Sunday, August 30, 2009
An extraordinary 2007 essay in Bill Whittle's excellent blog “Eject! Eject! Eject!” made reference to what are essentially invisible heroes: not in the sense of Harry Potter Cloak of Invisibility type heroes, but heroes whom you never see, never notice, and whom the earth may never even note are even present. But these silent, hard working few–these one in a thousand or fewer–are referred to both in the writings of Plato and in the writings of the Old Testament as “The Remnant.” The idea being, these are what are left when the storm passes; it is they who keep civilization going, and receive neither kudoes nor recognition for their work in this world. The archetypal Remainder is the fictional George Bailey of Bedford Falls, New York: a man who silently, but with full effort, devotes himself to building his city and his community, and in his case, not knowing the good he has done until he is at the furthest edge of despair and is ready to throw his life away.
Occasionally these individuals are remembered but often they are not. This is the first what I hope to be a series of short bios. The theme is simple: Praiseworthy people you have probably never heard of, who stepped up and done what needed to be done: The children of Israel sometimes call them The Righteous Among The Nations. I call them the Tattered Remnants.
(Editor's Note: This essay I'm reconning to Tattered Remants #002. Tattered Remanants #1 can be found here.)
Few remembered to history live a more obscure life than Elizabeth Everest. She was born in around 1832; she died in 1895. She never married, never had any children of her own; she wrote nothing, invented nothing, created nothing. She boasted no scientific achievement or artistic gift. Although a woman of deep faith, she was not a nun or any other kind of Catholic Religious (she was, in fact, vehemently Low Church Anglican). She was, in fact, not the least bit extraordinary, except this:
She had a great deal of love in her.
She was born in Chatham, in the county of Kent; we know nothing of her early life. She was, by profession, a care-giver. She spent her thirties raising a girl named Ella Phillips, in a tiny town called Barrow-in-Furness, Cumberland. Having raised the girl to her teens, the girl’s father, an Anglican cleric, sadly released her from his service; but she took with her his references, which served her well to get a new position.
In 1875, one of England’s most noble families had need for a governess. The younger son of the Duke of Marlborough, a well known rake, had married a wealthy teenaged American, a young woman of great beauty but highly questionable morals. She had given birth "prematurely", seven months after the wedding, and, having done so, wanted nothing to do with being a mother.
The young lady--only a "mother" by convention--hired a wetnurse, who fed the child; when he was a month old, she hired Elizabeth Everest to care for him.
Having dropped the child with her, the child’s mother and her husband devoted themselves to a life of pleasure: balls and parties and soirees and all the entertainments that went with their set at the time. They consigned their child, a sickly redhead with a tendency to throw temper tantrums, to the nanny's care as they lived the 19th Century equivalent of ‘la vita loca’. As the years passed, the father became publicly prominent, a well known politician; she his wife spent her time throwing parties and seducing other men.
As the boy grew, the father abused the boy intellectually and verbally on those rare occasions he actually paid attention to the child. His mother gave herself to an endless series of high-ranking lovers and hardly noticed that the child even existed.
The parents called the nanny “Mrs. Everest” – an honorific offered all nannies, as she had never married. The boy addressed her as "Woom", from a poor first attempt to say the word “Woman".
“Woom” changed his diapers, offered him her arms for comfort, wiped his tears. She gave him all the love and parenting that his own parents should have given, but did not. She was his love, his caretaker, and shaped him in the ways of life in ways that his foolish, frivolous mother and cruelly insane father could not hope to do so. She was his confidante and he loved her dearly, in ways he never could his own mother and father, who viewed him with annoyance, cold indifference--or worse.
When the boy was seven, he was exiled to a series of boarding schools where he was abused and beaten; when he came home for holiday, he often found his parents gone –without warning – and spent his Chrismasses alone with his nanny and the other servants of the house. The father was often in London, where he was prominent in Parliament; the mother was, in essence, wherever she wanted to be, which was generally the beds of rich, powerful and handsome men other than her husband, whom she came to actively loathe, as he treated her with the same callousness he did the boy.
Through all this, “Woom” was the boy’s light and his comfort, and she shaped him in ways his parents were incapable of doing. As the boy grew older, he had to cope with the bitter reality that his mad and cruel father would never love him, and that his mother–for all the nobility of her surroundings, an incontinent whore with scores, or even hundreds, of lovers–could never be a mother for him.
The father's syphilis finally ended his life; he died in January 1895, when the boy was twenty. In June of that year Mrs. Everest fell ill with peritonitis. The young man, no longer a child, rushed from his military training camp and was with her in her sister’s home in North London, where she passed away on July 3, 1895.
She was buried in Forest Park, London, and the young man, no longer a boy, erected a headstone over her grave. It stands to this day: “ERECTED TO THE MEMORY OF ELIZABETH ANN EVEREST, WHO DIED THE 3RD OF JULY 1895, AGE 62 YEARS.”
At the base of the stone is the simple addendum, visible if you scrape away the grass.
“...BY WINSTON SPENCER CHURCHILL”.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
I shall restrict my comments to the positive aspects of his life, as it is not good to speak ill of the dead.
I should note that he was a dapper man, with manicured fingernails and always well shaven. His office manner was dignified, quiet, and he never needed to raise his voice.
Other than that....
Just a minute.
Okay. Got it.
His death at this moment reduces the Democratic majority in the Senate to 59 votes, thus making it mathematically possible to stop socialized health care until his successor is elected, which should take, oh, about six months.
Thank you, Senator, for your contribution this day to the continuation of American freedom.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
It appears that one Maurice Schwenkler received a $500 activism grant from some Democrat group.... and another Maurice Schwenkler signed a petition to free kidnapped Christian aid workers in Iraq. It also appears he's linked to the SIEU.
Can you say Reichstag Fire? I thouchacould.
PS. The hate site Democratic Underground first ID'd Schwenkler--"He's A Christian!!!"--before someone realized that he had signed an anti-war petition promoted by the deranged mother of Casey Sheehan, a woman well known for having suffered traumatic grief since the loss of her celebrity status in the war. Ooops.
Lord of the Rings is more or less the foundation of modern D&D. The latter arose from the former, although the two are now so estranged that to reunite them would be an act of savage madness. Imagine a gaggle of modern hack-n-slash roleplayers who had somehow never been exposed to the original Tolkien mythos, and then imagine taking those players and trying to introduce them to Tolkien via a D&D campaign.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
The Stones of Apparition Hill –– A Medjugore Meditation
(Written February 2002)
The first thing that caught my attention about Herzegovina were the stones.
The border between Bosnia and Herzegovina is unmarked by any road signs. Unlike the rest of the country, which is riven by ethnic hatreds and an interethnic Inter-Entity Boundary Line, there is no real political division between the two lands.
You see the change from Bosnia to Herzegovina through a sudden change in scenery. One minute, you’re in Bosna (as Bosnians call their country)--all is green and hilly and woodsy; the soil black and deep, the mountains old and worn and friendly, like the Adirondack Mountains or the Appalachians. Next minute, Herzegovina: you’re surrounded by forbidding white stony mountains—the Dinaric Alps, southernmost sweep of the Swiss Alps—far higher than those of Bosna and covered with white stones and low, gnarly brush and tumbleweed. No self respecting Tolkeinesque dwarf would live here, as there are no minerals to be found, all is sea bottom shale to the horizon and beyond. It is as if you have suddenly crossed from the Tennessee Smokey Mountains into a white, limestone version of the Utah Rockies.
This is Herzegovina: the mountainous hypotenuse along the southern border between Bosnia and Croatia. The mountains are tall and jagged, a high series of limestone waves that stand from here to the sea, some 80 miles southeast from the border. The mountains are white, unbelievably white. The stone here is former sea bottom, billions of years of seashells piled one upon another and compressed, then pressed into the sky again by continental drift. The mountains reach to the sky in waves until they challenge the sea to the southwest.
Hence the stones, which are nasty and sharp and jagged, from the tiniest pebbles to the largest borders. Limestone is porous and, for rocks, relatively easily dissolved by rain and flood, so one often sees holes eaten in the stone by the rainfall. But the stones crack and split as they decompose under pressure of summer rain and winter ice——so the stones get smaller but tend to retain a vicious jagged edge.
The soil that results from this limestone erosion is highly acidic, making the land here unsuitable for most agriculture: only grapes and tobacco thrive in this otherwise inhospitable farmland.
This makes for poor living for the residents.
If the land is tough, the people who live here are tougher. The poor soil, the poverty of the populace, and their harsh and uncompromising attitude toward outsiders make the Croats of Herzegovina reviled by the rest of Bosnia as obstreperous hillbillies. "The only things that grow in Herzegovina," they say, "are rocks and Ustashe" –– that is, Croat Nazis.Croats in western Herzegovina don't see themselves as Herzegovinian, much less as Bosnians——they're Croats, dammit, and this is part of Croatia. If you have any questions to this end, just look around: flags of Croatia, and not Bosnia, are everywhere. Fighting here tends to be vicious, as it was both in the Second World War and the recent civil conflict.
By any indication, a very unlikely place for the Virgin Queen of Heaven to reach out to the human race. If it was, as Ogden Nash said, "odd of God to choose the Jews," then it is simply bizarre for Him——and His Mother——to choose as unrelenting a poverty-stricken hellpit as Hercegovina to give a Beethovian kuess fur allsem welt.
And yet that is precisely what is alleged to have taken place. And who knows? Maybe it did.
* * * * *
We left Eagle Base at eight o’clock Monday morning, stopping at Sarajevo in the early afternoon in Butmir and stayed overnight——to give those of us on the trip the opportunity to do a little shopping in Sarajevo before the main event the next day. (We could have gone straight through, but given that the English mass is only given at 10:00 in the morning, that would have required a departure time of 2:00 AM—or ‘oh-dark-hundred,’ in Army parlance—so the decision was made to split the trip into two days.)
Sarajevo continues to recover from the war; every visit reveals fewer rubble piles and bullet holes and more bricks and mortar and concrete. There's still a lot of war damage, to be sure, but it is clear that the city, now firmly under the control of the Bosniac/Croat-run Federation, is well on the road to Wellville. Business investment and international aid is making its influence felt at last. The legendary Holiday Inn, scene of the opening shots at the start of the war and a notorious smoking wreck at its end, is now reconstructed and repainted a with a bright yellow faççade that covers the worst of the devastation. Sarajevo's own Tin Towers, which are two world-famous apartment towers, named Momo and Uzeir after two local cartoon characters (think Abbot and Costello), have had all the external glass replaced and have regained their prewar look, although the apartments within continue to be slowly restored.
But not all is well. The rock pile at the Oslobozdenie newspaper building remains a towering monument to hatred and folly and the accuracy of Bosnian Serb artillery. The old Bosnian National Parliament building at the other end of the main highway down the center of town is a shattered reminder of the day Radovan Karadzic stood in its chambers and called for genocide against the Muslims. The main highway remains pockmarked with shell holes, which sink continuously. And the heavily guarded American embassy, targeted just three months ago for bombing by Algerian Islamic fascists, is a reminder too that the events of the world has not passed Sarajevo by.
I have been to Sarajevo at least twenty times since I first came to Bosnia, and every visit is a delight. One friend of mine described his first visit as akin to "being unexpectedly seduced by an older woman," an assessment I share. This visit revealed its own new delight—a recently opened (and authentic!) Chinese restaurant, complete with Chinese food, Chinese waiter, and Chinese menu that you can’t read. The hot-n-sour soup, the pot stickers, the General Tso’s Chicken—well, they weren’t great by American Chinese restaurant standards, but to me who has not eaten with chopsticks since the start of the war, 'twas magnificent.
The restaurant was only two blocks down from the famous Latinska Most, so I decided to take a little historical moonwalk before returning to base.
For almost a century, the Latinska Most, or Latin Bridge, was named after one Gavrilo Princip, an individual of some historical note: he it was who, through bad planning and worse luck, put two bullets into the hearts of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in 1914, sparking the first world war. After the end of the war, the Serbs decided that he was a hero of the Serbian people and named the bridge for him––kinda like Dallas having a "Lee Harvey Oswald Memorial Book Building". The spot he stood upon when he fired the shots were memorialized by two sunken shoe marks in concrete, so that the historically curious could imagine themselves firing the shots that detonated Europe.
Welcome to the Balkans.
The Serbs, shortly before the war broke out in 1992, dug the concrete block from the sidewalk and took down the nearby monument, moving them to their ‘‘capital’’ in Pale where they could be better appreciated. The Bosnian Muslims, having themselves had their fill of Serb assassins, closed the nearby city museum celebrating the killings and restored the original name to the bridge. An off-colored marble block in the wall covers the spot where once stood Princip's memorial.
I myself have stood there, where I tried to visualize Princip to have done, not to imagine killing, but trying to imagine the kind of nationalist madness that could, and did, drive Europe to cultural suicide. For it is clear to me now that the killing of the Archduke marked the bloody true start of a 20th Century which—it is now clear—hasn’t entirely ended yet.
* * * * *
We spent the evening together at Butmir, a multinational military base just outside the city and the true capital of Bosnia, where the High Representative maintains his offices and the Stabilization Force – SFOR – has a headquarters. A bizarre rainbow uniforms can be seen as all of Europe’s militaries form its denizens—the gates are guarded by Bulgarian(!) military police, the base is administered by French foreign legionnaires, the Russians and NATO all have representatives, but the commander is, withal, an American. The rooms are very nice (the first place that gets rebuilt in any occupation is the rooms occupied by the occupiers) and the food, while not spectacular, is acceptable in a Euro-breakfast kind of way. But it’s still a military base. The only thing that makes Butmir a delight is that it is the only place in Bosnia where American troops can wear civilian clothes and drink beer.
We sat around and got a chance to know one another in a way we could never do on Eagle Base. Here I chatted with a thirty-five year old Massachusetts state legislator (and the only member of "Democrats for Bush 2000" in Massachusetts!) who was here for six months’ active duty. Here too was a hard but still attractive female sergeant major, twice divorced and not quite sanguine about any chance at a third, blowing smoke from her three-pack-a-day habit. Here were our two Chaplains (both Protestants) and a half dozen grizzled and ancient warrant officer helicopter pilots who, after their third beer, started recounting Viet Nam war stories that held nobody rapt.
I sat back and drank beer and thought. I was finding it interesting how the trip was laid out. Leave at 8:00 on Monday, beer and visits to Sarajevo, overnight at Butmir, leave early the next morning, arrive 10:00 AM, an hour for Mass, an hour for a walk up Apparition Hill, an hour to shop at the tacky tchochkes shops and eat—then leave.
That was it. Some 48 hours away from base for a three hour visit to Mejd, on a Tuesday in the winter. That would be it. No more.
The Chaplain’s Assistant who organized the trip was a university administrator and mother of two college students. I looked at her over my beer as she sat down next. "S0. What did you think of Medjugore?" I asked her. "Is this really worth the trip?"
"Oh, I guess. The people on the trip seem to be enjoying it."
"But do you think the Virgin Mary is actually present here? Actually visiting?"
"Heck if I know. Anyway, I’m Protestant."
Then it struck me. The two chaplains accompanying us were also Protestants and far more interested in our behaving ourselves than in our spiritual enlightenment. The only Catholic priest at Eagle Base, who told me privately that he thinks the whole thing is bogus, was very visible in his absence. And the whole affair had far more of an air of a vacation tour trip than it did a religious pilgrimage. No prayers were said at any point of the trip, even the next morning, when we gathered to leave. We just boarded up the bus and left.
Definitely not a USDA approved pilgrimage.
* * * * *
The drive was pretty but rather harrowing—there is only one main 'highway' down the center of the country, from Sarajevo to the sea, a two-lane asphalt ribbon that parallels the Netrevna River’s long slow walk to the Mediterranean. The road’s fully repaired now and the tunnels restored; you can drive a hundred klicks an hour, if you dare. The main danger is people attempting to pass blind curves, the #1 form of early demise now that the war is over. My theory is that Bosnians must rely on the Force as their guide—but judging from the death tolls on the local roads, my guess is that their midichlorian count isn't quite high enough for the conditions.
Or maybe being a war survivor makes you, shall we say, disregard the threats of peacetime.
As we pulled into Mostar, I saw a sight that chilled my blood. Mostar, thirty miles north of Medjugore, is the only city in Bosnia where the fighting was truly three-sided: Serbs, Croats and Bosniacs all contested control of the city for three and a half years. The Serbs claimed it as they claimed the Netrevna River, which passes down its center, as their border. The Croats coveted it because they claimed it as the capitol of their bogus republic, "Herceg-Bosna." And the Bosniacs wanted it because, well, just on general principle.
Mostar—the city name comes from the word ‘‘Most,’’ or Bridge—is most famous for the sixteenth century Turkish-built bridge over the river in its heart. The light, airy structure, a straight arch without supports, was the largest of its type until the twentieth century. It was built in 1555 on orders of a Bosnian Muslim who had become Vizier of the Ottoman Empire—a gift to his home town. A beautifully designed triumph of stone engineering, this great leap forward in bridge technology was one of the seven wonders of the medieval world; and it was nearly indestructible, having survived 350 years of warfare unscathed.
Until, of course, 1993, when Croat vandals shelled it into the river because it was built by Turks. Or to blame it on the Serbs. Unless the Serbs really did it. Who knows?
What appalled me more than anything else about Mostar were neither the devastated bridge, now being reconstructed, nor the huge number of blowed up buildings, of which I have seen already too many. What appalled me was a huge Catholic cross at the top of the highest mountain overlooking the city, built after the war as a deliberate screw-you to the Serbs and Bosniacs: a brightly lit sign that "This is a Catholic Croat city, and there is no place in it for anyone else." I’m here to tell you, I’d blow it up in an instant if I could. That cross is not a symbol of Christ; it is a symbol of hate: a We Don't Like Your Kind sign as clear as neon.
* * * * *
The city has somewhat recovered, but the outer villages remain devastated. The devastation became more widespread the more we approached the Medjugore turnoff.
We curved up the side of the mountain toward the village at the Medjugore exit. The village—which literally means ‘‘between the mountains’’—was over this high rocky wall and about five minutes past the local county seat, Citluk (pronounced ‘‘Cheetluuk’’), just at the foot of the mountain’s opposite side.
And as we came to Medjugore, all of the sudden, I noticed something strange.
No destroyed buildings.
Nothing. No gaping roofs, no devastated houses, no wrecked factories, no shellholes, no landmines. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Sing it again.
There was no war damage to be found in Medjugore.
It took me a good ten minutes for it to register. It wasn’t as if the buildings had been totally repaired since the end of the war. This is what all of Bosnia used to look like, once upon a time, a long time ago.
Do you know how alien a sight that is in Bosnia? I’ve seen open graves and devastated villages, wrecked houses and human skeletons, bullet holes and shell holes and mortar holes and shrapnel holes. Even in Tuzla, which survived the war untouched except for artillery fire, you can still see spalling on buildings from incoming 122 mm ‘‘top gun’’ rounds. I’d become so used to human devastation that it was an alien sight to see ...
And here Our Lady of Supposedly Medjugore had been visiting for twenty years.
And what was her message? What is her message?
* * * * *
Look, I know all about the scandals and the nonsense and the horse hockey associated with the so-called apparitions. I know about the fact that the HDZ (the nationalist-socialist Croatian National Union) party leaders all control the hotels, gas stations, food outlets, restaurants, and kitschy touristy souvenir shops in Medjugore. I know that the Hercegovocka Banka, founded by Medjugore businessmen, was the worst bank in Bosnia until SFOR closed it at gunpoint last year.
I know that Catholic commentator Michael Jones had his life threatened by Croat organized criminals when he questioned the veracity of the visions. I know that the previous year’s attempt to break the Croat territories out of Bosnia—an attempt at revolution that cost me a lot of sleep—was entirely financed by Medjugore tourist profits.
I also know that the Croat nationalist HVO militia guarded Medjugore like the apple of its eye, and the reason the village was never attacked in the war was that the Croat paramilitaries fought like the devil to keep the Serbs and Muslims from devastating the place——which they would have dearly loved to do.
You have no idea how much of an oasis Medjugore is until you’ve seen blowed up buildings ad infinitum, ad nauseam for two years and find the one spot in the country where the war didn’t reach. That sight alone was water to the parched.
* * * * *
We pulled into the parking lot of St. James’ Church about 10:15, and piled out into the Church for the English mass, which was already just underway.
Three Irish priests read the liturgy; we arrived just before the start of the Gospel reading, which meant we could still receive communion.
I wish I could remember what the sermon was about, but frankly, I was so overwhelmed by the whole am-I-really-here of it all that it didn’t register. I did note however, that the celebrant ad libbed a bit at the end of his talk, greeting us "peacekeepers" from America and noting that our mission and Our Lady’’s was the really the same. If true, I hope that Our Lady's bureaucracy in Heaven is better organized and more efficient than the U.S. Army.
St. James Church is remarkably large for such a relatively small village; it was built and dedicated in 1969 to replace the previous structure, which was damaged by settling of the foundation. It was entirely ordinary, and remarkably Amchurch in its design and structure. The Mass, however, was lovely, and used the Irish English language translation rather than the Novus Ordo used in the US. (The hymns, unfortunately, were right out of the Oregon Catholic Mess hymnbook, but for this occasion I sang them anyway.)
After the end of Mass, we stepped outside and met our tour guide, a young local woman who we hired to give us the barest introduction of what happened: six children seeing the Virgin on the hill called Pobrdo, now called Apparition Hill, the first time on 24 June 1981. (Serbo-Croatians are remarkably Hobbitlike in their simplicity regarding place names; ‘‘pobrdo’’ just means ‘‘the foothill’’).
The famous story that the children saw the Virgin and told their parents—who threw shoes at them for being crazy. The next day, 25 June, the children went back to Pobrdo to get a second look. This time, Our Lady spoke with them, in the presence of several score witnesses (though only the children could see her, of course.) That day, 25 June, is now noted as the first day of the apparitions, since she spoke on that occasion.
Fast forward to the next day: the children, fleeing Communist secret police, fled to the Church, where they were protected for a few hours by the legendary Father Jozo, who was arrested and spent 18 months behind bars for barring police entry to the Church. There, on that occasion (only) did Our Lady appear to them in the church—in the sacristy, now called the Apparition Room. (On the orders of the local bishop, who was completely hostile to the apparitions, the children were barred from holding any more meetings with the Virgin in the church. And so they have, at least at the Parish of St. James.)
And so the story was telescoped. All but one of the ‘‘children’’—today they’re aged 38 to 40—scattered around the world during the war. Two of the boys attempted to become priests but left. (In previous days that was a source of shame, but given the rotten state of the Church in our era....who knows?) All have now married; three live in Medjugore (though one is married to a former Miss America and lives in Boston in the summer). Interest in the apparitions have waned and the events themselves have become almost mundane, just a bizarre near-footnote to the almost Zappaesque monstrosity that is the history of Bosnia since 1981.
Three of the six visionaries receive daily visitations, though only one has a ‘‘message’’ to tell the world, which is broadcast from Italy once a month. Three of the six have received all ten of the famous ‘‘ten secrets’’ and are no longer receiving the visions. The other three, two in Mejdugore and one in Italy, still receive daily visitations and have received nine ‘‘secrets.’’ When the last one receives the tenth ‘‘secret’’, the visitations will be over.
Or so they say.
* * * * *
By any rational account Medjugore is – there is no other word for it – nonsense. It is the end result of either a drawn out lie, mass delusion, or a Satanic manifestation, piled upon by the desperate desire of Catholics around the world to have some proof, some tiny sign, that the nullity they call God has not abandoned them to be eaten by a meaningless history. Catholics, that superstitious lot, want to believe that they won’t evaporate at death, and they’ll put their faith in anything, whether Polish pope, pedophile priest, or Eucharistic magic cookies, to convince themselves that they haven’t been fooled by a bureaucratic money vacuum that sells wolf tickets to a nonexistent Heaven.
To paraphrase Gandalf’’s words of counsel to the Forces of the West, ‘‘That would be the prudent thing" to so believe. Or not believe.
But: ‘‘I do not council prudence.’’
I have not seen anything but twenty year old pictures of the visionaries. I have not even read anything but one book about Medjugore since coming to Bosnia, so I’m not an apparitionist by any means, and haven't the slightest idea if they’’re receiving visions of God or not.
But I have climbed Apparition Hill. That is enough for me. For now.
* * * * *
The path to the base of the hill starts at a garbage heap (where tourist buses dump their loads, passengers and trash alike) and extends perhaps fifty yards, infested by gift shops that sell simple wooden rosaries at a euro a pop (though they’ll accept your dollars, thank you very much). I bought one rosary and walked to the base.
I mentioned the stones of Herzegovina. As we stood at the foot of Pobrdo, which is perhaps a mile from St. James' Church, I looked up this steep, nasty near-mountain, which goes up about a kilometer from the valley floor.
Twenty million pilgrims have not worn the path up the hill in the least.
Oh, there is no vegetation on the path, and the snakes that once infested the area have fled rather than be crushed under the heels of the pilgrims. But the rocks and stones themselves are unworn. Perhaps a century of pilgrimage may change this. But for now, the long, slow walk up the hill is an exhausting, dangerous enterprise. As I was the only civilian in our party, I was also the only one not wearing combat boots——which I regretted the first time I slipped off and twisted an ankle into an unnatural angle.
The path up the side of the mountain, the higher I went, was a perfect model for the pilgrimage to God while alive on Earth. It is not a walk in the garden; it's a nasty struggle, with every step a potential stumble and fall. Each fall, when it comes, has consequences of pain, and possibly permanent injury, possibly even death.
As we climbed ever higher, the Village came more and more into view, the Church of St. James to the center, a gleaming jewel on the flat plane that is the village land; off and high to the left, Kricivac, Cross Mountain, where the villagers built a high cross in 1933 to in celebration of 1900 years of Christianity.
And still the climb continued. The struggle up the mountain is punctuated by brief stops for prayer, one of the decades of the rosary, the first five being the Joyful Mysteries: The Annunciation, The Visitation, The Nativity, The Presentation, and The Finding of Jesus in the Temple. Hail Mary, Full of Grace. Our Father. Glory Be.
Each of the stations are marked by exquisitely beautiful original sculptures from Italy, of incredible intricacy and obviously made by a loving believer. Fredrick Hart would have been proud. These stations were the only things of beauty to be seen on this remarkably harsh and ugly mountainside.
The rocks seemed to get sharper the higher we climbed. I have never seen anything like them: they gleamed in the midday sun, sharp as dragon’’s teeth. They reminded me of the anti-tank obstacles we used to discourage unfriendly visitors at Eagle Base.
I began to consider the stones themselves. Why put a shrine in the middle of dragon's teeth? Surely there is some meaning to this.
Stones: What are they? Why are they symbolic of faith and spiritual growth? How can these things be a sign of God?
Stones: so easy to hand that every house in Medjugore, indeed almost all houses in Hercegovina, are built from the rocks of the ground rather than from brick and mortar.
Stones. The anthropologists tell us that they were our first tools, chipped into sharp edges to kill animals and cut meat: the first tools and the first weapons.
Stones chipped and sparked make fire, the gift of Prometheus.
Stones cut and polished were the first valuables. Diamonds and sapphires and beryl and onyx and jade: baubles that we use to attract mates much as penguins do even today.
Stones hold ore, and are used to make metal, the skeleton of civilization.
The sword in the stone: mythic symbol of the power that is given only to the worthy but once given to the righteous can bring peace and prosperity to the land.
The stone of Abraham, on which he almost sacrificed Issac. Or was it Ishmael? (The Muslims and Jews have been arguing about that one for 1500 years.)
The great hewn stones that made the Pyramids, the tombs of the Pharaohs.
Ebenezer, the Stone of Help, set by Samuel in thanksgiving. 1 Samuel 7:12 says, ''Samuel took a stone and named it Ebenezer, saying ‘Thus far has the Lord helped us.’
The stones of the Rocky Soil of the parable, where the Seed fails to take root.
The Great Stone before the grave of Christ, thrown aside as by an army to reveal His Resurrection.
Ka’aba, the Heavenly Stone, the meteorite revered by Muslims worldwide as a sign of God from the heavens.
The Stone of Scone, upon which the true Kings of the Land of the Scots are always crowned.
The Garden of Stone, Arlington national cemetery, where heroes lie in hope and reverence.
And of course: a pile of bloodied stone at Ground Zero, and the fortress of stone called Pentagon.
I tried to understand. Obviously the stones were important, indeed crucial, to the Medjugore experience. But what was the pattern? It didn’t fit yet.
We came to The Place of the Apparition. No improvements up here, save one: a marble statue of Our Lady of Peace, marked with the date: 25 June 1981. She stands on a pedestal in the shape of a Star of David. She stands on a carved stone cloud: for it is said in all her apparitions her feet never quite touch the earth.
Given the rocks here, that makes perfect sense--for it is indeed Our Lady, then she has long since completed her earthly pilgrimage; why would she need to cut her feet anew?
I stood before her and prayed, prayed to her my private and most important intentions, and begged for what I need the most: to be reunited with my wife and sons*, whom I had not seen since 9/11.
And I considered the perfection of it: a view of Our Lady of Peace, looking down over the only village in Bosnia that I’’ve ever seen that has known unbroken peace through the last ten years of torment and blood.
Behind the statute of Our Lady were a number of polished stone memorials: most, if not all, in Croatian, thanking Our Lady for this or for that gift granted.
But even among them——some were broken and shattered, having fallen over in some windstorm or other, breaking on the rocks below. Even these permanent memorials could not be permanent here. Sic transit gloria mundi.
I stood back and thought: Of course. Of course. Now I saw it.
The stones here were no coincidence. The people of the village have had twenty years to improve this path, much as they have improved the town and improved the church through the profits of the visitors. Yet, aside from the carved stone Mysteries——nothing. No change. It is every bit as dangerous and forbidding a climb as ever it has been. And even the polished stones we leave as memorials are riven by the stones of the mountain when the winds blow.
To reach to God is to climb a stony mountain, on which you can stumble and fall and be hurt, even permanently. We must eternally climb, with no rest in this world, and pray only for perseverance.
And yet, on the way, Our Lady, a sign and symbol of God’s mercy, the Mother of God, Theotokos—awaits to comfort us in our exile and our empty loneliness, until the journey is complete.
Whether the apparitions are real or not is of little import to me now. But the pilgrimage we finished was perfect sign and symbol for life itself on the vale of tears called Earth.
Presently, I turned away and returned to the village below.
* * * * *
As I climbed down, however—stepping carefully, for the descent was every inch as dangerous as the ascent—I admitted to myself a small bit of disappointment. For one part of the Medjugore experience had eluded me.
It is my strange gift that I can always tell the presence of the truly divine in my life through some small validating sign: something that makes it clear to me that what I have just experienced is of divine origin. Such a sign is almost always subtle, but very clear when it happens: it is almost always some bizarre coincidence. Something that makes no sense as anything but a radical violation of the laws of probability. In other words, synchronicity and serendipity: for in my experience there IS no such thing as luck. Weird things happen to me on occasions like this.
I expected something. Anything. An unexpected friend. A surprise gift. A small sign that I was doing that I was supposed to be doing.
But here, nothing. It was just as if I had visited a nice little village, climbed a mountain, saw a statue, climbed down, spent far too much money on souvenirs and rosaries, and ... that was it.
I tried to ignore the lack of synchronistic validation, but I will admit I was disappointed. There was nothing to speak of, nothing.
Maybe the absence of a validating sign is a sign that I’m fooling myself, I thought. Maybe there is nothing here but a well-guarded village with a lot of tourists. Oh well. The Church has committed worse frauds than this, if that is all that it is.
We didn’t even get a final external validating sign. Here we were, loaded down with hundreds of dollars worth of rosaries and statuary, and we couldn’’t even find a priest to bless the items before we left the town. So I have hundreds of Medjugore rosaries, still unblessed. Oh well.
* * * * *
Three days after we returned from the trip, I was having dinner with a friend -- that officer from Massachusetts who had once been a state legislator. He had been very quiet and uncommunicative through the six hour drive home from the village. I did not press him on the issue, but it seemed to me he was somewhat disturbed by the visit.
But today he was a bit more personable, he invited me to join him and we ate together in the chow hall.
"So what did you think of Mejd?" I asked him as I dug into my badly overcooked chili.
He looked evasive, then shook his head.
"I’m a really bad Catholic," he said.
"What do you mean by that?" I said, trying to ignore the fact that he hadn’’t answered my question.
"Look, you know what was said to Thomas the Twin? That’’s me. I’ve seen, and I’ve believed. I’ve known all my whole life that Christianity is the truth, and I’ve wasted my life as a lousy Catholic."
"Hooookaaay. . . " I said, trying to draw him out.
"When I was six years old, I was dying of a blood infection. I had a 105 degree fever. The doctors told my parents I wasn’’t going to make it, that there was nothing they could do. So my parents called in a famous healing priest. (He named the priest, but I had since forgotten his name.) Father came to me to give me last rites. Have you ever heard of him?"
"He’s very well known in Massachusetts. He set his hand on my head, and the next day, the fever was gone. He saved my life. I’ve known my whole life that Christianity is the truth, because he saved my life."
"Okay." I was trying to see his point.
"Do you remember when I got off the bus to go to the rectory? I tried to track down the priest, but there wasn’t one, so we just left, right?"
"Yeah. So what?"
"Do you know who the secretary is in that rectory?"
"His personal secretary. No jive. I recognized her at once."
"It doesn’’t surprise me in the least," I replied.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Regular readers of this blog (you both know who you are) will no doubt be aware of my fondness of all things concerning the French First Lady.
I am afraid that that fondness does not extend to the rest of France.
I am not anti-French. I have great respect for the Hungarian President of France, Monseur Sarkozy, who is both pro-American and sleeps with a supermodel (how much better does it get than that?). French cooking is wonderful. French civilization is not without its great figures: the Maid of Orleans comes to mind, followed closely by the first Napoleon, who would have been a rival to Julius Caesar if he hadn't been, alas, a battle-addicted sociopath. French cathedrals are without match, and there are too many great French artists to name.
And my wife loves France, speaks fluent French, and has lived there for a lengthy period--and her taste (save in husbands) is impeccable.
Nevertheless, I must admit they do annoy me from time to time.
What admiration for things French I ever had went south in 2001 when, in the middle of a thunderstorm, the French-controlled air station at Butmir, outside of Sarajevo, refused the helicopter in which I was flying permission to land there on an emergency basis, forcing us to fly back to Tuzla. (I *hate* flying in helicopters.)
However, today's news confirms my.... shall we say.... distance from things French:
Some idiot defaced a two ton statue of Sir Winston Churchill on the Champs Elysees by painting his hands red.
On the anniversary of the liberation of Paris by the Allies.... no less!
The enigmatic initials "RH" (Rudolph Hess? Robert Heinlein?) were painted on the plinth.
("Whath a plinth? - A plinth? Ith thum thorta thupport." - Larry Gonick.)
Now, what sort of people would do that to Winston Churchill's image?
Well, France has 65 million people, so the actions of one or two moral morons can't really be held against them all--any more than we can blame all of the French for that incident at the start of the Gulf War, where someone vandalized a British cemetery on French soil. Every country has what Johnny Dangerously called "farking iceholes." Hey, we have our own as well. (Take the Westboro Baptist Church.... please.)
But. That said.
It is true, the French were, ahem, mostly like allies during WWII. Except when they (mostly) quit outright instead of fighting in 1940. And when it was necessary for the Brits to sink the French fleet at Oran. And when the French openly collaborated with the Nazis. And when they rounded up the Jews in Vichy's territory entirely on their own initiative. To tell the truth, the French women who slept with German soldiers, and who were so famously shorn of their hair after the liberation, were hardly the worst: indeed, it was they who were the scapegoats for France's own willing slavery to the Nazis.
But even when they were on our side, they weren't, not really. Charles De Gaulle was the first, maybe only, Frenchman who undestood the tank. But, although the "leader of the Free French," he was far more interested in France than in victory. His long speech given when Paris fell to the Allies was very long on French National Honor and very, very short on thanks to the Tommies and G.I.s whose willingness to fight and sacrifice had far more to do with the Liberation than any French soldiery.
The best observation on the situation was from Churchill himself.
One "Clive" at Free Republic (comment 9) reminds us that Churchill "once said that: 'Of all the crosses I have to bear, the heaviest is the Cross of Lorraine.'"
And: "Roosevelt had once remarked that deGaulle thought that he was Joan of Arc, to which Churchill is said to have replied: 'Yes, but, unfortunately, the Bishop won't let me burn him.'"
So I suppose it's no surprise that Churchill's an object to (probably Communist) hostility. But, hey, this is France. C'est la vie.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
One of the most sensible and solid conservatives in the media, Robert Novak, received orders to 'stand down' today from his Commander.
God rest you, Bob. And thank you. You were the highest form of publicist, a statesman of words. Rest in joy.
Monday, August 17, 2009
"I will vote adamantly against the interests of my district if I actually think what I'm doing is going to help them....I will vote against their opinion if I actually believe it will help them."
All I can say is... er... uh....
On the other hand, I've decided not to go there. Some jokes are too obvious (and un-PC) to make.
Max Hastings in The Times of London gives a wonderful summation of The Man Who Kept This Blog From Being Written In German.
And Barack Obama's people shitcanned his sculpture.
Well. Hitler's people would have done the same.
Had they the chance.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
This follows the decision yesterday to remove "End of Life counseling" from the bill.
Guess that the public wasn't quite ready to let some end-of-life bureaucrat send Grandma and the sick newborn to Valhalla, were they?
And Ms. Palin's objection was rather cogent, come to think of it.
All I can say is this:
Put those grass roots in your pipe and smoke it, Mr. Obama!
UPDATE MONDAY AUGUST 17 2009 0700
Reports are that the White House now says Ms. Sebellius "misspoke" when she said that "Public Option" was "not an essential part of the bill."
AAAAANT. Sorry, but thanks for playing. You can't unring the bell. You can't shoot the bill in the head and then unshoot it.
The Obama Administration: The Gang That Can't Loot Straight.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Hokay. Stopped Clock principle applies here: LittleGreenFootballs actually has a story worth commenting on. And it's not about evolution.
Trelayne today mentions an Obammunist campaign worker who was, in 2008, photographed with a picture of mass murderer Ernesto "Che" Guevara in the background. I can't link directly to it, but you can check the story here:
I have to admit I've always loathed Che. And what's not to loathe? He was a political Thuggee--a thieving religious fanatic who killed over 200 people in worship of his god, mammon.
I once got into an argument with a college age dweeb wearing a "Che" t-shirt, who called me a "Nazi" because I was a Republican.
"That's real smart, coming from someone with a picture of Charlie Manson on his chest," I said.
He screamed, "Whadda you mean 'Charlie Manson'? That's Che, you moron!"
"I know exactly who that is," I replied. "I was trying to be nice. Charlie only killed NINE people."
Anyway. Here's my second favorite picture of Che Guevara (the first is seen above). My only regret is that it dates back to 1997 and not to 1958 or so. A lot more people would be alive if it did.
Found this gem on Newsbusters.com. I'm glad to see I'm not alone.
The great Chinese explorer Zheng He (or Cheng Ho).
A panel reviewing NASA's current plans for human space flight will report that there is no realistic way to return to the moon by 2020 -- or even 2028.
Not enough money, they say.
Fine, then. They think it's better to spend our money on socialized medical insurance. Hooo...kay. Elections have consequences.
But let me tell you a story.
When the Ming Dynasty (refounded by the Emperor Yongle) took over China after a period of chaos in the early 1400s, he discovered a source of great potential wealth: a huge swath of land that had been set aside as a hunting preserve for the old dynasty.
The Mings chose to sell the land to the peasants in small lots. This generated a huge surplus of money.
After some debate, the Mings decided to spend the cash on .... exploration ships. They chose a remarkable individual, Zheng He (also known as Cheng Ho), famously a eunuch, to command the ships.
This account (from Wikipedia, thank God for their free-use rule!) sums up his career very well.
Zheng He's first voyage consisted of a fleet of around 300 ships (other sources say 200) holding almost 28,000 crewmen. These were probably mainly large six-masted ships....Zheng He's fleets visited Arabia, East Africa, India, Indonesia and Thailand (at the time called Siam), dispensing and receiving goods along the way. Zheng He presented gifts of gold, silver, porcelain and silk; in return, China received such novelties as ostriches, zebras, camels, ivory and giraffes.
Zheng He ... ruthlessly suppressed pirates who had long plagued Chinese and southeast Asian waters. He also intervened in a civil disturbance in order to establish his authority in Ceylon, and he made displays of military force when local officials threatened his fleet in Arabia and East Africa. From his fourth voyage, he brought envoys from thirty states who traveled to China and paid their respects at the Ming court.
In 1424 [his primary sponsor] the Emperor Yongle died. His successor, Emperor Hongxi (reigned 1424–1425), decided to curb [Zheng He's] influence at court. Zheng He made one more voyage under Emperor Xuande (reigned 1426–1435), but after that Chinese treasure ship fleets ended. Zheng He died during the treasure fleet's last voyage. Although he has a tomb in China, it is empty: he was, like many great admirals, buried at sea.
Zheng He, on his seven voyages [1405-1433], successfully relocated large numbers of Chinese Muslims to the nascent Malacca, which became a large international trade center.
What is important about this story is that after Zheng He died and the fleet returned, the Chinese abandoned further naval exploration. Had they tried to travel due east, they likely would have discovered America through the back door--and America would be half Chinese today. As it was, the Ming Dynasty turned inward, abandoned naval exploration... and became a very sad second-best to the Europeans, who started to explore the seas just a few years after China abandoned them. As a result, China is still not even competitive with the European Union, much less ourselves.
We have the choice, and the chance, not to repeat their mistake.
I'm confident that Obamism and all its pomps and works will be destroyed and in four years the grown ups will be back in charge. All this decision means is that the landing has been delayed by four years.
I ask you to remember the last line from the great movie Apollo 13 (known in this household as 'Daddy's Movie'):
"When are we going back? And who will it be?"
ADDENDUM: This one's for the Tattered Remnant. A guy who volunteers for this kind of duty HAS to have been one of the club.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
UPI reports that "[a] commercially available smoking mixture called Spice, containing a powerful synthetic cannabinoid, should be banned in Britain, authorities say. The product comes in slick packages and is touted as an all-natural, legal high containing Baybean and vanilla. But it also contains includes a man-made cannabinoid four or five times as potent as THC, the main psychoactive substance in marijuana, The Times of London reported Wednesday....
This discussion on Free Republic is one of the funniest things I've ever read in my entire life.
PS. This stuff is already probably illegal in Michigan under the drug-analog laws. Alas.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Citizen Mike Sola of Michigan confronted John Dingell yesterday at a town hall meeting in Romulus because Mr. Sola believes that the so-called Health Care bill will kill his adult cerebral-palsey'd son. (He's right; it will.)
Last night, someone threatened his life and that of his family.
THE TIME HAS COME. ENOUGH!
And it starts with Dingell.
Come 2010, consigned must he be/to the ash heap of hist'ry.
Along with a lot of the others.
It appears that he wrote a nice little piece that was cited by a blog called GAWKER.
He felt good about getting attention on the net -- then his boss wrote him and gave him hell because Gawker had "ripped off" his piece by quoting it.
I started thinking about all the labor that went into producing my 1,500-word article. The story wasn’t Pulitzer material; it was just a reported look at one person capitalizing on angst in the workplace. With all the pontificating about the future of newspapers both in the media and in Capitol Hill hearings, I began wondering if most readers know exactly what is required to assemble a feature story for a publication such as The Post. Journalism at a major newspaper is different from what’s usually required in the wild and riffy world of the Internet. And that wild world is killing real reporting — the kind of work practiced not just by newspapers but by nonprofits, some blogs and other news outlets.
It puts to mind an image of a dinosaur contemplating the mammals who eat the eggs.
Okay, young man, listen up: you don't DO "real reporting." You report what the Sultzbergers and the leftist community organizer fans at "Pravda on the Potomac" want you to report on and write what they pay you to write. Nothing more.
As for the kind of "real reporting" the MSM does--do you mean reporting like Jayson Blair's at the New York Times? Stephen Glass at The New Republic? Jay Forman's "Monkeyfishing" story? Dan Rather and his Bush memoes?
You claim to be a younger journalist 'who writes about the millennial generation'. Have you ever interviewed members of that generation who are working to end the horror of abortion? Who support Sarah Palin? Who are opposed to the congressional health care boondoggle? Who want to see us take a firm stance against jihado-fascism? How about those your age who are serving in the military? (And btw, if you haven't served, why not?)
And in the unlikely event that you did, did the Washingon Post print it?
Maybe there's a reason why.
Let me tell you a bedtime story.
Once upon a time, *In 1980 I was 18 and a freshman at Michigan State and wanted to be a journalist when I grew up.
My mother had been a journalist; my elder brother was a journalist; I had won the Detroit Press Club's top prize for student journalism in my senior year in high school.
My professor called me into his office for a meeting halfway through the fall term.
"You're pretty conservative."
"Yes." I made no bones about it. "Of course I am. I'm prolife."
"Nobody with your views belongs in journalism. Nobody will hire you; hell, you won't even get into the third-year courses. Either rethink your politics or get used to the fact that you have no future here."
So I changed majors--and eventually became a lawyer.
I now run my own blog, and with no remorse quote, within legal limits, (it's called FAIR USE, jack!) from droids like you who either lied about, or told the truth about, holding evil views in order to get advanced or hired by the MSM.
Either way, I have NO sympathy for you. AT ALL.
For the future is ours!
*Note: All this note from asterisk forward I left as an answer on his article.
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
I. A Night at the Opera: The Unbearable Being of Light
God said, Let there be light, and there was
God said, Let there be night, and there was
God said, Let there be day, and there was
Day to follow the night
And it was good, brother
And it was good, brother
And it was good, brother
And it was goddam good!
- Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Schwartz, The Mass
A few weeks ago, when I was visiting Washington, I had the great pleasure of an evening out with an old friend, a school classmate whom I had not seen in thirty years. In celebration of this particular and most pleasant event, her husband very kindly granted us his season tickets to a concert at The Kennedy Center.
The concert that evening was Haydn's Die Schöpfung: "The Creation". This 1797 oratorio was regarded by Haydn himself and by many of his admirers as his greatest work. As Wikipedia describes it, Die Schöpfung "depicts and celebrates the creation of the world as described in the biblical Book of Genesis". This particular evening, the University of Maryland Choir and three well known operatic stars sang the world into existence in three movements, from the creation of Light to, three hours later, the short, happy, and yet-unfallen hours of Adam and Eve, ending with the final line of the work an angelic wish: "I pray that they not wish for more!"
I couldn't help but think of Little Green Football's Charles Johnson, for this whole scenario was a contradiction, indeed a negation, of all his belief.
The evening was the paradigm of Intelligent Design. The music had not merely 'created itself', it was created in the mind of a single genius--an infinite monkey, as it were--now long dead. Nor were the sounds randomly generated, they were performed by hundreds of people who had spent their lives preparing themselves for this presentation. Nor was the building they sand in evolved; it was a clear example of intelligent design. Nor was the city the building was located in, nor the nation where the city was built.
We are indeed surrounded by signs of Intelligent Design: everything we see in our day to day world is a product of the intelligent design of men. (Or semi-intelligent, if we're reading LGF.) So, of course there is intelligent design in the universe: where Man makes it. But where does Man get this capacity?
I cannot think that the minds that made the nation, city, building and music were random: how could the Universe in which they all existed also be random?
But those who would hold design of the Universe to be 'intelligent' are outside of science.
Well. So be it. If the universe that made the concert possible was not random, in what way can it, does it, reflect the mind of a Creator? And in what way does our artistic expression of how that creation occurred not contradict the idea of long-evolved life in a 13.2 billion year old universe? The works of the Bible are of course, art: the highest art, the art of the Divine.
I realize that asking this question may reveal what the godlike, all knowing Squire of Gothos Charles Johnson (whom some bloggers refer to as "Darwinist Rage Boy") calls "the glazed mind of a creationist". But it must be asked: how, exactly, does Creation as expressed in Genesis really differ from Darwin? Or does it?
II. Duck Soup: Out of the The Divinely Premordial Ooze
God said, Let there be storms
Storms to bring life in all of its forms
Forms such as herds and gaggles and swarms
Swarms that have names and numbers and norms
And it was good, sister
And it was good, sister
And it was good, sister
And it was goddam good!
-Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Schwartz, The Mass
We seem to be in an era of a cultural undercurrent of loathing of religious believers, which is generally masked, and by a hostility toward aspects of their belief, which is most decidedly open. Most commonly, we see hatred manifested toward those parts of the belief that is most vulnerable to mockery and intellectual 'debunking.' Most commonly, traditional Judeo-Christianity's origin myth, being most "obviously" different from 'what science teaches us,' is subjected to ridicule, and those who put faith in that teaching are held up as fools at best, morons at worst.
One sees this manifest in many places, but of late we have heard it loudly proclaimed in places hitherto having little connection with religious faith as such, such as, inter alia, the pages of LGF. Charles Johnson in particular has lately spent his energy uselessly by ridiculing those holding beliefs thought conventional for two thousand years as "Creationists"--a charge both childish and useless.
I for one am unashamed to claim the title of "creationist": for I DO believe that God did indeed create the universe.
I am also unashamed to claim the title of "evolutionist": for I also believe that God took about 13.2 billion years to create that universe, and that biological evolution as detailed by modern biology is exactly the way He did so. As Devo put it thirty years ago: "God made man, and he used the monkey to do it." (No young-earth creationist am I.)
But as comfortable as I am with Darwinistic evolution as description of things past, I utterly reject it as a prescription for how human beings should live now and in the future.
Before we discuss that question, however, let's ask: truly, how does Darwinistic evolution REALLY differ from what is found in Genesis--if it differs at all?
Are Darwinism and the Creation really so different?
What follows is what is best described as a line of inquiry, by a self-admitted amateur (your narrator) into First Things: to wit, who are we? What are we doing here? Where are we going? (And: Where are they taking me in this handbasket?)
Let us start. From the beginning....
...starting with words that makes atheists recoil as a vampire does from a crucifix.
You know the words, dear Reader. (Yes, even you, Charles Johnson.) Let us reread them. Don’t worry, it won’t make you grow a third eye (or make a UPC appear) in the middle of your forehead.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. To paraphrase Steve Martin, in college they said this was all bullspit.
In The Beginning .... God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good. And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the third day.
And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years. And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.
And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so. And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
According to everything we have heard from the scientists, it’s nothing like what REALLY REALLY happened. Like Star Trek nerds whose heads explode at the slightest plot inconsistency, they nit and pick. Light first day! Sun fourth day! Plants before seas! Yadda yadda yadda. But ... let’s imagine what we would have had they written it. It would probably read something like this (at the risk of inviting incoming lightning bolts):
Now note this: Add on a few "And-God-saw-that-it-was-good's", then superimpose a six-day calendar on this, and what you have there is pretty close to Genesis. No?
In The Beginning .... the universe was formless and empty; there was only a tiny, very hot but formless blob about the size of a walnut, and the rest was darkness.
Then Something happened (we don’t know what). And there was light: a horrendous space kablooie.
The universe was bright where the light was, and where the light wasn't, it was dark.
Then as the matter grew it divided in the deep into separate parts, so that there were matter in some areas and no matter in others, and maybe dark matter somewhere else.
Everywhere, whereever you were, Light was followed by darkness, and then light again, cyclically.
There eventually the gasses gathered and a appeared a star out of the void, and it lit up. Then the leftovers formed into clumps, and then into planets. This happened over and over again: lotsa stars. And One of the clumps became Earth. Another clump became the moon. The moon was lit by the sun and reflected light back onto the earth at night.
Then the surface of the earth became uneven, and waters gathered in the deeper parts; the wet parts we call Seas and Oceans and Lakes; the dry parts became what we call the Continents and Islands.
Then life developed in the water, and became many and various animals and creatures. These plants and creatures tended to change over time; the better formed ones survived to reproduce and ate the less successful.
Then one form of life moved from the sea to the shoreline, to eventually cover the lands, first the plants, then the bugs, then the fish. And this life differentiated into types.
The animals having arisen from the seas, then turned into the ancestors to the birds. And some developed feathers then wings, and so they flew.
Then mammals and herds of mammals appeared.
Then one particularly form of mammal appeared and developed a brain far better developed than anything that had come before.
And it figured out how to hunt every kind of animal and eat every kind of plant; it was an omnivore, and it learned to speak. And this form of mammal, male and female as created, turned out to be quite smart–smarter, in fact, than anything that had ever appeared before.
Well, not exactly. But close enough. Compared to the creation myths of non-Judean-descended faiths, it’s remarkably close.
And really. Let’s not forget the absurdity of the competition’s origin myths. Let’s pick one of these other myths at random for comparison: say, the first Creation Myth listed in Wikipedia, for lack of anything more definite. It is the Bakuba tribal myth from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and it goes like this:
In the Bakuba account of demiurge, the Earth was originally nothing but water and darkness, ruled by the giant Mbombo. This giant, after feeling an intense pain in his stomach one day, vomited up the sun, moon, and stars. The heat and light from the sun evaporated the water covering Earth, creating clouds, and after time, the dry hills emerged from the water. Mbombo vomited once more. Many things were contained in this second vomiting—people (the first man and the first woman), animals (the leopard, the eagle, and the monkey Fumu), trees, the falling star, the anvil, the firmament, the razor, medicine, and lighting.Now this -- this -- clearly is nonsense. Certainly this myth would not pass the LGF ha ha test either. Giant with the Earth in his stomach, barfing us up. Yeah, I want to base MY civilization on that myth: Man As Puke. No thank you. I don’t think so.
I leave it to the reader to go through the rest of that Wikipedia article and read the rest of the creation accounts, but verily, verily I say unto you: the Genesis account, although not perfect, is pretty darn close, at least by comparison to all the other possibilities.
But. But. But. Not close enough for some, it appears.
Our problem is that those who believe entirely in a universe created as the cosmologists insist, with Darwin tacked on for good measure, they look upon the words given from the Genesis account, and, even given the similarities, still they recoil: like that big eared alien in the Star Trek movie. “Genesis allowed is not! Is planet forbidden!”
But why should it be?
To cosmological fundamentalists, it is forbidden because Genesis postulates that the Universe was ‘created’ somehow. That implies.... a Creator.
That’s right. Gah-gah-gah- ... It’s okay, you can say it.
And THAT is an absolutely scary thought.
III. Monkey Business and Horse Feathers: Why Genesis Scares The Scientist
God said, Let there be gnats
Let there be sprats to gobble the gnats
So that the sprats may nourish the rats
Making them fat, fine food for the cats
And they grew fat, brother
And they grew fat, brother
All but the gnats, brother
They all grew fearful fat!
-Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Schwartz, The Mass
Scientists hate scary things. (Particularly things that might invalidate their work.)
Secondly, the possibility of a Creator leads to even scarier possibilities.
If there is a Creator, is it meaningless and eternally detached from the human race, like Allah (or The Flying Spaghetti Monster for that matter), or does It have a Personality?
If It has a Personality, does it care at all about its Creation?
If It cares about its Creation, does it care about the human race in particular?
If it cares about the human race, does it care about ME?
If there is a Creator, and It has a Personality, and it cares about Its Creation, and it cares about the Human Race, is it not entirely possible that that Creator might not like the fact that I’m stealing from the retirement fund/cheating on my taxes/schtupping the baby sitter when the wife is out of town (or whatever)?
Deep down, the anti-creationist “scientist” - in the end, just a profession, no different in principle from wipers of telephones, sellers of insurance, or fillers-out of immigration forms – simply hates the thought of God for the same reason everyone else, deep down, hates the thought of God.
It’s because we’re all as scared as hell of what God will do to us because of all the nasty things we have all done. They say it’s for ‘scientific reasons’ but that’s just a cover. Everybody has something to hide, and we’re all standing around naked outside of Eden looking for the nearest Figleaf Jeans store.
C.S. Lewis put it very well in Surprised by Joy: “The phrase ‘Man’s search for God’ made about as much sense to me as the mouse’s search for the cat.”
But. If there is a God, is there one way of knowing Him? And if this Book is that way of knowing Him best, why does this particular book of His creation start off with abject nonsense?
Well, it does. And it doesn’t.
A recent article in the Catholic Culture website, www.catholicculture.org, discussed the question of how Catholics should read scripture. The article stated:
[How do we explain] the limits of what Scripture can be expected to do and how we can go wrong if we approach it the wrong way[?] How can these limitations be explained to the faithful in a way that does not charge Scripture with error?And so: how then do we reconcile the scientific reality of an evolved humanity, arising from an evolved animal kingdom, arising from a 4 billion year old earth, with what the Bible is asserting? Is what we see really unscientific--or merely divinely idiomatic?
[The Vatican Council II document] Dei Verbum has given us an important tool for doing this. The Council spoke of those things "asserted by the inspired authors" as asserted by the Holy Spirit and thus protected from error. So we need to determine what the inspired author is trying to assert, for that is what is protected from error.
What a person asserts is not the same as what he says. Suppose someone says, "It's raining cats and dogs out there today." What he has said is perfectly obvious, but he is not asserting that cats and dogs are falling from the sky. Instead, he is asserting that it is raining hard.
His assertion may well be true. It may indeed be raining hard, and
if so then he should not be charged with error.
Native English-speakers are familiar with the phrase "raining cats and dogs" and recognize what is meant. But non-native English-speakers could be perplexed by the statement. It's the same with Scripture.
What Genesis asserts is that in the Beginning, God Created The Heaven and the Earth. The details are secondary.
Specifically, HOW God did it has been explained through science. Not all Christians are young-earthers mired in Biblical literalism: the Roman Catholic Church (for which I am a cheerfully sinful partisan) accepts that obvious truth and has from the time of the discoveries of the 1920s.
So far as it goes as history, Darwinism, or evolution (in this article consider the terms interchangable), is correct. The Universe is, indeed, 13.2 or so billion years old. This planet has indeed existed for five billion years. The human race has only existed in its present form for under 100,000 years. Worms, shellfish, trilobites, armored fish, dinosaurs, horned wonders.... all lived, died, and became extinct, along with all matter of other creatures. Evolution as an explanation of where the human race came from, i.e., derived from, is as true as anything you can ask.
I have no problem whatsoever accepting the fact that my distant ancestors climbed through trees, and before them, climbed out of the waters on their fins.
A God who took 13.2 billion years to cook us out of His primordial soup is actually fairly impressive, if you think about it.
But at some point, something extraordinary happened in the course of that evolution, which makes Homo, sapient: that is, qualitatively different from the monkey, the ape, the hominid. What conferred this crucial delta in the human equation?
Even Darwinists fall back on myth and symbol for this event.
In our Genesis, the writer refers to “God blowing in the nostrils of the Man He formed out of the dust in the ground.”
In 2001: A Space Odyssey, that ‘something’ was a group of protohumans encountering the Monolith (which just begs the question: what made the Monolith builders smart?).
Conventional paleoanthropology (as displayed in this fairly good TV program here) holds that it was ‘evolution with the gas turned on high’, extreme conditions in the deserts of southern Africa, combined with a ruthlessly culled inbreeding, that kill all but the very, very smartest.
And then: the ice age ends, the glaciers melt, Man 'leaves the garden of Eden' and conquers the planet (and then exterminates 'Abel'–the Neanderthals).
Science may explain this change without God. And yet, there is an unutterable danger to the reliance on the scientific creation story that fails to include that important line: in the beginning God created the heaven and the Earth.
And what is that danger?
It is that, in the absence of a personal God on which to base morality, that the theory of Evolution, and the Long-Universe Cosmological View that it requires, may be used, not as an explanation of past phenomena, but rather as a justification for or a prescription for future human behavior. That Evolution–the Law of the Jungle–shall become the basis of judging all morality and behavior.
And THAT is unacceptable.
While evolution is perfectly acceptable as biology, as a philosophy it is not. By that method, ‘Do what thou wilt becomes the whole of the Law’.
Without the concept of the individual having an eternal God to answer to, morality (either wearing the Darwinian fig leaf or expressed in naked Nietzschean will-to-power) becomes nothing more than an artificial and unneeded limit on the means to impose one’s will. Thrasymachus, in the end, trumps Socrates: justice, indeed, becomes the advantage of the stronger. Which is to say: that which we have called evil becomes good; good becomes evil. Nietzsche triumphs from the grave and his transvaluation of all values is achieved.
For what Evolution is, is a recognition that, hitherto, prior to the arising of the human animal as the dominant species, for billions of years life has been shaped by the Law of the Jungle: Eat or be eaten. The strong survive, the weak don’t. Rape is not a crime; it becomes business as usual. The big guy gets the pretty girl; the 98 pound weakling gets sand in the face. (And the big guy gets the pretty girl whether the pretty girl wants the big guy or not.)
If we choose to worship Nature or Power or Evolution as, essentially, a god, let us understand that It is red of tooth and claw; it is a murderer, a cannibal, a sexual panderer and an accomplice to rape. It’s all about the benjamins, baby: the benjamins in this case being the fresh-killed meal and the orgasm, the only two currencies accepted at the Bank of the State of Nature.
Our ancestors had to live like that, in a world where life was nasty, brutish and short. But we don’t. We abandoned the life of animals and to savage each other when we adopted a new way of behavior: we started to live in large groups, and eventually, to build cities. Which is to say: when we chose to give up life in the State of Nature and lived together as neighbors instead of enemies. We abandoned the Law of the Jungle and adopted the Law of the Golden Rule in order to have the privilege of having our buildings (and children) survive to the next generation in close proximity to other humans.
And the price of a return to the law of the Jungle may well be the complete loss of civilization as we have come to know it. The past century’s catalogue of crimes illustrates this on every blood soaked page: for, when law and God disappear, how easy it is for civilized men to act like barbarians. (And it's a one-way trip, for it is, as Spock once observed, "far easier for ... civilized men to act like barbarians than it [is] ... for barbarians to act like civilized men.") Civilized norms once lost are terribly hard to relearn.
In the long run, embracing a morality of evolution may well lead to the complete dissolution of who and what we are: not merely racial extinction, but racial transformation into something no longer human. Ol’ Friedrich Wilhelm might have seen the Uebermann as Superhuman, but I see it as subhuman, a return to what the Walking with Cavemen writers called “the Rules of Life” but what any reasonable judge must instead call the rules of blood.
Today, again, we are tempted to adopt a Eugenic philosophy as the basis of doing business in the West: a Eugenics which is, in fact the white hood over the klansman.
We have seen it manifest itself very recently in many ways. This writer has noted it recently in the manifest public hatred toward Sarah Palin, for daring to publicly bear a Down’s Syndrome child (a “mongoloid”), and even hatred and death-wish directed toward the child itself.
We have also seen it in the recent remarks of a Supreme Court justice who asserted that abortion was legalized so that we would not “have too many of the sort of people we don’t want too many of.”
And we have seen it manifest in certain bigotries expressed toward ‘anti abortion nutjobs’ who have the temerity to assert the handicapped or the minority or the ‘illegitimate’ have a right to live, as well as calls the extermination of certain minorities or others as an inferior species and the celebration of genocides committed against them. (For example, take the genocidal-cheerleading writings of the execrable "Rodan" at "Freerepublic 2: The Blogmocracy.") (Please.)
What happens when this repugnant, Hitlerian fantasy of ‘bettering the breed’ through genetic manipulation manifests itself in reality?
We saw the first steps in the “destruction of the useless eaters” under the Nazi regime in 1941 and in Auschwitz in 1942-44. We also saw a hint of the converse in the establishment of the SS breeding program, “Lebensborn”, which provided funds for the mistresses of SS officers to raise babies born outside of marriage, intended to “strengthen the race”.
If we choose again to take that trip, I warn that Hell lies at the end of the railroad. But we only took a comparative few steeps down the road, at just the start of that journey, before we temporarily interrupted it by defeating the Nazis.
What will come if we choose to resume that journey? Where will it lead us? I for one am not sure I want to know. But let’s ask anyway.
IV. A Day at the Races: Memtok, Morlocks, and Moties
And God saw it was good
God made it be good
Created it good
Created the gnats to nourish the sprats to nurture the rats
And all for us big fat cats
Us cats YEAH!
-Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Schwartz, The Mass
The evolutionist and scientist Stephen Jay Gould is famous for a series of essays, first published in The Scientific American, concerning various aspects of how evolution manifests itself through tiny changes in the anatomy of various species, allowing this tiny, astonishing mechanism or that to assist the creature hosting the change to have a better advantage. His most famous essay (and the title of his most famous book) is entitled The Panda’s Thumb, and is a reflection of one such change: he discusses how the panda’s paw has undergone a minor evolution in a wrist bone which causes it to extrude as a sort of sixth finger, or “thumb,” thus assisting it in stripping and consuming its favorite food, bamboo shoots.
He also cites a rather obscure Darwinian study of orchid reproductive organs, to the effect that certain random changes in the internal structure of the orchid’s flower forces a visiting bee to carry pollen to point ‘b’, where, presumably, another orchid’s stamen (or is it pestle? one forgets) is eagerly awaiting being fertilized.
OK as far as it goes. But Gould has to add the following little snide aside:
The Panda’s Thumb, page 24.
Our text books like to illustrate evolution with examples of optimal design--nearly perfect mimicry of a dead leaf by a butterfly or of a poisonous species by a palatable relative: But ideal design is a lousy argument for evolution, for it mimics the postulated action of an omnipotent creator. Odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proof of evolution--paths that a sensible God would never tread but that a natural process, constrained by history, follows perforce.
Well. Who is Gould to say that “a sensible God” would never tread such a path? It’s entirely possible that the God who created the Human Brain simply allowed the orchid to develop a ‘good enough’ strategy for the present. By all indications, evolution ("Perfection") is an ongoing process: perhaps the ‘perfect’ orchid is a thousand, or a million, generations (of orchid) from now. (“God isn’t finished with me yet,” indeed.)
But while a Darwin-friendly, science-compatable God may indeed be glorious in His creation of things possessing, for no reason, great beauty--say, the orchid, the lily, the butterfly, or for that matter, the first lady of France--He also has, for His purposes, allowed the forces of evolution to twist some of His creatures into rather hideous forms as well.
Consider the monstrosities that God (or Mother Nature, take your pick) has come up with regarding the lower animals and how they live. No Disney nature film candidates here....:
* the praying mantis or the Australian black widow spider, "where the bride concludes her nuptials by eating the groom," as Screwtape says;
* the angler fish, that wonderful symbol of the feminist movement, where a miniature parasite sperm-generator called a 'male' attaches itself to a female and literally does nothing for the rest of his life but suck her blood and produce sperm;
* the hagfish, which exudes a particularly odious form of body slime to clog the gills of predators;
* gobies, who, as fishtank-owners well know, regularly engage of autopaedophagy (they eat their own young); and, my personal favorite....
* the grey nurse shark of Australia: a mother produces a hundred or so embryos within a 'womb' structure, but lacking a placenta, the little baby sharks then sustain themselves by engaging in "adelphophagy": they eat each other--intrauterine cannibalism--until only one emerges alive at the end of the process. Of all those conceived, only the biggest, meanest, nastiest baby shark emerges from the womb. (This last reminds me a great deal of my experience at law school.)
Mother Nature, as the saying goes, is indeed a bitch. Do we really want to abandon ourselves to her merciless norms?
I’d like to discuss what the universe would indeed be like, in the end, if, there being no God, we were to abandon a civilized view of what should constitute ‘conventional morality’ and look at it if we turned the force of evolution against ourselves. Let us ask: is that a moral universe that Steven Jay Gould would have wanted to live in?
Where would we go as a race if we allowed ourselves to be ruled by Darwinistic forces? How might it change us? Or how would we change ourselves if we let it run free?
About forty-five years ago, the science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein published what may well be his worst novel: Farnham’s Freehold. It’s a poorly written saga, the story of a man, and five members of his family, hiding in a bomb shelter of the sort build in the early sixties by proto-survivalists. The nuke that bursts over their shelter transports the occupants forward in time, some two thousand years: to, perhaps, an alternate universe.
But what appears at first to be an end-of-the-world story turns into a nasty portrayal of the worst of black-white race relations.
The last third of the story, which out of charity I choose to call a “wild satire” is, in fact, a repugnant, klan-friendly fantasy. If this were his only book nobody would want to read anything else he had written. A charge of naked racism against Heinlein would be rebutted only through knowledge of his well known and long-established hatred of racism (and slavery) expressed in his other works.
In this world 2000 years in the future, slavery is reestablished and is commonplace, the slave owners are all black (not necessarily African; some may be of Hindu stock) and the slaves all white. In this world, white people are the property of blacks; black people eat, quite literally, white people, particularly young girls; white men are either mutilated “studs” or “tempered” castrati; where white women are “sluts”: either sterilized or breeders. And black men, having arrived in America after the nuclear holocaust to “rescue” the survivors, have chosen to stay as slave lords. This book is most unworthy of RAH and I consider it the most repugnant of his works.
And yet (as Nietzsche taught us) the errors of great men are often more productive than the successes of lesser men. Let’s look at one part of the story that indeed rings true.
There is, in essence, only one character worth noting in the book, and he describes clearly the universe we will live in, ultimately, if Christianity and its forms are replaced by a sort of Darwinian morality of power over weakness.
His name is given in the story as Memtok; he is the chief domestic of the Lord Protector of the Noonday Region. He is the head slave of his household, the feared supervisor of hundreds of house servants.
The truth was, Memtok loved his paperwork and did not want to share it. His hands flew over the papers, checking figures, signing his symbol, okaying payments. He held his pen in an odd fashion, nested between the first three fingers of his right hand – this because he had not thumbs.
He did not miss them, could barely remember what it had been like to have them. Nor did he need them. He could handle a spoon, a pen, and a whip without them, and he had no need ever to handle anything else.
Far from missing his thumbs, he was proud of their absence; they proved that he had served his lord in both major capacities, at stud when he was younger and now these many years as a tempered domestic. Every male servant over fourteen ... showed one alteration or the other; very few could exhibit both, only a few hundred on the entire Earth. Those few spoke as equals only to each other; they were an elite.
Farnham’s Freehold, pp. 131-132. Later in the book, it becomes clear that the white people in this land were all under 5' or so, the deliberate result of a breeding plan to reduce their size and to keep them small and subservient. A small reserve of “wild” whites are allowed to live like cave men in the mountains, and are hunted and captured for breeding purposes when the bred-out slaves become too soft.
Huh? Cannibalism? Cutting off of thumbs? Castration to control male aggression? Ridiculous, right? What sort of a society would practice such barbarities?
Not so fast.
We have many countries in this world who practice amputation of hands to punish theft. Sometimes these same countries castrate to punish rape–-a punishment advocated in this country by certain feminists in recent decades (and by racist whites in less recent days).
Furthermore, while castration is not widely practiced now against men, the gynocological equivalent–FGM (look it up)–is widely practiced world wide to control female sexual expression--and, per Wikipedia, this has been practiced since Pharaonic days in Egypt.
And as for cannibalism: all I need to say is: "embryonic stem-cell research." Capiche?
So don’t laugh. Not only can it happen, it’s already happening even as we speak. All that we lack is the will (and the evil!) to implement this as policy.
Now, Heinlein's vision is not particularly original; it is merely an earlier (fifteen hundred years vs. 800,00 years) version of what the socialist and "progressive" and (yes) racist H.G. Wells foresaw in his early novel The Time Machine. Like Heinlein, Wells foresees that humanity will eventually evolve into two separate groups, but over the longer time, they are in fact separate species: the peaceful, cattle-like eloi and the predatory, eloi-herding subterranean morlocks. But even this simple split of peoples may not truly encompass what lies ahead if the forces of evolution act on the human race with malice aforethought.
For that we turn to a book by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, The Mote in God’s Eye. I agree with Heinlein, who called it, in a book blurb, “possibly the finest science fiction novel I have ever read,” which is high praise indeed (let's quietly ignore the fact that Heinlein himself extensively edited the work and thus was patting himself on the back).
Be that as it may, however, it truly is an excellent story, as good as Farnham’s Freehold was awful. The story portrays man’s first contact with an alien intelligence.
In the year 3000, Man has colonized the stars and established residence on a thousand planets before finding their first intelligent non-human race. This people live isolated on a closed-in star system out of contact with the galaxy; the inhabitants are dubbed "the Moties." This novel answers what is apparently a throw-away question in the third chapter: “What would physical evolution of humans bring?”
The answer is shown by what has happened to the “Moties” over millenia, who (spoiler alert!) are a race of three handed, two legged aliens shattered into ‘castes’. There are twenty or thirty forms of the species. The Browns are engineers, short on conversation but long on tool-making and tool-using skills; Brown-and-Whites are go-betweens and mediators; the Reds are workers; Warriors are specialized killing machines beyond imagination. The delicate Doctors doctor, the stupid Farmers farm, Messengers communicate by rote memorization and running by foot, tiny Watchmakers do fine toolwork, Meats are raised in herds and eaten when starvation strikes. All are ruled over by the white-furred "Masters", to whom all the other castes defer by instinct.
The Moties are a race cursed by a reproductive trick: they are built in such a way that each individual is unisexual, male and female in cyclic change, and must give birth to a child every two to three years and then turn male, or they die. This reproductive cycle keeps their gross populations endlessly exploding. This causes them to rise and fall, rise and fall, in endless Cycles of civilization-overbreeding-war-destruction-barbarism-civilization, over and over and over again; collapses in civilization now occur before their civilizations rise enough to try to alter their genes artificially as they were originally, in ages past, by some sort of gene surgeons.
The story’s most horrible line is almost a throwaway, near the end. One Doctor Horowitz, a genetics expert, has been working on the creatures’ breeding and chromosome patterns.
“I believe the [Engineer] Browns were the original form” he said. “When the Whites became dominant they bred the other subspecies to their own uses. Controlled evolution, you see.”(Emphasis mine.)
In other words, this unhappy (but thankfully fictional!) race is the end result of tens of thousands, or perhaps hundreds of thousands, of years’ reproduction of what was, in fact, a genetically engineered superrace and its subordinately-created subspecies. A race, in short, of slaves to the White masters, evolved long enough.
This is the end result of the breeding program in which Memtok is only at the threshhold. This is the answer to the question of where evolution of the human race would lead.
Now, these are, of course, just science fiction stories. And I can hear Charles Johnson mock me now: “He’s saying that you gotta be a creationist or we’ll all turn into three handed space aliens!” Then he might well put on his well-worn videotaped copy of Inherit the Wind and pat himself on the back for his intellectual superiority over creationists.
Not so fast, Trelayne. For starters, in India, we see the seeds of a Motie-like differentiation, in their caste system, in which jobs and function in society have for centuries been strictly inherited. For many centuries, if you were born a wiper of food troughs, so was your father and grandfather, and so would your children be, forever. Only the last hundred years or so has this caste system been broken; even so, caste hatreds abound (a redneck Georgia cracker is as nothing compared to an Indian caste-bigot).
Moreover, no less of an authority than the aforementioned Stephen Jay Gould states his belief that William Jennings Bryan, the supposedly blow-hard fundamentalist portrayed as "Matthew Harrison Brady" in Inherit the Wind, opposed the teaching of evolution, not because it was false, but because it was being used to advocate eugenics (as it indeed was in 1925, in the very textbook that Scopes used in his class). See his “William Jennings Bryan’s Last Campaign” (Natural History, November, 1987), reprinted in Bully for Brontosaurus, 1992.
(Of course, if I were on this occasion to treat Charles like he treats others, I'd then accuse him of being a Nazi exterminationist supporter of Lebensborn and Auschwitz because he disdains the divine account of the Creation. Instead I'll simply call him clueless.)
These stories I have cited are meant to be illustrative of how the Human race, having mastered genetics without mastering itself, could in the end transmorgrify itself into something less, rather than more, than human. This is what C.S. Lewis meant by The Abolition of Man.
We would behoove ourselves to pay attention, for if there is no overarching God to mark our paths and days, if we live in a universe where power is everything and Darwinian evolution is the driving force–where the Alistair Crowley* claim that “To do what Thou Wilt is the Whole of the Law” is true, then Memtok and the Moties may not merely be fantasies, but warning signs, in a way that Auschwitz and Lebensborn have ceased to be.
The lessons here may well be: In the end, not only is God needed by Man to stay 'on the straight and narrow path,' He may be needed to keep the race of Man from turning itself into something even worse than a beast. And, while Darwin tells us much about the past, what he tells us of our future we should not learn. For in the end, there are, indeed, some things man is not meant to know.
God said, Let there be light, and there was
God said, Let there be night, and there was
God said, Let there be day, and there was
Day to follow the night
And it was good, brother
And it was good, brother
And it was good, brother
And it was ... (whispers) SSSSSHHHHH!
A tip of the hat to my good friend Phil Rose for his assistance and comments.