An Actor's Encore

This is for those of you who read the National Catholic Reporter article about the Chesterton's Society slide into irrational extremism and who want more info. 

My book An Actor Bows - Show Biz, God and the Meaning of Life has gotten some positive reviews on Amazon, but it badly needs An Actor's Encore.  The book, as it stands, presents a far too positive picture of the Catholic Church.

This is the encore.


This is an email I sent to the Rochester, New York Chesterton Society, as they were organizing their 2021 conference, after skipping the 2020 conference because of COVID.  They had invited me to be a presenter at the conference, along with my friends Dale Ahlquist of the Society of GK Chesterton and Joseph Pearce, publisher of the St. Austin Review.

The email is addressed to Lou, the organizer of the conference, but it went to a group of people, including Dale Ahlquist and Joseph Pearce.


Dear Lou,

I've communicated with Dale and Joseph about this separately and privately and have not taken a public position on this matter, but I am convinced that we cannot go on with business as usual.

In the past 14 months, the devout Catholics that I have admired the most, along with almost all members of the Christian Right, have shown contempt for our neighbors and a loud and stubborn rejection of the truth - even though "the truth will set you free".

We have pretended as though COVID is hyped and mostly make-believe.  We have ignored 600,000 American deaths and refused to acknowledge the meltdown of the healthcare systems briefly in my own city and for extended periods now in Brazil and India.  We have refused to love our neighbor and to protect the most vulnerable among us by wearing a simple piece of cloth over our faces when indoors in crowded spaces.  We have allowed ourselves to be misled by propaganda, propaganda that turned a public health issue into a political power struggle; we have eagerly devoured the lies and ignored the science.  We have implicitly taken the libertarian position, "The Common Good be damned!"

This was bad enough.  But then on January 6, President Trump staged a coup, fomented a violent Insurrection that killed five people, an insurrection whose members intended to murder the Vice-President and the Speaker of the House, a coup which, if successful, would have ended democracy in America and installed a petty tyrant as dictator.  And Catholics and Chestertonians have cheered this on - despite the fact that there is no doubt that Biden won the election, whether we like it or not.  Trump's lawyers had no evidence of significant vote fraud, which is why they lost their 63 court cases.  Even Devout Catholic Attorney General Barr insisted that there had been no vote fraud and that the election was won by Biden, and then resigned because he wanted no part of the Big Lie, a Big Lie which Right Wing Catholics and Evangelicals continue to endorse and spread.  (Trump is not out of the picture; his legacy of "two plus two equals five" continues - see the attempts to crush Liz Cheney for speaking the truth.)

When the bishops refused to acknowledge their complicity in the sex abuse scandal and merely instigated meaningless bureaucratic changes, when they refused publicly to own up to their sins and repent, they thereby lost all moral standing both in the Church and in the community at large.  

And now, apparently, it's the laity's turn to self-destruct.  This is our hour to own up to what it means to be a Christian, and we are ignoring that challenge, and pretending as if it's still 1995 and we are blithely busying ourselves with apologetics and Culture Wars - when our refusal to own up to what we've done and to repent for it condemns us - quite rightly - to irrelevance both in the Church and in the culture at large.

I cannot imagine presenting at (or even attending) any Chesterton conference - local or national - without discussing and denouncing the elephant in the living room.  Meanwhile, I have cut all ties with EWTN, whose news department continues shamelessly to spread propaganda, cancelling my two scheduled filmings there this year; also, after 13 years, I will no longer be writing regular columns for The St. Austin Review; and I will not be involved in any Chestertonian projects as long as we continue to gaslight what happened in the past 14 months and endorse the lies that are tearing apart our culture.  This is the hour when we are being tested, and I do not intend to smile and pretend the inner rot doesn't stink.

When liberals insist that gender is arbitrary, they are rejecting truth and living by lies.  When liberals insist that this country is based solely on sexism and racism, they are rejecting truth and living by lies.  When liberals deny that unborn babies are human beings who have a right to live, they are rejecting truth and living by lies.

And we can no longer criticize any of that.  Because we are doing the same.

When we deny science, refuse to make simple sacrifices to protect our vulnerable neighbors and endorse a power-hungry narcissistic millionaire (Trump or Murdoch) who knows exactly what buttons to push to get us riled up for conspiracies and falsehoods, we are rejecting truth and living by lies.

“We shall soon be in a world in which a man may be howled down for saying that two and two make four, in which people will persecute the heresy of calling a triangle a three-sided figure, and hang a man for maddening a mob with the news that grass is green.” – G. K. Chesterton

“For this reason I was born and have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to My voice.”  “What is truth?” Pilate asked. 

GK Chesterton, pray for us.



This email remains unanswered to this day.  None of the four people in the thread have bothered to respond, though I sent it almost two years ago. Dale Ahlquist, the president of the Society of GK Chesterton, who was included in the group email, told me later that he instructed the rest of them not to.  He told them not to reply to me - and they didn't.

I mentioned in this email my severed relationship with the magazine The St. Austin Review.  Not long before I sent this email, I wrote a humorous piece for a St. Austin Review issue that was to focus on JRR Tolkien.  This is the piece I wrote.  It was rejected ...


An Interview with Wormtongue


Kevin O’Brien

KEVIN:  I’m pleased to have as my guest Walter Wormtongue, great-great-great-great grandson of Grima, the original Wormtongue, who served as counsel to King Theoden in Rohan, as recounted in The Lord of the Rings.  Welcome, Mr. Wormtongue.

WORMTONGUE:  Thank you for having me.  But … may I say something before the interview starts?

KEVIN:  Yes.

WORMTONGUE:  Nobody will read this piece.  I mean, I’m happy to continue with this interview - with what will, in effect, be an empty charade …

KEVIN:  This interview will be an “empty charade”?

WORMTONGUE:  Well, how shall one put this kindly?  The circulation of this magazine is not, exactly, what one would call impressive, would one?

KEVIN:  One wouldn’t - I guess, but …

WORMTONGUE:  At any event, communication is my business, and so I’m happy to oblige.

KEVIN:  Thank you.  First, tell us about yourself.

WORMTONGUE:  As you know, I come from a long line of “spin doctors” as you sometimes call us - “sophists” as Socrates used to say; public relations experts, as I am more apt to fashion us.  It is our job to communicate.

KEVIN:  To communicate what?

WORMTONGUE:  That, you see, depends.

KEVIN:  Depends?

WORMTONGUE:  Depends on where our interests lie.  Depends on who, you might say, is buttering the bun.  For example, my ancestor Grima was quite happy to communicate words of hope and encouragement to King Theoden, until what you might call a “better offer” came along.  It was in Saruman’s best interest to plunge the old king into hopelessness and despair, and he paid Grima quite well to do just that.  And so Grima sold out to the higher bidder.

KEVIN:  So Girma was not a good counsellor?  He was not telling the king the truth?

WORMTONGUE:  What is truth?

KEVIN:  But things did not end well for your ancestor Grima and for his employer, Saruman, did they?

WORMTONGUE:  No, and that’s because, in a fit of pique, dear Great-grandpa Grima threw the palantir out the window.

KEVIN:  The palantir?  You mean the crystal-ball type stone that was used to communicate with Sauron, the Dark Lord?

WORMTONGUE:  Yes, a hasty and rash move, I’m afraid.  But we’ve got the palantir back again, you know.

KEVIN:  You’ve recovered the palantir?  One of the “seven stones”?

WORMTONGUE:  Seven?  Good gracious there are millions of them these days!

KEVIN:  Millions of palantirs?

WORMTONGUE:  “Palantiri”, to be precise.  You’ve got one in your pocket.

KEVIN:  A crystal ball?

WORMTONGUE:  A phone, dear boy!  

KEVIN:  A phone?

WORMTONGUE:  And now I’ve got my own video podcast.  People can access my series, Words of Wormtongue, from anywhere - from their own portable palantir!  I am literally in everybody’s pocket, only a few clicks away.  Just like porn.

KEVIN:  I wanted to ask you about Words of Wormtongue.  What sort of things do you cover on your webcasts?

WORMTONGUE:  That depends on who the sponsor is.  

KEVIN:  You mean you change what you say based on …?

WORMTONGUE:  Based on the agenda - based on what suits the highest bidder.  You see, for a long time, my sponsor was a liberal.  It paid to work my audiences into a frenzy over racism and sexism.

KEVIN:  Racism and sexism are serious problems.

WORMTONGUE:  Of course they are, in reality, but The Words of Wormtongue are not based on reality - or at least are based only on a select and filtered sample of reality.  Back in those days, my job was to convince my audience that everything was racist or sexist - from Dr. Seuss to Santa Claus - and that that racist and sexist bogeyman was hiding behind every tree in the forest … the rainforest that was being burned in the Amazon by sexist racists.

KEVIN:  But in exaggerating the truth, you end up doing more harm than good.

WORMTONGUE:  What is good?  Or, as a minor prophet once said, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good, except the sponsor alone.”  And, I might add, the money and power the sponsor brings.

KEVIN:  The sponsor being ... ?

WORMTONGUE:  Being the highest bidder - which these days is a major conservative. 

KEVIN:  Your webcast is now sponsored by the right-wing and not by the left?

WORMTONGUE:  Yes. And so now that my loyalties lie right of center, I’ve pivoted and I spend my time terrifying my subscribers with tales of a bogeyman of a different hue.  Today the threat is Socialism, which is in the process of taking away our guns and livelihoods and our suburban homes, even as I speak.  In fact, the threat of socialism is so bad that it might destroy democracy!  And there’s only one way to stop the socialists from destroying democracy.

KEVIN: Which is?

WORMTONGUE:  Destroy it ourselves!  Crush the Capitol!  Hashtag - steal-the-steal!

KEVIN:  But this is all a bit - sordid, don’t you think?  I mean, the readers of this interview will be shocked and upset at how comfortable you are with cynical techniques of manipulation - manipulation for either party, mere mercenary Machiavellianism.  Is there no higher power than the sponsor in your world?

WORMTONGUE:  There is no God but the Sponsor and the Algorithm is our source of Profit.

KEVIN:  But … this is wrong.  This is the kind of thing that people should fight.

WORMTONGUE:  It’s hopeless.  Give up.

KEVIN:  Isn’t that what Grima said to Theoden?

WORMTONGUE:  And what the Dark Lord said to Denethor alone and brooding in his tower every night, by means of the palantir - which had a 5G wifi connection, even back then.

KEVIN:  But technology does not yet master us.  We don’t have to visit websites like yours that suck the sanity from our souls.  We can turn our smart phones off!  We can silence the lies and turn them off!

WORMTONGUE:  But we’re developing a new technology that will make them ring even when silenced.

KEVIN:  Make them ring?

WORMTONGUE:  A shrill, hypnotic ring that no one will be able to resist.

KEVIN:  You mean …?

WORMTONGUE:  That’s right.  

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,

One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them,

In the Land of Mordor where the Sponsors lie.


I was told by Joseph Pearce, the editor of The St. Austin Review, that he would only publish this piece if I took out all criticism of the right-wing and of "stop the steal".  I refused - and in fact told Joseph that I could no longer write my regular column if I would not be allowed to make fun of the Christian Right as well as the Christian Left.  


There's much more, but these two documents tell the bulk of the story.  

But for a taste of what I'm leaving out, there's a long email thread in which Dale Ahlquist persists in demanding that I renew my $60 annual membership to the Society of GK Chesterton, of which he is the president, a society that condones Trumpism and that gives awards to people who flout public health directives (i.e., at the Chesterton Awards Banquet in 2021).  I patiently reply that we now know where all this leads - it leads to a contempt for reason and free will - and that I cannot support a Society that fosters an environment that ultimately enables sedition.  He responds by saying that he "does not have time" for my "issues", that I am crazy and that I need to return to being my affable self, that people are worried about me, that the Society does not foster sedition and that Trump is no longer a factor in American culture.

I respond by saying, "I'll renew my membership if you write an editorial in Gilbert Magazine condemning the insurrection and the role of the Christian Right in supporting it and in endorsing Trump's Big Lie."

He responded simply, "No."  

And added, "I don't have time for that."

Needless to say, the sixty-dollar check is still in my pocket.


Anyhow, I wanted all of this to be documented, at least on my website.  Many of you may not know me from my Super Catholic days, but many of you may have suffered in a similar way from the insanity that's all about us - suffered especially from your churches and from the effects of Christians behaving very badly in the last few years.  

I felt this was a necessary appendix to the story of my conversion, An Actor Bows.  For the curtain does not drop until the story has been fully told.

And so this has been An Actor's Encore.


For my former friends from the Chesterton Society who are calling me a liar, a traitor and antichristian for speaking out in the NCR article, I have one question for you.

Who won the 2020 presidential election?

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