Depth in the Shallows

Month: March, 2016

The Hurtful Heights Of Humor

Farce Can Be a Fine Kick In The Arse

Piccadilly Jim by P.G. Wodehouse

Ever laugh so hard your belly hurts? For those of you who need a little levity and have been avoiding this blog because, well, it’s so “existential” (actual reader comment), as if Flannery O’ Connor doesn’t make you laugh,  here is some of the best fun in the English language.  P.G. Wodehouse needs no introduction from me, but many people these days don’t seem to know him outside of PBS.  If Downton Abbey was downright hilarious it might approach the humorous heights of Wodehouse.  It wouldn’t hurt to take a break from Seth Rogen movies and Jimmy Kimmel clips would it? Get Wodehouse.  Pick a book, any book, and the only regret you will have is not having done so sooner.

“He wore the unmistakable look of a man about to be present at a row between women, and only a wet cat in a strange backyard bears itself with less jauntiness than a man faced by such a prospect.”

Casting Out The Demon Of Denial

Denial of the Demon Haunted World

The New Demons by Jacques Ellul

One of my favorite lines from the movie, The Usual Suspects, is spoken by Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey). “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.”  Years ago, Carl Sagan (you know, the Billions and Billions guy) authored a book called The Demon Haunted World, bemoaning  pseudoscience, and with it, religious belief, as plaguing the world in the shape of demons.  Irrational beliefs of unenlightened humans.  The only antidote, per Sagan, is scientific truth.  Science is the only arbiter of truth.  All else must step aside as so much rubbish.  The trouble, though, is that in the rarified air of cosmology, or the cozy consensus of climate change scientists, you do not end up with a Universal Truth supported by indisputable evidence.  You get belief.  Not in God, of course, but belief—unsupported by experimental evidence—in climate changing (it no doubt is) exactly the way science says it is, or belief in the origin of the universe the way cosmologists say it originated.  These are merely beliefs wearing the fashionable cloak of science.  Jacques Ellul, French theologian, professor, and Christian anarchist,  points out in his book, The New Demons, that whether we acknowledge it or not, we all worship.  It may be God,  money, or the government, but it’s worship and we do it.  So simply stamping out traditional religion, i.e. Christianity, Judaism, et al we get new ones.  That is, the belief in an ideology as the Universal Truth.  There is plenty of evidence for this throughout history. Environmentalism, Scientism, Socialism, and Individualism all possess the passion and fervor of religion.  So whom or what do you serve?

“The elimination of traditional religions by modern culture is a process that creates new religions.”



Powerless Over The Power Within

Violence, Power, and the Heart of Man

The End of the Modern World by Romano Guardini

Armenia.  Auschwitz.  Rwanda. Christian Syria.  The power of man has grown over the millennia.  So has our misuse of it.  God gave Adam and Eve dominion over all creation.  It wasn’t long before our primeval parents rejected the authority of God for the power of the Serpent.  Even today, so many of us see the natural authority of God as a burden, and we trade it for the free power of the Serpent.  We forget that the authority of God gives us Eden, the power of the Serpent gives us Exile.  All the evil in the world has its origin in the human heart.  In this book by renowned German-Italian philosopher and theologian, Romano Guardini, we read in panoramic detail about man struggling to master the world and free himself.  We learn that instead man is in thrall to power because he does not master himself.  Guardini is not predicting an end to the world.   Rather, he is teaching us about the end of the modern age and the power driven violence of the age to come.  We see our world on fire in so many ways and we know it is true.  And we should know this is just the beginning.  The answer is within and the hope is Above.

“Man today holds power over things, but we can assert confidently that he does not yet have power over his own power.”

“Now and forever man will live at the brink of an ever-growing danger which shall leave its mark upon his entire existence.”

“Again and again one is haunted by the fear that in the final analysis only violence will be used in an effort to solve the flood of problems which threaten to engulf humanity.”

The Mystery Of Love And The Delight Of Life

A Stranger at Home

Signposts in a Strange Land by Walker Percy

If you have never wondered why we are here and what life is all about then you are probably at home in the world.  But if you have a sneaking suspicion that on your very best day, this cannot be all there is, Walker Percy is your man.  A man with a worldly inheritance of money and a legacy of family suicides, Percy was confronted at a young age with what this life is and how to live it.  After getting through medical school, Percy contracted tuberculosis from a corpse.  This left him unable to practice medicine or do anything else but rest and recover for years.  Deprived of distractions, Percy squared off with the most unsettling questions of life.  Author of famous works such as The Moviegoer and Love in the Ruins, it is in Percy’s essays that we discover his answers to our questions.

“This life is much too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end of it and then be asked what you make of it and have to answer, ‘Scientific humanism.’ That won’t do. A poor show. Life is a mystery, love is a delight. Therefore, I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and infinite delight; i.e., God.”

A Good Woman Is Hard To Find

The Scandal of Grace and the Disgrace of Rejection

The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor 

Flannery O’Connor,  Southern writer, devout Catholic, and devoted owner of peacocks, understood the scandal of grace.  Her stories are infused with it.  Author of two novels and three collections of short stories, she famously described the subject of her writing as the action of grace in territory largely held by the devil.  She understood the profound truth that we become by grace what we are not by nature.  Most of us live by nature, demanding of others what we will not give.  But if by grace we give others what they do not deserve by nature, the life we save, as O’Connor has it, might be our own.  Giving requires sacrifice and we all want the crown without the cross.  O’Connor reminds us this is impossible, although she does it often in a humorous and violent way.  The best gifts come in ugly wrapping.  And that is what is so amazing about grace (if you spend your time watching The Bachelor you may be surprised to know that “amazing” actually means something other than a description of a date).

“All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.”

Sign Of Contradiction

The Lie of the World and the Freedom of Truth

Letters, Essays, & Notebooks of Simone Weil

Do NOT read Simone Weil if you wish to remain comfortable and undisturbed in your life.  T.S. Eliot famously described this extraordinary woman as “at the same time more truly a lover of order and hierarchy than most of those who call themselves Conservative, and more truly a lover of the people than most of those who call themselves Socialist.”  She possessed the wisdom of age though she died young, she possessed profound depth in a world of shallow preoccupation, and she sought the truth even in the world’s most cherished lies.  She understood true freedom of a person, body and soul, exists in obedience.  Not a forced obedience by power or money (bearing the mark of slavery or prostitution) but an obedience freely given.  An obedience that acknowledges the truth of our origin in the Origin of Truth.  We are the Imago Dei.

“Since obedience is in fact the imprescribable law of human life, the only distinction that needs to be made is between obedience which is consented to and obedience which is not.  Where obedience is consented to there is freedom: there, and nowhere else.  It is not in parliament, nor in the press, nor in any institution that freedom can dwell.  It dwells in obedience.  Where obedience does not have everywhere a daily and permanent flavor of freedom, there is no freedom.  Freedom is the flavor of true obedience.”

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