The emotions of religion

For some time, I have been arguing the irrelevance of belief for many practitioners of religion. (See posts among those listed here.)  Author Francis Spufford has a nice essay today in The Gruaniad offering his take on this question, arguing that his religious belief is made up of emotions, and not just some emotions but all.
I was reminded of George Santayana’s assessment of Roman Catholicism:

Catholicism is the most human of religions, if taken humanly:  it is paganism spiritually transformed and made metaphysical.  It corresponds most adequately to the various exigencies of moral life, with just the needed dose of wisdom, sublimity, and illusion.” (1944, p. 98)

Reference:
George Santayana [1944]:  Persons and Places. (London, UK:  Constable.)
 

Recent reading 5


A list, sometimes annotated, of books recently read:

  • Richard Bassett [2012]:  Hitler’s Spy Chief.   New York: Pegasus. A biography of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr.  This book appears to be a reissue (also revised?) of a book  first published in 2005.  The subject and argument of the book are fascinating, but sadly this is not matched by the writing, which is just appalling.The first problem is with the status of the book.  The inside cover pages say “copyright 2011”, and “First Pegasus Books hardcover edition 2012”, yet the Acknowledgements section is dated 2004.   Various references to contemporary events throughout the book also indicate a date of writing of around 2003 or so.   The front section contains a “Preface to the American Edition”which is undated, but cites letters written in 2008 and 2009.  The author’s sloppiness with dates is manifest throughout the book, and it is often very hard for a reader to determine exactly which year events being described actually happened.A further great sloppiness concerns the use of names – many people, like citizens of Indonesia, appear only to have surnames.   Later references will often find a first name attached to the surname – is this the same person, one wonders?  It is as if the author assumes we know as much as he seems to know about minor Nazi officials, and temporary clerks in MI6.The book actually reads like the author’s narrative notes for a book rather than the book itself, with much background information missing or assumed to be known by the reader.   Is this his first draft perhaps, ready for editing?   How could one write on the topic of German foreign intelligence in WW II without discussion of the XX Committee, for example?    Admittedly, the author does make one single reference to this operation (on page 280, out of 296 pages of text), but with no explanation of what the committee was doing or an evaluation of its work, and not even a listing in the index.    And given the author’s argument that Canaris was an internal opponent of Hitler from before the start of WW II, then an analysis of the alleged success of the XX operations in outwitting Nazi intelligence is surely needed here.  Was Canaris complicit in these operations, for example?   Especially if, as the author believes, Canaris met with his British opposite number, Sir Stewart Menzies, during WW II.And like a person too eager to please, the author’s sentences run on and on and on, with clause after subordinate clause, each introducing a new topic or change or direction, or dropping yet another name, in some drunken word association game.    Where were the editors when this book was submitted?  On vacation?  On strike?   Reading the book requires a reader to fight past the author’s appalling prose style to reach the interesting content.    Sadly, Admiral Canaris still awaits a good English-language biography.
  • Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman [2012]:  Spies Against Armageddon:  Inside Israel’s Secret Wars. Levant Books.
  • Milton Bearden and James Risen [2004]: The Main Enemy:  The Insider Story of the CIA’s Final Showdown with the KGB.  Presidio Press.
  • Natalie Dykstra [2012]:  Clover Adams:  A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.   An intelligent and sympathetic life of Marian (“Clover”) Hooper Adams (1843-1885), pioneer of art photography, wife of Henry Adams, and a daughter of transcendentalist poet, Ellen Sturgis Hooper.   She was a friend and muse to Henry James, and a distant relative of the step-family of George Santayana.
  • Archie Brown [2010]:  The Rise and Fall of Communism.  Vintage.
  • James Douglass [2008]:   JFK and the Unspeakable:  Why he Died and Why it Matters. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books.
  • Sidney Ploss [2009]:  The Roots of Perestroika:  The Soviet Breakdown in Historical Context. McFarland and Company.
  • David Maraniss [2012]:  Barack Obama:  The Story.  Simon and Schuster.
  • Ben MacIntyre [2012]: Double Cross:  The True Story of the D-Day Spies.  London: Bloomsbury. Reviewed here.
  • Colin Eatock [2009]: Mendelssohn and Victorian England.  London: Ashgate.  A detailed and comprehensive account of Mendelssohn’s visits to England (and his one visit to Scotland), and his activities, musical and other, while there.
  • George Dyson [2012]:  Turing’s Cathedral:  The Origins of the Digital Universe.  Allen Lane.   A fascinating account of the involvement of the Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS) in Princeton, NJ, in the early development of scientific computing, led by that larger-than-life character, Johnnie von Neumann.
  • Gordon Brook-Shepherd [1988]: The Storm Birds:  Soviet Post-War Defectors.  Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
  • Neil Sheehan [2010]:  A Fiery Peace in a Cold War:  Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon. Vintage Books.  A fascinating history of the US inter-continental ballistic missile program in the 1950s, told through a biography of one of its parents, USAF General Bennie Schriever.    It is easy to forget how much practical expertise was needed for successful missile and satellite launches, as with any new and complex technology.   As a consequence, we forget how few of the early test launch attempts were successful.  The Vanguard 3 rocket, for example, launched just 3 satellites out of 11 attempts between December 1957 and September 1959. (Vanguard was a USN project.)

The photo shows the Mercury-Atlas and Gemini-Titan rockets at Rocket Park in New York City (courtesy of the NY Hall of Science).

Poem: Cape Cod

A poem by George Santayana.
Cape Cod
The low sandy beach and the thin scrub pine,
The wide reach of bay and the long sky line,—
      O, I am sick for home!
The salt, salt smell of the thick sea air,
And the smooth round stones that the ebbtides wear,—
      When will the good ship come?
The wretched stumps all charred and burned,
And the deep soft rut where the cartwheel turned,—
      Why is the world so old?
The lapping wave, and the broad gray sky
Where the cawing crows and the slow gulls fly,
      Where are the dead untold?
The thin, slant willows by the flooded bog,
The huge stranded hulk and the floating log,
      Sorrow with life began!
And among the dark pines, and along the flat shore,
O the wind, and the wind, for evermore!
      What will become of man?

In memoriam: Christophe Bertrand


This post is a memorial to my friend Christophe Bertrand (1981.04.24 – 2010.09.17), a young French composer and pianist who died a year ago this month.   I first heard his chamber work, Treis, at a concert by Manchester-based new music group Ensemble 11 ten years ago.   Impressed by this music, I contacted him and we began a long and deep friendship, discussing his music, along with music and life more generally.

I had the honour and good fortune to be able to commission some music from him (Quartet #1 and Arashi).   Christophe’s compositions were marked by the use of Fibonacci sequences and other mathematical patterns and constructs, and so I recognized a fellow member of the matherati.  An early death is always sad, especially of someone whose life had had such achievement and even more promise.

Christophe co-founded a contemporary chamber ensemble, Ensemble in Extremis, and there are details of his works and prizes here.  Also, this site seems to have updated information about performances of his music, although without  mentioning his passing on.   The composer Pascal Dusapin has dedicated his work, Microgrammes (2011), 7 pieces for string trio, to Christophe.

I think of all the conversations and interactions we had, and feel the pain of losing future conversations which can now not occur.  And I recall George Santayana’s poem on the death of a close friend, here

Below I list Christophe’s complete works and works in preparation (derived from his former website,  here).   One work listed there, Dall’inferno, Christophe told me he intended to retract from his catalog, after some of the performers found the score too difficult to play.

POSTSCRIPT (2013-05-27):   Someone has uploaded to Youtube a recording of a performance by the Mangalam Trio of Virya along with co-ordinated images of the score.  That is a nice tribute.

POSTSCRIPT 2 (2013-10-31):  The Music of Today series at London’s Royal Festival Hall, curated by Unsuk Chin, held a free concert by players from the Philharmonia Orchestra led by Alejo Perez of Christophe’s works on 31 October 2013.  Works performed were:  Virya, Madrigal, and Yet.   About 100 people were present.  I wondered if anyone else in the audience knew him, and felt his loss.  Here is a review by Sofia Gkiousou, who had not heard Christophe’s music before this concert, and to whom the music spoke.

POSTSCRIPT 3 (2014-01-21):  A concert to remember Christophe was held in Paris last night, with his music performed by his group, Ensemble in Extremis, and Ensemble Court-circuit.   How difficult it must have been for his former colleagues to play his music last night?  But what an honour to do so.  Details here.
 

CHRISTOPHE BERTRAND LIST OF WORKS:
Works in Preparation:
O K H T O R  pour orchestre (15′)
Commande du Mécénat musical Société Générale
Création 11 février 2011
Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg ; dir. Marc ALBRECHT
Q U A T U O R  I I   pour  quatuor à cordes (15′)
Commande du Festival Musica pour le Quatuor ARDITTI
Création au Festival Musica 2011
A R K A  pour soprano, cor, violon et piano (12′)
Texte original de Yannick Haenel
Commande de l’Orchestre National d’Ile-de-France avec le soutien de la SACEM
Ensemble des Musiciens de l’Orchestre National d’Ile-de France ; Françoise KUBLER, soprano
Création mai 2012 – Festival Iles de découvertes
Nouvelle Œuvre pour clarinette, violon et piano (12′)
Commande de l’Ensemble Accorche-Note
Création à définir
 
Completed and acknowledged works:
A y a s (2010) Fanfare pour onze cuivres et percussions (2′)
Commande de l’Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg
A Cristina Rocca
Création mondiale : novembre 2010, Palais de la Musique et des Congrès de Strasbourg – Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg
S c a l e s (2008-2009) pour grand ensemble (20′)
Co-commande de l’Ensemble Intercontemporain et du Concertgebouw d’Amsterdam
A Susanna Mällki et les musiciens de l’Ensemble Intercontemporain
Création mondiale : 24 avril 2010, Concertgebouw d’Amsterdam – Ensemble Intercontemporain, dir. Susanna Mälkki
Première allemande : 9 mai 2010, Philharmonie de Cologne – Ensemble Intercontemporain, dir. Susanna Mälkki
D i a d è m e (2008), pour soprano, clarinette et piano (9′)
Commande de l’Ensemble Accroche-Note
A Frédéric Durieux
Création mondiale : 5 ocotbre 2010, Festival Musica – Françoise Kubler, soprano; Ensemble Accroche-Note
S a t k a (2008), pour flûte, clarinette, violon, violoncelle, percussions et piano (13′)
Commande du Festival d’Aix-en-Provence
A Jean-Dominique Marco
Création mondiale : 11 juillet 2008, Festival d’Aix-en-Provence – Jérémie Siot (vn), Florian Lauridon (vc), Cédric Jullion (fl), Jérôme Comte (cl), Jean-Marie Cottet (pno), François Garnier (pc), Guillaume Bourgogne, direction.
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
H a ï k u (2008) pour piano (6′)
Commande d’Ars Mobilis, pour le festival “Les Solistes aux Serres d’Auteuil”
Création mondiale : 31 août 2008 – Festival des Serres d’Auteuil – Ferenc Vizi (piano)
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
D a l l ‘ i n f e r n o (2008), pour flûte, alto et harpe (9′) (Retracted:  see note above)
Commande du Musée du Louvre
non encore créé
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
A r a s h i (2008), pour alto seul (5′)
Commande de P. Mc Burney
A Peter Mc Burney et Vincent Royer
non encore créé
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
K a m e n a i a (2008), pour douze voix solistes (6′)
Commande de l’Ensemble Musicatreize
A Roland Hayrabedian et l’Ensemble Musicatreize
Création mondiale : 15 mai 2008 – Marseille, Eglise Saint-Charles – Ensemble Musicatreize, dir. Roland HAYRABEDIAN
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
H e n d e k a (2007), pour violon, alto, violoncelle et piano (11′)
Commande du Festival “Les Musicales”
A Bruno Mantovani
Création mondiale : 10 mai 2008 – Colmar, Les Musicales – Ilya Gringolts (vn), Silvia Simionescu (al), Marc Coppey (vc), Claire-Marie Le Guay (pno)
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
V e r t i g o (2006-2007), pour 2 pianos et orchestre (20′)
Commande de l’Etat Français et du Festival Musica
Création mondiale : 20 septembre 2008 – Strasbourg, Festival Musica – Hideki Nagano, Sébastien Vichard (pnos) – Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège, dir. Pascal ROPHÉ
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
S a n h (2006), pour clarinette basse, violoncelle et piano (11′)
Commande de l’Etat Français
A Armand Angster
Création mondiale : 11 octobre 2007 – Strasbourg, Festival Musica / Ensemble Accroche-Note
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
Q u a t u o r (n°1) (2005-2006), pour quatuor à cordes (20′)
Commande du Beethovenfest de Bonn et de M. P. McBurney
Dédié au Quatuor Arditti
Création mondiale : 19 mars 2006 – Bruxelles, Festival Ars Musica – Quatuor Arditti
Création française : 20 juillet 2006 – Festival d’Aix-en-Provence – Quatuor Arditti
Création mondiale de la première version : 24 septembre 2005 – Kunstmuseum Bonn – Mandelring Quartett
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
M a n a (2004-2005), pour grand orchestre (10′)
Commande du Festival de Lucerne
A Pierre Boulez
Création mondiale : 9 septembre 2005 – Lucerne KKL – Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra, dir. Pierre BOULEZ
Création française : 2 juin 2006 – Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio-France, dir. Hannu LINTU
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
M a d r i g a l (2004-2005), pour soprano et ensemble (11′)
Commande de la Fondation André Boucourechliev
A Françoise Kubler et Armand Angster
Création mondiale : 30 septembre 2005 – Strasbourg, Festival Musica – Ensemble Accroche-Note
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
V i r y a (2004), pour flûte, clarinette en sib (+ clarinette basse), percussions et piano (7′)
Commande de M. Francis Rueff
A Frédéric Kahn
Création mondiale : 19 mars 2004 – Espace 110 Illzach – Ensemble In Extremis
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
A u s (2004), pour alto, saxophone soprano, clarinette en sib (+ clarinette basse) et piano (8′)  
Commande de la Radio de Berlin-Brandeburg
A Philippe Hurel
Création mondiale : 24 janvier 2004 – Berlin, Ultraschall-Festival – Ensemble Intégrales
Enregistrement : CD “European Young generation” par l’Ensemble Intégrales aux éditions Zeitklang (ez-21019)
Pour l’acheter : www.amazon.fr
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
H a o s (2003), pour piano seul (10′)
Commande du Festival Rendez-vous Musique Nouvelle de Forbach
A Laurent Cabasso
Création mondiale : 9 novembre 2003 – Forbach, Festival RVMN – Raoul Jehl, piano
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
I ô a (2003) pour choeur de femmes à huit voix (3′)
A Catherine Bolzinger
Création mondiale : 23 mai 2003 – Strasbourg, Palais du Rhin – Ensemble Vocal Féminin du Conservatoire de Strasbourg, dir. Catherine BOLZINGER
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
Y e t (2002), pour vingt musiciens (10′)  
Commande de l’Ensemble Intercontemporain
A Pascal Dusapin
Création mondiale : 29 septembre 2002 – Strasbourg, Festival Musica – Ensemble Intercontemporain ; dir. Jonathan NOTT
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
E k t r a (2001), pour flûte seule (5′)
A Olivier Class
Création mondiale : 16 juin 2001 – Strasbourg, Cercle européen, Académie des Marches de l’Est – Olivier Class, flûte
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
D i k h a (2000-2001), pour clarinette/clarinette basse et dispositif électronique (9’30)  
Réalisée dans le cadre du cursus de composition et d’informatique musicale de l’IRCAM
A Pierre Dutrieu
Création mondiale : 15 juin 2002 – Paris, Festival Agora, Espace de Projection de l’IRCAM – Pierre Dutrieu, clarinette
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
T r e i s (2000), pour violon, violoncelle et piano (10′)
Mention d’honneur au Festival Gaudeamus 2001/1er Prix Earplay 2002 Donald Aird Memorial Composers Competition
A Rosalie Adolf, Anne-Cécile Litolf et Godefroy Vujicic
Création mondiale : 7 octobre 2000 – Strasbourg, Festival Musica – Rosalie Adolf (vn), Godefroy Vujicic (vc), Anne-Cécile Litolf (pno)
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
L a  C h u t e  D u  R o u g e (2000), pour clarinette, violoncelle, vibraphone et piano (11′)  
A Ivan Fedele
Création mondiale : 11 mai 2000 – Strasbourg, Oratoire du Temple-Neuf – Ensemble du Conservatoire de Strasbourg
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
S k i a ï (1998-1999), pour cinq instruments (8′)
A Pierre-Yves Meugé
Création mondiale : 11 mai 1999 – Strasbourg, Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame – Ensemble du Conservatoire de Strasbourg
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
S t r o f a II (1998), voix de femme, violon et piano (5’30) (Retiré du catalogue)
Création mondiale : 11 mai 2000 – Strasbourg, Oratoire du Temple-Neuf – Ensemble du Conservatoire de Strasbourg
inédit © Christophe BERTRAND
S t r o f a IIb (1998-2000), pour voix de femme, flûte alto (également flûte en ut), et piano (5’30)
Création mondiale : 2 juillet 2000 – Wangen (67), Vieux Freihof – Aline Metzinger (voix), Olivier Class (fl), Christophe Bertrand (pno)
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
Photo credit:  Pascale Srebnicki (2008).

The otherness of the other

In previous posts (eg, here and here), I have talked about the difficulty of assessing the intentions of others, whether for marketing or for computer network design or for national security. The standard English phrase speaks of “putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes”.  But this is usually not sufficient:  we have to put them into their shoes, with their beliefs, their history, their desires, and their constraints, not ourselves, in order to understand their goals and intentions, and to anticipate their likely strategies and actions.    In a fine political thriller by Henry Porter, I come across this statement (page 220):

‘Motive is always difficult to read,’ he replied.  ‘We make a rational assumption about someone’s behaviour based on what we would, or would not, do in the same circumstances, ignoring the otherness of the other. We consider only influences that make us what we are and impose those beliefs on them.  It is the classic mistake of intelligence analysis.’  “

Reference:
Henry Porter [2009]: The Dying Light. London, UK:  Orion Books.
Obscure fact:  Porter (born 1953) is the grand-nephew of novelist Howard Sturgis (1855-1920), step-cousin to George Santayana (1863-1952).

Philosophy as a creative art

I quoted poet Don Paterson on what he saw as Shakespeare’s use of the act of poetry-writing to learn what he intended to say in the poem being written.    And now, here is poet and philosopher George Santayana writing to William James in the same vein on philosophy:

If philosophy were the attempt to solve a given problem, I should see reason to be discouraged about its success; but it strikes me that it is [page-break] rather an attempt to express a half-undiscovered reality, just as art is, and that two different renderings, if they are expressive, far from cancelling each other add to each other’s value . . . I confess I do not see why we should be so vehemently curious about the absolute truth, which is not to be made or altered by our discovery of it.  But philosophy seems to me to be its own reward, and its justification lies in the delight and dignity of the art itself.” [Letter to William James, 1887-12-15, quoted in Kirkwood 1961, pp. 43-44.]

Reference:
M. M. Kirkwood [1961]: Santayana:  Saint of the Imagination.  Toronto, Canada:  University of Toronto Press.

Poem: Sonnet II

A poem George Santayana wrote on the early death in 1893 of his close friend, Warwick Potter, who apparently died in Brest of cholera caught after being weakened due to severe sea-sickness experienced while yachting. More about Potter here.

Sonnet II, from “To W.P.”
With you a part of me hath passed away;
For in the peopled forest of my mind
A tree made leafless by this wintry wind
Shall never don again its green array.
Chapel and fireside, country road and bay,
Have something of their friendliness resigned;
Another, if I would, I could not find,
And I am grown much older in a day.
But yet I treasure in my memory
Your gift of charity, and young heart’s ease,
And the dear honour of your amity;
For these once mine, my life is rich with these.
And I scarce know which part may greater be,–
What I keep of you, or you rob from me.

Previous posts of poetry are here.

On growing up Catholic


The Australian Labor Party split in two three times during the 20th century:  over military conscription during WW I, over economic policies during the Great Depression, and over entryism by Catholic anti-communists in 1954.   A Catholic-dominated splinter party from that last split, the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), now looks likely to be represented in the Australian Federal Parliament again after 36 years absence, by winning the last Senate seat from Victoria in last week’s election.   I therefore thought it interesting to collect the views of several lapsed Catholics on their education.
Here is Germaine Greer, educated in Melbourne by Catholic nuns of the Presentation Order, in an essay in the collection, There’s Something About a Convent Girl (Edited by Jackie Bennet  & Rosemary Forgan.  London, UK; Virago, 1991):

I am still a Catholic, I just don’t believe in God. I am an atheist Catholic – there are a lot of them around. One thing lapsed Catholics do not do is go in for an “inferior” religion with less in the way of tradition and intellectual content.”

And Catholic-raised Terry Eagleton on reason in religious education:

[Richard] Dawkins considers that all faith is blind faith, and that Christian and Muslim children are brought up to believe unquestioningly. Not even the dim-witted clerics who knocked me about at grammar school thought that. For mainstream Christianity, reason, argument and honest doubt have always played an integral role in belief.”

Catalan & American philosopher George Santayana, who ended his life, though a lapsed believer, in a convent in Rome:

Catholicism is the most human of religions, if taken humanly:  it is paganism spiritually transformed and made metaphysical. It corresponds most adequately to the various exigencies of moral life, with just the needed dose of wisdom, sublimity, and illusion.” (Persons and Places. London, UK:  Constable, 1944, p. 98)

British author David Almond, in an interview with Sarah Crown, quoted on his Catholic upbringing in Newcastle, UK:

Readers and critics have labelled Almond’s novels modern fairytales. But for Almond himself, “the pressing thing is the realism. Skellig had to be in a real garage. Kit sleeps in a real mine. The Fire-Eaters, while it has a miraculous element to it, takes place in a real coastal town, and features a real fire-eater – he was based on this character we used to see on the Quayside in Newcastle when I was a kid. Once you’ve got that solid, touchable world you can do anything. Maybe that’s something else to do with being brought up as a Catholic: you’re taught to think about the other world, but you grow up in this one, and you realise there couldn’t be anything better. So you find the miraculousness in reality.”

Hilary Mantel says something similar:

In the ideal world, all writers would have a Catholic childhood, or belong to some other religion which does the equivalent for you. Because Catholicism tells you at a very early age the world is not what you see; that beyond everything you see, and the appearance – or the accidents as they’re known – there is another reality, and it is a far more important reality. So it’s like running in the imagination. I think that this was the whole point for me – that from my earliest years I believed the world to have an overt face and a hidden face, and behind every cause another cause, and behind every explanation another explanation, which is perhaps of quite a different order. And if you cease to believe in Catholic doctrine it doesn’t mean that you lose that; you still regard the world as ineffable and mysterious and as something which perhaps in the end can’t quite be added up. It could be summed up as saying “all is not as it seems”, and of course that’s the first thing Catholicism tells you. And then it just runs through everything you write and everything you touch, really. Plus, it’s good to have something to rebel against.”

Irish writer John McGahern, in a 1993 essay, “The Church and its Spire”, on his upbringing in 1950s Eire:

I was born into Catholicism as I might have been born into Buddhism or Protestantism or any of the other isms or sects, and brought up as a Roman Catholic in the infancy of this small state when the Church had almost total power: it was the dominating force in my whole upbringing, education and early working life.
I have nothing but gratitude for the spiritual remnants of that upbringing, the sense of our origins beyond the bounds of sense, an awareness of mystery and wonderment, grace and sacrament, and the absolute equality of all women and men underneath the sun of heaven. That is all that now remains. Belief, as such, has long gone.”

Journalist Antony Funnell in an article about the violence in Australian Catholic education also says:

It was many years before I started to truly appreciate the full effect that the Catholic education system of the 1970s and early 80s had on my psyche. From the [Marist] Brothers I retain, and cherish, a sense of what’s often called “Catholic social justice”: a deeply held belief that what’s important in life is to make some form of difference to society, no matter what you do and no matter how small your contribution; that treating everyone as your equal is important; that your goals in life should rise above the simple pursuit of material wealth.
How odd then that I also learned from them how base and brutal and petty human beings can be.”

I think this sense of the absolute equality of all arises from the universalist ambitions of Catholicism (all people are called to embrace it and be saved), which it shares with Islam.  Those forms of Protestantism which focus on an elect, the people whom God has decided will be saved (even, according to believers in predestinationism, so chosen before their birth), do not share this bias for absolute equality.    Of course, within the Church itself, with its priesthood currently restricted to men, and then only some men, the tradition of equality is dishonoured more than honoured.  And the universalism of Catholicism, coupled with its global presence, mean that a welcoming community and familiar rituals can be found by adherents most anywhere they go (again like Islam).   Perhaps only participation in a global martial arts community, such as karate or aikido, offers anything similar.
And since Catholics hold that it is the-people-as-the-Church that receive grace and are saved, not people as individuals, there is a bias toward community and social cohesion that runs counter to the prevailing individualistic ethos of capitalism.
Note:  The image shows one of the many woodcarvings in the Catholic Church at Serima Mission, near Masvingo, Zimbabwe.

Poem: O world, thou choosest not the better part!

Today’s poem is a sonnet by George Santayana (1863-1952), whom I have blogged about here and here.

Sonnet III
O world, thou choosest not the better part!
It is not wisdom to be only wise,
And on the inward vision close the eyes,
But it is wisdom to believe the heart.
Columbus found a world, and had no chart,
Save one that faith deciphered in the skies;
To trust the soul’s invincible surmise
Was all his science and his only art.
Our knowledge is a torch of smoky pine
That lights the pathway but one step ahead
Across a void of mystery and dread.
Bid, then, the tender light of faith to shine
By which alone the mortal heart is led
Unto the thinking of the thought divine.

America!

George Santayana writing in Character and Opinion in the United States (1918):

Even what is best in American life is compulsory – the idealism, the zeal, the beautiful happy unison of its great moments.  You must wave, you must cheer, you must push with the irresistible crowd; otherwise you will feel like a traitor, a soulless outcast, a deserted ship high and dry on the shore.  In America, there is but one way of being saved, though it is not peculiar to any of the official religions, which themselves must silently conform to the national orthodoxy, or else become impotent and merely ornamental.  This national faith and morality are vague in idea, but inexorable in spirit; they are the gospel of work and the belief in progress.  By them, in a country where all men are free, every man finds what most matters has been settled for him beforehand.”