The West’s Cultural Continuity: Sylvain Gouguenheim’s Aristote au Mont Saint-Michel: Les racines grecques de l’Europe Chrétienne

Long before the late Eduard Said invented “Orientalism” to exalt Arab culture and Islamic society at the expense of the West, bien-pensants like Voltaire inclined to express their rebellion against the dwindling vestiges of Christendom by representing Europeans as bigots or clowns and raising up exotic foreigners – Voltaire himself wrote about Turks and Persians of the Muslim fold – to be the fonts of wisdom and models of refined life in their tracts and stories. The sultan and dervish look with amused tolerance on the gaucheries of the European rubes. The rubes swing their elbows and knock over the pottery. It was the Eighteenth-Century philosophes and illuminati who coined the pejorative term “Dark Ages” to refer to the centuries immediately following the collapse of the Roman imperial administration in the West under pressure of the Gothic tribal self-assertion in the Fifth Century. Liberal discourse often casually extends the same term to apply it to all of medieval European civilization up to the Renaissance. Specialist historians have, however, long since demonstrated that no such absolute discontinuity as the term “Dark Ages” insinuates ever existed, which means that the Enlightenment version of history is at least partly wrong. Yet the usual story retains its currency, as an item in a kind of liberal folklore.

Part of that story is the motif of the Islamic middleman role in the transmission of classical knowledge to Christendom. According to this motif, the West in the Eleventh Century possessed no first-hand knowledge of the Greek and precious little of the Roman classics. Fortunately (so the story goes) the Muslims had translated Plato and Aristotle into Arabic, knew all about them, and bestowed the gift of their lore on the benighted monks of Italy and France. The benefactors under this notion behave suavely and generously, while the beneficiaries are – to paraphrase a line from a David Lean film – ignorant, barbarous, and cruel.

In the spasm of western Islamophilia that followed the terrorist attacks of 2001, the myth of medieval Muslim learnedness and medieval European illiteracy gained strong new power for the Left whose acolytes have disseminated it with vigor from their ensconcement in the colleges and universities. Facts might have dispelled the myth had anyone cared to notice them. For one thing, Europeans never lost contact with the Byzantine Greeks, who blithely went on being scholarly classicists until Mehmet II bloodily vanquished Constantinople in 1453, slaughtering the literate elites and forcing the peasantry to submit to Allah. The Eighth-Century English church-chronicler Bede reports in his Ecclesiastical History that one of the first bishops of Canterbury, Theodore, was an educated Greek. The Twelfth-Century Icelandic mythographer Snorri Sturlusson suggests in his Edda that the Norse gods were actually Trojan heroes escaping, like Aeneas, from Agamemnon’s destruction of their city – an interpretation that implies his knowledge of the theory called Euhemerism. Eighth-Century England and twelfth-Century Iceland were remote places, but, in Bede and Snorri, one can attest links to the classical tradition.

Facts like these could easily be multiplied – and a man who multiplies them with muscularity and clear-sightedness is the French historian Sylvain Gouguenheim, who documents them in his remarkable book Aristote au Mont Saint-Michel: Les raciness grecques de l’Europe Chrétienne (Seuil, 2008). [Aristotle at Mont Saint-Michel: the Greek Roots of Christian Europe.] The book is not as yet translated, but it deserves to be known to Anglophone audiences because it brings important truths to many a contemporary conversation.

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Liberalism and Islam

I have been thinking about the coziness between Liberalism and Islam, which became evident about twenty seconds after the jihad attack on the World Trade Center, and now drives policy in the USA, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Scandinavia.  A pair of complementary questions put themselves that I propose for a general discussion.

Does Liberalism embrace Islam, knowing that Islam is a religion and despite its active hostile attitude towards religion, as conceived by it categorically, solely because Liberalism has more animus against Christianity than it does towards Islam and therefore sees Islam as an ally in its campaign against Christianity?

Or…

Does Liberalism ally itself with Islam because it senses that Islam is not a religion, but is rather a secular ideology, utterly hostile to anything transcendent,  just like itself, and is therefore its perfect ally in the campaign against Christianity?

Muslims in the Obama coalition: an anecdote

Half of the families in my apartment building are Muslims.  I don’t interact with them much, but occasionally we run into each other.  I remember the night in 2012 when President Obama accepted his nomination as the Democratic candidate for president.  Ordinarily, I try to stay clear of all that political partisan stuff, but I was out for a walk, and one of the Muslim men decided to play Obama’s acceptance speech on his car radio loud enough for the rest of us to hear.  Obama was going on about a sinister cabal of rich men who are scheming to decide “whether you can have birth control” and “who you can marry”, etc, with Obama assuring us that he’s going to fight these miscreants.  And there’s this Muslim guy with his long beard and funny non-Western clothes grinning and nodding along.  Our eyes met, and he smiled, and went on listening.

Here’s the funny thing.  I haven’t talked to them, but the other American family in the apartment building has, and they’ve learned some things about our Muslim neighbors.  These guys are from Saudi Arabia.  The guy’s wife goes around completely covered except for her eyes, and she’s actually not supposed to be out at all if men might be present.  And there they are, seemingly as happy as can be with the Democrats’ feminist jihad, as if there’s no tension there.  I know this would make a better story if I would have gone up and asked him if it didn’t make him a little bit uncomfortable that the President was advocating contraception and sodomy, but I don’t know him, and I didn’t want to start an argument.  I suppose it’s possible that he was laughing to himself about what a bunch of degenerates Americans are, but I can’t help suspecting that he was just nodding with approval at the thought that his candidate was going to stick it to those white Christians.  Consistently applied principles are for suckers.  What one thinks of Muslims in America depends a lot on how one reads those grins.

Let me tell you how I think about Muslims in the West.  They’re liberals, married for life to the Left, just like Jews and American blacks.  Individuals among these groups might make common cause with us, and such are welcome, but their identities are too tied with the sense of opposition to Christian Europe for us to expect more than that.  Terrorism is a nuisance, much less dangerous to our civilization than blasphemy.  In the end, Muslims will only matter as communist voters.

ISIS versus Charlie Hebdo

Many reactionaries and right liberals have remarked that the grand strategy of left liberalism with respect to Islam is to use it (along with mass immigration from other dysfunctional cultures) to sap the culture and morale of the West, and then turn and deprave the immigrants and Moslems with porn, consumerism, nihilism, atheism, scientism, libertinism, and so forth – i.e., to turn them into cynical liberals like themselves.

The right has also pointed out that once Sharia is imposed upon the West, liberals will be the first to feel its lash. As with the liberal campaign for abortion rights that cuts deepest into the biological reproduction of liberals themselves, the strategy is suicidal.

With the attack on Charlie Hebdo, Islam has made it crystal clear that the right is correct in this assessment. The attack on Charlie Hebdo is a frontal assault on the Cathedral of Moloch. It is a massacre of high-ranking prelates of that religion. Unlike 9/11, it cannot be quite characterized as an attack against capitalism or global finance. Nor can it be characterized as contra the military power of the West, or against Christianity, or colonialism, or imperialism, or any of the other bugbears of the left. No. It is an attack against the chattering classes themselves, specifically and only them – in Hollywood, the academy, and journalism.

And they cannot but know this, deep down.

It has to be a sobering moment for our rulers: they are naked, as they well know, and indeed prefer; and now they must see that the knives are out against their tender, unprotected flesh.

This will not, of course, prevent them from arguing publicly that the attack may be blamed on the nativist, reactionary right. Many of them, no doubt, will persist in their delusions at all costs. But quite a few, at the margins, must now be wondering whether they might not have got things dreadfully backward – whether they themselves are not after all the useful idiots.

Strange Theological Bedfellows

The Islamic and the liberal views of Jesus and of the New Testament are formally the same.

According to liberalism, Jesus was just a man, not God, who never claimed to atone for men’s sins or determine their eternal destiny, who taught liberal doctrines, and who remained dead after he died on the Cross.

According to Islam, Jesus was just a man, not God, who never claimed to atone for men’s sins or determine their eternal destiny, who taught Islamic doctrines, and who remained dead after he died of natural causes.

[Correction: The majority Islamic view of Jesus’s end of days on Earth is that he was transported to Heaven.  But the Islamic view is still very close to the liberal view.]

According to liberalism, the New Testament contains many errors that have developed over the centuries, due partly to malice and partly to entropy, and we must look to scholarship to set the record straight.

According to Islam, the New Testament contains many errors that have developed over the centuries, due partly to malice and partly to entropy, and we must look to Islam to set the record straight. Moslem anti-Christian apologists according quote liberally from liberal scholars such as Bart Ehrman in attacking the New Testament.

Reason number 5,347 why liberalism is assaulting our culture.

 

The Ultimate Integration

God is Omega in that all things achieve their final integration in him, and by him – not just at the eschaton, but always. It is by virtue of this integration that creaturely events are in the first place coordinated so as to form any coherent world. Thus the integration of the Omega is the forecondition of Creation. That’s why Omega is coterminous with Alpha.

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The Enemy Speaks His Mind

Sometimes our Adversary hurls his mask on the ground and dances on it screaming with rage. In the video below you may see embodied the term toward which we ultimately tend, as things now stand, and so long as our current ideological tyrants continue to have their way. He’s Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, responding to the risible hashtag campaign against his gang’s kidnapping of 276 Christian girls.

To clear up any confusion about his plan, our Enemy makes it clear at 0.24 on the video: Kill Christians.

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The Eye of Sauron

The Behemoth Prism program, under which the Federal NSA snoops on essentially all the phone calls and web activity of all Americans, is operated for the ostensible purpose of protecting us from Moslem terrorist plots developing on American soil. We do indeed need to counter the threat of terrorism within our borders. But there would be no such terrorism in the first place – or, at least, very little – if there were no Moslems in North America. What it amounts to, then, is that our governors are keeping track of everything Americans say electronically *so that* they can keep welcoming Moslems to this country with open arms – and keep alive the threat of Moslem terrorism. The program is needed so that the program can be kept needful.

Would the Prism program exist if there were no Moslems in North America, or therefore any Moslem terrorism? Of course. It’s just that in that case our overseers would be forced to trot out some other rationale for its existence; war with EastAsia, perhaps, rather than with NearEastAsia.

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Is It Possible to Discriminate and Still Be a Christian?

This is a guest post by regular commenter Finn McCool

This very question has been percolating in my mind for many years now. I am a middle-aged man and I have never heard a sermon preached in any church which did not at least tacitly affirm the standard liberal view; i.e. that all discrimination is sinful. You may be wondering if I have any standing that would qualify me to speak on such a delicate subject. Well, I can tell you that I am an ordained presbyter, with orders in one of the conservative “alphabet soup” Anglican groups (e.g. ACC, ACNA, APCK, REC, etc.). I have an M. A. in Theology from a conservative, evangelical seminary, and I have been employed as a Bible instructor in a small Christian high school for close to ten years. I teach the Bible for a living, and in working through the scriptures I am daily reminded that the Triune God of the Bible is far tougher than the Unitarian god in whom “we trust” as Americans.

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The uniquely anti-modern religion

We’re always being told that Christians need to find a way to “embrace the modern world” or find our “own way to be modern”.  The quick reply, of course, is that one should not embrace evil and vulgarity just because they happen to be popular right now.  If something in modernity is good, let it argue itself on its merits.  This reply can be addressed to anyone, but for Christians the stakes are particularly high.

Before this year, my impression was that all religions were eroded by modernity, with Judaism being hardest hit, then Christianity, then Islam, but all of them facing the same grim fate if liberalism is not overturned.  I’d been hearing reports (e.g. the one linked by Kristor a while back) for some time that Orthodox Judaism is actually thriving in the modern world, but it took a long time for this (to me) counterintuitive fact to sink in.  In fact, it seems that Christianity is, among the world religions, uniquely maladapted to modernity; it’s response more resembles that of tribal animism.  Both liberal and conservative Christianity are in manifest decline over all the former lands of Christendom.  Meanwhile, Islam inspires its youth in ways Christianity can’t even fathom.  Liberal and Orthodox Judaism are both succeeding by their own measures (e.g. worldly accomplishment and retaining the next generation, respectively).  Hindus never feel the need to explain why their pantheon of gods and fantastic mythology is consistent with modern science and history.  Neither Hindus nor Muslims feel the need to judge their own historical behavior against liberal norms.  It’s as if everyone knows who modernity is aimed at.  Conservative Jews who want to separate themselves from modern corruptions don’t have to reject the core modern narrative of heroic oppressed minorities versus the evil and stupid white Christians.  Indeed, they can embrace it with zeal.  (I hope most of them don’t, but the point is that when they do it just means despising another group, not their own selves and ancestors.)  They can insist to hostile outsiders that by embracing their heritage, they are defying all those anti-semitic, medieval-minded Christians in the red states, and are thus being supremely modern.  The core of modernity is hatred for Christianity.  Other groups can be modern “in their own way”, because this just means they can hate Christians in their own way.  Christians don’t have that option.

Thus, this article is interesting, but it gets things exactly backwards.  It argues that because modernity grew out of Christianity, Islam will be able to smoothly modernize to the extent that it is similar to Christianity.  The truth is the reverse.  Religions are able to smoothly accept modernity (i.e. contemporary anti-Christian bigotry) to the extent that they can differentiate themselves from Christianity.  Islam’s modernization problems come from that faith’s similarity to ours.