Friday, December 24, 2021

Some Thoughts on George Bailey and the Incarnation

Blogging has been scarce since I've been a bit burned out but I thought I should make an effort for Christmas.

Protestantism gets a bad rap among many on the right and I think some of the traditional criticisms of it are justified. However, as I've mentioned before most analysis of Protestantism lack quite a bit of nuance and I don't think that Protestantism is as much of a bogeyman as some traditionalists make out.  Many Catholic traditionalists tend to draw a straight line from Protestantism to liberalism and while this may be theoretically plausible real world observations are a bit more complicated.

Most of the readers of this blog know that I am a Catholic, so it may surprise many of you when I say that the main reason why the West is imploding in the moment is primarily due to the numerical collapse of "sound" Protestantism, Catholicism largely being irrelevant in the West's fate.  And the reason why I have come to this view is based up my reflections on modernity and how each religion handled it.

Executive Summary: Protestantism was able to tame modernity, Catholicism wasn't able to engage it at all. The "slouch to Gomorrah" happened when sound Protestantism collapsed.

Richard Weaver was famous for advocating that ideas have consequences but he neglected to mention that so do have material circumstances. The problem with most approaches to understanding modernity is in thinking that modernity is primarily an intellectual phenomenon. This ignores the "carnal" dimension of it. Modernity isn't simply the habit of thinking according to certain ideas, it's also the mode of existence that is generated when the practical application of technology transforms life from an agrarian mode of living to that of an industrial one. What destroyed the old world wasn't just "enlightenment ideas" but fertilizer, the electric motor, railways, radio waves, sewerage etc. Modernity is just as much about "things" and services as it is about ideas.

Modernity's ability to provide goods which satisfy human nature are what powers it.  Modernity's ability to deliver carnal goods such as better foods, pharmaceuticals, comfort and transport make pushing back against it a fools errand,  because in the end human nature wins. Even the Amish go to "modern" doctors. The Taliban use AK-47's and mobile/cell phones. No matter how "traditional" there's always the concession to modernity.

The human demand, and reward, for technological advancement which provides benefit to human nature  is limitless and given the more two centuries since the beginning of the industrial revolution an incredibly vast and complex logistical, economic, academic and legal infrastructure exists to provide the "fruits of modernity" All of this is staffed by  hundreds of millions of highly specialized individuals who need to be trained for their tasks. These people and the institutions they man are the infrastructure of modernity.

The key point here is that modernity can't happen without this infrastructure,  and who controls this infrastructure controls modernity.

When Max Weber wrote his, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism it was well recognised that Protestant led countries were richer and technologically more advanced than the Catholic ones, they were effectively more modern, they still are. Interesting too, was the fact that the flow of immigrants were from Catholic to Protestant lands and not in the other direction.

Weber felt that religious reasons were the main drivers of this divergence in economic performance and I agree. Weber dwelt a lot on the Protestant virtues, I want to dwell a bit on the Catholic vices.

Charles Peguy felt that one of the reasons that the Catholic Church had lost its grip on the modern world is because the clergy "had reversed the operation of the Incarnation". Whereas God wanted to bring himself into the world, the Clergy reversed this operation and was trying to keep God out of it. And I think the Peguy was right. The issue is how each church viewed holiness.

Holiness, particularly in the Catholic Church is strongly tinged with a sense of asceticism, clericalism and monasticism. As Catholics materially understand it, the practice of a deepening of the relationship with God involves a "renunciation" of this world: a turning away from it. More asceticism, more poverty, more prayers and the assumption of holy orders: monasticism and it quasi equivalents. There even a ranking system, with the saints and martyrs on top, clergy in the middle and laity-those involved in the day to day operations of the world--on the bottom.  The conception of holiness, as Peguy correctly sensed, was an operation away from the day to day affairs of the world.

Culturally, this produced a society which was strong in reasoned argument, great art, deep philosophy but with poor roads,  minimal industrial infrastructure, widespread grinding poverty and lessening real world influence.

Contrast this with the Protestant world,  which emphasised the role of the laity and holiness of a honest vocation, be that in plumbing or philosophy. Protestantism where it was honestly practiced, sought to bring a Christian spirit, be it to education, science, engineering or banking. Protestantism christianised the carnal world. It kept alive the operation of the Incarnation, the bringing of God's love into the material being of day to day life. The result was the world that Max Weber noted.

Protestantism ended up being the custodian of  modernity and subjugated it to it's version of Christianity, Catholicism was left in the lurch because its theology made it unable to do so.

Which brings me to the movie It's a Wonderful Life. I've always enjoyed the movie but only recently have seen some of its deeper theological significance. While Catholicism has been a factory of saints, Protestantism has been a factory of George Bailey's. (Casting Jimmy Stewart was perfect) It is true that he is fictional character, but he is also an archetype of the a type of man that we all know, and the type of high minded Protestant man who is slowly disappearing due to the cultural forces that have been unleashed since the sixties. Although the movie is fictional it, unnervingly, is beginning to resemble real life.  Bedford Falls may be a fictional town but I remember the world I grew up in strongly resembling it, the world I live in now is slowly turning to Pottersville. The genius of the movie is the depiction of what world would have looked like without Protestant George Bailey. The irony of it is that is was made by a Catholic.

Now I do have disagreements with Protestantism, but my intention here is to praise one of its strengths. And its strength was to produce thousands of George Bailey's, who in various fields and in their own small way were able to transform the world. Catholicism may have a great theology of the Incarnation but Protestantism, at its best, produced the goods, and bought Christianity to the day to day affairs of men.

Unfortunately, Protestantism, like Catholicism was gutted in the sixties and its drift toward radical liberalism is far more catastrophic since it controlled the infrastructure of modernity, the mantle of leadership has now been past to men who see George Bailey as a quaint anachronism, not someone to emulate. Catholicism is unable to fill the void.

That's why I think the only way out for the West is for Catholicism to protestantise in such a way to incorporate the legitimacy of the archetype of George Baily or for Protestantism to Catholicism i.e gain some central authority to stop its drift to the left and recapture control of modernity. But discussions about this are for another time.

But on this Christmas Eve, the night before the celebration of the Incarnation, I want to celebrate the George Bailey's of the world, who each in their small way transformed the world. They represent what I consider the best in Protestantism and I would like to wish them all, and all men of good will, a very Merry Christmas.


Jack said...

Merry Christmas, Doc!

Paraphrasing Uncle Billy: "You just can't keep those Bailey's down!"

All the best for the coming year!


Jason said...

There definitely was a Protestant golden age, the epoch of the WASP if you will, that greatly contributed to the West - perhaps especially in the English-speaking world. It arguably reached its zenith during the middle of the twentieth century, as exemplified of course in films like It's a Wonderful Life, but in many other areas of cultural life as well where it had a circuitous but nonetheless concrete impact. As it happens I've been reading the notebooks and diaries of Patricia Highsmith, the crime noir author of Strangers on a Train and the Tom Ripley series who is a guilty pleasure of mine. A thoroughly unpleasant misanthrope, even she benefited in her vocation from a certain milieu during the thirties, forties, and fifties where the great arts still thrived in my land (Highsmith extolls the virtues of learning Greek, for instance, and indeed all of her books have something of the ancient tragedies about them). Alas the moral capital that was deposited, the result of a peculiar and unique religiosity that made such a world possible, has been entirely depleted by this point in 2021 AD, certainly in America.

All the best this Christmas doctor. It'll be interesting to see how Zemmour pans out in April, a man who obviously has a curious bearing on your de Gaulle series.

Chent said...

Merry Christmas!

I don't think that George Baileys are not present in the Catholic Church. My Catholic family in Spain is full of them. And I don't think all Protestantism produces George Baileys. It depends on the circumstances. What you are describing is a US phenomenon, but things may be different in Sweden or Germany.

I don't think the difference between (low church) Protestantism and Catholicism lies in George Baileys and their impact in society. I think the difference is in the power of George Baileys in their spiritual life (which the movie does not show).

IMHO, clericalism has been the main problem in the Catholic Church. The clergy has a "class conscience", to use the Marxist expression. They feel they have the monopoly of the faith and the laity are only sheep that have to obey and follow. This is a normal development in every bureaucracy and in learned people. The secular equivalent is the "managerial revolution", which fuels that political correct religion and that we are living today.

It is clericalism that brought us the Second Vatican Council and the "spirit of the Council". The clergy felt that they were superior to 2000 years of tradition. You see this arrogance and authoritarian principle in Francis. For example, the recent banning of the Latin Mass. Francis says that the Latin Mass should be severely restricted and everybody else (millions of laity and priests) has to OBEY "¡y basta!" ("and that's it!", to use the Francis words). Francis saying things opposite to the things that Jesus said: He thinks he has the authority to "upgrade" the faith. And so on and so forth. This is not the traditional doctrine of the Church, but Stalin would be proud.

This is why The Second Vatican Council and the "spirit of the Council" didn't produce the effects desired ("a new Pentecost", "people entering in droves into the Catholic Church"). They were the protestantization of the Catholic Church in doctrine and ritual but not in the distribution of power between laity and clergy.

A billion people were told that the devotions they cherished, the Mass they were used to, the Church architecture, the traditional ways of the faith, the folk religion of saints and stamps and medals... all of this was being suppressed or discouraged and some Protestant-like rituals created in a trattoria in Rome were being imposed from top down. A new religion, which copied the most liberal Protestant churches. The resistance from the laity was eliminated mercilessly. Many people vote with the feet. When you see the statistics of Mass attendance, the big falls coincide with the implantation of the New Mass.

To be fair, this only was the acceleration of previous trends. About modernity, Modernity = (wealth produced by technology) + secularization. I don't think there was a way to prevent secularization, although the disruption produced by the Second Vatican Council accelerated the slow process. The study of other civilizations show that, when societies get wealthy, traditional customs decrease, there is an increase in promiscuity, feminism, etc. See Glubb, the end of the Roman Empire, the end of the Abbasid Caliphate and so on and so forth.

In this decadent phase, traditional religions (such as Christianity) are replaced by other religions that allow people to do whatever they want (such as mystery cults, liberal Christianity and liberalism). It is the revenge of the Paleolithic instincts that are wired in us against the Neolithic religions and traditions that make Neolithic societies possible. Then the society collapses or is conquered and the traditional customs and religions return. It is only a cycle.

The Social Pathologist said...



A belated Merry Christmas to you to. I wish you the best for the New Year.


Alas the moral capital that was deposited, the result of a peculiar and unique religiosity that made such a world possible, has been entirely depleted by this point in 2021 AD, certainly in America.

Agree with you there. Protestantism's inability to be doctrinally stable is its greatest weakness.

All the best this Christmas doctor. It'll be interesting to see how Zemmour pans out in April, a man who obviously has a curious bearing on your de Gaulle series.

Thanks Jason. Hope you had a good Christmas and best wishes for the New year.

I think we live in interesting times. I haven't followed Zemmour that much to have an opinion on him. I should follow him more closely.


There are George Baileys in the Catholic Church but the number of them is far lower and their focus is different. George Bailey does have a spiritual life but its far more minimalistic than a Catholic's. Far less Devotions, Masses, Shrines, fasts, bishops and popes and a far more a direct relationship with God. This results in a far less "ornamental" Christianity and a far more practical one.

The secular equivalent is the "managerial revolution", which fuels that political correct religion and that we are living today

In fact there are very close parallels. I think that one of the reason why clericalism holds so much power is because of its percieved relationship to holiness in Catholicism. Priests sit higher in rank on the holiness scale and therefore have more "right". Now a good priest should sit higher in rank, but he is higher in rank because of his goodness and not because of the level of office he holds. But clericalism is really a second-order phenomenon. The Catholic church can't get it's head around the notion that an honest and just accountant may be just as holy as a monk. It simply doesn't fit their line of thinking. Catholic theology is trying to escape the world, not engage it, hence its blind spot with people who are engaged at being good at the secular things in the world. The failure to develop a theology and recognition of the role of the laity is the reason why Vatican Two failed.

As for Francis and the Latin Mass, I think the trads deserve all they get. They demand unquestioning obedience to the Pope when he says what they him to say but he's a heretic when he says what they doesn't want to. I can't see any difference between them and the Protestants they criticise. Selective obedience is not the mark of an orthodox Catholic.

Francis definitely swings to the Left, but what he's trying to do with his latest decree is prevent another Levebrist movement from springing up, centered around the Latin mass. What bothers Francis is the rejection of V2 implicit in the Trad crowd, not the Latin mass.

I'll probably talk a bit about the failure of V2 in my next post.

I hope you had a good Christmas and I wish you the best for the New Year.

watson79 said...

Merry Christmas Doctor,

The Trads I know deserve nothing but praise. In my part of N. America, most of them attend Mass at a parish that is a longer drive for them than the local SSPX chapel in the same city. Most of them are under 40 with children. V2 comes up as frequently as the Treaty of the Trianon. I can't recall any attacks on Protestants either and we have a lot of converts. Many if not most of them also attend Novus Ordo during the week. Francis is providing chemo for a non existent illness. Of course you could make the No true Scotsman argument about my fellow parishioners. If you do, should I take Hutton Gibson as an average Australian communicant?


The Social Pathologist said...

Merry Christmas to you too, PA.

Not every Trad is a Hutton Gibson but there are a lot of wannabe Hutton Gibson's (especially within the clergy) among the Trads, that's the problem, and they're using the Latin Mass as a rallying point. The most interesting of all the restriction that Francis has placed on them is banning of ordinations by "Latin Mass" bishops. As I see it, he's trying to stop another breakaway movement in the Levfebrist tradition.

Many if not most of them also attend Novus Ordo during the week

There's more to being a Christian than going to Mass frequently and having lots of children. This is the point I was trying to make in my posts, namely, that the Protestants filled a void left by Catholic "spirituality" which left large areas of public life unchristianised. Charles Peguy saw this "spirituality" as a turning away from the world, a "reverse operation" of the incarnation.

I sympathise with many of the Trad crowd, and the aesthetics of the Trad mass blow the Novus Ordo away, but if you're traveling 40 miles to go to a Mass, by passing all the local ones in your area, are you really going for the star or the show?

CS Lewis recognised a certain type of Christian who was a "Mass Critic" just like a theater critic who conflates aesthetics with theology. I think it is of no small point to reflect on the fact that GK Chesterton became a catholic in a disused railway shed.

The biggest problem for the Catholic Church at the moment is the absence of a "right wing" crowd that accepts the legitimacy of Vatican Two, a group who can counterbalance the idiot left without falling in to he traps of "Traditionalism". In many ways the Catholic Church needs a dissident Right that breaks away from the "conservatism" of the Traditionalists with all their associated problems.

Anonymous said...

There is a non-traditionalist, pro-Vatican II group in the Catholic Church. In the US, this is represented by EWTN, the National Catholic Register, Catholic Answers, Franciscan University of Steubenville and other Newman List colleges, the more conservative bishops like Abp. Cordleone, more conservatize dioceses like Madison Wisconsin, etc.

ALL of these groups were heavily in favor of Benedict XVI liberalizing the restrictions on the Latin Mass in 2007. ALL of these groups promoted making the "Extraordinary Form" easier for priests to learn and laypeople to access, while also supporting a "reform of the reform" of the Novus Ordo Mass. ALL of these groups would have loved for the SSPX to agree to be reunited with Rome as a personal prelature. This was the official "party line" in the church until July 15, 2021. In the US at least, there are a bunch of extremely mainstream Catholic media figures who attend (and promote) either the latin mass or the ordinariate, such as Scott Hahn and Peter Kreeft.

Backtracking on this issue, changing the "party line" 180 degrees overnight, makes the Catholic Church seem like it is subject to the arbitrary whims of the Pope, as protestants claim. Imagine if Pope Francis banned the Catholic Charismatic Revival out of the blue, after the "party line" being for years that it was a perfectly acceptable movement within the church. People who used to defend the CCR would start spouting off about how the Charismatics were always nutjob heretics and it was about time the Pope took action. "We've always been at war with Eastasia".

As for parish hoping, there is potentially a huge difference between one Novus Ordo mass to another due to the options available to the priest. Almost all Catholics in my experience parish shop and ignore parish borders, and parishes are very liberal with allowing Catholics outside the legal borders of the parish to register. Maybe this is a bad thing, but its hardly just the trads doing it.

Also, the appeal of the latin mass really isn't aesthetics, its the idea that it is a more reverent form of worship, more focused on Christ's sacrifice and meditation than a community meal. Alot of SSPX chapels are in extremely simple buildings. A few are in office buildings where they managed to squeeze in an altar and chairs with kneelers. I'm assuming these chapels mostly just have low masses without music. That ain't the Brompton Oratory. With the new rules, expect many diocesan latin masses to move to these locations. People will still show up.

Anonymous said...

I should have said "non-traditionalist, pro-Vatican II, conservative group in the church". I left out "conservative". Please excuse the typo.

Anonymous said...

I have decided to try and investigate Eastern Orthodox seriously in the new year. I no longer have faith in the direction or leadership of the Catholic Church and think we may be towards the end of the Malachy prophesy.


The Social Pathologist said...


I have decided to try and investigate Eastern Orthodox seriously in the new year.

I'll be the first to admit that the leadership of the Catholic Church is a mess at the moment but it's a mistake to conflate the leadership of the Church with the Church. The Church needs to be thought of more expansively, as including the laity and those who came before us. As Newman noted during the Arian controversy, it was mainly the laity who kept the faith during those times.

I'm riding it out.

Francis's approach is ham-fisted but I think that the risk of schism and the formation of an "American Catholic Church" is real. I think his move was necessary even though it lacked a lot of finesse.

JT said...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Finally a new post!

From my Protestant POV, Protestantism in general seems to have less higher level thinking which tends to come from higher level institutions. While the Baileys are keeping the local Bible school running, they don't have time and resources to tackle, for example, bio-ethics or economic issues which are still very much "of this world" but that require technical study. The institutions like Princeton were lost to theological liberalism last century, and re-introducing serious philosophy and ethics to today's average Protestant might seem like a man-made diversion from the main task of the Great Commission.

Anonymous said...

@Social Pathologist

"I'll be the first to admit that the leadership of the Catholic Church is a mess at the moment but it's a mistake to conflate the leadership of the Church with the Church. The Church needs to be thought of more expansively, as including the laity and those who came before us. As Newman noted during the Arian controversy, it was mainly the laity who kept the faith during those times."

What's your opinion on the Filioque vs the Energy-Essence distinction?

The Social Pathologist said...



What's your opinion on the Filioque vs the Energy-Essence distinction?

I haven't really thought about it much so I really don't want to say anything about it.
Not a cop out, more an issue of not wanting to speak in an area I'm largely ignorant of.


Happy New Year to you to.

Somewhere or another I remember reading that Evangelicals are beginning to import someelements of Catholic thought in order to give them some "depth". I think that the core problem of Protestantism is that it is inherently doctrinally unstable and hence it is difficult to formulate a coherent body of thought when there are so many different variations of it.

I think one of the weakness in Catholicism is its inability to transform high level social thought into concrete social and political action. Hence the need for George Bailey's in the Church.

John Rockwell said...

@Social Pathologist

Have you read Seraphim Roses book?

There is even claims that Hindu's have been infiltrating their ideas into Catholicism itself.

The Social Pathologist said...


Have you read Seraphim Roses book?

No, but I'll have a look at it.

W.LindsayWheeler said...

Since you are the Social Pathologist, The Church needs a pathologist as well because it is immersed in America as probably in a host of heresies. Since you don't have an email to contact you, forgive me for being off-topic. No need to post this if you proof read comments before having them post.

The American Catholic Church is engaged in Genocide, albeit Soft Genocide. And with Genocide comes treason. Moreover, The Church is knee deep in gnosticism. The anti-racism agenda is Gnostic. I invite you to read this piece, Genocide in the Catholic Church and miscegenation. It is a rhetorical because the past dialectical articles didn't get any traction.

The research papers that are the basis of the rhetorical piece are linked at the bottom of the article with further comments that expand on the topic at hand. The Church is in big, big trouble!

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