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.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Clericalism

Sorry lads, another religious post.

Clericalism is topical currently because of its purported relationship with the sexual abuse crisis affecting the Church. However, in my opinion, this is a great example where faulty concepts of clericalism confuse more than they help. One of the key problems in understanding the problem of clericalism is that it means different things to different people, the vagueness of its definition contributing quite a bit to a misunderstanding of its effects. A good help to understanding the phenomenon is surprisingly Wikipaedia, which describes clericalism as:
...clericalism is often used to denote ecclesiolatry, that is, excessive devotion to the institutional aspects of an organized religion, usually over and against the religion's own beliefs or faith.
I think this is a good starting point since it emphasises what is the core poison of clericalism,
ecclesiolatry. The core idea behind ecclesiolatry is the notion that clergy is somehow special and the the rules that apply to the rest Christianity don't really apply to them.  From a Christian perspective this is a loser's game.

One of the things which makes an understanding of clericalism difficult is the fact that it assumes different forms. From my perspective I can identity three forms:

1) Venal Clericalism:

This type of clericalism values the Church and its offices for personal advantages that can be gained by doing so. A good example of this is the priest who views his work as a job instead of a vocation, and see's himself as a career man, hoping to climb the ranks and thereby attaining all their associated privileges. The care of the faithful is only of secondary concern.

At is most base, venal clericalism aims at securing a position of worldly status and advantage by virtue of being a priest. The corruption of the Borgia popes, for instance, is a typical example of this type.

The thing is that while this type of clericalism does a lot of damage, it's also the type that's easiest to spot and therefore relatively easy to combat since it is the most obvious.

2) Institutional Clericalism:

This type of clericalism is a more principled type and it's here where we start to get into more spiritually corrupting territory. Here the integrity of the institution--i.e. the Church as occupied by the clergy--is valued above its founding principles. The typical example here is that, is in an effort to avoid scandal, the clergy hides crimes in order to preserve the "reputation" of the Church. i.e. The Church lies in order to appear good. Sinning to appear virtuous is a spiritual oxymoron and you eventually have to pay the price. The problem is that when this stuff is eventually exposed--as it always is-- the Church ends up appearing as a hypocrite, undermining the peoples' faith in the Church as a whole.

Of all the types of clericalism it is this type that played a moderate role in the sexual abuse crisis of the Church. Many of the bishops and senior clerics when made aware of sexual abuse were horrified at the stories of abuse but wanted desperately to preserve the reputation of the church--at the expense of justice to the victims-- and covered the crimes up.

One of things that sin is meant to do is disturb a well formed conscience, but institutional clericalism does is provide a salve for any such disturbances. Doing something wrong? It's OK its for the good of the Church.  I imagine that many clergy have lied, suppressed truth, and punished victims in order to "preserve" the reputation of the Church. Sins which help you sleep soundly are very deadly indeed.

3) Spiritual Clericalism.

Here we get into the real spiritual poison and it's the one that seems to have Catholicism in its grip at the moment. Here the clergy abrogate to themselves the notion that they are the true guardians of the faith and no one but them has a monopoly on the truth. Not only do these people, with certainty, know what is right and wrong, but know in advance how God will act in the future. In these individuals,  there is no sense or meaningful notion that they could be wrong about something...........the thought never occurs in their head. There are zero pangs of conscience, instead they double down when challenged.

It needs to be understood that this type of clericalism has both its liberal and conservative variants and in my mind has three distinguishing features. Firstly there the lack  of fidelity to the Pope: unless the Pope is teaching on their terms.

How this type of clericalism differs from conscience is that conscience knows that it may differ from papal teaching but it does not assume the Pope a heretic. Conscience assumes that there may be some accommodation  with the Pope and the person remains in the Church, or no accommodation at all  and the person has to leave. It does not assume that the Pope should leave the Church.

And secondly there is a lack of fidelity toward the truth. Facts which are inconvenient are simply ignored.

Thirdly: As for the laity.........who are they?

As I've argued before, there is no restoration of Western Civilisation until a religious revival occurs. My current working hypothesis that the secularization of the West has primarily come about because there is something seriously wrong with religion in the West. This "wrongness" has been present in the Church from at least the mid 19th Century and unless it is corrected Western civilisation is doomed. Clericalism, particularly versions (2) and (3) have contributed significantly to this wrongness and they need to be tackled and purged before things can be made right. I'm not sure that the clergy has the resources in itself to tackle the problem and that's why I'm increasingly convinced that the future of the West may lay with the Christian laity.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Resurrection: Signs and Omens



In ancient Rome it was the role of the auguries to determine the will of the Gods through the omens observed. The Romans, unlike our modern contemporaries, were religious people who felt that the Gods communicated to men though signs and phenomenon from which the carefully observant would divine their will. So firm was their belief in this state of affairs that they would not proceed with an important issue unless the God's were on their side.

By nature I'm very skeptical sort of guy, not prone to such practices, but I've got to admit that the burning of Notre Dame sure felt like an omen to me: an uneasy one. Notre Dame isn't just another Church, it's in many ways the symbol of French Catholicity--with all that brings--and its partial destruction seemed to be a foreboding sign.  Unlike many other church fires, even the atheists recoginised that the is fire had a far greater symbolic significance.

Some traditionalist wags on Twitter--wishing to prove that God was on their side-- commented that the new modern altar was buried under the rubble while the "traditionalist" one remained unscathed.  What they forgot to point out is that a lot of the old Church was destroyed and if destruction was a sign of the Divine Will,  then God seemed to be unhappy with some bits of the "old" Church as well.

Some of the more liberal commentators felt that the destruction while regrettable was a new opportunity to rebuild the Church in a way "reflective of contemporary French society".  Anyone familiar with modern architecture and contemporary politics  can only interpret this angle with a great deal of apprehension.  The French secular state has been hostile to the Church and it is not beyond the realms of  possibility that it will exert its power to "rebuild" Notre Dame in way which both asserts its authority and humiliates the Catholic Church.

Knowing what crimes modern architecture is capable of, many are calling for the Church to be restored to exactly how it was before the fire.  I'm not particularly opposed to this view, especially considering the potential modern alternatives but if this fire really was an omen of sorts then I don't think that's going to happen. This is what comes to mind;
Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables,and to those who sold doves he said, "Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace. His disciples recalled the words of scripture, "Zeal for your house will consume me." At this the Jews answered and said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?"Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking about the temple of his body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.

As I said before, I'm a skeptical sort of guy, but it there is any omen here, in my mind it is signifying that a change is coming,  probably through French Catholicism first. The temple is being torn down and its going to get rebuilt but it won't be a copy of the old.  Still,  I couldn't but feel looking at the photos of the old altar standing relatively unscathed by the fire that everything was going to be alright in the end. No matter what calamities may befall us, the Faith will endure.

He has conquered death and its corruption.