Saturday, April 06, 2019

Sohrab Ahmari’s Conversion

February 15, 2019

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I love conversion stories. This is no doubt because I’m a seeker myself. There’s something about the passion of people who struggle with the truth that deeply appeals to me — even if those people arrive at conclusions different from my own. Most people don’t care about the search. I can’t really fault them for that, but I love a good quest.
You may not, therefore, be surprised when I tell you I read From Fire By Water, Sohrab Ahmari’s memoir about his conversion to Catholicism, in two sessions. The only reason I didn’t read it in a single sitting was because it was two a.m., and I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. It’s that captivating. Casey Chalk reviewed the book last month here in TAC.  I recommend you see that review (a positive one) for more details of Ahmari’s story.
What a life Ahmari has had! The Iranian-American journalist — at the young age 33,  he is today the opinion page editor of the New York Post — was born in Tehran and raised in a secular cosmopolitan family. He was a nominal Muslim who made a splash in 2016, shortly after the ISIS murder of the French priest Father Jacques Hamel, when he announced publicly that he was converting to Catholicism. Anybody who comes to this book expecting anti-Islamic triumphalism is in for a big disappointment. In the book’s preface, Ahmari says:
I didn’t convert publicly to score a point for Team Jesus against Team Muhammad, but that was how some were interpreting my decision. If I was reacting against anything, it was against the materialism and relativism that had taken root in the West beginning in the nineteenth century. I had turned my back against Marx, Nietzsche, and Foucault, not the prophet Muhammad, whose religion had left only faint imprints on my soul by the time I entered adulthood. This was lost on many of those who applauded as I crossed the Tiber.
Ahmari grew up in a somewhat eccentric liberal Tehrani family that struggled to adapt to the Khomeini revolution. From childhood, he hated everything about the new Iranian order, because to him, it was irrational and backward. “‘Rational’ and ‘modern’ were my watchwords from a very young age,” he writes. “I had fuzzy notions of what these terms meant, but this merely magnified my enthusiasm for them.”
The West was better than whatever Iran was, and America was the most Western country of all, the one that the mullahs hated. Therefore, Ahmari loved America. Years later, after his parents’ tumultuous marriage broke up, Ahmari ended up living with his mother in a trailer park in small-town Utah. They were suddenly part of the underclass.
This is where the book becomes psychologically most interesting. It is hard to be more of an outsider than an Iranian kid living under those circumstances — especially an Iranian kid who had been raised in relative privilege. The Ahmaris came from noble stock (went the family story), and now they were reduced to living on the margins, among a bunch of Mormons. felt that his American dream had been a lie. Teenage Sohrab responded by going full Goth.
As an intellectual, Ahmari embraced any nihilistic, rebellious philosophy he could find, and reveled in being a bad boy. And then he found Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra. “Reading the great books in one’s late teens is intoxicating,” he writes, explaining that the half-formed intellect of an older teenager, combined with one’s volatile emotions, makes it easy to get carried away with ideas. (In my own case, I was fortunate that it was Kierkegaard, not Nietzsche.)
In this memoir, Ahmari masterfully makes the reader feel the power of Nietzsche’s ideas in the mind of a restless young intellectual whose blood boils with resentment against the world’s injustices. You’re not all that surprised when young Sohrab migrates from Nietzschean philosophy to Marxism, despite the antipathy the philosophies have for each other. Their mutual appeal to the Angry Young Intellectual was that they provided him a key for explaining the world, and anointed him as part of an elite vanguard whose task it was to overturn the unjust order. It was all about shame and power. Recalling this period of his life, Ahmari writes with self-awareness, tinging his recollections with regret, but not allowing his embarrassment at his younger self’s ideological excesses interfere with conveying how and why these philosophies carried him away. At one point, the memoirist rebukes himself for being “insufferably self-righteous” — a self-indictment of which everyone who was a woke college-boy intellectual (of the left or the right, of religion or atheism) is guilty.
This passage ought to be taken seriously by those trying to understand why socialism appeals to Millennials today:
Yet Marxism’s greatest attraction was its religious spirit. In those days I couldn’t see how the materialist dialectic and the Marxist science of history were really “secularized theologies,” as the liberal French philosopher Raymond Aron had argued in the 1950s. But I felt in my heart the poetry and metaphysics of Marxism’s secular salvation story, in which history designated the revolutionary party as mankind’s savior. In the Marxist imagination, revolutionary sacrifice would consummate and redeem, violently and spectacularly, every injustice and every tragedy through the ages. History would wipe away every tear.
God was supposed to be dead, yet I was still grasping for him on the darkened road from Zarathustra. 
I forget who it was who said that all political problems are, at bottom, religious problems. The reason for that is that they have to do with ultimate meaning — specifically, how to construct a social order based on a shared concept of ultimate meaning. Ahmari was looking for ultimate meaning in politics, because he refused to accept that only religion can provide that.
The turn for Ahmari came when he was sharing an apartment with some Mormon roommates (whom he looked down on for their simplistic faith), and happened to pick up a Bible one of them had left lying around, and read the Gospel of Matthew. He went at the text with an attitude of mockery, but found himself transfixed by the story of the Passion: of an innocent man’s unjust suffering. It recalled for Ahmari the part of his childhood Muslim training that had most resonated within him: the unjust murder of Hussein, which is the founding myth of the Shia branch of Islam. Whether he realized it or not, what Ahmari grasped was the heart of all religions: an explanation for the injustice in the world, and a response to it.
Ahmari turned even harder left, joining a Trotskyite sect whose dourness and militancy reminded him of the Khomeinists of his Tehran youth. At one point it occurs to him that he had rejected religion to seek freedom from every authority, but here he was giving over his mind to captivity.
I won’t give details of what broke the stronghold of Marxism on his mind, but I will say that getting off of campus and having a direct, sustained encounter with the poor of the real world cured him of his ideological sickness. This passage in Ahmari’s journey is riveting because it represents the meeting with reality of a man who had lived entirely in his head as an escape from that reality. This time, though, a Jewish colleague shows Ahmari a different way to cope with injustice and disorder — a way that transforms that reality into something life-giving.
From Fire To Water builds to a crescendo as the pilgrim struggles for years to order his personal life, and to find meaning in pure intellection. Finally, he admits the truth:
God embarrassed me. … Pride lay behind this embarrassment. For if the God of the Bible accorded with the mind as well as the heart, faith would become a personal duty, a personal covenant. I feared that I would have to relinquish my freedom — the freedom to gossip at the office, to ogle that girl in the midriff and miniskirt, to have that ruinous “one last” drink. Was I prepared for that? In the end, I answered in the affirmative. And once more, it was reading that saved me.
God embarrassed me. That, and the fear of losing what I thought of as freedom, was what kept me away from giving myself to God for so many years. I know it was that way for many of you readers, too. But nothing in my own life remotely approaches the searing experience Ahmari had as a journalist embedded with refugees being smuggled out of Syria to Europe — an experience in which the full effect of human cruelty and suffering nearly crushed him, and made the young journalist understand like nothing else the meaning of the innocent man who died on a cross, and what he offers those who unite themselves to him.
One of the key books of my own personal conversion was Thomas Merton’s classic autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain. I read it in my late teens, and though I never really thought I was destined to become a Trappist monk, what Merton did for me was give me a pilgrim’s path from intellectualism and aestheticism to true faith. If Merton could do it, so could I, right? I did not want to follow Merton’s path, but having seen it in the pages of his memoir, I couldn’t unsee it. I always knew that it was possible for me, if only I wanted it.
From Fire By Water is like that. Lives — indeed, as I believe, eternal destinies — will be changed by this book. I wish every angry young man who hates God could read this moving, challenging personal confession of a still-young man who has been where they are, and who gained wisdom and release. It might not convert them, not right away, but having walked this road with Sohrab Ahmari once, they won’t forget what could be possible for them, if only they can overcome their fear of flying.

Book Review: 'From Fire, By Water' by Sohrab Ahmari

By Christine Rousselle
March 29, 2019
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Everyone has heard the saying that one should never discuss religion or politics at the dinner table. As Sohrab Ahmari learned, it’s unwise to discuss one’s forthcoming religious conversion on Twitter, too.
On July 26, 2016, a month after Ahmari began studying to enter the Roman Catholic Church, Jacques Hamel, an elderly Catholic priest in Normandy, was murdered by two men who pledged allegiance to ISIS while he was celebrating Mass.
This martyrdom prompted Ahmari to announce in a tweet, which he has since deleted, “#IamJacquesHamel: In fact, this is the right moment to announce that I'm converting to Roman Catholicism.”
The tweet went viral, and suddenly Ahmari’s conversion was being publicly reported, often with incorrect details or assumptions about why he, an Iranian-born journalist, was crossing the Tiber.
“Catholicism was the destination I had reached after a long, circuitous spiritual path. That path cut across my Muslim background and Iranian heritage, to be sure, and these in turn shaped its course. But it wasn’t as if I had been praying to Allah one day and the next day accepted Christ as my savior,” explains Ahmari.
“My internet cheer squad craved precisely this simplistic narrative, which Twitter, with its tendency to flatten human experience into readily digestible memes, supplied.”
From Fire, By Water tells in 207 pages what Ahmari could not fully elaborate in 140 characters, which was all Twitter allowed in those days. It is the story of the son of secular Iranian liberals, who, as a child living in an Islamic theocracy, rejected the idea of God, who would grow up to find himself, as an adult living in Britain, thrust into the healing embrace of God’s mercy.
As a child, Ahmari viewed religion as something practiced by hypocrites, not by people on his intellectual level. He carried this view when he moved to America as a teen, discovered Marxism, and spent years dabbling in far-left politics.
Then things changed.
As a young adult, Ahmari realized that just about everything he thought he knew was wrong, including, perhaps, his rejection of religion. That realization prompted a search for the truth and eventually led him to the door of London’s Brompton Oratory.
After stumbling into the Oratory’s Tridentine Latin Mass on the feast of Pentecost in 2016, after attending an evangelical service earlier that Sunday, he realized that “this was a holy place, set apart from the banality and corruption of human affairs. It was a place of right worship.”
Even though he did not fully understand what was happening, even doing the sign of the cross with the wrong hand, Ahmari knew he had found his spiritual home.
“I was called to conform myself to a body two millennia in continuous existence, not the other way around,” writes Ahmari. “The world was unimaginable without the Catholic Church,” he said. “The institution that appeared fusty and antique was timeless and universal, a fortress against the ephemeral.”
Holy Trinity Brompton, the evangelical Anglican church Ahmari had been attending, which had large video screens and modern music, was “small and parochial, a pure product of its age,” he said.
Following Mass on Pentecost, Ahmari knelt before a statue of Jesus in an “utterly spontaneous act of obeisance” and prayed to be forgiven and cleansed of his past transgressions. By the following Monday, Ahmari was back at the Oratory, where he informed a priest that he wished to become Catholic. The priest, unfazed, agreed on the spot to provide him religious instruction.
From Fire, By Water is a wonderful read for anyone who is seeking a deeper meaning to life, whether they be persons of devout faith or of none at all.
As a cradle Catholic, I was continually struck by how much Ahmari revered and appreciated things I had taken for granted each Sunday. The book forced me to take a deeper look at the faith I had been baptized into as an infant, and it helped me gain a fuller understanding of how remarkable, unique, and life-giving Catholicism can be.
Church attendance is dwindling, while those who identify as “unaffiliated” are the fastest-growing religious group in the United States. The role of religious faith itself is cast aside by many, including many who have never given it serious thought. From Fire, By Water invites the reader to ponder religion.
Ahmari began his catechetical instruction in June of 2016 and was baptized and received into the church six months later, on Dec. 19, 2016. The only major flaw of From Fire, By Water is in its timing, arriving just three short years after Ahmari's baptism as a Catholic.
To his credit, Ahmari leaves the reader wanting to know more about where his faith journey has taken him. I eagerly await an expanded edition in a decade or so.
Christine Rousselle is a D.C. correspondent for Catholic News Agency.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Grassley Calls Trump's Claim that Wind Turbines Cause Cancer 'Idiotic'

April 4, 2019

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Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley was piqued by Donald Trump's comment at a fundraiser that wind turbines cause cancer. He said the president's claim was "idiotic."

The senator took it personally. In 1993, Grassley authored the Wind Energy Incentives Act of 1993, which provided wind energy tax credits. So, as the father of the wind energy industry, he would naturally feel slighted by the president's statement.
President Donald Trump's recent  claim that noise from wind turbines causes cancer was "idiotic," Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said Wednesday. 
Speaking at a fundraiser for Republicans in Washington Tuesday, Trump took aim at wind turbines -- which he called windmills -- and what he labeled the inadequacy of wind energy, saying at one point that "they say the noise (from wind turbines) causes cancer." Scientific studies have not identified any human health risk from wind turbines.
Well, CNN, that's not entirely accurate either. A study published last year found adverse health effects experienced by those who live near wind farms.

A recent report  by GateHouse Media examines reports of health-related problems by residents and landowners from Oregon to Massachusetts and concludes they are caused by the turbines.
The report, “In the Shadow of Wind Farms,” is an in-depth investigation of the wind industry’s effect on predominantly rural communities where turbines have been erected. During the course of the six-month investigation, the authors interviewed more than 70 families living near three-dozen proposed or current wind installations. They also spoke with 10 state and local lawmakers, examined hundreds of pages of public-service-commission records about wind-energy projects, reviewed court filings in seven wind-related lawsuits, and inspected lease agreements for at least eight wind facilities on private land. 
The authors also combed public documents and media reports to identify 400 families living near industrial wind installations who have publicly complained about shadow flicker, noise, health problems, and misleading statements by wind companies soliciting agreements to place turbines on private land.
Yes, but cancer? Perhaps a better question would be is there anything these days that doesn't cause cancer?

In truth, Grassley is right. It's an idiotic, uninformed, unscientific thing to say. But Grassley is hardly the person to call Trump out for anything. The only reason wind supplies any percentage of energy in the U.S. is that it's subsidized by you and me -- the American taxpayer. Without that subsidy, wind energy couldn't come close to competing with energy from fossil fuels.

There is a real benefit to be had from the turbines in that energy generated from the wind is clean and non-polluting. But in reality, it's just not worth it.

Wind power is a young industry, and there are certain parts of the country where it might make sense to tap into wind power for some of our energy needs. As wind turbines become more efficient, the price of getting energy from them will go down. Perhaps some day it will be cheaper to get our electricity from the wind than oil or gas.

Until that time, stop the subsidies and let the market decide the fate of the industry. We know the 200,000 birds who are mashed up by wind turbine props every year will be grateful.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Today's Tune: Donna The Buffalo - I Love My Tribe

The Mueller Waiting Game


The waiting game is on as politicians and pundits try to read the tea leaves regarding the soon-to-be-released Mueller Report. We know the major conclusions: no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia; and no charges of obstruction by President Trump, based on a division of opinion among the investigators and a decision by the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General. What we do not know is how critical the report will be, especially with regard to obstruction. We can reasonably expect that those investigators who favored accusing the President with obstruction will lay out their case against Trump. This raises the legal and ethical question of whether it is proper for prosecutors publicly to disclose the evidence and arguments against the subject of a criminal investigation who is not being charged.

Let us subject that question to the "shoe on the other foot test." To do so, we must go back to the statement made by then-Director of the FBI James Comey after he completed his investigation of Hillary Clinton and her private email server. Assume, for purposes of this test, that Comey had simply announced the decision not to charge Clinton with any crime, but the Republicans had learned that he had submitted a report to the Attorney General giving the reasons for not charging her. There were rumors that the report was critical of Clinton's handling of her private server as careless, maybe even extremely careless. Assume further that the Republicans demanded the public release of that critical report.

Democrats would be outraged, insisting that all the public had the right to know was that a decision had been made not to charge her. The public did not have the right, nor did prosecutors have the authority, to disclose any other conclusions they may have reached about her non-criminal carelessness during their criminal investigation. The public certainly did not have the right to see grand jury testimony critical of Clinton.

So, what is different now that the shoe is on the other foot — now that it is the Democrats who want the public to see the same type of information against Trump they would not have wanted them to see against Clinton? The answer is that both sides of the political aisle repeatedly fail the "shoe test" in our hyper-partisan age of "anything is fair in gotcha politics." What is good for the goose is not good for the gander if they are with different political parties.

To be sure, both sides of the aisle want the Mueller Report released, and it will be released because the American people want to know what is in it. We are all understandably curious. Trump is our President and Mueller is our Special Counsel. So consistency goes out the window.

But the law cannot be ignored. The law requires the Attorney General not to disclose grand jury evidence without a court order. It also requires the non-disclosure of privileged material, including executive privilege, and of legitimately classified material. The public, and even Congress, will therefore have to wait until the Attorney General completes his legal review. The courts should not shortcut that review by enforcing subpoenas from partisan Congressional committees.

Even if the Attorney General refuses to release any part of the report, there would be no legitimate legal recourse because there is nothing in the law that mandates its public release. This is, of course, a moot issue because Attorney General William Barr will release a redacted version of the report relatively soon.

Patience, everyone. You will get to read the nearly 400-page report before long. It is unlikely to contain major bombshells or really new evidence of a dramatic nature. More likely, it will construct negative narratives based largely on what we already know. Remember that the report, however redacted, will be a one-sided document, based on uncrossexamined witnesses selected by prosecutors. No witnesses favorable to the subjects of the investigation will have testified before the grand jury. An investigation by a special counsel is not a search for objective truth. It is a search for incriminating evidence sufficient to charge. It should be read with that in mind.

When it is released, I will be writing an introduction to it that will accompany the Report that will be published by Skyhorse. So stay tuned for my take.
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law Emeritus at Harvard Law School and author of The Case against the Democratic House Impeaching Trump (Hot Books, January 2, 2019), and a Distinguished Senior Fellow of Gatestone Institute.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Two Tolkiens, One Better World

In his last faithful rendering of his father's vision, Christopher weaves new myth into Middle-earth's rich tapestry.

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Though he very rarely talked about his service in the First World War—his silence most likely the result of survivor’s guilt, something he shared with most of his post-war friends—J.R.R. Tolkien said that his invented worlds really took form in “army huts, crowded, filled with the noise of gramophones.” The war, he realized in hindsight, had forced him to imagine a beauty and wonder beyond the brutal life of the trenches.
Because of Tolkien’s adamant rejection of formal allegory in his own writings, many of his greatest supporters denied for years that any passage (or passages) in The Lord of the Rings had anything to do with the war itself, at least directly. As early as the 1950s, however, Tolkien’s good friend, C.S. Lewis, was challenging this view, (he had also gone through the war, a volunteer despite being Irish).
Though Lewis remembered the fonder parts of it in his autobiography, especially the friendships he formed, the first bullet that flew past his head roused him to think, “This is war. This is what Homer wrote about.” No doubt the two survivors had talked innumerable times—privately—about their own experiences in the war. In his praising review of Tolkien’s trilogy, Lewis wrote that the battle scenes have “the very quality of the war my generation knew. It is all here: the endless, unintelligible movement, the sinister quiet on the front when ‘everything is now ready,’ the lying civilians, the lively, vivid friendships, the background of something like despair and the merry foreground, and such heaven-sent windfalls as a cache of choice tobacco ‘salvaged’ from a ruin.”
Still, it must also be noted that Tolkien revealed in a speech at the University of St. Andrews in 1939 that the Great War had “awakened” his imagination. Certainly, in the trilogy itself, as he admitted toward the end of his life, the crossing of Frodo, Sam, and Gollum into the region of Mordor mirrored much of what he had seen in the Great War. “Dreadful as the Dead Marshes had been, and the arid moors of the Norman-lands, more loathsome far was the country that the crawling day now slowly unveiled to his shrinking eyes,” Tolkien writes. “Here nothing lived, not even the leprous growths that feed on rottenness. The gasping pools were choked with ash and crawling muds, sickly white and grey, as if the mountains had vomited the filth of their entrails upon the lands about.” Though the horrifying imagery continues in the story at some length, it is worth noting here that few passages in 20th-century literature so perfectly captured the feeling and atmosphere of the Great War.
Having already lost his mother and his father at a young age, Tolkien also lost two of his three closest friends during the war. Prior to that war, he and his three friends had dedicated themselves to sanctifying the world through poetry and literature. We had, Tolkien believed, “been granted some spark of fire—certainly as a body if not singly—that was destined to kindle a new light, or, what is the same thing, rekindle an old light in the world.” Given the depth of feeling Tolkien possessed toward his friends and the burdens of the Great War, there is no reason to underplay his words. By 1916, he had already begun his Elvish languages as well as his first stories for those languages, in addition to writing much poetic verse. “The greatness [of the four friends] I meant was that of a great instrument in God’s hands,” Tolkien wrote in 1916, as “a mover, a doer, even an achiever of great things, a beginner at the very least of large things.”
Of the original stories that Tolkien wrote for his nascent mythology, the first real attempt at depth as well as breadth was The Fall of Gondolin, most likely begun in 1916. From there, the story took on an unwieldy and unpredictable life of its own, like many of Tolkien’s writings. Tolkien’s wife, Edith, wrote out the story sometime in 1917 after he had first written it, and Tolkien offered a version of it as a public essay in 1920 at Exeter College, Oxford. The story appeared as one of the most drawn-out of Tolkien’s Lost Tales (the first version of the larger mythology that would one day become The Silmarillion); in slightly different form in the 1926 “Sketch of the Mythology”; in yet again slightly different form in the 1930 Quenta Noldorinwa; and, finally, in 1950 and 1951, as Tolkien was trying to write the history of the ages preceding the now completed but yet unpublished The Lord of the Rings. The final 1951 version ended up, more or less, in the 1977 Silmarillion.
While one should accept Tolkien’s claim that he disliked and did not intentionally employ formal allegory, it would be foolish to assume that the loss of family and friends, the Great War, and the advent of the modern world did not profoundly influence his writings. These events all shaped his mythology, which he used as a way, as he noted to his friends, to sanctify the world and to correct that which had gone wrong. The Fall of Gondolin, in particular, considers issues of prophecy and calling, friendship and betrayal, loss, acceptance, love, pride, and, most importantly, perseverance. In it, one finds passionate love stories, heroic battles to the death, prophets lost and distracted, organic machines of immense power, distraught gods full of charity, confusion of purpose, kings living as outlaws, and soul-piercing beauties.
A secret city of the Elves, Gondolin served as the only significant safe haven during the ravages and tyranny of the devil figure of the mythology, Morgoth (aka Melko, aka Melkor), the brightest of created powers who came to resent his maker, Iluvatar (God the Father). Alone in the East of the world—Beleriand and Middle-earth—the Elves continued the traditions of the holy powers in the West in Valinor, even in their exile. From the hidden realm, the Elves could live, but they could also use it as a base to reclaim the lands from evil and ruin:
In those days Ulmo was filled with pity for the exiled Elves in their need, and in the ruin that had now almost overwhelmed them. He foretold that the fortress of Gondolin should stand longest of all the refuges of the Elves against the might of Morgoth, and like Doriath never be overthrown save by treachery from within. Because of his protecting might the spells of concealment were strongest in those parts nearest to Sirion, though there the Encircling Mountains were at their lowest.
In that same version, Tolkien described Gondolin in idyllic terms:
Upon Amon Gwareth, the Hill of Defence, the rocky height amidst the plain, was built Gondolin the great, whose fame and glory is mightiest in song of all dwellings of the Elves in these Outer Lands. Of steel were its gates and of marble were its walls. The sides of the hill the Gnomes polished to the smoothness of dark glass, and its top they levelled for the building of their town, save amidmost where stood the tower and palace of the king. Many fountains there were in that city, and white waters fell shimmering down the glistening sides of Amon Gwareth. The plain all about they smoothed till it became as a lawn of shaven grass from the stairways before the gates unto the feet of the mountain wall, and nought might walk or creep across unseen.
For better or worse, the Elves chose the comfort of isolation rather than the mission of world redemption. Meanwhile, Morgoth’s reign grew, and, ultimately, he laid siege to the city. In one version of the story, the water god Ulmo offers aid to the Elves by giving them the city.
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Ulmo and Tuor by Alan Lee
More moving, yet deeply disturbing, is Tolkien’s description of the perversions wrought by Morgoth:
Then on a time Melko assembled all his most cunning smiths and sorcerers, and of iron and flame they wrought a host of monsters such as have only at that time been seen and shall not again be till the Great End. Some were all of iron so cunningly linked that they might flow like slow rivers of metal or coil themselves around and above all obstacles before them, and these were filled in their innermost depths with the grimmest of the Orcs with scimitars and spears; others of bronze and copper were given hearts and spirits of blazing fire, and they blasted all that stood before them with the terror of their snorting or trampled whatso escaped the ardour of their breath; yet others were creatures of pure flame that writhed like ropes of molten metal, and they brought to ruin whatever fabric they came nigh, and iron and stone melted before them and became as water, and upon them rode the Balrogs in hundreds; and these were the most dire of all those monsters which Melko devised against Gondolin.
While one might readily find such a description of organic machinery later in the 20th century, to describe it as such in 1917 is somewhat bewilderingly advanced. Equally important, one can readily imagine Tolkien’s creations as something that might appear from the German advance, as tanks replaced cavalry. True to Tolkien’s romanticism, machinery almost always appears as tyrannical and anti-humane in his literature.
Additionally, following the Western tradition going back to St. Augustine and Boethius, Tolkien believes that evil exists not as a thing in and of itself, but as a rape, an imitation, and a desecration of an original good. Orcs, for example, are tortured and inverted Elves:
How it came ever that among men the Noldoli [one form of Elf] have been confused with the Orcs who are Melko’s goblins, I know not, unless it be that certain of the Noldoli were twisted to the evil of Melko and mingled among these Orcs, for all that race were bred by Melko of the subterranean heats and slime. Their hearts were of granite and their bodies deformed; foul their faces which smiled not, but their laugh that of the clash of metal, and to nothing were they more fain than to aid in the basest of the purposes of Melko. The greatest hatred was between them and the Noldoli, who named themGlamhoth, or folk of dreadful hate.
One might also think of the Hebraic tradition of God as the all being—I Am That I Am—with all else radiating from him in what later thinkers might call the “economy of grace” or “great chain of being.”
And yet, true to Tolkien, those most misunderstood, ignored, or mocked in the world often, at some unexpected point, find their true natures revealed to the world and, most importantly, to themselves. Tuor, the outlaw turned heroic king in The Fall of Gondolin, becomes fully himself at one moment as he looks toward the sacred West:
Then Tuor arrayed himself in the hauberk, and set the helm upon his head, and he girt himself with the sword; black were sheath and belt with clasps of silver. Thus armed he went forth from Turgon’s hall, and stood upon the high terraces of Taras in the red light of the sun. None were there to see him, as he gazed westward, gleaming in silver and gold, and he knew not that in that hour he appeared as one of the Mighty of the West, and fit to be the father of the kings of the Kings of Men beyond the Sea, as it was indeed his doom to be; but in the taking of those arms a change came upon Tuor son of Huor, and his heart grew great within him. And as he stepped down from the doors the swans did him reverence, and plucking each a great feather from their wings they proffered them to him, laying their long necks upon the stone before his feet; and he took the seven feathers and set them in the crest of his helm, and straightway the swans arose and flew north in the sunset, and Tuor saw them no more.
When Tolkien published his massive three-volume trilogy, the masterful The Lord of the Rings, in 1954 and 1955, he was originally hoping to complete an even longer version, all in one volume. The hoped-for book would have been almost double the size of The Lord of the Rings and would include a fleshed-out version of The Silmarillion, to be called The Saga of the Jewels and the Rings. Those familiar with The Lord of the Rings know how often the stories of the Elder Days appear at critical moments in the trilogy. When the Ringwraiths are about to attack the hobbits and Aragorn on Weather Top, the ranger tells the ancient and timeless story of Beren and Lúthien, almost as a preparatory prayer in anticipation of battle. Galadriel, in a moment of confession, admits she has lived in Middle-earth since before the fall of Gondolin. When Sam and Frodo wonder what their fate is as they approach Mount Doom, they compare their own experiences with those of a previous age, recognizing that they exist in the same story, just at a later time.
Indeed, the very phial of Galadriel, which proves critical in the suffocating darkness of Shelob’s lair, contains the very light that had first existed close to the time of creation itself. Truly Frodo and Sam occupy the same story as Beren and Lúthien.
Yet Tolkien’s inability to finish the stories of the Elder Days, The Silmarillion, along with his exhaustion after 11 years of writing The Lord of the Rings, frustrated his own desires. Additionally, the British government continued to impose its own wartime restrictions on paper, even into the 1950s. Tolkien’s publisher had originally wanted and expected a sequel to The Hobbit, not an epic covering thousands and thousands of years, written with the depth and feeling of The Aeneid.
Even after the successful publication and critical reception of The Lord of the Rings and his own retirement from teaching, Tolkien found it painful to finish The Silmarillion and his own mythology. He often spent his time instead on questions best left to his publisher and writing gorgeous essays on the philosophical and theological implications of his created world.
It would take Tolkien’s son, Christopher, four years after his father’s death to compile and publish The Silmarillion. Even then, in 1977, it remained more a beautiful outline than a true representation of the early mythology. From there, though, Christopher’s output was nothing short of stunning. In 1980, he published Unfinished Tales and, between 1983 and 1996, the 12 volumes of The History of Middle-earth, a massive undertaking of love and piety. Silent for almost a decade, but infuriated by the travesty of the Peter Jackson movies, Christopher reappeared in the publishing world, hoping to reclaim his father’s ideas, words, characters, and stories for an audience desiring more than action sequences and computer generated eye candy. He hoped an audience for poetic wonder still existed, even in the 21st-century wasteland of modernity. Over the last 12 years, Christopher has come back with a vengeance, publishing his father’s scholarly work on his many varied mythologies as well as specific stories from The Silmarillion, but, most notably, the three that mattered most to his father: the tale of Beren and Lúthien,The Children of Húrin, and, as of last fall, The Fall of Gondolin.
As with the other books that Christopher has edited, this latest Tolkien release, The Fall of Gondolin, follows the chronological evolution of J.R.R. Tolkien’s various tales. As always, Christopher offers not just the chronology but an insightful examination of why his father chose this or that, as opposed to that or this. Presumably, The Fall of Gondolin is the son’s last, though not all of the father’s writings have yet seen print.
Now aged 94, Christopher must be praised mightily and in every way for his service not only to his father, but, frankly, also to Western civilization. After all, it would not be too much of a stretch to compare his father’s mythology to that of Homer, Virgil, and Dante. And, it bears repeating: though J.R.R. Tolkien despised formal allegory, his created mythology, begun sometime around 1913 and still not completely finished—despite the work of father and son—reflects all of our anxieties and desires in the modern and postmodern worlds. If we speak exclusively of J.R.R. Tolkien in relation to the mythology of Middle-earth, we have created a grave error. Truly, we must properly speak of the Two Tolkiens: J.R.R. and Christopher.  
Bradley J. Birzer is The American Conservative’s scholar-at-large. He also holds the Russell Amos Kirk Chair in History at Hillsdale College and is the author, most recently, of Russell Kirk: American Conservative.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

'Unplanned' Helps Pro-Lifers Tell the Truth about Abortion

By Abby Johnson and Lila Rose
April 1, 2019

Image result for unplanned
Ashley Bratcher (left) as Abby Johnson in 'Unplanned'

Abortion may be one of the most hotly debated topics in America, but it’s a word that not many people can readily — and accurately — define. The abortion industry uses vague terms like “choice,” “autonomy,” “reproductive rights” or “reproductive health,” “essentially a miscarriage,” and “gently emptying the uterus” to cloud the conversation. In a discussion of abortion, we are told to consider only the mother and her choice. The other party is only a “product of conception” or an “undifferentiated mass of uterine matter.”

Equally vague is our language about the way abortions are performed, which we hardly ever hear described in medical terms. That is why the recently released film Unplanned is so important. Seeing the truth about abortion will change people’s minds on the procedure and society’s view of this heinous human-rights abuse. It did for us.
Abby Johnson

Unplanned tells the story of a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who comes face to face with the reality of abortion. That director was me. I worked for Planned Parenthood for eight years but, mid-career, I began to have misgivings. I saw that Planned Parenthood was willing to fire employees if they did not meet their abortion quotas and that there were monetary bonuses for directors who did meet the quotas. I saw how that lent itself to the pressuring and manipulation of pregnant women in our clinics.
I reached the breaking point on September 26, 2009, when a doctor asked me to help with an ultrasound-guided abortion. I had never seen one performed. I watched in horror as a 13-week-old baby fought for its life . . . and lost. An abortion doctor connected one end of tubing to a suction machine and inserted the other end into the pregnant woman lying in front of us. “Beam me up, Scotty,” the abortionist said, and the machine turned on. I saw the tiny baby began to squirm.

I remember it so clearly. The suction machine used in an “aspiration (D&C) abortion” has ten to 20 times the force of a household vacuum cleaner. For the briefest moment, the baby looked as if it were being wrung like a dishcloth, twirled and squeezed. And then it crumpled and began disappearing into the tubing before my eyes. The last thing I saw was the tiny, perfectly formed backbone sucked into the tube, and then it was gone. And the uterus was empty. Totally empty. After that, the abortionist used a sharp metal device called a curette to remove the baby’s remains from the mother’s uterus and completed the abortion.

I knew then that I had to expose the truth about Planned Parenthood and the violent death from which the group profits. My life would never be the same. I left Planned Parenthood and soon after started a group called And Then There Were None to provide counseling and clear action steps for those seeking to leave the abortion industry. Now I travel the country speaking the truth about Planned Parenthood and encouraging Americans to call for an end to government support of this unsavory organization, which has been implicated in potentially criminal behavior.

Lila Rose
Abby is not the only woman whose life was changed by witnessing the harsh reality of abortion. As a young girl, I saw a photograph of an aborted baby, only ten weeks old, in a pro-life book tucked away on my family’s bookshelf. That image stuck with me. I saw the image of tiny arms and legs, torn apart by a powerful suction abortion, and I remember thinking, “Is this real?”
I soon found that it was indeed real, and worse, that the baby pictured there was one of the millions killed in similar ways. I knew I had to do something to make sure as many people as possible knew the truth about abortion.
But that turned out to be difficult. The abortion industry has a vested interest in keeping the gory details about abortion under wraps. In an effort to document what goes on behind Planned Parenthood’s doors, I began working as an undercover investigative journalist, bringing the grim reality of the abortion industry to light by recording conversations with clinic workers. I actually earned a reputation among Planned Parenthood staff; I learned later that while still working as a clinic director, Abby Johnson had a poster of me up in her clinic, warning front-office staff to be on the lookout for me. (An “unplanned” friendship formed when she left and now we work together to end abortion.)
I was able to expose Planned Parenthood staff engaging in illegal and dangerous activity, including aiding and abetting child-sex traffickers, failing to report sexual abuse of underage girls, and lying to women about their preborn child’s development — all in order to perform abortions and procure the money that comes with them, at the expense of the women involved. My non-profit, Live Action, has exposed Planned Parenthood committing sex-selective abortions, accepting racially motivated donations that target black women and babies, and discussing how they’d leave babies born alive after abortions to die. I have seen inside these abortion facilities, and it changed my life to see how they treat women. That’s exactly what you’ll see in Unplanned — the stark reality of what happens behind closed doors. Even after all this, Planned Parenthood continues to receive our taxpayer dollars and claims to be a respectable organization.
Telling the Truth

Society’s best chance at ending the abuse of abortion and the abuse that surrounds abortion is to eradicate the idea that abortion is harmless. That takes education and a glimpse into how and where the abuse takes place. Live Action shared a medically accurate video detailing the most common abortion procedures and showed it to people in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. For many of the viewers who described themselves as “pro-choice,” the video was “eye-opening” and “distressing.” When people watch what happens as an abortionist tears a baby limb from limb during an abortion, what Abby Johnson and I saw at a younger age, viewers respond that abortion should not be legal, that these videos should be shown in educational settings, and that our country’s leaders should all be required to know the facts of abortion.

The truth is there, a preborn child is a human life, and abortion horrifically destroys that human life. Films like Unplanned and groups like And Then There Were None and Live Action make that truth available to millions. That is an essential service to the global conversation about abortion. How can we adequately discuss a topic about which we know nothing? Every American has a responsibility to be informed about abortion, as the discourse will surely continue. See the film. Watch the videos. And, knowing the truth, enter the conversation boldly.
Abby Johnson is the founder and director of And Then There Were None and author of Unplanned and The Walls are Talking. You can follow her on Twitter at @abbyjohnson. Lila Rose is the founder and president of Live Action. You can follow her on Twitter at @lilagracerose.