We’re all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars. —Oscar Wilde
In July, The Imaginative Conservative celebrated its fifth anniversary. “The first five years have been a journey of words, ideas, art, music, wit, and wonder,” wrote W. Winston Elliott III, The Imaginative Conservative’s editor-in-chief. “Let the adventure continue.” Although I am honoured to be a part of that journey and am happy to second Winston’s edifying words, my own recent adventures as editor of the St. Austin Review have reminded me that the adventure is also something of a perilous quest.
Over the past few months I have been dragged through the gutter by powerful forces beyond my control. It has been a sobering and a battering experience, reminding me of the might of the giants against whom The Imaginative Conservative and the St. Austin Review are battling. Indeed, the experience in the gutter has heightened the sense of privilege that I feel to be editor of the StAR and part of the team of regular columnists who write for Winston Elliott’s illustrious journal.
It is now almost fourteen years since the St. Austin Review was launched. It was September 2001, the month of 9-11 and, on a happier note, the month in which I arrived in the United States from my native England. I have been honoured to be its editor since the beginning and we have been happily growing old together ever since! Recently, however, the St. Austin Review and I have been dragged through the mire by the faceless bullies of gutter technology, who have seized our website from us in what can only be called an act of cyber-mugging.
It all began when I tried to renew the domain name for the StAR website. It had been almost ten years since I registered the name with GoDaddy. It was hardly surprising, therefore, that I had forgotten the PIN, which I needed to access my GoDaddy account. (One would have thought that this would not have been a major issue.) The problem was that the name was registered from an old e-mail address which, not surprisingly, had changed in the intervening decade. The folks on the help-desk, though polite, had no authority to deal with this problem and gave me an e-mail address from which I never received anything but robotically produced auto-replies insisting that documentation from the IRS was needed before I could access my account. Such documentation did not exist because the St. Austin Review was registered in the United Kingdom. I scanned all the documents necessary to prove that I was the person who had registered the domain name and that I was legally entitled to do so. In response, I received another robotic auto-response telling me that I needed to send the relevant (non-existent) IRS documents. I repeatedly received the same robotic auto-replies.
I was clearly being prevented from renewing the domain name because GoDaddy could make much more money (so they hoped) by getting me to bid for it once they put it up for auction. Having been robbed by robots in an act of cyber-mugging, I had no intention of joining an auction to get my stolen property back at probably a thousand times greater cost than the simple cost of renewing the domain name, especially as I would be bidding against rich cyber-extortionists. In consequence, StAR’s website was taken from us and has fallen under the control of new owners, whom Chesterton would have called new unhappy lords, who have put obscene images on it. This latest act has made me wonder whether the motives for the cyber-mugging were more than merely mercenary.
Indeed, it reminds me of a powerful scene in The Lord of the Rings. At one of the darkest moments in the story, Frodo and Sam arrive at the Cross-Roads en route to Mordor. By the light of the setting sun, they see the statue of an ancient king, “a huge sitting figure, still and solemn as the great stone kings of Argonath.” To their horror, they see that the violent and vandalizing hands of orcs had maimed it and defaced it, defiling it with foul graffiti, “idle scrawls mixed with the foul symbols that the maggot-folk of Mordor used.” The ancient statue had been decapitated, “and in its place was set in mockery a round rough-hewn stone, rudely painted by savage hands in the likeness of a grinning face with one large red eye in the midst of its forehead.” Like the statue of the king, our once beautiful website was a reflection of the goodness of civilized culture, and, like the statue, it had been defiled by orcs and defaced with foul pornographic graffiti.
Such thoughts lead me to wonder whether anti-Christian forces were at work and whether it was an act of sabotage and not simply an act of greed. As Belloc said, outside is the night and strange things in the night! And these forces, stealing Christian websites and then posting pornographic images on them, are not only outside in the night, they are of the night and in the service of darker forces still. My response, upon seeing the website used for pornographic purposes, was to say the St. Michael prayer—not so much for the protection of our little StAR, shining falteringly in the dark, but for those poor souls who are trying to put it out.
Faced with such darkness, it should come as no surprise that I am all the more determined to keep StAR‘s candle burning!
My involvement with the St. Austin Review has always been a labour of love and we have been blessed to count some of the finest writers amongst our contributors, including Pope Benedict XVI, who, as Cardinal Ratzinger, gave us first English-language rights to his article “On Catholicity,” and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who, as Bishop of Wales, gave us an article on Russian Orthodox liturgy. Other illustrissimi who have graced our pages would be happily too numerous to list. We will not be silenced. We have a new website and we will rise from the ashes of this latest attack on our mission, which is nothing less than to evangelize our darkened culture through the power of goodness, truth and beauty.
Although, like The Imaginative Conservative, we can claim to be one of the finest Christian publications in the world, we have always been handicapped by a lack of resources to make ourselves known. This has left us prone to brutal attacks by the cyber-muggers and cyber-extortionists who prowl through the techno-gutter looking for victims. And thus I found myself being dragged through the gutter by these powerful forces. Battered and bruised, I was reminded exactly how sordid and squalid is life in the gutter and how crucial it is to keep looking at the stars!
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.