Smoke of Satan

I have been discovering some new blogs. All blogs reflect the opinions of those running them. Mine does too. I could easily take offence at some of the comments concerning my person, but I take time to find out why I am of such interest to them. It is intriguing to be associated with the “liberal” tendency of the mainstream churches, and even with the lady who has recently been promoted to the episcopate of the Church of England. I am partially responsible on account of publishing a photo of myself in non-clerical dress (what I wore for sailing my boat in a gathering last summer) and a full head of hair.

I have already written posts on hyper-masculinity and my critical attitude of it. I have allowed myself to be influenced by some of the writings on psychoanalysis by Jung, and have discovered that our spiritual development comes in a large measure from reconciling opposites. There are some parallels with the notion of transfiguration of the lower by the higher. It is good for a man to have some feminine characteristics. I am not talking about people who have their bodies mutilated to look like a caricature of the opposite sex, or even acting “camp”, but assuming one’s own identity by assimilating the opposite and the other.

For some time now, I have studied a notion called psychological androgeny. I bring up this subject which generally has nothing to do with homosexuality or certain physical medical conditions like Kleinfelter’s Syndrome. It is not even a matter of the so-called gender theory that is often bandied about. It is a matter of our inner selves as men and women. My own experience is that of a male.

Most of us are brought up to be masculine, to climb trees, to be interested in cars and sports, and typically in competition. It’s exactly what they taught us in the English public schools, even when there were no abuses like excessive punishment or worse. We are brought up in a binary culture of male and female, at least in certain periods of history. At other times of history, small boys had the same long hair as girls and often dressed as girls. Only then did they move on towards a more masculine identity. Some of us escape the rigid stereotyping. I certainly did through my distaste for competitive sports and preferences for music, literature and “churchy” things. We had daily chapel, and one thing that made me join the choir was my distaste for the contempt most of my house-mates had for chapel services. Christianity for me spoke for what is fine and human, not brute force.

Some of us are more sensitive and are concerned to create and experience empathy for others. There are many human qualities that should be present in all of us, male and female alike: care for the weak and vulnerable, sensitivity, an ability to adjust our place in the group. If we are capable of adjusting our response to the complexities of the world and society, we would make the world a richer place. I have come to a stage in life when I don’t care what people say. I’m a man and do masculine things, just as I did as a boy. I also enjoy beauty and harmony, and I sew and cook reasonably well. I don’t think anything of it. I also love the quasi-infinity of the sea and nature. Admittedly, the long hair is a little provocative, but I know some very masculine guys (by way of a competitive nature and muscular physiques) who have long hair and also have wives and families. Most men in the LGBT world have short hair, sometimes very short. If a reader really wants to go into the question of long hair on men, he could consult this article. For me, the hair is a part of my masculinity and my human identity. I think John Wesley was no limp-wristed wimp in his time! I firmly reject the caricature of masculinity that developed in the twentieth century.

In the natural order, human instincts seem not to be very different from those of some non-human species. The dog is man’s best friend for a reason. Dog and man are similar in the social aspect and the hierarchy of dominance. The alpha gets his food and choice of a sexual partner before the others. It is the survival of the fittest, the strongest and the most competitive – the very thesis put forward by Darwin. This is the central idea of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Might is right. It is only by brute struggle that the strongest will prevail. Christ came to turn that system upside down. Strength is henceforth in weakness, the weakness of women, children, the sick and handicapped, those who are soft in the head. Christ said that those souls would inherit the Kingdom. The alpha man said that all those categories have to die in order for the pure and strong to live.

What I find interesting is that Christianity is perceived to be an obstacle to the conquest of the world by the like of Mussolini and the Nazis. Certain Christian ideas could be exploited, like the success of the Constantinian Church and the moral power it held over entire populations. The Church ceased to be Constantinian, since no state in the world supports a Christian theocracy, and has had to revert to the actual teachings of Christ. Such a religion is useless for waging war and killing without mercy!

Some of the blog comments I have been reading probably represent only a very marginal tendency in American society. The American idea is very complex. There are several contributing themes. The main one seems to be the adoption of an adapted form of the French Republic in reaction against British imperialism. Another is “melting pot” multiculturalism. Anyone is welcome in to escape the oppression and persecution he suffered in the old world, to work hard and be free in a society that is constitutionally neutral in religious and ideological terms. The American Civil War divided the country ideologically between the Yankees and the Confederates, the former aligning themselves with principles of democracy and modernity, and the latter remaining in a strongly authoritarian and segregationist ideology, something like English in the days of Empire. The blacks were useful when they were our property, and now they are free, we have to fight them and chase them away from our lives.

There is something very unhealthy about the hyper-masculinity, the private collections of guns and the “prepper” mentality. I have read some of those sites, and the idea of societal collapse seems plausible. We get taken over by Big Brother, annihilated by someone else’s atomic bombs. The whole financial and banking system goes down. Ebola or something even worse manufactured in a biological weapons lab becomes a pandemic. What do we do? There are some films about such scenarios, and they invariably illustrate the worst of predatory human nature. The guns are all about the haves in such a post-apocalyptic world protecting themselves against the have-nots. In actual fact, those who are speculating about what they would do in a post-apocalyptic world are doing it already in this world – exercising an absolute right to private property as the spoils of war and victory in the competitive struggle. It is a primary ideology based on hatred and fear.

There is a universal feeling that the world we know cannot continue forever. There are human threats and we are poisoning our planet for greed. We may soon arrive at a point where less than 1% of humanity owns more than 60% of the world’s resources. That obscene situation is opposed by various forms of socialism and nationalist socialism – and by the poorer populations of the world. When different groups compete for the same thing, that is the origin of war. Who do we want to see winning that war?

Some find it strange that I should be seen working for the preservation of Christian culture and spirituality, yet fail to see the need to combat encroaching Islamism by means of authoritarian politics. The alphas might be preparing for war, but they fail to identify the fact that humans are not designed for living in “mega societies” like the nation or the state, but in smaller entities in which they know each other. All the forces preparing to fight against terrorism and aggression coming from the Middle East are statist. The Front National here in France is just as statist as the various socialist and Gaullist tendencies. They might expel large numbers of illegal and non-naturalised immigrants from France but what good would come out of it all? I don’t see any scenario by which Islamism would get into mainstream politics or seriously challenge the present democratic ideology. The French as I know them are motivated by their own freedom. In this country, there are groups of traditionalist Catholic thugs who torch abortion clinics and cinemas showing blasphemous movies, but they are marginal. Most French go along with the mainstream and manage to live with it as best as they can.

I am a priest in spite of my many eccentricities. I am not an alpha, and have never been interested in competitive sports. I certainly look like a sissy with my long hair – I don’t care what they say! Life in this world is limited and our days are numbered. Why bother with old liturgical rites, music, literature and sailing a battered old boat? It is my life. My regret is that little or nothing will remain when I die. Perhaps I will have the will and strength to write a book or two and some music, but in a world that seems to be going to hell. It is difficult to be motivated. The key is obviously seeing things at a different level. The level of faith and knowledge we experience in this life is not all.

A part of our Christian way is to be concerned for this world and the people who live in it. We do need to read the signs of the times and keep an eye open. The smoke of satan, an expression used by Pope Paul VI when he saw noble ideas being made banal and venal in the Church, is an image that can describe anything that appears to be good but is made perverse. Christianity itself was twisted beyond recognition at some stage of its history, and the conflicts go right the way back to the beginning. There was no pristine golden age. Christians were knocking each other off from the beginning.

What makes us believe in Christianity? There is a central message of hope that no other idea has been able to bring. It is a message of hope for those who are not the strongest, the most aggressive or even the evil of this world. It is a message of love and the ability to embrace those whom the laws of evolution and natural struggle would eliminate. That is the Christianity that convinces me as which I wish to serve as a priest of Christ. It won’t win any wars, but it will receive God’s blessing.

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19 Responses to Smoke of Satan

  1. I have always felt a little uncomfortable with Christians celebrating masculinity and Manhood. I fear such posturing could lead us to forget such virtues as gentleness, patience and kindness.

    • Dale says:

      Matthew, but are you saying that masculinity and manhood cannot be gentle, patient and kind?

      • ed pacht says:

        I can’t speak for Matthew, but all I myself can say to that is that gentleness, patience, and kindness are often labeled by Christians as being unmasculine and the opposite traits are often promoted. Obviously the Christian man is called upon to be masculine – but what is often asserted to be essential to masculinity is evidence of a ‘worldly’ and even violent mindset. Some of the abuse I personally have received when I have presented unpopular views saddens me deeply. If that is supposed to be Christian manhood, I want no part of it.

      • Dale, I think Matthew meant the kind of “ultra-masculinity” I described. I am a man, XY chromosomes, plumbing that works and stubble on my chin, all the standard characteristics. I am not up to what I preach, but my ideal is to try to be gentle, patient and kind.

    • ed pacht says:

      I’ve never been “a little uncomfortable” with such posturings, but have found them thoroughly revolting. From childhood I heard the Scriptures in Sunday School, in the preaching of my pastors, in the liturgy, and in my personal reading over decades. I have always heard in them a demand for an attitude quite unlike that of the world around, and have always seen the Christian life, properly lived, as something in vivid contrast with what is, after all, a fallen world-system. Jesus (especially in the sermon on the mount) was certainly explicit with his counter-intuitive expectations, and modeled them Himself in submission to evils He could have easily defeated, even to death on a cross.

      True, the church has. most of the time, tended to conform to the attitudes and actions of the secular world, and has often itself been the perpetrator of violence, but the core of doctrine and the core-values of Christian living have always been present, and there have always been those who have turned their backs on the usual and accepted in order to follow more closely. Eccentricities? Just read the lives of the saints. True holiness is not conformist, and usual calls up opposition in high places.

      Meekness, gentleness, and non-violence are not marks of weakness, no matter how loudly some will shout that out (I see that shouting as an evidence of profound spiritual weakness); but rather their consistent application requires a strength beyond what I have, as everything in the world and in my own psyche seems to point another direction altogether. I often pray for the strength to rely upon God’s strength and His mercy, to reject the “macho” path and its demands to be a “real man”, and instead to become the new man in the image of Christ that Scripture calls me to become.

  2. Dale says:

    “…and a full head of hair”: I think that it all must be simply the jealousy of a bunch of pathetic bald men…

  3. Timothy Graham says:

    What of the ideal of chivalry which involves both kneeling before the weak and virility a-plenty too? I worry that virility – which includes, yes, confrontation, aggression, competitiveness, domination – has to go somewhere, do something, else it will find a target willy-nilly. It is fine to hold up the virtues of gentleness and so on, but a lot of young men (if that is all they hear) stop listening. In church they don’t hear a lot of traditional language about striving against sin, spiritual warfare, having the courage of their faith in front of their peers and so on… it is mostly about Being Nice. All of the testosterone needs a target, and in modern mainstream churches the narrative just isn’t there, in fact it is excluded.

    • Dale says:

      Timothy, very well stated.

      Not too long ago, well, in retrospect, quite a long time ago the American media produced a rather dreadful television series called “Mash” that included a military priest who was not only a real namby pamby, but in the end simply “nice” and ineffective; he did not appear to have either a backbone or an opinion that might in any way be construed as unpopular. The type of cleric has, at least in the popular mind, reigned supreme. Effectively an emasculated Christianity.

      Have we forgotten that Christ, one suspects quite aggressively, DROVE the money changers out of the temple?

    • ed pacht says:

      Gentleness is not the same thing as weakness. To turn the other cheek, to walk the extra mile unasked, to freely give more than is demanded, to pray for those who are killing you, to return good for evil. These are all Gospel commands, and they are not wimpy in the least. Think of the young man in Tienamin Square and the other one in Prague (I think it was) dancing unamrmed in front of rolling tanks. How brave can you get? I agree that some are teaching a niceness that says nothing whatever, but others are teaching a belligerence that flies in the face of our Savior’s words and example. To give in to evil is not right, but to strive against the devil with his own tools is to let him remake us in his own image. Neither is acceptable. Testosterone requires a target, yes — but violence and hatred are not the tools God has given to His people.

      • Timothy Graham says:

        “violence and hatred are not the tools God has given to His people” – you are absolutely right. I suppose my worry is that Christianity, if it takes away the absolute demand for heroism in the face of the world, flesh & devil, a demand for radical holiness and sacrifice (and maybe some strict rules about fasting and prayer), becomes so emasculated that it is too saccharine for women as well as men.

  4. I believe masculinity should be held up and glorified, provided it is masculinity sanctified by the Divine.

    What is the defining trait of this? It is certainly not competition, testosterone, violence, football, action movies, lifting weights, buzz cuts, guns, fishing, chasing girls, or any other self-indulgent act (whether these things are wrong in and of themselves or merely neutral/potentially positive things that are inflated to more than they should be).

    Quite simply, it is self sacrifice. Putting the well-being of others before what you wish. Being willing even to lay down one’s life for another’s sake.

    Who embodies this ideal more perfectly than Christ?

    • ed pacht says:

      Well said! If we could all unpolarize ourselves and cleave to that example, we’d be far closer to one another than it often appears.

    • Dale says:

      Fishing? Some of my fondest memories, and the only ones I really have of my grandfather, where when we went fishing, his only past-time. It was often simply the two of us setting together, and I never remember actually catching anything. To find out that it is on the same level of some of the others things you mention rather surprises me.

    • I’m glad you didn’t put sailing in your list! 🙂 I too did quite a lot of fishing as a kid, mainly trout from the local river and flounders from the Morecambe Estuary and the quicksands of Arnside. I also enjoy action movies when I’m in the mood for them, and the absurdity of such as Bruce Willis’ Die Hard series can be very funny. I also enjoy woodworking. I did my own electricity and plumbing in our present house. I can turn my hand to quite a few things when necessary and to save money whenever possible.

      Leaving the flippant aspect, we English have the notion of the gentleman and the finer things of life. It isn’t just about using a butter knife for breakfast and wearing a suit even when alone, but a noble attitude in life. I got quite a lot of that when I was at the Gricigliano seminary – and saw for the first time of my life a banana being eaten with a knife and fork! It isn’t always easy. My own life has been one of unconventionality but one of seeking to be good and caring, following the Christian way (with great difficulty due to my sinfulness) and just being myself.

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Do you happen to know the English work of George Hoellering? (I have not tried the Hungarian work, yet, though the German Wikipedia article has a ‘Weblink’ to an interesting English essay by András Szefkü about it!) I think of both

    http://film.britishcouncil.org/message-from-canterbury

    (not only, but also, for its variety of clerical and choral haircuts, including that at 6:12, 8:03, and 9:25!) and his 1951 film version of Murder in the Cathedral (which can currently be found in – hint, hint – one of the usual places, though I know not how legally: in which, consider in passing, the haircut of Fr. John Groser as Thomas Becket). I savour Murder in the Cathedral more and more, whether read, seen, or heard (the wonderful Caedmon audio version with Paul Scofield is also in the same one of the usual places…) – in ways not irrelevant to this post!

    I might also commend, in this context, to your attention (it would be fascinating to read a review by Fr. Anthony!) the newly-published first edition of Charles Williams’s 102-year-old dramatic poem, The Chapel of the Thorn!

    • Haircuts in 1944? In England it was the short back ‘n’ sides. My barber did the same thing 20 years later in 1964, cutting a neat fringe at the front. It was neat and tidy and needed little maintenance – ideal for young boys playing in trees and making dens in the garden. The film is very moving, and shows the resilience of our forebears as they suffered the death and destruction visited upon them by the Luftwaffe. Only prayer was possible. The Archbishop’s sermon is truly inspiring with a noble vision of true socialism and justice for all under God. The low Mass in the crypt shows the Anglican Church at another time when prayer was primordial.

      In those days, the older men often still had their hair as in the century when they were born, like the old priest (I assume the Dean). Short hair, involving cropping or “buzzing”, is 20th century – because of lice and disease during World War I and the soldiers in the trenches. Indeed, the century of my birth brought many misfortunes. There was a brief respite in the 1960’s in spite of the excesses of some of the groupies. We can’t go back in time, but we can still be ourselves.

      My Bishop has his church in Canterbury, so I often go there. There are many areas that were bombed and rebuilt with horrible modern buildings. As those buildings reach the end of their useful lives, they are demolished and make way for beautifully designed terraced houses in the old style of the city. I love Canterbury.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I was wondering who the long-haired clergyman was… (I was struck by what looks a similar length of hair in the Archbishop of Canterbury as played by Christopher Banks in the 1974 BBC dramatization of Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Nine Tailors when I watched it again, recently – whether that is accurate for Cosmo Gordon Lang circa 1934 I do not know…)

        I had no idea of the extent of the bombing destruction in Canterbury – in the midst of which the cathedral survived – before seeing this film! Nor had I heard the happy news of old-style houses – a pleasant surprise! (It may be that it is not unusual: I am certainly out of touch with contemporary English practices.) I have only visited Canterbury once – a day-trip with a Oxford Lewis Society Eng. Lit. friend, making a point of visiting the grave of Joseph Conrad – the geographical situation was a delight, and I would love to see more of the cathedral and the city.

  6. Father Grogan says:

    Fr. Gregory Hesse, later in life, wore his hair rather long.

    • Mine is a little longer than that, and I do a ponytail when I go out. It looks less shocking for those used to seeing men with short hair. I last saw Fr Gregor Hesse (Don Gregorio as we knew him in Rome) in Holy Week 1990 in Switzerland. I don’t think he had a very healthy outlook on life. He died tragically early, but he was never in good health. That you can see in his face in the photo.

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