Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Rethinking Protestantism



I think that it is a fairly standard trope in neoreactionary circles to lay the blame of modern Liberalism at the feet of Protestantism and I must admit that I'm in broad agreement with this position. Once you ditch the idea of an objective truth (as Catholicism understands it) you're left with subjective truth which results in every man being his own Pope.  Soon enough, in such society, serious differences of opinion will appear and in order to practically stop that society from tearing itself apart you have to allow some tolerance of opinion. 

Now a common sense, or prima facie reading of the Bible does put some limits on what is tolerated, and a cursory reading of history will show that, by and large, until recently mainline Protestantism did not permit the degeneracy that is about us. i.e.  a simple "textual" reading of the Bible provided protections against excessive tolerance. However with the delegitimisation  of "traditional" interpretations of the Bible through modern biblical scholarship, democratic idealism and the progression of atheism , these "brakes" on tolerance evaporated.  Dechristianised Protestant society, while having the habit of tolerance, has lost its limiting mechanism----and we see the ruins about us.

I think that this brief sketch outlines the one of the main arguments against Protestantism as put forward by Catholic and reactionary authors, and an objective student of this subject will have to admit that they have a point.  However, I think that while this analysis is correct, it misses a proper understanding of the role that Protestantism has played in the development of Christianity. And I'm increasingly of the opinion that Christianity's survival in modernity may in large part due to its existence.

One of the things that strikes the observer of Catholicism is its strong sense of tradition and its resistance to change. Now, of course, a lot of this is due to the nature of Catholic theology but I think the institutional nature of the church plays a large role here as well. The lay observer, when reflecting on the current sexual abuse crisis, is struck by the fact of how the Church was unable to spontaneously institute the appropriate changes in governance and acknowledge fault, but rather had to be dragged "kicking and screaming" into recognising that it had a problem. The institution simply does not move.

It is said that God permits lesser evils so that greater ones will be avoided. When Luther nailed his thesis on the Church door he wasn't intending to break from the Church, but that's the way it turned out, and a large part of it was due to the institutional inertia of the Church in dealing with the problems of the time. Trent, when it finally came along, corrected many Protestant errors but it also honored may of its criticisms.  But its important to note that without Protestantism there would have been no Trent, and all of the reforms it instituted.   What I'm trying to say is that the institutional nature of the Church is reactive rather than proactive and without the Protestant push, it's unlikely that the Church would have spontaneously self corrected. God may have not wanted the Church to split but the clergy was incapable of self-generating reform, it needed Protestantism's dynamism to do that.

Scholars, looking at the relationship between modernity and Catholicism, have noted that Church's position was oppositional and other worldly, and until recently, it encouraged a culture apart from modernity. Catholicism's approach to modernity was literally defensive hoping for modernity to collapse and for medievalism to return.  Given that modernity did not fail and the fact that the Churhc did not have the "in house" skills to attack it meaningfully and it's no surprise that the Catholicism in the West collapsed suddenly with Vatican II, the Church pulled down the ramparts without going on the attack--it didn't know how to--and was simply overwhelmed.

Protestantism, unlike Catholicism,  did have a history of engaging with modernity.  England never went as feral as France and the Victorian Age was one of religious  piety with great social reform. Christianity in the Victorian Anglosphere was respectable and modern and it was able to achieve a successful transformative arrangement with modernity. Still, it ultimately suffered from the weakness of Protestantism and self-destructed because it could not filter the good ideas from the bad, it lacked a governing authority.

In my opinion, Christian Liberalism was the high point of the Protestant engagement with Modernity  and which gave us the marvelous Belle Epoque. However, Protestantism's inability to draw the line saw that liberalism degrade into the modern liberalism about us.

Staring at history from an Olympian perspective, one can think of Protestantism as an incubator of Christian ideas which served as an antidote to the institutional inertia of the Catholic Church which seemed to be happy to sit on the sidelines and complain. Some of these ideas;  like the abolition of slavery, religious tolerance, work ethic,  less reliance on the confessional, etc. were very good. The Catholic Church may have thundered anathemas at the Protestants but it was they who managed to achieve some kind of temporary workable synthesis with modernity, something the Catholics still can't do. The Church may have held the deposit of the faith but it was the "sound" Protestants who took it out to the field.

And there is no doubt that the success of Protestant culture had profound influence on Catholic culture which was able to absorb some of the ideas through cultural diffusion rather than explicit agreement. Newman's ideas on the freedom of conscience come straight from the Protestant playbook and have now become part of the "deposit of faith". When he converted he bought some of his Protestantism with him and the Church incorporated it. As I see it, the only way that Catholicism will be able to engage with modernism meaningfully is if it incorporates the "best bits" of Protestantism within it's body of faith.


What I'm trying to say is that from a big picture perspective, the "freedom" of Protestantism balanced the institutional inertia of Catholicism and gave Christianity--as a whole--the ability to adapt to the modern world in a way which would have been incapable had the Church remained in control: its institutional inertia--by the clergy and traditionalists-- being way too strong to overcome "in house." Protestantism provided the Christian space for innovation which produced both good and bad developments with the Catholic Church "filtering" and incorporating  the ideas when they were proven.

As G. K. Chesterton said:

"In all probability, all that is best in Protestantism will only survive in Catholicism; and in that sense all Catholics will still be Puritans when all Puritans are Pagans."




Sunday, September 08, 2019

Apologia

I wish to apologise to my long suffering readers and to the commentators from my previous post.  Our friends at Google managed to lock me out of my account while I was in Europe and was unable to gain access to the blog.

With regard to the failed appeal by Cardinal George Pell, I'd like to make a few comments.

Firstly, I really wish to see all paedophiles punished, no matter what faction of the Church they belong to.

Secondly; saying that, in my opinion George Pell is innocent. While he was archbishop here in Melbourne, I used to go the Cathedral--with my young children-- where he said Mass. To the best of my memory, he was always accompanied by an entourage and I find the claims made by his accuser simply unbelievable. The fact that there were near a dozen other witnesses--whom the court chose to ignore--who also testified to the impossibility of the charge says quite a lot about the nature of the trial and the legal system here in Victoria.

Serious legal scholars here in Australia are concerned about the verdict because it was a conviction secured without any corroborating evidence. It was simply the Accuser's word against the Defendant. Unfortunately, here in Australia, our legal profession has been radicalised and the need for evidence in securing a conviction is increasingly becoming optional with the predictable miscarriages of Justice.

The two hundred page dissent by Justice Weinberg is not so much a dissent as a defence of Pell and will be considered in any appeal.

Prior to his conviction, George Pell was continually harassed by the media, particularly by our own version of the New York Times, The Age, which did all it could to smear him. However, the Archbishop did not do himself any favours. He has an imperious manner--I personally think he might be a tiny bit on the spectrum--which alienates people, has criticised the homosexual community, and has been a fierce advocate for conservative Christianity. This earned him no favours with the progressive governing class which "owns" this state and which would love to see a high ranking prelate "taken down". There have been some irregularities in the police prosecution which makes me think that there is more to this than meets the eye.

In my mind, there is a bit of God's handiwork in his conviction. Pell was a huge impediment to Francis and part of the conservative faction "against" him.  I'm not a big fan of Francis but I recognise that he has been sent to "shake up" an institution that needed shaking up. By putting Pell in jail, a formidable opponent to Francis is neutralised, the Church gets a chance to reform and Australia will get another saint. I have a strong suspicion that Pell will die/be murdered in jail and then he will unambiguously be discovered to be innocent. It will be too late for Pell but it will go a long way towards rehabilitating the Church.

The case particularly resonates with myself. I work as a General Practitioner here in Australia-not a psychiatrist--and the possibility that I could find myself in the same situation as the Archbishop haunts me. It's the nature of my work to ask intimate questions and perform intimate examinations. As the law operates here in Victoria, it's quite possible that twenty years from now that someone could claim that I had sexually assaulted them and it would be simply an issue of my word vs theirs. There will be no need for evidence.  If the accuser is a woman, as current legal practice stands, I'm guilty till proven innocent. Such is the nature of modern jurisprudence here in the "progressive" state of Victoria.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Christian Buddhism IV

Service announcement: It's another religious post. In case people are wondering why I'm sticking to this theme at the moment it's because in this blog's opinion,  that the reason why the West is failing is because of the collapse of religion.  The reason why this is important is because politics is downstream from culture, with religion playing a huge role in the formation of it. Ergo, bad religion, bad culture, bad politics.

Now back to our regular programming.
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One of the big themes in Chesterton's works is the notion of identity being a product of boundaries and limits. He understood that in order for identity to exist their had to be some kind of differentiation between between parties and recognized that one of the curious factors of traditional Christianity is that it emphasised this differences while maintaining a unity.  Pre-Modern Christianity was pro-identity:
If any one wants a modern proof of all this, let him consider the curious fact that, under Christianity, Europe (while remaining a unity) has broken up into individual nations. Patriotism is a perfect example of this deliberate balancing of one emphasis against another emphasis. The instinct of the Pagan empire would have said, "You shall all be Roman citizens, and grow alike; let the German grow less slow and reverent; the Frenchmen less experimental and swift." But the instinct of Christian Europe says, "Let the German remain slow and reverent, that the Frenchman may the more safely be swift and experimental. We will make an equipoise out of these excesses. The absurdity called Germany shall correct the insanity called France."
Chesterton recognised that Buddhism was the total opposite of this. In Buddhist metaphysics, Nirvana is achieved when the self is "let go" and the individual is absorbed into the universe. i.e perfection is achieved through the loss of personality and identity. What's interesting though, is that while Christianity does not officially share an ideology with Buddhism some of its ascetic and modern elements approach this same position in practice if not theory.  The concept of Humility, for example, when pushed too far,  leads to an effective Buddhism. All cloaked under a legitimate Christian "orthodoxy":
It is just here that Buddhism is on the side of modern pantheism and immanence. And it is just here that Christianity is on the side of humanity and liberty and love. Love desires personality; therefore love desires division. It is the instinct of Christianity to be glad that God has broken the universe into little pieces, because they are living pieces. It is her instinct to say "little children love one another" rather than to tell one large person to love himself. This is the intellectual abyss between Buddhism and Christianity; that for the Buddhist or Theosophist personality is the fall of man, for the Christian it is the purpose of God, the whole point of his cosmic idea. The world-soul of the Theosophists asks man to love it only in order that man may throw himself into it. But the divine centre of Christianity actually threw man out of it in order that he might love it. The oriental deity is like a giant who should have lost his leg or hand and be always seeking to find it; but the Christian power is like some giant who in a strange generosity should cut off his right hand, so that it might of its own accord shake hands with him. We come back to the same tireless note touching the nature of Christianity; all modern philosophies are chains which connect and fetter; Christianity is a sword which separates and sets free. No other philosophy makes God actually rejoice in the separation of the universe into living souls. But according to orthodox Christianity this separation between God and man is sacred, because this is eternal. That a man may love God it is necessary that there should be not only a God to be loved, but a man to love him. All those vague theosophical minds for whom the universe is an immense melting-pot are exactly the minds which shrink instinctively from that earthquake saying of our Gospels, which declare that the Son of God came not with peace but with a sundering sword. The saying rings entirely true even considered as what it obviously is; the statement that any man who preaches real love is bound to beget hate. It is as true of democratic fraternity as a divine love; sham love ends in compromise and common philosophy; but real love has always ended in bloodshed. Yet there is another and yet more awful truth behind the obvious meaning of this utterance of our Lord. According to Himself the Son was a sword separating brother and brother that they should for an aeon hate each other. But the Father also was a sword, which in the black beginning separated brother and brother, so that they should love each other at last.
I don't think that the profundity of this statement is fully appreciated by many and is not even considered in contemporary Christianity, yet I think it strikes at the core of the malaise that is affecting it.  I'm going to go out on a limb here but it is my current opinion that contemporary Christianity, which is perhaps the worst blend of the old and the new,  has morphed into a force which destroys personality and identity just like Buddhism. In wanting all men to be Christ-like it wants them to stop being who they are so that they can be more like Christ. It's one thing to imitate the habits and virtues of a man, its quite another to assume his identity.  Instead of Christianity pushing  men towards being perfect versions of themselves--perfection being only possible through the sacrifice of Christ-- it continually pushes men to become copies of Christ: imperfect clones of Him.  Personality is thus destroyed and everyone becomes a "generic" Christian. We are all absorbed into the great modern Christ-Buddha. And yet this is not the way it is meant to be. Christ called his disciples friends and you cannot be friends with yourself.

Take for example the refugee crisis where this type of thinking is particularly evident. Under the modern schema we are told to see the face of Christ in all refugees and act accordingly. However this approach totally ignores the concrete realities of each and every person. Each refugee is made into an abstraction from which a generic solution is applied. There is no distinction between the man fleeing war, the economic refugee or the terrorist, as their particular circumstances are of no significance. None of the "refugees" has a personality or particular story as they have all been made Christ-like. The siege of Vienna would not have been won on these terms.

Or take nationalism, something the Church seems to have taken a quite forceful stand against recently. Until modern times, it was taken for granted that a good man would be proud of his country, its people and its history. Patriotism was seen as a virtue and yet it is now seen as a vice.
Human unity is a huge and overwhelming truth, in the face of which all differences of continent or country are flattened out. European unity is an ancient fundamental and sometimes invisible truth, which every white man will discover if he meets another white man in Central Africa or unpenetrated Tibet. But national unity is a truth; and a truth which cannot, must not, and will not be denied, but chiefly for these very reasons - that nationality is human and that nationality is European. The man who forgets nationality instantly becomes less human and less European. He seems somehow to have turned into a walking abstraction, a resolution of some committee, a programme of some political movement, [ED: or theological trend] and to be by some unmistakable transformation, striking chill like the touch of a fish, less of a living man. The European man is a man through his patriotism and the particular civilization of his people. The cosmopolitan is not a European, still less a good European. He is a traveller in Europe, as if he were a tourist from the moon. In other words, what has happened is this; that for good or evil, European history has produced European nations by a European process; they are the organs of the organic life of our race, at least in recent times; and unless we receive our natural European inheritance through those natural organs, we do not really receive it at all. We receive something else; a priggish and provincial abstraction, invented by a few modern and more or less ignorant men. So long as those organs are the only organs of a living tradition, we must live by them; and it is true to say that the time has not yet come for all the nations living by a tradition that they can all hold and inherit together. It means finding something that good men love even more than they love their country. And modern Europe has not got it yet.
Traditionalists tend to blame the changes in the Church upon Vatican Two and yet any  cursory study which will show that these problems have been in the Church for a long while. A lot of it is latent Manichaenism. These things were bubbling along unnoticed in traditional agrarian society and  I think it took modernity to bring them to the surface.  The more I look into this the more I think that the Church is in the grip of a heresy akin to Buddhism and it's like Arian times again.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Christian Buddhism III


This error then had many forms; but especially, like nearly every error, it had two forms, a fiercer one which was outside the Church and attacking the Church, and a subtler one, which was inside the Church and corrupting the Church. There has never been a time when the Church was not torn between that invasion and that treason........... but in a wilder form outside and a milder form inside. So it was, again, in the seventeenth century, when there was Calvinism outside and Jansenism inside. And so it was in the thirteenth century, when the obvious danger outside was in the revolution of the Albigensians; but the potential danger inside was in the very traditionalism of the Augustinians. For the Augustinians derived only from Augustine, and Augustine derived partly from Plato, and Plato was right, but not quite right. It is a mathematical fact that if a line be not perfectly directed towards a point, it will actually go further away from it as it comes nearer to it. After a thousand years of extension, the miscalculation of Platonism had come very near to Manicheanism.


GK Chesterton St Thomas Aquinas.
A platonic interpretation of Christianity leads to a tendency to disparage the body at the expense of the spirit, and taken to its logical conclusions arrives at a position very similar to Buddhism, with its negative view of the "fleshy" appetites in all of their various forms. Chesterton recognised that what Aquinas's chief achievement was to emerge victorious in the fight against this interpretation of Christianity. He also recognised that despite Aquinas's victory it is an interpretation that still lingers in Christianity in temperament if not explicitly expressed doctrine. To illustrate just how powerful this temperament was/is it is interesting to see just how hard it was for marriage to be recognised as a sacrament which imparted Grace by early Christian theologians:
While St Augustine secured a stable scriptural and rational basis for recognising marriage as a sacrament, his successors raised a barrier which I call the Augustinian impasse. The Augustinian tradition could not move beyond a deeply felt difficulty: how could a sacrament involving sexual intercourse be a means of grace? This led to a paradox, marriage alone of all the sacraments did not impart grace. This is what Peter Lombard taught.

We can understand why theologians of that era had a problem with sexuality when we set Christian marriage in the context of the eight centuries between St Augustine and the scholastic theologians. The medieval era was marked by the flowering of the religious life for men and women in monasteries and convents, accompanied by a defensive emphasis on asceticism, chastity, virginity, purity. In the eleventh and twelth centuries the struggle to enforce the discipline of celibacy among diocesan clergy was a key element in the papal reform programs and in resisting feudal lay power based in families. St Augustine’s own struggle with purity in his earlier years obviously influenced his writings, but I believe the powerful monastic traditions had greater bearing in maintaining a negative attitude to sexuality in married life.

Marriage was seen as a second-best Christian way of life, a remedy for powerful sexual desire, as St Paul taught “better to marry than to burn” (1 Corinthians 7:9). The key word was concupiscentia, disordered desire. In practice concupiscence was, and is, understood as lustful desire, although Augustine understood it more broadly as all disordered desires and unruly appetites, effects of original sin. Theologians who followed Augustine thus came to the strange conclusion that because of concupiscence in sexual union, marriage is the only sacrament that does not give us grace.
People may say that that this attitude was present over a thousand years ago and has no relevance to today but it's important to recognise that the unitive nature of sexual intercourse was only recognised as legitimate in the 1930's, some 19 Centuries after the establishment of Christianity. Part of the reason why the sexual revolution struck with such force in the 1960's was as a reaction excessively repressive attitude toward sexuality which stemmed from an Augustinian understanding of it. But it needs to be understood that this Augustinian interpretation wasn't just limited to sex but extended to the Church's attitude to "fun" in general. Weber, in his magisterial Peasants to Frenchmen, cites how "average" Catholics were driven from the French Church through the efforts of zealous pseudo-Jansenist clergy who pushed the spiritual rigor too far.  Wanting everyone to be a saint ends up in making most people sinners.

My current understanding of secularisation sees it as a multifactoral problem primarily driven by:

A "tactical withdrawal" of Grace by God due to the corruption of Christian doctrine through two separate pathogens. An overt liberal "laxity" which is easily recognised but still toxic to the faith, and a far more dangerous and yet subtle "orthodox' Christian Buddhism/Manicheanism which corrupts Christianity on the inside under the guise of holiness.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Christian Buddhism II

Atheist warning: this is a religious post.

I'm focusing on religion at the moment since I feel that the main driver of Western decline is the collapse of it, and I think that G.K. Chesterton had some good insights which help explain the phenomenon.
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A few weeks ago Rod Dreher put up a post on his blog which got me thinking about Christian Buddhism. Dreher featured a prayer which some of the victims of Communism used to pray in order to help them through their ordeals.  I find it very hard to criticise the opinions of men who had suffered so much at the hands of such a vile evil and I suppose that every prayer has its worth, but the  Litany of Humility left me with a profound sense of unease. Most of the other commentators on the post did not see much wrong with it and thought of it approvingly.

Reading up on the origin of the prayer, the first thing to note is that the prayer seems composed in the late 19th Century, so, as far a prayers go, it is relatively modern. Secondly, I also appears that there are variations of the prayer circulating about. Thirdly, it is attributed to Cardinal Merry Del Val, who by all accounts is regarded as theologically solid, so this isn't a product of some ideological radical.

Therein lays the problem.

While the prayer 's intention is for humility, it's actual content borders quite literally on the masochistic. As I see it, not only does the prayer invoke God to rid ourselves of our vices but it also seems to ask God to rid us of our virtues as well. This bit, from the version over at Dreher's blog, really struck me:
From the desire that people close to me and whom I love may not be humiliated, that they may suffer less than others, or that they may be given priority over others, Deliver Me Jesus.
I'm no theological rocket scientist but there some seriously disturbing theology here: I mean what kind of vice is it to want the best for your loved ones? Or what kind of virtue is it not to wish good to them? If you break this down a bit more, what the petitioner is praying for is the obliteration of any goodwill or sense of justice towards his loved ones in  an effort to improve their own holiness. I've just pulled out one line from the prayer but the rest of it is in the same vein.

The prayer's concept of Humility and therefore holiness is seen as being achieved when man rids himself of all the desires a normal man would have. Now there is another religion out there that has that same view and it isn't Christianity.   Chesterton recognised this as well and realised that it also produced an impotence; an impotence we see about us:
But some at least of the disciples of the great Gautama [ED: Buddhists] interpret his ideal, so far as I can understand them, as one of absolute liberation from all desire or effort or anything that human beings commonly call hope. In that sense, the philosophy would only mean the abandonment of arms because it would mean the abandonment of almost everything. It would not discourage war any more than it would discourage work. It would not discourage work any more than it would discourage pleasure. It would certainly tell the warrior that disappointment awaited him when he became the conqueror, and that his war was not worth winning. But it would also presumably tell the lover that his love was not worth winning; and that the rose would wither like the laurel.
Illustrated London News, March 2, 1929.
Chesterton recognised that there was a deep fundamental difference between Christianity and Buddhism which was at the very core of their conception of the themselves.  The shorthand version of it is that Christianity believed in happiness with a personality; man was only truly happy when he was himself while Buddhism thought that he could only be happy when he wasn't. However at a more deeper level Chesterton recognised that Buddhism and  Manicheanism were very similar  with their  hatred of physical creation:
One of these obvious, these too obvious explanations is that everything is a dream and a delusion and there is nothing outside the ego. Another is that all things recur; another, which is said to be Buddhist and is certainly Oriental, is the idea that what is the matter with us is our creation, in the sense of our colored differentiation and personality, and that nothing will be well till we are again melted into one unity. By this theory, in short, the Creation was the Fall. It is important historically because it was stored up in the dark heart of Asia and went forth at various times in various forms over the dim borders of Europe. Here we can place the mysterious figure of Manes or Manichaeus, the mystic of inversion, whom we should call a pessimist, parent of many sects and heresies......
Now while the Christian creeds have always explicitly affirmed the goodness of creation the Church's institutional "temperament" has often honored it in the breach:
Anyhow, it is historically important to see that Platonic love did somewhat distort both human and divine love, in the theory of the early theologians. Many medieval men, who would indignantly deny the Albigensian doctrine of sterility, were yet in an emotional mood to abandon the body in despair; and some of them to abandon everything in despair.
...... A thousand enthusiasts for celibacy, in the day of the great rush to the desert or the cloister, might have called marriage a sin, if they had only considered their individual ideals, in the modern manner, and their own immediate feelings about marriage. Fortunately, they had to accept the Authority of the Church, which had definitely said that marriage was not a sin. A modern emotional religion might at any moment have turned Catholicism into Manichaeism{ED] But when Religion would have maddened men, Theology kept them sane.
The key insight here is that there is/was a tension between the temperament of the Church and the Creed; between what the Church said and what it felt. There is also a recognition that though many clerics may have affirmed the creed they acted in a way practically disowned it. This is a subtle but important point which is frequently missed.  What this means that in the "day to day" operation of Church the goodness of creation must constantly be affirmed against a tendency which wishes to oppose it:
In short, a real knowledge  of mankind will tell anybody that Religion is a very terrible thing; that it is truly a raging fire, and that Authority is often quite as much needed to restrain it as it as to impose it. Asceticism, or war with the appetites, is itself an appetite. It can never be eliminated from the strange ambitions of man. But it can be kept in some reasonable control; and it is indulged in much saner proportion under Catholic authority than in Pagan or Puritan.
The other point that I'm trying to get across here is that what separates Christian Asceticism form  Buddhism is a conscious theological affirmation of the goodness of creation; otherwise they're very much alike in practice.  But this theological affirmation is rooted in the intellect, not the temperament and therefore, when Christianity is running on "autopilot" it's liable to lapse into the Christian Buddhist variant. The curious thing about this, though, is that it will be the intensely "spiritual" that are liable to fall into this error instead of the libertines, as their temperament pushes towards this direction naturally.

However, given the ascetic tendencies in Christianity, the real danger lays in the fact that those who push for more fasting, prayer, self denial will be seen as more "holy" than those who are "slack"; heresy becomes cloaked in a veneer of holiness and becomes incredibly difficult to spot and assumes the mantle of a more purer "orthodoxy." A lot of people pushing for a renewal of Christianity through a deeper spirituality are cut of this cloth and it's very difficult to fight them due to this inbuilt Christian bias.

The essential idea of Christian Buddhism is union with Christ through the negation of self, and as Chesterton rightly recognised this notion manifests itself in the obliteration of individual differentiation and personality.  There is no such thing as legitimate self-assertion in this schema as any assertion of the self is seen as an impediment towards holiness. The man who asserts that he should be treated like a doormat is holier than the man who asserts that he shouldn't. Hence the Prayer of Humility which is seen as standard orthodoxy.

How this manifests in the real world is that Christianity comes down hard on legitimate self-assertion. Hence the demand for justice is seen as selfish, as is demand to fight for one's rights,  as is the demand to preserve one's identity.  The Church's "open borders" theology has an "orthodox" pedigree which extends well into the past, beyond the actions of the current Pope. Somewhere in the 19th C, something went wrong and the Buddhists have slowly taken charge. And they have done it under the mantle of orthodoxy.

It's like Arian times again.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Christian Buddhism

One of the problems that unfortunately besets a great writer is that the quality of their writing frequently obscures the quality of their thought. Mencken is perceived as a political satirist, which is a shame because he is really quite deep on the problems of democracy and democratic man. The other fellow in this club is G. K. Chesterton. Because of his stellar penmanship, Chesterton is known more as an entertaining writer rather than a deep thinker but, by God, he was deep.

Some of the greatest Thomistic scholars of the 20th Century have praised his works. Etienne Gilson reviewing his book on St Thomas Aquinas said;
Chesterton makes one despair, I have studied St Thomas all my life and I could never have written such a book.
He apparently wrote his book on Aquinas after reading only four books on the subject. Other Thomistic scholars have echoed similar sentiments. His intuitive understanding of Aquinas was better than their own, despite decades of study. The point that I'm trying to establish here is Chesterton's intellectual bona fides, and thereby his authority, on religious matters. Chesterton really was that deep.

The reason I bring up Chesterton at this time is because his understanding of Christianity serves as a good reference point from which to diagnose the problems which currently affect it. My thinking over the last few months has been preoccupied on this subject and the more I delve into the problem the more Chesterton's thinking impresses itself on my mind, and as a result,  I'm increasingly of the opinion that the Church is in the grip of several heresies which, in many instances, have the support of both liberal and conservative factions.

Chesterton understood that Aquinas was an antidote to a latent Manichaeism which still persists in intellectual disposition if not the explicit theology in the Church. (i.e Flesh bad, Spirit good). But he also recognized that there were other tendencies which were also present in the Church,  tendencies which were kept in check in the past but which have now become dominant and unbalanced it. Chesterton was aware that Church always contained within it a Tolstoyean spirit which though influential was never in control:
It is true that the Church told some men to fight and others not to fight; and it is true that those who fought were like thunderbolts and those who did not fight were like statues. All this simply means that the Church preferred to use its Supermen and to use its Tolstoyans. There must be some good in the life of battle, for so many good men have enjoyed being soldiers. There must be some good in the idea of non-resistance, for so many good men seem to enjoy being Quakers. All that the Church did (so far as that goes) was to prevent either of these good things from ousting the other. They existed side by side. ....... Monks said all that Tolstoy says; they poured out lucid lamentations about the cruelty of battles and the vanity of revenge. But the Tolstoyans were not quite right enough to run the whole world; and in the ages of faith they were not allowed to run it.[ED] The world did not lose the last charge of Sir James Douglas or the banner of Joan the Maid.
What Chesterton meant by Tolstoyean was the philosophy of life which were embodied by Count Tolstoy at the turn of the 20th Century. Chesterton savaged this philosophy, seeing it as a sort of Christian version of Buddhism but recognised that it had a strong tradition within Christianity which was kept in check by other forces. It was a tradition of self-negation and in many ways was hostile towards human pleasures, seeing them as an impediment toward religious enlightenment. Self-denial was the path to holiness, pleasure to sin. It was pacifistic, anti-assertive, anti-identitarian and anti-carnal.
The emotion to which Tolstoy has again and again given a really fine expression is an emotion of pity for the plain affairs of men. He pities the masses of men for the things they really endure — the tedium and the trivial cruelty. But it is just here, unfortunately, that his great mistake comes in; the mistake that renders practically useless the philosophy of Tolstoy… Tolstoy is not content with pitying humanity for its pains: such as poverty and prisons. He also pities humanity for its pleasures, such as music and patriotism. He weeps at the thought of hatred; but in “The Kreutzer Sonata” he weeps almost as much at the thought of love.
Chesterton saw Tolstoy as a sort of anti-Nietzsche. Where as Nietzsche emphasised the will and ego, Tolstoy emphasised its negation.
The wild worship of lawlessness and the materialist worship of law end in the same void. Nietzsche scales staggering mountains, but he turns up ultimately in Tibet. He sits down beside Tolstoy in the land of nothing and Nirvana. They are both helpless—one because he must not grasp anything, and the other because he must not let go of anything. The Tolstoyan’s will is frozen by a Buddhist instinct that all special actions are evil. But the Nietzscheite’s will is quite equally frozen by his view that all special actions are good; for if all special actions are good, none of them are special. They stand at the crossroads, and one hates all the roads and the other likes all the roads. The result is—well, some things are not hard to calculate. They stand at the cross-roads.”
It's important to recognise that what Chesterton meant by the Tolstoyean tendency in the Church was not the explicit philosophy of Tolstoy, rather the personality type and theological currents  that Tolstoy represented; that of brotherly love, hatred of the flesh in all of its manifestations, lack of self-assertion and non-violence.....i.e. the non-violent, universalist, religious ascetic. And if you think about it, this is precisely the type of religious person that is idealised by the contemporary Church. It's also a type that is idealised by many traditionalists.<

Chesterton recognised that, in the past, the Tolstoyean current was balanced by a more militant assertive strand of Christianity which kept it in check.  But what's apparent to me is that  this "militant" tendency has driven away or "annexed by the lamb in an act of imperialism". It's why we don't crusade anymore. The idea of lusty Christian male who enjoys his drink and likes a honest fight is seen as somehow corrupting of the purity of Christian Church, and it was precisely this type of man that was considered both holy and legitimate in the ages of the faith.  The modern church elevates the christian social worker above the christian knight. And given many of the utterances of the modern Church, it would  seem easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a soldier to enter the kingdom of heaven.  The modern Church is very uncomfortable with the notion of a righteous war or of any act of just assertion. i.e retributive justice.

How we got this way is a subject all in itself but my preliminary thoughts see industrialisation and urbanisation as two vastly underappreciated forces which exposed structural weakness in the Church that were hidden by nearly two millennia of agrarian society life. The other major issue was the Church's response to these events which encouraged some deleterious theological trends.  Instead of engaging with society, the Church developed an oppositional attitude to it, largely led by the traditionalists, which encouraged a pietism and asceticism which they felt would successfully combat it. Unfortunately this "deeper spirituality" type of approach was an effective withdrawal from the affairs of the world whereas what was requited was an active engagement with it. The net result was to convert a formally militant expansionist Church into a passive retreating one. 

What has emerged in the 20th Century is something akin to a Christian type of Buddhism which sees the fulfillment of mans desire precisely in the negation of self. Suffering is glorified while righteousness is given lip service. Mercy at the expense of justice. The distribution of wealth instead of the creation of it. Prayer is glorified to fight evil while actual action to fight it is condemned. Indeed it would appear that righteous self-assertion has become foreign to the modern Christian ideal. The ideal Christian would appear to be a punching bag who gets comfort through his prayers to God which in turn strengthen him to continue getting a beating.  All of which is meritorious by the way.

Think about the destruction of the Christian communities in the Middle East by the children of the Allah.  We heard lots of prayers for their deliverance, we even heard a few Christian leaders decry their loss, but didn't see any of the Christian leaders make a call for Christian volunteers to go and put the hurt on the powers of evil like Pope Urban II.

As I said, we don't crusade any more.

Chesterton's genius was in recognising that in the ages of the faith the "Lion lay down with the lamb", noting quite well that this peace was not the product of the Lion becoming lamb-like but that something else kept them in balance. The something was Charity/Caritas which made sure that both the lion and lamb kept within their proper boundaries. Modern Christian Buddhism essentially emasculates the Lion, and for those of you who are perceptive these theological trends go a long way to explain the feminisation of the Church.

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Theology of Sexual Abuse II

Every now and then I take a look at Commonweal magazine. As far as religious commentary goes it's a bit left-of-centre so I don't normally take what they have to take too seriously. But this article, by Cathleen Kaveny echos--and develops further--some of my own thoughts on the subject.  I'm glad to see that at last some people are beginning to see past the "sexual" element of the abuse crisis and delve deeper into the the theological problems which have underpinned it.

Kaveny takes a rather justified swipe at Pope Benedict's take on the subject. I'll let Kaveny do the talking. I've reproduced the article at length on what I believe is fair use grounds. If anyone has any objection I'll take it down:
The debate about Benedict XVI’s recent intervention on the sex-abuse crisis has focused on his account of its root causes, which occupies the vast majority of his letter. To the delight of conservatives and the consternation of progressives, he blames the lax sexual morality of the 1960s, rather than the enduring phenomenon of clericalism.
In my view, the problem with Benedict’s letter is far more fundamental. It also transcends the American progressive-conservative divide. He gets the basic moral description of the acts of sex abuse wrong. He frames them as acts of sacrilege, rather than grave injustice.

So what? Benedict clearly thinks these actions are unacceptable—why quibble about details? Because details matter, both theoretically and practically. If we get the description of a misdeed wrong, we fail to grasp the underlying moral reality of the situation. That, in turn, can lead to disastrous strategies for reform.

What is the bedrock moral description of an act of clergy sex abuse? Is it a terrible act of injustice toward vulnerable persons, especially children? If so, then clergy sexual abusers belong in the same category as others who have betrayed their position of authority in this manner: they are like sexually abusive teachers, Scout leaders, and medical professionals. Trading upon their power, they have inflicted physical and psychological harm on their victims. In this perspective, the fact that the perpetrator is a Catholic priest is a circumstance that exacerbates the wrongfulness of the act but does not change its core moral description as an act of gross injustice.

Or should clergy sex abuse be understood most basically as a grave act of sacrilege? If so, clergy sex abuse should be grouped with other acts of sacrilege, such as desecration of the Host, blasphemy against the Blessed Mother, and the commission of any serious moral wrong inside a holy place. From this perspective, the fact that the perpetrator is a priest does not merely exacerbate the wrongful act; it constitutes the core of it. The priest is befouling his holy vows. The fact that he does so by abusing a child adds to the wrong, but does not change its core moral description—it is an act of sacrilege, akin to celebrating a Black Mass.

By framing sex abuse as a matter of sacrilege, Benedict reinforces the disastrous playbook that has guided the church’s response to the abuse crisis for the past fifty years.
Benedict’s letter seems [Ed: seems] to put clergy sex abuse in the category of sacrilege, not injustice. He does not use the term “sacrilege.” But it is the category that best fits his account of why the act is wrong, especially when sacrilege is understood broadly as a violation or misuse of the sacred. He presents the major victim as the Faith itself—not the children whose integrity was violated. According to Benedict, the “alarming situation” is that “the Faith no longer appears to have the rank of a good requiring protection.” What bothers him most about one of the human victims he encountered is that she can no longer hear the words of consecration without distress, because her priest-attacker used them in the course of the abuse. He says nothing about how the abuse would have affected the entire course of her life. He does not issue a forceful call to protect children, but rather implores us to “do all we can to protect the gift of the Holy Eucharist from abuse.”

Benedict’s approach has dangerous consequences. If the real victim is the Faith, then the overriding task is to protect the institution of the church, which instantiates the mystical Body of Christ in time. If the worst consequence of the crisis is the widespread loss of faith in the church’s credibility, then it is better to handle specific instances quietly—so as not to scandalize the faithful. Offending priests should be quickly laicized, so that they do not continue to befoul the Body of Christ. Once they are no longer part of the hierarchy, they are no longer the church’s problem. Victims should be encouraged to remain quiet, perhaps with a legally binding confidentiality agreement, so they don’t erode the church’s ability to pass on the faith. They should be discouraged from seeking monetary damages from the church, since it is the original and primary victim of the priest’s transgression. Finally, secular law enforcement should not be involved in most cases, since their involvement occludes the mystical and transcendent nature of the problem.

By framing the basic offense as a matter of sacrilege, Benedict reinforces the disastrous playbook that has guided the church’s response to the abuse crisis for the past fifty years. He provides a lofty theological rationale for protecting the institution rather than the victims. He offers not a clean, well-lighted path to reform, but rather a detour back into the muck.

Benedict’s intervention is ironic. He blames revisionist moral theologians for the crisis, claiming that they look only at the motive and circumstances of sinful human actions, rather than focusing on the moral quality of the act itself. But Benedict himself is the one who refuses to look closely at the sinful acts in question here. This implacable defender of the existence of intrinsically evil acts refuses to call these acts by their most basic moral name: child rape.
I've got to applaud her for a far more sophisticated analysis when compared to mine. Though I didn't read Benedict as seeing sexual abuse as  sacrilegious rather Benedict seemed to recognise that the Church's traditional approach of seeing the crime only through the perspective of the abuser was deficient: still he does sail close to the sacrilegious dimension, and while he may not have stepped over the line many bishops and cardinals have taken exactly this "theological"  approach.

I think what Kenevy highlights is the distortion of moral reasoning that has come about from an excessively theological approach to religion.  Simple people--i.e. the laity--lacking proper "training or spirituality" didn't fall into this error. Child rape was seen for what it was: not the wounding of the mystical body of Christ but simply child rape.  They knew that the Church would suffer for having this stuff exposed but they never forgot that primary concern was the well being of the child and not the "mystical" Church.

Now Benedict is a good guy and one of the sharpest tools in the shed but when someone like this gets it so wrong you've have to realise that the there is something amiss with the Church. I also want people to note that Benedict is considered an orthodox conservative.

I'm still running on the hypothesis that secularisation phenomenon in the West is primarily driven by a withdrawal of Grace by God because of His displeasure with his Church. I think this hypothesis has significant traction when you see what results orthodox theologians acting in good faith produce.