Saturday, December 28, 2019

Protestant Integralism

I know I told Bruce Charlton that my next post was going to be on modernisation but I've been struck down with a cold and the brain is a bit mushy.

One of the interesting questions for me is why did countries like Spain, Portugal and Ireland, which could in many way be considered Integralist,  so rapidly secularise following the collapse of the political structures which supported the Church.

One of the brightest guys dealing with the subject is José Casanova, one of the world's top scholars on the sociology of religion. Cassanova's expertise is in the relation between religion, modernity and secularisation. I thought I would post an extended quote from one of his books as he provides a very good explanation with regard to the mechanics at play.  For those of you who can't be bothered reading it the executive summary is as follows:

1) Catholicism made no space for the secular.
2) Any secularising force had to to oppositional to Catholicism and therefore hostile.
3) Calvinism allowed a secular space.
4) Protestantism was able to blur the distinction between the secular and sacred, integrating the two in a way that Catholicism was never able.

As John Witte shows in this book, Luther reassembled the dualism of the Augustinian two kingdoms theory in novel ways that led to relocations of the sacred, the religious and the secular. Most importantly - and this is the key difference with the laicist Southern-Latin pattern - the core dualism between the religious clergy and the secular laity is dissolved by mutual infusion, so that, in Witte's formulation, "Luther's doctrine of the priesthood of all believers at once laicised' the clergy and 'clericised' the laity."[ED] The 'clerical' office of preaching and teaching was secularised, becoming one secular vocation just like any other, while the traditional 'lay' offices now became "forms of divine calling and priestly vocation." 
The 'church' is also radically transformed in the process. A new dualism now emerges between the ecclesiastical institution, which as a visible church is just, part of the saeculum that falls under the law of the earthly kingdom, i. e., the state, and the invisible church of the eschatological communion of the saints. In the process, the 'true religion', the Kingdom of God, of Love and of the Gospel, mutates into a religion of inwardness and migrates to the individual conscience, eventually giving birth to pietist movements on the margins of the ecclesiastical institution, which prepared the ground for the modern cult of the individual and the sacralisation of human rights. Secularisation or soft `deconfessionalisation' in this context means : a) continued adherence to the national church, which remains under the jurisdiction of the national sovereign; b) a drastic decline in religious (ecclesiastical) beliefs (confessional faith) and practices (rituals); c) interiorisation of a modern, individual, spiritual realm which becomes the authentic space of the sacred. There are of course tensions between the three domains of the religious-secular-sacred: a) the democratic national collective (the civil religion); b) the ecclesiastical Lutheran church; and c) the individual inward conscience. But there is no radical chasm or schism between the three.
 The Southern Latin Catholic pattern evinces different dynamics of dissociation and relocation of the social sacred (state and nation), the ecclesiastical institution (the Catholic Church) and the religion of the individual. The process of absolutist confessionalisation is based on a close alliance between throne and altar, but the transnational structure of the Catholic Church and papal supremacy do not allow the kind of integration and fusion of the two one finds in the Nordic Lutheran pattern, even under caesaro-papist Gallicanism[ED]. The secularisation of the state takes place through a radical break with the church that resists disestablishment. The schism here leads to a protracted chasm, indeed to a kind of prolonged civil war within the social sacred between a new republican laicist civil religion and the old national Catholic religion. The Latin-Catholic path of laicization is marked not by integration but by civil-ecclesiastical and laic-clerical antagonism. It maintains rigidly the boundaries between the religious and the secular, but pushes those boundaries into the margins, containing, privatising and marginalising everything religious. When it breaks the monastery walls, it will not be to bring the religious into the secular world, but to laicize them, dissolving and empting their religious content and making religious people (monks and nuns) civil and laic before forcing them into the secular world. Deconfessionalisation of state, nation, and individuals here means assertive anti-Catholic unchurching.
The absolutist principle cuius regio ejus religio was not significantly altered by the shift of sovereignty from the monarch to the nation or people with the fall of the ancient regimes or with increasing massive democratisation process in the 20th century. European societies have remained religiously homogeneous societies, and the only significant change has been that from belief to unbelief. In this sense the process of European secularisation ought to be understood primarily as a process of deconfessionalization of states, nations, and individuals. But here one can also distinguish between the Nordic pattern of soft deconfessionalisation, which can best be characterized as 'belonging without believing', that is, secularisation without unchurching, and the more radical deconfessionalisation of the Catholic South that accompanies laicist unchurching. Denmark presents the paradigmatic case of a European society with one of the lowest rates of religious belief and practice accompanied by one of the highest rates of confessional affiliation in the national church, the Church of Denmark. In this respect, to be Danish, to be Lutheran, and to be secular amounts to one and the same thing. This contrasts with the Southern Catholic pattern (France, Belgium and, increasingly, Spain, but not so much Portugal or Italy) of radical secularization and laicist deconfessionalisation.
The secular is understood here in drastic laicist, anti-clerical, and often anti-religious terms that demand assertive unchurching. Spaniards in post-Francoist Spain who took the resisting Catholic Church to court in order to get their names erased from the church's baptismal registry may serve as a vivid illustration of this assertive deconfessionalisation.

(José Casanova:Secular and sacred? The Scandinavian case of religion in human rights, law and public sphere)

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas

I'd like to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and a prosperous and safe New Year. In keeping with the Protestant theme of recent posts I thought I would post a link to one of my favourite Christmas carols: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. The Catholic Right likes to diss Protestantism but its worth remembering that there are a lot of good things in Protestantism that need to be acknowledged and affirmed.

God bless.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Alternative Modernities

How Modernity differs from the pre-Modern is rather difficult to succinctly state but suffice to say that there is a qualitative difference between pre-Modern and Modern societies which can be recognised by looking at them.

For the purpose of this post I want to take world as it was in 1940 to illustrate what I'm getting at. The England of 1940 was modern society compared to the England of 1640. Industrialization, urbanisation, mechanisation and so on had changed life to such a degree that the mode of living for the average citizen was substantially different.  England was modern in a way that Yugoslavia or rural Romania was not. Likewise Germany, France, USA, Sweden, Russia, Japan etc were modern societies.

While all of these societies were modern, the expression of their modernity was largely contingent up local factors which shaped the path of modernity in their countries. Germany, while modern, was different to the U.S.A., which was different to Japan. Remember, this is 1940.

One of the distinguishing features of modern societies is the rise of a managerial class which is responsible for the administration and co-ordination of all the institutions which make modern life possible. In Germany and Japan, this managerial class was fascistic, in Russia, it was Marxist and in England and USA it was Protestant. Modernity, in each of these countries was strongly influenced by the cultural values of its managerial class. The reason why the Anglosphere was a haven for individual liberty, freedom of conscience, respect for the person, prosecution of degeneracy and freedom of religion is because they were the values of mainstream Protestantism at the time. Anglosphere modernity was Protestant tinged. Mainstream Protestantism as it was 1940.

I don't want to get into Catholic modernity since it is a far more complex subject but suffice to say Catholicism has a very difficult relationship with it and its relationship to it has been frequently antagonistic instead of co-operative. In 1940 it proved to be relatively irrelevant to world affairs.

Anyway what I'm trying to get at is that modernity can assume many different forms and not all of them are intrinsically hostile toward religion. I think one of the great weak spots of Right wing thought is the anti-modernistic sentiment seen so often in many of the commentators. Agrarian simplicity is only appealing to those who have never had to work the land. The problem is not so much modernity as it is irreligion.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Rethinking Protestantism III: Ernst Troeltsch

Gentlemen, Everything is tottering!
Protestantism gets a lot of grief in reactionary circles especially with regard to its relationship with liberalism and the modern world.  And I personally feel that a some of this criticism is quite justified. However, I do think that many critiques of Protestantism miss the fact that it seems to have "handled" modernity in a way that Catholicism wasn't able to.

In order to keep this post manageable, I'm going to define modernity as the sociopolitcal environment that has come about from the implementation of ideas of the Enlightenment. i.e. contemporary society and political state.  The distinguishing feature of modernity is the legitimisation and autonomy of the secular.

From the outset, Catholicism has had a problem with this state of affairs. UntilVatican Two, it could be safely said that it's aim was to reintroduce the Church's position in society that it had assumed in the Middle Ages. i.e. A complete involvement in every aspect of life to the degree that it felt it was appropriate. Any "secular space" in such a schema was really nothing more than "light touch" Catholicism. There was no true secular space in such a society nor can there be one where the faith is "integral" to it.

However, the ages of faith were as much a condition of temporal contingencies as they were of religious devotion and Modernity sideswiped Catholicism because it didn't understand this fact. The Printing press, large scale commerce, industrialisation, steam power and urbanisation were as toxic to its medieval preeminence as were heretical ideas. Modernity inherently generates secular spaces and the problem for Catholicism is that it doesn't know how to deal with secularity.

The other problem with Catholicism is that it has one model of "holiness".  Good Catholics are those who spend a lot of time practicing Catholic asceticism which involves an effective withdrawal from the world. However secular competence involves spending more time in the affairs of the world. The result is that the more "holy" a catholic, the more "aescetic" they are and the less secular they can be. i.e. Good Catholics spend lots of time in Church like affairs, bad Catholics spend time in the affairs of this world. Hence Catholicism's paucity of lay saints.  This may also go a long way to explaining the inefficiency of many Catholic secular institutions.

At the dawn of the 20th Century Ernst Troeltsch was one of the foremost public Protestant theologians. Unfortunately, he seems to have been mostly forgotten during most of the 20th Century, though recently there has been a resurgence in his thought. One of his areas of interest was in the relationship of Protestantism and Modernity. He was also a fair and sympathetic critic of Catholicism and incidentally, the next door neighbour of Max Weber.  His book Protestantism and Progress deals with this subject explicitly and I thought it would be worth to jot down a few of my thoughts on it as Troeltsch has several interesting ideas.

Firstly, Troelstch does not see a direct link with Protestantism and Modernity, the relationship being far more complex. Troeltsch, unlike many Catholic scholars, situates the origin of Modernity in the Renaissance humanism of Italy and regards early Protestantism as the continuation of the Middle Ages and anti-Modernist. The early Protestant division, Lutherism and Calvinism initially compete as alternative "churches" to the Catholic Church. It's approximately two centuries after the division that the Protestantism starts to fully develop along the lines of its doctrinal innovations and begins to rid itself of the habits of Catholicism.

Secondly, Troeltsch argues that Protestantism develops along its doctrinal lines and emergence of personal conscience and self-sanctification through the pursuit of vocation enable it to engage the world in a way that Catholicism could not. Protestant "vocationalism" is able to Christianise the world by getting into the thick of it.
...while Protestantism has furthered the rise of the modern world, often largely and decisively, in none of these departments does it appear as its actual creator. What it has done is simply to secure for itgreater freedom of development and that, moreover, in the various departments in very various ways ; and besides, the action of the different Confessions and groups has differed  in strength and direction. All it has anywhere done is to favour, strengthen, colour, and modify the course of the development, while in some cases it maintained and even rein forced the opposing influences drawn from the Late-medieval view of life
...religion is really derived from religion, and the results of its influence are really, in the first place, religious. Religion becomes a power in ordinary life only by taking up civilisation into itself and giving it a special direction. But it always itself remains distinct from this civilisation ; it is always more a formative than a creative force.
Protestantism is able to "capture" modernity and modulate it according to its particular denomination. In the case of the Amish it is a "backwards" force, while in the case of the Calvinists it was able to develop it along Christian lines in a "forward" direction.

Thirdly, Troeltsch recognises--like much of the reactosphere--that the weak point of Protestantism is its individual subjectivity which is able to ditch the theological doctrines which enabled it while maintaining the habit of them. Protestantism while being able to engage the world also has the dangerous propensity to become part of it and in the end undermine itself.
Another point which has to be taken into account is that the inner ecclesiastical structure of the Protestant Churches, and especially of Lutheranism, is considerably weaker than that of Catholicism, and therefore when con fronted with the modern world of ideas, has less resisting power than Catholicism.
Here the essentially Protestant basis of this movement is clearly evident, the transformation of the idea of freedom and grace into the ideas of the self -directing personality and a spiritual fellowship having its roots in history, all on the basis of a theism which has taken up into itself the idea of immanence. Moreover, this modern religious temper, in a thousand various modifications, has been so thoroughly absorbed by large portions of modern Protestantism, that the latter can scarcely be distinguished from the former. But it is equally unmistakable that modern religious feeling is in other cases dissatisfied with this, after all, ultimately Personalistic idea, and under the sense of the iron uniformity of natural law, of the world as a monster devouring all humanity, or, on the other hand, of the aesthetic glorification of the world and cult of individuality, tends towards ideas and feelings which are radically pantheistic, pessimistic, or, again, absolutely revolutionary, aiming blindly at producing some change or other. And where this spirit prevails, all relation to the practical, political, economic, and technical side of our civilisation is often entirely forgotten.
Troeltsh seems to recognise that Protestantism, in practice is a spectrum from the religiously sincere to those with a habit of it only. When Protestantism is "good" it is able to Christianise modernity, when Protestantism goes bad, it becomes an anti-civilisational power.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Sex Abuse Saga Quote Du Jour

Although it comes from the local left wing rag, this comment by the Chief Commissioner of the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse is worth some thought:
“I cannot comprehend how any person, much less one with qualifications in theology [ED] ... could consider the rape of a child to be a moral failure but not a crime,” Justice McClellan said in a speech to the Australian Human Rights Commission. “This statement by leaders of the Catholic Church marks out the corruption within the Church both within Australia, and it seems from reports, in many other parts of the world.”
It's easy when your theological training effectively makes mercy to the criminal more important than justice to the victim.

As I've said before there are two elements to this saga:

1) The particular crimes committed by the individual criminals.
2) The institutional response once the crimes were made known to the Church.

As the institutional response was the same throughout the world, the failure of the Church to respond appropriately should not be seen primarily as a failure of specific individuals to act, but rather a systemic problem in the Church rooted in its "operational" principles.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Rethinking Protestantism: II

As Max Weber made clear, the Protestant Reformation will open up one of these two roads by erasing physically and symbolically the walls separating the world and the monastery and by extending the calling to perfection to all Christians living in the world through their professional calling. 'To be monks in the world,' this is the spirit of the Protestant ethic and of modern secular vocational asceticism. In Protestant countries, secularization will have from the beginning an anti-monastic and anti-popish, but not an anti-religious meaning, insofar as its rationale was precisely religious reformation, putting an end to the dualism between religion and world, making religion more secular and the saeculum more religious, bringing religion to the world and the world to religion. The Protestant Reformation brought down the monastery walls separating the religious and secular worlds, and opened the way for their mutual interpenetration. This marks particularly the Anglo-Saxon Protestant road of secularization. Secularization and the parallel modernization do not entail necessarily the decline of religion.

Catholic conceptions of holiness tend to strongly emphasise the ascetic nature of religion. Holiness, in this schema, is thought of an increasing devotion to God through prayers, self denial, sacrifice and asceticism, and is seen as synonymous with the ideal clerical life. The lay person, who wishes to seek  holiness, aims to emulate the best practices of the clergy in their devotion to God. So, in a way, if a Catholic wants to become more deeply religious he does by following a model pioneered by the priests and monks. More prayer, more adoration, more Masses, more fasts, etc. And one of the interesting things about Catholicism is the fact that majority of the saints come from the ordained and relatively few from the laity. This state of affairs is more a reflection of the fact that the Church's  has only one recognised mode of "holiness"  and that the practices associated with this mode is is only practically attainable by those who deliberately pursue the consecrated/religious life.  In effect, Catholics have one "mode" of holiness and its difficult to live the lay life and combine it with this modality.

This guy--of all people!--highlights the problem succinctly.

Yet, this would appear to be a "modern" innovation. It was accepted--in the Middle Ages-- that a certain type of holiness could be achieved through the profession of arms. i.e the knight. And that sanctity was possible through just action on the battlefield.  But it does appear that Catholicism developed only a limited number of different modalities for achieving sanctity. By and large, sanctity in Catholicism was mainly achieved by following the model pioneered by religious ascetics.

One of the consequences of the Reformation was a rethinking of the nature of holiness. Protestantism vigorously attacked the distinction between the clergy and the laity. Under Protestantism, all who believed in Christ were "Priests" and this had the effect of opening up the possibility of sanctity to all believers in a way that Catholicism couldn't. Unlike Catholicism  where sanctity was seen as being synonymous with self-denial, mortification and asceticism, the Protestant conception of holiness recognised that it could achieved through the sincere Christian expression of whatever office or rank a person held in life. Some would say that Protestantism clericised the laity but that conception mixes the habits of the clergy with life practices of the laity. I think it would be far better to say that Protestantism produced a "Civic Christianity" in place of the "Clerical Christianity" of Catholicism.

Protestant bankers, for instance, could be considered "priestly" if they executed their office with righteousness, honesty and integrity. Protestant workers were righteous in the sight of God if they did not attempt to defraud their employer and worked for him as if they were working for God. Protestant public servants would strive to be honest and incorruptible.  The whole principle being that a Protestant's Christianity would infuse whatever task he was doing so that standing before God he would be able to claim that he was acting as God's faithful steward; be that a banker, a clerk, railroad worker or teacher. In the movie, Chariots of Fire, the Protestant, Eric Liddell, is able to transform his athleticism into a powerful expression of the Christian faith. Running and not ascetisicism  is the mechanism of his sanctification.

What Protestantism effectively did is expand the modalities by which a Christian could achieve sanctity, opening it up to people who neither had the time, nor the inclination to pursue the "clerical" model. Whereas the secular, before, could afford to be a bit "dirty" since it wasn't holy, Protestantism cleaned it up.  Protestantism infused Christianity into the secular domain in a way that Catholicism couldn't and suddenly it became a far more serious matter to be a corrupt businessman, judge or politician. And it's this type of Christianity which I believe was instrumental in the rapid social and economic advance of the Protestant countries following the Reformation.

The superior socio-economic performance of these societies was an emergent phenomenon contingent upon their civic Christianity. Independence of action, high trust, low levels of dishonesty, honest and good public governance, personal freedom and private initiative worked synergistically in a way that was not possible in Catholic countries and produced a superior social, economic and political outcome. Catholic countries could only begin to approach such levels in the late 20th C. (which also resulted in a pseudo-Protestantisation of their countries). Uncritical Catholic fanboys may dismiss this view but when Clark liberated Rome and the Vatican from the Nazi's it was as an Episcopalian General commanding an army of soldiers from a country founded on Enlightened Protestant beliefs---formerly condemned by the Pope.< /irony>  The Catholic world had no response. Catholic South America was twiddling its thumbs and France was useless.

As as side effect of this transformation of religious expression,  Protestantism was able to achieve a degree of integralism that Catholic traditionalists could only dream about. Whereas in the Catholic  model, there was in inbuilt duality between the secular and clerical/religious,  any attempts and "evangelising" society within this model resulted in the state managed imposition of the clerical onto the secular which resulted in a pressure cooker situation.

On the other hand, Protestantism, with its much broader conception of holiness, did not demand the everyone assume a quasi-clerical lifestyle. This blurred the distinction between the secular and the religious and made a confessional state far easier to achieve as less was demanded by the state on the citizen.  Therefore there was far less tension between the Church and the state. Compare the hostility of the Spanish secularists with that of the Nordic.

Despite all of it's faults--and there are many--it's increasingly my opinion that the emergence of Protestantism was a necessary event for the survival of Christianity. At it's birth, Modernity was around the corner, and its emergence provided the necessary vehicle by which Christianity could transition into it .

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Vatican II as Catholic Perestroika

It is said that the priestly ordination of lay people in distant communities is necessary, because of the difficulty encountered by ministrants in reaching them. In my view, the setting of the problem in these terms reveals an ingrained clericalism. It seems that where there is no "priest" or "nun" there is no ecclesial life. The basic problem is much more serious. A Church has been created where the laity do not see themselves as protagonists and where there is little or no sense of belonging, a Church that, if there is no "priest", does not work. This is an ecclesiological and pastoral aberration. Our faith, as Christians, is rooted in baptism, not in priestly ordination.
(Father Martin Lasarte)

I really did not take much interest in the Amazon Synod simply because to me it looked like more of the same thing that the Church has been doing for the past fifty years. People got worked up about Pachamama and the issue of lay ordination but to me it really was all about rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  Still, one guy did catch my attention and that was Father Martin Lasarte, a hand picked representative of Francis, who seemed to have more sense than most when it came to the issues at hand.

Unlike the partisans who pitched battle during the Synod, Lasarte recognised that the Church's problems are much deeper than the superficial issues blathered about in the media. Lasarte recognised that Catholic Church seems to have a serious problem with the laity, regarding them as sort of half-Christians, with the consecrated life being the only true "authentic" Christianity. And, as Lasarte recognises, this "operational" view has devastated the life of the Church.

While many may balk at the proposition, in understanding the trajectory of modern catholic history its useful to think of the Catholic Church as being sociologically similar to the Communist party of the USSR. There was Big Brother (Pope), the Inner Party (Curia), Outer Party (Clergy) and the Proletariat (The faithful). The Party was always right and it was the role of the Proletariat to follow instructions......or else, especially in Pre V2 (Stalinist) times.

Ask any old Commie(Trad) what killed the Soviet Union and they'll all point the finger to Gorbachev, their John XXIII, who initiated the policy of Glasnost and Perestroika, the Soviet Union's version of Vatican II. And they would be right since the system, as it was envisaged, left no room for independent action within it. It also needs to be remembered that many of the men who initiated the policy of Perestroika weren't sentimentalists, rather they could see that they were being out-competed by the West (Modernism) and they had to reform if they were to survive.

Following the collapse of the Soviet system it was felt by all the boffins at Harvard that all one had to do to encourage the flourishing of the free market in Russia was to enshrine property rights, liquidate inefficient industries and lower taxes and all would be hunky dory. But what was never considered is the fact that how do you produce a free market in a people who were for generations deliberately prosecuted for showing any entrepreneurial spirit and who were continually weaned on the nipple of state managerialism. What eighty years of the soviet experience had produced is an economically docile and inept man who had no skills at operating in a free market, and when the market was finally liberalised the only people who had actual authority and initiative made off like bandits, impoverishing the rest of the country.

Likewise, Catholic glasnost came about at the same time as the cultural revolution of the Sixties, and catholic laymen, much like "freed" soviet workers, got to fend for themselves  in the "free market of ideas" with the same observed results. When you start thinking about it the parallels are very eerie.

The reason why perestroika failed to produce the expected benefits in the Soviet Union is because the Stalinist/Leninist system had wiped out the entrepreneurial spirit that is vital in the formation of small to medium businesses, the backbone of any capitalist system. Likewise, the Catholic system had wiped out any form of spiritual entrepreneurialism leaving the laity open to Modernity.  The theologians conflated obedience with faith. and failed to recognise a very deep weakness of the Church.

Lasarte recognises that arguing about all the other stuff is useless unless the fundamentals are sorted out first. He also lists several instances where because of circumstances, the laity were able to build thriving Christian communities in the absence of clergy and one certainly gets the impression that Church governance rather than lay "disobedience" may be more of an issue.   For those who are interested, here are a few pertinent links. 

Amazon Synod: Are married priests really a solution? 

Amazon Synod: New paths and pastoral illnesses (Part Two) 

Evaluating the Synod for the Amazon: Fr Lasarte’s ten ‘likes’ and nine ‘dislikes’

My own thoughts are that any Christian revival of the West is going to be lay led, I also imagine that it will be strongly opposed by large sections of the Clergy.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Wages of Monophorism

 “Monophorism” was Blondel's term for a reigning clerical authoritarianism which on principle refused to recognize that grace can be at work from below. 

One of things which you become aware of when you start digging into theology is that some guys foresaw the current apostasy from miles away.  Maurice Blondel was one of these and recognised that the traditional model of "Priests Smart and People dumb" i.e. Monophorism,  devastated the interior spirituality of the laity and facilitated the destruction of the faith.  Now, while many of the laity could be "good" under this model,  it was a goodness of docility and obedience. The layman was not meant to have ideas or internal volition and the faith was to be received and not really thought about and it produced a sort of spiritual infantilism which as able to lapse if the strong parent went missing.

The Catholic Church under this model resembled a typical World War 1/Soviet Era combat formation. Strongly disciplined and led by the general. A battle plan was drawn and the soldier was expected to advance according to the plan;  individual initiative being frowned upon, especially by the lower ranks, since everything had been worked out and co-ordinated by the staff officers.  The innovators of stormtroop tactics immediately recognised  that there was a weak-point with this approach: if you could decapitate the leadership, then the troops would be helpless and easily destroyed. Sure, there would be pockets of strong resistance, but without command from the top many of the troops would simply surrender and walk away. There was no defence-in-depth.

Protestantism, especially in its evangelical versions, avoided this approach and tended to stress the layman's strong personal relationship with Christ and left the individual to their own Christianity. As this blog has mentioned, there are many faults with this approach but it does tend to produce a more autonomous Christian than traditional Catholicism does.

To illustrate what I mean here are two bits of data from Pew Research. The first, graph compares the commitment gap between Catholics and Protestants in South America. The metric of commitment--a reasonable one in my opinion--being attendance at regular Church services and praying daily.  From the table we can see that in every country in South America, Protestants out perform Catholics by this metric.

The second table, looks at approval of same sex "marriage" by religious denomination in the U.S. The data is pretty damning for U.S. Catholics. Mainline Protestant denominations are marginally worse but not by much. However , those "dumb" Evangelical Christians appear to have views which have a far better correlation with Biblical views of homosexuality. What gives?

One of the things about Protestantism is that it a religion strongly associated with the bourgeoisie. And one of the the thing about bourgeois society it the strong emphasis it places on individual act and responsibility. Protestant societies encourage more individual autonomy and internal locus of control. What this means is that although Protestants may think badly--with all the problems that brings-- they think for themselves. Paradoxically, "simplistic" Protestants who take the Bible literally are quite likely to be its strongest adherents as they can't "explain away" Biblical imperatives to conform with contemporary fashions.

In my opinion, Catholics can only provide a strong pushback against the Pozz  only if they are capably led and strongly disciplined. When the leadership is effectively "decapitated" the average Catholic lacks the internal resilience to push back against it. This would--in a way--seem to shore up the arguments of the Traditionalists who see Vatican Two as the great mistake of Catholicism. Vatican II gave the spiritually-infantile freedom........with predictable consequences.

See, the thing to understand is that Catholicism prior to Vatican II, despite all of it's window dressing  and railing against Modernism was actually Modernist itself and was unwittingly encouraging the production of Mass-Man and it's hard to fight the thing when you're the thing itself.

Let me explain by way of uncomfortable analogy.

Life inside the Soviet Union Catholic Church was strongly controlled by the clergy Party. Information was heavily censored filtered, lest the laity workers be corrupted. The Papacy Party was always right and it was the duty of the worker to obey the party and deviation from the party line sent the worker to Hell Siberia.

The underlying principle at play here was the if the Church Party could engineer a society where it could control what the laity workers were exposed to and protect them from bad ideas they could engineer a faithful Catholic Worker through social engineering. Just as the modern degeneracy feels that through appropriate social engineering and censorship it can create the soytopia, traditional Catholicism felt as long as it had the reigns of power it could create its own version of the same.

Astute observers will note that this is the Leftist project in a nutshell. Once you start looking into it, the similarities in social structure and command between Communism and Pre-Vatican II Catholicism are uncomfortably close.

So, in a sense, the critics of Vatican Two are right: "relaxing the system"  bought the whole house down in the same way that Perestroika eventually destroyed the Soviet Union.  The old System only worked under strong social control.  The problem for the wistful trads is that although they may dream for a return of the pre-Vatican II Church, the social and cultural contingencies that shored up the authoritarian societies of the past have been undercut by the phenomenon of modernity. As Franco's Spain, De Valera's Ireland and Salazar's Portugal have shown, Integralist societies rapidly collapse into "Modernity" as soon as the thumbscrews are taken off. Years of integralism did not produce the internal resilience to protect against the Pozz, and paradoxically may have created the preconditions for its rapid adoption.

On the other hand, despite the being exposed to the cultural sewer that is the contemporary West, Evangelical Protestants tend to be holding firm.

It is my opinion that the Vatican Two would have been far more successful if the Church gradually relaxed its rules and "softly" Protestantised the Church but this is just speculation and beyond the scope of this current post.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Catholic NPC-ism

As I have said before, any renewal of Western Society is only going to come about from a renewal of the Christian religion and therefore an understanding of why it "failed" is important in order to avoid repeating the same mistakes of the past. And one of the big mistakes, at least for Catholics, has been the religious approach to the laity which encourages their infantilisation and passivity.

In the previous post commentator John Rockwell said:
@Social Pathologist
"Heavy-handed authoritarianism which never admits its mistakes and has the effect of puffing up the leaders and infantilizing the subjects.

This is a complex topic but I think you're largely right here. An infantilized laity is not only a spiritually dead one but one also prone to capture by other ideologies."

This sort of thing is characteristic of Communist and other forms of super-centralized socialist regimes. [Ed]

Seeking to turn adult subjects back into children who do not have the agency to act in a responsible and competent manner as well as into programmable automations.

Akin to NPCs in video games which act only according to script and unable to change their routines.
I think that John Rockwell is absolutely right. Until recently, one of the things that Catholic Trads/Ultramontanists would be at pains of emphasising is the importance of of obedience to Papal teaching by virtue of his authority. The Catholic laity was meant to show an Obsequium Religiosum when it came to religious instruction by his ecclesiastical superiors. It being defined as:
Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra;[ED: even when he could be wrong] that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.*
The good Catholic was not meant to have any active relationship with the faith, his job was to let the Pope do his thinking for him even in instances where the Pope could be wrong. Here's George Orwell, in 1984,  expressing pretty much same concept:
“Oceanic society rests ultimately on the belief that Big Brother is omnipotent and that the Party is infallible. But since in reality Big Brother is not omnipotent and the party is not infallible, there is need for an unwearying, moment-to-moment flexibility in the treatment of facts. The keyword here is BLACKWHITE. Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to BELIEVE that black is white, and more, to KNOW that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary.”

Big Brother may not have called it Obsequium Religiosum but he wanted submission of the mind and will. 

Really makes you think.

*The topic of conscience is a complex one, and although Ultramontainsts like to play it down, the Catholic has a duty to conscience first and then to the Pope. Though, in practice--i.e. most of the Pre V2 Church--this was discouraged.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Rethinking Protestantism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As G. K. Chesterton said:

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

Sunday, September 08, 2019


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Christian Buddhism IV

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

Now back to our regular programming.
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.

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.