Wednesday, November 25, 2020

U.S. Politics

"I appealed to Lincoln for his own sake to remove Grant at once, and in giving my reasons for it, I simply voiced the admittedly overwhelming protest from the loyal people of the land against Grant's continuance in command. I could form no judgment during the conversation as to what effect my arguments had upon him beyond the fact that he was greatly distressed at this new complication. When I said everything that could be said from my standpoint, we lapsed into silence. Lincoln remained silent for what seemed a very long time. He then gathered himself up in his chair and said in a tone of earnestness that I shall never forget, "I can't spare this man, he fights."

Posting has been light for a variety of reasons but mainly because I've been trying to keep abreast of the situation unfolding with regard to the current U.S. election. 
 

Firstly however, I would like to also give a shout out to Aaron Renn who, through his Masculinist podcast, was kind enough to link to some of the posts on this blog, and to commentator MK who bought this to my attention. I'm quite familiar with the "regulars" who comment here but its kind of nice to know that there are others who read the posts without leaving a presence. Sometimes I do wonder if the post are gaining any traction so it was both a pleasant and daunting surprise to know that Aaron had thought some of things I said were worthwhile.  I would also recommend my readers to subscribe to his podcast and newsletter.

Now to business at hand. As mentioned above, I've been closely following he U.S. election and am quite concerned with the developments. I'm old enough to remember the events preceding the war in Yugoslavia and there's an eerie similarity with what was going on then and what is happening now. The country is both deeply polarised and armed, and that does not make for a happy combination.

Contrary to  the opinion of some christian commentators it is my opinion that there is plausible statistical evidence that Trump was defrauded of an electoral victory. It's also my opinion that real Christian persecution is going to begin with a Biden ascendancy and I think that it's safe to say that I think that many Trump supporters are of the same mind. I'm also of the opinion that should the Democrats lose any Supreme Court contest they will not respect it's decision and will try to force their claim.  Should Trump try to preempt this by arresting those responsible, it will be perceived by his opponents and as an attempt at a coup. I really hope I'm wrong but I can't see a "peaceful" solution to this.  This does not mean that that the country will turn into a Yugoslavia or Syria but I can imagine a prolonged period of quite nasty civil unrest.

A lot of it will also depend on who the military supports in this struggle and from what I've seen I'm not convinced that they will all fall into line behind their Commander-in-Chief, especially if his legitimacy is contested. The other problem here is that the other side seems to have anticipated a fight and has laid the groundwork for it. Those Antifa riots which slipped out of the news prior to the election look to be both well organised and funded, and I can imagine a resurgence of activity as Inauguration Day approaches.  The actions of the U.S. Left over the preceding year have a remarkable similarity to the "colour" revolutions organised around the world. In other words, they're not spontaneous but planned.

The other dimension to this whole thing has been the Durham investigation which is very likely to lead to the prosecution of large numbers of individuals in the higher echelons of the U.S. Government. There are many people who will be in deep trouble with a Trump victory so they will do everything in their power to thwart it. On the other hand a Trump loss will likely result in reprisals and consequences to his supporters. There are major incentives not to settle this peacefully. The guy who runs Jim's blog is of the same opinion.

The pragmatic men of the Democratic party seem to be moderate but the ideological core has shifted radically to the left,  and a Biden victory will ensure a systematic and ever worsening Christian persecution. No one who has taken the slightest notice of messages telegraphed by the radical left can come to any other conclusion.  Given the existential threat to Christianity in the U.S., I cannot understand how men like Dreher can fail to fall behind Trump. These parlour-room Christians seem more concerned about social graces and etiquette which are accorded a greater weighting than any other quality a man can have. Combined with their Christian Buddhism, they would rather suffer under an urbane tyrant than fight with a righteous braggart. They seem to want some immaculate leader without spot and acceptable to polite company but they, for all their Christianity, forget the lessons of the Master:

When Christ at a symbolic moment was establishing His great society, He chose for its cornerstone neither the brilliant Paul nor the mystic John, but a shuffler, a snob, a coward – in a word, a man. And upon this rock He has built His Church, and the gates of Hell have not prevailed against it.

Chesterton.

Sometimes you've got to use what you've got.

I fully understand that Trump is a man of many faults, many of them quite objectionable, but he seems to have the quality that is most needed in this hour: Courage.  I've got to admit I find his style brash and objectionable, but I've grown to admire the his grit and determination in spite of the most vicious media pile-on I've ever seen, despite traitors in his own ranks and despite that machinations of a state apparatus that have sought to frustrate his every move. Other Republicans would have thrown in the towel a long while ago and, faced with the fait accompli of the election, would have simply rolled over. Men like Dreher, too holy to fight would have surrendered to the Left--and all that means--assured that in their abandonment of their country's defence and partrimony they were gaining points in heaven for their principled holiness. The attitude, given the circumstances, is contemptible and is an example of why modern Christianity is unable to fight evil.

Trump--flawed as he is--fights on.

I don't in any way want to suggest that Trump is some kind of divine figure, there's plenty of evidence that his Christianity is very superficial, but any man seeing what danger is looming can in no way approve of Dreher's approach given the situation.  A Christianity that walks away from the fight, given the circumstances, is not a Christianity at all.

The Daily Show, a while ago, mocked Trump giving a talk on Ulysses S. Grant, another man who was objectionable at the time. Despite his inarticulation, Trump seems to have grasped the lessons of Grant both intuitively and deeply, and like Grant, may end up being the saviour of the Republic. 

I hope I'm wrong but I think that there are going to be some trying times for the U.S. I want to wish my readers there all the best. If I were there I'd be putting myself behind Trump.

God Bless.

BTW

 For some strange reason this seems appropriate.



Saturday, October 03, 2020

A Christian Heresy


One of the things that I've been trying to understand is how the Left was able to achieve a total dominance in Western Civilisation over the space of the last 100 years. Taking a big picture view, the stand out fact of 20th century has been the de-Christianisation of the European peoples replaced by a materialistic conception of themselves. The bloody struggles that have marked this period can best be considered a consequence of the struggle between Left and Right versions of materialism.  The curious factor of this state of events--unlike in previous ages-- has been the lack of participation of the Christian factor in this fight. Whereas in previous European ages, men to fought to assert or defend their their religious views  what's been interesting is Christianity's passivity during the materialistic ascendancy.

And I think it's important to explore the relationship of this passivity with the phenomenon of  dechristianisation. There is clearly a correlation but is there a link?

As I have said before, Faith is a product of Grace and without it, it cannot exist.   Therefore at its most fundamental level, the lack of Grace--either withdrawn or rejected--is the ultimate cause of the de-Christianisation. Traditional approaches have tended to emphasise the disobedience of the "people" as a causative factor in this state of affairs, the problem however is that the people aren't disobedient as much as indifferent. It's not that they're rebelling against God it's just that He "isn't there" in their lives to rebel against. The Christian God is as relevant to the practical day to day affairs of men as is Thor or Zeus. In many cases, rabid atheists, who care about God enough to hate him are closer to Christians than the mass of european peoples who simply and innocently don't care.

I personally think that the problem lays with the theocratic class, the group of men and women charged with the care of the Christian laity. In my opinion, under their leadership, they have forged a new version of Christianity with the last century which has sapped it strength and led to a withdrawal of Grace. I would like to stress that this is not a Vatican II thing, rather it's more fundamental and in the background, something that affects both "sides" of Church politics. To put it very crudely the problem is the issue is the Buddhist transformation of Christianity. In theological language it has to do with modern interpretations of the phenomenon of kenosis.

The essential issue is how to understand the phenomenon and it would appear that even in very "orthodox" factions an interpretation has been given which takes Christianity to the very steps of nirvana.

Let me illustrate what the problem is. 

Traditional Christianity always asserted that Christ had both Divine and Human natures. The concept behind kenosis is that God, in the being of Christ, "emptied' himself to become man. The traditional heresy, condemned by the Church was that in doing so Christ got rid of his "God-ness" in order to become man. The modern heresy is the opposite, namely that Jesus the man, got rid of all his man-ness in order to accept God more fully; all his desires, ambitions and even sense of self. In doing so, by ridding himself of his personality and activity, he became a passive receptive vehicle through which God could act. Jesus essentially became a shell of a man in order to let God work through him. He accepted whatever he was sent, and his suffering was meritorious insofar as it was done that it as the price he had to pay in order to do God's will.

The problem is that when Christians go to emulate Christ's life, as we are always told to do, we are expected to nullify ourselves again in order to to be perfect like Christ. Suffering needs to be accepted and is seen as a vehicle of Grace. The less we are of ourselves the more we are like God. Accept what comes your way, suffer cheerfully and let God work through you. What could be wrong with that?

Indeed it's almost ecumenical since Buddhist scholars have seen this approach as very similar to the concept of sunyata, in the Buddhist religion. Smarter people than me have recognised this problem as well though it appears they're on the outside.

In the twentieth century, in fact, there were many “theologies” that claimed authentication by resorting to what they called the “key” concept of kenosis, which was made to serve in a thousand different ways: “radical theology,” “theology of secularization,” “theology of hope,” “liberation theology,” “ecumenical theology,” “theology of dialogue,” “theology of trinitarian kenosis,” “theology of crisis and chaos,” “neocultural theologies,” “kenotic Christology,” “theology of kenotic anonymity,” “theology of biblical kenosis,”etc., etc. In all of these one notes the proper at-tempt to promote the kenotic principle in Philippians 2:7, so as to place truly at the center of Christian thought the mystery of the abasement and self-giving of the Son of God ................ We should also note, however, that this “kenotic key” has allowed many writers gradually to evacuate the Christian faith of everything that properly identifies and characterizes it (whether at the level of the concept of God, the level of ecclesial mediation, or the level of theological language), leaving only an empty, indeterminate space in which everything can be reconciled with everything: all faiths, all beliefs, all confessions, all languages are invited to censor themselves, to limit them-selves, to “weaken” themselves in the conviction that they thus imitate Christ’s self-emptying with a view to universal salvation. At the same time, this kenotic process supposedly liberates the Church from all religious, political, cultural, and scientific conflicts (for example, in relations between faith and science), simply be-cause the Church would finally recognize that it can have no “strong” language, no truth that can be formulated definitively, and thus no “strong” claim or presence in the world.
Sound familiar? The suffering weak Christ becomes  the suffering weak church and ultimately Christian culture that cannot assert itself. Modern interpretation of Kenosis, that have gained considerable traction even among the orthodox have emasculated the Church. (There are similar tendencies at play in non-Catholic Christianity.)

So how did we get to this place? The short answer is that it's complicated, but if I had to summarise the major forces at play it would be:

a) A glorification of asceticism which had the effect of encouraging a culture of passivity and suffering. 

b) The institutionalised Christian contempt toward the flesh i.e. decarnalisation.

c) The atrophy of the militant factions of Christianity which came about from the general disgust among reflective men to the Christian slaughter in the European wars of religion.

d) The secularisation of European governments as a result of the Enlightenment which meant that practical business of  using the "sword" was taken away from Christianity. This resulted in a greater emphasis on "caring" Christianity instead of fighting/defensive Christianity.

e) Further more, state sponsored Christianity gave it a "safe space" in which to operate, ensuring that questions of survival did not have to answers real world tests meaningfully.

f) The slaughter in the 20th Century which gave pacifism and ecumenism a new impetus.

g) Increasingly theological freedom from the mid 19th Century onwards resulting in a co-option of Modernism by liberal theologians

h) The sterility of conservative theological thought which was unable to respond to the challenges of liberalism and modernity. This latter is a very important point. It's not the liberalisation of the Church which is the problem, rather it was the inability of the conservative theologians to push back against the liberals within the intellectual "space" allowed by the liberalisation.

There are other forces at play, but the point I'm trying to get across here is that while there has been no explicit doctrinal change there have profound shifts in emphasis within the culture of the Church resulting in its Buddhisation.  Podles what right in describing the phenomenon:

A change of emphasis here, a neglect of inconvenient Scripture there, and soon a religion takes a shape that, though difficult to distinguish from the Christianity of the Gospels, somehow has a quite different effect. .........., but how far can one go in stressing the immanence of God and his will to save before Christianity is left behind? When does bridal receptivity become passivity, and when does passivity become Quietism? There have been differences of opinion over where to draw the line. The authorities win in the textbooks, but the mystics have often won the battle for popular influence.
There is a flipside to this as well. No society can survive without the ability of self assertion when faced with a threat. What has happened with the decline of Christianity is that assertive void was filled by secular, generally "right" materialist West which for a long time was happy to let Christianity subsist within its structure. Christian pacifism essentially was protected from destruction by a military which was frequently the subject of its criticism.  However as both left and right materialism have now begun to converge, the "safe space" offered to Christianity is decreasing and unless it starts asserting itself in a manner appropriate to the times it risks becoming a faded memory, in the West at least.

 


 








Sunday, September 06, 2020

Monday, August 24, 2020

A Church Impotent

As the Church became more and more feminized, the predominance of feminine emotions encouraged both mystics and the theologians who counseled them to attempt a subtle change in Christianity to make it conform more to the desires of the feminine heart. A change of emphasis here, a neglect of inconvenient Scripture there, and soon a religion takes a shape that, though difficult to distinguish from the Christianity of the Gospels, somehow has a quite different effect. Pantheism and universalism, for instance, are the heretical exaggerations of feminine attitudes, but how far can one go in stressing the immanence of God and his will to save before Christianity is left behind? When does bridal receptivity become passivity, and when does passivity become Quietism? There have been differences of opinion over where to draw the line. The authorities win in the textbooks, but the mystics have often won the battle for popular influence.

Leon Podles, The Church Impotent

Over the last few weeks I've finally had a chance to read Leon Podles book, The Church Impotent. I think its an interesting book which raises some interesting topics, particularly with regard to the diminishing numbers of men attending church. Though, for all the books merits,  I think it misses its mark mainly because it mistakes effect with cause.

First Things did a review of the book years ago which I felt was unfair, picking on the details which ignoring the big picture. The is clearly a problem with the lack of men attending Church, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the Church is "feminised". Women, for example, seem to have a greater preference for sweet things than men, but it doesn't mean that sugar is feminine.

The big argument in the book is that because of the theological developments in the theology of bridal mysticism, which arose meaningfully in the Middle Ages, the Church has assumed a feminine nature which is repellent to men. Very crudely put, the argument is that men are put off the Church because it is a bit "gay". Real men, find the concept of being the "bride of Christ" really off putting and hence don't attend. For men of weak masculinity or "beta" sexuality this really isn't a problem hence their preponderance among the men that attend.

The problem with this view is that equates the worship of God equated with the the attendance to a theater show: you go if you expect some kind of pleasurable benefit from it, otherwise you stay away. It's a very sociological approach but it ignores the religious dimension of the problem.

That's not how it works. 

Worship is an obligation and the aesthetics of it are in many ways irrelevant. Sure, aesthetics may aid or detract from the experience but the underlying principle is that you're there to bend the knee, not go to a show: its duty, not entertainment.

As I see it there are two reasons why men are not attending Church:

a) They don't want to when they know they should be going. (Rejecting Grace)

b) They don't even know that they have to go to Church. (No Grace)

I think that the average European male in contemporary times is more likely to have (b) for an excuse rather than (a). Most men don't reject religion as much as they see it as irrelevant. They don't care enough to be repelled and the reason why men don't go to Church is because they don't feel the "pull of God." i.e. the movement of Grace. Now this "pull of God" may be felt in a variety of ways, either as a duty, sense of peace  or closeness etc. It all boils down to the notion that he needs to attend Church for whatever religious reason. Most men have no such sense. Hence it is my contention that it is a lack of Grace, rather than the feminisation of the Church which is responsible here.

I pulled the above quote from Podles book because while I feel his idea of a feminised church is wrong he does ultimately hit the mark with regard to the problem. Because of a variety of theological and cultural factors i.e. excarnation, bridal receptivity, clericalism and the idealisation of the contemplative life,  the Church has been infected with a Quietism which, while formally rejected on the books, has been hugely influential in theological developments and religious practice.  The Church is not so much feminised as it is quietistic and passive.  The feminisation follows the Quietism as women seem to enjoy this modality of religious practice.

Now Quietistic modes of worship may be more suited toward the female temperament but sort of irrelevant if God doesn't want the Church to embrace quietism. Furthermore, the fact that women attend Church more than men distracts from the fact that there has been an overall decline in Church worship. The big problem is the emptying of the pews not the proportions left. But if church attendance is due to pleasure rather than a sense of faith or Grace, how religious is the actual participant? What I'm saying if the clergy starts  Church starts saying stuff that women don't want to hear, how likely are they to stick around? You've got to distinguish between people who believe and people who go there  because they enjoy it. And it's not that faith and enjoyment are incompatible, it's just that enjoyment without faith misses the purpose of the whole exercise. Going for the music or "peace" is not the same as worshiping God.

Church going and holiness may be correlated but they're not necessarily contingent. This is where I think a fundamental mistake is made. The logic being that more church-going equals more holiness and therefore women are more religious than men. But that assumes that being a church groupie shares something of the same stuff as the saint. But as women like these have shown, you can say a lot of prayers and attend lots of Masses and still be widely off the mark.

The lack of men in the Church should be a sign that there is something wrong with men or there is something wrong in the Church. Podles should be commended for recognising this, the problem is that he gets the specifics wrong. The problem isn't the feminisation of Christianity is its slow conversion into a Buddhist equivalent.

Another  significant factor, in my opinion, which hampers analysis of this problem is the conception of the "Church". For Catholics, in particular, the Church is thought of the ecclesiastical and clerical apparatus; bishops, monks, priests, nuns, cathedrals, etc.  But theologically this is incorrect since the laity is a fundamental constituent element of it. When Christ spoke of Satan never prevailing against the Church  it's interesting to speculate if what He meant was that the faith would survive in its lay element while being corrupted elsewhere. The reason why I bring this up is because its always assumed that the ordained members will be the last men standing defending it, it's never assumed that it may be the plebs who hold the line.

Finally, astute readers will not in the article linked just how close Quietism is to Buddhism, and a Buddhist Christianity is not Christianity. Why should God draw men to a warped Christianity?

A  significant factor in my opinion which hampers analysis of this problem is the conception of the "Church". For Catholics, in particular, the Church is thought of the ecclesiastical and clerical apparatus; bishops, monks, priests, nuns, etc.  But theologically this is incorrect since the laity is a constituent element of it. When Christ spoke of Satan never prevailing against the Church  it's interesting to speculate if what he meant was the faith would survive in its lay element while being corrupted elsewhere. The reason why I bring this up is because its always assumed that the ordained members will be the last men standing defending it, it's never assumed that it may be the plebs who hold the line.




Saturday, July 25, 2020

Secularisation in a Secular Age




One of the other things I didn't like about Charles Taylor's book is his theory of secularisation. While he does not explicitly blame Protestantism for the phenomenon he does see it as being a significant factor.  But what if it he is right and Protestantism does lead to secularisation, how does that explain the precipitous decline of religion in Catholic countries?

The implication in Taylor's book is that Western culture as a whole has undergone the changes he describes--religion being transformed from a holistic thing into a mental one--and this phenomenon is equally applicable to Catholic as is to formerly Protestant cultures. Once again I don't buy it.

One of the interesting things to note is that secularism tends to be far more militant in formerly Catholic countries than it tends to be in Protestant ones.  Now while it's true that a dechristianising "protestant mindset" will result in a different atheism from a catholic one, a dechristianisation that is the result of protestantisation should produce a secular culture that is similar to the Northern European model of religious indifference instead of the observed hate. Protestantism does not appear the culprit here and some other mechanism is at play.

It's my contention here that Protestantism is not the primary mechanism of secularisation, rather that secularisation is the result of decline in Grace, and given the cultural differences between the two religions, the effects of secularisation will be culturally contingent. Reasons may change but old habits die hard.

Catholicism, with its strong sense of of party clerical hierarchy, and it's emphasis of the collective over the individual is going to drift towards secular models of the same. Hence the the much more prominent presence of militant socialistic parties in these countries.The more puritanical the Catholicism the more puritanical its secular equivalent. One of the disquieting things that struck me after reading Orwell was just how similar the pre-Vatican Two Catholic Church was to the Russian communist Party in ideological structure. If the clergy party said 2+2=5 it was the role of the proletariat to believe.  Part of the reason I believe that the Church as a whole may have lost some of God's grace is precisely because of the fact that it elevated clerical authority above the truth, not to mention other matters.

Mainline Protestantism, with its strong sense of individual autonomy and tolerance, on the other hand, will decay into milder, yet more sincerely held,  forms of socialism   But that really depends on the particular variant of Protestantism. The more puritanical branches are liable to morph into something particularly nasty. To put in in a more succinct way:

Catholicism - Grace = Communism
Mainline Protestantism - Grace = Socialism
Puritanism - Grace = Pol Pot.  (That's assuming that God's grace is extended to Puritans.)

The point I want to make when it comes to Protestantism, I do think although it was separated from the Catholic Church, God did extend his Grace to some of the branches of it. Other branches were excluded from it. As a religious/epistemological system Protestantism is wide open to error but the same quality that makes error so easy, is also the faculty that makes legitimate Christian innovation possible and it was those branches which enjoyed God's grace and favour.  Where I think Taylor--and others-- make the error is in looking a Protestantism only though its errant, graceless branches: confusing the lack of Grace with Protestantism. 

I've been struggling to find a term which accurately explains how Taylor got it wrong.  The omission of Grace in a book about secularisation is really an attempt to explain spiritual phenomenon in a non-spiritual way.  You see the same thing in Jordan Peterson's understanding of religion which was also strongly influenced by Jung. You also see it in books trying to understand the phenomenon through sociological analysis. There's something not quite right about it.

And I think the person who got this right was Owen Barfield,* who described the phenomenon as Residual Unresolved Positivism. (Thanks Bruce Charlton.) It's basically trying to understand religion as psychological phenomenon and not a spiritual one.  The problem with this approach is that you approach religion as a problem of psychology instead of seeing as a problem approached though the lens of Christian understanding. 




Monday, July 13, 2020

Excarnation III: Paragraphs to Ponder.



While the effects of an excarnational culture can most easily be seen in the domain of sexuality, it's most pernicious effects lay in other areas. While reading up on the subject, I stumbled across this article by Professor Andrew Sandlin, which I think is worth some thought;
The Bible does not exalt spirit over matter; Jesus is Lord of the invisible and visible world (Col. 1:15–17). Yet ever since pagan Greek ideas of the inferiority of the material world infected Christianity, the church has battled with excarnation. Even as the church prays, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10), many Christians view the world outside the church — economics, politics, entertainment, education, and architecture — as inescapably “carnal” (fleshly) and unfit for Christian influence. So the church retreats to an excarnated spirituality.
Prayer, interior dialogue, and contemplation of heaven are considered spiritual, while working to re-criminalise abortion, de-legitimize same-sex “marriage,” combat pornography, and reduce government theft programmes in the form of confiscatory taxation are relatively unimportant and, in fact, a diversion from the church’s real, excarnated tasks. Escape from evil within the created order rather than confrontation with and victory over it is the excarnational agenda. Christianity is reduced to a “personal devotional hobby.”

But Advent stares us unflinchingly in the face with the truth that the present world, immaterial and material, is cursed by sin and is to be redeemed by the death and resurrection of our Lord. The most evil being in the universe is pure spirit, but Jesus was born and lived and died and rose from the dead and lives forever in a body. He is profoundly interested in the world, including the material world. He came healing the sick and exorcising demons from tortured bodies. To trust in the Messiah for salvation is to surrender oneself mind, soul, body — our entire self — to him (Rom. 12:1–2)
He is as interested in purging sin from gangsta rap and abortion clinics and fraudulent bond-rating agencies and Bauhaus architecture as he is from Christian hearts and families and churches. The cleansing power of the Gospel does not simply take souls to heaven; it transforms everything it touches.
If I had to define what Caritas is, it would be; a potency, when realised in act, perfects form. Or in other words, Christian love, in act, transforms things into their perfection. Now the important thing to recognise is that it is a transformative power, not simply of the individual but of the world. The excarnational approach neutralises this resulting in a de-Christianisation of the culture. You end up with a world of beautiful churches but terrible public administration: Catholic and Orthodox Europe?

This type of Christianity seeks to avoid the world, not engage it, and hence all the various types of "Benedict Options" out there. Combine it with a Tolstoyan/Pacifist interpretation of the Bible and you've a got a combination that is unable to resist the collapse of Christian civilisation. And yet this was not always the case. I'm currently reading Owen Chadwick's, The Secularisation of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century: it's a really good book. But I was struck by this passage which is so out of spirit with our times:
To the middle twentieth century, where priests are expected to be of the left and to encourage revolution in South America or southern Africa, this is a more surprising juxtaposition than men of the nineteenth century found it. Here, for example, is a speech made by Archdeacon Christopher Wordsworth, son of a Master of Trinity, nephew of a poet, soon to be Bishop of Lincoln, at a Tory meeting in Reading on t February 1865. He engaged to define Conservatism:
What, gentlemen, is Conservatism? It is the application of Christianity to civil government. And what is English Conservatism? It is the adoption of the principles of the Church of England as the groundwork of legislation.[ED] Gentlemen, I say it with reverence, the most Conservative book in the world is the Bible, and the next most Conservative book in the world is the Book of Common Prayer.
The Church the mainstay of order — that is the conviction common to both sides; both of the revolutionary who wants to overthrow order and therefore the Church, and of the conservative who wane to maintain order and therefore the Church. The religious revival of the nineteenth century, evident in all countries of western Europe, did not depend upon faith in the political usefulness of Churches. They did not even depend only upon the background rattle of ghostly tumbrils on the streets. But this shadow of social ruin was quite important as a religious force. We can the more easily understand it when we remember how in our time Nazi terror forced many western Europeans back to enquire into their moral principles and thereby contributed, for a time, to a revival of religion.
One of the great effects of Reformation was to shift the cultural importance of various elements in society. In the Catholic/Orthodox world, where the clergy was to retain much of it's dominance, society continued to be "weighted" to the spiritual whereas, despite its theology, Protestant society resulted in a more of an engagement in "earthly" affairs. Protestantism was far better at "applied" Christianity.

It's my opinion the while Catholicism has remained relatively ideologically uncorrupted by modernity, its Clericalism and emphasis on "spirituality" has resulted in an impotent Church. Protestantism on the other hand was better able to apply Christianity to the "affairs of the world" and transform it. As it has withered so has the world's ability to resist modernity and as I see it, the Catholic Church is going to have to "protestantise" if we plan to get out of this mess.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Excarnation II



But this understates the difficulties. That Christianity has often been seen as another form of Platonism, even worse in that it seems to give such an important place to punishment and sacrifice, is not just a function of the denseness or  the ill will of the critics. The Gospel message doesn't fit into the categories which have come down to us through ages of human history, and is recurrently being twisted, even by its own adherents, to make sense in these terms.

This means that there are clearly wrong versions of Christian faith. But it doesn't mean that we can give a single right version to replace them. The hold of these categories which come to us through our history, including that of our pre-Axial religious life, is so great that we have trouble thinking through what the Christian revelation means. The wrong categories often come more "naturally" to us. So we operate with a certain amount of unclarity and confusion. This is the condition of doing theology.
Perhaps the most obvious area in Christian culture where the tendency for excarnation has been felt is in the Christian approach to sexuality.  Taylor doesn't devote a great deal of his book to the subject and the  impression I get is that  he is far more "liberal" than I am, but it would be a mistake to think his critique of excarnation is an attempt to "liberalise" Christian sexual ethics. Taylor does not go into an extensive historical treatment of the subject but simply reminds the reader of the the hostility that Christianity has towards sexual desire. No matter how the act is realised, there always seems to be an element of sin associated with it. This continual association of corruption with the desire itself resulted in a Christianity that was nearly always hostile to its expression. As this blog has mentioned before, it was only after two millennia of Christian thinking that unitive element of sexual desire was recognised as legitimate, and even then conditionally.

Whatever its reasons, Christianity's hostility to sex has resulted in theological treatment which links sin to its expression in nearly all instances, even within marriage. However this position  creates an anthropological vision which regards mans sexual nature as evil.  Therefore the good man in such a vision is a man who has literally "chopped off" his sexual nature. Now some defenders of the traditional position will argue that it is important to control an appetite as rowdy as sexual desire due to all the damage it can do, but difference between regulation and suppression is a matter of degree, and the Church regulated hard.

Really hard.

Yet, sexual desire is a constitutive element of human nature so the traditional Christian opposition to Eros was an attack on the human constitution. To quote Taylor:
And in this, it follows much of Christian sensibility over the ages, which has also own uneasy about many aspects of human flourishing, has been uncertain and ambivalent about them. Take sexual fulfillment for instance. For centuries, the midiaeval church taught that sexual intercourse was essentially to be directed to procreation, and you shouldn't enjoy it too heartily even then. The Reformers tried to rehabilitate sexual relations among married couples, but in practice the emphasis on its being carried out to the glory of God put a damper on sexual pleasure....... Now that there is a tension between fulfillment and piety should not surprise us in a world distorted by sin, that is, separation from God. But we have to avoid turning this into a constitutive incompatibility. This, however, is what both exclusive humanism on one hand, and the sensibility of much conservative Christianity on the other, tend to do. The first take for granted that what is dedicated to God must detract from human fulfillment. The second are so focused on the denial and restriction of desire that they easily fall into a mirror image of the secular stance: following God means denying yourself.
It's hard to beat the beast when you're both playing the same tune.

The problem with this approach is that it seriously impaired the Christian understanding of sexuality and created a state off affairs which many found repellent and pushed them into the secular world.
But there is another charge against the aspiration to transcend, not just futile and self-defeating, but that it actually damages us, unfits us for the  pursuit of human fulfillment. It does this by inducing in us hate and disgust at our human desires and neediness. It inculcates a repulsion at our limitations and poisons the joy we might otherwise feel in the satisfactions of human life as it is.

Here the enemy is not so much Greek polytheistic fantasy and Greek philosophy but Christianity, especially in its Augustinian forms. Here Nussbaum takes up one of the central themes, one of the constitutive polemics of our secular age, as I am trying to describe it. Hatred at Christianity for having defamed, polluted, impure ordinary human sensual desire is one of the most powerful motivations which impelled people to take the option for an exclusive humanism once it became thinkable.

What Christianity tried to do--especially Catholicism--is refashion Eros into a "platonic" version of itself, stripping the carnal element of it to its bare minimum and hence deforming it in the process. It tried to create sex without sexuality. It is also why--for the average person--it really has lost all authority of matters of sexuality. It speaks of sexuality in a way that the common man cannot relate to.

To consider what I mean take the following from commentator Chent in a recent post.
"Rape is sex without consent, and it can definitely occur in marriage."

Yes, a definition that is not found in the Bible or the tradition of the Church but it is the standard feminist definition.

The Bible never talks about consent. And even less about consent being the basis of the morality of sexual intercourse. The basis is marriage. [ED]

Of course, this does not mean "sex on demand" at any time or place". Nobody said that. But constant denial of sex is a serious sin and a break of marital vows. "You must not deprive each other, except by mutual consent for a limited time, to leave yourselves free for prayer, and to come together again afterwards; otherwise Satan may take advantage of any lack of self-control to put you to the test." (1 Corinthians 7,5)

Don't get me wrong. Of course, I am against a husband forcing himself on his wife. Not because it is rape (it is not, according to the Bible), but because it is aggression. Because an evil is not an excuse to commit another evil.
Commentator Chent puts forward a very orthodox and traditional interpretation of conjugal rights. But what's important to note here is that any dimension of desire [Eros] is not even factored into the analysis. Access to the partner is seen in strictly legal terms  and the erotic constituents of the sexual act which facilitate it, are considered irrelevant to the legitimisation of access. It's a thoroughly decarnalised understanding of sexuality. Furthermore, even the other partner's right to resist is also grounded in legal terms of access,  not in the lack of facilitation of the erotic faculty. It's as if we were having a discussion of property rights and not sexual responsiveness. The underlying approach being predicated on the notions that desire is irrelevant to the act or that the desire is evil and should not be factored in. To top it off, any attempt to introduce this element into the discussion is seen as Feminism or heresy.

And even here Chent is justified in his charge. Because the notion of factoring desire into the analysis of the situation is outside the traditionalist Christian tradition.  But this creates a tension between human nature which instinctively grasps the importance of Eros, and the Church's legalistic tradition which ignores the element.

What Christianity it tried to do is create a sexuality without Eros: it's teaching on the subject clashing with human nature. But because Christianity has been unable to address issues of sexuality convincingly within its own tradition, external non-Christian forces have filled the gap and thereby gained legitimacy.


*Quotes from Taylor's Secular Age.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Excarnation

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
John 1:14
Charles Taylor's omission of the role of Grace in the mechanics of belief, in my opinion, fatally flaws his book with regard to understanding the phenomenon of secularisation. However, his book is not without merit, and where I think he is at his strongest is when he links the phenomenon of secularisation to the excarnation of the Christian religion.

Taylor, who is a romantic phenomenologist, describes excarnation as:
the steady disembodying of spiritual life, so that it is less and less carried in deeply meaningful bodily forms, and lies more and more in the head.
It could be said that this is the central thesis of his book and whats really interesting is that in many ways he is on the same page as some of the early Nouvelle-Theologians who were trying to understand why Christianity was declining in the West.  For Taylor, the transformation of Christianity from something one "felt" into a "philosophical system" that one mainly appreciated in thought fueled the rise of atheism. A Thomistic "cold and logical proof" was no substitute for the experience of God and in this regard Taylor echos the complaints of some of the more astute Christian theologians of the late 19th Century. It could be said that  Christianity in becoming hyper-rational also became boring.

I actually think that his criticism of the increasing rationalism of Christian rationality is flawed from a certain perspective . The problem isn't so much about the drift from the body to the head but the relationship between the body and the spirit.  Taylor tends to see excarnation in the drift from the body to the head, but as I see it, excarnation is the separation of the body from the the head.


The Thomistic understanding of man recognised that while body and spirit were different things they were "one" in reality, like the two sides of the same coin, and the human person was both spirit and flesh.  In technical language, Thomism asserted the hylomorphic nature of man.  Now the first point to recognise here the the relationship between spirit and flesh was intertwined. This impetricate relationship in many ways limited the expression of each element of this duality. The human soul was in some way a reflection of the flesh and the flesh was a reflection of the soul. The second point to recognise here is that while the spirit/mind/soul directed the body,  in many ways the body gave man his human nature and thereby a teleology which the soul aimed to achieve.

What this meant is that the soul could not direct the body in a direction contrary to human nature but rather it had to directed in a way which perfected it.   The soul was not given exclusive rights to make man as it wanted him to be rather human nature put limits on it.  The soul had to deal with the body's reality of hunger but it could not direct the body to eliminate it for the repertoire of human appetites.The point being that any governance of the body by the soul had to made with some kind of reference to the body as it actually was.


On the other hand, from some of the early days of Christianity there have existed elements and tendencies that have seen the relationship between the body and flesh as oppositional. Instead of seeing the body as a hylomophic reality they saw it as a duality.  This mode of thinking hierarchically ordered the relationship between the two, with the spirit being put above the flesh on a moral dimension. This type of relationship also sees the role of the spirit to constantly subordinate the flesh without reference to it, its innate nature is seen as a constant source of ruin to the spirit. A disassociation between the two is constantly at play and there is a continual attempt to separate the body from the mind. It is this attitude that I would consider excarnational.


No matter how much of gloss you try and put on it, certain strains of early Christianity appear to have had strong excarnational tendencies, with Augustine being a representative of this school of thought. Chesterton recognised that Christianity was beginning to veer and it was only through the efforts of Aquinas (and others) that it was bought back on course.  As Chesterton said;

The evil is always both within and without the Church; 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.
What Chesterton is saying here is that Augustinian Christianity sails very close to Manicheanism and without very strong explicit checks, can drift over quite easily into that error. The achievement of Aquinas was to ring-fence the faith. The problem was that the Reformation tore those fences down, with a result that Augustinianism reasserted itself. Not only in the Protestant Calvinistic strands of Christianity but in Catholicism itself.

Now what's interesting is how this theological change affected our culture and our understanding of ourselves. As I see it, it encouraged several different tendencies:


Firstly, it emphasised a division between the body and the mind.

Secondly, it elevated the mind above the body.
Thirdly, it facilitated the puritanical mindset by delegitimising the the carnal dimension of the human person.
Fourthly, It tipped the cultural balance in favor of the theoretical over the real 
Fifthly, it enabled the formation of "constructed" identities which sought to escape their carnal limitations.

I suppose the best example of this line of reasoning is exemplified by the transgender movement, which draws much of its cultural legitimacy from the Christian-Manichean heritage. Here self-identity is seen as being divorced from its carnal incarnation. With the prioritisation of the spirit over the flesh inherent in such a schema, it becomes extremely difficult to delegitimise requests for "gender reassignment"  in a culture where identity is seen  primarily as a mental construct with priority over its existing its carnal manifestations. Where the spirit is separate from the flesh it's quite possible to be assigned the wrong flesh, where the relationship is hylomorphic it's impossible.

The problem with excarnational perspective is that it separates the spirit/mind from human nature and allows for the construction of mental identities independent of human nature and which see themselves superior to it. It is this mechanism with fuels the pride associated with puritanism.


While this perspective has wrecked the most havoc with regard to human sexuality it--something I want to touch on in the next post and answer Chent--it's pernicious effects on Western culture has been far and wide.

Take for example politics.

Nativism tends to see political society as instinctively originating from a people.  To the nativist, the body politic is not simply an abstraction but a manifestation of a carnal reality. Romania differs from England because the Romanians are different from the English, and these differences are apparent instinctively. Even if the laws were the same, there would still be a difference. For the nativist, Romania is not an idea, Romania is not a proposition,  it's a collection of Romanians.

But apparently nativism is bad.

Modern political theory sees political society arising from legal citizenship. Here the state is built upon abstract legal rights independent of their carnal manifestations. A man can be a Frenchman, Nigerian or Chinese or a woman for that matter, simply by virtue of the their legally constructed identity independent of their carnal manifestations. What unites is the idea,  the carnal reality is irrelevant.

Political citizenship here is not seen as having any carnal dimension as the disembodied self, in abstract, is the foundational principle of such a polity, irrespective of whether human nature recognises such a commonality.  For example, to put it crudely American political theory is premised on the notion that "inside every Gook there is an American waiting to come out" and it's never questioned  whether the "Gookiness" of the Gook puts any limits on their ability on being American. American legal theory is "colour blind" and does not see the U.S. as having a carnal embodiment. Now there are many Americans who would doubt this but no where in the constitution does race feature.


Had the U.S. really lived up to its ideals at the time of its inception I image that it would have destroyed itself or transformed into a Brazilian type of state. What made America "work" following its establishment were legislative and judicial"interpretations" which effectively "carnalised" the idea of America, through legal instruments which limited migration and unjustly limited rights to the Caucasian peoples. And even here there were immense difficulties. I'm not passing judgement on this, only recognising the facts, and it's only when the U.S. has been called to task over its hypocrisy between its founding principles and legal practice has the U.S. begun to socially unravel. The problem with U.S. and Enlightenment political theory is that ideas are all that  matter and that human nature needs to be pushed aside.

It's political decarnalisation.

With regard to the matter of secularisation, does God give his blessing to a decarnalised theology? If not, that would explain a lot of the current state of affairs.



Monday, June 08, 2020

Thoughts on Dreher's Collapsing Imperium


 who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions,  quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.

Hebrews 11:33-34


A digression.

One of the reasons why I write so much about theology is because I feel that the only force that can stop the decline of the West is the resurrection of religion.  And I know how far-fetched and idiotic it can appear to many.

One of the common tropes among conservatives is the notion that as a religion liberalises it dies.  Protestant Churches which have gone liberal are dying. I'm not saying this as a mark of triumph, simply as an observation of fact.  The same thing has happened to the Catholic Church, but as this blog has written about in the past, the collapse of the Catholicism in the 1960's could not have happened without the help of "traditional" religion  which undermined its foundations. The Sixties revolution worked because the faith, much like the French Army in the 1930's, was strong on paper but otherwise weak.

What I'm trying to get at is the notion that any deviation from orthodoxy, either in Left or Right forms is going to undermine the faith. Bad theology means bad religion, which means weak religion. Priests and prophets that preach rubbish are not going to get the support of God.  Grace, my good fellows is the motive force of belief and when you take it away, belief withers.  The Church does not fade because it is liberal or conservative, it fades because it is wrong.  That's why, in ye olde days, the prophets of restoration preached the notion of getting back on track.

These thoughts came to me once again after reading a recent post by Rod Dreher. Fleeing the Collapsing Imperium. It and the Benedict Option are works which are in keeping with soy contemporary Christianity. It is a Christianity that is unable to assert itself in the face of evil and it has totally deligitimised any notion of legitimate defense. It is the Christianity of a Church dying.

I think Dreher is accurately seeing what is coming to the faithful, but his Christianity--which is quite mainstream--is unable to do anything to stop it. It expects, at best, to run away and find refuge or to be left alone.  At worst, it expects a test of wills where the Christian expects to take a continually beating--sustained by the faith--till evil exhausts itself.   The virtue is in the suffering. The hope is that there is always a place to escape to.

This type of Christianity is not a Christianity that can be squared with the traditions of our forefathers. If we regard the Church as diachronic, in other words, as existing throughout time, our forefathers must look upon our modern Christianity as something foreign to their understanding of it.

The Sieges of Vienna and Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, the Morean Wars, could never have been fought by a modern Christianity. Dreher--and the theologians upon which his religion is based--would have run away, or stood by and taken the punishment from the Ottomans. The other problem with this modern approach is that it deligtimises any legitimate form of defence against evil--say Western powers in WW2--while all enjoying the benefits of their sacrifice.

How to evaluate this theologically?

If we accept the notion that Grace, Goodness and Faith are somehow correlated we got to conclude that something has gone badly astray in the Christian religion from the times of our forefathers. In the Age of Christian Warfare the faith was strong, in the Age of Christian pacifism the faith is week.  I can't prove the link, I only note the correlation. 

I suspect that the reason why we live in a faithless age is because God may not be pleased with a soy Christianity.

Note: I'm not advocating anyone do anything stupid, given the inflammatory times. This post is meant to provoke some THOUGHTS on the relationship between legitimate defence and the Christian Religion, not to provoke some armed insurrection.


Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Charles Taylor: The Protestant Motive

One of the other aspects of Charles Taylor's book that bothered me was his understanding of the  forces behind the Reformation.

As Taylor explains it, religous development within the socio-cultural enviroment  that was the Middle Ages resulted in a "two speed" Christianity.  On one hand, there was the "higher" Christianity which was represented by the ascetic ideals of the monks and religious,  and there there was the "lower" level which represented everyone else. [Sorry for the wall of text but brevity is not Taylor's strong point]
The tension arises when it comes to determining what is the Christian life for those who are engaged in full human flourishing [Ed: Taylor uses the term "flourishing" in a way different to modern religous though seeing human flourishing in opposition to spiritual virtue], through work, family, civic life, friends, building for society and the future, and so on. The holy renouncer puts the two together in that his/her renunciation can directly serve works of mercy, healing. But how about the person engaged in ordinary life, married, with children, living from the land or from a trade?

An answer can be given valid in theory for everyone: Go beyond the kind of affirmation of the good of life which the ordinary homme moyen sensuel makes, which is very much focused on my own good, my own life, and might even be willing to sacrifice endless others to this; and connect to the affirmation of God, his agape, which loves all mankind, and is ready to give without stint, to let go of what I hold in order to be part of the movement of love.

But for the ordinary householder this answer seems to require something paradoxical: living in all the practices and institutions of flourishing, but at the same time not fully in them. Being in them but not of them; being in them, but yet at a distance, ready to lose them. Augustine put it: use the things of this world, but don't enjoy them; uti, not frui. Or do it all for the glory of God, in the Loyola-Calvin formulation.

The big problem is working out what this means. Any attempt to tie it down faces two opposite dangers. One is to set the element of renunciation so high as to make the life of flourishing a travesty of itself. In particular, think of the teaching to the laity in the Middle Ages about married sexuality. It totally excluded any sexual joy. The other is, to set a bare minimum. Think of the minimum necessary for salvation: keeping certain important commandments. But then we know even these will often be broken; so in the end the minimum demands simply that you repent in time.

The end result here is that an inherent danger built into this tension itself now befalls us. We clearly set the renunciative vocations above the ordinary lay ones. There are first- and second-class Christians; the second being in a sense carried by the first. We fall back into hierarchical complementarity.

Whereas the crucial truth that we wanted to hold on to was the complementariry of all lives and vocations, where we all serve under God, and can't put some above others.

So there seems to be a dilemma here, between demanding too much renunciation from the ordinary person, on one hand, and relaxing these demands, but at the cost of a multi-speed system, on the other.

Radical Protestantism utterly rejects the multi-speed system, and in the name of this abolishes the supposedly higher, renunciative vocations; but also builds renunciation into ordinary life. It avoids the second horn, but comes close to the first danger above: loading ordinary flourishing with a burden of renunciation it cannot carry. It in fact fills out the picture of what the properly sanctified life would be with a severe set of moral demands. This seems to be unavoidable in the logic of rejecting complementarity, because if we really must hold that all vocations are equally demanding, and don't want this to be a levelling down, then all must be at the most exigent pitch.

Images of order and disorder were important here. The justified, sanctified person eschewed disordered conduct, put his/her life in order, made an end of drunkenness, fornication, unbridled speech, immoderate laughter, fights, violence, etc.

Moreover, Calvinists shared with many people of the day, particularly elites, a strong sense of the scandal of social disorder, that the general behaviour was sinful in the above ways, and that society as a whole was given over to disorder, vice, injustice, blasphemy, etc. It was an important goal to remedy this, on the social and not only the personal level.

Here is where it becomes significant" that Protestantism is in the line of continuity with mediaeval reform, attempting to raise general standards, not satisfied with a world in which only a few integrally fulfill the gospel, but trying to make certain pious practices absolutely general.

But in view of the importance now given to social order, the generalization of moral demands involved not only placing high moral demands on one's own life, but also putting order into society. This was not seen as involving a watering down of the standards of personal morality, but as completing them. Calvin held that we have to control the vices of the whole society, lest the vicious infect the others. We are all responsible for each other, and for society as a whole."

And indeed, getting the degree of order which Calvinist societies often aimed at--e.g., Geneva, New England—was quite exceptional in history, and was unprecedented. It involved a leap higher than what had gone before, and was understood as such.

But, of course, the idea was not that human beings could do this on their own. Only the power of God could make this possible. We had to recognize our own helplessness, and turn to God in faith, in order to achieve this. This is what made the whole enterprise utterly different from a new and more highly moralized view about human flourishing. Only those who were turned quite beyond human flourishing, to God, building this order for the glory of God and not for human convenience, could pull it off.
According to the him, one of the motive forces of the Reformation was to get rid of the two speed system and to replace it with a universal one. Now, this may be true for some of the radical elements of Protestantism at the time,  but Taylor neglects the elephant in the room i.e. the prevailing corruption and moral laxity in the Catholic Church.
It's important to note that when Luther started his protest he wasn't intending to leave the Church. A far more tenable theory is that motive force behind the Protestant revolution was the disgust at the machinations of some of the "higher" up clergy, in much the same way modern Catholics are disgusted at the failure of the clergy in dealing the with sexual abuse of minors. Protestantism became a reform movement to clean up the Catholic Church.

Trouble had been brewing for a while and reform movements were attempted well before Luther but its clear that the successful christianisation of European society in the middle ages resulted in a large number of  "lower down" Christians noticing the divergence between theory and practice, especially by those "higher up". And in a world where religion was important this was going to cause a whole world of trouble.

This is why I think the Ernst Troeltsch is right in saying that Protestantism was a continuation of medievalism. It was an attempt by "low level" Christian society to make the Christian elites, live up to the Christian ideals. It wasn't simply an issue of theological innovation as Taylor asserts as  a lot of the Protestantisms seemed quite OK with the "two speed" system.   And it wasn't an attempt to impose asceticsm on the world as much as it was an attempt to impose holiness. But the problem is that holiness was understood as being ascetic.

And this is where the problem lays, there's no conception of an unascetic holiness.


Taylor tends to see Protestantism as reinforcing the distinction between body and spirit but fails to mention that this tendency has always been present in Catholicism. The whole point of Thomism was to produce a counter-force to this tendency and reinforce the unity of the body and spirit. In a weird sort of way, the Protestant Reformation was able to to reassert this, contrary to what Taylor says.

The idea of vocation, in Protestantism, meant that even the lowly, in their trades and simple profession could be holy by executing whatever office they had in life in a Christian manner faithfully. Holiness became more a tangible everyday thing instead of a profession of renunciation associated with the clergy. Indeed, in many ways, some of the strains of Protestantism were profoundly Thomistic. That's not to say that other strains of Protestantism weren't profoundly Augustinian in their approach it's just that Protestant effect on Western Civilisation was far more complex than Taylor asserts and in many ways it expressed itself in tendencies which were the fulfillment of Catholicism. What I'm saying is that Protestantism per se did not lead to atheism rather that its effects on Christianity were complex and Taylor does not do it justice.

In fact, the more I look at Protestantism the more I'm convinced that it was providential insofar as it led to a reform of Catholicism, but the price paid for elite intransigence was horrific and a separation from the clergy--even though it was corrupt--meant that the Protestant system would eventually wither--at least in Europe.  And what I mean by this is that Protestantism seems, to me at least, to have been sustained by some kind of special Grace which serves Providence, even though it is separated from the sacraments.

A Protestantism sustained by Grace does not lead to atheism.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Charles Taylor: The Enchanted World

One of the concepts that Taylor wants to put across in his book was that the process of secularisation was abetted by a loss of the sense of "enchantment' in the pre-Modern world. Enchantment, as I understood him to mean it, meant that the world we lived in was seen as being infused with supernatural forces of both good and bad kinds.   Trees and rocks could be good, streams bad, forests foreboding and all of which could pass the "their magic" onto the individual  According to Taylor this worldview aided religious belief and the loss of it was one of the factors which led to secularisation.

 Taylor holds that this belief in "enchantment" resulted in the individual being "porous". Porosity in this instance being an "openness" to experiential states which would lead to transcendence. It also generated a sense of external agency affecting the human condition.

Now one of the things he tries to get across is that the rise of Protestantism  set forth a chain of events which resulted in a loss of this worldview.  The Protestant mindset resulted in a man that was less open and more "buffered" in the sense that there was less of a sense of external agency and more of inner responsibility for the outcome of a mans affairs. I'm not doing Taylor in this brief description but essentially the shift was that from being at the mercy of the gods to being agents of self-control responsible largely for their own destiny.

I personally don't buy it.

Protestantism may have resulted in more individual responsibility but it doesn't follow that the more responsible a man the less "enchanted" he is.

Rather Christianity itself was rather disenchanting. Good old Roman Catholicism seem quite keen to get rid of the pagan Gods and idols. As Eugene Weber mentioned in his book, Catholic priests, especially of the more stricter Jansenist/Augustinian types took to the destruction of pagan symbols and shrines with quite a bit of gusto.  Christianity as a whole wanted to drive out all the other Gods for the one true God.  It wasn't just the humanists doing the disenchanting.  And the Old Testament is full of contempt about worshiping rocks and wooden idols

What I think that Taylor--obscured in all his verbiage-- is trying to get at is that superstition i.e. enchantment, was one of the foundations of belief. Once again this is humanism 101 and really doesn't help the Christian analysis with regard to the process of secularisation.  Faith and superstition are two separate things.

Friday, May 08, 2020

Charles Taylor's, A Secular Age.



One of the main contentions of this blog is that politics is downstream from culture. Culture, itself is largely formed by values, which are in turn strongly influenced by religion.  It's also this blogs contention that the decline in religion is the main cause for the decline in the West and that any hope of its restoration is also contingent upon the return of religion.  I know it would be easier to propose some political program that advocate this approach but my own analysis of the situation, over many years, has led me to the conclusion that there is no other way.

That's why for a while now I've taken an interest in the process of secularisation. I've been away for the blog for the past few weeks because, firstly, for professional reasons I've been busy with matters concerning the virus. Secondly, because I've been working through Charles Taylor's, A Secular Age.

Dear God, what a slog!

I've read some quite awful medical textbooks which have made the eyes glaze over but Taylor's book, in my opinion, is in a league of its own. I found it an incredibly difficult book. Not because the concepts that Taylor is trying to get across are difficult to understand, rather, they are drowned in a series of digressions, back-tracks, changes in perspectives and verbosity that obscures more than clarify. And that's a shame because Taylor does have a few interesting things to say, it's only that they are drowned in an ocean of verbiage.  Given the high praise the book has received, I thought that it must be me who has the problem, but after reading up on several other reviews of the book I realised  I was not the only one. Apparently, Taylor was asked to write a condensed version of the book, but bristled at the idea since he felt that the book should have been longer!

To those interested in sparing themselves the pain, someone else has done a highly recommended "summary" of it and I referred to it as well to see if I wasn't misreading him. I also compared my thoughts with those of several other commentators as well. I feel I have a measure of the man and his ideas.

Part of the reason why the book is so long is because Taylor approaches the subject as a romantic Hegelian phenomenologist. He writes about the subject of belief from the experiential perspective. i.e how does religious belief, or lack of it, feel with respect to the individual. This is not a book about cognition and more about the experience of religion.  Overlaid is a Hegelian historical approach in analysing the cultural forces which impacted upon the systems of belief, and the individual's response to them.  Taylor examines these in depth and with a degree of thoroughness. But this approach opens itself up to endless digressions, backtracking and conceptual obscurity and  hence the book's length. (I can see why Taylor wanted a longer book).  I also  got the impression that there were many times that the English language failed to give Taylor a term for the concept he was trying to express. Terms such as " Fullness", "Enchantment", "frames"  and " Buffered-self", etc. were imperfect expressions of the ideas he was trying to get across.  It's about the historical gestalt of belief.  In some instances the German language has a better terminology for what Taylor is trying to express.

I would say that the central thesis of this book is that modern unbelief is prevalent  because of the change in what Taylor calls  European man's "frame" i.e. weltanshauung, that occurred as a result of the social and cultural developments that followed the Reformation. Western man started off inhabiting an "enchanted" frame where spirits and magic were understood as being entangled in the material world and ended up viewing the world through a cold instrumental rationalism which was hostile to anything outside it. i.e. the Immanent frame.

Taylor does not say that these frames preclude the faith, simply that  the earlier perspectives or "frames" made the faith easy, modern ones make it difficult. The drift towards secularism is as a result of a change in our worldview. Taylor's insight is that modern secular age is not really strictly secular but is inhabited by beings who find their own grey zone of belief as the result of the unique equilibrium achieved in each particular individual by balance of cultural, personal, psychological and social forces which can vary over time to find a new stable point. These forces work on the individual resulting in them being "cross pressured." It's not the secular age is an age of unbelief, it's an age of a variety of different kinds of belief.

I got the impression that Taylor thought this a better state of affairs than a world of militant secularism  i.e some religion is better than  none, but from my perspective this is a mistaken evaluation. For what matters to me as a Christian, and someone who hopes for restoration of the West, is the re-establishment of the Christian faith and the fact that people choose a false god over militant secularism is of no comfort at all.

I've got to say that I found this book really disappointing and don't understand what the hype is all about. I think it obscures more than it clarifies the loss of faith in the West. There are many reasons why I didn't like this book. Some of which are;

Firstly, the book approaches the subject of faith through a purely immanent frame. As I understood Taylor, faith is ultimately the product of personal choice conditioned by cultural circumstances. The theological element of religion is ignored. I want to delve into this in the next post but I feel that this approach fatally cripples the book in its understanding of the mechanics of secularisation.

Secondly,  I think he gives Catholicism a relatively free pass with regard to setting the conditions for secularisation. Second rate Thomism was as a profound solvent of belief as hyper-Augustinian Protestantism. I feel that in a book of this length Taylor should have given it some consideration.

Thirdly,  I think Taylor's interpretation of the Reformation is open to some serious challenge. Some of his understandings of Protestant motivations I found highly unconvincing.

Fourthly, Taylor's definition of secularisation means a religious freedom rather  than dechristianisation. For a Christian, getting people to believe in the Buddha may not be secular but it does nothing for the Christian cause. The book really should of been called, Belief in a Post Christian Age.

Still, as much as I really didn't like this book I have to commend it for several reasons:

Firstly, most people are not strict logicians, and the experience of religion is more a feeling that a logical demonstration. Taylor's approach therefore is more akin to how the average person experiences religion as opposed to how the convert or true believer does, and is therefore useful in understanding the basis religion or secularisation as a mass phenomenon.  Taylor does not take the approach of the zealot.

Secondly, there are nuggets of wisdom in this book but finding them is like panning for gold. You've got to sift a lot of waste--and verbiage-- to find them.

Thirdly, the Hegelian approach is probably a better way of approaching the gestalt of cultural phenomenon rather than a simple reductionist one.  Western secularisation is the product of multiple factors and simple reductions that explain everything i.e. race, The Enlightement, nominalism, etc. sometimes obscure more than clarify the issue. A lot of the critiques of modernity especially in the non-official Right are reductionist and are therefore blind to important factors that are outside their thrust. Their popularity most probably rests on the fact that most people can't juggle more than one variable in their head at any time. With stuff like this you have to do multifactoral analysis to do them justice.

Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, Taylor introduces the concept of excarnation. This is a hugely important topic that deserves a lot more thought since in my opinion it is one of the main drivers of secularisation.  This blog introduced this concept several years ago [Preen] calling it decarnalisation. It was a pleasant surprise to see something thinking along the same lines! I think it is an important concept with regard to the weakening of the Christian faith and while this blog only touched on the subject Taylor pushes the idea further.

As said before,  this book is an increadible difficult read. And despite its incredible verbiage, what haunts this book is what is not is only indirectly mentioned, i.e. the spirit of Augustine or at least a fanatical interpretation of his teachings. I honestly don't actually think that this is good book about secularisation but what I do think that this book is a good book on how unchecked asceticism can deform and undermine Christianity.  While reading this book, I formed the opinion that an excellent companion book to this one is G.K. Chesterton's, St Thomas Aquinas. Chesterton, with both brevity and clarity, explains what was stake when Aquinas provided an antidote to the platonic tendencies in Augustine. The Reformation was in many ways justified but in providing a corrective to many of the abuses of the time in some way reversed this victory.

Bonus: A good review of the book.