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What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Zippy Catholic: Requiescat in pace

It is with heavy hearts that we at What’s Wrong With the World write of the passing of our former blog colleague, Zippy. Zippy was a founding member of this blog and worked together with us for many years for the restoration of Christian culture in the West. He was recently killed in a tragic bicycle accident. We ask your prayers for his family. He leaves behind wife, children, siblings, parents, nieces, nephews, and many friends. We ourselves who knew him are still reeling from this news.

Those of us who knew Zippy, even only on-line, knew this about him: He was absolutely honest, and he would never betray a principle. He exemplified integrity to a degree that few men achieve in this life. His friends knew that they could have trusted him with their lives, should the need arise. He loved life, in many senses, including his absolute commitment to the absolute value of the lives of the unborn and his absolute rejection of all consequentialist arguments for murder and torture. His tenacity in defense of a principle left the impression that he would cheerfully stand by it even if no one else on earth did. As he put it, “I am unmoved because our first job as moral actors is to act virtuously: to do concretely good acts and avoid concretely evil acts.”

To this tenacity, he added mirth and generosity. Many of us remember warmly the thoughtful gifts he sent to us when the occasion warranted: a huge stuffed animal for a newborn, a camera for an amateur photographer. All of us recall his robust sense of humor.

Zippy had a remarkable effect upon those of us who worked with him closely on the Internet and came to respect him. His opinion of one’s own work and character came to matter intensely. It was difficult to imagine saying, “I really don’t care what Zippy thinks of who I am and what I am doing.” His magnetism and force of character were astonishing. How could a person who kept his own identity so carefully hidden behind a deliberately self-deprecating nom de cyber exercise so much influence on those who came to know him at such great distances? It seems the best explanation is, once again, his manifest truthfulness and integrity.

Despite his anonymity, careful readers might ascertain some personal data. His intellectual agility and brilliance were not limited to the controversies he pursued online. Zippy was, for example, a successful entrepreneur and businessman. He spent much of his free time in the skies as a private aviator. This was a man whose mind was fairly relentless: he didn’t seem to know how to study something without mastery. If he was often perceived as “obsessive” in his discourses, exploring the same topic in multiple posts from every possible angle — perhaps at the risk of driving more superficial thinkers away — well, that’s part of what made him such a good fit for What’s Wrong With the World and its thoughtful readership. It’s also the trait that made him, let us say, occasionally difficult to get along with. Zippy worked hard himself, and he expected a high degree of intellectual rigor and discipline from the rest of us. The truth, for him, was crystal clear and would be equally clear to anyone else who made the effort. Therefore he didn’t always see how others might come to different conclusions in good faith. This perfectly human tendency, so readily forgivable in ourselves, is only noteworthy as a deviation from unreasonably high expectations in Zippy’s case.

Zippy’s discerning readers might have read something else between the lines over the years. One strongly suspects the moral principles he espoused were put into practice in his own life at great personal cost. It was an unavoidable impression: Zippy the man was no stranger to suffering and sacrifice. He must have known in an intimate way that obedience to God could be, in his own words, “straight up Calvary.” He wasn’t philosophizing for display, or theologizing for the thrill of it. No — he was deadly serious. Whatever his personal trials, he must have faced them with unflinching Catholic heroism.

Zippy influenced some of us (especially those who didn't share his extensive and deep moral Catholic formation) into changing our minds about great issues of the day. For instance, when the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would roll around, Zippy could always be counted on to show up in the comment section of various Catholic blogs, with firm, direct, uncompromising rejections of the consequentialist confusion surrounding those awful events. A sample: “Nuking a city of civilians can’t be done morally: it is intrinsically immoral, so every right-thinking person’s ‘rules of engagement’ rule it out.”

As a happy consequence of practical experience in business and finance, together with his intellectual rigor and manfulness, Zippy produced the greatest innovative work of scholarship on the financial crisis of 2008-09, his short book entitled Usury: Frequently Asked Questions (also in free forms here). In this small masterpiece, he recovered and re-integrated, in an engagingly conversational style, the ancient wisdom which undergirds classical prohibitions on usury. Far from being a dusty and discarded old superstition, Zippy demonstrated that usury remains a pernicious evil, the outworking of which exploded into public view ten years ago. “Usury,” he wrote, “is not a matter of the same kind of contract differing only by ‘excessive interest.’ Usurious contracts constitute a kind of contract which is intrinsically immoral by its very nature.” Rather than burden this tribute with a feeble summary of Zippy’s scholarship, we invite readers to obtain the book and wrestle with it themselves.

When C.S. Lewis’s friend Charles Williams died unexpectedly in 1945, Lewis wrote to Owen Barfield,

To put it in a nutshell — what the idea of death has done to him is nothing to what he has done to the idea of death. Hit it for six. Yet it used to rank as a fast bowler!

It is impossible to believe that Zippy is no more, and we as Christians do not have to try to force our minds into that psychologically impossible posture. We know that he still exists — that real person, so full of life, that mind, so full of ideas. And at the last day we have the promise that he shall rise immortal. G.M. Hopkins expresses for us the pain, the loss, and the hope:

But quench her bonniest, dearest to her, her clearest-selvèd spark
Man, how fast his firedint, his mark on mind, is gone!
Both are in an unfathomable, all is in an enormous dark
Drowned. O pity and indignation! Manshape, that shone
Sheer off, disseveral, a star, death blots black out; nor mark
Is any of him at all so stark
But vastness blurs and time beats level. Enough! the Resurrection,
A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, joyless days, dejection.
Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam. Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; world’s wildfire, leave but ash:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.

Farewell, dear friend, until we meet again, in that land where the very air breathes peace, and warriors are forever honored.

Comments (18)

I had no idea of this connection. I enjoyed Zippy's presence here and was always challenged by his arguments and his passion for truth. May his family and friends know the comfort and strength of the Lord as they mourn his loss, and the joy of knowing the loss is only for a time.

While I did not know Zippy, personally, I respected him, greatly. He and I, independently, came up with a refutation of Sola Scriptura based on Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem (or, equivalently, Tarski’s Schematic T). I had always hoped to write a paper with him on it (although, that might have been a tough sell).

I would like to have a Mass said for him. I am glad to find out that his first name is Mathew, because I don’t know how happy the priest would be offering a Mass for someone named Zippy Catholic.

This is truly sad news, but for us Christians, life is merely changed, not ended at death.

Eternal rest grant unto him, oh Lord, and may perpetual light shine on him. May he rest in peace. May his soul and the souls of all of the faithfully departed rest in peace.

May his family know the consolation of the Faith and be assured of our prayers.

The Chicken

How could a person who kept his own identity so carefully hidden behind a deliberately self-deprecating nom de cyber exercise so much influence on those who came to know him at such great distances?

I remember when he first started posting here as Zippy Catholic. I remember that my first thought was something along the lines of "what is a Zippy Catholic?," and "can this guy be serious?!" How ignorant and presumptuous of me. It weren't long before I had formed a whole new opinion of Zippy, and I truly believe that I am a better man, and a more careful thinker, for it.

RIP, Zippy. I sure am going to miss you.

I had been reading Zippy for what has to be ten years, both here and his own blog. He never knew me, but I certainly knew him. I will miss checking his blog on a daily basis. God bless him and his family. RIP, Zippy Catholic.

This is awful news and a terrible loss for online Christian dialogue. I will pray for his family.

"He was absolutely honest"

At no point in any of his writings on usury did he ever address the very simple question: What is the value of time?

The questions of time and value being so central to the concept(s) of usury and/or interest, the fact that he took such pains to see to it the matter never came up can only be seen as deliberate. This is not the behavior of an honest man - it's the behavior of a man who knows he doesn't have a good answer for an unavoidable question, but can't bring himself to admit the fact. It's the primary reason I stopped paying attention to him.

"firm, direct, uncompromising rejections of the consequentialist confusion surrounding those awful events. A sample: 'Nuking a city of civilians can’t be done morally'"

This is Star Wars morality, also known as modern leftist morality: never strike first, even if such restraint means your own destruction. Hollywood tells us this gives happy endings. The real world kills us with it. Leftists, of course, are quite rationally hypocritical in their systematic violations of this principle; it takes a traditionalist to follow it all the way to suicide. We might justifiably conclude that it's a mindweapon deployed by the left against the right. Anti-consequentialism is a luxury enjoyed by the descendants of consequentialists, and always creates the circumstances for its own destruction and replacement by a new breed of consequentialists.

"usury remains a pernicious evil, the outworking of which exploded into public view ten years ago"

What happened in 2008 was that, first, existing laws were not (and still are not) enforced (whereas their prior enforcement DID prevent such events), and second, business flaws that a sixth-grade mathematics education is sufficient to identify were not identified and punished. It does not matter what the laws are (be they of man or heaven) if nobody lifts a finger to enforce them, and it does not matter where one draws the line defining "this is wrong" if nobody takes the time to think long enough to decide on which side of the line something falls.

Failure to address these very basic issues cannot possibly prevent or resolve the problems you reference.

"He and I, independently, came up with a refutation of Sola Scriptura based on Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem"

No he/you didn't, because Sola Scriptura is not a system of logic. It is an assertion of axioms. That true statements exist which are not included within those axioms is totally irrelevant.

Whether the axioms are correct or not is an entirely different topic.

Rollory, do you know the hell that is prepared for those who lie about and caluminate the just man?

Rollo, your remarks are in ill taste.

Whether Zippy was right or

wrong about usury, its nature and its presence, his claims and arguments he put forth about it he held honestly.

I, who among those here disputed most strenuously with him on his understanding of usury, would never stoop to calling him "dishonest" merely because I thought he erred on part of it. Besides the fact that he was, in the main, right about it, he was better read and more thoughtful about it than nearly anyone else around, and ended up willing to change his mind about it because the Church and its teachers held the better arguments, even though those arguments disagreed with his earlier thinking. That's intellectual integrity.

(Not that it matters for the purpose of this thread, but: the value of time is not, per se, monetary anyway. It is in one sense infinite: if you die unrepentant with mortal sin and go to hell, but would have considered repenting had you lived another 5 minutes, the value of those 5 minutes might be called infinite. On the other hand, a time interval itself is not is not a good of its own, all that can be said of it is that it is condition of some other good, it harbors goods, so its "measure" is utterly relative to the goods in it - i.e. nothing of itself, only "of value" on account of something else that is itself a good. In any case, whether time is valuable in some senses and/or not valuable in other senses does nothing to address Zippy's underlying theses on usury, and that is why Zippy refused to go down that rabbit hole.)

It is ironic indeed that you call Zippy's rejection of consequentialism to be "leftist", as not only Zippy but a great many others have noted how leftism employs consequentialism as its handmaid. Or relies on it as one of its two lungs, perhaps. From the abortion-mongers on the left, to the rabid equalitarians in the halls of academia, to the purveyors of nonsense in the leftist media, consequentialism reigns supreme. Peter Singer, leftist "ethicist" extraorinaire, is consequentialist. While there might have once been moderate liberals in the leftist parties who were not consequentialists, they were "old school" and are effectively silenced these days; the only non-consequentialists in the left are the power-for-power's-sake nihilists who pursue not the good of many but of Numero Uno.

never strike first, even if such restraint means your own destruction. Hollywood tells us this gives happy endings. The real world kills us with it. Leftists, of course, are quite rationally hypocritical in their systematic violations of this principle; it takes a traditionalist to follow it all the way to suicide. We might justifiably conclude that it's a mindweapon deployed by the left against the right. Anti-consequentialism is a luxury enjoyed by the descendants of consequentialists,

Happily, "never strike first" is not a tenet held by TRUE traditionalists, because it is not a tenet that is prescribed by the natural law. It is a bowdlerized left-media version of one of the principles of just war, and good traditionalists don't go to the left-owned media to learn those. But even if it were, traditionalists would be content with being the winners in the long run, i.e. in the final, grand scheme of things when all injustices are made whole by God's final Judgment. I am quite confident that Zippy would agree with me that if one were to lose this whole world as the result of following the right ethical and political principles, such an outcome is worth it as the cost of keeping one's own soul. What good is it to gain the whole world, if in the bargain one loses the very thing with which one could properly enjoy it?

The loss of Zippy on this Earth is a great loss to the Christian blogging community, but I am sure his death is an even greater loss to his family and friends. My heart goes out to them.

It's the primary reason I stopped paying attention to him.

Until you realized there was an opportunity to kick him while he's in his grave.

---------------------

Tony: leftism employs consequentialism as its handmaid

This is true. I once wrote something to the effect that leftism (modern liberalism) just is consequentialism. May not be entirely true, but seems close to the mark.

~~~Happily, "never strike first" is not a tenet held by TRUE traditionalists, because it is not a tenet that is prescribed by the natural law.~~~

Even so, what does "never strike first" have to do with the targeting of non-combatants in the first place? The two are not necessarily related.

I never had much interaction with Zippy here but always appreciated his comments. God's peace on him and his family.

Good heavens, Rollory, whoever you may be. (I'm not sure I want to know.)

I'm the bluntest of the blunt; I've had a ton of run-ins with Zippy. I could say critical things if I thought it appropriate. But guess what? It isn't. This is not even solely a matter of de mortuis nihil nisi bonum, though actual traditionalists of many stripes rightly give more weight to such traditional (ahem), proverbial wisdom than to their own spleen and desire to have the last word.

But it is also a matter of the essential truth of Zippy's character, which even the judgiest of the judgey (which I tend to think myself to be) could see. Blind spots he no doubt had, both about people and about ideas. As do we all. Contentious and difficult he no doubt was, as am I. Indeed, one of the reasons he and I probably clashed so much was that our personalities were somewhat similar. But if you cannot see that he was a man of deep honesty and integrity, then you cannot see, period.

So, y'know, please don't fill the thread with post mortem debates with a dead guy. I understand the desire to talk about what one disagreed with Zippy about. I've done some of it myself in private e-mail correspondence with friends recently while processing my grief over his death. It's natural, and besides, it shows that the things he addressed are important to people and remain living debates. And it's a tribute to the force of his personality that one keeps on wanting to debate him even after he's gone to be with the Lord. Fine.

But this is not the place, and it is *doubly* not the place for you to mingle even strong disagreements with his ideas with impugning his character. Cut it out.

Tony and Lydia's magnanimity exceeds my own. I'll put it this way: any comment even slightly impugning our dearly departed friend, in any capacity of his character, will be deleted.

Hello, Rollory.

I happen to be Zippy's brother, and when I read posts like yours above, it elicits a sense of deep pity in me. To be so wound up in your petty one-upmanship that you strike toward Zippy's integrity a short time after the hour of his death is far more demonstrative of your own twisted up panties than it is of anything to do with Zippy. I expect you are either very young and got so caught up in your own youthful (read: inexperienced and stupid) zeal that you simply lost sight of yourself and of the bigger picture, or... you are just one of the biggest jackasses to have ever blogged on the Internet. I really don't care which. The net-net of it is that you chose *ad hominem* to be the basis of your final attack on an interlocutor just deceased. How utterly small is that? Uch. You really really are to be pitied.

One of the constants of my brother is that he felt no obligation to explain himself to fools. That being said, the question you asked about the value of time is not actually answerable, and it is irrelevant to the moral question at hand, which--if he didn't actually answer you with some twist of phrase that was beyond you--is probably why you didn't receive the answer you desired. If you feel like that is a real "gotcha," then we'll list that as one more piece of evidence of your lack of intellect.

Oh, and by the way--right liberals are always convinced that moral positions they disagree with are left liberal. If you'd read and understood any of Zippy's massive body of work on the nature of liberalism, you would understand how idiotic it is to call anything he proposed to be liberal. But with this current demonstration of yours, I don't expect you've done your homework or even understand the first thing about liberalism.

I recommend ye be off to a long, purgatorial sphere of prayer, fasting, and deep introspection before you ever lay finger to keyboard again. Then maybe someday you'll be worth taking seriously again.

Tragic news. May he be rewarded for his commitment to fighting the good fight.

I stumbled across Zippy's blog a few years back and found it immediately arresting. This was something special. His demolition of liberalism is equal to the best I have come across. Many lament its worse manifestations, but very few were as precise in elucidating how it was a lie 'in principle'. Ditto with his work on the philosophy of 'consequentialism'.

I also have specific interest in the topic of usury, and Zippy was perhaps my primary source for trying to understand it. Although considered one of the most major sins in Islam, seldom does one find such a real commitment to understanding and condemning it.

The death of such luminaries remind us all too sharply the dark times we are in. Part of me now feels just a little more lost.

Deepest condolences to the family.

I just found out about Zippy. May he rest in peace. His blog made me think a lot about
usury and consequentialism. I will miss getting his thoughts on the various topics of the day.

Wow. Zippy died in a bicycle accident, of all things. And nobody told me.

He was a better man than me.

I had not heard until a discussion on usury brought me back to Zippy's unequaled FAQ on the subject. While fiscal liberals disagree and I cannot find a way to follow such an austere teaching in my own life, it's undoubtedly true that the fiscal liberalism of the right is as damaging to our culture and our church as the sexual liberalism of the left. May God have mercy on all our souls, and I'm sure his time in purgatory was short.

"While fiscal liberals disagree and I cannot find a way to follow such an austere teaching in my own life, it's undoubtedly true that the fiscal liberalism of the right is as damaging to our culture and our church as the sexual liberalism of the left."

Oh, boy, you've done it now. Ain't from around these parts, are ya?

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