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Uncontrollable Irma and Fr John George

  • 20 September 2017


Many striking images of Hurricane Irma stay in the mind. The most haunting were not of the eye of the storm or the surging waters but of the lanes of almost stationary cars creeping out of Miami. The cars, symbols of individuals' control over their movement, were going nowhere. In the meantime the uncontrollable Irma had given a flick of her tail and was now about to give Miami a miss.

The hurricane was a reminder of the uncontrollable elements in human life, well described in Otto's catch phrase for the numinous: mysterium tremendum et fascinans. What cannot be controlled, whether monsters like King Kong or the latest in atomic weaponry, is terrifying, fascinating and takes us beyond our normal calculus. It unmasks and reduces to size all the ways in which we try to control our world. It also encourages us to recognise the difference between reasonable and pathological measures of control.

I was also reminded of the importance of the uncontrollable by the recent death of Fr John George, a Sydney priest who daily submitted comments on our Eureka Street articles, some of which we published. Though no Hurricane Irma, the literary Fr George, the only one whom we knew, was nevertheless easily seen as terrifying and fascinating.

In the Chesterbellocian tradition he laid about him with his broadsword, lambasting the magazine, the people who wrote for it and those who posted on it for their departure from truth and right order. He supplied copious historical theological material in defense of the true faith (usually drawn from the early 20th century Catholic Encyclopedia), and with a single posting could turn a civil exchange on economics into an Irish pub barney on papal authority.

For a magazine that boasts of promoting courteous conversation, and to that end exercises control over postings, he was a moderator's nightmare. But also fascinating: many of our readers looked forward to read his postings, and some even mused whether he was for real or a literary fiction.

Our efforts to control the uncontrollable Fr George reminded us of how limited is our capacity to control and how, as we control, we can turn people into ciphers and threats to be dealt with. Fortunately, we were allowed from time to time to see glimpses of the man behind the posts. In asides he alluded to his experience overseas, his work in schools, his gratitude to the Sydney Archbishop for welcoming