Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Neoreactionary Theology of the Body.

Atheist warning. This is a religious post.

One of the positive developments with regard to Neoreaction has been the reassertion of the role of biology with regard to human nature. This reassertion has far deeper sociological significance than may be initially appreciated and poses as direct challenge to one of the main tenets of Liberalism, namely, the  "blank slate" theory of man. This theory is one of the pillars of Liberalism since it posits man as a being of endless potential. All it takes to shape man into whatever a social engineer wants him to be is to have control over what is written onto the slate in order to form a man of his choosing. 

The assertion of the role of biology is a direct challenge to this view and places strict limits on the ability of social engineers, hence, both the danger and potentiality of Neoreaction.  Thus wherever Liberalism's aims are thwarted by biological reality, the liberal approach will be the attack the validity of the underlying reality or deny it. So it's no surprise that when presented with mountains of evidence asserting the importance of biology, the liberal Cathedral does all that it can to discredit those who assert it. (Intelligent readers can already see the foundational tension between liberalism and science.)

It's important to understand how "blank-slatism" was able to gain widespread acceptance. Though the notion had been debated since ancient times, it was never taken seriously given the obviously manifest natural inequalities present in men to those who can see. It only gained serious traction in the West once John Locke published An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. From that point on we see it gaining gradual widespread acceptance, until now, where the concept of unlimited human potentiality is nearly universal. How did it happen?

The space offered in this blog is insufficient to do the subject full justice, but the increasing literacy of the population,  the advancement of science and the rise in democratic sentiment all were influential. However, ideas are like seeds, and in order to flourish they need a fertile "culture". It's my contention that it is Christian culture, particularly its more ascetic factions, which provided the "superfood" in which the idea could grow. Sure, history does show that Christianity fought like a tiger against the more radical ideas of the Enlightenment, but eventually it lost the battle because, unknowing to itself,  it was providing the enemy with ammunition. One of the more diabolical features of the radical enlightenment is was able co-opt various strains Christian thought to further its cause.

To understand the problem we need to visit the subject of Hylomorphism. Hylomorphism is the Aristotelian idea, further developed by Aquinas, that humans being are unified entity comprised  of matter(body) and form (soul) [Ed:this is highly simplified] and it needs to be understood that hylomorphism regards body and soul as one thing. The Catholic Church and other strains of Christianity have always advocated the idea of the unity of the soul and the flesh. Now, amongst the intellectually disciplined the unity of the body/form concept is recognised, but amongst the intellectually sloppy, which comprise the bulk of humanity, it's easy to see how the idea of body and soul could be seen as two separate entities.

It didn't help things, that despite upholding the doctrine of hylomorphism, the Church in practice worked against it. Its continual emphasis of the importance of the spirit and the denigration of the flesh meant that when it came to the average man's conception of the human being, two notions were associated in his mind. Spirit=Good, Flesh=Bad. Thus, not only was a duality was formed but so was a polarity.

Overlaid upon this were several other notions of Christianity:

1) Firstly, the idea that man was completely able to be "renewed in Christ":
2) No man was unforgivable, and thus everyman was capable of being reborn.
3) An emphasis on the flesh being a source of evil.
4) Christianity's emphasis on "getting souls to heaven" and a  "who cares" approach to the demands of the flesh.

The balanced mind could see the context and limitation of these notions, but to the average-bulk-of-humanity man, who's thought processes are more an amalgam of associations and impressions, these notions could be corrupted into ideas that the human spirit is infinitely malleable and good. The flesh on the other hand, was an impediment toward spiritual perfection. Thus ascetic Christianity, despite its intentions, drove a wedge between body and soul. Furthermore, it was traditionally thought that the mind resided in the soul so its quite easy to see how people could conflate the soul's infinite transformative potentiality in Christ with the mind's infinite transformative potentiality. Once you've reached this point its only a small step away from liberalism.   It's not very difficult to see the analogy with Liberalism's blank slate and  the soul's unlimited potentiality. And the more the Church doubled down with religious asceticism against Liberalism, the more support it gave to its enemy.

Once you can get people thinking that spirit/mind good, flesh bad, then all sorts of interesting things become possible. Biology becomes disassociated from person-hood and its seen as something that can be overcome. It's very easy to see the analogy between some desert ascetic trying to break away from the desires of flesh to become a more fully "authentic" Christian and some homosexual male wanting to become a woman but  who is "trapped by their flesh". Both men are trying to escape the realities of their biology.

Sex and gender, likewise become disassociated: the sex being the biology and the gender being the spirit. The feminist approach to sexuality, largely opposed by traditional Christianity, is nevertheless supported by by Christianity's "real world" approach to the human person. Radical feminism is enabled by a Carnal-Lite human anthropology. Being true to biology doesn't matter if you think the flesh is bad.

Finally, given the infinite potential of the human spirit. Human person-hood can be constructed in such a way that is totally divorced from reality. Masculinity and femininity no longer become identity's intimately entangled with their biology, rather, they are identities superimposed onto it by whatever is the prevailing philosophical system. The congruence with biology being incidental or haphazard.  "Authentic" sexuality thus becomes a series of competing philosophical claims with scant reference to underlying physical reality. Manhood (or womanhood) then becomes whatever you want it to be.

One of the interesting phenomenon of history is the rise of Gnosticism, a phenomenon which was relatively unknown till the rise of Christianity and which shares many of the features of liberalism. It too, emphasised  the goodness of the spirit and the badness of the flesh but took the notions to extremes. Scholars have approached the subject of Gnosticism from philosophical perspective but I think they have erred. It's my view the Gnosticism is a product of the product of the cognitive limitations of the average human, particularly his preference for  System I thought.  System I thought is "thinking" by association rather than thinking by logic and evidence. The coincidence of Gnosticism with Christian culture is easily understood as arising from a Christian culture which though, theoretically committed to the concept of hyelomorphism was practically biased against the flesh and very pro-spirit.

Gnosticism, in its various forms, will be inadvertently enabled by Christianity as long as it keeps regarding the flesh as an inferior to the spirit. In my opinion, any push back against the modern understanding of the person will only come about when the Church starts reasserting not only the goodness of the flesh but of the obligation of the spirit to conform to it insofar as it is compatible with Caritas. Biology matters.

I have a feeling that JPII sensed this. His own Theology of the Body was, in my opinion, a botched attempt at reasserting the flesh's goodness. But it was a noble effort. It falls upon a new generation of men to build a new Theology of the Body. Christian thinkers need not only to reaffirm the hylomorphic concept but to proclaim anew the goodness of the flesh.