A Very Unpopular Article

Michael Kirke:

Here is someone speaking truth to power, speaking common sense to the corrupted powerful. Why are they powerful, why are they corrupt? Because of the apathy of their comfort-loving masters – that’s us – who have cast aside our democratic responsibility to think about the consequences of our laziness and poor judgement.

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Originally posted on Beautiful Life with Cancer:

This article will not be liked, it will not be shared, there will be nothing but negative comments.  Politically correct is the name of the game, the only rules of society are:

1.  Do not dare to label right vs. wrong.

2.  Do not hurt anyone’s feelings.

3.  The greatest purpose in life is to love yourself.  No matter what.

4.  Anything goes.

5.  The only god is comfort.

And here is what it has led to.  The romantic movie of the year (and the top selling novel of 2012 and 2013) is Fifty Shades of F#!@ed Up.  “That is so romantic.  I wish I had a man that would chain my arms and tell me that if I moved, he would chain my legs, and if I screamed, he would gag me.”  ISIS is burning and beheading people and capturing children and the president of the United States wants…

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The price of truth – everything for Kayla Mueller

If only, if only, the kind of heroic honesty shown by the 26-year-old martyr, Kayla Jane Mueller, who lost her life in Syria in recent days, was more commonplace among us, what a better world we would be living in. Indeed, if it were so there might be less need for martyrs like Kayala to sacrifice their innocent lives.

Kayla, imprisoned and blindfolded in an underground cell at the hands of ISIS in Syria, lost her life in an air strike on the ISIS position in which she was being held.

It seems that Kayla might have been freed had she told the militant group she was married to Omar Alkhani. Mueller’s boyfriend was posing as her husband in a detention cell in Syria, The Associated Press reported. Kayla refused to do so because it would have been a lie.

Alkhani reportedly said that ISIS militants told Mueller that her boyfriend would be unharmed if she was honest with them. The 26-year-old reportedly chose to be honest and denied being Alkhani’s wife, instead of saving herself. Alkhani last saw Mueller for few seconds when the guards uncovered her face to show it was her.

Kayla’s parents released a letter she was able to send her family last spring from her captivity by ISIS, after she had been a prisoner for about 9 months. In it she tells her family that she’s safe and well-treated; she doesn’t want them to worry. In it she reveals the depth of her faith and her extraordinary fortitude.

“I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it. I pray each each day that if nothing else, you have felt a certain closeness + surrender to God as well + have formed a bond of love + support amongst one another …

“The gift that is each one of you + the person I could + could not be if you were not a part of my life, my family, my support. I DO NOT want the negotiations for my release to be your duty, if there is any other option take it, even if it takes more time …

“None of us could have known it would be this long but know I am also fighting from my side in the ways I am able + I have a lot of fight left inside of me. I am not breaking down + I will not give in no matter how long it takes.”

“I wrote a song some months ago,” Kayla Mueller told her family, “that says, ‘The part of me that pains the most also gets me out of bed, w/out your hope there would be nothing left…’ — The thought of your pain is the source of my own, simultaneously the hope of our reunion is the source of my strength. Please be patient, give your pain to God. I know you would want me to remain strong. That is exactly what I am doing. Do not fear for me, continue to pray as will I + by God’s will we will be together soon.”

“All my everything, Kayla”.

The world at a watershed

I seldom pass a group of young children these days – or a mother with a newborn infant in her arms – but I ask myself  a rhetorical question. What kind of civilization will that little child grow up in or inhabit as an adult? I was not preoccupied with that question thirty years ago. I was confident then, despite the Cold War, despite the tribal troubles of my country, that changes were for the better. Our progress  at worst seemed to be a matter of two steps forward, one step backward. But the trend was forward. Is it no longer possible to have that confidence?

A friend of mine rejects any suggestion that our present discontents on the geopolitical front today are a fulfillment in any way of the late Samuel Huntington’s predictions of a clash of civilizations. It would be consoling to be able to agree with him – but it would also be naive and dangerous.

Know your enemy is one of the most basic principles of self-defence. If we fail to understand the true nature of the enemy confronting us both in and from the Middle East and within our own culture, we will make a terrible mistake.

Question: If the international community could put the clock back would it not now do everything in its power to stop the Rwandan genocide; if it had a choice now would it stand aside as Pol Pot systematically murders millions of his own people in the name of an ideology; does the world not now recognize that the Munich Agreement with Adolf Hitler was one of the greatest blunders recorded in history?

The Charlie Hebdo murders have been characterized as a vicious attack on one of the most fundamental values of Western civilization – freedom of speech and expression. They were that, but this is only part of the story. That massacre is just another flash-point it a greater war. Indeed it is a flash-point in which can be seen the basic elements of the lethal clash which Huntington foresaw. Huntington may be faulted for identifying too many potential clashing elements in his global analysis – but he was correct in identifying the essential element in the fault lines which were going to disturb the peace of the world. That element was no longer going to be the dynastic interests of the distant past, nor the national interests of the recent past, nor, in any major way, the material resources necessary for our way of life in our own time. These might be elements in the mix of the major conflicts of our times but they are not the root cause – because reason and negotiation are now accepted by the power-brokers as a better means of resolving our conflicting interests in these matters. The current Ukrainian impasse is an ethnic conflict with nationalist undertones. But is is unlikely to get catastrophically out of hand as it might have done in the days when the dynamics of  the European Balance of Power was so crucial to states. It will eventually be resolved by negotiation and agreement. It is not a clash of two civilizations, nor will it become one. Vladimir Putin’s posturing does not threaten the common good of the world we would like to see our generation’s children inherit. The jihadis of the Middle East do – and the nihilistic libertarianism represented by the likes of Charlie Hebdo do.

There is a three-way clash of civilizations threatening the peace of the world today. Two kinds of war are being waged – a hot war and a cold war. The hot war has multiple fronts. It is the war of the jihadis. Rather than Islamic, one protagonist in this war is Wahhabist or Salafist. This jihad    is waged against two enemies. Its primary enemy is the internal Islamic one – Muslims of any and every denomination who are not of its own pure brand. This is a war within Islam and its outcome is as crucial to non Muslims as it is to the happiness of ordinary Muslims around the world. The jihadist’s secondary target is a dual enemy – Christian civilization and the culture of the secularist West, two cultures under under one umbrella which are themselves engaged in the cold war now in progress within what we call Western civilization.

This cold war is between militant secularists and those whose conscience is guided by principles rooted in a reading of the human condition founded on both reason and faith. It is not a war between secular atheists and the rest because the majority in the secularist camp still profess an allegiance to some personal interpretation of Christianity – as one of its leading generals, Barack Obama, does. This is the war spoken of by Cardinal Francis George of Chicago when he predicted that he would die in his bed, that his successor would die in prison, but that his successor’s successor would be a martyr.

Side by side in the West there now exist Christian and the post-Christian civilization with the same mother, adhered to by one, rejected, more or less, by the other. They have not formally declared war on each other – but, don’t doubt it, they are at war. The battlegrounds are on two fronts: using constitutional and legal weapons on one front; using the media of social communication on the other. The ground being contested? The heritage of Christendom.

There have been victories and defeats on both sides. Who can deny that the witness to the world given by seven million Asians in the Philippines last month was not a resounding victory for Christian culture, or the Humanum Conference in Rome last year for its resounding affirmation of the values of the Judeo-Christian vision of humanity, its nature, dignity and destiny.There are others.

But how are we to read a question like this?

Have one million Brits signed up for an adultery website? American dating network Ashley Madison, which specializes in setting up extramarital affairs, says it has signed up that many British members. The “success” comes despite the fact that the website — which signs on with the tag “Life is short. Have an affair” — has been prevented from advertising on UK television.

Or how are we to read the phenomenon of Fifty Shades of Grey? These and many more are signs of battles lost by those who have been fighting for the dignity of mankind and the triumph of that vision of our destiny which embraces more than the simply material, a perishable clump of cells. Charlie Hebdo is just one more manifestation of post-Christian culture. But the Christian way, the Christian weapon, of dealing with all this will never be violence or the suppression of freedom. It can only ever be, should only ever be, by the proclamation of the Truth, the eternal Truth. This, by virtue of its own power and its own promise, will ultimately triumph. How that triumph will be effected in the world is another matter, full of uncertainty. But are those who should be the protagonists in this triumph asleep or awake?

The tragedy of this cold war has many dimensions but one of its immediate and potentially lethal consequences is its weakening effect on those who should be confronting the violent and inhumane salafists, whose Christian victims President Obama did not even think were worthy of a sympathetic mention in his recent national prayer breakfast address.

Presidential prayers

The campaign of the salafists – whether under the agency of al Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, or other manifestations of the jihad – cannot be separated from the spread of Muslim culture into the West. Islam by its very definition has the entire world in it sights. Salafism is not about territory. It is about souls. It is about converting, by fair means or foul, minds and hearts to Islam.

For all the centuries of its existence Islam spread by conquest and by migration. When it gained territory it then consolidated its captive populations and maintained them in the faith by the rigours of sharia law. Foreigners were an evil influence to be controlled or kept at bay – as the Wahhabists of modern Saudi Arabia seek to do today.

A sample of this civilization’s vision for our race can be seen in the manifesto on women’s life under the Islamic State published by female jihadis recently. It states that girls can marry from age nine and labels Western education as “strange”. The document criticizes the “strange studies” of Western education. Under pure Islam: “From ages seven to nine, there will be three lessons: fiqh (understanding) and religion, Quranic Arabic (written and read) and science(accounting and natural sciences).”

“From ten to twelve, there will be more religious studies, especially fiqh, focusing more on fiqh related to women and the rulings on marriage and divorce. This is in addition to the other two subjects. Skills like textiles and knitting, basic cooking will also be taught.”

“From thirteen to fifteen, there will be more of a focus on Sharia, as well as more manual skills (especially those related to raising children) and less of the science, the basics of which will already have been taught. In addition, they will be taught about Islamic history, the life of the Prophet and his followers.” The document, we are told, is designed to “clarify the role of Muslim women and the life which is desired for them”.

The guide is thought to be aimed at Arab women, rather than a Western audience. References to Saudi Arabia suggest that Saudi women are the main targets. But no one should doubt that the ultimate goal of all Islam in principle – and its Wahhabist manifestation in deadly practice – is the entire world.

A telling letter to the London Independent recently noted that the initiative by the Muslim Council of Britain to open the doors of some mosques to the public appears to be positive in the present climate. But, its author, Dr. Rumy Hasan of the University of Sussex,  pointed out, “it is mere symbolism, whereas what is needed are policy shifts of substance.” These are few and far between.

The British Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, in a recent and controversial letter to 1,000 mosque leaders,  asked them to consider how faith in Islam can be part of British identity. The likelihood is that for a majority of imams, Hasan says, “the two are, in fact, irreconcilable – this would certainly be the case for Saudi-funded mosques and those inspired by Deobandism, with its roots in South Asia. Indeed, they have been singularly hostile to being part of a British identity and integrating into mainstream society.

“We know that the meaning of the name of the Nigerian jihadi group Boko Haram is ‘Western education is sinful’. In a similar manner for many mosque leaders, Western lifestyle is sinful.

“What would be of substance and positive is a commitment to values that embrace freedom of expression and the adherence to universal laws, rather than demanding separate rights and exemptions to the law of the land that has hitherto been the case by Muslim leaders.”

But it is here that we come to the intractable conflict within Islam. Many ordinary Muslim people want to get on with their lives. The imams will not let them. There is no place for freedom in the militant strain of Islam now dictating the pace in much of the Islamic world because there is no place for reason. Not until there is victory for a moderate Islamic culture can there be any semblance of what Eric Pickles is hoping to see.

After centuries of deadlock on the bloody borders shared between Christian civilization and Islamic civilization eventually these frontiers became porous as Islam controlled territories slipped hopelessly behind in development. The eventual consequence of this was the migration of Muslims into the states of Western Europe. In the Islamic homeland of Arabia this was a disaster. For them it meant the sinful contamination of their people and with this arose the sense of mission to save them, to bring them back to the rigourous practice of their faith. This is the mission now in progress among the Muslims settled in the West. The dream of the Wahhabists is that what happened in Anatolia (now Turkey) in the eleventh century will be repeated again. As Bernard Lewis points out in his History of the Middle East, the Islamic transformation of that country was accomplished by migrating tribes rather than by any military action on the part of the Great Seljuks, the Muslim conquerors of that age. After that migrations the Islamic forces moved in to organize the province which had been handed to them on a plate by a process of ethnic migration. By the end of the twelfth century a Turkish Muslim monarchy was firmly in place and Anatolia became a Turkish land. Masses of Turkish immigrants then entered from further east and a Turkish Muslim civilization replaced Greek Christianity.

Hagia Sophia, once the heart of Greek Christianity

With old Europe now threatening to degenerate itself out of existence and with its growing Muslim population now a target for zealous Wahhabist imams, who can predict what will happen? The outcome of the West’s own internal cultural conflict – between its Christians and its secularists is crucial. The latter is the primary force behind its plunging demographics. This suicidal trend is the product of the rampant hedonistic individualism embedded in modern secularism. It can only be arrested within the context of a truly Christian culture of life. If not, then the fate of Europe can only be the fate of Anatolia.

It is hard not to conclude that the world is now facing into an era of  momentous change of the deepest kind. Not to recognize the nature of this conflict, or the character of the forces now at war with each other, is to bury our heads in the sand and to render ourselves impotent when we need to be effective protagonists in the struggle to shape this world in every way necessary to serve the common good of humanity for centuries to come.

The domino effect of same-sex ‘marriage’

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As Ireland prepares for a referendum which proposes to remove from its Constitution any obstacle to the redefinition of marriage the advocates of same-sex marriage say it is a simple matter of officially recognising the love of two people. This case in Britain shows that it is no such thing and that the cultural change it will bring about threatens the freedom of thought and expression of all.

On Irish Television on Monday night the issue was debated for almost an hour. The fear and loathing which a British marriage campaigner spoke of as now prevailing in that state for those who resist the new culture is perfectly illustrated by this case.

Richard Page, a 68-year-old British Justice of the Peace and evangelical Christian, has been condemned by the country’s highest legal authorities, suspended, and subjected to a day-long re-education session to rid him of the dangerous belief that a child would be better off being adopted by a family with a mother and a father than by a same-sex couple.

Page sat on a family court tribunal last summer to consider a social worker’s recommendation that a foster child be adopted by a gay couple. “I raised some questions in private with the other judges, including that I thought that because a baby comes from a man and a woman it made me think the child would be better off with a father and a mother than with single-sex parents. The other judges didn’t agree at all,” he told LifeSiteNews.

Worse, the other judges complained. A review committee concurred, suspended him from the bench and recommended he be kicked off the lowest rung of the judiciary (but which handles 90 percent of all criminal crime, plus youth and family cases).

“They said I had a closed mind because of my Christian beliefs,” he said. “They said I could not put my Christian beliefs above the rights of single-sex couples. They said I had to open my mind. But I think when you order someone to open their mind, then you are the one with a closed mind.”

In the end, the Lord Chancellor, cabinet minister Chris Grayling, and the Chief Justice John Thomas, decided to issue a reprimand and a day-long re-education order. “Mr. Page, while sitting in Family Court,” it stated in part, “was found to have been influenced by his religious beliefs and not by evidence.” The pair rated his behaviour “a serious misconduct” and added, “Mr. Page should have recused himself from the matter.”

But there is evidence that Page is correct. Simon Fraser University economics professor Douglas Allen, for example, studied thousands of homosexual and heterosexual couples drawn at random from Canadian census data to find that a third fewer of the children from same-sex households graduated from high school than those from natural families.

One speaker on Monday’s Irish television programme described the effect of what the change in the Irish Constitution would be as a domino effect. Justice Page is just one little domino in the game in progress across the Irish Sea. Soon to be played in a casino in Dublin?

The McGuinness illusion

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If Martin McGuinness’ judgement is as off the rails in the matter of his affiliation with the Catholic Church – which as a matter of simple fact is clearly something which he thinks he can define for himself and on his own terms – how could anyone have confidence in any of his other judgements?

Tim Stanley gives us his reservations in this Telegraph piece:

The Sinn Féin politician and deputy first minister of Northern Ireland has defended his party’s new pro-choice stand on abortion in terms that suggest he didn’t stay awake during Sunday School. Defending legalisation of terminations in certain circumstances, he insisted that it was perfectly possible to be both Catholic and in favour of abortion. “The Catholic Church is made up of people who have different opinions on different issues,” he said with the wisdom of Solomon. “I try and be the best Catholic I can be,” he added – although this would seem to stop short of obeying Church doctrine.
This is irritating for two reasons. First, it’s a misrepresentation of the theology of the matter. One can indeed turn up at church and be pro-abortion. But one cannot turn up at church and be outspokenly pro-abortion and be a “faithful” Catholic. Just in case anyone’s missed this, the Catholic Church is opposed to abortion. And I don’t mean “opposed” in the sense of thinking “life’s complicated but on balance, at the end of the day, terminating a pregnancy probably isn’t all sunshine and lollipops.” No, I mean “opposed” in the sense of believing it to be murder. There is absolutely no ambiguity and no room for debate. If a politician claims to be a Catholic and works to legalise abortion, he has ruptured from his faith and can no longer claim to speak for it.

But then, McGuinness must have all sorts of complicated reasonings about the taking of innocent lives. Leopards do not change their spots.

It makes one shiver to realise that polls now rank Sinn Fein as the most popular political party in the Republic of Ireland. God help us.

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His big day

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BACK STORY, courtesy of the New York Times.

Don your ceremonial garb, break out your family recipes, and get ready to celebrate … nothing.
Today is National Nothing Day.
The holiday was invented in 1972 by Harold Pullman Coffin, a columnist based in California, who argued that there should be one day a year people have no obligation to commemorate anything.
Mr. Coffin contacted the editor of an annual events calendar and learned that only one day remained unclaimed: Jan. 16.
“The response was crushing,” Mr. Coffin told Newsweek in 1979. “I got mail from everywhere.”
The date now sometimes overlaps with Martin Luther King’s Birthday, and is also, by annual presidential proclamation, Religious Freedom Day.
But to many, the day’s nothingness reigns supreme.
For those who struggle to remain idle, Mr. Coffin, who died in 1981, had a suggestion about the ideal people to ask for advice: your representatives in Congress.
“They are probably the best experts on doing nothing,” he said.

To lead you to an overwhelming question …

Cinema is a very broad church. In recent decades it has become an increasingly infantile church and leaves you ashamed to be counted among its believers. But there are also times when it gives us works of the rarest beauty and depth, restoring our faith in its power to open our minds to truths – soetimes reassuring, sometimes disturbing – about our personal existence and about the realities of our communal lives.

The year gone by was one of the most dire on record as the misguided moguls of Hollywood led us further into the world of comic book characters we thought we had left behind in early adolescence. As ever, they thought they had a formula for a fast buck but were disappointed when the fast buck never showed. It was their worst year in over a decade.

But let us not waste time moaning about the 99% of drivel Hollywood shovels our way and look for the jewels which sometimes manage to make it through the system.

Two films stand out this year, each unique and each utterly untypical of nearly everything else around it. You will not go to see them for an adrenaline rush – or any other kind of rush – but if your human soul is alive at all you will come away from them wiser than you were.

First came Ida, which actually dates from 2013 but only made it to the Anglophone cinema in 2014. The second was Boyhood, which actually began its shooting life over twelve years ago and has just garnered the first of the many major awards it is likely to take home this year – winner in the best drama category at this week’s Golden Globes event.

Of the two Ida is the purer and richer specimen of the great art form that cinema is, showing us how the medium can rise to the task of touching the transcendent at a level which can leave us breathless – to the point where its resonances might even provoke a life-changing experience.

Ellar Coltrane who plays Mason through the years

Boyhood is different. Its capability is more negative. It is firstly a triumphant experiment in film-making, using, as it does, the same actors to play its central characters from year one to year twelve in the story which it unfolds before us. But while this certainly adds to the fasciation of the film it is not at the heart of its power. What is at the heart of its power is its searing truthfulness. It is a portrait of a family as our sorry society has now determined so many families are. It is a “document” of ordinary people muddling along through life, hurting each other, harming each other and breaking each others hearts and trying to make the best of it. For the most part they are good people but they are also flawed people, living in a society which has generated mores for them where hurts increase and multiply and no one can do much about it other than try to get on with it.

Ida (Directed by Pawilikowski) looks bleaker than Boyhood – but it is not. Boyhood’s lovable flawed protagonists muddle along and basically stay muddled, neither happy nor miserably unhappy. Boyhood asks questions – without even appearing to – but it gives no real answers, partly one suspects, because there are no answers in the world they have constructed. Two young people mull over the received wisdom that we should “seize the moment” – carpe diemin the origanal. They conclude – and that is even too strong a word – that rather, it is the moment that seizes us.

All we can hope for is that Richard Linklater – the genius who conceived, wrote and directed this little masterpiece for a mere four million dollars – might continue for another twelve years to tell this story of young Mason whose boyhood is the central subject. Perhaps then the fatalistic note on which Boyhood ends might resolve itself in a more redemptive way. But something tells us that is not going to happen, and that this would not ring true in a story where truth is at its very heart. This is a story of a muddled world bequeathed to children by muddled adults who try to do their best but their best is not good enough to save their children from making the same mistakes which they made. This is a universal story about the ordinary, sad and somewhat perplexed human beings who populate western culture in our age. That makes it a treasure.

Ida’s setting is much grimmer than the suburban middle class Texas setting of Boyhood.

Agata Trzebuchowska plays Ida

It takes us back to the Spartan environment of a Poland which seemed to be settling into its harsh communist utopia. The counterfoil to the grim reality generated by communist ideology is a convent of nuns where some novices are preparing to take their vows and accept the ascetic terms and conditions of a life in this world dedicated to the God so vehemently denied by everyone around them. On the surface it appears no less grim, but the intimations of immortality which it engenders sets it an eternity apart from the other.

We follow the path of one of these, Ida, whom we discover is the orphaned daughter of Jewish parents she never knew and who were murdered while trying to escape the holocaust. Before taking her vows she is given leave to visit her mother’s sister – and it is only then that she discovers that she is Jewish. Her aunt survived the holocaust and became a hardened communist magistrate, with not a few death sentences to her credit. The portrayal of the family bond juxtaposed with the contrast between the life of faith of one and the clearly disillusioned ideology of the other is one of the master-strokes of the film.

The two go in search of the truth about the fate of Ida’s parents – and find it. In doing so a thrid protagonist enters the story in the person of a young man both fascinated by the mystery of Ida’s dedication and attracted to her. Their relationship develops and finally comes to a point where, in the most extraordinary circumstances imaginable, the denouement unfolds.

The final scene, reminiscent in some ways of Truffaut’s iconic freeze-frame finale in les quatre cent coups – but without the ambiguity of that scene – is long and paced in such a way to give us, the viewers, time to unravel something of the miracle which has unfolded before our eyes as we absorb the landscape and the serene and determined expression on the face of Ida.

Both these films ask the fundamental eschatalogical question – the one directly, the other implicitly – probably without even knowing it is asking it. Ida asks it in the final two words spoken in the film and the question is answered for us in the 10 or so silent minutes which follow that scene – at least for those who have eyes to see it.

Boyhood does not formally ask it – unless you consider young Mason asking his father, as they discuss attending the Christening of his baby half-brother, if he had baptised him when he was a child. His father’s skeptical answer puts an end to that conversation. There is also, of corse, the implication of the soundtrack which features George Harrison’s “What is Life?”.

But while the question is not asked the answer is still there. Towards the end of Boyhood, as Mason is about to leave his mother’s nest and she somewhat ruefully reflects on her half-happy life, she says to him “I thought there would have been more”. He has no words of consolation or reassurance – for he himself is not even sure of where he is going or what is in store for him.

Seizing, or not seizing, the moment.

The New Yorker review of Boyhood had the following observation

So many of the men in “Boyhood” seem like losers, or bullies, or both, minds and mouths locked tight with disapproval and denial, and the challenge for Mason—and, you feel, for any kid—is not just to survive the squalls of youth but somehow to grow from boy to man without suffering a death of the spirit.

We happen upon ourselves when nothing much happens to us, and we are transformed in the process; that is why the Mason with the earring from whom we take our leave, on his first, blissed-out day of college, both is and is not the affable imp of seven, or the mumbler who bumped his way through puberty, and that twin sense of continuity and interruption—of life itself as tracking shot and jump cut—applies to everyone. Just like the final fade.

The semi-desert setting of the final scene in the film parallels with the grey bleak landscape through which we see the young novice walking in the last minutes of Ida. The contrast between the two is in the souls of the protagonists. They are in entirely different places. In the one we can say, “There is a vision of Life.” In the other the desert in the soul is sucking life away and all we can say is that where there is still some life, well, there is some hope.

Neither of these films is ‘an entertainment’, nor comprehensible without a certain level of maturity. Boyhood features some very strong language within very unrestrained but wholly authentic conversational banter between adolescent boys.

What we have in Ida and in Boyhood are two parables, each telling us a truth about our condition and our time. The one shows us the soul’s capacity to perceive the transcendent meaning of our lives and our capacity to act on that perception. The other shows us – irrespective of what may or may not be the particular perception of the teller of the tale – the dreadful consequences of a degenerate culture which blinds us to our nature and inhibits us from acting according to our true identity as rational, sentient and free beings.

The combined power of these two films, true and honest reflections on our human condition from very different perspectives, redeem cinema and do a great deal to restore our faith in this great art form.

“No one has ever spoken like this” – to these people

People are still talking about Pope Francis’ surprising and forthright address to our masters in Europe. This was the way one of the writers at the ever-irreverent, always refreshing and frequently surprising Spiked.com saw the event.

Most official papal visits follow the same, tired formula. The pope swans in, armed with the grace of God and a host of heavenly security heavies; he prays piously for an end to persecution; and he stops at some cathedral or shrine to remind us to remember Our Lord every now and then in the drudgery of our busy, profane existences.

But His Holiness’s most recent drop-in to the European Commission was a different story. Breaking the record for the shortest formal papal address ever to a European assembly, Pope Francis packed his 34-minute speech with a takedown of the EU, a damning appraisal of Europe’s fetishisation of red tape, and a scathing rant about Europe’s decline from chief protagonist to ‘tired grandmother’ on the world stage.

The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, squirmed in his seat as Francis asked the European elite why it had chosen to commit continental suicide by driving Europe into an intellectual impasse where cultural relativism and austerity-mania have become the only games in town. His Holiness was clearly peeved by the idea that the EU was useful to anyone, European or otherwise. For its citizens, the EU is seen as ‘aloof, if not positively harmful’, he warned. Francis fumed that people don’t take kindly to their jobs and laws being subject to the whims of a faceless, centralised council of unelected experts.

The problem, in Francis’s eyes, is that Europe has failed to keep pace with its more sprightly, optimistic rivals. As the EU’s reach has expanded, the world has become increasingly interconnected and global – and thus less ‘Eurocentric’. For Francis, the problem runs deeper than how the EU elite has handled certain situations – the problem lies with the European project itself. Europe is ‘elderly and haggard’, His Holiness diagnosed, and is increasingly incapable of offering solutions to international problems.

There’s a delicious irony, of course, in the head of the Roman Catholic Church politely, but forthrightly, telling the EU that it looks miserably tired and decrepit. But, boy, did it need saying. It was a vital and eloquent denunciation of the pencil-pusher politics of the EU, of a political elite obsessing over pedantic protocols at the expense of genuine ideological debate. The EU project is a symptom of the closing of Europe’s political imagination. It’s a shame that it took an elderly clergyman in a frock to spell it out for us.

Well said, and well said Pope Francis.

Remembering in sorrow

The New York Times reminds us of a tragic anniversary today.

Thirty years ago today, water seeped through a pipe and into a tank at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in central India, setting off a runaway reaction with chemicals that released 30 metric tons of toxic gases.
It turned into the world’s deadliest industrial accident.
The enormous cloud of poisonous gas drifted through the nearby city of Bhopal. By morning, more than 2,000 people had died. Another 6,000 were dead in a week.
Since then, 20,000 more deaths resulted from health issues brought on by the disaster, activists claim. Birth defects and other injuries continue to afflict more than half a million others, they say.
In 1989, Union Carbide paid $470 million in a settlement to the victims of the disaster.
Survivors have long sought further compensation and executive culpability.
Warren M. Anderson, the chief executive of Union Carbide at the time, was arrested and charged in the case but never extradited. He died two months ago at age 92 in a Florida nursing home.