The Puritan question

A guest post by commenter JMSmith:

In an interesting post, Foseti returns to the Puritan Question, and affirms that “one key tenet” of Neoreaction is that Progressivism is a “nontheistic Christian sect.”  No doubt there is much to be gained by understanding Progressivism as a messianic movement, and much to be regretted in the fact that Progressive chiliasts were so long cosseted in the cradle of Christian culture, but Progressivism is not a nontheistic Christian sect.  It is that old skin-changer Gnosticism, now divested of Christian symbols, acting under a new guise suited to the sensibilities of nontheistic men and women.

I suggest that the real Puritan Question is, what exactly is Puritanism?  To frame the question in Aristotelian terms, we should ask, which attributes are essential to Puritanism, and which are accidental?  And then, more specifically, we should ask, whether Christianity (however loosely defined) is one of these essential attributes, or whether it was only accidentally, contingently, and temporarily associated with this essentially alien spiritual tendency?

My answer is, obviously, that the association was accidental.

Puritanism is another name for Gnosticism, and Gnosticism is a skin-changer.  As one writer put it, “there was . . . no gnostic canon of scripture, unless it was the ‘holy scriptures’ of other religions, like the Bible or Homer, which were employed and interpreted for the purpose of authorizing the Gnostics’ own teachings” (Brown, Heresies, 1984).  Another writer agrees that a “peculiarity of the gnostic tradition . . . lies in the fact that it frequently draws its material from the most varied existing traditions, attaches itself to it, and at the same time sets it in a new frame by which this material takes on a new character and a completely new significance” (Rudolph, Gnosis, 1982).

Before I develop this argument, I have to admit that Christianity is, for various reasons, highly susceptible to gnostic infections.  This is something the Church recognized and combatted from the very beginning, the antichrists of John’s Epistles being generally understood as Gnostics who were attempting to sell their esoteric doctrines wrapped in a Christian skin.  We can recognize Gnosticism in Christianity any time we see a sect of “super-Christians” propounding some radical renovation of the faith with the promise that this will lead to a radical renewal of the faith, or indeed of the world.  We can recognize Gnosticism outside of Christianity by the same test: a sect of enlightened “super-humans,” who have somehow transcended the mental and moral limitations that ensnare the rest of humanity, propounding some radical renovation of the social order, again with a promise that this will lead to a radical renewal of the world. (If that doesn’t describe Progressives, I don’t know what does.)

Wherever you may find it, Gnosticism/Puritanism has four essential characteristics.

Spiritual pride is the first essential characteristic of Gnosticism/Puritanism.  This is because it begins as a belief that the world is a corrupt and disordered place that is sunk in peccancy and error, but that there exists in the midst of this dolorous waste a small sect of saints who have escaped the near universal ruin of ignorance and turpitude.  The generic name for such saints who see themselves as stranded on the smoking rubble of the world is Gnostics or Illuminati, since they are men and women who claim that they are possessed of esoteric knowledge and extraordinary virtue.  August Neander wrote that second-century Gnostics appropriated Christian symbols, but then changed them because they found the gospel too simple and accessible.  The great defect of this simplicity and accessibility, so far as the Gnostics were concerned, was that it did not present a mystery that they could penetrate by speculation and symbolic interpretation, and thus there was no esoteric understanding of the faith reserved for, and indicative of, an inner circle of spiritual adepts (History of the Christian Religion, 1841).  This is not to say that all Christians understood their faith equally well, only that the beliefs of the meanest Christian churl, insofar as these beliefs were orthodox, were the same as the beliefs of the very doctors of the Church.  The mysteries of Christianity are mysteries for all Christians, not secret arcana reserved for a privileged few.

Gnosis also normally entails unusual moral sensitivity.  This can be expressed in a fastidious repugnance for behavior that ordinary humans tolerate or ignore, or in rejection of conventional morality and indulgence in high-minded immorality.  The whole point for the Gnostic is to set himself apart from the great herd of humanity by claiming to view the world from a higher, and very exclusive, spiritual vantage point.  In his great analysis of the gnostic character of the early English Puritans, Richard Hooker wrote that they condemn the evils of the world “with marvelous exceeding severity and sharpness of reproof,” thereby leading others to believe that “such constant reprovers of sin . . . would never be so much offended with evil, unless themselves were singularly good” (Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie, 1597).

Separatism is the second essential attribute of the Gnostic/Puritan movements.  This follows from spiritual pride and the claim to be in possession of esoteric knowledge and extraordinary virtue, and it is expressed in conspicuous repudiation of the common customs, conventions and ways of the world.  In practice this means the customs, conventions and ways of the Gnostic’s own time and place, and the adoption of an assertively countercultural attitude.  Describing the Separatists and Puritans of Elizabethan England, Hooker wrote that they “affected to cross the ordinary custom in everything,” and that a Puritan would signify his election by “fashioning his own life contrary unto the customs and orders of this present world.”

The essence of Gnosticism/Puritanism is, in other words, to be in open revolt against the world as presently constituted, and to announce this revolt by purging from one’s own life whatever happens to be emblematic of that world.  Among the Puritans of Calvin’s Geneva, or of Hooker’s England, these emblems were “the most notorious badges of antichristian recognizance,” namely the ordinary offices, sacraments and symbols of Roman Catholicism.  “In rites and ceremonies,” Hooker wrote, “their profession was hatred of all conformity with the Church of Rome,” and thus they labored to “purify” the church of bishops, stained glass, infant baptism, Christmas, godfathers and godmothers, and whatever else they could impugn as a papist corruption.

Among today’s Puritans, which is to say among today’s Progressives, we see the same impulse to separate, differentiate, and purge.  The only difference is that in this case the ordinary customs they affect to cross, and the emblems they endeavor to purge, are the customs and emblems of traditional Christian society.  Among contemporary Progressives, indeed, there is an effort to “purify” their lives of every taint and tincture of conventional (i.e., bourgeois and Christian) morality, which they have the cheek and effrontery to denounce as “Puritanism.”  In a society that values chastity, unrestrained sexual indulgence is puritanical because “bourgeois hang-ups” over things like adultery are “notorious badges of antichristian recognizance,” and such badges must be purged.

The third essential attribute of the Gnostic/Puritan movement I can only think to call epistemological austerity.  As we have seen, a Gnostic believes himself possessed of esoteric knowledge and extraordinary virtue, whereas he believes that the world is sunk in error and turpitude.  He is an adept who has penetrated the mysteries and possessed the truth; the world is a whore freighted with “heaps of intolerable pollutions.”  It is, therefore, impossible for him to compromise with the world, to learn from the world, or to accept correction from the world.  What he requires, then, is a source of knowledge that is not, as part of the world, loaded with “heaps of intolerable pollutions.”

This is why, when the spirit of Gnosticism took the Christian form that we know as Puritanism, epistemological austerity was expressed in the doctrine of sola scriptura.  Puritans seemed at times to believe that the special revelation of scripture was the only revelation, the only source of knowledge on all matters.  This is extremely austere when compared to the traditional Christian view that scripture clarifies and completes the general revelation.  Again, it is worthwhile to consider what Neander wrote about why Gnostics were frustrated with the Christian gospel and sought to “improve” it.  Not only did it fail to present deep mysteries accessible only to an inner circle of adepts; it also failed to provide a complete cosmogony.  The Gnostics wanted a comprehensive theory of the cosmos—a totalizing mythology—and this is something that the Christian gospel does not provide.  Or rather, it is something the gospel did not provide until its symbolic secrets were unlocked by Gnostic interpretation.

If we turn to our modern Gnostics, which is to say to Progressives, we find the doctrine of sola scriptura revived as positivism, a species of epistemological austerity that maintains that that science is the sole and all-sufficient source of knowledge.  We also find it in a belief that there is nothing that we can learn from tradition.  This epistemological austerity is conspicuously absent in most of today’s Christians.

The last essential attribute of Gnostic/Puritan movements is that they are revolutionary.  They aim to destroy the wicked world that is, and replace it with a New Order.  This will be accomplished when they succeed in placing the disordered world under discipline, and in ordering it after the gnosis of their movement.  It is not supposed that placing the world under discipline will be easy or that all will welcome the revolution, but the true Gnostic is confident of success.  As Hooker put it when describing the Elizabethan Puritans, their gnosis being, so they thought, “the absolute commandment of almighty God,” they were assured that “it must be received, though the world receiving it, be turned upside down.” And because they imagined that they, like Israel of old, had been sent “to root out the idolatrous nations, and to plant instead of them, a people who feared God, so the same Lord’s good will and pleasure was now, that these new Israelites should . . . perform a work no less miraculous in casting out violently the wicked from the earth, and establishing the Kingdom of Christ with perfect liberty.”

Eric Voegelin famously described such attempts to establish the Kingdom of Christ by as “immanentization of the eschaton” (New Science of Politics, 1951).  Pellicani describes it as the motive behind such attempts as “a revolutionary spirit that tends to transcend, to deny and to annihilate the existing order in view of a totally new order of things,” and that views “revolutionary violence as a tool of purification and regeneration” that will “overturn the overturned world, purge society, [and] restore human nature to its original state” (Revolutionary Apocalypse, 2003).

And Progressives?  They call it spreading democracy, free markets and human rights.

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98 thoughts on “The Puritan question

  1. Utter rubbish. Firstly, ‘ “with marvelous exceeding severity and sharpness of reproof,” thereby leading others to believe that “such constant reprovers of sin . . . would never be so much offended with evil, unless themselves were singularly good” (Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie, 1597),’ the important part is the leading other people to believe part. The Puritans themselves thought that they were just as sinful as the rest of humanity. As for the second “essence:” How does one form a more radical rejection of their contemporary culture than St. Anthony or monastics more generally? Well, there is one way, namely, saying that anger is murder, lusting for a woman is adultery, and the poor are blessed, i.e. in a similar state as the gods, to the ancient Mediterranean. Furthermore, Sola Scriptura does not mean that there is no other way of knowing or that there are no other revelations than the Bible, but that these must be tested against the Bible to determine whether they are legitimate or not. As for Calvinists rejecting all tradition, it is odd then that Calvin’s Institutes of Religion quotes Augustine and Gregory the Great copiously and that the English Puritans were quite fond of reading what Aelfric had to say about the Eucharist. The last essence ignores the fact that many Puritans sided with Charles I, and if loyal opposition counts as being revolutionary then Christianity as a whole counts for trying to upturn the values of pagan Rome.

    • St. Anthony rejected a corrupt society, not civilization or culture. And the corrupt society that he rejected, Alexandrian society, was convulsed by the Gnostic pneumopathology in so many varieties, each absolutely convinced of its righteousness, that it is hard to count them. There is a filiation from early Massachusetts Puritanism to modern Progressivism, in which the middle term is Unitarianism, which denies the Divinity of Christ and demotes him to a Harvard Divinity School Ph.D. and a “nice guy.” Eric Voegelin argued that Gnosticism was implicit in Christianity from the start, which is why it appears wherever Christianity has taken hold. That Gnosticism was implicit in Calvinism from its beginning is merely a variant of the same argument, in which case Calvinism is no different from Roman Catholicism or Orthodox Christianity. As human beings are Calvinism’s bearers, Calvinism is prone to human deviation, and it is therefore prone to the Gnostic deviation. As I read Smith, that is what he is saying.

      PS to Skeggy: The Catholic-Calvinist dialogue is the touchiest one of all. It is the test of Traditionalists, whether they can work together, or whether they are Gnostics. I offer you my hand. (TFB)

      • Quite so. I am convinced that gnosticism is in all its variations just one or another type of philosophically sophisticated sinfulness. All gnosticism – Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Greek, secularist, whatever – can be parsed as the sin of Babel, the sin of vainglory and rebellion, the sin of Lucifer and Faust. We should be no more surprised to find it cropping up in Christian cultures than, say, murder, envy or lust.

        Skeggy makes valuable points. Puritanism, and gnosticism, never fail to be admixed with truth, and with true righteousness. Society is never simple, more’s the pity (and thanks be to God); and error cannot but supervene upon a basic and general virtue, so that nor should we be surprised to find the Puritans and the gnostics of any age manifesting many excellences of character, and of true and honest piety. We must not err to think that the Puritans and the gnostics do not intend to be good and faithful soldiers of the Lord; nor should we err to think that they cannot ever be instruments of his Providence.

        The thing that troubled me as I read Dr. Smith’s essay was the reflection that the early Church, like the Essenes at Qumran (who were perhaps both sectaries of the same cult), thought of themselves as the Faithful Remnant, who rejected the Fallen and corrupt priesthood of the Temple, and looked for the restoration of the True Ancient Cult of Israel, exemplified in themselves. And what is more, they were correct in so thinking!

        It was but a step from these reflections to a recognition that many of the characteristics Dr. Smith finds in Puritans and gnostics are to be found also in orthospherean traditionalists.

        How then are we to tell the difference between a gnostic who is engaged in a Babelonian New Age project of mandating Utopia (sorry about the genocide, but to make an omelette you have to break some eggs), and a true restorationist, a traditionalist? I suppose the answer is that a gnostic utopian rejects tradition root and branch, while a restoratiionist reveres it. The utopian idealist seeks to create a new man; the traditionalist seeks to reveal and to enable the true man, man as of old. The utopian gnostic seeks to establish a New Age, while the traditionalist seeks to reestablish an old, Golden Age, from which we have fallen.

        Genocide is another tell, of course. If your project for humanity involves killing millions, you are almost certainly not a traditionalist.

      • If I misunderstood him, then I apologize. If he was saying that Calvinists and Puritans are apt to fall into heretical opinions due to their sinful nature, that of course is true and practically a doctrine of Calvinism. Also, if he was saying that certain Puritan sects fell into a particular heresy that was influential in the spread of Progressivism, that too is true, but is a far cry from saying that Progressivism is the essence of Puritanism. Also the Puritans did not reject civilization or culture either.

      • In response to Dr. Bertonneu’s Post Scriptum, I believe that traditionalists of Catholic and Calvinist persuasions can work together. In fact, I disagree with the comment commonly made on reactionary sites that even if we were to take over we would have to split into two countries: one Protestant, the other Catholic. Many conservative Presbyterians fought for the rights of the Catholic Stuarts. I hope nothing I have said on this site has been disrespectful to Catholics, rather than being a hearty defense of the faith of my ancestors for many centuries. I have great respect for the Catholic tradition and the many Catholic authors on this site and others.

      • Graciously said, Skeggy. As the child of both traditions, Catholic mother, Protestant father, may I suggest that often what divides us most is the fact that both sides use the same words but mean slightly different things by them.

  2. This is an interesting discussion of a very complex issue. I can’t help but think that the neo-reactionary theory on this matter has a lot to do with the fact that most neo-reactionaries are libertarians of the anarcho-capitalist variety or at least once were. On the American Right this idea of the Purtian New England as being a “totalitarian theocracy” has been popularized by many in the Neo-Confederate movement. Neo-Confederates see themselves as being heirs to feudal English Cavaliers. Their story goes something like, “the happy and ‘free’ agrarian antebellum South was destroyed by Northern Neo-Puritan Yankee fanaticism.” I note a degree of schizophrenia on the part of many Neo-confederates, on the one hand many of them see themselves as the true inheritors of old-England/Christendom but then on the other hand most of the political theory they rest on comes out of the Enlightenment, specifically the Lockean school. I also think it does serious injustice to the medieval economy to compare it to the society of cash-crop slaving owning plutocrats who held the reigns of power in the South. That seems to lend too much credence to the kind of modern-pop view of the Middle Ages, this being something so-called “paleo-cons” ought to know better in not perpetuating.

    Here I think neo-reaction runs into serious philosophical problems, because they still seem to assume a fundamentally Enlightenment based anthropology. The early Puritans were merely trying to maintain a social order in a hostile world. They were not any more “totalitarian” than any other social order that seeks to protect and perpetuate itself. Liberals find this to be an affront not because it is “total” but because the community’s substantive values are not liberal. Catholicism in the Middle Ages was “totalitarian” in that it touched upon every aspect of life, religious, political, economic, familial etc. The Puritans were the same way. Indeed, liberalism being the ruling ideology acts in the same manner, however subtly.

    The libertarian “historian” Murray Rothbard (who Moldbug considers one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century) bashes the Puritans as power hungry theocrats:

    http://mises.org/page/1427

    Elsewhere Rothbard celebrates the transition of New England from the Puritan theocracies of the 17th century to the commercial societies of the 18th century as a triumph of capitalist progress over and against religious backwardness:

    http://archive.lewrockwell.com/rothbard/rothbard300.html

    Many other paleo-conners have also picked up this theme, notably Chronicles Magazine, many of whose writers years ago ran in the same circles as people like Rothbard.

    If I had to argue a cause for modern progressive liberalism, it would be the triumph of a commercial culture over any kind of religious-based culture, Catholic or Protestant. The other major culprit would be Anglo-Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, namely Smith and Locke. But I am not ready to flesh out such an argument here. While as a Catholic I do not find a Protestant social order ideal, as there does some to be quite a bit of correlation between Protestant cultures and liberalism, Christians of whatever tradition ought not critique others (be it Protestant or even Islam) for being illiberal.

    • “Their story goes something like, “the happy and ‘free’ agrarian antebellum South was destroyed by Northern Neo-Puritan Yankee fanaticism.””

      I’ve heard this before and the best I can do for you, is asking you to read up on reconstruction. The primary focus of it was changing the religion, social structure, culture of the south(Succeeded in all 3). It was a moral crusade from New England with military forces to back it up. Once you understand what went on during reconstruction you’ll better understand the civil war.

    • To be fair, Rothbard criticized the secular-left religion for its excesses. He certainly appreciated religious-based culture:

      Establishing a religion has a specific meaning: paying for ministers and churches out of taxpayer funds. To ban even voluntary prayer from the public schools, or to ban the teaching of religion, is a pettifogging willful misconstruction of the text and of the intent of the framers, in order to replace our former Christian culture with a left-secular one. The banning of creches in front of local town halls demonstrates how far the secularists will go–indeed shows how totalitarian they are in their drive to ban religion from public institutions.

      I think he made an excellent case for Marxism and Progressivism as partly descendant from the Puritan/Pietist mindset. He unfortunately ignores the hefty Jewish input (maybe that’s why Moldbug, also a Jew, likes him). He literally traces the families who were once self-identifying Christians to their genetic scions, who abandoned God but kept much of the world-perfecting philosophy to which their forefathers adhered. And he demonstrated some of their virulent anti-Catholicism as exercised through anti-temperance and compulsory public schooling measures.

      The lectures in which he states that case are here: http://mises.org/media/categories/213/20th-Century-American-Economic-History

      And unless you can demonstrate his lack of historian credentials, I don’t see why you put his profession in quotations. He was an honest economist and historian who was trying to find the truth out of what he read and observed. Even if you disagree with him (as I do, more and more) why do you slight a man his own profession because his historical analysis disagrees with yours?

      • I show Rothbard and his modern followers as much charity as Rothbard showed other scholars who disagreed with his views (see his “review” of Karl Polyani). Which is another way of saying that no, I do not have much respect for him. Nor can I understand why reactionaries would wish to claim such a radical liberal as their own. Rothbard’s understanding of pre-modern cultures is shallow. The two articles I linked to show him celebrating the triumph of captialist-modernity over theocratic-traditionalism. That is the progressive spirit distilled down into its purest form. People make much ado about his work on the Spanish Scholastics and their supposed contribution to what would later become Austrian economics. So what?

        I think he made an excellent case for Marxism and Progressivism as partly descendant from the Puritan/Pietist mindset.

        Again so what? Marxism’s origins in Christianity are obvious, Rothbard was not the first to recognize this, and his view into that relationship is surely not the most perceptive. I assert that it is the redeeming aspects of Marxist theory where one sees the influence of Christianity. The negative aspects are to the extent that Marxism adopted the capitalist notion of progress. Ironically on that point Rothbard has much more in common with the worst aspects of Marxism than anything else.

      • You don’t think Moldbug making a fetish of obscure texts doesn’t reek of gnosticism? OK, then, it’s just cherry-picking.

      • Additionally, Moldbug is always saying, “everything you know about X is untrue. I will show you the truth.”

  3. Moldbug simply doesn’t understand religion. Foseti quotes Moldbug:

    “If there is one general weakness in the conservative strategy, it strikes me as this unwillingness to admit that “liberalism” is actually mainline Protestantism, which is actually Christianity. Whether or not it obeys any specific detail of Christian or Protestant doctrine, such as the validity of the Holy Trinity, the existence of God, the divinity of Jesus, the predestination of the elect, etc, etc, etc, is entirely irrelevant. We are talking about a continuous cultural tradition whose superficial features constantly mutate. It’s a waste of time to generate antibodies to metaphysical doctrines.”

    Anyone who thinks the resurrection of the dead is a “superficial feature” is insanely ignorant.

    • I’m not so sure of this. Interestingly, the debate between atheists Harris and Atran may be informative. Cognitively, religious beliefs do not entail fixed propositional content. This is a matter of what constitutes the unit of analysis. If you’re interested in theology, then of course the resurrection of the dead matters. If you are interested in linguistic anthropology and pragmatics, not so much. I suspect Moldbug is talking about an epidemiology of cultural practices and dispositions, not of ideal forms. In other words, the degraded product fallible humans tend to produce absent formal structure- a meme that is left to be selected-for by every process save reason and tradition as opposed to an idea selected for its consonance with reason and tradition.

      • For him a religion is just “a bunch of stuff you believe in.” So liberalism = Christianity. Hey, maybe it’s really liberalism = Judaism.

  4. Kristor,
    “the traditionalist seeks to reestablish an old, Golden Age, from which we have fallen.”

    Astounding and appalling. What Golden Age could you be thinking of?

    • The age when things were better because tradition had not been rejected. “Golden Age” was probably too strong a term, although in comparison to today’s burgeoning dystopia the late 50’s do definitely seem to glow a bit. There has never been a time I suppose when there were no men who protested the corruption of the patrimonial cult that depraved society and ended the halcyon days of yore. But such men are generally too wise to think that a restoration of the ancient regime would wipe away all tears from our eyes. To think that it could is to reject the patrimony.

      What is astounding or appalling about seeking to restore social order in accordance with Natural Law?

  5. This is great post. I have had a lot of frustration with the Christians for how readily they adopt progressive and puritan ideas and how they views attacks on those ideas as an attack on the body of Christ. Once upon a time Christians fought very hard against gnosticism/progressivism/puritanism/Pharisee-ism and it’s good to see people waking up to the enemy in their midst.

    I wish you luck.

  6. Thanks and you’re welcome, to the commentators who found this post enlightening.

    Skeggy Thorson@ Please don’t take what I have written as an argument that seventeenth-century Puritans were not Christians. I would say that they began as Christian Puritans, but some evolved into Unitarian Puritans, and later Progressive Puritans. Of course, when the evolution to Unitarian Puritanism occurred, many of the biological and spiritual descendants of the Christian Puritans of New England and elsewhere remained Christian. But those who did tended to become less puritanical, under my definition. In fact, they tended to become morally, politically, and theologically conservative. It is a great irony, and the source of terrible historical misunderstanding, that the word Puritansm is today associated with conservatives. Puritanism is inherently revolutionary.

    I have read some of the spiritual autobiographies of New England Puritans, and I agree that they sometimes expressed an exquisite sense of personal sin. Being under “serious impressions” or “soul concern” was, after all, a stage in their conversion experience. Many of these accounts are very moving, and their authors were perfectly sincere, others suggest to me a degree of moral fastidiousness that suggests spiritual pride. They seem well on their way to what the blogger Jim Donaldson describes as “holier than Jesus.”

    When I wrote that an essential attribute of Puritanism is “separation” from the world, I did not mean withdrawal. That’s what anchoritic and cenobitic monasticism is all about. Those monks were waiting for the end of this world in conditions that they believed were best for their souls. Puritanism is an activist movement that is intent on bringing this world to an end, and the Puritan symbolically separates himself from the doomed world by conspicuously rejecting its emblems and adopting emblems that are their opposite. The black clothing and solemn demeanor of seventeenth-century Puritans was, for example, a repudiation of the gaiety and levity one finds, for instance, in much of Shakespeare.

    Kristor@ Spiritual pride is a universal temptation, and we Orthospherians are by no means exempt. Looking at the example of the Essenes or the Puritans, we have to admit that restorationist and revolutionary movements are often hard to tell apart. As you know, all of the revolutionary movements of the modern age have promised to, in some sense, restore men and women to a state of primitive innocence. They have all taught that some evil has been introduced into the world (e.g. private property, the state, monogamy), that the revolution will root out this evil, and that the eradication of this “root of all evil” will permit the millennium to unfold. This of course parallels Christian doctrine, but there is a key difference. We believe that the New Creation will be the work of Christ, not men.

    Ita Scripta Est@ The valuable lesson to be learned from the neoreactionaries of the “Dark Enlightenment” is that the Enlightenment was not what it claimed to be. The history of modernity is not a story of the “triumph of reason over superstition and prejudice,” but rather a story of a messianic movement with its own superstitions and prejudices. Their mistake, I believe, is in representing this messianic movement as a transformation of Christianity when it is, in fact, a substitute. Just as there was a point in time when it no longer made any sense to speak of Christians as Jews, so there was a point when it no longer made any sense to speak of Unitarian Progressives as Christians.

    Red@ I recently read a newspaper article published in New York State in 1862, proposing that the best way to resolve secession was to expel New England from the Union. Everyone at that time recognized that New England was the source of all of the “isms” that were revolutionizing society.

    All@ There is a practical reason why this argument has to be made. Progressives have long identified orthodox Christianity with the “Religious Right.” They have persuaded plenty of people that Christianity is, essentially, a reactionary movement bent on establishing a “theocracy.” Now we have a second argument, coming from the Right, that Christians are all, essentially, Progressives. Both of these arguments cannot be right, although both may be wrong. The problem they create for us is that, taken together, they make orthodox Christianity appear morally odious from all political perspectives.

    • > Now we have a second argument, coming from the Right, that Christians
      > are all, essentially, Progressives. Both of these arguments cannot be
      > right, although both may be wrong. The problem they create for us is
      > that, taken together, they make orthodox Christianity appear morally
      > odious from all political perspectives.

      Don’t overestimate this second argument. I’m not exactly sure which argument you are talking about, since there are at least 2 critiques coming from the right for Christianism:

      1-> From far-righters which say that Christianism is too soft and that it allowed liberalism to take over -> This second argument is propagated only by a small group in the right, it’s the opinion that Nazis had of Christianism, and I seriously doubt that anyone outside of the reactionary blogsphere has even heard of it. Try asking a common person, and you will get tons of people that think that Christianism is reactionary and therefore they hate it. You won’t hear anyone saying that Christianism is too liberal.

      2-> Some Libertarians criticize Christianism for being too socialist -> but libertarians are irrelevant.

      The common population is not listening to all sides and getting arguments from far-righters and libertarians. The common population is feed exclusively liberal propaganda from the mainstream media. They will never hear far-right arguments, and will never hear libertarian arguments, because those groups have no influential media of their own.

      Anyway, the argument that Christianism created progressivism (and all Christians are progressives) is false and it is easy to prove: The crusades and crusaders are almost a complete opposite of modern western liberalism

    • I will admit that since Puritanism was originally an insult there is no precise definition of of the term. However since you admitted that there were puritans who did not participate in any of these essences and were still Puritans that means that none of them are essential to Puritanism. Again I will readily admit that some Puritans fell into deep heresy, but this is neither unique or essential to Puritanism. I also apologize for the utter rubbish comment, it was too harsh and uncivil.

      • Skeggy Thorson@ Don’t worry, I took no offense at the “utter rubbish” comment and my wife had a good laugh when I read it aloud to her.

    • Very interesting subject. I don’t think that the “success” of the Puritan project was due to any deliberate ideology or thought out plan. The Puritan ascendency is more an issue of being in the right place at the right time rather than a triumph of a pre-determined mission. Had the Puritans settled in Brazil, they’d be nobody, as would their cultural influence.

      I think Moldbug is right in that Left is a product of a de-Christianised Christianity. I don’t read much of Moldbug and can’t say much about his understanding of how he came about this notion but I think an alternate thesis of the Left’s ideological development needs to be put forward. In my opinion, the answer lies in biology not ideology.

      I don’t think that historians (or theologians) have fully grasped the magnitude of the effect that human cognitive limitation has upon the development of political ideology and history. Kahnemen, Tversky, Stanovich, Dorner and others have quite convincing data that human thought processes are not strictly logical and that the “rational man” is the exception rather than the norm.

      System I rationality, i.e. associative rationality, is the way that most people think. People tend to associate ideas rather than rationally determine them. To the average pious Christian, Jesus is all about helping people, forgiving and accepting and generally an all round nice guy. They associate Christianity with niceness. Therefore to be a good Christian you have to be nice. The Left is about being nice.

      Protestantism is particularly prone to this error since it gives each man his moral liberty. Amongst intelligent Protestants this produces superb quality individuals, amongst the average Protestant, it produces a “nice” person of dubious intellectual merit. Modern America, with its strongly Protestant and democratic heritage, is thus the product of an “associative Christianity”.

      Catholicism solved this problem by not letting the faithful think. The average Catholic is just as stupid as the average Protestant but unlike Protestantism, the Catholic is not allowed to think about his religion; it’s all about following the Party line: the party line developed by Aquinas, Augustine, Scotus and so on. The average Catholic gets “borrowed intelligence” and thus is a “rational” Christian, the average Protestant is on his own and becomes an “associative” Christian.

      This is just a brief sketch of the matter and I’ll probably go further into it on my blog when I get some time. You might be interested in this post on my blog.

      • While I think your critique of Protestantism has some merit, I disagree with your point about Catholicism “not letting the faithful think.” The widespread proliferation of intricate secondary liturgical aides (to take one example) among the ordinary lay coupled with the intellectual culture of monasteries/universities would seem to suggest otherwise. Eamon Duffy’s work on pre-Reformation English Catholicism I think pretty conclusively shows that Catholicism was hardly as regimented and intellectually sterile as you make it out to be.

      • @Ita Scripta Est.

        C.S. Lewis on why he did not become a Catholic:

        The real reason why I cannot be in communion with you [Roman Catholics] is not my disagreement with this or that Roman doctrine, but that to accept your Church means, not to accept a given body of doctrine, but to accept in advance any doctrine your Church hereafter produces. It is like being asked to agree not only to what a man has said but also to what he is going to say.

        C.S. Lewis saw that membership of the Church resulted in a loss of intellectual sovereignty.
        One of the big problems with Catholicism its its insistence on the authority of the Church over the primacy of the truth. I know that theologians resolve the conflict by saying that the Church is always inerrant. Cue Galileo.

        Newman was the great exponent of Truth primacy. In many ways even though he joined the Catholic Church he remained a Protestant in his approach. But this is off topic.

      • Slumword

        Ah I see you’re bringing out the big guns by citing Galileo and Lewis at the same time against Catholicism. As regards Galileo and the Church you really ought not (especially on a blog like this) regurgitate Enlightenment myths. Though I guess the fact that what? 30 craters on the lunar surface are named after Catholic priests tends to dampen the old myth that the Church hated/s science.

        As far as the Lewis quote, it seems one could say much the same thing of practically any religion, state or ideology including Protestantism and liberalism. I think with Lewis it had more to do with an ingrained Anglo prejudice against Catholics.

      • Though I guess the fact that what? 30 craters on the lunar surface are named after Catholic priests tends to dampen the old myth that the Church hated/s science.

        Stop reframing. Who said that the Church hated science? Quotes please.
        The fact that the Church persecuted Galileo does not mean that the Church was waging a war against science in general, just a particular instance of it. The theological problem is how do you reconcile an inerrant Church against a specific instance where it was clearly in the wrong. Yeah, I know that Gallileo had his flaws and, also, many supporters in the Church. But when you strip away the polava, he was persecuted for his heliocentric theory which was true

        As a friend of the Church, it concerns me no end that the Church came within a bee’s dick of theological self-destruction on this issue. By the way, it’s an issue that has far too many apologists for the actions of the Church and not enough thinkers acknowledging that something went wrong in the whole process.

        JPII admitted that the Church was wrong on this issue. I suppose he was pushing an Enlightenment myth as well.

      • Slumlord@ Respect for “intellectual sovereignty” was not one of the Puritans’ strong points. They were hanging Quakers in New England after the Vatican had put the rack and the wheel into storage, and Rhode Island was to Massachusetts more or less what Geneva was to France. I don’t say this to condemn the Puritans, or out of fanatical regard for intellectual sovereignty. Every society sets a range of acceptable opinion, and most have tolerated heretics who did not flout public doctrine or proselytize. In some respects the Catholic Church has had to be more tolerant, simply because it was catholic. Sectarians can simply expel members who exercise their intellectual sovereignty too freely.

        I’m far from expert in this matter, but the quote from Lewis seems to exhibit some rather profound ignorance of the way in which Catholic doctrine develops. What the Church teaches in future must be consistent with, indeed implicit in, what it has taught in the past. And as the sedevacantist argument shows, papal infallibility cuts both ways. If what the pope says ex cathedra is true, then a man who says something false ex cathedra is not the pope.

      • The Church has never claimed to be inerrant in all things Slumlord. There is a difference between its exercise of authority in guiding the faithful and its pronouncement of dogma. While the former is a legitimate activity, it has never been considered to be done under a license of infallibility.

      • @John and JMSmith

        The Church has never claimed to be inerrant in all things Slumlord

        But the Church asserts its authority to teach. Therefore, by logical implication, the Church can authoritatively teach error: punishing, under the pain of sin, those who refuse to submit to it. See the problem? The Galileo affair highlights this.

        I think this is what Lewis was getting at. He arrived at the truths of Catholicism through the Protestant tradition. But Lewis, like other sincere Protestants, came to this position by an insistence on the primacy of the truth, not the primacy of authority. Newman held a similar position as outlined in his letter to the Duke of Norfolk.

        The situation, as I see it, is that the Church has not fully developed its understanding on the interrelationship between its teaching authority and its relationship with the truth.

        The Church once asserted that error has no rights, but neither does authority that is in error.

      • I would say that authority that is knowingly in error has no rights, and to this I would add authority that is knowingly talking through its hat (i.e. simply making things up). In the enlightenment criticism of Christianity, this was pretty nearly all that was meant by teaching from authority. Authority was a means to propagate lies and fairy tales. The best responses to this criticism pointed out that Christianity was not primarily grounded in logical or scientific demonstration, but in historical testimony, and a testator is the same as an authority. The ultimate testator is, of course, Christ himself, who spoke with authority about matters men could not verify, and we know what he said by way of testaments written down by men who also spoke with authority. I am not so simple as to imagine that the faith has not been infested with humbugs who have pretended to authority, but the epistemology of authority is at the very heart of the Christian faith. Indeed when we use the word faith, we mean faith in an authority.

        The epistemology of authority (or faith, if you like) comes down the question, which authorities have rights. Another way to state this would be: who among those who claim to be an authority is, indeed, an authority. I cannot answer, “those who are not in error,” since if I knew which were in error, I wouldn’t need an authority. So the epistemology of authority comes down to circumstantial evidence about the testator. In the case of Christ, for instance, performance of miracles and rising from the dead are circumstantial evidence that he speaks with authority on supernatural matters.

        For my part the authority of the Roman Catholic Church is a lot like the authority of some shrewd old fellow who gets things right more often than not. Unless I know that it is wrong, as I think the Church sometimes is when it strays into social science, and my priest sometimes is in his more whimsical homilies, I am willing to presume that what it says is true. Which is to say, I recognize its authority.

      • @ JMSmith

        With respect. The issue at stake here is not whom or what either of us think is authoritative, rather, does the Church contain a systemic error inside itself which could cause it to persecute truth under the guise of Authority? in my mind the Church hasn’t fully resolved the issue.

      • Slumlord@ If the Church could be shown to have an inherent tendency to abuse its authority (in that case, actually, pretended authority) by suppressing truth, that would be strong circumstantial evidence against its authority when professing (or, perhaps, pretending to profess, the truth). It isn’t logically impossible for an institution (or individual) to simultaneously tell no lies and yet suppress certain truths, but in practice lies and suppression of the truth tend to go together.

        I know this will sound Jesuitical, but one would have to recognize a need for some casuistry here. At least I think so. I remember a long thread some time back, maybe here on the Orthosphere, or perhaps on Bonald’s Throne and Altar site. The question was whether one should under all circumstances expose a wife’s infidelity to a cuckold. I thought it brought out rather nicely the way in which the value of truth-telling comes into conflict with other values, such as divorce prevention and the welfare of children.

        This comes down to the morality of the “white lie,” which essentially hinges on the question whether the good of truth should ever yield to some other good. I’m not raising this to defend any particular action or teaching on the part of the Church, only to suggest that many of us recognize that there can be circumstances when it is morally correct to shield certain persons from certain truths, at least for a certain period of time. I think the ethicists would say the morality of suppressing the truth depends on who benefits from the suppression, the one who is kept in ignorance or the one who is keeping in ignorance.

      • The Church is a special case. It’s raison d’etre is to teach the Truth and it fundamentally undermines its own credibility and authority when it fails to do so. This is a very, very serious issue. The danger is particularly perilous when the Church is blind to its own fault.

        I’m not doing this to hammer the Church, I don’t want it to the repeat the same error again.

      • I agree. I, too, do not wish to see the Church repeat any errors. Apart from unsystematic reading, what I know of today’s Church is what I see and hear in my own parish. There the problem is not teaching error with pretended authority, but rather teaching banality with a take-it-or-leave-it diffidence. As far as I can tell, based on more than a decade of homilies, we in the parish are free to think whatever we like, provided we are nice to other people–especially, as was suggested last week, women who abort their children. The problem is not dogmatic authority, but a lack of what Barth called “binding address.”

      • JMSmith:
        Slumlord is just steamed about Humanae Vitae. That’s why he views the Church as just too doggone tyrannically dogmatic, despite the near universality of the “isn’t that nice, aren’t we all wonderful, rainbows for everyone” experience on the ground at a parish near you.

        It is laudable of him, actually, and though it sounds snarky when I say it I actually mean it: because unlike the great majority of Catholics he actually cares about the Magisterium enough to actively dissent from it.

      • Hey Zippy, How nice of you to appear.

        My position on any particular is encyclical is irrelevant to the argument hand. It’s a ad hominen Zippy and yes……it is snarky.

      • Ah, OK. So multi-year public dissent from the Magisterium has nothing to do with viewing the Magisterium’s relationship to the truth as problematic. Got it.

      • Even if I were wholly supportive of HV, the fundamental issue raised by the Galileo controversy has not been solved. In that case the Magisterium was objectively punishing truth and upholding error.

      • As you probably know, at the time of the trial, in 1633, Galileo did not have the evidence that he needed to demonstrate the truth of what he maintained. He was not perfectly entitled to the “authority” he was claiming at that time, although the evidence was soon forthcoming. It is possible that the Church overreacted, but it was 1633, smack dab in the middle of the Thirty Years War. I like to think that I am a great friend of the truth, but I can see how a decent person might think that 1633 was not an opportune moment to unleash a revolutionary (and at that time still possibly incorrect) idea into European intellectual life.

      • But why put someone on trial for introducing a scientific idea into European intellectual life? And when is it a bad year to advance science? It will hardly do to say that no new thoughts are allowed because there is a war on. It was a dangerous time, to be sure, a time that required courage to advance ideas we now take for granted.

      • According to Owen Barfield there would have been no objection had Galileo presented his hypothesis as an attempt to “save the phenomena”, i.e., take account of and explain the way things appear and it was his refusal to do so, to instead insist that he was describing the reality beneath the appearances, that got him into hot water.

      • And when is it a bad year to advance science?

        Well, I can think of several instances where the authorities would have a duty to suppress “science”. For example I think it would be legitimate for the state to suppress the advancement of the development of abortifacients. Of course this all depends on what one considers “science.”

        to be sure, a time that required courage to advance ideas we now take for granted.

        That statement could go either way. There were many “courageous” people whose ideas we are now living with, and many of those ideas are having very destructive consequences.

        If some scientist made a discovery that had the potential to cause immediate social chaos, I think the US government would (rightly) behave in much the same way.

      • But who gets to decide which ideas are to be actively suppressed? Do we fight bad ideas with good ideas or with violence? Ultimately, it will come down to conscience rights.

      • Whomever it is that controls the media by which ideas are propagated. They will seldom see it as “suppression,” but the consequences of their editorial or curricular decisions result in the “suppression” of some ideas. This is inevitable, and probably for the best. It should be hard to put new ideas into circulation because most new ideas are not like the heliocentric model of the solar system. They are like phrenology, or healing crystals, or communism.

      • If some scientist made a discovery that had the potential to cause immediate social chaos,
        Just like economics, scientific inquiry needs to be subordinated to the common good. I think these issues of “who decides” are only problems in officially pluralist societies such as America (or Western society broadly.) Some appeal to conscience rights is not a solution in fact one could argue that such notions paved the way for liberal modernity.

      • Some appeal to conscience rights is not a solution in fact one could argue that such notions paved the way for liberal modernity.

        Liberal modernity was partly a reaction to a society that had quite readily accepted the contingency of the truth and its subordination to institutionalised authority. This is a very depressing comments thread. Christianity’s claim to the hearts of men is not based upon notions of societal convenience, rather, it asserts that it is True. You guys aren’t just defending the Church against Galileo, but you’re also defending the Roman Emperors who burned and tortured Christians for the sake of Roman institutional stability.

        Galileo was punished on religious grounds not political. He was not just told to shut up, he was also told to recant. He was being punished for his ontology, not his ideology.

        There is too much partisanship in this debate. Too many Catholics, on partisan grounds, want to prove the Church right at any cost. This shouldn’t be an issue of team Catholic vs the rest. The Church stuffed up on this issue. There is no way around it.

      • There is too much partisanship in this debate.

        Shrugs*

        It seems you have a problem with any kind of authority.
        You know what I find depressing, Slumlord? Repeating old myths and likening Catholics to tyrants and totalitarians for failing to lived up to the standards of modern liberalism. But no, you’re not partisan at all. You’re just interested in the truth.™

        Galileo was punished on religious grounds not political. He was not just told to shut up, he was also told to recant. He was being punished for his ontology, not his ideology.

        Yawn* What’s next are you going to start talking about the Crusades?

      • Galileo was punished on religious grounds not political. He was not just told to shut up, he was also told to recant. He was being punished for his ontology, not his ideology.

        This is bad history. Heliocentrism was not, itself, punishable prior to Galileo. Copernicus was encouraged, not punished. There were several heliocentrists who managed to avoid punishment. Furthermore, Galileo was not, in fact, “just” told to shut up. Rather, he was told to “tone it down” then he was “just” told to shut up. Not only did he disobey the instruction “just” to shut up, he responded by publishing a dialogue for the exact purpose of insulting the Pope for having the temerity to tell him to shut up—and the Pope, recall, was at that time a temporal prince allied with the prince of Galileo’s city of residence.

        His run-in with the Church was not about Heliocentrism. It was about authority. Galileo’s view was that the Church was wrong about Geocentrism, that the evidence was essentially certain that the Church was wrong, and that scholars, rather than the Church, were the proper judge of who was right and who was wrong. He was forced to recant Heliocentrism because Heliocentrism was the ideology which tempted him into disobedience, both temporal and spiritual. The recantation was an act of charity by the Church.

        Furthermore, Galileo was wrong. The evidence at the time favored Geocentrism. The claim that Heliocentrism was certain was farcical. Galileo’s own arguments were idiotic (this, incidentally, is a pattern: Galileo said many true and many arguably original things, not so many true and original things). And, if you believe in Relativity, we now know that the evidence for Heliocentrism could never be conclusive since, in the Geo vs Helio debate, there is no fact of the matter.

        The consistency with which Whig history turns out to be lies is breathtaking.

      • “His run-in with the Church was not about Heliocentrism. It was about authority.”

        As Charles Williams put it:

        “… the famous phrase about black and white –“we ought always to believe that
        what seems to us white is black, if the hierarchical Church so define it” –
        may allow of some discussion, though it is difficult to see in the end what
        other conclusion can be formally reached.”

        See also

        Which is one reason why I would not wish to be either a Jesuit or a geocentrist.

      • Given the promotion of conscience rights in U.S. health care by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which promotion I support, I am surprised that you would disparage conscience rights.

      • There are quite a number of things that the UCCB supports that I (and most Catholics here I suspect) do not support. There are quite a number of initiatives the UCCB promotes that have nothing to do with Church teaching and sometimes such initiatives even outright contradict Church teaching. “Conscience rights” are somewhere in between the two.

        The Bishops should have by all means opposed the mandate but not on the grounds they chose.

      • It is not just the USCCB that speaks highly of conscience rights. In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis spoke of “religious freedom, viewed as a fundamental human right,” even gong so far as to say, “Non-Christians, by God’s gracious initiative, when they are faithful to their own consciences, can live ‘justified by the grace of God’…”

        Is Pope Francis right on this?

      • I think we have to be very careful when comparing certain American political ideas and terminology with Church teaching, too often these terms are equivocated and obscure important nuances. Thus when the Church speaks of “freedom” “rights” and “conscience” it often times means rather different things. Also just because there may be a point of contact between Church teaching and Americanism does not somehow mean that two are compatible. The Catholic Church including in the writings of modern Popes, simply does not subscribe to the American notion of rights. As Pope Benedict recently pointed out in Caritas in Veritate: “rights presuppose duties, if they are not to become mere licence.” This really indicts the heart of so much of Americanism. And as we have seen with Pope Francis who has also continued and extended this critique into others areas.

        In that quote you listed it seems that Francis is merely reiterating traditional teaching that others may not be forced to become Catholic. To be sure there has been much confusion on this matter post-Vatican II with many “interested” parties spreading error with claims that somehow the Church’s teachings constitute a blessing of the First Amendment, but that is not true. The Church has and still upholds the confessional state as the model. The bishops are foolish for basing their entire argument on “the Constitution” and “freedom.” Sure when you are in court arguing your case you appeal to the Constitution but in the public arena that should not be their main appeal. Historically so many American bishops want to be seen as “Americans first” and this is really the root of many of the Church’s problems today.

      • So when the Church appears in court and appeals to conscience rights, they don’t really mean that they believe in conscience rights? That it is just part of a legal strategy that hides the true meaning of their words? That Pope Francis doesn’t really mean what he appears to say?

      • It has nothing to do with belief. They are using the laws they are given.

        I am saying that Pope Francis doesn’t prove your point.

  7. I am quite confused by the use of the term “Puritanism” here. To me Puritanism is what you get in the first entry if you put it in Google: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puritan: a group of English and American radical Protestants, which would therefore be right-wingers, not progressives. But in this text, Puritanism seems to mean proto-liberals. I would be really surprised if there was a real solid connection between the Puritans and Liberals. I think it is mostly coincidence, and that Puritan-style Protestantism in other non-Anglo-Saxon cultures would not have produced liberalism. In my Church at least (Presbyterian), Puritans were always viewed positively, but in this text they seem to be viewed negatively as proto-liberals.

    I am also confused by the term “Gnosticism”, the article in wikipedia about it doesn’t seam to be what this text talks about exactly: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gnosticism

    • Filipe@ The term Puritan can be used to indicate a particular religious movement that arose at the time of the English Reformation, or it can be used to indicate a recurrent spiritual tendency, of which this particular religious movement was an example. My post uses the word in the second manner and argues that the recurrent spiritual tendency is, essentially, Gnostic rather than Christian. Like the word Puritan, the word Gnostic can be used to indicate a particular religious movement that arose at about the same time as Christianity, or it can be used to indicate a recurrent spiritual tendency, of which this particular religious movement was an example. My post uses the word in the second manner and argues that Gnosticism and Puritanism are essentially the same. This is not to say that the Puritans of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were not Christians, only that there is no necessary connection between Christianity and Puritanism/Gnosticism.

      • “The term Puritan can be used to indicate a particular religious movement that arose at the time of the English Reformation,” which is the way most people understand the term.

        Alternatively, “it can be used to indicate a recurrent spiritual tendency.” Which allows us to pour all sorts of negative meanings into the term depending on what spiritual tendency we select and dislike. Puritanism was a broad movement, not a well-defined sect, so one could select a number of tendencies. In the modern world “Puritanism” has negative connotations, so it is an easy target. Puritans are scarcer than Native Americans in New England, also making them an easy target. They are not here to defend themselves. “Puritan” is thus a convenient negative label for whatever characteristics one wishes to project on a group. Likewise, Gnostics are not here to defend themselves, and Gnosticism also has negative connotations. Fusing two easy targets is a simple task.

        Were some Puritans prideful? Of course, but most groups have their prideful members. Did they wish to reform and purify religion and separate themselves from society if necessary to achieve their aims? Of course, but that is not unique to Puritanism. So there are connections, but that hardly establishes identity. Nor does it prove that actively pursuing the building of the kingdom of God is a bad thing.

        Did Puritans wear black? Of course, but lots of people, religious and otherwise, did and still do. Puritans dressed conservatively and modestly, but black clothing was expensive and hard to keep black in everyday use. One might wear black for a formal portrait, but not necessarily in the fields or in the workshop. The dour, black-clad Puritan is an overblown and negative stereotype. Puritans had their faults, but let’s not get carried away in blackening their reputation.

        Harvard University began as a Puritan institution and is now a progressive establishment institution. But that does not mean Cotton Mather would recognize Harvard as authentically Puritan. Puritanism can trace some of its roots to the new learning of the universities of the time, so there is a connection, but not necessarily a bad one, unless you dislike universities in general.

      • If you wish to defend Reformed theology and the Christianity of early New England, my argument is the best you are going to find. The alternative is that Progressive Humanism is simply the telos of Puritanism. It is not as if New England was invaded by Unitarians and Transcendentalists. Reformed Christians either own these people or they don’t. I’m saying that they don’t (which means I’m on your side), and that the way to disown them is to disown their Puritanism. And the way to disown their Puritanism is to say that Richard Hooker, who actually knew these people, was correct.

        I am not condemning the people that we call Puritan. They created a prosperous and orderly society in New England, under very difficult circumstances. I am identifying certain elements in their thought, present from the beginning, but growing and secularizing over time, that became very hostile to the sorts of things readers of the Orthosphere tend to value. I argue that these elements are not integral to their Christianity, so that Christianity is not the mother of, say, feminism or vegetarianism. But if you wish to claim feminism and vegetarianism as a logical developments of Reformed theology, I guess I can’t stop you.

      • Filipe@ The term Puritan can be used to indicate a particular religious movement that arose at the time of the English Reformation, or it can be used to indicate a recurrent spiritual tendency, of which this particular religious movement was an example.

        Could you explicit about which recurrent spiritual tendency you are talking about exactly? I could try to guess from what I know about the Puritans, but then I won’t be sure if it is what you were thinking about.

        Like the word Puritan, the word Gnostic can be used to indicate a particular religious movement that arose at about the same time as Christianity, or it can be used to indicate a recurrent spiritual tendency, of which this particular religious movement was an example.

        And the same here for Gnosticism. I’d also like to read your definition of Gnosticism. thanks

      • I think the post contains my working definition of the spiritual tendency of Puritanism/Gnosticism, which I argue are the same spiritual tendency. These are (1) a very strong sense of spiritual pride and self-righteousness, (2) symbolic separation of the adepts from the surrounding culture, which they reject as irredeemably corrupt, (3) epistemological austerity, meaning near-exclusive reliance on a strictly interpreted evidential base, and (4) an intention to revolutionize the world and usher in the millennium. One writer calls this “soteriological politics.”

      • > (1) a very strong sense of spiritual pride and self-righteousness,

        That’s quite a subjective criteria, because you can judge arbitrarely a group like that and there is no objective way to check .

        Anyway, if you talk with common people which were exposed to liberal propaganda, you will see that they are very prejudicious about different religious/cultures/ethnic groups, so billions would fit into this criteria.

        > (2) symbolic separation of the adepts from the surrounding culture,
        > which they reject as irredeemably corrupt,

        hahaha, this brings at least 2 things to my mind:
        a> Monastic movements fit in this description
        b> Well, considering our culture as irredeemable corrupt is pretty much a pre-requisite for being a reactionary, isn’t it? Or else one would be merely a “moderate conservative” or something like that.

        Anyway, the communists also think that our culture is corrupt (too capitalist form them).

        > (3) epistemological austerity, meaning near-exclusive
        > reliance on a strictly interpreted evidential base,

        Could you explain this more? I did not understand it.

        > and (4) an intention to revolutionize the world and
        > usher in the millennium. One writer calls this “soteriological politics.”

        The same could be said of comunism, political islam, liberalism, etc, … and maybe even cruzading Christianity. It should be present in any ideology which is expanding itself via force and power-struggle.

        Anyway, your points 1, 2 and 4 seam to pretty much define fanatism. (I excluded point 3 because I did not understand it).

        So in essence to me it looks like that you are trying to argue that fanatism caused liberalism … but maybe point 3 will clarify things.

      • Filipe@

        1) Certainly all of us are prone to spiritual pride, and every group will feel some degree of bigotry. Even liberals “pride” themselves on their tolerance and display a rather bigoted contempt for people who remain within particular national or religions traditions. So I am not describing a difference of type here, only a difference of degree. The groups I describe as Puritans/Gnostics are marked by a fanatical spiritual pride (as you note in your last line). One indication of this is that they lose all sense of charity for their opponents, and see those opponents as purely evil.

        2) As I said in another place in this thread, separatism is not the same as withdrawal. Separatism means to make your sense of moral superiority conspicuous by rejecting the conventions of your society and adopting a way of life that flouts those conventions. The medieval monk does not fit this definition because he was a part of medieval society. The special part he played in that society was indicated by his dress and tonsure, but he was not being countercultural. My sense of modern reactionaries is that they do their best to blend in and not draw attention to themselves.

        3) By epistemological austerity I mean an unwillingness to base beliefs on anything other than a very limited sort of evidence. If I said that I would believe nothing that was not clearly stated in the Bible, that would be epistemological austerity. If I said that I would believe nothing that was not printed in the New York Times, that would be epistemological austerity. This is important because a Puritan/Gnostic group can maintain its peculiar view of the world only be excluding some of the evidence. Many modern Gnostics exclude some of the evidence by closing off the transcendent.

        4) Communism, political Islam, and at least some forms of liberalism are Puritan/Gnostic movements, on my definition. And my post admits that Christainity has often been infected with the Gnostic impulse. If by “crusading Christianity” you mean the Christianity of the Crusades, I don’t think that was Gnostic. That was simply a desire to strike a blow against Islam (which had been hammering Europe), and to take control of pilgrimage destinations.

        Hope this helps.

      • Ops, one typo here: “…were exposed to liberal …”

        should be of course “…were *not* exposed to liberal ….”

      • > Even liberals “pride” themselves on their tolerance and display a rather bigoted
        > contempt for people who remain within particular national or religions traditions.

        Yes, but in a very targeted way. They are bigoted against european people that remain within a particular european national/religious tradition … they would never criticize the zulu tribesman for being too tribal. Which makes me root for islam in the islam vs liberalism conflict. I think that the facts are obvious: The liberals are trying to destroy us. So anything is preferable to liberalism.

        > One indication of this is that they loose all sense of charity for their opponents,
        > and see those opponents as purely evil.

        That could be said of nearly anyone with enemies.

        > The medieval monk does not fit this definition because he was a part of medieval society.
        > The special part he played in that society was indicated by his dress and tonsure, but he
        > was not being countercultural.

        Well, I have to disagree here. Maybe in the deeply christian middle ages the medieval monk was part of the society, but monks *did start* as something very countercultural in antiquity. The 3th century month was very countercultural. I also think that the contemporary monk is countercultural. Maybe they are currently ignored as being irrelevant, but I’m quite sure that that they are deeply at odds with western liberalism.

        > My sense of modern reactionaries is that they do their
        > best to blend in and not draw attention to themselves.

        Well, that just makes us countercultural pussies. The anarchist will display with pride his A symbol, his tatoos, etc. The communist will display with pride his che guevara T-shirt. OK, they are part of the liberal order, but before that, decades ago when they were countercultural, they also weren’t afraid. Also, many were arrested recently for making the Muslim Brotherhood salute in Egypt. So why western reactionaries (middle class/older ones at least) are nearly always cripto-reactionaries?

        I don’t know about others but I am simply demoralized. I do not believe that victory will come, in fact I haven’t seen a lasting right-wing victory in my lifetime (born in 1985), and we are deeply despised by the liberals, so I don’t see any point in making a stand: nothing will be gained, no reward will be received, no allies will come to my rescue if I am under attack, and the liberals will do their best to punish me. Better to duck and wait, and store money, the only advantage of the liberal society is that you can make a good buck.

        Western conservatism has been suffering defeats from liberalism since Napoleon, so that’s a pretty long string of defeats, 200 years already, with no stop in sight. At least the white liberals are dying out, so when they get reduced to zero we should hopefully get rid of them. The nasty side is that by them there won’t be many of us to enjoy the victory, I fear.

        But this is also a vicious cycle. Because we do not make a stand, we do not even try to defend ourselves as a group, that’s what makes it even easier for liberalism to keep targeting us, non-stop. They started with “square”, “prejudiced”. Next it was “racist”. Next it was “homophobic”. Now what was it? “islamophobic”? Their next way to insult us for trying to exist? That’s why I hope the jihadis will kill their ass…

      • It is easy to become demoralized but life is change. Look around and you will see that all of the strongholds of liberalism are under attack. Is there anyone in the country, other than tenured faculty, who claims that a degree in Liberal Arts is worth anything? Error will out and we live in an age based on error. Interesting times ahead.

        It is worth noting that the young, who cannot get a job, have no reason to pretend to believe the lies.

      • to Felipe: though a common utterance on many traditionalist websites it is not true that liberals have been on a consistent winning streak since Napoleon. Remember that Napoleon lost and the old order was restored till the revolts in 1848 all of which failed except in France and that lead to the second French empire which was no where near as radical as the first. Also Franco won in Spain, Salazar won in Portugal, and the communists lost in Greece. More examples could be mentioned but that should suffice to show that the Right has not always lost.

    • Historically, the Puritans were very much a movement of the left. Their position within English Christianity could be said to be analagous to that of the Anabaptists in continental Christianity. The Anabaptist movement is frequently referred to as the “left-wing” of the Protestant Reformation. In English history, the Puritan rebels against the Stuart monarchy and the Anglican settlement are the forerunners of the Whigs who became the liberals. In American history, New England Puritanism degenerated into the liberalism of Unitarian Universalism long before the German rationalistic “higher criticism” began to infect Protestant denominations in the late 19th Century. The Puritan millenialist vision of establishing the kingdom of God in North America, away from the worldliness of European Christendom, John Winthrop’s “city on a hill” is recognizable in secular form in Woodrow Wilson’s liberal call to America to “make the world safe for democracy.” That millenialism is characteristic of the gnosticism described by Eric Voegelin in “The New Science of Politics”, i.e., the rejection of the imperfect but divinely established representation of God’s kingdom in the here and now in the church in favour of a vision of establishing a perfect representation of that kingdom, of making the things which are ascribed by traditional orthodoxy to the “eschaton”, i.e., the world beyond the world of space and time available to our senses, “immanent”, i.e., available to us in the here and now. Thus Voegelin correctly regarded Puritanism as a form of Gnosticism.

  8. If the OP didn’t repeatedly put ‘Puritan’ after Gnostic, it never would have occurred to me that it was talking about the Puritans. The connection is assumed, not demonstrated.

    • You might want to look at the relevant chapter in Voegelin’s New Science of Politics. It’s not a demonstration, but its quite a bit more than an assumption.

    • The connection is assumed, not demonstrated.

      What a snide remark. Reasonable people can disagree about the arguments and conclusions, but Mr. JM Smith offered more than enough evidence to demonstrate a plausible connection.

  9. “If you wish to defend Reformed theology…”

    I do not.

    “I am not condemning the people that we call Puritan. They created a prosperous and orderly society in New England, under very difficult circumstances. I am identifying certain elements in their thought, present from the beginning, but growing and secularizing over time, that became very hostile to the sorts of things readers of the Orthosphere tend to value.”

    Then we are in agreement on that.

    I don’t see Harvard, for example as a Puritan school, though it once obviously was. Morning Prayers are still held, but sparsely attended, a vestige of the past. Harvard is indifferent, if not hostile, to many of the things the Puritans tended to value, though it still pursues Veritas in its own way.

    “There is a history in all men’s lives,
    Figuring the natures of the times deceas’d;
    The which observ’d, a man may prophesy,
    With a near aim, of the main chance of things
    As yet not come to life, who in their seeds
    And weak beginning lie intreasured.
    Such things become the hatch and brood of time…”

    (Henry IV, Part II, Act III, Scene 1)

    Is this not the case with Puritan and modern New England? Yet I do not venture to say which elements have caused the change observed.

    • Your experience confirms my argument, which is that Puritanism (i.e. Gnosticism) is an “alien spiritual tendency” that is only contingently connected to Christianity, whether Protestant or Catholic. I do not say that Puritans were ideal Protestant Christians, so that anything one says about Puritans is true of Protestant Christians. In fact I’m arguing against that proposition. My argument is that the historical group we have been taught to think of as Puritans were Protestant Christians who were not simply Protestant Christians, but were rather a compound of Protestant Christian and Gnostic spiritual tendencies. Some of their biological and spiritual descendants are, today, Protestant Christians who have pretty much lost the Gnosticism (i.e. they are conservative). Others are Gnostics who have pretty much lost the Protestant Christianity (i.e. they are progressives). Protestant Christians can either own Progressivism or disown it. I’m showing you how to disown it.

      Your intentional misspelling of Catholic is, by the way, odious, self-righteous and self-absorbed. Criticism need’t involve scurrility.

  10. Pingback: Lightning Round – 2014/01/29 | Free Northerner

  11. Mike Flynn has a great series of posts (first one here) on the whole Galileo hubbub. JPII was probably wrong to apologize for the Galileo affair; but fortunately papal apologies aren’t part of the teaching Magisterium.

  12. Now that I better understand your original point, I can answer:

    > In an interesting post, Foseti returns to the Puritan Question, and affirms that
    > “one key tenet” of Neoreaction is that Progressivism is a “nontheistic Christian sect.”
    > No doubt there is much to be gained by understanding Progressivism as a
    > messianic movement, and much to be regretted in the fact that Progressive chiliasts
    > were so long cosseted in the cradle of Christian culture, but Progressivism is
    > not a nontheistic Christian sect. It is that old skin-changer Gnosticism, now divested
    > of Christian symbols, acting under a new guise suited to the sensibilities of nontheistic
    > men and women.

    No, I have to disagree here. You are trying to connect post-modern Liberalism (aka Progressivism) with an ancient spiritual tendency which you described as a revolutionary fanaticism. That’s just … false and superficial. In a superficial analysis it might seam right, after all, “revolutionary fanaticism” is a core characteristic of all of Liberalism. But the same could be said of Islam, Nazism, and a huge bunch of other completely unrelated stuff. Reducing Liberalism to “revolutionary fanaticism” is completely unhelpful, because this ignores all of those things that make Liberalism different from other “revolutionary and fanatical” movements, and those are the characterists that interest us the most.

    I’d also like to point out that your assumption that Liberalism came only from Puritanism has holes on it, for example: If Liberalism came from Puritanism, then how do you explain Liberalism in Catholic France, like in the French Revolution and after that?

    Wealth is a real indicator of Liberalism, the richer, the more liberal a society is. I just wonder how those arab sheiks keep Liberalism under control? Maybe because they are monarchies? Also the rich Japanese & Koreans are a bit liberal, but much less so than western countries of equivalent wealth, I also wonder why. One cannot exclude that Christianism also increases liberalism. If there is a Christian rich and non-liberal society that would be a good counter example, but I don’t think that there is any.

    I also don’t like the characterization of Liberalism as a sect, since it is not structured enough to be a sect. Liberalism is an ideology. That’s the correct definition. And what is helpful in understanding Progressivism is not focusing in what makes it fanatical, because fanatism is not something uncommon in the world. What I would really like to hear anyone explain is where is the origin of characteristics which are unique to progressivism, for example:
    * The sado/mazochistic desire to destroy the white people (via for example the import non-whites into white countries, while they couldn’t care less of ethnic cleansing of whites in South Africa for example)
    * The view that conservative Christianity is the worse devil which needs to be destroyed
    * A deep interest in irrelevant groups like bissexuals and transgender
    * A deep interest in making propaganda showing that there are no bad people in the world (except those nasty white conservatives)
    * A wish to decrease penalties for violent crimes
    and so on.

    Now, if anyone explain me that, that would be something interesting and unique.

    • I think that you are still misunderstanding my argument, and this is because you are conflating specific historical eruptions of Puritanism/Gnosticism for the generic spiritual tendency. As I state in the post, the connection between Protestant Christianity and Gnosticism that we find in the “Puritan” movement of the 17th century was accidental and contingent, not necessary. One could argue that Protestant Christianity is highly susceptible to Gnostic infection, but Gnosticism can appear in any number of spiritual traditions. That’s why I call it a “skin changer.”

      Gnostics are always fanatics, but not all fanatics are Gnostics.

      The answer to the questions you pose at the end of your comment is given in the line that I quote from Pellicani at the end of the post. Gnosticism is “a revolutionary spirit that tends to transcend, to deny and to annihilate the existing order in view of a totally new order of things.” Established nations, religions and moral codes must be destroyed in order to institute a “new order of things.” Take a look at this essay, recently linked by Bruce Carleton: http://www.scifiwright.com/2014/01/the-restless-heart-of-darkness-part-one/

      • We, or at least I, have been arguing that your definition of Puritanism is wrong, That the tendency that you describe as essential was not present in all puritans thus is an accidental quality of Puritanism and I believe that the same could be argued for gnosticism but I don’t care to do so at this point. You assume that Puritanism just is Post-millennial, separatist Cromwellianism. Yet there were Amillennial, non-separatist Cavalier Puritans. Therefore Puritanism is not inherently revolutionary unless one defines Puritanism as only the beliefs of those Puritans who revolted, however that is just assuming the point of contention.

      • Drawing group boundaries in cultural history is a tricky business, so I think we should always expect some controversy in these matters. You know how this goes. You point out some members of the group who don’t fit my definition, I say that they are “no true Puritans,” and then you accuse me of the “no true Scotsman fallacy.” The problem with this is that the “no true Scotsman” argument is only a fallacy when it is, in fact, a fallacy. Every group contains nominal members. Conservatives recognize this when they accuse certain “Republican” politicians of being RINOs, or Republicans In Name Only. When they do this, are they committing the “no true Scotsman fallacy,” or are they recognizing that there are many nominal Republicans? My definition stands provided I can eliminate certain nominal Puritans, what we might call PINOs. These would be people who were associated with my true Puritans by accidents of kinship, economic interdependence, or political opportunism.

        I have stated stated in several places that many of these PINOs were orthodox Christians, as can be seen in the fact that, when the Puritan spirit moved on to secular causes of social reform, the biological and spiritual descendants of these PINOs retained their Christianity and abandoned their Puritanism.

        It seems to me that every definition of Puritanism is going to have to exclude some portion of that historical group as PINOs. The alternative is pure nominalism, in which case there is not reason to talk about Puritans because they do not really exist.

      • The Puritans were low-church, iconoclastic protestants in England and her diaspora during the 16th through 18th centuries, that particularly focused on the emotionally and morally edifying nature of faith. One could also argue that they were Calvinists since the Arminians who could be considered puritans were few and their classification as such iffy. So these are the essentials of Puritans as they are true of all Puritans and distinguish them from other groups. I am not accusing you of any logical fallacy but rather debating about the character of a historical group.

  13. Pingback: Progressive Puritans | pundit from another planet

  14. Let’s not take the fun out of schism! What happens when a Unitarian realizes they don’t know what they’re talking about and sees the light, which is not available to all? Is he a progressive’s progressive, or a puritan’s puritan?

  15. The author seems to confuse the all-too-human prideful attitudes of certain Gnostics with the essential tenets of Gnosticism itself.
    They are not necessarily part and parcel.
    No one is immune to the sin of pride. As we may observe in the comments.

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