In my book Transfiguration, I write about various possible alternatives to the sterile and anti-human, anti-sophianic institutions that surround us. For one, I propose the idea of “the sophianic hedge school” as a healthy alternative to Education, Inc. that has done so much to ruin human flourishing and poison society. I also floated the idea of perishable currency, inspired by both Rudolf Steiner and Guido Preparata. This is to say nothing about the importance of the CSA (“Community Supported Agriculture”) movement as well as the availability of herd shares as a way to secure clean food and dairy products uncompromised by the death-bestowing toxins of BigAg and the diabolical interventions of BigPharma that follow in their wake. What I propose in that book is a kind of alternate society, almost, as I’ve written in this blog, like the invisible society within society that operates almost like the parallel universes found in the novels of Philip K. Dick.

I am not the first one to suggest such movements, of course, but in my ongoing consternation at the increasing totalization of the Governmental-Pharmaceutical-Technocratic paradigm, I have found myself reexamining the responses of earlier (but not that much earlier) generations when faced with such menacing totalitarian structures. As I’ve mentioned before, Czeslaw Milosz’s The Captive Mind is a great place to start if one wants to trace the gradual acquiescence of more or less good people to the will of the corporatocracy’s insidious egregore. In such scenarios (and this was also the case in England’s gradual transformation from a Catholic into a Protestant nation in the 16th and 17th centuries), the Archons first work on the middle-manager class—the intellectuals, professors, teachers, prelates, and so forth—trusting that they will lead the rest of society into a brave new world.

I also revisited the writing of Václav Havel. I probably first heard of Havel when I was in high school and he was a Czechoslovakian playwright and dissident imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain in his homeland. Some years later in one of my first major publications as a poet (in the journal Cross Currents), I was very proud to find my work alongside an interview with Havel in which he argued that a “sense for the transcendent” was the only hope for uniting multicultural and multifarious societies. This time, however, I revisited his essential essay, “The Power of the Powerless.”

“The Power of the Powerless” was written in 1978, long before the Iron Curtain showed any signs of cracking. But crack it did. Havel and his compatriots in the Eastern Bloc at that time were advocating for “parallel structures” or a “parallel polis” (the term contributed by his fellow dissident Václav Benda) as ways for peoples under whatever form of oppression (things were very different in Poland than in Czechoslovakia, for instance). For Havel, the lynchpin for such an undertaking is the ability to “live in truth,” since the Communist governments were notorious for lies, not that modern Western democracies are any better), what led in the USSR to “hypernormalization” (i.e.. “everybody knows everything is a lie, but let’s all act like it isn’t”).

According to Benda, “the mission of the parallel polis is constantly to conquer new territory, to make its parallelness constantly more substantial and more present. Politically, this means to stake out clear limits for totalitarian power, to make it more difficult for it to maneuver” [1]. This parallel polis was envisioned as primarily cultural, as in the arts, but also social. It simply had to do with giving up on the lie and living in truth (I think of Pope John Paul II, when still a Polish cardinal, leading a procession through the streets of Krakow with an empty frame since it was illegal to process with a religious image, in this case of the Virgin). As Ivan Jirous writes in “Parallel Polis,” “Those who take part are active people who can no longer stand to look passively at the general decay, marasmus, rigidity, bureaucracy, and suffocation of every living idea or sign of movement in the official sphere” [2]. How these words resonate today.


Havel extends this:

The point where living within the truth ceases to be a mere negation of living and becomes articulate in a particular way, is the point at which something is born that might be called the ‘independent spiritual, social, and political society.’” [3]

I think our own moment calls for such a rebirth, much in the way the Dark Ages presaged the coming of Hildegard of Bingen, Thomas Aquinas, and Francis of Assisi or the waning of the Middle Ages opened onto the Florentine Renaissance. Surely the second coming is at hand.

I have been waiting, in vain as it turns out, for some Distributists or Communitarians to step up and be counted at this, their moment. But...no. They seem either to have retreated into their pipes and ale or become Catholic Marxists or worse.

But part of the problem is the overarching tyranny of our technology, a technology that has so aided the Archons in their quest for totalizing power. Havel—like Heidegger, Lewis Mumford, Jacques Ellul, and so many others—was onto this. In 1978, he wrote,

Technology—that child of modern science, which in turn is a child of modern metaphysics—is out of humanity’s control, has ceased to serve us, has enslaved us and compelled us to participate in the preparation of our own destruction…. We look on helplessly as that coldly functioning machine we have created inevitably engulfs us, tearing us away from our natural affiliations (for instance, from our habitat in the widest sense of the word, including our habitat in the biosphere) just as it removes us from the experience of ‘being’ and casts us into the world of ‘existences.’” [4]

I will submit that part of the instinctive resistance we have to “lockdown culture” resides precisely in such a sensibility. A Zoom meeting with nature, even human nature, is not possible.

Like Havel, his exact contemporary Ivan Illich also saw what technology (not to mention modern medicine!) was doing to us. “If tools are not controlled politically,” he writes, “they will be managed in a belated technocratic response to disaster. Freedom and dignity will continue to dissolve into an unprecedented enslavement of man to his tools” [5]. It’s almost as if he were watching us. I can only imagine what he and Havel are thinking.

Havel, for example, observed the trajectory upon which even Western democracies were headed:

It would appear that the traditional parliamentary democracies can offer no fundamental opposition to the automatism of technological civilization and the industrial-consumer society, for they, too, are being helplessly dragged along by it.” [6]

Bingo.

We have many ways to build our own parallel polis. We can extricate ourselves as much as possible from the technocracy and their flunkies in government and simply live. At Stella Matutina Farm (where I live), for example, we rely almost entirely on traditional tools (with the exception of a few modern contraptions like my chainsaws). We mow some of our grass, but the cattle take care of most of it. And what we do is not an anomaly: most sustainable farmers employing no-dig methods operate pretty much the same way—and even our tiny 1.5 acre garden supplies an enormous amount of food.

But even more, our idea of a parallel polis extends to the social sphere, in particular in the ways we celebrate the Christian year. We observe all the feasts, but our biggest celebration occur at May Day and Michaelmas. At May Day this year, when our state was still under various mandates and most social activities were suppressed by government and, alas, the Church, a friend asked if she could invite some of her friends who were starving for conviviality. Surprisingly, over fifty people—mostly families—showed up to dance around the maypole and feast together. This is what a parallel polis looks like. It may not be much, but it certainly fits what Jiří Dienstbier described as something contributing to “the continual renewal of the meaning of authenticity” [7]. Bureaucracy may be death by a thousand papercuts, but the parallel polis—by which I mean “a sophiological structure”—bestows life by a thousand tiny, some might even say “insignificant,” gestures. Even our recent forays into house church can be seen as an example of this. “The failure of the modern experiment,” as H.J. Massingham so cogently observed, “is seen to be so because it is anti-Christian, anti-natural, and anti-realistic” [8].

It’s not hard. Live in truth.


Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at director@thecenterforsophiologicalstudies.com See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: The Divine Feminine.

1. Václav Benda, et al., “Parallel Polis, or an Independent Society in Central and Eastern Europe: An Inquiry,” Social Research 55, nos. 1-2 (Spring/Summer 1988): 211-46, at 219.

2. Ibid., 228.

3. Václav Havel, “The Power of the Powerless” in Living in Truth, ed. Jan Vladislav (Faber and Faber, 1986), 85.

4. Ibid., 114.

5. Ivan Illich, Tools for Conviviality (Harper, 1973), 12.

6. “The Power of the Powerless,” 116.

7. “Parallel Polis,” 231.

8. H.J. Massingham, The Tree of Life (London, 1943), 173.

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  • Michael Martin

World Party

You know it, and I know it: things are bizarre. Hopefully, we will not be slipping into a Hobbesian “war of all against all,” but I am not taking any bets. The closer we get to a culture of “show me your papers,” the closer we get to societal chaos.


In that spirit, I have put together a little playlist to help navigate the season of this our angst. You will notice that most of these songs are from my youth. I remember reading an interview with John Lennon just before he died (I think it was in Rolling Stone) and the interviewer asked what he was listening to. He answered, “Old rock ‘n’ roll. Chuck Berry, Fats Domino. I’m like our parents, you know: That was my era.” Even though I left the music business for the most part in 1987, while still a babe, I haven’t really tried to keep up with what the cool kids are listening to since then. But if you have suggestion of songs to add, mention them in the comments.

1. Beatles, “Revolution.” Speaking of Chuck Berry, John Lennon’s evocation of the guitar god at the opening of this tune is one of the most ferocious sounds ever to be recorded. I also love his equivocation about destruction. “It’s gonna be alright.”


2. The Call, “The Walls Came Down.” Michael Been, lead singer, songwriter, and leader of the band The Call employed biblical allusion to the walls of Jericho in his castigation of American “nation building” (meddling to you and me). It seems particularly poignant right now in light of the disaster that is Afghanistan. Interesting trivia, No. 1: In 1985 I opened for The Call in Detroit and talked to the band quite a bit in the dressing room. Been was ALL ABOUT THE POLITICS, a very earnest and sincere man. Interesting trivia, No. 2: A few years later, when I watched Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, I was surprised and pleased to see Been in the role of John the apostle. Unfortunately, Been died prematurely of a heart attack in 2010.


3. The Hooters, “All You Zombies.” Speaking of biblical allusions, this song by The Hooters is just crummy with them. The Hooters were outstanding musicians, very inventive and accomplished, but they were also cursed with good looks, so the record company marketed them as heartthrobs. To their credit, they didn’t play along.


4. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, “Ohio.” This is one of the great monuments in the catalog of protest songs. Written by Neil Young about the massacre of students at Kent State in 1970, it captures that moment like nothing else could. I show this video just every semester to my college students, telling them that they shouldn’t ever think it couldn’t happen again. It can. I don’t know if you’ve seen the video circulating of Autralian police pepper-spraying a 12-year-old for not wearing a mask, but I’d say Western democracies are moving dangerously close to turning on the unarmed citizenry. Don’t think what happened at Kent State can’t happen again.


5. “Get Up, Stand Up.” Bob Marley and the Wailers. This one, Peter Tosh’s masterpiece of resistance, really needs no explanation. I was very pleased to see it used at the conclusion of the recent protest against vaccine passports in New York City.


6. World Party, “Ship of Fools.” Karl Wallinger is a great and underrated songwriter. This scathing indictment of the political order has been my theme song for a good long while, even more so over the last eighteen months.


7. X, “The Have Nots.” One of the most disappointing developments of the last year and a half has been the vilification of the working and poor classes as part the propaganda apparatus of BigPharma and friends. The caricatures of doltish Trump supporters as the symbol of “vaccine hesitancy” is one thing, but New York mayor De Blassio’s vaccine passport actually impacts 60% or more of his city’s African-American residents. More propaganda. My sympathies are with the working classes and the poor, not with corporate, political, and media elites. Whose side do you think Jesus would be on? X’s song is a validation of the working poor—and it mentions Detroit’s Aorta Bar where I hung out once upon a time. This song is Charles Bukowski set to music.


8. The Parachute Club, “Rise Up!” Nothing says “80s” quite like parachute pants. Canadian band The Parachute Club offers an optimistic song here. I used to hang out in Toronto quite a bit as a young man (it’s only four hours from Detroit, where I grew up) and this song perfectly captures the mid-80s Toronto vibe. So rise up already.



9. Steppenwolf, “The Pusher.” This one goes out to BigPharma.


10. Elvis Costello and the Attractions, “(What’s so Funny about) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” Something to remember! Costello’s turn on Nick Lowe’s song (Lowe did it more as a ballad or lament) is as earnest as it is aggressive. And what a great description of our own moment:

As I walk through This wicked world Searchin’ for light in the darkness of insanity. I ask myself Is all hope lost? Is there only pain and hatred, and misery? And each time I feel like this inside, There's one thing I wanna know: What's so funny 'bout peace love & understanding?

This version, from when Costello hosted The David Letterman Show, is gold.


11. Queen and David Bowie, “Under Pressure.” I don’t think any song has captured existential angst better then this one from 1981, an earlier time of existential angst (trust me, I was there). It also describes our own time. Bowie and Queen must have been reading their Heidegger, as the antidote to this angst is found in care, Heidegger’s point. We should try to remember that. This video beautifully complements the music.


Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at director@thecenterforsophiologicalstudies.com See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: The Divine Feminine.

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  • Michael Martin

Feast of the Transfiguration

Remember when Easter was canceled in 2020? I do. Then Christmas was canceled. I also remember how Church authorities were supportive of it, though obfuscated behind the banal rhetoric of the issued official statement.

I also remember an Eastern Orthodox friend of mine telling me parishioners at his church were put on a round-robin schedule saying who could attend the Divine Liturgy and who could receive the Eucharist and when. And this didn’t have anything to do with the “Easter duty,” which was apparently superseded by the theology of political conformity. The Most Holy Eucharist was distributed on plastic spoons, immediately sent to a landfill (though I doubt it was by way of a bio-hazard receptacle).

I also remember reading that at least one Catholic parish was mandating parishioners be fully vaccinated before being admitted to Confession (which has since been reversed), though I'm sure there were many more.

I also remember reading a statement from Metropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church saying that refusing to take an experimental vaccine is a sin. Really. He said that. So if refusing the vaccination is a sin, and if, as in Australia, the unvaccinated cannot attend Confession….how does that work? What religion is this again?

Then I remember the Roman Curia backtracking on a solid and venerable precedent and saying it’s now okay to take a vaccine that includes genetic material from aborted fetuses, calling it “morally acceptable” in a startling and immoral about-face.

And I also remember the announcement from a few weeks ago that only the fully vaccinated will be able to participate in Pope Francis’s upcoming visit to Slovakia.

All this for a suite of vaccines that don’t really seem to work very well and have demonstrably harmed or killed thousands of people.

This is insanity.

When all of this madness started, my wife and I decided we would just do home church with those of our children still at home. We would gather to worship on Sunday mornings after farm chores. Most of what we followed was based on the Book of Common Prayer, which is rooted in the English Catholic tradition of the Rite of Sarum, and we would add poetry, or litanies and prayers from the Celtic tradition, including selections from this outstanding collection and Carmina Gadelica. We didn’t have any proper incense, so we burned sage from our garden. We also added songs from the Anglican hymnal and our own Byzantine Catholic tradition as well as Hubert Perry’s setting of William Blake’s “Jerusalem” and Cat Stevens’s glorious “Morning Has Broken” with lyrics by my beloved Eleanor Farjeon. I imagine we sounded like a liturgical Fairport Convention.

At first, this was just because all of the churches were closed. We had to do something; we couldn't just languish, slipping deeper and deeper into despair and depression. Then, as the world and, let’s face it, the Church became more and more bizarre we decided to make this liturgical expression as developed as possible. We decided we didn't like the way the Sacraments were being held hostage by bishops and politicians (not that I can always tell the difference).

Not long after that, my brother-in-law and his family moved a few miles away from us and our two families started to pray together on Sunday mornings, soon adding other feast days as well.


Our house church, which we have dedicated to St. Brigid, has offered us all great consolation in these crazy times. I call it “off-grid ecclesiology,” because what we’re doing is far off the power grid—emphasis on power—of the greater ecclesial bodies. Christianity started as a network of house churches, especially since it was illegal in most places (which, I fear, could be the case again in the future), but as it grew in influence and power, it also grew in corruption. But we all know that already.

For now, this is what sustains us.


Another of our favorite hymns, based on St. Franciss Canticle of the Sun.



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