Monday, November 30, 2015

Melbourne Traditionalists meeting

Late notice, but this coming Thursday (3rd December) Mark Moncrieff of Upon Hope and I will be hosting a meeting of the Melbourne Traditionalists. If you're interested in attending please send either one of us an email (mine: swerting(at)

Are student radicals losing mental health?

This is old news now in America but wasn't widely reported on here in Australia. Two events, one at Yale and the other at the University of Missouri, show a disturbing trend amongst radical activists.

Let's start with the prestigious Yale University. The event there began when an email was sent to students asking them to show sensitivity when selecting Halloween costumes. The wife of a college master sent an email of her own lamenting the fact that students were no longer being encouraged to be transgressive but instead were scared to offend. Her husband supported her on more libertarian, free speech grounds, that rather than college authorities ban anything, students themselves should show disapproval of what they found offensive.

Jancey Paz, a student at the college, wrote a letter of complaint about the master: his ten weeks as a leader of the college, Master Christakis has not fostered this sense of community. He seems to lack the ability, quite frankly, to put aside his opinions long enough to listen to the very real hurt that the community feels. He doesn’t get it. And I don’t want to debate. I want to talk about my pain.

My dad is a really stubborn man. We debate all the time, and I understand the value of hearing differing opinions. But there have been times when I have come to my father crying, when I was emotionally upset, and he heard me regardless of whether or not he agreed with me. He taught me that there is a time for debate, and there is a time for just hearing and acknowledging someone’s pain.

I have had to watch my friends defend their right to this institution. This email and the subsequent reaction to it have interrupted their lives. I have friends who are not going to class, who are not doing their homework, who are losing sleep, who are skipping meals, and who are having breakdowns. I feel drained. And through it all, Christakis has shown that he does not consider us a priority.

Remember, this is Yale. It is supposed to be a place where the intellectual elite gather. Instead, Jancey Paz portrays it as a place where emotionally fragile young people commune to have their feelings soothed.

Or perhaps we are witnessing a new strategy by student radicals. One in which the matter at hand never even gets to the point of political debate because this would be too upsetting - the only acceptable role for those listening to the student left is one of unqualified support and sympathy.

And if this support isn't fulsome enough? Then the supposedly "fragile" communities will punish you fiercely, as Tim Wolfe, who was until recently President of the University of Missouri, found out.

The student left at Missouri felt that he hadn't created spaces of healing after a police shooting in Ferguson:
“In the following months, our students were left stranded, forced to face an increase in tension and inequality with no systemic support...The academic careers of our students are suffering. The mental health of our campus is under constant attack. Our students are being ignored. We have asked the University to create spaces of healing and it failed to do so.”

He apologised but the left still made two demands. First, that he issue another public apology at a press conference acknowledging his "white male privilege". The second that he be fired. He was fired.

For the moment, the strategy has worked.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Liberalism: making the world a more dangerous place?

The news of the past week was, of course, the Paris terror attacks. I was interested to see what the reaction would be from the general public here in Australia. Many do seem to recognise that we now live in a different world, one which is no longer as safe as it once was. A less attractive world.

You might think that the next step would be for people thinking this way to reconsider the policies causing this decline. The smaller the Muslim population in the West, the easier it is for security services to keep on top of those planning terror attacks. So if you want a safer and more secure society it makes sense to limit Muslim immigration into the West.

But most people have not taken this next logical step. Why? I think perhaps it's because if you have lived in a liberal culture for long enough you are likely to have developed a "liberal reflex" - by which I mean an internalised sense of what you can or can't think (or feel). And, at the moment, the reflex tells people that to cast any kind of insensitivity onto a migrant, including a Muslim migrant, is a worse thing than to live under the ongoing threat of terror attacks.

It is weak-minded, when what is needed is a resolute commitment to the security of the Western populations.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Stepping into St Patrick's

I was in the city this morning and decided to see if a mass was being held at the cathedral, St Patrick's. As it happens, I stepped inside just as the homily was being delivered (by, I believe, Archbishop Denis Hart).

I entered at a key point in his address, when he was advising his flock on how to live a good Christian life. As I sat down, he said "And it is important that you do not involve yourself with any isms, such as...."

I'll get back to the two isms he specifically warned against in a moment. First, I want to say how impressed I was by the mass itself. The cathedral is both beautiful and monumental (the largest church building in Australia, it took 81 years to complete). The music was uplifting and also beautiful; I have never heard better sacred music than that sung by the boys choir (which has an unusual history - the Vienna boys choir was touring Australia when WWII broke out and so remained in Melbourne for many years, leading to the formation of the cathedral choir).

The altar, St Patrick's Melbourne

Stained glass window, St Patrick's Melbourne

But back to the isms. The two that came into the archbishop's mind to specifically warn against were conservatism and fundamentalism.

The warning against conservatism made me think of just how much the Catholic church in Melbourne resembles the Anglican church of about 30 years ago - one seeking to comfortably identify with the liberal establishment.

But this is where the church is digging a hole for itself. If you want to be an establishment liberal, then, yes, the worst thing you can do is be "fundamentalist". But the way that liberals define the term fundamentalist nowadays is quite specific.

For a liberal, a fundamentalist is a person who rejects the liberal idea that there is nothing objectively right or wrong, as what is right is the subjective act of defining your own good and being tolerant and non-discriminatory in allowing others to do the same.

The problem is that the Catholic Church necessarily violates this belief. The church does, in fact, assert that some acts are objectively right or wrong (i.e. it judges, it discriminates). Furthermore, the church upholds beliefs about the existence of distinctions between men and women that also restrict the way that people might define their own good (e.g. a woman cannot choose to become a Catholic priest). That, in the liberal definition, is also fundamentalist.

The church cannot remain itself if it attempts to be a liberal institution following liberal concepts.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A different understanding of marriage

In a previous post on marriage a reader left this comment:
The traditional concept of Marriage in Christian (an indeed all major religious) tradition is of a social institution and not a personal relationship. Marriage, like other social institutions, must have a vision and goals which are in line with the common good of the society and families from which the bride and groom originate.

The principle functions of marriage are the procreation and enculturation of children, and the care of the elderly and the sick. Marriage does not, therefore, exist primarily to fulfil personal emotional or sexual gratification needs. Its primary purpose is the preservation and perpetuation of the social order.

The Christian view of Mary and Joseph as the model family requires that the righteous man marries within his own tribe. Husband and wife should, as Mary and Joseph, be of common ancestral descent. Thus the genetic heritage and gifts which God created in each ethnic group be preserved.

I do understand the point being made here. It is a reaction against the current failing understanding of marriage. When people marry now, they still often say the traditional vows, but do not really mean them. For instance, whilst it is undoubtedly true that women at their weddings want their marriages to succeed, what many are really vowing is to stay with their husbands as long as they still have a feeling of love toward them, with love understood as a romantic feeling. If the feeling goes, then the marriage was not "fated" to last, it simply wasn't meant to be, and it is then thought right to move on.

Obviously, this way of doing things means that many marriages will fail. It only takes one bout of marital weariness and it's over (see here).

My reader puts forward a different model, one based on an authoritative assertion of marriage as a social institution, rather than a personal relationship. Would it work? Well, one thing in its favour is that most people do follow whatever moral beliefs are authoritative in their society. So as long as the belief in marriage as a social institution retained moral authority, it would most likely be more successful than the current model.

Even so, I'd like to put forward a different way of framing marriage, one that ties together the personal and the social. First, for a culture of marriage to succeed there needs to be a sense of the "offices" of husband/father and wife/mother. These offices are part of what fulfil our created natures as men and women; they add a sense of meaning and accomplishment to our work in the world; and they bring a sense of fruition to our lives.

These offices are a deep expression of our manhood and womanhood and, as such, tie our personal identity closely to our social roles within the family. They also give us a reason to commit to marriage and family in a stable way over and above the romantic relationship we have with our spouse.

But these offices are no longer as effective as they once were in anchoring our family commitments. One problem is the emphasis in liberalism on "freedom as individual autonomy". If the aim is to be an autonomous, self-determining, self-creating individual, then inherited social roles, particularly those based on our unchosen biological sex, will be thought of negatively as restraints on the individual. So over time marriage will be reconceived as an increasingly personal union alone, minus the social offices.

A second issue is the feminist idea that the offices of wife and mother were constructed for oppressive purposes; i.e. that rather than being part of the fulfilment of a woman, or of a fruitful life, that they are the very opposite, a way of women being subordinated in society. Therefore several generations of women have been raised not necessarily to reject marriage itself, but rather the significance or worth of the role/office of being a wife and mother.

This is especially true of the wifely role which has been widely cast as being old-fashioned or disempowering. In contrast, there do still exist some women (including women with careers) who uphold some of the older culture attached to the motherhood role and this does help to cement their marital commitments. There are some women, in other words, who might not stay in a marriage for the sake of their husbands or societies, but who will do so for the sake of their children.

For a culture of marriage to succeed there also needs to be a certain understanding of love. Emotional feeling is not the only test of love; the love we are called on to cultivate in marriage is one that should be settled in the will and be expressed, in part, as fidelity and service. Nor should we see love as being passively fated, but rather as something that we are actively oriented to, i.e. that we will love the spouse we are with, with all that this entails (e.g. the emotional maturity to forgive).

Finally, our stable commitments to marriage and family can also be reinforced by our perception of the good. Our commitment to community or tribe or nation is drawn partly from the identity and connectedness we draw from them, but partly also from the good that we perceive in them. This good can be understood in a secular way (e.g. the positive role that family plays in the emotional development of the young), but also in a religious way, as a transcendent good, by which I mean a good that exists independently of human agency and which might be experienced as something like "the eternal in the moment of perception".

Romantic love can be experienced as a transcendent good (finding your "soul mate"), although this is not what anchors family commitments. But so too can the life and character of a family - this can be experienced as a unique expression of a transcendent good, something of inestimable value, that you would not then ordinarily choose to dissolve (just as you would not ordinarily choose to dissolve your own tradition if you saw in it a unique expression of a transcendent good).

Sunday, November 08, 2015

What would you say if you became PM?

When Malcolm Turnbull took over from Tony Abbott as PM, he fronted the media and declared:
This has been a very important, sobering experience today. I am very humbled by it. I am very humbled by the great honour and responsibility that has been given to me today. We need to have in this country, and we will have now, an economic vision, a leadership that explains the great challenges and opportunities that we face.

Describes the way in which we can handle those challenges, seize those opportunities and does so in a manner that the Australian people understand so that we are seeking to persuade rather than seeking to lecture.

This will be a thoroughly Liberal Government. It will be a thoroughly Liberal Government committed to freedom, the individual and the market. It will be focussed on ensuring that in the years ahead, as the world becomes more and more competitive, and greater opportunities arise, we are able to take advantage of that. The Australia of the future has to be a nation that is agile, that is innovative, that is creative.

This is a vision of the nation as an economy and of our political leaders as economic managers.

This is too small a view of nation and leadership. It is too limited in scope.

This is true also of Turnbull's commitment to "freedom, the individual and the market". This is misconceived. You don't serve the individual by serving the individual alone. You serve the individual by upholding the institutions and traditions which help form his identity, which inspire his loves and attachments, and which anchor his commitments.

Turnbull is a classical liberal (a right-liberal). A few years ago I wrote a post attempting to explain why classical liberalism doesn't work over time, which I think is worth reading: Can classical liberalism get what it needs?

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

The Gosford signs

Australia must be one of the few nations to have a public holiday for a horse race, the Melbourne Cup. It has been called the race that stops the nation which is why one left-wing Anglican minister put up this sign:

It's a criticism of the Australian Government's policy of stopping the boats carrying illegal immigrants before they reach Australia.

I was curious to learn more about the Gosford Anglicans and their minister, Father Rod Bower. The first thing I found out is that there are many more such signs:

You might think that a flamboyant Christian minister might be a little more cautious in supporting the Islamification of Australia. After all, recent event in the Middle East include the wiping out of ancient Christian communities that once numbered millions and the formation of a caliphate which has imposed brutal executions for homosexuals.

Father Bower has considered this issue, at least briefly. It seems that the flooding of hundreds of thousands of immigrants into Europe this year has given him pause for thought. He does not believe, though, that extremism will ever happen in Australia for two reasons.

We live in a world of extremes. We must not, however, fall into he trap of believing that all these extremes are easily transportable to Australia. We do not have the porous borders of Europe and no matter what the scaremongers say it not possible for people to enter without notice or permission.

Australia is in the unique position of being able to intentionally and systematically receive refugees and to enable them to contribute their own unique gifts to our ever-evolving culture.

This argument seems contradictory. We are reassured by Father Bower that we have nothing to fear because Australia does not have porous borders and can "systematically receive refugees"; at the same time, though, he believes fiercely that Australia should make its borders more porous and our immigration policy less systematic by allowing people to be smuggled into the country.

Here's another contradiction. Father Bower was very critical of Tony Abbot's speech in England, in which Abbott urged Europe to adopt the Australian system of detaining illegal arrivals. But if, as Father Bower states, Europe is in danger of extremism because of its porous borders, then surely the Europeans ought to follow Abbott's advice, or something like it.

This aside, Father Bower might like to consider that it has often been the children of the first arrivals who have committed acts of terrorism, so even screening on arrival does not rule out future problems.

Father Bower also believes that we are in no danger from Islamification because:
We are a rational people who reject extremism of all types whether it is religious or political. As Archbishop William Temple said “we are not moderately passionate, we are passionately moderate." In this exceptional land we have a unique opportunity to build a harmonious, diverse and life-giving society.

Interesting how this is massaged a certain way. Father Bower's liberal moderns do not just reject religious extremism, they mostly reject religion as a whole. In Gosford, Anglicans are outnumbered by atheists by 25% to 18%. Father Bower, as a minister of the cloth, might perhaps think twice before identifying too closely with a mainstream liberal culture.

I note too that Archbishop William Temple himself may not have been as keen on Islamifying Australia as Father Bower is. He wrote in his work Church and Nation (preface xi):
We all know about Turkey; it is the essentially Mohammedan power and Mohammedanism is the religion of oppression; it believes in imposing its faith by means of the sword.

Also, it is not so much a question of whether "we" are a rational and moderate people, but whether the future waves will be equally so.

And, finally, it's difficult to see recent social developments as being "passionately moderate". Is it "passionately moderate" to use migration to dissolve the distinct Western peoples? Or to reimagine nations as being something like large-scale business ventures? Or to dissolve the culture and the social supports that once supported a stable family life?

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Cakes vs alcohol

Two recent legal decisions in the US:
A Colorado appeals court on Thursday ruled that a Denver-area baker cannot refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple based on his religious belief.

Followed shortly thereafter by this:
A JURY has awarded US$240,000 to two Muslim men who say they were fired from an Illinois trucking company after refusing to deliver alcohol.

A judge found Morton-based Star Transport Inc. violated the religious beliefs of Mahad Abass Mohamed and Abdikarim Hassan Bulshale.

Perhaps there are differences between the two cases that justify the different outcomes. At first sight, though, it seems as if Muslims are allowed to appeal to religious beliefs in not providing a professional service but Christians aren't.

The anti-discrimination laws appear to be being applied in a discriminatory way.

The trucking company, as it happens, went out of business.