Humanity 4.5 by Mark Shiffman | First Things

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“From the low-tech mania for tattooing and piercing, through the medium-tech tools of abortion, hormonal birth control, and transgendering, to the high-tech visions and explorations of genetic engineering and cyborgism, [the transhumanist] rebellion seems to be gathering steam.”

Source: Humanity 4.5 by Mark Shiffman | Articles | First Things

“Transhumanism” – the idea that we can, and more importantly, that we should, “transcend” our very humanity – seems to be in the process of moving from a “fringe phenomenon of science fantasy” to an organizing principle behind the present assault on traditional Western culture and civilization.

This excellent (albeit long) article by Mark Shiffman in the superb journal First Things explores and explains both the process and its implications. As he points out, transhumanism “styles itself a philosophy, [but] is really a religious movement with a twenty-first-century marketing campaign (under the brand ‘H+’),” and has a distinctly Gnostic (which denies the goodness of Nature, including humanity, viewing us as spiritual beings trapped in material bondage) character to it:

“The options come down to rejecting God entirely or reducing God to a useful projection of human possibilities. In either case, the human is no longer an ecstatic subject who receives the gift of being and the grace that fructifies our nature, but is himself the primary source of transcendence…

“The subject of projects gives modernity its Gnostic character. This world is not an inherently good ­creation. A better alternative world remains to be made by us, in the future…

“The distinctly transhumanist horizon comes about when our project of mastery turns its attention to our own bodies. They come to be treated as raw material, resources available to satisfy our free individual preferences. Our will to transcend nature through projects of mastery mounts a rebellion against the natural constraints of the organic human body, harnessing the power of technological innovations to render it the instrument of our arbitrary will…

“From the low-tech mania for tattooing and piercing, through the medium-tech tools of abortion, hormonal birth control, and transgendering, to the high-tech visions and explorations of genetic engineering and cyborgism, this rebellion seems to be gathering steam. An aggressive assertion of bodily self-ownership is becoming the new normal, with the status of a fundamental right.”

That is on the personal level. On a more cosmic level, Gnosticism teaches that the

“world is not an order of beings manifesting God’s goodness; it is rather an order of inert matter in motion, available for the human will and intellect to master and manipulate. Ancient Gnosticism sought deliverance from evil by severing the spirit’s ties to the material world. Modern Gnosticism appears at first to take a much more optimistic view of creation.

“Its hopes, however, are not placed in nature as created, but rather in the mind’s capacity to construct models that will unlock the powers trapped within the given order of beings, so as to release their infinite possibilities and make them subservient to our needs and aspirations.

“It hopes to escape evil not by fleeing the world, but by stepping away in distrust, securing the independent power of the mind through the scientific method, and then turning against the world with a vengeance and transforming it to suit the human will.”

In other worlds, transhumanism is a quasi-religious belief system (cf. scientism) which denies both God and the goodness of the created order, believing in the ability of the human intellect to bring about a secular version of paradise by transforming both humanity and the natural world.

Eye-roll emojiGiven the amazing number and variety of ways in which we have screwed up the natural world by messing with it so far, not to mention the incredible amount of havoc, destruction, and bloodshed that has come by humans trying to bring about a “kingdom of God” on Earth by our own efforts, one has to ask – with more than a touch of irony – what could possibly go wrong with this…?

The classic Ploughman’s Lunch: a how-to, from the UK’s “The Guardian”

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How To Eat is in a country pub trying to enjoy a ploughman’s lunch. But an argument is raging…

Source: How to eat: a ploughman’s lunch | Food | The Guardian

“This month, How To Eat is in a country pub trying to enjoy a ploughman’s lunch. But an argument is raging about what that means. Ham? One cheese or three? Is pate OK? Are pickled onions edible? Is this a sharing dish or best enjoyed solo?”

And here I had always thought that a “ploughman’s lunch” was the soul of simplicity: a thick slice of bread, a wedge of cheese, and a pickled onion, with a pint of ale! Who knew that there was this much controversy…? But there is, seemingly. To begin with,

“Pedants will take great pleasure in pointing out that this ‘classic’ was only actually given a name and a PR push in the 1960s, by the Milk Marketing Board; but people, including some ploughmen, had been eating bread and cheese with beer for aeons. Therefore, no matter how it has been glossed, this stands as a much-loved British meal, and one which people feel passionately about.”

Indeed! I would venture to guess that this was probably one of the most common, if not the most common, midday meals for working people in the countryside at least back to the Middle Ages, and probably beyond – so long a bread, cheese, and beer existed!

Bread and aged, hard cheese have the inestimable advantages of being easily portable, keeping well, and being relatively resistant to being dropped and knocked about; they also provide a good balance of protein and carbohydrates, to keep a person’s energy levels up whilst working in the fields.

And of course beer has been ubiquitous at least since the Sumerians… in fact, it’s been argued that grains may have been used for beer-making even before bread-making, making the brewing of beer the foundation of civilization!

Bread and cheese are similarly ancient: bread is now thought to possibly predate agriculture itself; while the first solid cheese dates back at least to the 13th century B.C., while “the earliest evidence of cheese-making in the archaeological record dates back to 5500 BCE, in what is now Kujawy, Poland, where strainers with milk fats molecules have been found.”

It doesn’t take the proverbial rocket scientist to imagine our forebears quickly realizing that these are (if I may adapt from an old advertising jingle) “three great tastes that taste great together”! And of course, the mildly intoxicating qualities of beer may have helped to ease the pain and stiffness of muscles strained by hard work in the field.

But now, back to Britain and the Ploughman’s Lunch: “How to Eat” includes these minimal components of the meal: “Bread, cheese, ham and some sort of pickled dimension. Traditionalists may question the necessity of ham, but without it this is just bread ‘n’ cheese, not a ploughman’s.” Call me a traditionalist (for I am, in many ways), but I was surprised to see ham in there!

No objection, mind you, from a culinary perspective. But I do wonder how authentically “ploughman’s” that is: unlike the bread, cheese, and beer, ham is more inclined to go “off” (spoil) in the hot sun. But if one is enjoying in the cool of the local pub, then by all means! I’m never one to refuse cured pig flesh… At least they are cautious to warn that the ham in question “should be baked, thick-cut, ‘proper’ pig, no limp, wet boiled ham” or “thin, pallid, suspiciously uniform slices.” Hear, hear!

At any rate, read the article for more mouth-watering suggestions for taking this meal from a convenient, if unassuming, packet for a ploughman’s satchel to a culinary experience of high degree. Whether you limit it to bread, beer, cheese, and something pickled – with maybe an apple thrown in – to include boiled eggs or a slice of cold pork pie, watercress, radishes, or celery, and possibly even a “dessert” of fruit bread, it’s a sturdy, filling, and flavorful meal for anyone: not just an authentic ploughman!

Bishop: Tree plaques in Brooklyn honoring Gen. Lee to be removed | Newsday

Plaques memorializing Gen. Robert E. Lee mark a

Two plaques honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that mark a maple tree outside a Brooklyn church will be removed Wednesday, the spiritual leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island said Tuesday.

Source: Bishop: Tree plaques in Brooklyn honoring Gen. Lee to be removed | Newsday

Sadly, the Episcopal Church is showing its recurrent idiocy and lack of both historical perspective and breadth of vision once again. The attacks on General Lee, of which this is but the latest of many, are particularly unjust and absurd, given the actual and expressed beliefs of the man himself.

Here, for a more balanced view, are a few excerpts from an essay entitled “The Real Robert E. Lee,” from the website of the Abbeville Institute’s “Review”:

• “First, Lee deplored slavery, describing it as a ‘moral and political evil’ in a letter to his wife, Mary Anna. Lee told her that they should give ‘the final abolition of human slavery…the aid of our prayers and all justifiable means in our power,’ praying for ‘the mild and melting influence of Christianity’ over ‘the storm and tempest of fiery controversy’ driving America to disunion. Lee elsewhere called slavery a ‘national sin’ for which he feared America would be punished.”

• “Second, Lee initially opposed secession, but his loyalty to his native state – the Commonwealth of Virginia – surpassed his loyalty to the abstraction of the Union…. Although Lee considered secession to be wrongful, he could not countenance a government based on force of arms rather than consent of the governed.”

• “Third, Lee did not believe he was fighting for the particular issue of slavery, but for the foundational principles of American freedom – self-government, independence, and the constitutional rights of the states. As the Confederacy rejected three offers from Lincoln to exchange submission to the Union for the protection of slavery, Lee’s convictions were confirmed. ‘Our sole object,’ Lee wrote to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, ‘is the establishment of our independence and the attainment of an honorable peace.'”

“Before his very first battle at Cheat Mountain, Lee did not encourage his men to fight for slavery, but for home, hearth, kith, and kin. ‘The eyes of the country are upon you. The safety of your homes and the lives of all you hold dear depend upon your courage and exertions. Let each man resolve to be victorious, and that the right of self-government, liberty, and peace shall find in him a defender.’

“Lee supported states’ rights not because they protected slavery, but because, as the Founding Fathers understood, they were the ‘safeguard to the continuance of a free government’ and ‘the chief source of stability to our political system.’ As Lee explained to Acton, ‘The consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.’

“Lee further noted that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom were secessionists in their day, opposed ‘centralization of power’ as the gateway to ‘despotism.’ According to Lee, ‘The South has contended only for the supremacy of the Constitution, and the just administration of the laws made in pursuance to it.’”

This is a man who should be honoured, and whose thoughts, expressed in his writings, should be taught to generations of school-children! As President (and former 5-star General and Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during WW II) Dwight D. Eisenhower put it, in a letter to a correspondent questioning Eisenhower’s admiration for General Lee,

“General Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. He believed unswervingly in the Constitutional validity of his cause which until 1865 was still an arguable question in America; he was a poised and inspiring leader, true to the high trust reposed in him by millions of his fellow citizens; he was thoughtful yet demanding of his officers and men, forbearing with captured enemies but ingenious, unrelenting and personally courageous in battle, and never disheartened by a reverse or obstacle. Through all his many trials, he remained selfless almost to a fault and unfailing in his faith in God. Taken altogether, he was noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history. 

“From deep conviction, I simply say this: a nation of men of Lee’s calibre would be unconquerable in spirit and soul. Indeed, to the degree that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare qualities, including his devotion to this land as revealed in his painstaking efforts to help heal the Nation’s wounds once the bitter struggle was over, we, in our own time of danger in a divided world, will be strengthened and our love of freedom sustained.”

Nor was Eisenhower alone in his esteem for Lee. As the Abbeville article recounts, President Theodore Roosevelt – one of the more famous American progressives, albeit one who has also been attacked, in recent times – described Lee as “the very greatest of all the great captains that the English-speaking peoples have brought forth.” Prime Minister Winston Churchill referred to Lee as “the noblest American who had ever lived and one of the greatest commanders known to the annals of war.” And according to another staunchly progressive / liberal President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, “We recognize Robert E. Lee as one of our greatest American Christians and one of our greatest American gentlemen.”

Lee was not perfect, of course; there has been precisely one perfect Man, and he was born in Bethlehem and died on the Cross on Calvary. But that makes it all the more sad that, instead of using the present controversy as a “teachable moment” to show forth the truth that in God’s Providence, great men can be flawed and flawed men can be great, the Episcopal Church has chosen instead to kowtow to – nay, to embrace – willful historic ignorance, presentism (see also this), and political correctness.

We are all, present and future generations, impoverished by such choices.

Seven Generations

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Some of the indigenous peoples of what are now the United States (and more broadly, North America) – generally known as “Native Americans,” or, in Canada, by what I believe to be the more accurately descriptive term, “First Nations” – have a concept that what we do, should be done in light of the “Seven Generations.”

Exactly what this means is open to some interpretation (*), but the version I like is that we should consider our actions in light of our own generation, the three that preceded us, and the three that will follow us: that is to say, how would it reflect on our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents? What is its effect on us? And how will it affect our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren?

This makes a huge amount of sense to me. We have a responsibility, and we ought to have a sense of loyalty, to both those who came before us, and those who will come after us. We inherit the world we inhabit as a gift from our forebears, our ancestors, and while we will ultimately hand it down to our descendants, in another sense, we borrow it from them for a while. We have a responsibility to pass on that legacy unimpaired; if anything, enhanced.

Our actions, the decisions we make, and the worldview we adopt to guide our actions and decision-making, demonstrate the degree to which we love, respect, and revere both those who came before us, and those who will follow us… or the degree to which we do not.


* This essay explains the view of contemporary Native elder Vine Deloria, Jr. (1933-2005), which is the one that makes the most sense to me:

“it is clear that much can be learned from nations that respect their ancestors, themselves, and those to come. Such nations exemplify the true meaning of the Seven Generations by maintaining their integrity as peoples.

“Vine Deloria, Jr. spoke of the Seven Generations in very practical terms. In his cantankerous way, he would express extreme annoyance at the romanticism of the concept as it was popularly used. Because, as explained to him, the generations we are sworn to protect and revere are the seven we are most immediately connected to.

“Think about it for a moment. It is possible that many of us have known or will know our great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Even if we aren’t fortunate enough to have been in the physical presence of those who came before us, we usually have stories, songs, and photos that have been shared so that we feel a connection. We also want to make sure our kids and grandkids are healthy, safe and aware of where they come from. So, counting our own generation—ourselves, siblings, and cousins—we are accountable to those seven generations, not some imagined futuristic peoples two hundred years down the road.

“Deloria’s articulation of the Seven Generations makes so much more sense on a human scale and does away with the destructive myth of mystical, all seeing Natives. In truth, our peoples were visionary but not in a passive, new-age way. We actively tended our families and our clan-ties by holding the lives, memories, and hopes of all Seven Generations close. Each generation was responsible to teach, learn, and protect the three generations that had come before it, its own, and the next three. In this way, we maintained our communities for millennia.

Consider what happens when we think of the Seven Generations as only flowing from each of us as individuals, as seems to be the dominant interpretation today. Then we live in a world where we owe nothing to our predecessors, where we have only a tangential connection to our present-day relations, and where we have but a vague notion of the ‘future generations.’”

That, unfortunately, is where most of us are, these days! The vision he articulates makes a great deal more sense to me, and I commend it to your attention.


Nota Bene:  This idea of the Seven Generations was originally articulated by the Iroquois Confederacy, but it has since been adopted more broadly.

And while it may not be expressed in just this way, it seems rather silly to pretend that other indigenous peoples throughout the world did not and do not have a very similar concept: concern for both one’s ancestors and one’s descendants is actually a core feature of every traditional culture, including European traditional cultures.

And of course, Europeans are the indigenous peoples of Europe, now existing also in a diaspora that extends from the Americas, to South Africa, to Australia and New Zealand. Our Celtic, Germanic, and other European ancestors may not have used the precise term “Seven Generations,” but they certainly would have recognized and respected the concept!