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‘Above all…to thine own self be true’?

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By Anthony Esolen
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October 3, 2012 (Public Discourse) - “This above all,” says the old counselor to his son, advising the lad before his departure for France to play the young aristocrat on tour, “to thine own self be true.” Maintain that truth, he says, and then it will follow, “as the night the day, / Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Shakespeare, alas, is so great a poet that his readers sometimes mistake deliberate banality for wisdom. This famous line is a case in point. It is uttered by Polonius, a shallow, prating, tedious old man, who is anything but straightforward in his behavior. He encourages his daughter Ophelia to play hard to get, to land the prince who loves her; he sends a servant to France to spy on his son; and he is slain while hiding behind the curtain in the Queen’s room in order to eavesdrop on her conversation with Hamlet. “Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell,” says Hamlet, “I took thee for thy better.”

Shakespeare is deeply suspicious of people who are true to themselves, and not to God or to their country: such, in his three parts of Henry VI, are the proud self-absorbed villains Suffolk and Richard of York, responsible for instigating the civil wars that embroil England during the fifteenth century. But this suspicion seems not to have entered the minds of the leaders of the Girl Guides of Australia, who have recently revised the oath the girls must take. From now on, instead of swearing loyalty to God, to the queen, and to Australia, each girl will swear, “I will be true to myself and to my beliefs.”

It’s easy enough to enjoy a hearty laugh at the stupidity of the change. Indeed, the oath is not an oath at all, but rather implies the repudiation of all oaths. To say, “I will be true to myself,” is equivalent to saying, “I will do just as I please,” nor does the addition of “my beliefs” provide any limit to the narcissism, since what is emphasized is not the objective truth of those beliefs, or their transcendent authority, but merely the fact that they happen to be mine. When they cease to please me, then, I am free to alter them, to “believe” something else, to “bend with the remover to remove.” When the wind turns, so does the weathervane.

Why attach any importance to something so petty? “Stupidity is always a vice,” writes Jacques Maritain, and if man is by nature a political animal, then this sort of institutionalized stupidity has implications for the polity. No doubt many of the founders of the United States were selfish in their personal lives; but the men who signed the Declaration of Independence took the irrevocable step beyond that selfishness, pledging all that they had and all that they were, even their “sacred honor,” for the welfare of their country. It was not devotion to himself that kept George Washington firm throughout the bitter winter at Valley Forge.

Man finds himself by giving himself away in devotion to what is objectively good and true and beautiful; the converse also is true, that he loses himself by narcissism. Witness the Greek myth of the boy, Narcissus, wasting away as he gazes upon his own image in the pool. It is impossible to lead a nation of narcissists, then, because there are no fully realized persons to lead. Narcissists do not endure the snow and the ice, with mere rags binding their bleeding feet. A narcissist may well sweat and slog for his own prestige, to be the center of an adoring crowd; but a hundred such, to the extent that they cling to their narcissism, will be like a hundred cats, unable to unite even for the common good.

I say that people who swear to do as they like cannot be led. I do not say that they cannot be imposed upon. They will not be free citizens. They may well be underlings in a tyranny. That is the case in Huxley’s Brave New World. In that novel, a vast system of eugenics, early and continual indoctrination, and totalitarian control rests upon the foundation of hedonism. The people, according to their grade of intelligence, which here replaces social rank and is quite inflexible, receive the “benefit” of consequence-free sexual liaisons and doses of soma, the drug that induces a vapid state of careless good feeling—rather like that produced by television, as Neil Postman pointed out.

People under the influence of soma cannot think, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t express their “beliefs.” Here we come to the crux of the matter. If we encourage people to turn away from what is objectively true and good, to cherish instead their beliefs, whatever those may happen to be, we are teaching them not to think at all. We can do so most effectively by adopting the means of the old Greek sophists. That is, we can, in our massive indoctrination chambers, teach young people to subject traditional beliefs, whether patriotic or cultural or religious, to criticism, usually quite superficial and smug, the better to dispense with them. This we will call “thinking,” but it should rather be called “unthinking,” the energetic avoidance of the issue of truth. Then, when the mental landscape is cleared of all the old organic incrustations—all of its genuine life—it hardly matters what the individual will build there in its stead. It won’t be much. It will be more or less what those who control the means of indoctrination say it will be—though “control” may be too strong a word to apply to people who are themselves the objects of the same indoctrination.

Thus we end up with that great fraud, the idol of “my beliefs,” little more than a mélange of television commercials, sublingual popular song lyrics, dopey schoolbooks, and social fads, hardly different from the “my beliefs” of the Girl Guide standing beside me.

I suppose that such a society can endure as long as the soma is in stock. For people on soma, the past is irrelevant and the future will take care of itself. That is so even when the favorite flavor of soma is that which combines narcissism with the tang of the supposition that what I like will be in concord with what “will make the world a better place,” the final bit of banality that the Australian girls will swear to.

But to take an oath is to be willing to reject all such comforts. A man who says to his bride, “With this ring I thee wed,” is binding himself to her and to her good, come what may. He does not say, “I swear to be true to myself”—for then he might as well take the ring out of his pocket and ceremoniously place it on his own finger. He does not say, “I swear to make our relationship better, according to my personal beliefs about what that will mean,” since that is but a more convoluted form of the expression of self-love. Instead he subjects all that he is and all that he has to someone else. The promise brings into being a time-transcending social reality. It is precisely insofar as the bride and groom swear an oath that binds them regardless of their feelings and of the waywardness of opinion that they make something really new in the world, something whose kind is nonetheless as old as man himself.

One final comment. It is bad to be ignorant, but someone who is ignorant of the courses of the planets can yet be wise in the ways of men. Stupidity is different. Stupidity, I believe, takes real work. Nature provides each of us with a certain measure of dullness and sluggishness of mind; it is only by means of persistence and, for some, hard study that one can deepen that dullness into stupidity. The leaders of the Girl Guides give us a fine example. They say they have striven to be “relevant,” just as the cultural lemmings of the last fifty years have striven to be relevant, whatever that is supposed to mean. So they took a fine old oath, one that just might jog one girl in a hundred from her sleepy self-satisfaction, and tossed it away, in favor of their new invention. They are too stupid to suspect the stupidity. That is well and good, since if we have to be peons, at least we can be peons that primp and preen. Lemmings, unite.

Anthony Esolen is Professor of English at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, and the author of Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child and Ironies of Faith. He has translated Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata and Dante’s The Divine Comedy. This article reprinted with permission from the Public Discourse.


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Quebec groups launch court challenge to euthanasia bill

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By LifeSiteNews staff

As announced when the Quebec legislature adopted Bill 52, An Act respecting end-of-life care, the citizen movement Living with Dignity and the Physicians’ Alliance against Euthanasia, representing together over 650 physicians and 17,000 citizens, filed a lawsuit before the Superior Court of Quebec in the District of Montreal on Thursday.

The lawsuit requests that the Court declare invalid all the provisions of the Act that deal with “medical aid in dying”, a term the groups say is a euphemism for euthanasia. This Act not only allows certain patients to demand that a physician provoke their death, but also grants physicians the right to cause the death of these patients by the administration of a lethal substance.

The two organizations are challenging the constitutionality of those provisions in the Act which are aimed at decriminalizing euthanasia under the euphemism “medical aid in dying”. Euthanasia constitutes a culpable homicide under Canada’s Criminal Code, and the organizations maintain that it is at the core of the exclusive federal legislative power in relation to criminal law and Quebec therefore does not have the power to adopt these provisions.

The organizations also say the impugned provisions unjustifiably infringe the rights to life and to security of patients guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. They further infringe the right to the safeguard of the dignity of the person, which is also protected by the Quebec Charter.

In view of the gravity of the situation and the urgent need to protect all vulnerable persons in Quebec, they are requesting an accelerated management of the case in order to obtain a judgment before the Act is expected to come into force on December 10, 2015.


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Colorado baker appeals gvmt ‘re-education’ order

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By LifeSiteNews staff

A Colorado cake artist who declined to use his creative talents to promote and endorse a same-sex ceremony appealed a May 30 order from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to the Colorado Court of Appeals Wednesday.

The commission’s order requires cake artist Jack Phillips and his staff at Masterpiece Cakeshop to create cakes for same-sex celebrations, forces him to re-educate his staff that Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act means that artists must endorse all views, compels him to implement new policies to comply with the commission’s order, and requires him to file quarterly “compliance” reports for two years. The reports must include the number of patrons declined a wedding cake or any other product and state the reason for doing so to ensure he has fully eliminated his religious beliefs from his business.

“Americans should not be forced by the government – or by another citizen – to endorse or promote ideas with which they disagree,” said the cake artist’s lead counsel Nicolle Martin, an attorney allied with Alliance Defending Freedom. “This is not about the people who asked for a cake; it’s about the message the cake communicates. Just as Jack doesn’t create baked works of art for other events with which he disagrees, he doesn’t create cake art for same-sex ceremonies regardless of who walks in the door to place the order.”

“In America, we don’t force artists to create expression that is contrary to their convictions,” added Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “A paint artist who identifies as homosexual shouldn’t be intimidated into creating a painting that celebrates one-man, one-woman marriage. A pro-life photographer shouldn’t be forced to work a pro-abortion rally. And Christian cake artists shouldn’t be punished for declining to participate in a same-sex ceremony or promote its message.”

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In July 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins asked Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, to make a wedding cake to celebrate their same-sex ceremony. In an exchange lasting about 30 seconds, Phillips politely declined, explaining that he would gladly make them any other type of baked item they wanted but that he could not make a cake promoting a same-sex ceremony because of his faith. Craig and Mullins, now represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, immediately left the shop and later filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division. The case now goes to the Colorado Court of Appeals as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Craig.

“Jack, and other cake artists like him – such as those seen on TV shows like ‘Ace of Cakes’ and ‘Cake Boss’ – prepare unique creations that are inherently expressive,” Tedesco explained. “Jack invests many hours in the wedding cake creative process, which includes meeting the clients, designing and sketching the cake, and then baking, sculpting, and decorating it. The ACLU calls Jack a mere ‘retail service provider,’ but, in fact, he is an artist who uses his talents and abilities to create expression that the First Amendment fully protects."

Celebrity cake artists have written publicly about their art and the significant expressive work that goes into the artistic design process for wedding cakes.


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Prisoner of conscience Mary Wagner appeals her conviction

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By Tony Gosgnach

TORONTO -- As promised, Mary Wagner has, through her counsel Dr. Charles Lugosi, filed a formal notice of appeal on numerous points regarding her recent, almost two-year-long court case that ended on June 12.

Justice Fergus O’Donnell of the Ontario Court of Justice rejected every application made by the defence – including for access to abortion center records, public funding, standing for a constitutional challenge and for expert witnesses to be heard – before he found Wagner guilty and sentenced her to five months in jail on a charge of mischief and four months on four counts of failing to comply with probation orders.

He further levied two years of probation, with terms that she stay at least 100 metres away from any abortion site. However, because Wagner had spent a greater time in jail than the sentence, she was freed immediately. She had been arrested at the “Women’s Care Clinic” abortion site on Lawrence Avenue West in Toronto on August 15, 2012 after attempting to speak to abortion-bound women there. She then spent the duration of the trial in prison for refusing to sign bail conditions requiring her to stay away from abortion sites.

Wagner is using the matter as a test case to challenge the current definition of a human being in Canadian law – that is, that a human being is legally recognized as such only after he or she has fully emerged from the birth canal in a breathing state.

Wagner’s notice states the appeal is regarding:

  • Her conviction and sentence on a single count of mischief (interference with property),
  • Her conviction and sentence on four counts of breach of probation,
  • The order denying public funding,
  • The order denying the disclosure of third-party records,
  • The order denying the admission of evidence from experts on the applicant’s constitutional challenge concerning the constitutional validity of Section 223 of the Criminal Code,
  • The order denying the admission of evidence from experts concerning the construction of Section 37 of the Criminal Code,
  • The probation order denying Wagner her constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion on all public sidewalks and public areas within 100 metres of places where abortions are committed,
  • And each conviction and sentence and all orders and rulings made by O’Donnell.

In the notice of appeal, Lugosi cites numerous points on which O’Donnell erred:

  • He denied Wagner her constitutional right to make full answer and defence.
  • He denied Wagner her right to rely on Section 37 of the Criminal Code, which permits “everyone” to come to the third-party defence and rescue of any human being (in this case, the preborn) facing imminent assault.
  • He decided the factual basis of Wagner’s constitutional arguments was a waste of the court’s time and that no purpose would have been served by having an evidentiary hearing on her Charter application because, in the current state of Canadian law, it had no possibility of success.
  • He misapplied case law and prejudged the case, “giving rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias and impeding the legal evolution of the law to adapt to new circumstances, knowledge and changed societal values and morals.”
  • He accepted the Crown’s submission that it is beyond the jurisdiction of the courts to question the jurisdiction of Parliament legally to define “human being” in any manner Parliament sees fit.
  • He ruled Section 223 of the Criminal Code is not beyond the powers of Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
  • He ruled Section 223 of the Criminal Code does not violate the Preamble to, as well as Sections 7, 11(d), 15 and 26, of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  • He denied Wagner standing to raise a constitutional challenge to the validity of Section 223 of the Criminal Code.
  • He ruled that Section 223 of the Criminal Code applied generally throughout the entire Criminal Code and used it to deny unborn human beings the benefit of equal protection as born human beings under Section 37 of the Criminal Code.
  • He denied the production and disclosure of third-party records in the possession of the “Women’s Care Clinic” abortion site, although the records were required to prove Wagner was justified in using reasonable force in the form of oral and written words to try to persuade pregnant mothers from killing their unborn children by abortion.
  • He denied Wagner the defence of Section 37 of the Criminal Code by ruling unborn children did not come within the scope of human beings eligible to be protected by a third party.
  • He ruled Wagner did not come within the scope of Section 37 because she was found to be non-violent (in that she did not use physical force).
  • He ruled the unborn children Wagner was trying to rescue were not under her protection.
  • He denied Wagner the common-law defences of necessity and the rescue of third parties in need of protection.
  • He denied Wagner public funding to make full answer and defence for a constitutional test case of great public importance and national significance.
  • He imposed an unconstitutional sentence upon Wagner by, in effect, imposing an injunction as a condition of probation, contrary to her constitutional rights of free speech, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.

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Among the orders Lugosi is seeking are:

  • That an appeal be allowed against conviction on all counts and that a verdict of acquittal be entered on all counts,
  • That Section 223 of the Criminal Code be found unconstitutional  and contrary to Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982, as well as the unwritten constitution of Canada,
  • That the sentence be declared unconstitutional and contrary to Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and the unwritten constitution of Canada or that a new trial be conducted, with Wagner permitted to make full answer and defence, be given standing to make a constitutional attack on Section 223 of the Criminal Code, with the admission of expert witnesses,
  • That the Women’s Care Clinic abortion site be made to produce third-party records pertaining to patients seen on August 15, 2012 (when Wagner entered the site),
  • And that there be public funding for two defence counsels at any retrial and for any appeal related to the case.

No date has yet been established for a decision on the appeal or hearings.

A defence fund for Wagner’s case is still raising money. Details on how to contribute to it can be found here.


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