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Thursday, October 19, 2006

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Rod Dreher goes Eastern Orthodox

He seems to have been badly affected by the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

This scandal could have been prevented if the Catholic Church in the West had listened to Pope John XXIII, who tried to ban homosexuals from the priesthood in 1961.

The damage was completely self-inflicted and was pure folly.

Julian

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"Anglican Difficulties" ...

... was the title of a book by Cardinal Newman, the nineteenth century convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism. It is also the title of this post, because of the current "difficulties" being experienced in the worldwide Anglican communion, which is no mean thing, being something like 100 million souls I understand.

The great unmentioned truth about missionary activity in the Victorian era is that it was a stunning success. The natives took to Christianity in huge numbers. (Christianity is important among Australia's Aborigines). Many of these people were Africans who are now African Anglicans. Nigeria, for example, is a major power in the Anglican world.

Not only did the natives take to Christianity, they took to it with verve. They took the Bible seriously, and they still do. In contrast, Western Christians have tended to liberalise over the last (20th) century.

The stage is set for a profound irony. Today, the North American Anglicans ("Episcopalians") are at loggerheads with some of their more conservative African brothers over various issues, the most important presently being the licitness of homosexual activity.

The Africans do not approve of homosexual activity, relying on the Bible, and some conservative American Episcopalians agree. Most American Episcopalians however seem to see homosexual liberation as another worthy step in human freedom, and regard the relevant Biblical verses as inconclusive.

What interests me most, as an Australian Catholic largely removed personally from these events, is that some of the American Episcopalian debaters on the "progressive" side have been running an argument along these lines: "You conservatives did not object to divorced bishops - even though divorce is banned on a strict reading of the New Testament - but now you object to actively homosexual bishops - on the grounds that homosexual acts are banned on a strict reading of the New Testament". This seems like a good argument to me. Episcopalian conservatives are indeed caught in an inconsistency.

The Anglican Church's problem is that it has been toboganning down the slippery slope for quite some time now. During the twentieth century, it changed its official stance on contraception, divorce, male headship in the family, women priests - and now, it seems, homosexual acts. Several of these changes seem, on a strict and traditional reading of the Bible, to have been apostasies.

The problem is that once one abandons one teaching based on scripture and tradition, it is very hard not to accept arguments to abandon others that become inconvenient. This problem has not been confined to the modern Anglican church, although it is seen most clearly in that communion. We Catholics have wobbled on some of these issues; and even John Paul II (by no means the conservative that the media claimed) flirted with modifying traditional scriptural understanding on some issues at least. However the Catholic Church has not officially abandoned its position on any of the issues mentioned above. John Paul II only used the full weight of his teaching authority twice: against abortion and against women priests. And we don't just have a pope, we have the papacy as a whole to rely on, and we have confidence that the Catholic Church cannot defect on any of these topics.


Julian

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

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Non-Paternity ("cuckoldry")

Rampant paternity fraud an 'urban myth'.

I have been interested in the (over-)estimation of non-paternity in modern society for some time. See my post here.

Figures of "10%" of children not being those of the nominal father of the family have been bandied about a lot in recent years. The figure seems prima facie too high. Also it seems inconsistent with the extraordinary rates of 'breeding true" seen in some populations, for example in the case of the Jewish priestly Y chromosome:

" One marker, however, present in more than 50% of Eastern European [Ashkenazi] Jewish Levites points to a common male ancestor within the last 2000 years for many Levites of the Ashkenazi community. "

I suppose it is possible that the Levites historically lived in separate communities, which might explain the tendency for the relevant Y chromosome to breed true, even in the presence of cuckoldry.

I should say one thing though. A low level of non-paternity (or cuckoldry in the sense of a woman bearing a child not her husband's) does not necessarily imply a low level of adultery. It is perfectly possible for wives to have historically had sex outside marriage in relatively large numbers. This is because between 25 and 50 acts of intercourse are typically required to produce one conception. So, my remarks in my earlier post about the apparent "good behaviour" of our ancestors were a bit naive.

Julian

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

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On not reading books

I see that someone at the Sarsaparilla blog is writing about the books he hasn't read - "What I'm Not Reading".

Here is another article on the pleasure of not reading, with more of an emphasis on non-fiction - "Books I Did Not Read This Year".

Here is another article on this important issue.

Julian

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Another review of Ballard's new novel

... at another Australian blog called Sarsaparilla.

I've been watching Cronenberg's film of Ballard's "Crash" today and yesterday I read his 1962 short story "The Watch-Towers". Both are so much better than Ballard's latest novel, "Kingdom Come". But, in fairness, the man is nearly 76.

Julian

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

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JG Ballard's new novel "Kingdom Come"

I finished Kingdom Come. It's not good Ballard: but bad Ballard is still worthwhile. His capacity for the intellectual one-liner is still there, and most - though not all - of them hit home nicely. This, if nothing else, sustained me through to the end.

The novel is another in the author's recent series of didactic crime stories. And it also seems to me that he is actually flogging an even older idea of his: the human need for the element of madness (Cf. "Running Wild" and so on). But I think he is backing off a bit, going a bit establishment; liberal establishment. He'll be signing the correct petitions soon.

There is a sense that Ballard is trying to have his cake and eat it. Part of him wants to plump for Old England and part of him wants to lead a march to the mall and embrace the future, if not Futurism. This ambivalence is seen in his main character Richard Pearson's nostalgia for an earlier dream of speed and progress represented by the Brooklands motor racing circuit and his own beloved Jensen motor car. This is contrasted, not very convincingly, with more contemporary versions of progress.

The protagonist reads like the usual example of Ballard-man; Anglo-Saxon surname, middle-class, well-educated, in a technical profession, abandoned by his wife. (A surprising number of Ballardian wives are treacherous.) This Ballard-man is also a bit past it. But at the end of the novel, he gets the girl, a nice middle-class girl, and settles into his father's flat. His father turns out to have been a good egg after all too. Of course, the main character is not Ballard, but I don't get the sense that Ballard disapproves of his character Pearson: his weaknesses are there simply to provide material for a middle-aged Bildungsroman.

County values win out in the end. Lacking a true officer class, the vulgarian masses eventually dissipate; the barbarians are no longer at the gate; those clever chaps at the Home Office have been on top of the problem all along.

And yet, despite constant protestations that he hates the racist violence, Richard Pearson expresses some wistful disappointment that the riots sputter and die and do not light a lasting fire. His girlfriend "Julia Goodwin", who has turned out to be a resourceful and plucky girl, gives him a "mock-fascist salute" as the last page approaches. Pearson's flirtation with fascism has made him a man again.

I think this novel is a retreat. Ballard has written and spoken of his love of airports and multistorey carparks, and his boredom with Old England, its folkways and architecture. But, in Kingdom Come, he seems to reach a contrary conclusion. Shiny, bright consumerism is the threat, it seems. The old guard certainly come in for some criticism, but their proper leadership is reaffirmed in the end.

In the words of Anthony Blanche from "Brideshead Revisited", Ballard is now "playing tigers." He enjoys a little storybook sex and violence and fascism; and then draws a final moral, like a writer of nursery tales. I half-expected it to have "all been a dream" in the end.

Ballard retreats from his personal vision of technocracy in this novel and moves back to a redoubt of traditional conservative values combined with some tasteful liberalism. Pearson has his flat in Brooklands, but surely it won't be long before he also has his little place in Inner London, and is welcome at those dinner parties again. After all, he has returned from tiger country, with his sanity and his anecdotes.

As Pearson the narrator concludes, "Once people began to talk earnestly about the novel any hope of freedom had died".

Julian

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