Monthly Archives: January 2019

The Idol of Our Age: A User’s Guide to the End Times?

The Idol of Our Age: A User’s Guide to the End Times?


By John Zmirak Published on January 30, 2019

A few days ago, I wrote about the Antichrist. No, I don’t name any names. I’ve zero confidence that I’m so spiritually savvy I could spot him, even were he actually walking the earth.

But I’ve read enough to know what we should look for. Right now I’m finishing a powerful, brilliant book by Daniel Mahoney called The Idol of Our Age. In it, he argues that the liberal, secular “Religion of Humanity” is serving as a kind of Antichrist. That’s not just because it’s luring people overtly away from Christianity, as its inventor, August Comte, hoped it would. Even more, it’s because that soft, suburban creed is infecting the actual churches, transforming them from within. It’s The Invasion of the Body of Snatchers, Mahoney shows. But the Body in question is Christ’s.

The “New Jesus”

The Religion of Humanity doesn’t repulse us with its cruelty, as Mein Kampf does (or should). It doesn’t make the blood run hot with resentment and hunger for power, like The Communist Manifesto. It doesn’t even feed our vanity and isolation, like Atlas Shrugged.

This new, desiccated Jesus is not the God-man. He’s something much more like Nietzsche’s “Last Man,” a simpering, judgmental weakling. Like one of the cardboard villains out of an Ayn Rand novel.

Instead, it does something far worse. It highjacks the noblest aspiration any person can have: to be more like Jesus. But the Jesus it offers is a patched-together mannequin. It’s a “New Jesus,” like the one Hazel Motes tries to make in Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, out of a mummified ape from a Darwinist diorama.

This new, desiccated Jesus is not the God-man. He’s something much more like Nietzsche’s “Last Man,” a simpering, judgmental weakling. Like one of the cardboard villains out of an Ayn Rand novel.

His claims of His own divinity? The modernist scripture scholars have snipped off all of those. His warnings of Hell and judgment? They go in the dustbin, too. His utter disinterest in politics, and demands for mystical sacraments? No, none of that proves convenient. So that gets carved off too. All that remains of the figure of Christ in the Religion of Humanity? Some phrases from the Sermon on the Mount, and conveniently edited scenes where He offers forgiveness to sinners. (The parts where He warns them to sin no more? They fall to the cutting room floor.)

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The Prophets Who Saw This Coming

Mahoney proves his case from a wide array of intellectual sources:

  • The balanced embrace of American freedom in the light of Natural Law in the works of neglected political philosopher Orestes Brownson. Brownson came to that sober, sane synthesis after plumbing the depths of Utopia as a post-Christian radical. Then discovering it’s really Hell. His work is crucial today since many Christian conservatives are despairing of freedom as toxic “liberalism,” and falling back into fantasies of “throne and altar” theocracy.  Or daydreams of escape.
  • The prophetic fiction and theological writings of Vladimir Solovyov. His “A Short Tale of the Antichrist” predicted that the Church’s greatest enemy wouldn’t be “hard” atheism but “soft” humanitarianism. You know, the creeds that serve as pretexts in the European Union and the United Nations.
  • The deeply perceptive writings of Pope Benedict XVI on the dangers of splitting off Reason from Faith. When you do that, Reason becomes a cold and cruel utilitarian instrument. Faith either hardens into stupid fanaticism, or melts into damp-eyed sentimentality. Of course what we see on the Christian left is a creepy hybrid of both: Gay Jesuits wielding power like old-time inquisitors on behalf of squishy, vapid misguided compassion. 
  • The undisciplined thought of Pope Francis. Despite some flashes of insight mostly borrowed from his predecessors, Francis seems beguiled by the fashionable liberalism of post-Christian elites. Like Theoden bewitched in The Lord of the Rings, he lets the realm he’s ruling crumble and fall to its foes.
  • The novels of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. In his vast, unjustly ignored historical panorama The Red Wheel, Solzhenitsyn shows the deadly price the Russian nation paid for replacing Christian statesmanship with the meandering, self-indulgent religiosity of Tolstoy. Those Christians who could have prevented the catastrophe of Communism were paralyzed by a fear of using force. That was partly because those Christians themselves were tipsy with the prospect of Utopia, the Kingdom of God on earth built by humans. Too late, it always turns out to be instead the Tower of Babel.

The Apocalypse in Narnia

Mahoney’s book is deep and well-researched. But it’s highly readable. I’m finishing it slowly because each chapter sparks so much thought. And entices further reading. I’ve already decided to re-read The Red Wheel for Instance, and dive into Brownson and Solovyov.

If all that sounds too heady for troubled times like these, I’d recommend a starting point. (Though Mahoney doesn’t mention it.) Every one of us, of any age, could benefit by re-reading C.S. Lewis’s own apocalypse, The Last Battle. It paints the end-times in Narnia, complete with an Antichrist that must have tickled Flannery O’Connor’s heart: An ape who wears the skin and claims the authority of Aslan.

New York State Downgrades from “Nineveh” to “Sodom” with New Abortion Law

 ….Evil grows when good men do nothing………..   We must pray for the souls of the unborn, the women aborting their children, and those killing the unborn. May God forgive us all. Then we must stand up and say NO MORE to our elected officials.

New York State Downgrades From ‘Nineveh’ to ‘Sodom’ With New Abortion Law

Lucas van Leyden, “Lot and his Daughters,” detail.

By John Zmirak Published on January 24, 2019

Congratulations, New York! You’ve now reverted back to the norms of pagan Rome. As The Daily Wire reports:

On Tuesday, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, delighted that the New York legislature passed the Reproductive Health Act which would allow mothers to kill (pardon me, abort) their babies up until birth, celebrated this legalized murder by ordering that the spire at One World Trade Center, the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, the Kosciuszko Bridge and the Alfred E. Smith Building in Albany all be lit in pink on Tuesday night.

So the bridge named for a Catholic Revolutionary war hero, and the building named for the first Catholic presidential candidate lit up to celebrate infanticide. And the Freedom Tower, which stands on the graves of 3,000 New Yorkers, glowed pink to welcome the deaths of thousands more.

The bridge named for Gov. Mario Cuomo? There’s no irony there. The father of the current abortion fanatic governor of my home state, old Mario did indeed serve as a bridge. He provided the bad arguments and phony lofty rhetoric that gave Catholics permission to endorse the death of children. He had the sheer gall to make such a speech at the University of Notre Dame, and even quote St. Thomas More. (A statesman who died rather than put Caesar’s power over God’s.)

And Democrat Catholic intellectuals, how they praised Mario for his “nuance.”

Abortion Right Up Till Birth, in the State Constitution

There’s nothing nuanced about the bill his son shoved through the NY legislature. How bad is this law? LifeNews explains:

The so-called Reproductive Health Act goes beyond Roe v. Wade, allowing unborn babies to be aborted even when the U.S. Supreme Court has said states may restrict abortions. Late-term abortions, which currently are illegal in New York, would be allowed, and non-doctors would be allowed to perform them. …

The law appears to restrict late-term abortions, but it adds a broad “health” exception for abortions after 24 weeks. The exception would allow women to abort unborn babies up to nine months of pregnancy for basically any reason, including “age, economic, social and emotional factors,” according to New York Right to Life.

It also redefines a “person” as “a human being who has been born and is alive,” and describes abortion as a “fundamental right.”

The legislation poses serious dangers to women’s lives and rights as well. By removing protections from illegal abortions, the law will open the door for abuses. According to New York RTL, back alley abortionists, abusive partners or parents and others no longer will face charges for illegally killing an unborn baby – even if the mother wants her child.

“In early December, a resident of Saratoga County was arrested for punching the stomach of a woman who was 26 weeks pregnant in an attempt to cause a miscarriage. The man was charged with abortion in the second degree, but under the RHA, the attacker would not have been charged with a felony,” according to the Catholic News Service.

Here’s how the New York legislature greeted the passage of the bill:

Now all this legal and medical talk can be quite abstract. I think we need to see and hear exactly what we’re talking about. Please watch the Live Action video below, which illustrates what a late-term abortion entails. Its narrator? A penitent former abortionist.

Seriously. Stop reading and watch the video. But have a rag or a box of tissues ready. Because if you’re not a sociopath, you’re going to weep.

A Return to Pagan Cruelty

I’ll give you time to recover. Now think of the Freedom Tower, the office building, the bridges, all burning with pussyhat pink to celebrate that happening.

That is what the Democratic party stands for.

We have indeed returned to the ways of pagan Rome. In Rome, a child was not considered human unless he was wanted. By his father, who had to pick up the child and acknowledge it. Otherwise it got sold into slavery or left outside to die. The only difference now is that it’s the mother who must want the child. And the Romans were too squeamish to outright murder the child. They left that to the elements. Often, Christians or Jews would come and rescue the kids.

We can’t do that now. Such progress, in 2,000 years.

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New York’s Catholic bishops are rightly condemning this evil law. But they did little to stop it. For decades, they’ve let “Catholics” like the Cuomos pose as faithful members of our church. Even let them receive Holy Communion.

When I grew up, pro-life politicians had a fighting chance. The Right to Life Party (I was a member) even had a slot on the ballot. That was before a massive wave of low-skill immigration flooded the state with new pro-choice voters. The bishops welcomed that flood, trotting out phony moralistic complaints about any enforcement of borders. Their coffers fattened with federal contracts to serve those immigrants, who also filled their otherwise emptying pews. Did the bishops make any effort to convince these new Catholic Americans to vote in defense of life, instead of more government giveaways? Not that I ever heard from the pulpit.

This tragedy is theirs, too. They should own it. They should light their cathedrals in pink.

On Listening to Thomas Merton… and more

(Merton focused on the laity; on the common man’s ability to know GOD.  Please read on…)

On Listening to Thomas Merton

Last July I made a retreat with the Trappists at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky, probably the tenth retreat I’ve made there since I first darkened the guesthouse door as an undergraduate in the 1980s. Around that time someone gave me an old paperback of The Seven Storey Mountain, the bestselling account of conversion by the abbey’s most famous monk, Thomas Merton. And I have been, despite occasional qualms, biased in Merton’s favor ever since.

(a pbs video…i added into this story)

After that first visit, I cut a swath through Merton’s many books, the kind of zealous reading his work provokes once the bug bites. He’s a good companion for young men with a Thoreauvian bent. Last month marked the 50thanniversary of Merton’s death, so he’s returned to my thoughts.

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of knowing a monk of Gethsemani, Br. Paul Quenon, O.C.S.O., who entered the monastery fresh from high school and found himself immediately under the spiritual direction of the Master of Novices, Thomas Merton. (Imagine: a young man enters a monastery instead of going to college and ends up essentially with Thomas Merton as his teacher and advisor.)

Anybody wishing to know what Merton was like to live with during those years (1958-68) can now find some richly illuminating anecdotes in Brother Paul’s fertile memoir, In Praise of the Useless Life: A Monk’s Memoir. For Br. Paul, like his old novice master, is a well-published poet whose lyrical talent informs his prose. (The best volume for sampling his work is Unquiet Vigil: New and Selected Poems.

I often wondered what Merton would have been like to speak with, how he would have modulated his voice or driven home a point. I wondered how he would have lectured to the monks. Formally? Casually?

But a few years ago Br. Paul reminded me that many of Merton’s talks delivered at Gethsemani (called conferences) had been routinely recorded on an old reel tape recorder from around 1962 until the year of Merton’s final trip to Asia. And it was Br. Paul himself who often pressed the record button.

Fr. Merton with novices

Those tapes reside at Bellarmine University in Louisville, which also houses the Thomas Merton Center. And now a firm called “Now You Know Media” has released on compact disc many of Merton’s talks on everything from the nature of monastic vows to mystical theology to contemplative prayer to modern and contemporary literature.

These talks open a clear window on Merton the teacher. And one thing we see is that, however edgy and occasionally heterodox Merton might have made himself in some of his published writings, when he spoke to the monks of high and consequential things, he hugged the shore a good deal more than might be supposed by his critics. He relished detail – names, dates, ideas fleshed out. He preferred that the monks know something and not be satisfied with a few scraps of minimal information on any one topic.

Nonetheless, anybody should be warned that these talks, even when strung together by themes – a series on the Latin Fathers or the Twelve Degrees of Humility or poetry or Faulkner, for instance – aren’t “courses” in any systematic sense. Merton was too digressive, too ready to amble up interesting by-ways on route to a larger point. But that’s what makes the talks valuable and, more often than not, pleasantly diverting. Some people are interesting simply when holding forth about anything.

One nicely surprising discovery for me was prompted by a passing remark of Br. Paul who revealed a point once made by Fr. Louis (as Merton was known within the monastery) during those heady days when the Vatican II was still meeting in Rome. St. Thomas Aquinas, Merton said, was a theologian read by almost no one anymore, so far had he fallen out of favor – which fact, Merton said, gave the monks a splendid reason for reading him.

A small set of talks on “The Ways of God,” a work attributed to Aquinas, reveals that Merton, even during the 1960s, retained a keen respect for St. Thomas and the Scholastics generally. A welcome find and not one Merton’s detractors would naturally suspect. And there are others. (He sometimes quotes Latin freely, often without translating but charitably boiling down the sense.)

There’s also, notably, a good deal of laughter. Merton could be silly. He knew how to crack a joke – often at his own expense and to warm appreciation; his was not the demeanor of a man taking himself too seriously. And he could be prophetic even about small things: he once opined off-the-cuff that the music of the Beatles would probably be considered quite good in fifty years, and as we know, fifty years later, he was right.

But whatever his topic, be it time or eternity, Merton was always out to help the monks see the small blue flame of significance burning low in any image or set of words: Mark this and mark it well – don’t neglect what’s here at the center. Any teacher can learn from his method.

It’s always agreeable to step away from any stereotype. Sure, Merton was more a free thinker and loose talker than centuries of the Cistercian and Trappist traditions encouraged or even countenanced, and that trait got him in the soup once in a while. But I find I never finish listening to any talk without imagining what the news of Thomas Merton’s death in far-off Bangkok on a cold day in December 1968 must have felt like to those still faithfully keeping the Hours back in the monastery, who had known and loved and learned from him for so long.

Tracy Lee Simmons

Tracy Lee Simmons

Tracy Lee Simmons, a new contributor, is the author of Climbing Parnassus: A New Apologia for Greek and Latin. A contributor to National Review, he teaches humanities in the Westover Honors College at the University of Lynchburg.


Matt Fradd – The Man Talk

Matt Fradd – The Man Talk

How do you want to be remembered?

St. Maximilian Kolbe

Published on Mar 5, 2014

In the first part of this powerful talk, Matt doesn’t explicitly “teach” the men anything. Rather, he
invites the men to listen to powerful, moving, and oftentimes hilarious stories. Then, he poses
questions to show the men, or perhaps even to convince them, that who they desire to be, and
who God commands them to be, is in fact the same man. In the second part of his talk, Matt
lays out five rules that every man must break if he wants to fulfill his deepest desires and follow
God’s commands.