"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Henley Townsend Was Religious But Not Woke–His Dalliance With The Left Ended When Religion Re-Awakened Him

Henley Townsend grew up in an observant Catholic family – confession, Mass, catechism, and roast chicken Sunday dinner.  He made the Stations of the Cross, Novenas (although those were ordinarily reserved for women and girls), and served as an altar boy.  He had even considered the seminary and attended two summer retreats led by the Brothers of the Oblate Fathers.   Father Brophy, senior priest at St. Maurice Church, always referred to as Monseigneur, and an eminence in the Catholic community of New Brighton, had favored him, and offered so sponsor him for advanced study at the Franciscan Seminary of Providence, Rhode Island.

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The New Brighton Townsends, English to the roots, nevertheless had branches that led directly to Queen Mary and the short period of her august Catholicism; and although they hobnobbed with the Anglo-Saxon elite of the town – Nantucket, Gstaad, Republicanism, Victorian silver, and colonial pewter – had become resolutely Catholic.  Henley wore the medal of the Immaculate Conception and scapulars, kept rosary beads in his pocket, and never missed a Christmas Eucharistic celebration.  He was as Catholic as they come – not only did he believe strongly and completely in the Lord, Jesus Christ, but in the Holy Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican, and the Pope.  There was no piece of liturgy that he missed, no passage from his catechism that he did not know, no approved Christian hymn that he could not sing

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The good fathers and sisters of St. Maurice were delighted to find such a willing, devotional, and sincere believer in the person of Henley Townsend.  Sister Mary Joseph repeatedly called on him to intone the questions and answers of the Catechism (‘Who made you? God made you”, etc.), and Fathers Brophy, Mullins, and Callahan all blessed him and his family every Sunday in an indirect but clear reference in their homilies.  If only St. Maurice could have more parishioners like Henley and the entire Townsend family!

Henley went to parochial school where he was a standout in all respects – dutiful, respectful, and always observant.  He went on to St. Aloysius of Loyola boys boarding school in Providence, Rhode island where he was taught by Jesuits who assumed that thanks to his devotion, prayerfulness, and obedience would go on to seminary and the priesthood.

Surprisingly, given Henley’s immaculate, perfect devotional trajectory, he demurred when offered a scholarship to five outstanding Catholic colleges, and chose Harvard.  His parents who were descended directly from John Harvard and Cotton Mather and who, despite their errant Catholicism knew a good opportunity when it came knocking.  They took Harvard up on its offer of a full academic scholarship.

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Knowing full well what they were doing – sending their only son into the den of socialist iniquity – they never hesitated.  Henley’s background, upbringing, and tutelage would be defense enough against secularism.  He would hold his own, if not for his own soul, then for theirs.

Bad choice; but how did they know that the Sixties would be a revolutionary time, testing longstanding moral, social, religious, and cultural principles?  Harvard was Harvard, after all, and if there was no other place where intellectual legitimacy would rule and where the principles of freedom of speech and religion would be nurtured, it would be that bastion of American foundational thought.

Wrong again, for Henley got in with a bad crowd.  Since he was a toddler, the Townsends were careful in their selection of his friends and ensured that by the time he was on his own, he would have no unwelcome interruptions in his moral, ethical, and spiritual development.

All well and good, but no one could have predicted the social dislocations of the Sixties.  ‘Love the one you’re with, expand your mind, and do your own thing’ was an unsuspected but nonetheless corrosive influence on an otherwise unsullied Catholic mind.  Henley, a good student but never a bulwark against heresy, went along; and before his years at Harvard were at an end, he had become an advocate for peace, justice, and social reform.

A love affair helped.  Janice Bowdoin, a French Canadian √©migr√© who hated the English and by extension the Anglo-English elite of America, was a front-line anarchist.  She was at all barricades, behind all revolutionary black leaders, champion of Mao, Che, and Lenin.  Modern Canadian and American society had been hopelessly corrupted by capitalist greed and an ethos of ambitious, venal, selfishness; and she and her like-minded brothers and sisters would fight to the death to destroy it.

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Janice was fair, blue-eyed, and hopelessly beautiful; and because of her animus towards anything bourgeois did her best to distort her pure, sensuous, female allure; but no amount of black, sinister makeup, fright wigs, and unholy macabre clothes could hide it.  She was essentially beautiful, irresistible, and a sexual prize.  Despite Henley’s rather prim and hair-shirt upbringing, he recognized her uniqueness; and pursued her, bedded her, and loved her until he left Cambridge.

As things would have it, Henley lost track of her once he left Harvard and hewed more to his origins.  He returned to his Opus Dei Catholicism, more Catholic than the Pope and far more conservative than he could ever be.  He and his colleagues championed a return to the Latin Mass, a reaffirmation of the sanctity of the family, and a reconfirmation of the lessons of Augustine, Clement of Alexandria, and Athanasius.

His divergence from – or rather his straying from – such ultra-Catholic orthodoxy would have been surprising if the American secular  progressive movement had not hewed so closely to religious principles and practices.  Although they disavowed the existence of a Supreme Being and dismissed the divinity of Christ, preferring to see him only as a dark-skinned, oppressed Palestinian, their doxology, doctrine, and articles of faith were very similar – never in content but in expression and promotion – to those of St Paul.

“Black Lives Matter, Women’s Rights are Human Rights, No Human is Illegal, Science Is Real, Love is Love, and Kindness is Everything” are no different from the Beatitudes or the simple, categorial responses in the Catechism.  The radical progressive, black-led reform movement has anointed leaders, edicts of faith, doctrinal purity, hierarchy, and fanatical purpose.  The Christian faith would not have emerged out of Jerusalem had it not been for Paul and his group of fanatical believers; nor would have Islam had the cultural and geographical influence it had without its own cadre of evangelical believers.

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So Janice Bowdoin might have been the trigger for Henley’s secular conversion, but the resonance between progressive cant, assumed social righteousness and received wisdom, and evangelical determination let Henley know that Jesus Christ was not the world’s only savior.

Believing in secular religion of Progressivism could compensate for his unfortunate distancing from the Fathers of St Maurice, the Pope, and the Vatican – the temporary loss of faith at Harvard.  While Henley always kept God and Jesus in reserve, he found that he could wholeheartedly embrace a secular movement which was as confident in social progress as fundamental Christians were for Parousia, the Second Coming.  He missed the censer, the incense, the sacraments, and the Holy Eucharist; but any port in an existential storm.

Given the passion of Environmentalism, it has become the religious movement of the day and little different from the millennialism of the past.  The world will end in a fiery Armageddon, say Environmentalists.  We will pay for our sins against the Earth, and our fate will be hot, brutal, and inescapable. However, we can save the Earth and ourselves through prayer and good works.  There is still time.  How different are these warnings, chastisements, and admonitions from the fire and brimstone that rages from the pulpit every Sunday?  No different at all.

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Environmentalism may be the best example of secular religion, but America is awash in causes with believers just as fervent. The social media appeal for animal rights, women’s rights, gay rights, and civil rights. The faithful fill auditoriums to listen to secular priests fulminate about doom and disaster – puppies eviscerated, women up against glass ceilings, gays marginalized and abused. These true believers leave the room feeling as sanctified as those who receive Holy Communion.

Henley Townsend never left the Church, and in fact in his later years after he had realized and dismissed the false notions of progressive ‘religion’, did the return to St Maurice parish.  Father Brophy and Father Murphy were long gone and buried, but the church on the corner of Corbin and Hart still remained.   He had to put up with ‘inclusive’, ‘participatory’, and ‘communal’ homilies from the pulpit, but the Consecration had not changed, the presence of Jesus Christ in his Body and Blood was still invoked on the alter, and the magnificent spectacle of the Mass, although altered, remained.

Secularism, no matter how much it co-opted the faith, liturgy, and doxology of the Church could never even approximate its meaning and importance.  Progressivism was only a failed copy of the original.

Henley’s dalliance with progressivism was understandable and natural; and his return to the religious faith of his fathers not surprising. 

Monday, July 13, 2020

More Catholic Than The Pope–When Conservatives Turn Progressive They Always Return

Bert Blevins woke up on top of the world.  Today was the day he was to receive a Medal of Special Achievement from Progressive Leaders Of America, a nationwide organization formed to give newly woke Americans an institutional home.  It was not enough, the officers of PLA decided, to rely on one-off contributions from important but random supporters; and not enough certainly to sign online petitions, vent on Twitter, and talk over the backyard fence about the evils of Donald Trump.  No, they said, an institutional home designed especially as a locus of progressive thought, commitment and action.

Ironically his wife on the very same day would receive her official certificate of membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, an organization which insisted on meticulous documentation of ancestry far before the War.  To be a bona fide member one had to prove beyond a shadow of doubt that he or she was a direct descendant of a patriot who had fought the British – a question of great-great-great, etc. grandfathers back seven uninterrupted generations.  Membership in the DAR was a privilege and a great patriotic honor. 

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The Society of the Cincinnati is even more restrictive, and members must be qualified male descendants of officers of the Continental Army and Navy and their French counterparts during the Revolutionary War. Whereas the descendants of anyone who fought in the War of Independence, whether front line soldier, officer, or carter could apply to the DAR, such inclusivity was considered second rate by the Society, and plowmen, mess sergeants, wheelwrights, and carpenters need not apply.

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There are many Americans related to descendants of the Founding Fathers or the great generals of the Civil War, the Mexican War, the War of 1812, and the Spanish American War; and they too have a place at the exclusive patriotic table.  Thousands more of course fought in more recent wars, and tens of thousands are simply proud of the country and its cultural ancestry - one of kings, emperors, courtiers, regents and aristocrats who built Western civilization and who managed, and extended empires.  We are children of Louis XIV, Queen Victoria, the Romanovs, the Hapsburgs, and the Enlightenment, these cultural patriots say; and we have built a free, prosperous, ambitious, and successful nation on their foundation.

Be that as it may, Bert Blevins was veering precariously to the radical Left just as his wife, through DAR membership, was confirming her foundational, conservative, very American roots.  Not only were they poles apart, but light years.  No two political philosophies could be so divergent, so antithetical.  Members of the Progressive Leaders of America were out to tear down every last vestige of colonial, white male privilege.  Nothing in America from George Washington to the present fell out of their sights.

This, the leader of the Society proclaimed, was Year Zero, deliberately reminiscent of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader who in an attempt to create an Communist society more doctrinally pure than even that of Mao, displaced millions of Cambodians, sent them to punitive re-education camps, murdered those even suspected of bourgeois leanings, emptied the cities, and began what he called a Neo-Agrarian Revolution.  Mao’s Long March was nothing compared to Pol Pots forced exodus from Phnom Penh. 

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According to PLA leaders the corrupt, bourgeois, American capitalist establishment deserved no better.  The sooner that their ugly, distorted, manipulative history was expunged from town squares, history books, and museums; and the sooner that tainted racist institutions like the police were dissolved and replaced by cooperative, community-based, communal forces of order, the better.  The PLA intended to stop at nothing but a total reversal of values.  Whites would become blacks’slaves.  Wall Street tycoons would be workers' chattels and lackeys.  Castrating dominatrix, cross-gendered women would rule the sexual and social marketplace.

The odd thing was that both Bert and his wife came from the same, good, white Anglo-American stock.  They both went to exclusive private boarding schools and Ivy League universities.  They were married in a high Episcopal ceremony in Washington, DC, lived in Georgetown, bought houses on Nantucket and St. Tropez, and were of the very very elite.  Bert had never had the interest to investigate his ancestry.  His family knew they were American royalty.  Just the paintings on the wall of 18th century English lords, wealthy planters who accompanied John Davenport to New Haven to found the first English colony there, Southern Cavaliers in Walter Raleigh’s entourage, and more told the story.  One need never question this heritage.

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So what was it that turned Bert so radically Left?  Surely logic, historical exegesis, trips to the Archives and Library of Congress had nothing to do with it. To understand, one would have to back to Bert’s undergraduate days at Yale.  He had been admitted on a legacy – all Blevins since the days of John Davenport had gone there – despite the fact that his record from St. Paul’s was a bit ragged without much promise.  He had apparently matriculated at St. Paul's just as he had at Yale – thanks to legacy and years of generous family contributions. 

For most students of his ability and background, nothing much untoward would ever happen.  After Yale they went to Wall Street, again thanks to patronage and willingness of partners to ‘let him find themselves’; but Bert graduated just too late to let this conservative sinecure take hold.  The early Sixties were a time of campus peace and quiet; but by the time the decade was over, it had become a hotbed of civil rights, anti-war protests, and social justice – nothing like today’s campuses, of course, but nasty and co-opting in its own way.

Not surprisingly it was love that turned his head, and the intense, raven-haired, anarchic Judy Birnbaum was the one who did the turning.  She was a student at Barnard who participated in all the Mark Rudd troubles at Columbia, transferred to Radcliffe where her emotional socialism was strengthened by academic study, and met Bert on the Old Campus at a progressive rally.  Bert was only an onlooker, but there was something about him the predatory Judy saw and liked – a willing partner in her radical life. 

Sex was on the table early and often.  Bert, thanks to his rather limited and supervised childhood, had only light girlfriends, friends of the family, wives and marital partners to be.  He had never even known that the likes of Judy Birnbaum existed, or ever suspected such feline appetites.  He was hooked, and he did whatever she asked. 

After Yale he was too timid to pursue her and her radical anarchism, and was pulled back in by Connecticut family and friends who, stopping short of anti-Semitism, made it clear that Miss Birnbaum was definitely not for him.  So he went on like this older brothers, uncles, and grandparents to New York banking and investments.  Like others of his modest abilities but with impeccable credentials and a large treasury along with he was tolerated.  The French, when speaking of an eligible high class woman, say she has a ‘de la’ devant, et une grosse fortune derriere – in other words and aristocratic title and a lot of family money; and Bert was no different.

Bert could never forget Judy Birnbaum, even after many decades, and thought she had receded too far in the past to ever be recalled; but as the loud radical Year Zero protests began, she returned – not in person, unfortunately, for she had for years been institutionalized with early onset Alzheimer’s and recognized no one or nothing – but in spirit.  There was something heady about the Black Lives Matter protests, their violence, and total commitment to revolutionary justice that reminded Bert of her their sweaty nights on 116th Street.  

Bert had never been an intellectual entrepreneur – he was intimidated by complexity, moral uncertainty, the place of history, social relativism, and post-modernism – and so he was an ideal groupie.  As ‘one of the guys’ on the golf course at Marblehead or on the slopes of Gstaad, he was always in his element.  He never challenged always accepted.  Hale fellow well met had always served him well, and so it would again even in this angry, vengeful, and hysterical mob.  If he belonged, really belonged, and showed it, complexity would never be an issue.

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So one by one, he was easily seduced into the membership of right causes.  There was nothing on the progressive agenda that he disputed.  On the contrary, he was as happy as could be marching, protesting, sticking up flyers and posters about Black Lives Matter in his own tony, leafy Northwest Washington neighborhood.

He had not been duped by any means.  He had gone quite willingly across the political street.  After all it was belonging, fellowship, and camaraderie that counted for someone of his limitations.  He tended after a while to avoid the angry black men and women who were out to do damage, and contented himself with tamer, more appropriate causes, such as Global Warming.  These members were more civil and more his kind of people even in their progressive madness.   At the same time, he never lost interest in the more Pol Pot, Year Zero initiatives of the more radical members of the Society.   He was in solidarity with and one of them.

One might ask how Bert and his wife could stay together.  Bloodlines, ancestry, and common heritage could not be denied no matter what; and eventually, Mary Blevins knew, her husband would come back.  Wild progressivism – more Catholic than the Pope – was simply a phase for her poor, gullible, easily led and misled husband.  All this fol-de-role and progressive nonsense would soon come to an end – no society had ever peered into the abyss of anarchy and not pulled back.  Their ancestors had the right idea – probity, intelligence, will, discipline, and patriotism.

Of course she was right, and sooner rather than later Bert was playing golf again at Congressional, summering happily on the Vineyard, and skiing once again in the Alps.  What comes around goes around she thought – or maybe not since that devious nostrum never made much sense.  In any case Bert returned to normality, dismissed the craziness of the Left just as he had precipitously joined it.  No conservative ever became a progressive and stayed.
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