• February 27th, 2015A Johnny Cash Lentby Michael Lichens

    I'm over at The Catholic Gentleman today talking about Lent, Johnny Cash, and St. Augustine. It's just how I roll. 

    If I could go back eleven years ago and talk to my younger self I’d give a lot of advice; “See a therapist, don’t stop taking your medication, and try to go for a walk once-in-a-while.” However, I think I’d more likely tell my young, idiot self, the wisdom of The Man in Black, “It takes a real man to live for God—a lot more man than to live for the devil.”

    Read the rest here...http://www.catholicgentleman.net/2015/02/a-johnny-cash-lent/

  • February 26th, 2015Why Science Needs the Humanitiesby Joseph Pearce

    Further to my most recent article for the Imaginative Conservative (What is Science?), in which I argued that true science (scientia) includes theology, philosophy, literature and history and the other liberal sciences (or arts), I was pleased to see this article in the Washington Post by a scientist who seems to essentially agree with such an understanding:


  • February 26th, 2015The Conversion of Jane Austen’s Emmaby Joseph Pearce

    I very much enjoyed this article on the Christian vision of Jane Austen and thought that visitors to the Ink Desk would enjoy it too:


  • February 23rd, 2015Treason: Now on Audibleby Michael Lichens

    Many of you may have already read StAR contributor Dena Hunt's Treason. For those who have not, it is now available as an audio book through Audible. As a subscriber, this now allows me to listen/read it a second time. You can buy the audio book at Amazon or Audible

    As well, if you prefer the paperback, it is on sale at a special price through Sophia Institute Press

  • February 22nd, 2015A Little Lenten Storyby Dena Hunt

    It’s about excess and about privation.

    Today, some acquaintances and I went to another town to visit a priest who used to be in our parish, one we admired and loved. I’d had difficulty making petsitter arrangements and commented on that recurring problem.

    “Dogs?” scoffed an elderly lady, widowed twice. “I don’t want any dogs, no pets, no responsibilities.” Understandable. She’s blessed with family and friends who love her a great deal, but at this point, being able to go anywhere anytime at will is what’s most important to her. I’ve seen this attitude in other elderly friends. It’s especially understandable if a mate suffered a long illness before passing, but even if that’s not the case, just having raised, more or less successfully, a number of children is cause for feeling that one deserves freedom from perceived “responsibility.” They’ve had excess of a kind and are more than ready for a little privation.

    For some reason, the remark reminded me of a woman I knew many years ago. She was a spinster, weighed over 300 pounds; she was quite unattractive, and she was middle-aged. She also had a remarkably disagreeable personality. Perhaps I need to confess this to a priest (it wasn’t charitable), but when she cleared her throat and announced that she had decided to take a vow of chastity, it was hard to fight the impulse to smile. I wanted to say (but didn’t, thank heaven), “Debbie, that’s like me saying that I’ll give up meat for Lent.” (I’m a vegetarian.)

    The connection between Debbie’s vow and the comment today by the elderly lady is, I admit, obscure. But it’s there. The pearls one woman discarded as excess another woman surrendered all hope of ever having for herself. Not even a single one.

    What do we have in excess? Of what are we deprived? No question is trickier, more demanding of real self-honesty, to think about what our excesses and privations really are. My elderly friend saw her deceased husband, her children, as “responsibility” and she felt deprived of “freedom.” I won’t presume to examine that point for view in search of truth or virtue, but I can easily say it’s one I do not share. On the other hand, I knew that my 300-pound acquaintance was a romantic. At middle-age, to give up the fantasy I knew she’d long cherished, and to embrace a looming old age alone was a privation of monumental proportion.

    And so, the “understandable” wish for freedom from a woman who had apparently never known that the responsibility she’d disdained was, in fact, the greatest human blessing, is actually, in my mind, quite pitiable. Because she has no opportunity now to learn from her experience. But Debbie’s vow, on the other hand, is just plain admirable. Perhaps it was even heroic. Only God knows.


    What do we give up for Lent? And what do we take up? Whatever it is, let’s not tell anybody.

  • February 22nd, 2015How to Readby Dena Hunt

    Joseph’s post (“How to Read Great Literature,” Feb. 15) reminded me of a mini-lecture I used to deliver to students at the beginning of Intro Lit, a course that met the humanities requirement of many students who were not English or Humanities majors. How does one wade through and comprehend literary texts when one hates reading even modern fast-paced thrillers? How does one find a purpose sufficient for motivation when one’s only real purpose is to somehow get through this course with a decent grade? Most of them were science/technology or business majors. I summarized Donald Hall’s classic “Four Ways to Read,” adding a twist by linking it to intellectual development.

    First—We learn to read for information. This includes reading directions, recipes, phone books, etc. It also includes newspaper accounts of events. We scan, we read quickly, we appreciate brevity; we are looking for content only. This is the way we first learned to read. We wanted to find out what those letters meant. We had learned our alphabet and now we encountered letters put together to make words and the words meant something. This is reading for information.

    Second—We read for recreation. We discovered that the words could take us on imaginary adventures, the same way movies do. Stories allow us to escape our surroundings and experience another reality, perhaps another identity. We are not reading for information, so we don’t think about the fact that our second way of reading is actually built on our first way.

    Third—Then, in high school, we learned to analyze. This course irritated those who had learned to love reading for recreation. They were forced to dissect the text, look for metaphors and similes, analyze themes, and criticize, research (read for information) what critics had said about the material and summarize it. (“I used to love reading until I took Literature in high school.”) Our reaction is a consequence of having learned the first and second ways of reading. Analytical reading is where we first encounter ideas. Although it’s distasteful for those who demand subjective pleasure and despise objectivity, it is a critical stage of intellectual maturation, necessary for the next way of reading.

    Fourth—This can be likened to a symphony. It’s reading in the totality of experience. We know what the “movements” are, the instruments, etc. This is not informational, recreational, analytical, reading. It’s reading as an experience—yet each stage of our development as readers is a necessary preparation for reading literature.

    We get into trouble when we try to apply the wrong purpose to reading. It’s just as nonsensical to attempt reading literature quickly, scanning it for information (like the plot, maybe, in order to pass a test), as it is to attempt to read a phone book for literary pleasure. That is why C.S. Lewis admonishes a young reader in one of his letters always to “read aloud” in her head.

    Donald Hall’s famous essay can be easily found online: Four Kinds of Reading.      

  • February 19th, 2015Pilgrim Journalby Dena Hunt

    The intrepid young Bronwen McShea, Columbia history professor, has just notified me that a new Lenten edition of her online journal is up. If you have not yet visited PILGRIM: A Journal of Catholic Experience, you’re in for an enriching and perhaps surprising experience of excellent art, essays, poetry, and fiction:


  • February 19th, 2015Hope in the Ashesby Joseph Pearce

    I am gratified and humbled by the people with whom I am blessed to work at the St. Austin Review. Since StAR's official launch, four days before 9/11, I have been joined by a noble band of brothers and sisters in our shared labour of love to bring the evangelizing power of beauty to a world in desperate need of the presence of the Divine. Today I am especially honoured to highlight the work being done by StAR columnist, Fr. Benedict Kiely, to help the persecuted Christians of the Middle East. Here's a link to a recent news report on the charity that he's launched:


  • February 17th, 2015“Fifty Shades of Grey” and the Islamic Stateby Kevin O'Brien

    "Lose Control" the poster says.

    I think there is a connection between Fifty Shades of Grey and the Islamic State, and it's not the obvious one: the fact that devout Muslims, like devout Christians, would see sexual perversion and pornography as decadent and sinful.  No, there's something deeper than that.

    Concerning Fifty Shades of Grey, I recently wrote to a friend of mine ...

    The young secular women I know see absolutely nothing wrong with it.  It's porn with a story, which is the kind of porn women like.  [Men prefer their porn without a story; women prefer theirs with a story].
    Having not seen it, I can only judge from what I'm hearing.  It is, first of all, shocking that perversion has become so mainstream that normal suburban young women get a thrill out of the degradation of women that BDSM portrays.  ... 
    The movie also shows up the contradiction at the heart of liberalism.  The left wants both uninhibited lust and also respect for the dignity of women.  You can't have both.  You can't even have men with dignity under these conditions.

    Of course, defenders of the movie say that the story is about a consensual relationship, that if a woman submits to being degraded and abused, it's OK as long as she does so willingly.

    But that's exactly the point.  Masochism is thrilling because it's a form of willful submission.   It's like riding a roller coaster.  You can have the excitement of being swept up and down and side to side while being safely locked in to your seat.  The vacillations of the ride itself are beyond your control, but choosing to experience these thrills are within your control, and that bar is in place, giving you an assurance of safety.

    It is that willful submission that is the key to the link with radical Islam.


    Joseph Sciambria writes of how horrifying and pathological the real world of BDSM actually is, and Chris Hedges grapples with his disturbing realization that all pornography tends toward child porn, and is ultimately about not only the degradation of women, but about dehumanization and the abuse of the innocent, but both articles miss the allure that this sort of thing has, even for otherwise normal people.

    Joseph Heschmeyer comes closer in arguing that Fifty Shades is a reaction against gender neutrality and an indication that young women are longing for men who take control, even if that control is expressed as sadism.  And here Graeme Wood comes the closest, while not writing on Fifty Shades at all, ending his long piece on the Islamic State by quoting from George Orwell ...

    Fascism ... is psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life … Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them, “I offer you struggle, danger, and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet … We ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.

    The emotional appeal of the radicals of the Islamic State is that they take their religion seriously, and that it is a religion that calls for radical submission and that promises both a temporal and an eternal fulfillment.  It is a religion that appeals to a deep need in human nature.  It is a religion of black and white, with zero shades of gray.

    But what we are learning from the soccer moms who masturbate to BDSM porn-with-a-story is that it's not the gray that appeals to them emotionally.  It's something of a far darker and a far deeper shade.  It is something, in fact, that would not be dark, nor would it be deeply buried, if it were properly channeled and worked out in the world.

    This masochistic urge, this desire willfully to place ourselves in a situation where our will is limited and constrained, is deeply and mysteriously connected to submission (which is what the word "Islam" means), to the desire to humble oneself before something or someone greater.  When that need is frustrated, it turns very dark, and men like Hitler and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi - and the fictional Christian Grey - take advantage of it.

    For when we have no god to submit to, and no men to admire, the world slides from gray to black very quickly.

  • February 17th, 2015What is Science?by Joseph Pearce

    Why is scientism unscientific? Why is Aristotle right about science and why is modernity wrong? These and a host of other questions are asked and hopefully answered in my latest article for the Imaginative Conservative:


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