Essentialism Made Simple

I have a couple of pieces up at Catholic World Report and Crisis Magazine, the first on whether “natural” and “normal” make sense as standards, and the second on whether the Church will revert to type (because it has such a strongly marked essential form). I say that those are the basic issues in today’s battles, and that the answer to both questions is of course “yes.”

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39 thoughts on “Essentialism Made Simple

  1. In the bay area, places that once were churches are now meeting places for lesbian feminists, bookstores for Marxist books, and such, and no one recollects how what once was church, is now no longer a church. The same will in due course happen to the Vatican. The pope’s letterhead for speaking ExCathedra will wind up on the desk of some Harvard functionary, who will, over time, use it less and less until it is forgotten and thrown out with the rest of the dead white male stuff.

    • Come on, this is ridiculous. Liberalism is on the decline. I agree that western conservatism is extremely weak and probably has no future, but I don’t see Liberalism lasting long enough to achieve your Vatican take over scenario. Liberalism is killing it’s host societies. A Jihadist attack into the Vatican in 100 years from now? Now, that’s much more likely. But the same Jihadists will be shooting the Liberals too.

  2. Which will remain standing, liberal modernity or the Catholic Church? I’d say the latter.

    Liberal modernity increasingly makes its adherents unable to recognize the most obvious realities. To make matters worse, it’s the most basic aspects of liberalism, post-Cartesian epistemology and ontology, that make it that way. So it can’t become more functional in accordance with its own principles. It’s had a good run, because it moves slowly initially and is good at avoiding issues, but it’s not the sort of thing I’d expect to last 2000 years.

    The Church engages reality more deeply and comprehensively, and therefore more enduringly, because she’s not fundamentally modernist. She’s in bad shape right now, so the question is whether her basic nature is distinct, functional, and enduring enough to allow her to come back. I’d say yes. It’s not easy to last 2000 years in a setting as changeable as the West, and her ultimate principles are still intact and operative. It’s also worth noting that there have been striking improvements in the last 30 years in some basic respects, for example in seminaries and the outlook of the younger priests, that aren’t obvious to outsiders.

    • her ultimate principles are still intact and operative. It’s also worth noting that there have been striking improvements in the last 30 years in some basic respects, for example in seminaries and the outlook of the younger priests, that aren’t obvious to outsiders.

      Rites have been altered to be non committal and ambiguous about ultimate principles. For example ordination does not clearly state or symbolize apostolic succession.

      So I don’t think her ultimate principles are still intact and operative.

      Where the rubber meets the road, are baptism, marriage, and funerals still sacraments?

      If marriage a sacrament, then the couple would swear before God and man to perform their marriage in accordance with God’s plan for marriage, and that plan would be stated – those horribly embarrassing Pauline commands.

      • As a mass sociological matter, the Church lost definition after Vatican II. In principle as reflected for example in the Catechism and Summorum Pontificum she has maintained herself. As suggested in my comment important aspects of the sociology are increasingly reflecting principle.

      • as reflected for example in the Catechism and Summorum Pontificum she has maintained herself

        The old doctrines, though not yet officially discarded, gather dust in forgotten libraries.

        Pope Francis continues to mention the Divinity of Christ, but only in the course of arguing that salvation consists in the implementation of left wing programs in this world, a brief and vague affirmation of orthodoxy in the midst of a massive affirmation of heresy.

      • But it’s just not true that the old doctrines are gathering dust. I’m in RCIA right now, and we are reading every page of the Catechism.

      • Your account of the Pope and the situation in the Church don’t seem at all accurate to me either. It seems too categorical and all-embracing, and too much at odds with the Catholic world I know, to argue with in a combox discussion. Any suggestions on where to point Mr. D?

      • Your account of the Pope and the situation in the Church don’t seem at all accurate to me either

        What proportion of Roman Catholics are likely to encounter the long form marriage ceremony?

        The Roman Catholic Church is progressive, and progressivism rejects Christ. Progressives expect and intend all religions to go through the transition that they have gone through: All religions are, they think, progressivism when rightly understood, hence the indignant condemnation that Phil Robertson did not rightly understand Christianity.

        The process is:
        Holier than thou (puritanism)
        Holier than Jesus (female emancipation, suppression of slavery, prohibition)
        Unitarianism
        Atheism.
        Militant Atheism

        The popes ever more ostentatiously humble inauguration, with trumpets sounding how humble he is being, is holier than thou, each pope ostentatiously and noisily humbler than his predecessors. The short form marriage ceremony is holier than Jesus.

      • Your account of the Pope and the situation in the Church don’t seem at all accurate to me either.

        Me either (for what it’s worth coming from the peanut gallery).

      • Pope Francis tells us:

        “All religions are true, because they are true in the hearts of all those who believe in them.”

        If all religions are true, they are true because rightly understood, they point to, and are destined to become progressivism, which implies that all religions, except progressivism are false. “All religions are true” is a pious way of expressing militant atheism.

        Pope Francist tells us:

        “God is changing and evolving as we are, For God lives in us and in our hearts. When we spread love and kindness in the world, we touch our own divinity and recognize it. The Bible is a beautiful holy book, but like all great and ancient works, some passages are outdated.

        Cthulhu always swims left. You guys are, for the moment, tolerated, but you are clinging to stuff like the long form marriage ceremony, which is outdated and intolerant, being based on sections of the bible that God is evolving away from.

        If God is evolving, he has evolved a long way past that horrid hate filled oppressive reactionary Jesus. Pope Francis preaches the divinity of Jesus – but only as a metaphor for the superiority of the official victim groups (who are, like Martin Trayvon, divine) over the officially evil oppressor groups.

        Pope Francis is not only holier than thou, but, since his God has evolved, much, much, much holier than Jesus.

      • Do you have a source for that “all religions are true” and “God is changing” business other than a satirical squib about a nonexistent Third Vatican Council? That seems to be the source of some of your other points too, for example doing away with hell.

      • Do you have a source for that “all religions are true” and “God is changing” business other than a satirical squib about a nonexistent Third Vatican Council?

        This was originally reported by La Republica as an interview with the Pope.

        After the interview was published in La Republica, Vatican press director Father Federico Lombardi maintained that the text was overall faithful to the Pope’s thought, even though it could not be considered part of his magisterium.

        Shit hit the fan, and in due course both the Pope and Lar Republica denied it – after first affirming it.

        The parody to which you refer (Third Vatican Council) is an exagerration, if exagerration were possible or necessary, of the La Republica interview.

      • That’s a hoax

        Not a hoax, a parody. The thing parodied is entirely real. “Third Vatican Council” is a parody in that what the Pope said in an interview with La Republica, was in the parody, supposedly being made policy. It is not policy – yet. Just personal papal opinion.

      • I was erroneously quoting from the parody.

        The original, the words being parodied, http://www.repubblica.it/cultura/2013/10/01/news/pope_s_conversation_with_scalfari_english-67643118/ said:

        Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes after a meeting I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs. This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.”

        Your Holiness, is there is a single vision of the Good? And who decides what it is?\

        “Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good.”

        Which is fairly parodied as “all religions are true”

        In the same interview also said

        The Son of God became incarnate in order to instill the feeling of brotherhood in the souls of men.

        Which replaces Christ the redeemer with Jesus the community organizer.

      • I’m not sure why an atheist journalist’s recollection of a conversation with the Pope posted temporarily for informational purposes on the Vatican website is the best source for the current teachings of the Catholic Church.

        I agree Francis has some problems. So far as I can tell, his biggest problems are that he’s impulsive, he’s not a systematic thinker or actor, everything is a personal gesture or expression for him, and he likes to please people. He looks like the wrong man to have as pope, not because he’s a heretic (I see no good reason to think he is) but because he doesn’t seem cut out for running an organization or presenting a position consistently and comprehensibly to a world that’s largely hostile to it.

        In the case of his conversation with Scalfari very likely he wanted to build trust and a personal relationship and then introduce themes that could get the guy thinking. He didn’t think arguing was going to do any good. Non in dialectica complacuit Deo salvum facere populum suum. If so, and there’s no way to tell what he actually said, it was still of course not a good idea to publish Scalfari’s account.

        Here’s some background and commentary:

        http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/popes-words-in-interview-may-not-have-been-his-own-scalfari-says/

        http://remnantnewspaper.com/web/index.php/articles/item/160-confusion-mounts-pope-acknowledges-harshest-italian-critics

        Here’s some more background and criticism:

        What I get from all this is that you shouldn’t overinterpret the substance of what the Pope says in his frequent informal comments. Unlike many of his recent predecessors he’s not a major figure except on account of the position he happens to hold.

      • I’m not sure why a journalist’s recollection of a conversation with the Pope posted temporarily for informational purposes on the Vatican website is the best source for the current teachings of the Catholic Church.

        Well what are the current teachings of the Catholic Church? Seems to me that they are well expressed by the fact that unless you specifically ask for the long form marriage ceremony, you are going to get the short form (politically correct) marriage ceremony.

        What the Catholic church theoretically preaches is, like the long from marriage ceremony, tolerated, but only barely tolerated.

  3. The Liberal Triumph is like Islam and both are like a black hole: They are self-cannibalizing, and in that sense ultimately self-destructive; but into the “gravity singularity” that they constitute, they suck everything else. We hope that a few things lie outside the “event horizon” and will not be sucked into the “singularity.” How long can the Liberal Triumph last? How long has Islam, dysfunctional at its inception, lasted? About 1500 years, which makes it three quarters the age of the Church. Our plight is doubled through the fact that the Liberal Triumph has forged an alliance with Islam Resurgent. The Western Gnostics all have higher degrees, it is true, and their characteristic activity is the scholarly conference; but Islam is active and violent — its Gnostics have Kalashnikov rifles and body-bombs and their characteristic activity is Jihad. The main object of hatred is the same for both: Christianity, and in particular the Catholic Church.

    If you could help me out of my pessimism, Jim, I would appreciate it.

    • Islam and liberalism both have a problem, because putting will at the center means they reject knowledge and reality, but liberalism has the bigger problem.

      Islam makes God’s will the standard, which brings a certain objectivity back into the picture that comes through in its insistence on absolute standards in the form of the Koran and associated dogmas. The dogmas are basically Christian dogmas that have been stripped down by removing rational and incarnational aspects. The result is that Islam kills any possibility of progress but is able to stumble on obstinately at some level of functionality.

      Liberalism is much freer and more progressive, and therefore much more self-destructive. It has a very few very abstract principles like equality and preference satisfaction and gradually at first but then more boldly spins out their implications and forces them on social reality without regard to other considerations. The result is that following its principles ultimately leads to a much greater and indeed infinite degree of blindness and disorder.

      Net effect: I don’t think there’s much likelihood that liberalism will last 1500 years. The singularity will eventually disappear, leaving a great deal of disorder behind, and the question is what principle of renewed order will take hold. The important thing for Catholics to do from a social standpoint, I think, is to have an obviously functional way of life and understanding of the world on offer.

      • The important thing for Catholics to do from a social standpoint, I think, is to have an obviously functional way of life and understanding of the world on offer.

        The pope has ditched hell and is evasive on the trinity. The Pauline verses on the relationship of the sexes are officially optional, and an option dangerous to take.

        Having a single center of authority protected Catholics from the runaway holier than thou disease that afflicted most brands of protestantism, but centralism offers your enemies a single throat that they can cut. Against state level enemies with superior coercive power, centralism is a weakness.

        As I am fond of saying, the Vatican buildings will soon be the premises of a leftist bookstore and a transgendered activism group, and the Pope speaking ExCathedra will be letterhead in the office of a Harvard bureaucrat.

    • Is it really fair to say that every branch of Islam is “self-cannibalizing” in the same sense that liberalism has proved itself to be societal suicide?

      • “There is in Islam a paradox which is perhaps a permanent menace. The great creed born in the desert creates a kind of ecstasy of the very emptiness of its own land, and even, one may say, out of the emptiness of its own theology. . . . A void is made in the heart of Islam which has to be filled up again and again by a mere repetition of the revolution that founded it. There are no sacraments; the only thing that can happen is a sort of apocalypse, as unique as the end of the world; so the apocalypse can only be repeated and the world end again and again. There are no priests; and yet this equality can only breed a multitude if lawless prophets almost as numerous as priests. The very dogma that there is only one Mahomet produces an endless procession of Mahomets.”
        —G.K. Chesterton

        “Ever since the religion of Islam appeared in the world, the espousers of it…have been as wolves and tigers to all other nations, rending and tearing all that fell into their merciless paws, and grinding them with their iron teeth; that numberless cities are razed from the foundation, and only their name remaining; that many countries, which were once as the garden of God, are now a desolate wilderness; and that so many once numerous and powerful nations are vanished from the earth! Such was, and is at this day, the rage, the fury, the revenge, of these destroyers of human kind.”
        —John Wesley

        “I studied the Kuran a great deal … I came away from that study with the conviction that by and large there have been few religions in the world as deadly to men as that of Muhammed. As far as I can see, it is the principal cause of the decadence so visible today in the Muslim world, and, though less absurd than the polytheism of old, its social and political tendencies are in my opinion infinitely more to be feared, and I therefore regard it as a form of decadence rather than a form of progress in relation to paganism itself.”
        —Alexis de Tocqueville

        “Islam was not a torch, as has been claimed, but an extinguisher. Conceived in a barbarous brain for the use of a barbarous people, it was – and it remains – incapable of adapting itself to civilization. Wherever it has dominated, it has broken the impulse towards progress and checked the evolution of society.”
        — Andre Servier

        “How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen; all know how to die; but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.”
        —Winston Churchill

      • Wm. Lewis,

        With the exception of the Chesterton quote (which frankly could just as easily apply to Protestants) it seems most of the figures you are quoting are critiquing Islam for not being sufficiently “progressive.” I do not like critiquing any tradition be it Islam or Protestantism, for being insufficiently liberal.

      • > —John Wesley

        Well, I’d much more prefer to be part of the Christianity of the 16th century which destroyed the Aztek and Inca empires, than to be part of the Christianity of the 21th century, which seams dedicated to:
        1> defend the colonization of western countries by blacks and muslims (nearly 100% of western Christianity does so)
        2> Defend all of the rest of liberalism (about 50% of western Christianity does so)

        >— Andre Servier

        Well, to me it looks like a positive point that Islam is victorious Liberalisms.

        > the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger
        > retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism
        > is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa,
        > raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered
        > in the strong arms of science the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as
        > fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.”
        > —Winston Churchill

        To me he is yet again criticizing islam for not being progressivist enough.

        I also feel like spitting when I read Churchill, the one who fought WW2 against the west, say that he represents Christianity. He is one of the main builders of the destruction of the west and the destruction of Christianity.

      • ISE & Felipe,

        I didn’t see any defense of progressivism in those quotes, but perhaps I’m just thick.

        The word “progress” was used, but I don’t think the authors meant it the sense of progressivism. I think we’d agree that until modernism and liberalism took over, Western civilization, under the influence of Christianity, made significant progress—in the arts, music, science, technology, philosophy, medicine and so forth—compared to the pagan civilizations it replaced. This is not progressivism, however.

        P.S. to ISE: Your tendentious sniping at Protestantism is inappropriate and unwelcome. The Orthosphere is not the right forum for such irresolvable “discussions.”

      • Wm Lewis,

        I think it safe to infer that Churchill and Servier mean “progress” in the modern sense. Churchill’s progressivism is well known, for instance, as I pointed out on Kristor’s thread, he was an avid promoter of eugenicist policies. I know wikipedia is not always the most reliable source, but it describes Andre Servier as a defender “of Modernity” and “Enlightened Reason.” Servier also appears to be something of a racist. I would consider De Tocqueville to be a liberal, though I suppose reasonable minds could disagree. Wesely, I would consider modern though perhaps not a liberal. At any rate I think it fair to say that most of thinkers you cited criticize Islam for not living up to modern liberal Western ideals.

        Re Chesterton & Protestantism, I should have been clearer by what I meant. Chesterton saying that Islam has no sacraments no priesthood ect. could apply to Protestantism. It should have been worded better but my comment was not meant to be a snipe. I also noted that I have and will continue to defend Protestants from liberal attacks including neo-reactionary claims that Puritans “started” American progressivism. I also agree that these discussions are ill-suited to a combox, I think a problem is that things Catholics consider to be liberal, many Protestants don’t and so we end up talking past each other. At any rate I was hoping for a more substantive discussion than just some abstracted quotes about Islam.

      • ISE,

        Thank you for the reasonable and reasoned response. I now understand what you meant. I apologize for misinterpreting your meaning, but there is an unfortunate tendency among Roman Catholic commenters here to express anti-Protestant sentiment, and I am perhaps overly sensitive to that now. I agree that there is significant talking past each other between Protestants and Catholics, due in no small part to our ignorance and misunderstandings of each other’s creeds.

        Despite my Ph.D., I find myself to be profoundly ignorant, and I enjoy the opportunity to learn more from the writers and commenters here. I look forward to continued fruitful interactions with you and others.

        My point in posting those quotes was to support the notion that Islam, while successful in its own way, is only successful temporarily, and that, like liberalism, in the end it must implode from the weight of its own falseness and destructiveness, aimed both at others and itself.

        I don’t recall where I read this, but someone once observed that Western classical music has a universal appeal, and that people all over the world respond similarly to it when introduced to it—with the exception of Moslems, who are generally indifferent to it. I think this speaks to the deadening effect of Islam.

    • “If you could help me out of my pessimism, Jim, I would appreciate it.”

      He’s good at that. For example, his comment above about seminaries and young priests helped me out.

      • I work in one of the most endarkened institutions of the reigning Endarkenment. Every day I hear the demonic gibbering of the endarktrinators. I am naturally prone to take a dim view of things. Jim is indeed a Thomistic beacon in the enfolding crepuscule of the West. (Thanks, Jim.)

        PS. In case anyone wonders what the demonic gibbering of the endarktrinators sounds like, I give a transcription of three Derridean postmodernists confabulating during a conference-session:

        Tradioun Marexil firtrudinxé burrudixé.
        Fory my dinkorlitz.
        O mérikariu O midara caraibo lakinda,
        mérondor dinkorlitz.
        Tradioun marexil,
        Tradioun burrudix?
        Trudinxé caraibo.
        Fir omévixé mérondor.
        Mit aysko, mérondor, mit aysko! Oh!
        Diff! Diff! mérondor, mérondor aysko!
        Has! Has! Satan.
        Has! Has! Belphégor,
        Has! Has! Méphisto,
        Has! Has! Kroïx!
        Diff! Diff! Astaroth,
        Diff! Diff! Belzébuth, Belphégor, Astaroth, Méphisto!
        Sat, sat rayk irkimour.
        Has! Has! Méphisto!
        Has! Has! Irimiru karabrao!

        To which one can only say, Ia Ftaghn!

  4. Kristor:

    But it’s just not true that the old doctrines are gathering dust. I’m in RCIA right now, and we are reading every page of the Catechism.

    I am extremely pleased to hear this, but it sounds like you may be in a highly unrepresentative class of RCIA.

    • May be. Sad, if so. All I can say is that it is right in line with what I had expected to encounter, given the impressions I had gained from listening to Catholic Radio. I suppose I shall allow myself to hope that I am joining the Church at the surface of one of those traditional sprouts that will end up keeping the vine alive over the next couple centuries. One thing is for sure: a parish that teaches heterodoxy in its RCIA classes is bound for a destination somewhere outside the Church. Insofar as a subsidiary of the Church goes liberal, it goes suicidal, and will not long remain; will wither, and fall away, and dissolve into the dirt. Whatever is left after that process of pruning will be the Remnant that Jim looks for – will, i.e., just be the Church.

      This reminds me – I need to get cracking on my homework for catechism class tomorrow am.

  5. Dear James,

    Just reading your ‘Tyranny of Liberalism’ at the moment and am loving it. I am from Australia and everything that you write rings true in this country.

    Many thanks for your work.

    in Christ,

    Thomas

  6. It is a good article, but it has the problem that is so typical of Christian writers: the approach is “We should do X, X is good, because X, Y, Z.”

    What is lacking is the focus on “What exactly does prevent us from doing what is good?”

    The Christian answer to that is sin, and original sin, but what is usually missing is the examination of how that appears in practical, everyday psychology.

    I.e. what is lacking is the focus on egoism, narcissism, the analysis of these psychological issues that force people to follow their own pleasure instead of what is good.

    I believe Christian writers should change their focus to a similar one to that of Buddhist writers: the pracitical, psychological analysis of egoism, narcissism, in what kinds of emotions it manifests (pride, desire etc.) and how to notice when they do, how it leads to unhappiness even in practical everyday life etc. etc.

    • We Christians are not Buddhists, and Buddhist precepts are often incompatible with Christian truth. A Christian explanation will be more satisfying, and closer to the truth, than any Buddhist-influenced attempt to explicate the same concepts.

    • The pastoral-psychological approach is basically the ground-level implementation of the Spirit of Vatican II in the Catholic Church and I can assure you, it has not worked here.

  7. Pingback: A dreadful thought: will there be no persecution? | Throne and Altar

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