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On the “success sequences” and Bill O’Reilly.


I was delighted to see the editor take aim at the “success sequence” in the final pages of the most recent (Septuagesima 2021) issue of The Lamp. It’s certainly true, as he claims, that the success sequence makes a certain kind of bloodless risk aversion (or “cowardice,” as it used to be called) the norm of human life. Walther is also right to say that the success sequence in many variations involves a contraceptive element. But versions of the success sequence without any (explicit) discussion of delayed childbearing have for years been a sacred cow of what is called “social conservatism” in America, which orthodox Catholics are typically expected to align themselves with.

That is why I was so pleased by the editor’s disregard for the idea. For far too long, American Catholics have been pretending in public that so-called culture war issues can and ought to be settled by appeals to material interests—“married couples have higher incomes,” “the children raised by gay couples score lower on standardized tests,” “teens who delay having sex are more likely to graduate from college,” “giving unmarried parents welfare disincentivizes marriage,” etc. One reason we should stop saying this kind of thing is that many of these claims are simply not true once you’ve understood what the statistics are measuring. But even when these claims are true, they simply are not the reasons Holy Mother Church teaches the things she does. I invite you to search Humanae vitae, for example, for Saint Paul VI’s discussion of the reduced nursing home expenses experienced in old age by those who have children. I assure you that you will not find such an argument.

The result of making these arguments is pretty clear. We lose every single time, and we come off as lacking the courage of our convictions. I am not so naïve as to claim that if we said what we actually believed, the culture would suddenly be transformed. But at the very least, we’d be telling the truth, and, should we lose, we would do so with our dignity intact. The editor’s distaste for the success sequence is a great start. I hope to see more.

John-Paul Teti, Rockville, Maryland

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 I found Sam Kriss’s piece on Bill O’Reilly’s pop history books (Septuagesima 2021) rather unusual. Kriss contends that the main theme of these books is in drawing a link between greatness, nudity, and graphic murder. He then digs up old Dr. Freud’s Victorian stethoscope to bring out an apparent latent pornographic fascination. We live in age where, we are told, our dreams have been exhaustively interpreted and so everything is sex.

The piece hits a rock, however, when the author visits O’Reilly’s book on Jesus Christ. He writes that O’Reilly’s supposedly leering gaze becomes “uncomfortable” when it meets “an object of solemn religious faith.” Does it really? I see the same “greatness-nudity-graphic murder” scene in every Roman Catholic church I visit. It is Christ’s Passion, depicted in the Stations of the Cross.

Is it pornographic? It is if that is how you frame the world. It was to the pervert Magnus Hirschfeld, whom Kriss mentions. It was not to the “hundreds of years of artists and mystics—some of whom were far from impious” that Kriss also mentions. Kriss has unlocked O’Reilly’s soul using the key provided by Freud and Hirschfeld. Perhaps he should have seen if the key the centuries of artists and mystics proved a better fit.

Philip Pilkington, London

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The author replies:

Mr. Pilkington is quite correct to conclude that I, like the great Dr. Freud and the great Dr. Hirschfeld, am a perverse and impious Jew. I also agree that the same material can be pornographic or non-pornographic, entirely depending on the attitude of the person who takes it up. I’m only mystified by the suggestion that Bill O’Reilly would never stoop to making an erotic spectacle out of his God. My entire essay is an attempt to try the mystical key on the author of Killing Jesus, and it does not turn. He is not in Mr. Pilkington’s camp; he’s in Dr. Freud’s, and Dr. Hirschfeld’s, and mine.

PS: I’m also slightly confused by the notion that psychoanalysis claims to have already “exhaustively interpreted” our dreams. Nothing could be further from the case. It was Freud, after all, who found it necessary to remind the aspiring oneirocritic that “his task is not finished though he is in possession of a complete interpretation of the dream which is ingenious and connected, and which explains all the elements of the dream.” The work of interpretation is never finished; almost all of Freud’s own examples end up simply trailing off at the end, in fear and silence before the vastness of the psyche.

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