• Michael Martin

In 2012, I was teaching a course in college writing, as I have done many, many times over my career as a professor, when a very interesting article made a few waves in the academic zeitgeist. It was short article—easy enough for students to read in about fifteen minutes—and an excellent subject for introducing students to rhetorical analysis. It was co-written by two philosophers teaching in Australia, apparently former students or colleagues of Peter Singer.

The thesis of Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva’s “After-Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?” is stated very plainly in the abstract: “what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.” You have to admire the clarity of expression here, despite the horror.

I have used this article in the classroom regularly ever since its appearance, but I’ve noticed a change in student reception over the years. In 2012, I would watch my students read the article in class and see their growing horror and outrage at what they were unpacking. They were offended and outraged, incredulous that any professor would propose such a thing. While I hated to be “that guy,” I told them to get used to it: not only would this idea become accepted over time, it would eventually be celebrated as a good. They thought I was being alarmist. However, that outrage and incredulity has subsided over time: now students barely bat an eye.

I mention this because recent bills introduced in California and Maryland are proposing that “perinatal deaths” of newborns not be investigated—a rhetorical move that some have interpreted as opening the door to the legalization of infanticide. As expected, various news outlets have pushed against the interpretation of the proposed laws, saying that the bills do not explicitly legalize infanticide and that “the term “perinatal death” in the bill is intended to mean the death of an infant caused by complications in pregnancy.” On the other hand, the term “perinatal” is very ambiguous and could mean any time from birth to even 28 days later or more.

This is how the rhetoric (read: propaganda) game works. Make things sound innocuous or vague enough to be accepted, dress them up in euphemisms and/or neologisms (like the nonsensical “after-birth abortion”) and incrementally and eventually the goal of popular acceptance will be achieved. This is how the engineering of consent works.

I have certainly received a good deal of scorn for being an opponent of abortion. I wasn’t always against it. But then I started to give it some thought. People years ago were fond of saying that they believed abortion was acceptable, but only until the fetus had achieved “viability,” which, at the time, meant about five months into gestation. I was okay with that (at the time), but then I thought: “what about four months, 29 days, and 23 hours gestation?” So where is the magic moment? It should be obvious: there isn’t one. I was forced to change my position. In The Submerged Reality I speak out against abortion culture, and one online reviewer assumed I have never consoled or listened to a grieving or traumatized woman post-abortion, as if I speak only from an ideological position and not an experiential one. Well, I have done precisely this—and more than a couple of times. I’m still in contact with one of the women, and she may be the most pro-life person I know. She feels the culture betrayed her by telling her it was an acceptable choice. She still bears the pain of her choice over thirty years later.

Of course, now many jurisdictions in the US allow abortion not only after five months, but through all nine months of pregnancy, even to birth. This has not been a slippery slope.

As a farmer and as a sophiologist, I am intimately aware of the delicate dance of life and death, and I don’t take either one of them lightly. I deal with life and death every day. This morning, for instance, I contemplated euthanizing one of our roosters. He seems to have injured one of his eyes recently and the other rooster (who lost an eye as a chick) has capitalized on this weakness and has been attacking the injured one. I didn’t kill him, choosing to wait and see how and if his injury heals. So, I’m not against killing, per se. But I am against killing vulnerable human beings, and I’m against infanticide.

Giubilini and Minerva know their neologism is sophistry, so they try to obfuscate behind arguments such as “the moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus”—a statement with which I am in total agreement—though they also argue that “neither can be considered a ‘person’ in a morally relevant sense” which is hogwash (and I’ve washed hogs, so I know what I’m talking about.) They try to justify their rhetorical sleight of hand, that what they say is not what they say:

In spite of the oxymoron in the expression, we propose to call this practice ‘after-birth abortion’, rather than ‘infanticide’, to emphasise that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus (on which ‘abortions’ in the traditional sense are performed) rather than to that of a child. Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be. Such circumstances include cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk. Accordingly, a second terminological specification is that we call such a practice ‘after-birth abortion’ rather than ‘euthanasia’ because the best interest of the one who dies is not necessarily the primary criterion for the choice, contrary to what happens in the case of euthanasia.”

My claim is that the use of the term “perinatal death” works in a disturbingly similar manner.

As anyone who ever studied Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex in high school or college would be aware, exposing an unwanted baby to the elements or the hunger of wild beasts was a standard and socially acceptable practice in the ancient world. Didn’t work out in the case of Oedipus though! The people living in the age of the “Greek miracle”—the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, the plays of Sophocles and Aeschylus, the poetry of Sappho, the art of Phidias, the rise of democracy, the wonder of the Parthenon—was also an age that didn’t think twice about the problematic morality of infanticide. It was a non-issue. This remarkably sophisticated culture gave no thought to the most vulnerable.

Our own culture is already mired and falling more deeply into this dynamic of a technologically sophisticated culture masking its own barbarity (and not only as regards to infanticide).

It was only with Christianity that this dynamic started to change, and in the Didache we read: “You shall not murder a child by abortion, nor kill a child at birth.” Seems pretty clear, but without the black magic of propaganda.

For the technologies so rife throughout our culture are indeed technologies of death, bent on the domination of Nature: mineral, plant, animal, and human. Call it “The New Black Magic.” As Valentin Tomberg once observed (and as Ioan Couliano later affirmed) what we find in technological and industrial science “is the continuation of the ceremonial magic of the humanism [of the Renaissance], stripped of its occult element.” Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar.

Sophiology is the opposite of this dubious magic, as it affirms life and does not fear it.

Choose life.

Michael’s latest book is Sophia in Exile. 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. There are also a few spots open in the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening as Christian Path course being offered at the end of April. See more here

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  • Michael Martin

hand study, Leonardo da Vinci

For a while there, I regularly taught philosophy in a couple of Catholic liberal arts colleges. Most professors don’t teach philosophy to undergraduates the way I do, preferring instead to run a kind of survey of historical philosophic movements (Platonism, Scholasticism, Pragmatism, Utilitarianism, and so forth), which is okay, I suppose, but rather a scholarly or almost antiquarian approach. It’s also often impossibly dull (for students, anyway). It would also be dull for me. So I don’t do it that way.

In fact, every course I teach is essentially a philosophy course, even, for instance, the current course I am finishing up, Love & Romanticism. How can one teach Blake, or Coleridge, or Shelley, or even John Clare without asking some fundamental questions concerning society, ultimate values, the possibility of transcendence, or the existence of evil? It’s impossible.

When I have taught those official “philosophy” courses, I used many literary and ostensibly religious texts as well as more technically philosophic works. A short (and incomplete) list includes Sophocles’s Antigone, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, Plato’s Symposium, Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, Tao te Ching, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, as well as Simone Weil’s “Human Personality” and Georges Poulet’s “The Phenomenology of Reading.” These allowed the students to reflect upon their understandings of, for example, familial, religious, and political obligation (Antigone); the existence of evil (Blood Meridian); love (Symposium); the idea of living a moral life (Tao te Ching and Meditations); the (pre)existence of the soul (Tibetan Book of the Dead); self-examination (“Human Personality”); and the spiritual activity of reading (“Phenomenology of Reading”). All of these considerations are part of what we can call “the Life Questions.” If we live our lives without asking and attempting to answer them, are we living a life at all? As Socrates asked, “Is the unexamined life worth living?”

As Brad Gregory notes in his outstanding The Unintended Reformation (is it old enough to be considered a classic yet?), these questions are very simple:

Despite the pervasive influence of science in our world, very few people look to it for answers to questions about the most important concerns of human life, and for good reason. ‘What should I live for, and why?’ ‘What should I believe, and why should I believe it?’ ‘What is morality, and where does it come from?’ ‘What kind of person should I be?’ ‘What is a meaningful life, and what should I do in order to lead a fulfilling life?’ These questions and others like them are Life Questions: they are serious questions about life, with important implications for life.” [1]

These simple questions are essential to self-knowledge; and, from what I’ve seen among college students (and, let’s be honest, most of our culture) over the past twenty years, students have been increasingly less and less concerned with them. With humanities programs more and more marginalized (if not completely eradicated) in the higher education landscape, this should come as no surprise. Of course, humanities programs in philosophy, literature, and history have only themselves to blame, captured as they have been by the simplistic and adolescent politics of “social justice” (which is neither) and cancel culture. So, I am not entirely saddened to see higher education in its death throes.

One book I have often used in philosophy courses is Pierre Hadot’s Philosophy as a Way of Life. Philosophy, as I have alluded above, is typically taught in a scientific way, as if both professor and student are impartial observers of philosophy over time. Hadot’s tack is much simpler: philosophy as spiritual exercise. This approach has inspired, among others, John Vervaeke’s project concerning “the meaning crisis” (and it is a very real crisis), and when I had the honor to speak with John a couple of months ago we both expressed our admiration for Hadot. John criticized Martin Heidegger as being a bit cagey or stingy as regards to his practices, though I think Heidegger’s writings on poetry (I’m not sure if John is familiar with them) do offer some hints at philosophical praxis. But that is a minor disagreement since both John and I believe the spiritual practice of philosophy is central to living a life of meaning.

Hadot offers a simple recipe for this practice in a quote from George Friedman:

Take flight every day! At least for a moment, however, brief, as long as it is intense. Every day a ‘spiritual exercise,’ alone or in the company of a man who also wishes to better himself…. Leave ordinary time behind. Make an effort to rid yourself of your passions…. Become eternal by surpassing yourself, This inner effort is necessary, this ambition, just. Many are those who are entirely absorbed in militant politics, in preparation for the social revolution. Rare, very rare, are those who, in order to prepare for the revolution, wish to become worthy of it.” [2]

My own spiritual practice includes prayer and liturgy, but also includes farming, playing music, and writing poetry. Even scholarship can become a spiritual practice. All of these are ways by which I “take flight,” and are the means by which I have come to a sophiological understanding of the cosmos. As I write in The Submerged Reality, Sophiology is intimately related to phenomenology in the way by which its practices or dispositions allow phenomena to reveal themselves to us. This method of becoming intimate with the cosmos inculcates a method of self-knowledge which arises, oddly enough, by forgetting oneself in the contemplative movement which such practices nurture.

Become eternal by surpassing yourself.

Outstanding documentary on skillful practices that become spiritual practices--whether you know it or not.

Michael’s latest book is Sophia in Exile. 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. There are also a few spots open in the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening as Christian Path course being offered at the end of April. See more here

1. Brad S, Gregory, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Belknap, 2012), 74.

2. Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, trans. Michael Chase (Blackwell, 1995), 70.

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  • Michael Martin

In early modern England, a playgoer and diarist recorded an extraordinary special effect during a performance of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus:

Certaine Players at Exeter, acting upon the stage the tragical storie of Dr. Faustus the Conjurer; as a certaine number of Devels kept everie one his circle there, and as Faustus was busie in his magicall invocations, on a sudden they were all dasht, every one harkning other in the eare, for they were all perswaded, there was one devell too many amongst them; and so after a little pause desired the people to pardon them, they could go no further with this matter; the people also understanding the thing as it was, every man hastened to be first out of dores.” [1]

Reportedly, this was not the solitary instance of the appearance of unaccounted-for players at performances of the play. But was it an actual supernatural occurrence, or only some over-the-top PR devised by some Elizabethan theatrical impresario? Nobody knows for sure, but I wouldn’t rule anything out. Always remember: there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. If you call them, they will come.

The early modern period, though it was also the time of the first stirrings of Bacon, Descartes, and the Scientific Revolution, was still a period of widespread belief in the supernatural, a belief which even found its way into what we might now call scholarly research. In my book Literature and the Encounter with God in Post-Reformation, I explore this phenomenon in relation to John Dee and his alleged conversation with angels in a chapter entitled “John Dee: Religious Experience and the Technology of Idolatry.” My argument there is that the various occult technologies employed by Dee and his assistant Edward Kelly actually worked toward deluding him (or assisting the spirits with which he was conversing toward deluding him) and resulted in a kind of Maronian lapse into idolatry. It is a tragic and cautionary tale that should make anyone think twice (or more) about using any kind of paraphernalia for attempting converse with supernatural beings. It never ends well. Not a good idea. Don’t do it. But these types of experiences hardly ended with the arrival of the Enlightenment.

On the first day of Easter 1898, for example, the Russian philosopher and mystic Vladimir Solovyov encountered a demon while on ship. It appeared “in the form of a shaggy beast,” and he asked it, “But you know that Christ is risen?” “He may very well have risen,” the beast is said to have replied, “but I will make an end of you all the same” and attacked him. According to Sergey Solovyov, the philosopher’s nephew and biographer, Solovyov was later “found stretched on the floor senseless.” [2] But he lived.

I’ve seen or experienced such things at first hand a number of times over the years, the last time about a year ago. Here’s an entry from my notebook: “My daughter is being bothered by a spirit. It won’t let her sleep. Every time it visits, always late at night, she awakens me in tears and asks me to bless her room. I pray Psalm 68 and sprinkle the room with holy water, and then the entire house, the younger children sleeping in their beds, and I anoint her with chrism. One night the spirit returns and is very reluctant to leave. After removing it from my daughter’s room, it disturbs my sleeping wife who awakens and tells me “Michael, you need to get rid of it,” in a very forthright manner as if telling me to wash the dishes. I anoint her, cleanse the room with holy water., and she goes back to sleep. When I go back to bed I pray the rosary. I finish praying, and start to fall asleep when it attacks me, pushing me down on the mattress by the shoulders. I struggle to breathe, to awaken and rise; but finally yell, “Go!” and I can get up. I anoint myself. It leaves for a time.”

I’ve told other people about what happened, and I have been (and haven’t been, at the same time) surprised to find that such is not as uncommon as one might believe. Perhaps we are not as modern as we have let ourselves believe.

Of course, none of us should really be surprised: the Gospels are full of stories about Christ casting out demons. Unfortunately, many contemporary Christians try to interpret the demons Christ encounters as manifestations of psychiatric disorders, or quirks. Or something. Maybe anxiety.


I say all this, not to wax sensational but only to say that our own cultural moment for the last few years seems to me increasingly to give evidence of a kind of widespread demonolatry, but for the most part masked by a sort of postmodern secular ennui. Or, as Shakespeare says in The Tempest: “Hell is empty, and all the devils are here!” I mean, just look around.

As we see in scripture, notably in the temptations of Eve in Genesis and Jesus in the gospel accounts, the demonic is the origin of false advertising. The subject is promised all kinds of goods—power, wealth, longevity, prosperity—but the delivered product never lives up to the hype. Just the opposite. These promises continue in our own day, though the chosen medium is not via supernatural “magic” in the manner in which it may have been understood from ancient to early modern times, but through medical and technological interventions aided and abetted by governmental policy and popular acclaim. The recently much-touted transhumanism is but one example of this with its accompanying slogan of “You’ll own nothing and be happy” and other Utopian currencies of false coinage. Demons may offer freedom or liberation, but what they deliver is slavery. Every. Single. Time.

Importantly, these interventions—not all at once, but over time and, ultimately, totalizing—distance the subject from nature. We end up imprisoned in a technological-pharmaceutical-bureaucratic Otherworld This was the long-game of urbanization—and the kinds of transhumanist phenomena I’m speaking about are nothing other than afflictions attendant to urbanization. You don’t see it happening with people in the countryside. As Jacques Ellul writes, “The city person is separated from the natural environment and, as a consequence, the sacred significations [of connection to the natural world and its rhythms] no longer have any point of contact with experience.” [3]

I don’t have a precise taxonomy for these various spiritual beings afflicting individuals and the world, but they both seem different in kind and identical in aims. I think this works initially at the individual level, exploiting the traumas and anxieties of good people who have given in to despair and hopelessness, who think something must be wrong with them and that the magic of pharmacology or technology or politics can deliver them. This is a very subtle and sneaky form of idolatry—it happens without one knowing it. But, as happened in many of the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century and as we are witnessing today, this free-floating anxiety can metastasize into the body politic (the demonic parody of the Mystical Body) and infect entire societies with various forms of possession.

This is why Ellul described our post-Christian era in terms of “the new demons.” Even though our societies in the West are post-Christian, they still retain the assumptions of Christianity, though their allegiances have been unconsciously transferred to other gods. “Post-Christian society,” he writes, “has been deeply affected by Christianity, and bears the latter’s mark: the mark of original sin, of the desire for salvation, hope, and a kingdom of God, of the conviction that a Savior is needed, of the society those who are aware of radical guilt yet know they cannot pardon themselves.” [4] I can’t even read these words without images of the past decade’s ongoing secular fundamentalism—the canceling, the shaming, the iconoclasm, the calls for repentance (but never for those calling for it)—rising before me. But, as Ellul would say, these are demonic parodies of Christianity.

Michael’s latest book is Sophia in Exile. 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. There are also a few spots open in the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening as Christian Path course being offered at the end of April. See more here.

1. E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, vol. 3 (Oxford, 1923), 3:423-24.

2. Sergey M. Solovyov, Vladimir Solovyov: His Life and Creative Evolution, trans. Aleksey Gibson (Eastern Christian Publications, 2000), 464.

3. Jacques Ellul, The New Demons, trans. C. Edward Hopkin (Seabury Press, 1975), 62.

4. Ibid., 24.

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