Hostile to the very idea of human nature…

Thirteen years ago after much deliberation Gil Bailie posted the following on our old web blog. In the intervening years the cultural milieu has moved dramatically in regard to the matters of concern in this post. I am re-posting it now because it provides some perspective as an example of how human nature responds to ‘some of the weirdest cultural insanities‘, while also showing the perspicacity and pertinence of Gil’s insistence on the centrality of the creedal affirmation of Christianity’s anthropological realism to our cultural enterprise.

“Shall I uncrumple this much crumpled thing?”

– Wallace Stevens

The wrestling is over. I am posting this weblog entry after overcoming many misgivings. The risk of offending some of one’s best friends and a number of one’s good friends is not an insubstantial risk, but the risk of failing to defend the faith at the point of attack is a graver one.

Bishop Eugene Robinson is the openly gay Episcopalian bishop most likely to go down in history as the man who kicked the stone that started the avalanche that brought the Anglican experiment to an end. It could hardly have escaped his notice, but he seems remarkably unperturbed by the prospect, even at times ebullient. In a recent interview with the Scottish journalist Andrew Collier, Bishop Robinson recalled a life-changing conversation he had with the chaplain at an Episcopalian college he attended.

One day when I was ranting and raving about how much of the Nicene Creed I didn’t believe, he said ‘well, when you’re in church, just say the parts of the creed you do agree with. Be silent for the others. We’re not asking you do so something against your integrity’. And again I thought whew, that’s what one would hope for from a religion – honesty and integrity. And I guess that’s a theme that has carried throughout my life in Ministry – that God wants us to be honest and full of integrity.

Stirring calls for honesty and integrity are hard to resist. Emerson (who spoke a lot of foolishness) once said that something foolishly spoken can be wisely heard. Perhaps there is some honesty and integrity to be found in Bishop Robinson’s puzzling remark if we but take the time to look for it. For, quite without realizing it, he has put his finger on precisely the key issue.

It seems only logical to begin looking for the grain of truth and integrity where Bishop Robinson has often testified to have found it, namely, in the social cause he is most famous for espousing. No, not the Gospel, the other one. (It is a link between the two that I want to explore.)

The process of mainstreaming homosexual behavior has moved inexorably from perfectly legitimate and long overdue early efforts to understand the plight of those suffering from same-sex disorders and to exercise both more compassion and more prudence when trying to the prevent the social and moral damage known to be associated with homosexual lifestyles. And yet these early and appropriate steps, insufficiently guided by the underlying ethic that insured their moral coherence, quickly fell under the gravitational force to which cultures suffering “civilizational exhaustion” are vulnerable. In rapid succession, the declension began: from understanding to tolerance, from tolerance to moral indifference, from indifference to celebration, from celebration to intolerance for any moral objections, from intolerance to legal threats, and finally to teaching seven and eight year-olds the moral and social indistinguishability of homosexual coupling and heterosexual nuptiality. Thus, we arrive at where we are today: in the midst of a culture that thinks of itself as rational, one of history’s great flat-earth theories has so triumphed that few have been able to resist genuflecting at one time or another before its pieties.

Christianity’s empathy for victims has so shaped our moral environment that the historical mistreatment of homosexuals, after it had been as rectified as it is possible for such things ever to be, survived as icon, appealing to a kind of Christ-flavored moral sentimentality which made an ideal battering ram for demolishing the Christian moral realism of which the sentimentality was a parody. It has become increasingly clear to those paying attention – and this is why I come back to this issue more than I would like – that the question that is being adjudicated is not ultimately about sexual ethics; rather it is about whether the religion that taught us the sacramental dignity of the nuptial mystery (and a lot besides) is to lose its place in cultural life and in the education of the young for failing to regard as healthy and virtuous something that any Christian living in any age but ours would have had no trouble recognizing as “intrinsically disordered.”

The fact that many of the Christian faithful and most of the Christian denominations are tying themselves in knots over this issue is no accident. It has been known for some time that putting Christians in what feels to them like a moral double-bind – an empathy for victims, on one hand, and personal and confessional misgivings about the behavior of the “victims,” on the other – was a conscious strategy for dividing and paralyzing those whose moral instincts, if not creedal allegiances, were rooted in Christian principle.

And so, today this dangerous social, moral and cultural inversion finds support, not only among the sexual revolutionaries, moral nominalists, and psychological Peter Pans whose sadly shrunken idea of freedom makes them hostile to the very idea of human nature. Support for this reckless experiment is found as well among those speaking in the name of Christianity and espousing a revised Christian sexual ethic that would be unrecognizable to any Christian or Jew living before, say, 1995.

In the days before the onset of all this a couple of decades ago, one of the implicit and sometimes explicit arguments for overlooking thousands of years of human history and the testimony of commonsense was that, once the moral revulsion with homosexual behavior and the retrograde favoritism too long enjoyed by natural marriage were eliminated, the duplicity and psychological self-deception that even homosexuals themselves found to be a repugnant feature of the homosexual lifestyle would vanish.

Alas, not all the signs are encouraging. Young Eugene Robinson, “ranting and raving about how much of the Nicene Creed [he] didn’t believe,” was given advice that inspired his dedication to truth and honesty. The older – and one would have hoped more mature – Eugene Robinson looks back on the sophomoric advice he was given, only to see it as the moral theme of his entire ministry. The advice? The advice was to play make-believe, to pretend to be faithful to the Creed, but in fact to be quietly altering it to suit one’s own tastes.

“God wants us to be honest and full of integrity.” It’s true. But the mumbled and spiteful rejection of the very creed that one has solemnly sworn to proclaim to the ends of the earth is decidedly not “what one would hope for from a religion.”

Here’s my point: Whether it comes from above – from those in ecclesial robes leaning on a crosier – or from below – from those betraying their own dignity in vulgar public rejections of the very idea of sexual morality – the social and moral revolution to which each is contributing finally comes down to ranting and raving against the Nicene Creed and the breathtaking anthropological dignity to which the Council of Nicaea raised our mortal bodies by insisting that God had come to us in a human body, thereby repudiating the Gnosticism that regards the body as an assemblage of orifices which lends itself to a few passing pleasures but which is morally irrelevant and religiously inconsequential – a Gnosticism of which today’s sexual experimentalists are a very late and very sad manifestation. It is a Gnosticism, however, that is rapidly becoming a mandated feature of Western public education, very much at the expense of the Judeo-Christian anthropology upon which Western civilization was based.

Again, as G. K. Chesterton said: One small mistake in doctrine can lead to huge blunders in human happiness.

Like Christ, whose true mystery the Church began to commit formally to doctrine at Nicaea, the Church will ultimately be loved or hated. History consists of the process whereby the middle ground between them shrinks and those filled with ambivalence must move in one direction or the other. Compared to this, the question of sexual ethics is a small matter, but it doesn’t remain a small matter when the question of sexual ethics becomes the surrogate issue for the determination of the ultimate one.

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Human Nature

“Contrary to what our nihilists and relativists tell us, there is a human nature, and its resiliency is such that it often manages to adjust to the weirdest cultural insanities.”

– René Girard

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The Intoxication of Violence

“Since satisfactory answers [to the question of the meaning of human existence] have not been found apart from Christ, there is an attempt today to cancel the questions or at least to rob them of their dramatic quality. We are living in a time marked by nihilism. But it is no longer the same nihilism as in the first half of the century. The earlier nihilism was ideological and programmatic. Following Nietzsche, it aimed to fill the vacuum left by the abandonment of personal and social morality with the will to power; it desired to return to ‘the birth of tragedy,’ to challenge the Lord of history by declaring him dead and dispensable. Its purpose was to overturn the calculating, everyday morality of the bourgeoisie through the dramatic éclat of the hero, who has no model other than his own action and will. The nihilism at the basis of the totalitarian ideologies disguised itself as an enthralling optimism, as the conquest of new goals. It could … appear on various stages of the world as the ideology of ‘the great march,’ the great leap forward. … Its last death-rattle was urban warfare, terrorism, the intoxication of violence merely for the sake of violence.”

Pedro Morandé, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Catholic University of Chile

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Only the beginning…

“As unbelievers deny [the Christian] Revelation more decisively, as they put their denial into more consistent practice, it will become the more evident what it really means to be a Christian. At the same time, the unbeliever will emerge from the fogs of secularism. He will cease to reap benefit from the values and forces developed by the very Revelation he denies. He must learn to exist honestly without Christ and without the God revealed through Him; he will have to learn to experience what this honesty means. Nietzsche has already warned us that the non-Christian of the modern world had no realization of what it truly meant to be without Christ. The last decades [1930s and 40s] have suggested what life without Christ really is. The last decades were only the beginning.”

– Romano Guardini
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On the Fourth of July in 2020

My thoughts in these troubled times are sober and sobering ones. Ours is a period in history fraught with peril and uncertainty. But it has been in such times as these that our faith has rekindled itself. The world is always fragile, always closer than most realize to collapsing into chaos. But when events bring this perennial state of affairs into our awareness, we are encouraged to see it as an opportunity to revive our faith and our courage. In that spirit, and with my sincere gratitude for your interest in the work of the Cornerstone Forum, allow me to offer for our reflection these two familiar stanzas from Rudyard Kipling’s poem, If:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

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Episode 7: The Truth of Poetry & the Poetry of Truth – An Introduction

This presentation by Gil Bailie was recorded in 1995 shortly after the publication of Violence Unveiled. In this presentation he introduces a series of informal talks under the heading “The Truth of Poetry and the Poetry of Truth” examining the Virgilian epic The Aeneid and the Gospel of Luke.

The introduction provides an overview of the approach Mr. Bailie takes in these investigations of the poetic Muses and Gospel’s Paraclete.

Poems referenced in this presentation include:

W. H. Auden’s The Shield of Achilles

Howard Nemerov’s To Clio, Muse of History (no internet version is available) in the Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov

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Listening to voices…from proximity to podcasts

For most of human history the only way one person could hear another person’s voice was to be within what was called ‘earshot’ of them. You had to be in close enough proximity to them to hear them. One can imagine early poets, potentates and other vocal performers had to learn to project their voices to make themselves heard by those at the edge of a crowd. Recall the importance of the mask worn by ancient Greek and Roman stage actors as it functioned to ‘trumpet’ the voice. The best we could do for millennia was the megaphone. Once writing was well established the words of the human voice were mediated via reading. But the immediacy and visceral nuance of the spoken word could only be imagined.

Then, in the latter half of the 19th century the telephone began to transmit voices over long distances on copper wires. In the early 20th century the wireless radio was introduced, and broadcasting described the reach of radio waves over the world. But these early radios were large and stationary. One needed to stay near the radio to hear the voices.

By the mid-20th century portable transistor radios were introduced and within 60 years technological innovation produced portable recorded audio players like the Sony Walkman and Apple’s iPod. Now, with the advent of podcasting the live and recorded voices of legions are delivered to any internet connected smart-speaker, smartphone, television or computer putting those voices literally at one’s fingertips. Google says its podcast aggregator contains over 800,000 podcast feeds! We have come a long way from only being able to listen to the voices of those nearby to being inundated with the voices of people around the world.

Today the issue is whose voices do we trust?

Here at the Cornerstone Forum we have worked for years to make the audio material Gil Bailie has recorded available on the internet via our website. Many of Gil’s presentations are for sale as CD sets and downloadable MP3 files. While the proceeds from these sales continue to support our efforts, the number of people who stop by our website to purchase these materials remains small. 

For the past decade Gil Bailie has been mostly working at the writing desk on book projects and is no longer traveling widely to give talks and promote the work of the Forum. Because of this limitation we tried to think of new ways to keep our efforts in front of those who already know about us, as well as introduce our work to a wider audience. Starting in 2017 we began to make our CD sets available on Amazon’s global marketplace and the MP3 versions available as audiobooks on Amazon’s audiobook platform Audible. Both of these outlets provide a small income to us when our items are purchased.

These efforts have been modestly successful. Recently it was brought to our attention that if we want to expand our audience among younger adults one way to do this would be to turn Gil Bailie’s audio recordings into podcasts since this is how most younger tech savvy adults access audio materials. We have decided to try our hand at podcasting and have begun by creating two different podcast feeds. One is called “Violence & the Sacred” which will consist of presentations by René Girard. The other is entitled “Keeping Faith & Breaking Ground” which will offer selected presentations by Gil Bailie, some of which are not currently available on our webstore. We have provided a Podcasts link on our website’s navigation bar and links to the separate podcast feeds. There are also links to subscribe to the podcasts via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and other podcast aggregators.

Pending the discovery of more hidden or forgotten cassette tapes (or some new catastrophe…) I expect we will have brought the entire audio archives of Gil’s recorded audio presentations into the digital world and made them available as CDs, MP3s, and podcasts by mid-2021.

Various technologies and formats have come and gone over the years. It appears that soon CDs may no longer be a supported format by the industry. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to find supplies we need for packaging our CD sets. On top of this, the costs associated with mailing CDs, already expensive, are only going to increase. At some point we may no longer be able to offer CDs.

However, since we currently produce our CDs in-house we are committed to continue providing CD materials to our donors and supporters as long as we are able, and as long as those who support our efforts request them.

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From Faith to Politics to Gnosticism

“When mystery no longer counts,” then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said in a 1996 speech, “politics must be converted into religion.”

When the Christian mysteries are lost — the loss measured most accurately by the decay into ritual triviality of the Eucharistic mystery — then politics becomes religion. Politics is no longer satisfied to be just politics, and it aspires to be everything, that is, totalitarian: Bolshevism, German National Socialism, Maoism, Islamism, and assorted fanatical and murderous ideologies.

When these fail — the year 1989 is a convenient marker for the failure of most (but not all) of them — many of those who cling to the underlying delusions on which they were premised turned to “nature.” Like political absolutism, however, the “New Age” mentality that glorifies “nature” morphed in a heartbeat into an ideology that declared that the very idea of nature was too confining. Nature was to become whatever the autonomous individual decides it is.

The flight from Christianity — and from Judeo-Christian morality — inevitably progresses (regresses) toward moral and cultural incoherence, leaving the culture vulnerable to whatever predatory forces — within or without — retain (however perversely and ominously) a conviction that they are right and that the future belongs to them.

NOTE: this was initially posted on our ‘old’ blog site in June 2007

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Mimetic Tangles

“If we project our own mimetic tangles upon society as a whole, the more entangled we are, the more rigid and tyrannical the social order will appear to us, even if, in reality, it is collapsing. To revolutionists of the Dostoevskyan type, the more feeble society becomes, the more oppressive and repressive it seems.”

René Girard
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Episode 6: Resentment Part 2

The second and final part of a presentation Gil Bailie gave to the Foundation for Development and Cooperation in Brisbane, Australia in July, 2003.

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