I don’t understand how you Christians can worry so much about politics
It’s inertia, obviously. For 1500 years, our civilization—all of it, including the politics—was self-consciously based on traditional Christianity. We’re not used to being in the catacombs any more. We have to figure it out again. And first we have to realize, in an action-oriented, gut-and-not-just-head way that something really, truly has to be done. This is not that easy given that we’re not currently being fed to the lions, live and streaming from Netflix.
Amen. It’s back to the catacombs, back to Lindisfarne, back to Pella, back to Qumran. Israel has several times threaded such a needle as we find we must now again thread, and has survived. The last time she faced a situation like that of the present, Christian Rome was falling. Jerome and Augustine thought it was probably the end of the world. They could not have known that the Roman Civilization, and its Church, taken up by the Britons and Germans, would go on to conquer the globe, or that their own writings would be important factors of that eventual conquest.
Of all such times of tribulation, that of the Essenes in the first century BC is perhaps most like our own. The Essenes were a two-fold community of conservative traditionalists. On the one hand were monastics who lived in desert fastnesses such as at Qumran, and elsewhere: in the Hebrew polities of Arabia, where Paul studied after his conversion; perhaps also at St. Catherine’s in the Sinai; in Egypt – not just the many communities of Therapeutae around Lake Mariotis discussed by Philo of Alexandria, but possibly also the Jewish community at Elephantine Island far up the Nile, and even perhaps as far south as Ethiopia (kohanite genes have been found in black South African tribes with a tradition of descent from Israelites); and within the ambit of the Babylonian Diaspora. There were Israelites throughout the Roman and Parthian Empires in those days, but the communities in Egypt and Babylon were very large, for obvious reasons. Such monastic establishments were not uncommon among the Hebrews; the Old Testament often calls them schools of prophets. Elisha took over Elijah’s school, as Speusippus took over the Academy from Plato.
But there were also many lay Essenes, who lived in the towns, married and raised families, and were employed in commerce, farming and manufacturing. The likelihood is that the lay Essenes far outnumbered their monastic brethren, and supported them economically. Lay Essenes also seem to have cycled in and out of the monasteries. Boys were trained by monks, then released to lay life; many then returned to the monasteries at retirement, or for extended retreats.
The Essene movement was itself complex. The community at Qumran seems to have been quite extremely conservative, and at odds, not just with the alien pagan occupiers from Greece and Rome, not just with the corrupt, invalid and collaborationist priesthood of the Temple establishment in Jerusalem, but with other strains within the Essene movement whom they regarded as insufficiently pure. The Qumran monks considered themselves a Last Faithful Remnant, preserving the Old Ways, the Old, True Doctrines (and, in their library, the Old Scriptures). Some of their most vicious rhetoric was leveled against members of their own sect.
The Essenes apparently disappeared from history circa the Jewish War. They called themselves Sons of Light; so did the Christians. Some have therefore argued that the reason the Essene sect vanished without a trace is that Jesus and his Apostles were Essenes, and that after the Resurrection and Pentecost the rest of the Essenes simply started calling themselves Christians. Not all of them, perhaps; many would presumably have disputed the Christian assertion that Jesus was the fulfillment of Essene messianic hopes. But there seems to be no other good explanation for what happened to them.
Should we take the Essenes as a practical model? Put another way, should we take the primitive Church as a practical model? Even if “Essene” and “Christian” were not coterminous, the two models are the same: communities of lay believers meeting privately to celebrate their ancient rites, sharing economic resources, and working quietly at their businesses; and celibate monastics and professional religious living in wilderness redoubts. Unlike the Zealots, with whom they seem to have shared similar eschatological and political views, but with whose tactics they disagreed, they did not engage in guerilla war, terrorism or banditry. They focused instead on personal righteousness and probity, mutual aid, and cultural separation from the wider profane world, both Hebrew and Greek.
These tactics enabled them to maintain a prosperous sub rosa existence, most of the time and in most places. They were able to hide in plain sight. When they did come under suspicion in the early centuries AD, it was most often during times of plague or pestilence, when their mortality and morbidity rates were so much lower than those of the general population (due to their practices of nursing each other in sickness, and providing for their widows, orphans and destitute slaves) that they attracted charges of sorcery. They were resented also for their business success, even as they were valued as honest traders. But most of the time, in most places, they lived quiet, prosperous, sane lives, and were mostly left alone. And, thanks to their horror at abortion and infanticide, and their support for the orphans among them, their fertility far outpassed that of their pagan neighbours. This is how the salt of the earth came to permeate the dough of the Empire, until by AD 300 Christians outnumbered pagans.
They were not, of course, immune from the immense social convulsions that rocked the Empire in those days. The Jerusalem Church was probably wiped out along with the rest of the Palestinian Jews in the suppression of the bar Kochba revolt. But by then, there was a wider Church into which the refugees of the Hebrew Church could vanish, and in which they could survive.
If we were to take them as our model, what would we do? I now elaborate on a list that has already appeared at VFR:
- Resolve to pay no more PC jizya (beautifully spelled out in the Solzhenitsyn essay that has been discussed a lot lately in the wider orthosphere). Tell the truth, and call a spade a spade: calmly, politely, and without being obstreperous about it, but nevertheless firmly. Without making a big deal about it or calling attention to yourself, fail to appear for the public rites of Moloch. If you must thus appear, quietly fail to meet the requirements of the rite.
- Write, read, blog, talk: join a book club, an apologetics roundtable, a bible study group. Learn the arguments for reaction, for Christianity, for theism; learn the arguments against them, and how they may be defeated. Speak up: fearlessly, scandalously, but always humbly and politely.
- Live a virtuous, upright life, at home and in business. Speak the truth, and do the right thing. Whatever it happens to be, don’t let it be about yourself; let it be about the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.
- Beware; and be prepared to move, quickly. Get rid of stuff that you don’t need or that is not positively beautiful to you in some way – especially debt and belly fat, which are likely going to cost you as the financial and medical sectors of the economy devolve over the next ten years.
- Maintain tradition in small things: e.g., dress more formally than is customary these days, practice old-fashioned manners, refrain from swearing; read old books, and then discuss them around the family dinner table; join together in regular and serious family prayer, if only to bless each meal; remember your family holiday traditions, and observe them gravely and with joy.
- Pray without ceasing. Pray whenever your attention is not wholly consumed with the task at hand. Work toward praying even when it is. Nothing is so convincing as sanctity, or so attractive, or so authoritative. Without it, personal rectitude can seem like Pharisaical arrogance (and risks becoming just that). You can’t push sanctity. But you can work at allowing it to happen.
- Marry a chaste and virtuous person, have lots of kids, home school them, and read good books to them at bedtime every single night. Answer their questions as carefully, truthfully and thoughtfully as you can.
- Work in a small business that you own yourself.
- Live in the country far from the urban hellholes.
- Join the most old-fashioned church you can find and attend regularly, and live a virtuous, upright life.
- Buy, keep and renovate old things, particularly houses and books. Maintain fences and walls in good order. Preserve old arts and skills. Master at least one of them.
- Garden; farm to the extent possible. Apart from long, arduous sojourns in the wilderness or in a monastery, there is no better way to understand your very existence as integral, and good; as, i.e., sacramental.
- Arm yourself, and get training in a martial art; see that your kids do the same. Prepare for disaster by stockpiling supplies.
- Notice – don’t remark upon it just this once, but notice repeatedly, as a habit – that everything I have recommended so far falls under the heading of practical wisdom. It has always made sense to live this way, no matter what has been happening in the wider world.
- Gravitate toward intentional communities of the right minded – i.e., of the orthogonally minded. Not communes, but towns or churches. Find other tradents online or through the grapevine, find out where they cluster, go there to live or worship. Don’t try to create a community from scratch – with no frontier any more, that’s no longer anything but gnostic utopianism. On the contrary, join an existing community with a surviving traditional life – if you have few prospects of marriage, consider a monastic community – and learn to love it. Make a point of participating; be a valuable contributor. Make yourself known first as a friend, and a quiet, respectable person. Then, in your casual interactions, share what you have learned, and you will nudge that community toward the Right. Be ready and willing, even earnestly happy, to be yourself thus nudged, in turn. This should be the focus of your political life. [As for national politics, the best thing you can do is write online. How many readers of these words became traditionalists on account of something they stumbled upon, online? I did.]
- Join and support community resources in such traditionalist enclaves. Nothing fancy: libraries, granges, things like that, to be sure; but also, mutual aid societies. Old-fashioned churches in rural communities are still doing this sort of thing.
- Marry off your children to the children of other tradents. If your children grow up in a traditional community – either a town, or a church (with activities for young people, such as retreats, pilgrimages, and so forth) – they will find attractive mates from among them.
- Maintain cultural traditions: traditional music, liturgy, dance, local folkways. Even such things as Civil War re-enactments can form the core of a local culture. Ritual is intentional anachronism, by which we reproduce the past in our present lives, to the mutual reinforcement of the causal efficacy, both of our present lives and the past speaking through them – the very definition, in literal terms, of “tradition.” What is the local tradition? Join it; enjoy it; ennoble it.
I keep telling myself that my job right now as a writer is to be like Augustine, and Jerome. They wrote of their heartbreak at the Fall of Rome. But they mostly wrote about eternal things; that’s why we still read them. They were involved in politics, but not as partisans so much as prophets. So, I tell myself that I must think, and write, and pray, toward eternity; love the Good, and honor it. What else is there, ever?
A good old thing, that we have all loved so dearly, is now dying. On, then, to the final crisis, and to the new thing for which its death will open room. Seed time and harvest, each in due season. Now begins the harrowing.
In the meantime, let’s do what we can to keep the small things we have loved alive. I happen to be listening to plainchant right now; we can work on such things, even if only by buying and using them ourselves. And then, too, there are lots of good recipes for pumpkin pie that will survive the general wreck.
It’s trite to ask this, but: what are you thankful for? How can you prosper its ways and defend it? I mean it: if you are so moved, tell us what small thing you have inherited from our forefathers, that you love, and that you can and will see is preserved, to be passed along to your children. Anything will do; even a nursery rhyme. This has to spring from our deepest roots. It must be watered with tears, and nourished with our life’s blood. So whatever it is, for each of us, it must matter.
If I should fail to post again beforehand, allow me to wish you all a blessed Eucharistic Holiday this Thursday.