Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Man & the Machine

Step into the driver's seat of a pre-World War II car and find yourself in a very foreign world. The dashboard sports no buttons, save in a few odd American cars. No gadgets and few instruments. It should all be simple and straight forward. Put your key into the column, turn, and voila! Nothing happens. Nowadays keys, in everything other than cars, unlock things. Back then they unlocked the controls to your car, but did not start it.

To start it turn the fuel intake up all the way, pull the Spark lever on the wheel down to retard, and push the starter button. If your car is a Rolls-Royce or a few other quirky models you cannot start the car with just the battery. Turn the power switch from Battery to Battery & Magneto. Then press start, turn up the spark, slowly lower the throttle back to a normal level, and switch the power back to battery. The first few disparate metal pangs will overcome you with the ominous feeling something is very wrong until the front jumps, the sounds increase in frequency, and the engine finally turns over. Old cars are just great.

My father nurtured my interest in antique automobiles. When he was my age he collected classic cars and other antique vehicles. A "classic car" is not synonymous with antiquity or popular sentiment. A classic car is a high priced, limited edition car made between 1925 and 1948. His parents bought him his first car, a 1939 Ford Deluxe, at age 13 hoping that if he was "working on it" in the garage he would stay away from the local gangs. It worked and fostered a very contagious obsession. In the 1960s the cars we now call classics were remarkably cheap to purchase. Lightyears removed from contemporary vehicles in design and features, classics were tall, sported pronounced fenders, lacked power steering, rarely made over 200 horsepower, and were difficult to brake. Moreover, they predated the standardization of car production after World War II, meaning repairs and maintenance were expensive. In his 20s my father owned both a V-12 and a V-16 Cadillac, a Lincoln KB, a Rolls Phantom II, a Model A Ford, a Packard, and a few other collectibles in addition to his more road worthy '57 Chevy Bel Air and '63 Corvette Stingray. Like most men at the time, before student loan debt saddled those in their 20s with financial limitation, my father found cars were fun and met the male need for mechanical relationships.

Men love machines. Why? The machine is man's escape. We rarely confront our emotions like women, probably because we are less self-reflective. For all my ego I do not spend much time thinking about myself or my life other than in the shower, something I could say for most men I know. When life becomes difficult we tend to want to step outside ourselves and do something involved that does not require noise or thinking. A machine is the perfect solution. One fellow I knew used to mow his lawn whenever his wife bothered him. I go for a drive. Indeed, the liturgy itself is a kind of machine wherein one forgets one's self, one's problems, one's emotions and gives one's soul and mind to the ritual worship of the One Who Is. This is why men go to Vespers and women go to the Sacred Heart devotion on Fridays. Men are wired for machines it seems, which is perhaps why some of us find it so easy to appreciate fine automobiles even if we do not own them.

"The mighty Duesenberg", the best car made until
it went out of business because of the Depression.
Another facet of older cars that continues to fascinate me is the quality of the designs and execution, both mechanically and stylistically. Cars built for wealthier clientele, in contrast to modern cars for the rich, hardly ever resembled each other. A customer bought the chassis, engine, electrical system, and drivetrain, from the car company but a "coachbuilder" created the body. Coachbuilding died more or less after the War, surviving for a short period in England until 1964. Coachbuilding meant hand building. Indeed, the best cars at the time were all hand built, from Packard to Pierce Arrow. The car maker in Derby did not enjoy the distinct reputation for custom construction it does today. I often muse when the presenters of Top Gear do some gimmick with dated cars from the 1980s that in thirty years today's cars will not be on the road. They have too many damn computers, plastic parts, and non-mechanical bits to break. Old cars' simplicity helped ensure their longevity. Duesenberg (which in 1928 could do 100mph in second gear) managed to put reliable power brakes on cars with adjustable fluids long before anyone else. And of course Rolls-Royce never did anything revolutionary with their cars. They just made cars to a higher standard than anyone did until the 1980s, which is why over sixty percent of the cars they have made since 1904 are extant.

Today's cars lack the same appeal to me, not just because they are eye soars in contrast to the elegant and graceful examples of yesteryear, but because they are too civilized, too computerized, too refined for me. As a lover of mechanical things, why would I want something that offers me no intimacy with the machinery? Even a 1950s American car that drives like a boat still has a tangible engine that can be "tinkered with" and some semblance of control by the driver. When strolling the town last weekend with a friend we happened upon a new Ferrari worth half a million dollars. That car has paddle shifters which imitate a manual shift without the exacting effort, a navigation system, and a racing mode that pushes all the power to the wheels when starting from a stand still. These features alienate the driver from his machine for the sake of performance which he will likely never use. I would not be surprised if the man who owned that car is a sixty year old businessman who needed a means of compensating for his recently lost libido.

Contemporary cars make the driver into a passenger with a round piece of composite fiber in front of him. Unlike my father, I will never own a V-16 car or a Stingray, but I can meet my masculine need for escapism by getting a manual shifter at least before the modernists take even that away from me.


  1. Another riveting Article, The Rad Trad.

    Thank You.

    Anyone who loves a Duesenberg, and who can say "No Thanks" to a new Ferrari, has got a real appreciation of "Tradition", in more ways than one.

    You've given me some ideas.

  2. After reading your post, I feel like the exception confirming the rule: I feel absolutely no love towards cars nor any mechanical machine -except the 50-year-old tractor my father still owns. Perhaps my equivalent to your seek of machines is to translate ancient Babylonian texts, a quite mechanical activity, but also ideal to let my mind fly to another world...

    Indeed, the liturgy itself is a kind of machine wherein one forgets one's self, one's problems, one's emotions and gives one's soul and mind to the ritual worship of the One Who Is. This is why men go to Vespers and women go to the Sacred Heart devotion on Fridays

    Dear Rad Trad, this is a passage worthy of reflection. (Indeed, Sacred Hearth iconography has always seemed to me very affeminate.)


    1. Alright, I feel the need to do this. Please compare these by putting up the image and then playing the music in the background.

      Exhibit 1


      Exhibit 2


    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Two Romanesque examples, from Spain:


      I must say that, at least in Spain, there is a growing feeling of distress among, (male) Tradistanis themselves, towards affeminate XVIII-XX century iconography. But all they put as an alternative are the hiperrealistic (sometimes even grotesque) Baroque processional images...

      K. e.

    4. Same here, Ke. Just because I have XY chromosomes does not translate into a fascination with machinery, computers, etc. Yes, I do like trains, but not for their technical parts/function but for the leisure according whilst looking out a window when traveling by train. Liturgy can be a (justifiable) form of escapism.

      But, my dear RadTrad, how does one reconcile the assumption that men will keep their emotions bottled up and not be self-reflective while promoting the ideal of romantic friendship at the same time? I hardly can imagine a true friendship amongst men who don't open up; this is one of the reasons why friendships don't take hold and remain acquaintenances.I'm constantly engaged in melancholic self-reflection, often too while also "escaping" into esoteric interests of choice.

    5. As a part-melancholic I find both romantic friendships and mechanical things helpful, the latter when the former is not present! Even with great friends, sometimes one wants to have some alone time. The choleric other half of me prevents too much rumination...

  3. "The automatic transmission takes first place among the heresies of Blessed Augustine and is the source of all the errors the Franks."

    -Fr. Romanides

  4. I can't help but shake my head at those who malign the piety of others and wish to turn them from their devotions. At best this sort of attitude is misguided. At worst, it is a grave evil. Like St. L-M Gringion de Montfort says...

    To help you to be better armed against their onslaught [i.e. of the reprobate enemies of Jesus and Mary and their Rosary] I am going to tell you some of the things these people are always saying and thinking. This is to put you on your guard against them all, but not so much in the case of heretics and out-and-out licentious people, but particularly those who are "respectable" in the eyes of the world, and those who are devout (strange as it may seem) but have no use for the Holy Rosary.


    "Oh yes, the Rosary is all right for old women who can't read. But surely the Little Office of Our Lady is much more worthwhile than the Rosary? Or the Seven Penitential Psalms? And how could anything be more beautiful than the Psalms which are inspired by the Holy Ghost? You say you have agreed to say the Rosary every day; this is nothing but a fire of straw----you know very well it won't last! Wouldn't it be better to undertake less and to be more faithful about it?"


    Similarly, not a few clever people and learned scholars may occasionally try to dissuade you from saying the Rosary (but they are, of course, proud and self willed). They would rather encourage you to say the Seven Penitential Psalms or some other prayers. If a good confessor has given you a Rosary for your penance and has told you to say it every day for a fortnight or a month, all you have to do to get your penance changed to prayers, fasts, Masses or alms, is to go to confession to one of these others.

    If you consult certain people in the world who lead lives of prayer, but who have never tried the Rosary, they will not only not encourage it but will turn people away from it to get them to learn contemplation----just as though the Holy Rosary and contemplation were incompatible, just as if all the Saints who have been devoted to the Rosary had not enjoyed the heights of sublime contemplation.

    Your nearest enemies will attack you all the more cruelly because you are so close to them. I am speaking of the powers of your soul and your bodily senses----these are distractions of the mind, distress and uncertainty of the will, dryness of the heart, exhaustion and illnesses of the body----all these will combine with the devil to say to you: "Stop saying your Rosary; that is what is giving you such a headache! Give it up; there is no obligation under pain of sin. If you must say it, say only part of it; the difficulties that you are having over it are a sign that Almighty God does not want you to say it. You can finish it tomorrow when you are more in the mood, etc. . . . etc. . . ."

    Finally, my dear Brother, the Daily Rosary has so many enemies that I look upon the grace of persevering in it until death as one of the greatest favors Almighty God can give us.

    Persevere in it and if you are faithful you will eventually have the wonderful crown which is waiting for you in Heaven: "Be thou faithful until death: and I will give thee the crown of life."

    1. I remember Louis De Montfort quite well. His 'True Devotion to Mary' was one of three religious books I was given to read by my parents when I was about twelve or thirteen. The other two were 'Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence' and 'The Spiritual Combat'.

      De Montfort always struck me as a Baroque Era saint who was extremely holy but touted his own personal devotion as THE path to salvation. I understood his book perfectly, it just didn't speak to me. I felt like I was being pitched something that was never meant for me.

      I'll have to give 'Trustful Surrender' another chance eventually. I don't remember it leaving much of an impact since I had just finished the fiery 'True Devotion'.

      'The Spiritual Combat' - however - was excellent.

    2. "[A]s long as God thus deigns to work in the soul, the Marian life greatly helps and favors perfection. However, all things must be done at their proper time. Before this action of the Holy Spirit has taken place and His actual attraction felt, it is inadvisable for the soul to force itself or strive in a clumsy way to imitate this action. It is sufficient for the soul to go to this loving Mother with an affectionate heart and to love her with less of that childlike simplicity until Mary deigns to impart to it the spirit of the Marian life. When souls united to God and drawn by Mary are led, as it were, by the hand to this higher sphere, then they learn by experience that all that had been written here concerning the Marian life in and for Mary is true."

      -Michael of St. Augustine

  5. I think you would do better to promote the public singing of vespers than to cast aspersion on what pious practices people to have. The latter is not going to further the end of the former. People are not going to pick up their breviaries simply because you tear away their miraculous medals and scapulars.

    1. But how does one actually promote (i.e. as in get people to attend) Vespers and the primacy of the Liturgy when they are hard-stuck in devotionalism? I ask as one who not only theorizes the ideal on paper (blog) but is actively engaged in doing exactly what you suggest in my parish. RadTrad lays the necessary and most beneficial philosophical framework for why and how we ought to be recovering our proper sense of PUBLIC and corporate worship; private devotions should be just that...private.

    2. Bob,

      You are reacting to a parody of what you think I said and did not read what I actually wrote. You will not find me, either in this article or elsewhere on this blog, advocating a door-to-door Rosary confiscation during which everyone will be given a copy of the Hours. I pray the Rosary every day, but I also pray the Office because it, not the Rosary, is *the* prayer of the Church and *the* Tradition of prayer everywhere in Christendom.

      My comment in this article related to masculinity, too, not devotions. In my own experience women hardly ever attend the Office outside of the Orthodox churches. At the Oxford Oratory men outnumber women 2 to 1 at Vespers. I can only recall two women during my years at Byzantine churches who ever attended Vespers. I have never seen a woman at Mattins/Orthros either. Yet ladies are to be seen whenever there is adoration, first Saturdays, and the like. I do not want to get rid of those things. I merely observed men and women have different dispositions which reflect in religious exercise..... Relax....

    3. "Effeminate" Christians (per Justinian), whomever he has in mind, have the right to their devotions.

      For what it's worth, at every compline or vespers service I have attended (which admittedly is not a diverse sample), the women significantly outnumber men. Maybe your vespers are much manlier than ours.

    4. Of course effete Christians (church ladies and soft limp-wristed males) have the right to their particular devotions. We just need alternatives, alternatives that are all but forgotten.

      Just a question. What sort of church do you attend? In my Greek Catholic Church men significantly outnumber women at Vespers.

    5. Bob,

      if you read my comment carefully, you'll see that I have not talked about effeminate people, but about effeminate iconography. An importanct distinction. I have known only a few effeminate men so far, and none of them were Christians even in the broadest sense of the word.

      The fact that some devotions fit quite well to some people doesn't mean that they must work with others - like myself.

  6. I disagree, but that is because I think you are conflating two very different sorts of things. Your mistake is that the Divine Office is a public liturgical action of the Church. It is not a devotion at all in the sense of the rosary etc. Neither is a replacement for the other. It is also a mistake to label something like the rosary as a strictly "private" devotion since, while there is something to be said for the stillness of private contemplation, it is clear that Mary and Jesus also intend these to be shared publicly among the faithful, and this is confirmed by the many indulgences the Church has granted for group recitations.

    I think you also misdiagnose the reason. Like I said above, it is unlikely that abolishing devotions is going to miraculously bring back public recitation of the office. How many people attend rosaries or miraculous medal novenas and things that sort? A couple dozen? Maybe things are different wherever you are, but in my experience, only a small handful of the mass-going population is present. When our parish has public compline (which is not the whole year-through), we have a similar number of people who attend, and they are largely composed of the same people I might expect to see at a public rosary. But most people it seems do not care about participating beyond the minimum in the Church's public worship.

    Another reason is, aside from apathy, it is very difficult for parishes to do the office because our priests are run ragged saying masses all day. Our pastor is the only priest assigned to our parish and he says three masses on Sundays, the last of which does not end until after 7:00. So in addition to all that and besides his required participation, he would probably have to expend a good bit of effort overseeing and organizing it. I think you would be most productive if rather than denigrating venerable devotions, you spent some effort spreading interest in the office within your parish and trying to organize a stable, interested group and minimize the burden on your clergy for whenever they decide they would be able to do it.

    1. I can't speak for everyone on the blog, but I would never dream of ABOLISHING the devotions or actively banning them if I (improbably were to run my own parish.I would simply make no public touting of them and remind people from the pulpit every week of the Office.

      Devotions aren't all bad. The rosary can be quite spiritually fulfilling, the brown scapular can be a good reminder of penance and our physical weakness (it is not, however, a magic ticket to heaven), and the Stations of the Cross (the St. Francis of Assisi version) is very beautiful.

      My personal problem with the Sacred Heart Devotion has less to do with the Love it is meant to symbolize (at least, that's what I think it's about if I remember right...) but what it ends up being usually: a bunch of church-ladies gazing for hours at badly made artwork of a pale-white West European effete "Jesus". If men see that and ONLY that as what it means to pray, how can we expect to retain those men?

      I agree with you overall. Don't spend too much time bashing the devotions. They should never have replaced the Office to begin with and they are not simply going to be replaced by it. If we promote the Office on its own merits then there will be those who see the depth and the beauty within it. Devotions will be on the side as optional bonus prayers to enrich the personal private life of each Catholic

    2. I think we will have to disagree on the last point. The office and devotions are fundamentally different categories of prayer. Neither should be relegated to the closet.

    3. I didn't say either should be relegated to the closet. Catholics are going to pray their entrenched their devotions regardless because that's what they are used to. It's best to just leave them alone at it and initiate the young into the beauty of the office.

      If anything, it is the Office that was pushed into the closet and marginalized as the priest's little prayer book.

    4. I agree with LOB. Strongman, you're putting words into my mouth. My latest initiative, with the blessing of my (diocesan) pastor at a TLM-only parish, is the formation of a men's schola (men meaning males 14 and up). Twice last month, eight of us, half under the age 20, prayed Terce in our chapel sine sacerdote. I disagree, SM, that a priest is necessary for a group to get together and pray the Office. Of course, for Vespers and other services with ceremonial, we do, but I've come to a clearer conclusion that the current crisis and long dearth of the Office's rightful place is a call to action for laymen to step up and restore it, in some way as we are able depending on circumstances. What I've always found offputting and wrong-headed (shot in the foot?) is when SSPX or FSSP priests actively DISCOURAGE lay people from praying the Office, except in public services, despite the fact that my 9 years with the SSPX instilled in me the very knowledge of and love for the Office. What I do now at my parish is absolutely encouraged by my priest but would be verbotten in an SSPX or FSSP parish precisely because they internalize a spirit of private devotionalism applied the Office (aka the Jesuit mentality). But, it doesn't have to be that way, and we as laymen don't have to stay on the sidelines. And not to pat myself on the back, but I'm also married and have five children, ages 10 on down; the habit of praying the Office daily stuck from my single years and now Compline and some other Offices are part of our FAMILY prayer time; in fact, my two oldest kids now can cantor Compline, so there need not be some false dichotomy between the Office and the domestic duties of state. Sorry, RadTrad, for my mini-post.

      P.S. I also don't think we should abolish devotions, but deemphasize them over time to return them to their proper, balanced use vis-a-vis the Liturgy. And yes, they are two different kinds of prayer, but the Liturgy, the more important of the two, has long been neglected in the West.

    5. I was once discouraged from even trying to pray Vespers by my ICRSS pastor, who told me: "the Office is for us priests, you laymen already have the Rosary".

    6. I know a higher-ranking FSSP priest here in Europe who encourages the divine office, although not publicly. Generally I think we have more pressing issues in the Church and the world to cope with rather than arguing about who should and who shouldn't pray the Divine Office.

    7. You might not see it this way, but I think restoration of the Office would be a helpful step. I don't understand the mentality of anyone who says we shouldn't pray it.

      My first visit to a Coptic church made a genuine impact on me. These people have suffered for centuries under the Crescent's yoke and have survived on. Praying vespers and compline with them (all 3 hours of it) was truly something. If the liturgical life (including the Office) has helped them keep together under the worst of circumstances, then can we not take something from that? I know doomsdayers in our churches like to speak incessantly of the creeping persecution (I myself don't doubt that it could or will happen eventually) but they should look to and ask the Middle Eastern Christians for lessons in enduring persecution.

    8. Interesting point indeed, LOB.

  7. Yes, we cannot merely abolish the semi-public private devotions. To do such is impious! It is so hard to implement public celebrations of the Divine Office because the Office has been a "private" devotion for centuries a la the breviary. The laity have their scapulars and rosaries, the priests have their breviaries. The breviary is "the wife" of the priest, as I was told by so many Ecclesia Dei community priests. Perhaps they don't want to prostitute out their wives to the masses. (Pun intended?) Now that's a strong metaphor, but I think it has some weight: the life of the average secular diocesan priest is highly individualistic. They are essential bachelors, who, when off the clock, are men unto themselves with their own blogs and cable tv and cabinets of Scotch. And is even three Masses on a Sunday really that taxing? Say the words, read the same sermon. Three Masses is basically five hours. The average American family man works 8-10 hours every day with a commute and then comes home to his family. The family man doesn't have the ability to delegate his familial tasks to a cadre of paid parish staff members and a whole host of volunteers to get the job done. Yes, there are many, many good, hard working priests out there zealous for souls; there are also quite a number of slugs.

    1. I assure you that our priest is not a sluggard. You rightly point out, however, that the Divine Office will never obtain any public success if it is regarded as a private devotion (and, as I said above, I think it would be mistaken to call it a devotion at all). Christians need to draw inspiration from the primitive Church in Jerusalem where "all they that believed, were together, and had all things common."

  8. You'll recall the Father of American Conservatism and Catholic convert, Russell Kirk, termed the automobile the "mechanical Jacobin," and refused to drive.

    I hate the damn things and loathe anything mechanical, and can't believe you'd compare affection for such a nightmare of modernity to love of traditional liturgy. On the other hand, if you'd like to talk horses...