For those who take an interest, Angel Millar has published my essay on Gustave Flaubert’s “Herodias,” a tale of John the Baptist, and one of the Three Tales (1877), at his People of Shambhala website. We think of Flaubert as the consummate social novelist (Madame Bovary  and A Sentimental Education ), but he was also, despite not being much of a believer, a powerful religious thinker (Salammbo  and The Temptation of Saint Anthony ).
What is it like to live the life everlasting that is promised to Christians? The question has arisen in the last few days both over at View from the Right, where Lawrence Auster is contemplating his own incipient death with awesome magnanimity and serenity, and at Charlton’s Miscellany. Both Charlton and Auster make important points. I had reactions to both posts, so I figure it makes most sense to consolidate them here.
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.
OK, this is going to be tough for all you Christians and Jews out there. Gird your loins, and get ready to hear what YHWH says about child sacrifice among the Israelites:
Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live; And I polluted them in their own [sacrificial] gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire [of the Furnace of the Belly of Moloch] all that openeth the womb [i.e., all their first born children], that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the LORD.
– Ezekiel 20:25-26
Yeow! Right? YHWH himself gives the errant Israelites the statutes by which they err. He makes it so that it seems right to them to sacrifice their firstborn children. What is up with this? I mean, the massacre of the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15) doesn’t come anywhere close to this. I don’t know of any more difficult text in the Bible. How are we to reconcile this with the Love of God, the Goodness of God?
The dire problem we apprehend when we first encounter this verse is a vestige of our wish that God might accommodate our errors. But he can’t do this, and also remain himself. It’s tough. But in the final analysis, we wouldn’t want it any other way.
The eucharist is different from the other sacraments. Jesus never said, “Friends, this water [of baptism] is my spittle,” or “this nard [of chrismation, ordination, and unction] is the oil of my brow.” But he did say that the Bread is his Body, and the Wine his Blood. Nor did he say that the Bread is “sort of like” his Body. He could of course have done so, if that is what he had meant to say. But instead he stated a straightforward, in your face identity between the Bread and his Body, and between the Wine and his Blood; and, since Jesus is identical with God, we are not at liberty to interpret his statement in any other way. The many disciples who instantly abandoned him on account of this “hard teaching” certainly didn’t; they figured that he was a lunatic because he said:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world … Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him … This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live forever. (John 6:47ff)
Is there any way he might have indicated the identity between the Body of his Incarnation and the Bread of his Presence more explicitly? Whatever the undoubted metaphysical difficulties of the Real Presence, if Jesus is Really Present in the elements, then they just are him, and it behooves us to grapple with this fact. It is, indeed a difficult teaching. How may we understand it?
Speaking of which, Traditional Christianity had a post up (by Elspeth, who’s also an Orthosphere Princess) on co-sleeping a while ago. Apparently the city of Milwaukee is on a jihad to stop mothers from sleeping with their babies. They’re worried parents will roll over and squish the little ones, or something like that. I have some experience in this matter–Julie having decided a little before her first birthday that it was time for her to move into bed with mommy and daddy, and the stronger will overpowering the weaker two–that cribs were not designed to protect babies; they were designed to protect fathers. Trust me, little people are total bed hogs. More mornings than not, I’ll wake to find myself holding onto the edge of the bed–where someone has pushed me–trying to keep from falling off.
Men and Women
Will S. at Patriactionarylinks to a brilliant set of posts F. Roger Devlin defending patriarchy.
Justin helpfully summarizes the statistical data showing that American Jews remain overwhelmingly a Leftist bunch. (The alleged tendency of Jews to disagree with each other doesn’t extend to the topic of abortion, for example.) What happens, though, when we look to the future, or even to the present outside our own country? Will the growth of Orthodoxy and the political experience of Israel (where Jews must take responsibility for preserving a nation with which they identify, and criticizing from the sidelines from a position of morally superior alienation is not an option) strain this love affair with the Left? They already are. Steve Sailer is already pointing to Israel for an example of how intelligent people deal with “illegal infiltrators”. Also, the Tablet has a fascinating report on a recent academic conference on the death of the Jewish-Leftist alliance. Since these are academics, they see the question as whether Jews shall be revolutionary Leftists or only liberals–as if those were the two extremes of the political spectrum. Still, some of the statements made were notable. Michael Walzer argues that Jewish Leftism’s invocation of the prophets is illegitimate. The prophets had no interest in democracy or revolution; what they wanted was an end to idolatry and submission to God. Other speakers spoke harshly of the Jewish Left’s dalliance with communism, properly treating communism as a genuine evil rather than an excusable excess of enthusiasm. I noticed that English-speaking Jewish magazine articles like this one still write as if it were a proven fact that the Torah is not divinely inspired. I suspect (and hope) that is will not be true a century from now, given which Jewish groups are most likely to still be around then.
Thinking about the Right
Summaries of conservative belief vary widely in quality, so throwing up a picture of Joseph de Maistre on top is a good way of signaling that you’re going to do a good job of it. And Samuel Goldman does do a good job here of explaining to the Corey Robins of the world the differences between an extreme reactionary and a fascist.
See also R. J. Snell’s post on the Trinitarian grounding of the Right’s anti-individualism.
Like everybody, I maintain stereotypes about various groups of people. None of us could do without them, but it’s in our interests for our stereotypes to be as accurate as possible. Of course, no one is such a fool as to imagine that general rules like “Frenchmen hate Americans” have no exceptions, but the rule is still usefully accurate if most Frenchmen hate Americans, or even if Frenchmen are just much more likely to hate Americans than the world average. Since none of my stereotypes are integral to my worldview, I’m happy to refine them when the opportunity arises.
On second thought, this post wasn’t a good idea at all, especially considering how ill-informed I am on the subject and how acrimonious people tend to get over it, so I’ve decided to withdraw it. For the same reasons, comments for it are now closed.
I hadn’t realized it when I wrote them, but my last two posts were on the same subject. It is an awkward thing to admit that one is intellectually and morally weaker than one’s ideological opponents. It’s more natural to imagine that if we’re right and they’re wrong, it must mean that we’re smarter and/or more virtuous. On the other hand, there is a tendency for the best taught and socialized to conform more closely to established ideology, so we should expect our establishement antagonists to excel us in a number of metrics, as they seem to do.
It’s not too painful to admit all this. Personal humility is a virtue, after all. What is more problematic is to admit the abiding inferiority of one’s group–in this case orthodox Western Christians.