November 30, 2009

Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking

This composition has been a labor of love over the last twenty years or so. I eventually hope to create a larger work based on four poems by Walt Whitman — to my mind the supreme American bard — but it is a slow process if I am to do honor to the beauty of his words. Here is the first section of the first section of his powerful seascape, in which he begins to describe how he learned the art of poetry from the bird-muses and the wise refrain of the ocean on the Long Island shore, whispering the ultimate word.

(Updated 11/2021)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 27, 2009

An Irish Interlude

It was a cool fall evening in the city that constantly grows in size — “because it’s always Dublin.” The light streaming from the pub windows created an island of warmth and welcome. Within, the usuals were in place. Connor the tale-teller stood leaning with his back to the bar, one arm resting on the rim, while the other held his pint aloft. A thin man in his mid-fifties, he had worn many hats in his industrious life — estate agent, salesman, amateur journalist — in all of which his ready wit and smooth tongue had served him well. As he began to speak, most eyes in the pub turned towards him.

“There was once an ancient people ruled by priests. And every year they would hold a great sacrifice out on the plain that spread before their chief city. The priests would select a calf, and slaughter it by slitting its throat, and then butcher it and roast it on a great fire. The people would then be served portions of it — a mout’ful or two at most for each of the lot of them.”

He paused to take a sip of his porter, licked his thin lips, and continued.

“But after many years, the priests grew lax in their duties, and as the population grew the people complained they were not being well served. They demanded a change, and the priests were only too happy to oblige — them havin’ grown weary of the task. And so they devised a way to accomplish the sacrifice with minimal burden to themselves.”

He paused again, this time to take a last long draught from the pint. His Adam’s apple bobbed in his skinny throat at each swallow. He then set the emptied pint on the bar, and with a demure gesture declined another. The denizens of the pub leaned expectantly closer.
“Now listen what I’m tellin’ you,” he continued. “The priests would sprinkle the calf with spirits, and set it alight with a torch, and shoo it off into the crowd of worshippers. And they’d each have a knife or a blade of some sort, and as the poor beast ran wild, they would poke and hack at it until it was dead, and then they’d cut off a bit and have their mout’ful of the sacrifice.”

“The sons of bitches,” a loud voice boomed from the far end of the pub. The crowd turned their attention from Connor to the large, stooped man seated at a table by himself. Before him were a handful of dead soldiers: five empty whiskey glasses. “The sons of bitches,” he intoned again. Suddenly aware that he had drawn the attention of the crowded pub, he raised his reddened eyes to gaze on them with a mixture of accusation and appeal.

“The priests and brothers — what they did to those children in their care. Hophni and Phinehas, I tell you, Hophni and Phinehas. And the bishops are as bad if not worse. An Eli every one of ’em, turnin’ a blind eye, and coverin’ up when they oughta’d rooted out the evil from their midst. There’ll be hell to pay, I tell you.”

The crowd shifted uneasily in the silence. Connor began slowly to make his way toward the door.

“It used to be said that Ireland was the old sow that ate her farrow,” the burly man continued. He clenched the edge of the table with his outstretched arms. “But it was never Ireland. It was the church; it was always the church. Damn them to hell. Damn them all to hell.”

Connor, by this time, was at the door and soon out on the quiet street. A light rain, more a mist than rain, was falling. The street-lamp opposite, with its rain-born halo, seemed to him to be held out in benediction. “Damn them all to hell,” he said, as he turned to walk into the darkness.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
November 27, 2009

with thanks to the spirit of James Joyce, who appears to have paid a call in the wee hours of this morning

November 23, 2009

Thought for 11.23.09

The Manhattan Declaration* gives me one more reason to be glad I live in the Bronx.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

* to which I will not link as I have no wish to give it any more notice than it deserves, which is to say, none.

November 21, 2009

She woke one morning

For all women diminished and debased
by culture, cult or clan

She woke one morning only to find
that her mouth had disappeared.
She could no longer eat,
but wasn't feeling very hungry.
She could no longer speak,
but then, no one had ever listened
when she spoke.
And so she lived a little while
much as she had lived before:
silent and

—Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
November 21, 2009

November 13, 2009

More on the DC situation

Perhaps the saddest thing in all this is the failure of the Archdiocesan leadership to make use of a commonplace of Roman Catholic ethics (the so-called Principle of Double Effect) to free themselves of the concerns that they are "supporting gay marriage" if they have to provide health-care benefits to same-sex spouses. If the intent is simply to provide employee benefits neutrally to all employees (as the civil law requires) any alleged "support" for gay marriage is incidental and it becomes an ethical non-issue.

The failure of the Archdiocese to make consistent use of this principle, which is long enshrined in official Roman Catholic teaching, is precisely what I mean by a disorder in thinking and application. The way around an ethical dilemma is there, ready to be put to use.

Moreover, the fair treatment of employees is, as a biblical and ethical principle, at least as foundational as the Roman Catholic reading of sexual morality, and thus an ideal candidate for the Double Effect principle, whereby an unintended evil can be accepted (if not ideal) in the interest of an intended good. The failure to make use of this principle is only exacerbated by the not-so-subtle threat from the Archdiocese to drop out of social service provision if it is forced to comply with the law.

It seems to me the Archbishop of Washington needs a good Jesuit lawyer.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 12, 2009

Thought for 11.12.09

One of the tragic discontinuities in the Western Christian Tradition, since Augustine anyway, is the notion that the universe at hand (that is, as we know it) is simply not as it ought to be. This offers a neat way to avoid any data that might actually be at our disposal in favor of unrealized (and unrealizable) idealistic hopes and dreams. That this worldview is not one Jesus would have comprehended ('the kingdom is among you') is bypassed in the interests of privileging some of what is "natural" over and against other things equally "natural" (but deemed "fallen"). And the choice is sometimes quite arbitrary, depending on whose cow is sacred, and whose ox is gored.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Those were the days....

When will the Roman Church wake up to the fact that it exists, in this country at least, in a pluralistic society where, while it is free to teach whatever it chooses anywhere and everywhere, it is not free in the public sector to infringe the rights of others, and to the extent it enters that public sphere has certain responsibilities to the whole public? Henry IV at the gates of Canossa in 1077 was a long while ago — and expecting civil society to toe your line borders on the fantastic, and it isn't going to get any better. Meaner and leaner seems to be the forecast.

Thus the Archdiocese of Washington whines that due to what they regard as insufficient "protection" for religious institutions in the DC gay-marriage law:

...[R]eligious organizations and individuals are at risk of legal action for refusing to promote and support same-sex marriages in a host of settings where it would compromise their religious beliefs. This includes employee benefits, adoption services and even the use of a church hall for non-wedding events for same-sex married couples. Religious organizations such as Catholic Charities could be denied licenses or certification by the government, denied the right to offer adoption and foster care services, or no longer be able to partner with the city to provide social services for the needy.

The idea that employee benefits required by law represent the "promotion" of anything other than simple justice is ludicrous. Employees are, as the church teaches, all sinners in one way or another, and paying them a fair wage with benefits need not be seen as the promotion of their sins, whatever they may be. I'm not aware that the Romans require their secular employees to be Roman Catholic, or even Christian, let alone to be free from sin, or regularly to be shriven prior to payday — though I know in some cases (religious school teachers) they don't want them to be gay or divorced, and I believe may well continue to maintain such restrictions.

As to adoption, the Romans are already on record that they'd rather have children go unadopted than go to gay or lesbian parents, so there's nothing new there. How this squares with "true religion" as James described it is another matter.

As to renting the hall ("even"!) — well, yes, if you rent your hall as a public facility for secular use you might well be in trouble with the law if you refuse to rent to someone in violation of anti-discrimination laws. Still, renting the hall is hardly promotion of anything that takes place in the hall, or the beliefs of the renters, is it? The fact is that if you wish to dabble in the secular realm (as a landlord taking people's money for the use of your hall) you will have to get real and be welcome to the civil society. You are, of course, entirely free to reserve your church hall for religious uses — which the law fully protects.

Finally, the veiled threat to find itself unable any longer to reach out to the needy in collaboration with the secular realm is a particularly low ethical posture. Whatever happened to not letting your left hand know what the right is doing? Is there something immoral with feeding the hungry or clothing the naked if they are gay or lesbian?

The Roman Archdiocese seems to suggest so. Frankly, this tired and manipulative ploy is well past its sell-by date, when Rome used to be able to call the shots for the secular society. The leadership of the Roman Church continues to show itself not only to be behind the times, but to be morally and ethically disordered. Objectively disordered, at that, for it is one thing just to be unethical or immoral, but for a church to be so, as in this case, is at odds with its "object."

Let me add that I have considerable respect for many individual Roman Catholics, including some in the leadership, but the recent antics many of the leaders, in many spheres, leads me to wonder how much longer this will go on. (I'm told that the Prophecy of Malachy provides for only one more pope after Benedict XVI, before the final fall of Rome.) I'd hate to see the lights go out with lean and mean as the watchwords — somehow just doesn't sound like what Jesus wants, does it?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

November 9, 2009


As you can see, I'm on the panel for this event next Sunday afternoon. I plan to speak a bit on the issue of the entanglement of church and state, which I see as a major part of the Fog (sometimes more like a Stephen King "Mist") that seems to descend on otherwise sane and sober minds when this topic comes up.

It seems evident to me that the independence of civil and religious marriage is simply a norm -- at least if one is speaking of any particular religion or state. Marriages exist in many forms in many cultures, some with religious overtones and some not, and in some cases they are mutually exclusive. That is, marriages that might be recognized in some civil societies aren't in others, and the same goes for religious marriages and religions. There is simply no "one size fits all" including perhaps most especially the "one man / one woman" model, which is just one of many forms of marriage.

The entanglement in the US is particularly troublesome, and I imagine it to be in part a by-product of our English colonial heritage. At the time of the Revolution, English Law (Lord Hardwicke's Act) required all couples to be married in the Church of England with the sole exceptions of Jews and Quakers. This law was on the books from 1753 through the middle of the 19th century, and was a scandal for Roman Catholics and Nonconformists alike, and many quite rightly said, "I'll be damned if I'm going to get married by an English Vicar!"

It is still something of a mystery to me why the US for the most part retained this vestige of the Establishment after the American Revolution, allowing clergy of whatever sect to function as civil officials. As to the French Revolution, I presume you know that that unfortunate movement led at length to a strict separation of these powers, and in many nations influenced by the Napoleonic Code one may marry in church but such marriage isn't recognized by the state unless one is also married through the civil authorities.

I am all for freedom of religion in this regard. But at this point I am increasingly irritated with the movements by Roman Catholics and Mormons in places like California and Maine to intrude their religious beliefs beyond their own membership and meddle in the lives of citizens who want nothing to do with their belief systems. Perhaps this is payback for Lord Hardwicke's Act after all. But I've had enough of this exercise of the libido dominandi -- the root of all evil in attempting to dominate others to ones own parochial views.

Opposition to same-sex marriage on any grounds is heterosexist by definition, just as opposition to mixed-race marriage on any grounds is racist. Both are irrational, and within the next quarter century, I believe more will have come to see heterosexism's intellectual impoverishment and moral bankruptcy, as we have with racism.

Tobias Stanislas Haller

November 8, 2009

An Honor to Be Here

This has been a busy weekend. I'd heard in the late summer that I had been promoted to the rank of Officer in the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem (read more at the Saint John website). The investiture was yesterday, and the snap above (grabbed by Millard Cook) is just after the Prior "pinned" me and I stepped aside, assisted by Confrère Barbara Hayward). The Order is all terribly British (revived by Victoria, now led by Elizabeth II, active in England primarily in support of St John's Ambulance). We sang God Save the Queen as part of the celebration, which took place at the recently refurbished Cathedral Church of St John the Divine (not the John of the order, who is the Baptist.) The American Priory, which is growing in numbers (and invested not a few new members, officers, commanders, knights and dames yesterday) has taken the St John's Eye Hospital in Jerusalem (and its branches in the area) under its wing as a particular project, which gives us a strong connection to the original foundation of the Hospitallers. (And, as Americans, we sang The Star Spangled Banner, too, as well as Jerusalem, My Happy Home).

The Englishy bits give me something to look forward to when I am next in London, as the St John's Museum in Clerkenwell (at the site of the medieval foundation, dissolved by that other English monarch Henry VIII) should be open once more after some additional recent renovations. Meanwhile, the events of the weekend surrounding St John's were a treat, and it was a delight to see old friends and meet a few new ones.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG