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

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Outrageous, The Oversized, The Arrogant, And The Indifferent – The Surprising Rise Of An Unlikely Political Genius

Baxter Lennon had been brought up properly – to color within the lines, to go to Mass, to respect his parents, and to act appropriately.  He was a member of an important family and whatever he did reflected well or badly on it.  There were to be no rough edges, nothing that ever chafed or irritated, a sense of decency, moderation, and reserve.

He was an Honor Camper at Camp Wanaweta awarded for his good behavior, his example of respect and obedience, and his sense of allegiance and duty.   He got all A’s on his report cards, singled out by his teachers not only as a good student but polite, orderly, and congenial.  He was an altar boy and soon the principal acolyte to Father Brophy at High Mass, an honor and tribute given to very few.

 was kind to his sister, never complained about his chores, went to bed on time, ate everything on his plate, and was careful not to soil his clothes or scuff his shoes.

In Sophomore Year in high school, something snapped in Baxter.  Perhaps it was because of Arnie Boone, the music teacher that the very proper private school hired because of his reputation - he had been once feted as one of Connecticut’s rising stars and been graced with a recital at Bushnell Hall at a young age – but barely tolerated because of his eccentricities and willful disobedience of school rules. 

 Baxter had some talent in music, and although his parents, not wishing to waste a semester on a below-average, non-high tier college track course objected, they demurred.  After all their son was near the top of his class and excelled at more ‘proper courses’, so one semester off the grid couldn’t possibly hurt.

Perhaps it was Bobby Inman, the son of an influential industrialist and scion of one of New England’s first families, but who – unlike Baxter – resented his parents dutiful respectability and was considered by school administrators as a ‘bad seed’ – an incorrigible, disruptive, and corrupting influence.  Bad boys having a sexual allure that was irresistible to good girls,  it was no surprise that Bobby was the school’s Valmont; and because of his popularity, his conquests, and his Olympian status at Bradley, he was Baxter’s hero. It was one thing to have praise from teachers, priests, and parents; another thing entirely to be adored by girls.

Image result for images valmont le clos liaisons

Perhaps it was ‘still waters run deep’, and that Baxter’s moral probity was only an add-on to a naturally rebellious, independent personality.  Whatever the reason, in short order he became as bad a seed at Bobby Inman.  He was ‘short-circuited’ said his teachers, who thought they had seen everything.  He was basically a good boy whose circuit breakers would quickly be switched back to ‘On’, and he would be off to Harvard.

He was never happier, and felt liberated -  finally freed from the respectability of right behavior.  It was a feeling of euphoria, fantastic release and satisfaction.  For the first time in his life he was doing what he wanted, when he wanted, and nothing could be better. Because behind all the tattoos, delinquency, and ill-mannered, resentful behavior, he was one of Bradley’s best students.  Not just for his year but for any year.  He whizzed through the most advanced math courses the school could provide, wrote fiction like a professional, won the Bonner Fielding Prize for the best historical essay on Puritan New Haven, and learned two languages well.  The school couldn’t very well dismiss him.

Whether this rebellious indifference to the norm was a matter of genes, psychology, or environment, Baxter left Bradley relentlessly anti-social, anti-establishment, and anti-normative.  He joined the Harvard Conservative Union, not because he was a an advocate of Hayek, Friedman, Buckley, or Reagan but because it felt good to mold the Union into the most radical student organization on the East Coast and to defy the stale and boringly predictable campus liberalism.  Theirs was a philosophy of Nietzschean will, Kierkegaardian determinism, and social Darwinism.

Image result for images hayek economist

He dated wild Ashkenazi Jewish girls from Radcliff – girls who had dumped the radical Judaism and Gompers socialism of their parents into the Charles.  He took drugs, slept with goomba townies from the North End, invited them – all gussied up in bouffant hairdos, low-cut dresses, costume jewelry, and cheap perfume -  to Adams House teas, defied professors who inserted their reformist agenda into the most apolitical courses, and was the most outspoken pro-life, pro-heterosexual advocate Harvard had ever seen.  He reveled in his classmates opprobrium and encouraged it.  His sarcasm and bitter, dripping irony became his trademark.  Few had the ability let alone the temerity to challenge him.

He was a master of duplicity, a genius with a silver tongue, a persuasive orator who loved to see a rapt audience, nodding in agreement, and becoming his.  As hard as the Harvard establishment tried to marginalize him, ridicule his ideas, and separate him from the community, they could not.  Baxter simply didn’t care either about the radical ideas he professed or the increasingly virulent attacks against him. 

Politics, of course, was the best place for Baxter once he left Harvard.  There he could find a constituency, build it, expand it, and move up the political ladder.  Even before he graduated, he was noticed by conservative political operatives who saw in this smart, engaging, and influential young man a rich future.  He became their advance man for youth.  His charisma, polish, and mesmerizing presence would easily win over the gullible young and make waves among the hidebound liberal establishment.  Before long he was elected to public office at the state level, and then won a seat in Congress.  Before long he was considered as an enviable candidate for President.

Baxter’s story has been abridged here.  His rise to power was not quite so meteoric as it might appear – American politics are a dirty, venal, and brutal business and only the most durable and savvy survive – but the nature of his ascendancy is important.  Americans – a bourgeois, settled lot indifferent to all but Hollywood, money, glitz and glamour – would not seem to be ripe for a man like Baxter Lennon; and yet they took to his bombast, outrageous assumptions, defiance of cant and received wisdom like a duck to water.  He tapped something in them, awakened his dormant independent spirit just as Percy Boone had done for him at Bradley.  There was nothing really settled about these Middle Americans.  They were marching in place because they had to, were obliged to, and resented the arrogant dismissal of politicians who took them for granted, laughed at them, and relegated them.

Baxter could care less about the plight of the forgotten American.   They were as uninteresting as his Harvard classmates – both suffering from pedestrianism - and while his constituents might deserve more understanding because of the inevitability of their lot, he had none.  He was in all this for himself.  He delighted in the adulation of increasingly large crowds not because of any arrogance or self-importance but because of the exercise itself.  Manipulation was the means and the end.  There was no final idyll at the end of the road – progressives had staked out that fabulist territory for themselves – nor any satisfaction in any adoption of the platform he treated as a Hollywood script, complete with villains, heroes, damsels in distress, power, and glory.  He simply loved the fact that he could get people to do his bidding without them having the slightest idea that they had been brought to his trough by him and him alone.

Baxter Lennon had been out of office for many years by the time Donald Trump became president; but the two were identical twins.  They both were outrageous, irreverent, manipulative, amoral and brilliant to the core. 

Image result for images donald trump

The Left never understood Baxter Lennon nor could they figure out Donald Trump.  They were continually surprised at his appeal.  How could this ignorant, retrograde, immoral man possibly have any following at all? The answer of course is simple – bad boys, the outrageous, attractive, irrepressible, and very confident men, always win the crowd. 

Baxter spent his retirement years as happy as could be watching Donald Trump infuriate the Left and excite his crowds.  In his first term and especially in his second, he was one of a kind.  No matter how progressives whined, there Donald Trump was on Twitter, on the podium, and before the cameras – not only touting a conservative agenda but doing it with braggadocio, flair, and fireworks.

There is most definitely a place for outrageous, amoral, indifferent willful Nietzschean man in American politics.  Just as we prefer Hollywood and Las Vegas to reality, we prefer the likes of Trump.  The quiet, respectful, men of moderation like Joe Biden may win the hearts of the already-committed Left, but no one else.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

“Watch Your Edges”–The Joyful Risk-Taking Life Of A Liberated Woman

“Watch your edges”, warned Martha Lassiter; and little Bonnie Lassiter moved away from the edge of the chair, climbed down, too small to reach the sink, unable to reach the bubbly water and soapy dishes, looking up at it with tears in her eyes, wondering again why her mother was no fun at all.

“Watch your edges” became a useful catch-all warning in the Lassiter house.  Be careful walking down stairs, hold on to the bannister, don’t get too close to the railing, lie in the middle of the bed, never touch a knife don’t hit your head on the counter.  There were dangerous edges everywhere, Bonnie learned.  There were edges outside too, her mother warned. Stay in the middle of the sidewalk, don’t get too close to the curb, don’t go down the slide, run on the path.  Soon the little girl saw nothing but edges and the world a frightening place. Her classroom was not a friendly but treacherous.  Friends’ houses were dangerous places where there were new edges she had never seen before.

Image result for images of sharp edges

By the time she was five, she had to be coached to cross the threshold, to lose her fear of the sharp, tonsured edges of the lawn, and the rattling, creaky edges of the mailbox.  By the time she was six, she was a psychotic wreck.

The story would be very depressing and sad if Bonnie had not emerged from this horrible miasma of scary edges, but she did.  As happens to some precociously smart girls, they figure things out sooner than everyone else.  If every step was perilous, she thought, then all steps were perilous; and if all steps were perilous than none were.  At worst a tautology, at best a recalling of Epimenides’ “All Cretans are liars”.  That plus a realization that her mother was rarely right about anything, and just plain advisory overload gave her an ‘Aha!’moment.  The world of edges was only a dark fairy tale - Little Red Riding Hood about to be eaten by the Big Bad Wolf.  Hansel and Gretel fattened up to be Sunday’s roast.  Edges grew up like huge trees, their limbs hanging over a dark, narrow path in the woods; or ghoulish sharp things coming at her in the night. 

Epimenides of Crete

Many children come to their senses sooner or later and realize that as much as they might love their parents, it didn’t do to pay attention to everything they said.  Now that she thought about it, her mother was indifferent to edges.  She always put her martini glass too close to the edge of the counter, knocked it over, and picked up the shards with her fingers; or after three martinis closed her fingers between the edge of the door and the edge of the closet.  How could she had been so stupid to listen to her?

Many of those same children who learn to disregard the obsessions of their parents, make a sharp about face.  Not only did Bonnie pay no attention to edges, she sought them.  Now that she understood that edges were her mother’s lame metaphor for risk; that risk was everywhere and unavoidable; and that edges were there to be tried, she became a bad girl. As a teenager, she was a holy terror - rebellious, dismissive, arrogant, and willful.  Those classmates who too had been hectored and badgered by obsessive mothers were her groupies.  They could never come close to her petulance, misbehavior, and sexual liberty but knew she was on to something.  Bonnie was the girl who, according to their mothers, was to be avoided at all costs.

She was too smart and too savvy to get dismissed from the prestigious schools she went to.  School administrators admitted during student performance reviews that they had no idea what to do with Bonnie Lassiter.  Her grades somehow put her near the top of her class, and she always stopped just short of overt disrespect of her betters.  They simply would have to put up with her, for they had no grounds for dismissing what they concluded was a very bad seed.

The Law of Unintended Consequences works every time, and because of her mother’s edges – the obsessive, neutering, avoidance of all risk – she at first went overboard and did whatever; but soon became more selective.  There was no point in being stupid; but then again there was no point sitting at home.

Peter Beaumont is a columnist for the Guardian and also an ardent mountain-climber.  He recounts the indescribable thrill of taking life-threatening risks.

So why do it? Al Alvarez, the poet, critic and essayist – a keen climber in his younger days – once framed it: "To put yourself into a situation where a mistake cannot necessarily be recouped, where the life you lose may be your own, clears the head wonderfully. It puts domestic problems back into proportion and adds an element of seriousness to your drab, routine life."

Image result for images high risk mountain climbing

Beaumont goes on to say that we don’t really have a choice:

Studies have indicated that risk taking is hardwired into our brains, perhaps once providing evolutionary advantages. They also suggest that for a significant minority – one in five – risk is intimately linked to arousal and pleasure-seeking mechanisms.

Moreover risk-taking can be liberating, and meaningful:

So while you can find risk-minimizing disciplines in climbing, the acceptance and management of a degree of risk is integral to mountaineering. It is what makes the best mountain days so memorable, providing recollections that can be etched for years into the memory, the pleasure of the mountains coming after all the hard work is over.

For some, in a world in which we spend so much of our time navigating expectations and judgments and convention, the indifference of the mountains to our passage over them has the power to remind us of the insignificance of our existence. Paradoxically they also supply a reminder of how intensely that life can be experienced.

Risk is what makes life bearable.  Without it there would be nothing but lunch pails, cubicles, and stale sex. Extreme risk-takers are part of an exclusive club.  No one takes the same risks, but all share in the adventure of leaving ordinariness behind.

The Devil in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov tells Ivan that without him – a vaudevillian, mischievous provocateur – life would be intolerably boring.  Goodness has his limits, he tells Ivan.  No one wants a life of nothing but churches, mass, and the sacraments.  Taking risks – deliberately avoiding the ordinary and the predictable – breaks up the necessary and unavoidable routine of life.  Without taking chances, shaking up the moral order, life would be a post office. 

Image result for images ivan's devil karamazov

There is a third, perhaps most common and understandable aspect of risk – not seeking it, but never avoiding it.  The current COVID pandemic provides a laboratory for reaction to risk.  There are those who scrub surfaces until their fingers are raw and bleeding, whose homes smell like disinfectant, who wear masks in the open, free air, and are so fearful of contamination that they seal themselves off from family and friends.  They are afraid of dying.  They cannot see the pandemic as simply their generation’s universal risk – dying on the battlefield, raped and slaughtered by barbaric invaders, choked and bleeding from the plague, decapitated by Robespierre’s zealots.  Death is inevitable, a necessary triage, making room, giving way.  

There are others who know that death is inevitable but that dying in an ICU attached to ventilators is definitely far worse than a heroic death at Borodino or Waterloo.  They take care to avoid the most obvious and certain risks, are never cavalier, macho, or arrogant, but are not timed Nellies afraid of their own shadows.

Bonnie Lassiter had a bit of all three.  As a bad girl she was cast as irresponsible, undisciplined, and careless; but her risks were calculated.  There was indeed room in a world full of edges for reasoned risk. 

As an adult she chose her profession not for the risks it posed but despite them.  Virulent disease, violent accidents, corrupt and venal governments and the civil unrest, wars, and criminal assault were common where she worked.  The risk of any of them, if reasonable precautions were taken, were manageable; but there was something else.  Africa was a world filled with edges – real edges – and living among them, aware of them, never fearful of them, but appreciative of them made it all worthwhile. 

Josef Conrad knew this best.  Kurtz, the main character in his Heart of Darkness, willingly and deliberately enters a primitive, savage, and dark world.  He expects one thing – power, superiority, and wealth – but gets another.  “The horror…the horror”, he says before dying.  The world and everything in it is violent, amoral, and savage.

Image result for images conrad heart of darkness

Her response to COVID was conditioned by her life in Africa where nothing could be more risk-saturated and dangerous.  For Rene du Chaillu, Mungo Park, Sir Richard Burton, and the British Geographical Society’s other great explorers, risk was part of the adventure, the sine qua non of their reward, praise, and merit.  COVID by comparison had risk but no rewards – a completely different challenge.  It was an environment the only reward of which was some measure of spiritual or philosophical equanimity; or at best an assessment of individual courage.

Americans were told that there was no such challenge.  It was wrong, foolish, and irresponsible to macho up, wear no masks, and intermingle.  Those politicians who badgered, hectored, and threatened their citizens were right in one respect – COVID was definitely not worth dying for; but they underestimated another kind of courage.  An acceptance of risk and possible death with equanimity.  Such centering and self-awareness was lost in the hysteria – but not on Bonnie Lassiter.

Bonnie cheated on her husband, took Ecstasy with her Adams Morgan lover, refused to die ‘an emotional virgin’, and although she doubted some Lawrentian sexual epiphany, was not shy about looking for it.  She was a good mother, more or less; a good although often indifferent wife; a good worker who took liberties, and never looked back.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Fibs, Lies, And Whoppers–When Facts Are Simply Not Enough

Ezra Wilde was the patriarch of a family which prided itself on facts.  There was no room for fiction, and anyone diverging from hard, practical, verifiable, unquestionable reality was called out, reprimanded, and  scolded.  “The world was certainly not created in six days”, he said.  “Do apples ever fall up?”. 

Image result for images isaac newton

His absolute, inflexible interpretation of the truth was as stern, judgmental, and sure as that of any Salem deacon.  His prosecution of any wavering in the face of facts was almost Biblical in proportion.  He was larger than life and as harsh, punitive, and retributive as any of the Old Testament prophets.  He was unsparing in his adjudication of doctrine, articles of faith, and belief.

There was something majestic about this harsh, impervious man.  He never conceded a judgement, an argument, or a position when he saw fissures in the logic or that ineluctable drift to the side of the straight and narrow.  Things were as they were, and no amount of persuasion, fantastical interpretation, or emotional distress could change them.

Image result for images salem witch trials

Of course he was as subjective and indifferent as anyone about facts which didn’t suit him; but to acknowledge  this contradiction would have been to deny his being.  He saw his logical, factual precision as much a part of his nature as his freckles, red hair, and pigeon toes.  He could no sooner be hippy-dippy than he could become blonde or walk straight.  

There was only one way of going from here to there; only one price to pay for this or that; and only one conclusion to be made from any text.  Exegesis was simple for a man like Ezra Wilde.  He was as as originalist in his approach as the most conservative theologians of the Early Church.  Antonin Scalia, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and an originalist par excellence.  The Constitution was absolutely, unequivocally clear about the intentions of the Founding Fathers; and Scalia was impatient and intolerant of those jurists on the court who disagreed with him and who insisted on some vague, personal interpretation of the words of the framers.

Ezra came into his own in the Age of Trump, a man, he said, who defied every principle of Aquinas, Abelard, Hegel, Newman, or Leibniz, a man as intellectually corrupted and compromised as a failed comedian.  He not the media was the source of fake news, a spewing spigot of lies, distortions, and fabulist creations. 

Image result for images thomas aquinas

He became apoplectic whenever Trump’s name was mentioned, when he caught a glimpse of him on television, or when he happened to read something he had said.  He was not the evil incarnation that progressives claimed, but a man who, by defying objectivity and logical analysis had turned God’s miracle of intelligence into bad joke.  There was no one who epitomized the flaccidity of modern thinking than Donald Trump. 

Once Ezra had realized the true nature of Trump’s distortions – nothing less than Biblical apostasy – he became a madman, as hysterical as those who wanted the President burned at the stake for his moral ignorance, his dismissal of righteous principles, and his destructive, self-serving greed.  As politically conservative as Ezra was – an early follower of Barry Goldwater, Milton Friedman, William F Buckley, and Ronald Reagan – he found himself a strange bedfellow of the most intemperate, hysterical progressives.  He hated the unholy alliance, but common hate bonded them inseparably.

This strange obsession of Ezra Wilde took its toll on his children who could not avoid his injunctions, insistence, and holy wrath.  None of them, however, were as logical as he.  As much as they tried, little bits and pieces of personal whim crept into their supposedly logical exposition.  His eldest daughter, Marva, who loved him best and tried to follow in his every footstep but who was the least intellectually endowed of the children, could only imitate his logical rigor; but such imitations always came out wrong.  She insisted on facts which she supposed were true, which had a logical ring to them and the kind of ‘essentiality’ that her father understood, but which were far-fetched.  To avoid getting caught in her creative assumptions, she learned the principle of The Kernel of Truth – the notion that if an idea were plausible, it would be accepted as fact.

Image result for images william f buckley

Like most people who feel overwhelmed by the likes of her father, Marva Wilde used his insistence as a defense.  Whenever someone posited a theory, a reasoned opinion, or considered conclusion, she would talk over them, extricating from the tangle of remembered happenings, bits and pieces of news items, college exam questions, and impressive, selective misquotes, her own opinion. In this electronic, mediated age, it was easy to fact-check her, but few ever did.  Her stubborn insistence was enough either to convince them or dismiss her.  In either case, no one put the brakes on her marvelously inventive subjectivity.

It is perhaps too harsh a judgment to conclude that she was not worth listening to; especially because when a conversation finally turned to her favor – facts and figures in her wheelhouse – she was focused and reasonable.  She was a good conversationalist if you didn’t push her, accepted her notions, and let her be.

Ezra’s other daughter, Athena, was equally influenced by her father.  She was smart, ambitious, and talented, but her talents were dramatic and artistic.  They didn’t jibe with her fathers terrible logic.  The combination of father-love and dramatic soul created a fabulist.  She told stories about herself, her past, and her life which were totally invented.  She chose her audiences carefully and made sure that they never met or mixed, for the tales she told to one were never the same as she told another.  Taken as a whole – a body of fabulist work – she had been an impresario, a philanthropist, an entrepreneur, a Wall Street player, a social icon, and a beauty queen.  Once she got going, she simply couldn’t stop, and her tall tales were something to behold.  No romance novel could match her melodrama, no heroic tale came even close to the exploits she recounted.  No epic poetry so emotive and passionate.

When challenged – anyone paying attention and adding things up even by hand could see the cracks in her narrative – she did not become angry and defiant like her sister, but was wounded.  Friendship and love depended on accepting her stories, accepting her as she intended it to be not as it was.  If one could do that, Athena was charming, engaging, and beautiful.  The embroidery of her stories was intricate, the filigree delicate and finely woven, the dramatic tension irresistible.  Who cared if she added a bit here and there? Or polished a rough edge?  She was Athena Wilde, take her or leave her.

Of course no philosopher, theologian, or logician has ever figured out what reality consists of or whether there really is such a thing.  Bishop Berkeley and other phenomenologists assumed that if a tree fell in the forest and there was no one there to hear it, it did not make a sound; and if it made no sound, it did not exist. There have been relativists like Tolstoy who saw that everything was determined by everything that came before.  Napoleon’s defeat at Borodino was because of cold he caught because of the negligence of his valet who had forgotten to bring his gum boots on a stormy day.  We might be not creations of God but only his imaginings, or fictional comic book characters made up in the mind of a superior intelligence in some faraway galaxy.

Image result for images tolstoy

So perhaps Marva and Athena Wilde were not aberrations but the most perceptive.  They knew that fantasy, imagination, creativity, narrative, and grand guignol trumped facts all the time.

Poor Ezra never survived the Trump era.  He had a fatal heart attack in late 2020 just before the election; and many said it was a good thing because he would have been a very, very unhappy man during Trump’s second term.  Most said that his heart attack was because of Donald Trump, adding more fuel to the Hate Trump movement.  In any case his daughters did well if not thrived.  It all goes to show that the law of unintended consequences is alive and well and as permanent as any logical principle of old Ezra’s.

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.

Image result for images franciscan monastery

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

Image result for images catholic priests new england 50s

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.

Image result for images john harvard

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.

Image result for images french canadian quebec flag

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.

Image result for progressive lawn signs

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.

Image result for images new age gaia

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.