Sex and the Religion of Me

Orthospherean James Kalb has written an essay for the latest issue of First Things. Sex and the Religion of Me: A challenge to the project of sexual liberation is about – well, you can pretty much tell what it is about.

The full article is behind a pay wall. Jim’s writing is good enough to warrant a subscription in its own right, of course, but it would be understandable if orthosphereans were to pause before committing their dough. At its beginnings, First Things was a revolutionary pioneer of intelligent, erudite Mere Christian traditionalism, both muscular and optimistic. But gradually it became an institution, and more mainstream. Partly this was due to the fact that its own success in making traditionalism respectable was a major factor of the recent increase in our numbers, many of whom are naturally more radical than the coterie of first class writers and thinkers at First Things. For many of the traditionalists First Things helped to incubate, it was not traditional enough, and too ready to accomodate itself to the terms of the discourse under the prevailing political weltanschauung.

In recent months, however, a number of exogenous factors seem to be radicalizing the whole traditionalist right, and First Things is no exception. The recent reversals on gay “marriage,” the apparent nod to libertinism of Pope Francis, last month’s fractious Synod, and the accelerating progress down the slippery slope to utter insanity of every aspect of our culture seem to have made pragmatic engagement with the political establishment impossible for serious Christians. More and more, it seems, the only options open to us are recusal, protest or civil disobedience. As the issues grow ever starker, the fissures ever deeper and steeper, the middle ground disappears. So, the writers at First Things find themselves more and more isolate from and inimical to the American political culture the journal had hoped to influence. Bruised and saddened, they seem to be moving rightward – or no, wait: upward, rather, and ever more perpendicular to the spectra by which kingdoms of this world calibrate each other.

That might make their conversations more interesting to orthosphereans and our ilk.

As a bonus, there is in every issue, and always at the First Things website, a plethora of insightful theology. David Bentley Hart and Peter Leithart are particularly worthy and voluminous contributors under that heading.

How to Become an American Traditionalist, Part Two: The Wisdom of the Ages

[Part One is here.]

Recall from Part One that traditionalism reconnects man with the true order of being, an order that is systematically denied by modernity. To become an American traditionalist, you must begin to know the elements of traditionalism so that you can begin to see their value and be nourished by them. How is this to be done?

Start at the beginning. You cannot begin to seek the ways of tradition unless you know you need them to counteract the lies of the modern age. And you cannot know that lies are lies unless you know the truths that correct them.

But even if you don’t know the truth, you can often sense that lies are lies. So your traditionalism begins with a sense of discontent of the contemporary world in which you have been immersed. If you have been blessed with the gift of discontentment with the status quo, read on. Traditionalism has what you need.

[But let the buyer beware: Many charlatans know you are discontented. Learn to avoid their snake oil.]

Traditionalism is not simply following tradition, although the ways of our ancestors are an important part of it. Traditions can be corrupted, so you must know the truth behind the tradition. Traditionalism has value not because it is good to follow the ways of our ancestors (although it usually is), but because we Americans have become collectively foolish under the influence of modernity. We need to reconnect with the wisdom of the ages that our ancestors understood better than we. Traditionalism supplies this life-giving connection. Continue reading

Real Tradition Must Be Sacred Tradition

We can jaw till the cows come home about how to reform the social order so that it works better, and in so doing improve our own understandings, and those of our fellows, so that we jointly decide matters in such a way as to restore a more humane, realistic and successful social order. Such discourse is not only edifying, but can nerve us to action. We could even implement a lot of quite sensible reforms – indeed, it is within the realm of possibility that all the outward forms of an ideal traditional society could be implemented, sometime after the Collapse of the Liberal Order, when men are casting about for a better way. That would be good!

Political acts can truly make the world a bit better, at the margin, than it would otherwise be.

But in the absence of a fairly widespread metanoia, a spiritual awakening and change of heart, all the clever and salutary reforms in the world will not secure for us a robust and durable traditional society, that reliably supports true human flourishing. They might slow the rot, but cannot heal it; cannot procure for us a healthy body politic.

A merely secular order, that does not consciously refer its ends, forms, and significations to the ultimate source of all order and meaning, has severed itself from the root of all things, and must therefore soon err, and stray, and perish.

Continue reading

Dietrich von Hildebrand on reverence and being

Writing (disapprovingly) in 1966 on the then-nascent reforms to the Roman rite Mass:

Reverence gives being the opportunity to speak to us: The ultimate grandeur of man is to be capax Dei (ed: “capable of receiving God”). Reverence is of capital importance to all the fundamental domains of man’s life. It can be rightly called “the mother of all virtues,” for it is the basic attitude that all virtues presuppose. The most elementary gesture of reverence is a response to being itself. It distinguishes the autonomous majesty of being from mere illusion or fiction; it is a recognition of the inner consistency and positiveness of being-of its independence of our arbitrary moods. Reverence gives being the opportunity to unfold itself, to, as it were, speak to us; to fecundate our minds. Therefore reverence is indispensable to any adequate knowledge of being. The depth and plenitude of being, and above all its mysteries, will never be revealed to any but the reverent mind. Remember that reverence is a constitutive element of the capacity to “wonder,” which Plato and Aristotle claimed to be the indispensable condition for philosophy. Indeed, irreverence is a chief source of philosophical error. But if reverence is the necessary basis for all reliable knowledge of being, it is, beyond that, indispensable for grasping and assessing the values grounded in being. Only the reverent man who is ready to admit the existence of something greater than himself, who is willing to be silent and let the object speak to him- who opens himself-is capable of entering the sublime world of values. Moreover, once a gradation of values has been recognized, a new kind of reverence is in order-a reverence that responds not only to the majesty of being as such, but to the specific value of a specific being and to its rank in the hierarchy of values. And this new reverence permits the discovery of still other values. …

The irreverent man by contrast, approaches being either in an attitude of arrogant superiority or of tactless, smug familiarity. In either case he is crippled; he is the man who comes so near a tree or building he can no longer see it. Instead of remaining at the proper spiritual distance, and maintaining a reverent silence so that being may speak its word, he obtrudes himself and thereby, in effect, silences being. In no domain is reverence more important than religion. As we have seen, it profoundly affects the relation of man to God. But beyond that it pervades the entire religion, especially the worship of God. There is an intimate link between reverence and sacredness: reverence permits us to experience the sacred, to rise above the profane; irreverence blinds us to the entire world of the sacred. Reverence, including awe-indeed, fear and trembling-is the specific response to the sacred. 

Which jives rather nicely with my earlier diagnosis of modernity as “the institutionalization of rebellion against the order of being,” either birthed by or leading to a kind of spiritual autism, a “pervasive insensibility to the sacred”:

Without a sense of the sacred, reality becomes meaningless, senseless, and incomprehensible; the human condition becomes one not of citizenship and duty but of imprisonment and injustice. Rebellion against that order results, with predictable consequences.

60 years ago, we were told the Mass, that “gobbledegook of Latin ritual” pregnant with “obscurantism” and “magic” (to quote the execrable Paul Blanshard), had become incomprehensible to modern man, and that, far from trying to communicating its riches more effectively, we had to open it up to his appreciation by cutting out much which was worthy of appreciation. Now, it’s marriage that’s up for similar treatment. We’re all spiritual autists now.

No Flood Needed This Time Around

Birth rates are plummeting globally, so that even in countries where fertility is above replacement, it soon won’t be. In 150 years or so, the only people around will be religious conservatives, because other sorts of people with looser morals aren’t reproducing (thanks to the Pill, and all its knock-on social and economic effects, noticed in this video).

We have to step back and realize that what is happening to man right now is a pervasive and radical winnowing, comparable almost to the Flood. It’s natural selection at work, weeding out liberalism from the gene pool, and via co-evolution from the meme pool.  Put another way, liberalism is a lethal intellectual mutation. Whether it takes 50 years, or 1,000, liberalism is doomed, because it is at war with reality. Not only is it not nice to fool Mother Nature, it can never, ever be done in the first place. The Logos of the world is not mocked, no matter how amusing our petty pranks at his expense seem to us.

Fortunately for those who are deleting their own ilk from the world’s future, this winnowing may not involve catastrophic war, plague, or economic collapse. The autophagy of liberalism need not destroy civilization in the process. Civilization, even the West, might just squeak through and prevail in the end, preserving some of the best bits of what it has so far achieved. We might get through this winnowing with very little pain and suffering: no mass death, just a series of successively smaller, successively more traditional generations, as liberals die off after long, entertaining, meaningless lives.

Atheism, Agnosticism and Cultural Low Self-esteem

I think … the skeptics are taking over atheism. …I am an agnostic,

because I believe that is the human condition, and I am a skeptic,

because I believe that is the most efficient way to live my life.

A recent comment at the Orthosphere

 Atheism and its twin brother agnosticism are usually descriptions of individuals. But they’re also cultural forces, shaping society and in turn being shaped by the society in which they live and move and have their being.

[For brevity, I shall refer to them both as “atheism,” for they’re essentially identical at the level of day-to day operations.]

What has atheism to do with low cultural self-esteem? Just this: Atheism, especially today’s variety, makes a virtue of not believing. But skepticism weakens a man and a nation, leading ultimately to ruin unless countered by a renewal of belief.

Think of it: What character trait is today nearly-universally held to be the greatest virtue? Which trait is most praised? The absence of which trait is loathed most deeply and punished most harshly?

Tolerance, of course.

It does go by other names: nonjudgmentalism, openness, diversity, anti-racism, etc. But whatever it’s called, the supreme virtue of the modern age is not to believe. Continue reading

Socrates, Techno-Speak, and Similar Issues

I have some new or newish pieces up on the current regime and how to fight it. There’s one just out at Crisis Magazine about how bad ideological pluralism is (for starters, it’s a particular system of social control that obviously can’t be pluralistic). There are also a couple at Catholic World Report about why the Church can’t use modern public language to speak to modern man (it’s a sort of technological Newspeak), and about Socratic questioning as a way to disrupt the flow of sophistical patter. And then there’s a piece published at Crisis Magazine during Lent about how to how to be a bit more Lenten if you happen to be a political ranter.

Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out: Variations on a Theme.

My current brace of columns  includes one at Crisis Magazine about the trend away from concrete loyalties and objective principles toward radical subjectivity and a combination of money and bureaucracy as the basis for what’s still called public life. The other one, at Catholic World Report, makes the obvious point that the result is unlivable and we should all go out and refound Christendom.