom by the gift of the Lady Liberty but France was also the only European nation to come to our aid during our American Revolution, sending much-needed ships, thousands of men, the leadership of Marquis de Lafayette and the expenditure of 13 billion dollars in modern currency.

This history, alone, should have sent Obama to Paris to join the other 3 million who walked in protest of the slaying of 13 staff members of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo by three Muslim terrorists. The political leaders of Germany, Italy, Turkey, Britain, Israel and the as well as Palestinian territories march through the historic Place de la Republique.

Over 100,000 American soldiers died defending France in World War 1.  In World War II over 400,000 died with 9,387 buried at the Normandy American Cemetery after the D-Day Invasion of June 6, 1944, where 2,499 Americans died and thousands more were severely wounded.

It was Paris, the President might also remember, where Charles Lindbergh landed on May 21, 1927, at Le Bourget Aerodrome where the tens of thousands who had waited in the dark for “The Spirit of St. Louis” to land nearly shredded the plane, and the pilot, in their frenzied celebration.  One biographer of Lindbergh cited a witness who said, the crowd was “behaving as though Lindbergh had walked on water, not flown over it.”

It’s a certainty that Obama will never be heralded by the French in such a manner.

Obama has been described as becoming “invisible,” and we can all wish that was really the case. But it isn’t. Obama’s presence is still noticed in his absence, not merely because he’s the President of the United States but also the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (2009). When Obama was elected to office in 2008, he was celebrated as the savior of America’s power and reputation around the world. Now his lack of character, education, and vision have become apparent to all, even the liberal media.

The thrill that MSNBC’s Chris Mathews once described going up his leg is gone. Why? Because Obama’s decision was repugnant.

St. Thomas Aquinas Came to My Ambulance

Deal W. Hudson
January 28, 2015

The Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas

I would guess that most Catholics look at the sanctity of St. Thomas Aquinas as primarily an intellectual charism, given that he was the greatest Christian intellectual of the Middle Ages, a period of over 800 years.

I had viewed St. Thomas in this way, ever since the first day I read from the Summa Theologica, accelerating my journey into the Catholic Church. The day I “met” Aquinas, so to speak, was in the spring of 1980. In February 1984, I was received into the Church taking the name “Tommaso” in tribute to the saint who had opened my eyes to the truth, and truths, of our faith.

Five years later I would learn that the sanctity of St. Thomas extended far beyond the teaching that designed the architecture of all subsequent Catholic philosophy and theology.

The Bronx River Parkway

The Bronx River Parkway

It was a beautiful September afternoon in 1989, and I was driving south on the Bronx River Parkway to the new faculty reception at Fordham University. Not being in a hurry, I was driving in the middle lane below the speed limit. It was around 3pm, and the traffic was very light.

Out of the corner of my eye, in the side view mirror, I saw a car coming very fast in the lane to my left. Just as the car passed me, it swerved in front of me — I assume the driver was trying to impress me with his driving skill. Well, the driver failed to execute his “manly” maneuver; his car clipped the front left fender of my mine, turning my car 45 degrees to the right and hurtling towards a steel guard rail.

I looked at the rail and my speedometer, which read 40 mph, and said “goodbye” to my wife Theresa and my sixteen-month old daughter Hannah. Since I wasn’t wearing a seat belt, I knew I would not survive the impact.

My car hit the guard rail and bounced backwards into the middle of the parkway. As the car came to rest, I was amazed that I was still conscious, though blood was streaming down my face and onto my (brand new!) sport coat. I sat completely dazed as other cars whizzed around me.

I was starting to lose consciousness when the door opened and a off-duty firefighter started to take care of me, applying pressure to the deep wound in my scalp. He apologized telling me he had to leave but assured me an EMS vehicle was on its way. I was left feeling afraid and vulnerable, but within a minute I heard the sound of an ambulance approaching.

But once again, I was losing consciousness and feeling cold.

The door opened again and I felt myself being lifted out of the car, placed on a stretcher, and put into the back of the vehicle. Everything was going dark when I heard a woman’s voice, with a strong Irish accent yelling in my face, “You’ve got to get yourself together, now!” Her voice brought me back to consciousness. Then, I found myself whispering, “Thomas, Thomas, Thomas…..”

After repeating his name, my mind cleared, my body lost its chill, and I started conversing as if nothing serious had happened.

It was a quick ride to the North Central Bronx Hospital, where after several hours of waiting, a female resident freshly arrived from Mississippi, applied double stitches to my scalp, which was almost removed, and the deep cuts in my forehead. Her Southern accent was reassuring though I was shocked when she told me I was being sent home the same day.

Later that evening Theresa arrived to take me home. When she put baby Hannah was put in my arms I broke down, uncontrollably, remembering I had said “goodbye” to her and her mother only a few hours earlier.

As the days passed and the details of the accident on the Bronx River Parkway became more vivid to me, I realized that I owed my life to Irish lass in the EMS vehicle and the saint whose presence I spontaneously implored. Her’s was the voice that pierced the darkness making way for the Angelic Doctor to shine through.

 

The Near-Fatal Flaw in My Education

Deal W. Hudson
March 2, 2015

I’ve always viewed myself as classically educated, a proponent of the “Great Ideas” and the “Great Books.” In fact, I spent three summers as the Mortimer Adler Fellow at the Aspen Institute, working side by side with the great man himself.

As a college professor for 15 years, I avoided textbooks where possible and taught from original sources, my regular conversation partners being Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Boethius, Aquinas, Bonaventure, and Dante; along with moderns such as Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Freud, Maritian, C.S. Lewis, Chesterton, Gilson, Adler, and Pieper.

My own education had been in philosophy and classics at the University of Texas-Austin; Christian Doctrine at Princeton Theological Seminary; and theology and literature at Emory University. Outside the classroom, I pursued the history of the novel and classical music and eventually everything I could learn about the movies.

But it wasn’t until my 60s that I started to study history seriously. For the past five years, I’ve found myself intrigued by both World Wars; the Russian Revolution; the Spanish Civil War; the history of the Czars; the War of 1812; Fin de siècle Europe; English history since Richard II; the history of China; the Middle East since the British-French Mandate; U.S. expansion westward; the American Revolution and Civil War; Peloponnesian War; the Greco-Persian Wars; Rome after Julius Caesar; the French Revolution and the Terror; Louis XIV, XV, and XVI; Europe after WWII; 20th century dictators; Napoleon; Queen Victoria; and the history of Byzantium.

Ruth Scurr's biography of Maximilien Robespierre.

Ruth Scurr’s biography of Maximilien Robespierre.

I wouldn’t say that I was ignorant of history, but I was ignorant of its essential importance in my education. I’m guessing that I was not alone in thinking history was a narrative to be memorized, a series of epochs, each with a dominant culture; important leaders and events; ideas; forms of government; institutions; works of art, all encompassed in a timeline starting with its rise, continuing through its flourishing, and ending with its decline and demise.

One lesson most of us have taken away from even a cursory knowledge of history is that kingdoms, no matter how dominant, are impermanent. They may bear the same name, such as Britain, but they went through a fundamental change in order to survive their decline. Think of what countries like the Netherlands, Spain, France, Portugal, Japan, Greece, and Russia once were. Remember the heyday of the Vikings and the Norman conquest.

However, the fatal flaw in my education was not noticing that history taught human nature, the centrality of character in human events, both public and private. I’m not using a character in the philosophical sense of a person possessing virtue but in the descriptive sense: Henry V had a character, largely admirable but far from perfect, while Richard III had character, most despicable but not devoid of compassion. What was the debacle known as the Treaty of Versailles other than the product of men with flawed characters clashing over claims of idealism, vengeance, ownership, and guilt?

What I take away from my recent reading of history is simple — I’ve been much too willing to put my trust in people. I’ve been naive in assuming people will generally do the “right thing.” Fallen human nature makes people more complicated than that. The probabilities of character are darker than I had assumed from a lifetime of reading philosophy.

Kenneth Branagh as Macbeth.

Kenneth Branagh as Macbeth.

I could have learned this much earlier from Shakespeare. Macbeth, Richard III, and King Lear teach the same lessons, but my mind at the time was too deeply etched with the theory of the virtues to be distracted by the dissonance of these counter-examples.

As a good friend of mine said, one who helped to guide me through some tough times in my own life: “Everyone has a little larceny.” He was probably putting it nicely. It’s truer to say everyone has a little larceny, but more than a few people are capable of, given the circumstances, a lot of larcenies.

Some might ask here, what about your Christian faith? The life and death of Jesus Christ, the constant quarrel with the Pharisees, the abandonment by all but one of his disciples, the denial of Peter, the murderous intent of the Sanhedrin, the people’s choice of Barabbas over Christ? What about the history of the Church itself, which contains all the plot twists of the War of the Roses during its periods of decadence?

Finally, someone might say, have you looked at yourself? Yes. Though I’d like to think I’m exempt from all the character flaws and destructive inclinations described above, I know I am not. But my late encounter with history has overcome what must have been an inner resistance to recognizing human nature in the raw, so to speak. That’s why I call it a near-fatal flaw because I’m still here but better armed and ready for what may come.

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Challenges Facing Catholic Voters in the 2016 Election

Deal W. Hudson
March 11, 2015

Anyone who wishes to understand the Catholic vote needs to recognize two things from the start. First, there is no reliable “Catholic block” of voters, but there is a sizable group of white Catholic moderates who “swing” back and forth from one party to the other. They can determine the outcome of elections, as has been the case in every presidential election since 2000.

White Catholics as a whole made up only 18% of the electorate in 2012, but as a group of 18,000,000 voters, the moderates among them are significant.

Next, there is an important distinction to be made between Catholic voters who attend Mass regularly, called “active Catholics,” and Catholic who do not call “inactive” or “self-identified Catholics.” The latter’s voting pattern is indistinguishable from the national voting pattern, while active Catholics can differ between 4% to 10%, always in favor of the socially conservative candidate, usually a Republican.

On the distinction between active and inactive Catholic voters, see the November 1998 of Crisis Magazine which I edited, containing the groundbreaking study by Steve Wagner and commentary by the late Bob Novak. After the publication of this study and it’s subsequent — and successful — implementation in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, the distinction has become standard in the political analysis of Catholic voters.

Pope Francis

Whether he intended it or not, Pope Francis has re-energized the Catholic left, the so-called “social justice” arm of the Catholic electorate. This means that those lay leaders and clergy who have been taking heat for downplaying the life issues will be able to point to the new Holy Father who said, Catholics should not be “obsessed” with abortion. It won’t matter that Pope Francis has repeatedly condemned abortion as an “unspeakable crime,” because in politico-speak you never get past the first distinction. Any further distinctions are ignored or dismissed.

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Immigration

Catholics rightly call immigration policy a prudential matter, but it has become de facto a non-negotiable at the USCCB, so much so that much of the clergy — and particularly Catholic Democrats — now include immigration as a “life issue.” It will not matter in the 2016 campaign that this position is wrong or that Catholics are not morally obliged to accept the bishop’s position on immigration.

The GOP, Catholic Republicans, and “conservative Catholics” will be pounded repeatedly on their supposed immigration stance, the assumption being they’re opposed to the bishops and to Pope Francis. Even Catholic presidential candidates, Sen. Rubio and former Gov. Bush, who has supported immigration reform — and paid a political price — will be found wanting.

Environment

Pope Francis has promised an encyclical on the environment. It has already been drafted by Cardinal Peter Turkson and is being readied for publication sometime later this year. If the Holy Father writes in support of the dubious global warming theory, it will hand the Democrats and the Catholic Left a very large cudgel to use against the GOP and Catholic Republicans in particular.

It will not matter what precisely the Holy Father says about the prudential issue of environmental public policy, his words will be treated as “Church teaching” in support of all the pro-abortion Catholic Democrats running for office. In truth, it will not matter if Pope Francis specifically endorses global warming. As long as he addresses “climate change,” which he assuredly will, the Catholic left will be free to claim the Holy Father has made global warming part of “Church teaching.”

With the addition of both immigration and environment arrows in their issue quiver, left-wing Catholic activists will have quite an advantage going into 2016.

Obamacare

The issue of religious liberty and taxpayer-funded abortion failed to make much of a dent in the 2012 presidential election. The reasons were multiple: a weak GOP candidate who ran from all the life issues; Catholic leaders such as Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Medical Association, offering Obama cover; and the tepid response of the USCCB, signaling to the White House a tacit acceptance of healthcare reform regardless of its abortion coverage. The presidential debate — not necessarily the congressional debates — will move from Obamacare, taxpayer funding of abortion, gay marriage, and religious liberty to the fate of the Pain-Capable Act see below.

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Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act

The most important Congressional legislation since Roe v Wade (1978) was withdrawn from the House floor under pressure of pro-life Republican women citing concerns about its reporting requirement for rape and incest victims. That it was withdrawn on the day of the annual March for Life when it had been promised by House leadership, was especially galling for the pro-life community, which is predominate, if not entirely, Republican.

If the Pain-Capable Bill is not brought to the floor of the House and the Senate this year, where it would undoubtedly pass, a large percentage of the GOP ground troops will feel much as they did in 2012 when Romney ran away from any discussion of abortion or marriage. Pro-lifers once again will feel the Republican establishment had stabbed them in the back. It’s simply not possible for any Republican presidential candidate to win the White House without the active support of pro-life activists.

Hispanic Catholics

Hispanic Catholics are a growing segment of Catholic voters, now over 20%. (Hispanic voters represented 8% of all 2014 voters.) The voting record of Hispanic Catholics does not differ significantly from Hispanic voters in general, thus raising a question about the oft-repeated claim that Hispanic Catholics are “natural” social conservatives and ripe for wooing by the GOP.

Hispanic voters did respond as a group to President George W. Bush’s reelection effort, voting 44% in his favor over John Kerry. But the ugly immigration debate of 2005 put an end to that trend towards the GOP among Hispanic voters. In the congressional election of 2006, Hispanic votes for GOP candidates dropped by 50% with Romney receiving only 27% of the Hispanic vote in 2012.

Hispanic Evangelicals vote very differently from Hispanic Catholics — they consistently favor social conservatives by a large margin, a fact worth pondering.

Catholic Candidates

At present, there are three Catholic GOP candidates: Rubio, Santorum, and Bush. The only Democratic Catholic candidate on the horizon is former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, who given the growing resistance against Hillary Clinton’s candidacy may move towards center stage.

Given the addition of immigration and possibly environmentalism as Catholic issues on the 2016 campaign, O’Malley would be somewhat shielded from his abortion advocacy — his support of federal funding for abortion — as well as his dismissal of the religious liberty issues arising from his support for Obamacare. He’s relatively young and attractive, so JFK nostalgia will naturally flow in his direction.

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Rick Santorum’s moment came in 2012 when he was within a few primary victories of the nomination. It’s doubtful that moment will return. Both Bush and Rubio have already gained some momentum, in spite of their intra-state rivalry. Putting aside the issue of fundraising and political infrastructure, both Bush and Rubio will have a reasonable defense against charges they have ignored the Church’s “teaching” on immigration, but their record will be ignored since they belong to the party still besmirched with, and in some cases cases still practicing, the anti-immigration rant of 2005.

However, any of these three candidates will eventually receive the wholehearted support of the pro-life ground troops. Santorum would be their first pick, but the records of both Rubio and Bush would win them a solid following, after some initial grousing.

In sum, Catholics voters who hope our nation can recover from eight years of an Obama presidency face serious challenges. The ongoing battle with the Catholic left has been made more difficult by the papal encouragement of the Cuomo-Kennedy legacy of social justice Catholicism. This cannot be overcome by the emergence in spite of stronger pro-life, pro-marriage leadership by individual bishops.

Until the culture of the USCCB undergoes a radical conversion, the message of Catholic bishops to Catholic voters in the U.S. will not favor candidates who espouse life, marriage, and the rejection of euthanasia. The settled moral issues of the Catholic faith, those that bear no qualification, will continue to be paid lip service by most Catholics.

The only solution is for lay Catholics to amplify the voice of individual bishops who are leading on these issues, create a loose grassroots network of Catholics nationwide, and outwork and out-shout the newly-energized and well-funded organizations who publish lies about the faith to support pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage candidates.

10 Ways Catholics Can Elect the Next President

Deal W. Hudson
March 13, 2015

The 2016 election will be decisive for the future of our nation. Eight more years of leadership such as we have witnessed under Obama will stamp our culture so deeply it would take a century to undo the damage.

What damage, you ask? Eight more years will bring an end to religious liberty. Expressing the Christian view of human existence will become the occasion of bureaucratic and legal censure and punishment.

The fuse will be ignited by those who defend the Christian understanding of homosexuality, but the ensuring explosion will extend along an entire range of issues from the meaning of marriage, public school curricula, freedom of speech, control of the internet, radio and TV programming content, euthanasia and, of course, abortion.

To put it bluntly, if the Democrats win the 2016 election the United States of 2050 will be completely unrecognizable from the nation into which I was born in 1949.

The generations who fought and even died against the tyrants of ideology — the reduction of the human person to vacuous materiality — will have sacrificed for nought. The tyrants won without firing a shot. They took control of the culture by taking over the leadership of our basic institutions — education, entertainment, journalism, medicine, banking, social services, and religion.

To have any chance of impacting the next election, which as I have written will be difficult, Catholics should consider the following lessons that have been learned by those of us who have been actively involved in successful and unsuccessful political campaigns on behalf of life, marriage, religious liberty, and the protection of those near to death.

These are not merely my personal recommendations but represent a consensus of Catholics who have been active in leading political, grassroots efforts on behalf of worthy candidates.

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1. Promote Mass attendance: All the exit polling since the late ’50s shows that Mass-attending Catholics, not self-identified Catholics, are most likely to vote for socially conservative candidates who oppose gay “marriage,”oppose abortion, oppose euthanasia, support the military, espouse traditional values, support fiscal responsibility, oppose the growth of federal power, and look upon the United States as an “exceptional” nation. If Mass attendance continues to drop, Catholic voters will have less and less impact at the ballot box. Their voting pattern will lose its distinctiveness.

2. Maximize the likely voters: Outreach to Catholic voters should focus on maximizing the identification, education, recruiting, and actual voting of Mass-attending Catholics.  Effort spent going after historically hostile or indifferent groups is a waste of time and resources.  Self-identified Catholics vote with the general population, as do Catholic groups bound by ethnicity.  Yes, Catholics need evangelization, but that’s a long-term project which cannot be completed by 2016.

3. Watch your language: Most Catholic politicians and activists sound like Evangelicals.  That’s not meant as a criticism of Evangelicals but a criticism of Catholics who do not bring the concepts and diction of their own faith into the public square.  It’s also a criticism of Catholics who think they have to sound like an Evangelical preacher to gain a following or create applause. Catholics speaking about politics need to develop their own effective political language and their own powerful, persuasive rhetorical models.

4. Don’t ask for permission from clergy: The Church teaches that the Catholic layperson has a specific obligation to participate in politics, to be political all the way to the grassroots.  Our clergy and religious have an obligation to vote but do not have the same obligation to engage politics in a partisan manner. Catholics make the mistake of asking for permission to create groups or support candidates when asking permission is not required.  Our clergy teach us the moral-social principles upon which our participation is based, but they cannot — and should not — become obstacles to lay participation in politics.  (The only exception is in the case of ex-communication when a politician is “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin,” such as abortion; see Canon 915.)

5. Collect lists, stop waving fists: Too many Catholics confuse public complaining with political participation. They spend their time making impassioned comments at political rallies, or in religious meetings, about the state of the culture and the need to change our political leadership. None of these impromptu speeches gain any votes because they are “preaching to the choir.” The fury, however, can be an effective starting point of genuine political outreach, which includes list-building, volunteer recruitment, volunteer and voter education, door-knocks, messaging through media, and get-out-the-vote programs.

6. Realize Catholics play dirty: One of the hardest lessons to learn and accept is that Catholics in politics will play dirty.  By that I mean they will lie about the faith, misrepresent its teaching, ignore its non-negotiable moral principles, distort the views of pro-lifers and other socially conservative Catholics, and will proclaim “Church teaching” for policies that have no authoritative standing in the “sacred deposit of faith.” We have responsibility to expose those lies in a timely manner to keep them from becoming embedded in the public consciousness.

7. Politics is about passion, not reason: Catholics will have noticed that the candidate who “tells it like it is” is not necessarily the candidate who wins. That’s because political outcomes are not determined by who tells the truth but who stirs the passions — wins the admiration — of the most voters.  Voters vote, first and foremost, for the candidate they “like,” who they are “favorable” toward. Politicians and their supporters who do not get this are beaten from the start. Of course, Catholics should support a politician who tells the truth about human existence, but they should also either recruit likable candidates or convince the grouchy ones they need to smile more and frown less.

8. Take sentimentality seriously: Catholics, for good reasons, are a sentimental tribe.  Any acquaintance with the last 200 years of Catholicism in America will appreciate the hardships of generation after generation of Catholic immigrants.  And before that, the America of the Founders was not at all hospitable to Catholics, an anti-Catholic attitude that was still evident in the 1960 presidential election.  This fact makes the passionate nature of politics even greater among Catholic voters. Candidates and activists need to tread carefully and, most of all, know who they are talking to when they talk to Catholics.

9. Master Catholic symbols: Catholics, as liturgical worshippers, are naturally alert and vulnerable to the power of imagery and symbols. For example, I was told some years ago, “never wear French cuffs when you speak to Catholic voters.”  Good advice, such symbols only remind voters – even if they wear French cuffs themselves – of the Protestant elites who looked down upon their Irish, Italian, or Slavic grandparents. You will not believe the pains taken by candidates to have “collars” or “habits” behind them during their stump speeches. This is why it’s rare for an Evangelical political consultant to successfully manage Catholic outreach.

10. Happy warriors win, grumps lose: Politicians are in sales. Voters are the buyers. When you are selling, you don’t browbeat the buyer, you don’t sadden the buyer, you don’t demean the buyer.  No, you befriend the buyer, meet his or her eye with a smile, learn his or her name, shake hands warmly, and talk about how buying your product will make life better.  In short, be the kind of person they like and trust, who they can believe in.  Anger, condemnation, self-righteousness and such attitudes and tones of voice may delight a small percentage of angry, condemning, and self-righteous voters, but it won’t win an election.

*This column is the personal opinion of its author and does not represent an endorsement of any political party or candidate by the Morley Publishing Group, Inc.

 

The God Who Died

Deal W. Hudson
April 2, 2015

What kind of “God” could die? If you think about it and apply your common sense, a God is something perfect, eternal, present to everything, lacking nothing. That which we call “God” cannot suffer anything, much less death.

Yet, we are fast upon the day when our God, the One in whom we profess our faith as Christians, did just that — He died. Perhaps many of us have lived so long with this belief that it has become so commonplace that the insult it poses to common sense has long been buried.

In proclaiming the death of God, Saint Paul, the first great evangelist, was met with responses of “foolishness” from the Greeks and “scandal” from the Jews (1 Corinthians 1.23). Both groups could not conceive of an absolute God, a Creator of all that exists, Himself passing out of existence.

jesus-pictures-crucifixion

Christ Crucified is a painting of 1632 by Diego Velázquez.

The Greeks, of course, were very familiar with the gods of Hesiod and Homer, the gods who behaved as arch-humans with extraordinary, but not absolute, powers. But the Christian God was in the tradition of the God of Moses, the jealous God, the One God who exposes all other gods as mere idols.

Yes, the death of God posed a radical break in theology for both Jews and Greeks. The Greeks, by the time of Christ, had a well-established philosophical concept of the “Perfect Good,” the all-encompassing, whose goodness all finite things enjoyed by participation.

The supreme actuality of Aristotle and Plato contained the perfection of all forms that conferred nature upon existing things and made them intelligible to our minds. If such a God died, wouldn’t the world cease to exist? Wouldn’t all minds go dark just a moment before that ending?

For the Jews, their Yawheh God was the “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 13.4). How could that God become the “I AM WHO I AM UNTIL I AM NOT”?

Yahweh was mighty, majestic, ineffable, clouded in mystery, the “terrifying mystery,” or mysterium tremendum as described by Rudolph Otto in The Idea of the Holy, 1917. The God who created the world and brought the Jews out of Egypt could not be conceived as destructible. Yahweh was the slayer, not the slew. Yet both Peter and Paul were telling their fellow Jews otherwise.

Moses and the Ten Commandments by Rembrandt (1659).

Moses and the Ten Commandments by Rembrandt (1659).

The Jews had the advantage of Jesus of Nazareth arriving as a Jewish prophet, speaking in their native language, citing their holy books as proof of his claim to be the Messiah. Many believed Jesus while he lived, especially the Sunday he entered Jerusalem fanned by palm leaves.

But fewer believed when he was put on the Cross, declared dead by the centurions and placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. All but one disciple had fled, and only the three Marys made their way to the tomb.

The God who died to both Jews and Greeks seemed like the ultimate oxymoron, an absurd self-contradiction. And if His death had been final, they would have been right to view the death that way. But His death was not final. Death was real, but it was not final. Death was followed by life, not just any life but a life raised out of death itself, a resurrection.

The Risen Christ and Mary Magdalene by Rembrandt (1638).

The Risen Christ and Mary Magdalene by Rembrandt (1638).

The proclamation of God risen from death may, to some, have made the Christian claim even more nonsensical, but, in fact, this new life made the death intelligible to those who believed. The death of God, as He Himself had explained, was for a purpose, a sacrifice for all humankind, a new offer of salvation to a race fallen away from God’s original justice, the grace of His creation.

God’s risen-ness was proof that His promise was kept — through the death of God, humankind was saved from the final death, towards which they had been marching for millennia.

But there remained the problem of reconciling the God of the Jews and the Greeks with the God who died and who was risen. If this is the true God, then what does it tell us about His perfect being, His absoluteness, and His finality?

Obviously, it reveals something missing from the Greek conception of the “Supreme Good”, and even from Yahweh God, but much less so. What was missing was the perfection of the personal God, the God as a person, the Triune God sharing the love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In other words, from the perspective of Greek theology, all bets were off. How to conceive of God was fundamentally changed because the very notion of perfect being and actuality had changed. No longer would the perfect be described in abstract terms of the “unmoved mover” or the “Supreme Good.” The Christian God was perfect in His Love, which can no longer be described only as perfect Being or Existence. Christians have more to say, which was proclaimed to the Jews, God’s personhood now fully revealed to them.

It would fall to the early Apostolic Fathers, then the Patristic theologians, and finally to the Medievals to meld the faith of the Church with the tradition of philosophical reason. At its core, this was the attempt of “faith seeking understanding,” the files quadrans intellectual of Saint Anselm, to describe the perfect being of God in terms of His love. Why? Because the death and risen life of God gives clear testimony to a being that loves; Who is Love.*

The philosophers themselves have always said that very few words can properly be spoken of God — oneness, simplicity, eternity — but with the death and life of God, with Good Friday and Easter, what can be said of God becomes even more problematic. Once God is fully revealed as a Trinity of Three Persons, made one by their shared love, our words about Him become more personal, too. God loves me, forgives me, saves me, and “watches over me” (Psalm 121.5).

The Beatific Vision of Dante at the end of the Divine Comedy.

The Beatific Vision of Dante at the end of the Divine Comedy.

The lesson to be learned from this is not intellectual; that would contradict the logic of the Passion and Resurrection. The lesson is personal: What we seek in this life, our perfection or actualization in philosophical terms, is the love as exemplified by the God who died for us and rose to life for us. Of all the theologians, Saint Paul came the closest when he wrote in Philippians 2.7 that Jesus Christ “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.”

In other words, the incarnation itself was just the first step in the self-emptying (kenosis) of the God who died. The next step was the total self-sacrifice of the cross — Jesus Christ “made himself nothing.”

When we wonder what God wants for our lives, how we can become better persons, the answer to ponder is the love of God, manifested to us by his first humbling Himself and then giving Himself on the cross, for us all.

—–

*Leading Christian theologians have always acknowledged the necessity of mysticism. This is often called the Augustinian tradition, but it’s found in Aquinas and all the great Thomists up to Jacques Maritain’s magisterial Degrees of Knowledge (1st edition, 1932), which ends with knowledge by the mystical union in Saint John of the Cross.

The Sacrifice, a Poem by George Herbert (1633)

Deal W. Hudson
April 3, 2015

From The Temple (1633), by George Herbert

The Sacrifice

OH all ye, who passe by, whose eyes and minde
To worldly things are sharp, but to me blinde;
To me, who took eyes that I might you finde:
Was ever grief like mine?

The Princes of my people make a head
Against their Maker: they do wish me dead,
Who cannot wish, except I give them bread;
Was ever grief like mine?

Without me each one, who doth now me brave,
Had to this day been an Egyptian slave.
They use that power against me, which I gave:
Was ever grief like mine?

Mine own Apostle, who the bag did beare,
Though he had all I had, did not forbeare
To sell me also, and to put me there:
Was ever grief like mine?

For thirtie pence he did my death devise,
Who at three hundred did the ointment prize,
Not half so sweet as my sweet sacrifice:
Was ever grief like mine?

Therefore my soul melts, and my hearts deare treasure
Drops bloud (the onely beads) my words to measure:
O let this cup passe, if it be thy pleasure:
Was ever grief like mine?

These drops being temper’d with sinners tears
A Balsome are for both the Hemispheres:1
Curing all wounds, but mine; all, but my fears:
Was ever grief like mine?

Christ Crucified by Peter Paul Rubens (1611).

Christ Crucified by Peter Paul Rubens (1611).

Yet my Disciples sleep; I cannot gain
One houre of watching; but their drowsie brain
Comforts not me, and doth my doctrine stain:
Was ever grief like mine?

Arise, arise, they come. Look how they runne!
Alas! what haste they make to be undone!
How with their lanterns do they seek the sunne!
Was ever grief like mine?

With clubs and staves they seek me, as a thief,
Who am the Way and Truth, the true relief;
Most true to those, who are my greatest grief:
Was ever grief like mine?

Judas, dost thou betray me with a kisse?
Canst thou finde hell about my lips? and misse
Of life, just at the gates of life and blisse?
Was ever grief like mine?

See, they lay hold on me, not with the hands
Of faith, but furie: yet at their commands
I suffer binding, who have loos’d their bands
Was ever grief like mine?

All my Disciples flie; fear puts a barre
Betwixt my friends and me. They leave the starre,
That brought the wise men of the East from farre.
Was ever grief like mine?

Then from one ruler to another bound
They leade me; urging, that it was not sound
What I taught: Comments would the test confound.
Was ever grief like mine?

The Priest and rulers all false witnesse seek
’Gainst him, who seeks not life, but is the meek
And readie Paschal Lambe of this great week:
Was ever grief like mine?

Then they accuse me of great blasphemie,
That I did thrust into the Deitie,
Who never thought that any robberie:
Was ever grief like mine?

Some said, that I the Temple to the floore
In three dayes raz’d, and raised as before.
Why, he that built the world can do much more:
Was ever grief like mine?

Then they condemne me all with that same breath,
Which I do give them daily, unto death.
Thus Adam my first breathing rendereth:
Was ever grief like mine?

They binde, and leade me unto Herod: he
Sends me to Pilate. This makes them agree;
But yet their friendship is my enmitie:
Was ever grief like mine?

Herod and all his bands do set me light,
Who teach all hands to warre, fingers to fight,
And onely am the Lord of Hosts and might:
Was ever grief like mine?

Herod in judgement sits, while I do stand;
Examines me with a censorious hand:
I him obey, who all things else command:
Was ever grief like mine?

The Jews accuse me with dispitefulnesse;
And vying malice with my gentlenesse,
Pick quarrels with their onely happinesse:
Was ever grief like mine?

I answer nothing, but with patience prove
If stonie hearts will melt with gentle love.
But who does hawk at eagles with a dove?
Was ever grief like mine?

My silence rather doth augment their crie;
My dove doth back into my bosome flie,
Because the raging waters still are high:2
Was ever grief like mine?

Heark how they crie aloud still, Crucifie:
It is not fit he live a day, they crie,
Who cannot live lesse then eternally:
Was ever grief like mine?

Pilate, a stranger, holdeth off; but they,
Mine owne deare people, cry, Away, away,
With noises confused frighting the day:
Was ever grief like mine?

Yet still they shout, and crie, and stop their eares,
Putting my life among their sinnes and fears,
And therefore wish my bloud on them and theirs:
Was ever grief like mine?

See how spite cankers things. These words aright
Used, and wished, are the whole worlds light:
But hony is their gall, brightnesse their night:
Was ever grief like mine?

They choose a murderer, and all agree
In him to do themselves a courtesie:
For it was their own case who killed me:
Was ever grief like mine?

And a seditious murderer he was:
But I the Prince of peace; peace that doth passe
All understanding, more then heav’n doth glasse:3
Was ever grief like mine?

Why, Caesar is their onely King, not I:
He clave the stonie rock, when they were drie;
But surely not their hearts, as I well trie:
Was ever grief like mine?

Ah! how they scourge me! yet my tendernesse
Doubles each lash: and yet their bitternesse
Windes up my grief to a mysteriousnesse:
Was ever grief like mine?

They buffet him, and box him as they list,
Who grasps the earth and heaven with his fist,
And never yet, whom he would punish, miss’d:
Was ever grief like mine?

Behold, they spit on me in scornfull wise,
Who by my spittle gave the blinde man eies,
Leaving his blindnesse to my enemies:
Was ever grief like mine?

My face they cover, though it be divine.
As Moses face was vailed, so is mine,
Lest on their double-dark souls either shine:
Was ever grief like mine?

Servants and abjects flout me; they are wittie:
Now prophesie who strikes thee, is their dittie.
So they in me denie themselves all pitie:
Was ever grief like mine?

And now I am deliver’d unto death,
Which each one calls for so with utmost breath,
That he before me well nigh suffereth:
Was ever grief like mine?

Weep not, deare friends, since I for both have wept
When all my tears were bloud, the while you slept:
Your tears for your own fortunes should be kept:
Was ever grief like mine?

The souldiers lead me to the common hall;
There they deride me, they abuse me all:
Yet for twelve heav’nly legions I could call:
Was ever grief like mine?

Then with a scarlet robe they me aray;
Which shews my bloud to be the onely way
And cordiall left to repair mans decay:
Was ever grief like mine?

Then on my head a crown of thorns I wear:
For these are all the grapes Sion doth bear,
Though I my vine planted and watred there:
Was ever grief like mine?

So sits the earths great curse in Adams fall
Upon my head: so I remove it all
From th’ earth unto my brows, and bear the thrall:
Was ever grief like mine?

Then with the reed they gave to me before,
They strike my head, the rock from thence all store
Of heav’nly blessings issue evermore:
Was ever grief like mine?

They bow their knees to me, and cry, Hail king:
What ever scoffes & scornfulnesse can bring,
I am the floore, the sink, where they it fling:
Was ever grief like mine?

Yet since mans scepters are as frail as reeds,
And thorny all their crowns, bloudie their weeds;
I, who am Truth, turn into truth their deeds:
Was ever grief like mine?

The souldiers also spit upon that face,
Which Angels did desire to have the grace,
And Prophets, once to see, but found no place:
Was ever grief like mine?

Thus trimmed, forth they bring me to the rout,
Who Crucifie him, crie with one strong shout.
God holds his peace at man, and man cries out:
Was ever grief like mine?

They leade me in once more, and putting then
Mine own clothes on, they leade me out agen.
Whom devils flie, thus is he toss’d of men:
Was ever grief like mine?

And now wearie of sport, glad to ingrosse
All spite in one, counting my life their losse,
They carrie me to my most bitter crosse:
Was ever grief like mine?

O all ye who passe by, behold and see;
Man stole the fruit,4 but I must climbe the tree;
The tree of life to all, but onely me:
Was ever grief like mine?

Lo, here I hang, charg’d with a world of sinne,
The greater world o’ th’ two; for that came in
By words, but this by sorrow I must win:
Was ever grief like mine?

Such sorrow as, if sinfull man could feel,
Or feel his part, he would not cease to kneel.
Till all were melted, though he were all steel:
Was ever grief like mine?

But, O my God, my God! why leav’st thou me,
The sonne, in whom thou dost delight to be?
My God, my God ——
Never was grief like mine.

Shame tears my soul, my bodie many a wound;
Sharp nails pierce this, but sharper that confound;
Reproches, which are free, while I am bound.
Was ever grief like mine?

Now heal thy self, Physician; now come down.
Alas! I did so, when I left my crown
And fathers smile for you, to feel his frown:
Was ever grief like mine?

In healing not my self, there doth consist
All that salvation, which ye now resist;
Your safetie in my sicknesse doth subsist:
Was ever grief like mine?

Betwixt two theeves I spend my utmost breath,
As he that for some robberie suffereth.
Alas! what have I stollen from you? Death.
Was ever grief like mine?

A king my title is, prefixt on high;
Yet by my subjects am condemn’d to die
A servile death in servile companie:
Was ever grief like mine?

They give me vineger mingled with gall,
But more with malice: yet, when they did call,
With Manna, Angels food, I fed them all:
Was ever grief like mine?

They part my garments, and by lot dispose
My coat, the type of love, which once cur’d those
Who sought for help, never malicious foes:
Was ever grief like mine?

Nay, after death their spite shall further go;
For they will pierce my side, I full well know;
That as sinne came, so Sacraments might flow:
Was ever grief like mine?

But now I die; now all is finished.
My wo, mans weal:5 and now I bow my head.
Onely let others say, when I am dead,
Never was grief like mine.

George Herbert (1593 – 1633) was an Anglican priest and poet. Born in Wales, Herbert belonged to a group now known as the “Metaphysicial Poets,” including John Donne and Richard Crashaw. His best poems are collected in The Temple (1633).

The 1st edition of "The Temple: Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations" by Mr. George Herbert (1633).

Campy Intellectuals and the Great Books

Deal W. Hudson
April 10, 2015

I love lists. For many years I have sought out lists of the best novels, films, golf courses, men’s clothing shops, hat shops, electronic stores, and musical recordings, among other enthusiasts.

And it’s well worth the effort, especially at the end of the year when the “Best of…” lists are published, usually depleting my bank account as a result.

But when I came across this list from 2011, I couldn’t remember having ever seen a list of “The 100 Greatest Non-Fiction Books” before, compiled by its panel of “critics and experts.” When I scanned the list, I was surprised that The Guardian, usually a reliable source on matters of intelligence and taste, would publish something so shallow.

But before I get to specifics, I should say that even when lists are wrong there is much to learn about books I’ve never heard of, which may not be among the “greatest” but are worth seeking out. This is certainly true of the list below, and I have identified those with an asterisk*, meaning this book should not be on the list, but I am glad to know about it.

books

This list suffers from interrelated defects: It suffers from an infatuation with its liberal ideological preferences. Imagine, The Guardian “critics and experts” decided that 63 of the 100 greatest non-fiction books were written in the 20th century and that 31 of those were written in the 60s and 70s — I had no idea I was being educated in such an intellectually rich culture!

There’s not a single book included that was written between The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (c.180) and The Travels of Ibn Battuta by Ibn Battuta (1355), which, by the way, was new to me. No Thucydides, Plato’s Republic, Aristotle, Epicurus, Lucretius, Cicero, Julius Caesar, Philo, Augustine, Bede, Avicenna, Maimonides, Aquinas, Bonaventure, Marco Polo, or Marie de France. Just to name a few, of course.

From the Middle Ages forward there is no Margery Kempe, Marsilio Ficino, Giambattista Vico, Francis Bacon, or the King James Bible. With the Enlightenment, there is no Baruch Spinoza, Leibniz, Issac Newton, Edmund Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville, Adam Smith, or John Locke. Among the romanticists and moderns, there is no Goethe (Imagine that!!!), Schlegel, Schelling, Fichte, Lessing, Becarria, Leopardi (The Zibaldone, 1898), Kierkegaard, Newman, Chesterton, Belloc, Jacob Burkhardt, Carl Jung, Henry Adams, Karl Popper, Winston Churchill, Frederich Herr, Walter Benjamin, Isaiah Berlin, Fernand Braudel, Martin Gilbert, William L. Shirer, Richard Hofstadter, Shelby Foote, Hugh Thomas, or Paul Johnson.

The Guardian considered Notes on Camp by Susan Sontag (1964) more important than any of the above. Interestingly, “Notes on Camp” was never a book. It was first published as a 1964 article in the Partisan Review and later included in Sontag’s Against Interpretation (1966). Evidently one of The Guardian‘s “critics and experts” either didn’t know this or didn’t care, such as the importance of Sontag’s contribution to Western Civilization.

"Notes on Camp" by Susan Sontag was published in her "Against Interpretation" (1996).

“Notes on Camp” by Susan Sontag was published in her “Against Interpretation” (1996).

There is also a confusion between great and influential. The latter should be one criterion of the “greatest,” but because of what a book is, a book should be judged on its excellence as a book — quality of writing, the probity of thought, originality, and shrewdness of form.

The only book on music is one by Charles Rosen from 1998, who is undoubtedly brilliant. However, The Classical Style (1972) would have been a better choice, and what about books by Edward Hanslick, Donald Tovey, Bernard Shaw, Cecil Gray, Aaron Copland, Paul Hindemith, Igor Stravinsky, Robert Craft, Harold Schoenberg, Leonard Bernstein, Leonard B. Meyer, Theodor Adorno, Henry-Louis de la Grange, or one of my favorites, Victor Zuckerkandl (Sound and Symbol: Music and the External World, 1968).

There is little or no theology — think of the masterworks by Martin Luther, John Calvin, Soren Kierkegaard, Ludwig Feuerbach, Cardinal Newman, Rudolf Otto, Karl Barth, and Hans Urs von Balthasar. However, there are two books on mythology — is there a message there?

No books are included in the list of film, poetry, theatre, or dance. Also, there is nothing on the natural world, except the perspective of the traveler (Fermor): no Audubon, John Muir, Edward Thomas, Laurie Lee, Anne Morrow Lindberg, or Lewis Thomas.

I won’t even try to list the great biographies that aren’t mentioned, though the prison memoirs by Levi and Soyinka are aptly chosen.

The Guardian’s list represents what has occurred over the past few decades to the intelligentsia and to most of the Academy through which they live and have their being. Ideological preferences trump the regard for established classics that have withstood the test of time and continue to breathe life into their readers when dozens listed here will be largely forgotten.

I am not arguing in favor of glibly raising the “Great Books” banner because the value of those books has long been established and remains demonstrable to the present day — take, for example, the brilliant, recent reflection on Homer by Adam Nicolson, Why Homer Matters(Picador 2015).

photo-1

Just think of it: The Guardian list does not contain the following — Summa Theologiae by Thomas Aquinas; the Authorized Version/King James BibleInstitutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin; On the Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther; Two Treatises on Government by John Locke; Theodicy by G.L. Leibniz; Ethics by Baruch Spinoza; Italian Journey by Goethe; Fear and Trembling by Kierkegaard; Apologia Pro Vita Sua by Cardinal John Henry Newman; The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams, or his Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres.

The Guardian’s 2011 “The 100 Greatest Non-Fiction Books” suffers from the very issue described by Sontag in her 1964 “book” — Camp, of which Sontag says, “Camp introduces a new standard: artifice as an ideal, theatricality.” In other words, the elite minds at The Guardian self-consciously created an artificial list of the “100 Greatest” in order to parade their own prejudices before the trusting reader.

Author’s note: I have added section titles indicating the number of books belonging to a given time period. The only other addition is the asterisk I’ve added to indicate books that were new and welcome discoveries for me. There was one typo I corrected: The Guardian had listed The Medium Is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan.

Art

The Shock of the New by Robert Hughes (1980)

The Story of Art by Ernst Gombrich (1950)Ways of Seeing by John Berger (1972)

Biography

Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects by Giorgio Vasari (1550)

The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell (1791)

The Diaries of Samuel Pepys by Samuel Pepys (1825)

Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey (1918)

Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves (1929)=

The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas by Gertrude Stein (1933)

Culture

Notes on Camp by Susan Sontag (1964)

Mythologies by Roland Barthes (1972)

Orientalism by Edward Said (1978)

Environment

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962)

The Revenge of Gaia by James Lovelock (1979)

History

The Histories by Herodotus (c400 BC)

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon (1776)

The History of England by Thomas Babington Macaulay (1848)

Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt (1963)

The Making of the English Working Class by EP Thompson (1963)

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown (1970)

A moving account of the treatment of Native Americans by the US government

Hard Times: an Oral History of the Great Depression by Studs Terkel (1970)

Shah of Shahs by Ryszard Kapuściński (1982)

The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991 by Eric Hobsbawm (1994)

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Familes by Philip Gourevitch (1999)

Postwar by Tony Judt (2005)

Journalism

The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm (1990)

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe (1968)

Dispatches by Michael Herr (1977)

Literature

The Lives of the Poets by Samuel Johnson (1781)

An Image of Africa by Chinua Achebe (1975)

The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim (1976)

Mathematics

Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter (1979)Memoir

Memoirs

Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1782)

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass (1845)

De Profundis by Oscar Wilde (1905)

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by TE Lawrence (1922)

The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mahatma Gandhi (1927)

Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell (1938)

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947)

Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov (1951)

The Man Died by Wole Soyinka (1971)

The Periodic Table by Primo Levi (1975)

Bad Blood by Lorna Sage (2000)

Mind

The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud (1899)

Music

The Romantic Generation by Charles Rosen (1998)

Philosophy

The Symposium by Plato (c380 BC)

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (c180)

Essays by Michel de Montaigne (1580)

The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton (1621)

Meditations on First Philosophy by René Descartes (1641)

Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion by David Hume (1779)

Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant (1781)

Phenomenology of Mind by GWF Hegel (1807)

Walden by HD Thoreau (1854)

On Liberty by John Stuart Mill (1859)

Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche (1883)

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn (1962)

Politics

The Art of War by Sun Tzu (c500 BC)

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (1532)

Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes (1651)

The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine (1791)

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft (1792)

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1848)

The Souls of Black Folk by WEB DuBois (1903)

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir (1949)

The Wretched of the Earth by Franz Fanon (1961)

The Medium is the Message by Marshall McLuhan (1967)

The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer (1970)

Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman (1988)

Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky (2008)

Religion

The Golden Bough by James George Frazer (1890)

The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James (1902)

Science

On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (1859)

The Character of Physical Law by Richard Feynmann (1965)

The Double Helix by James Watson (1968)

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (1976)

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (1988)

Society

The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pisan (1405)

Praise of Folly by Erasmus (1511)

Letters Concerning the English Nation by Voltaire (1734)

Suicide by Émile Durkheim (1897)

Economy and Society by Max Weber (1922)

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf (1929)

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans (1941)

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1963)

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966)

Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion (1968)

The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1973)

Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault (1975)

News of a Kidnapping by Gabriel García Márquez (1996)

Travel

The Travels of Ibn Battuta by Ibn Battuta (1355)

Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain (1869)

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West (1941)

Venice by Jan Morris (1960)

A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor (1977)

Danube by Claudio Magris (1986)

China Along the Yellow River by Cao Jinqing (1995)

The Rings of Saturn by WG Sebald (1995)

Passage to Juneau by Jonathan Raban (2000)

Letters to a Young Novelist by Mario Vargas Llosa (2002)