One God, many peoples V: Propositional peoplehood

Allow me to wrap this up.

Universalism, we’ve seen, goes way back.  The ideas of universal brotherhood, a universal natural law, and even of a single ultimate God were known to the pagans.  Far from a sign of spiritual advance, the separation of God from one’s people and social order has often marked spiritual decline.  In Voegelin’s terminology, the compactness of the world, the sense that local rituals and duties connect to ultimate reality, is lost.  The world’s Axial Age, and Israel’s Prophetic Age, were the time when people started to intuit God’s transcendence but didn’t know how to handle it.  They could no longer see God’s presence in the ancient theocracies and vaguely imagined Messianic kingdoms in which this tension could be overcome.  In the moral order, the question was how one could justify particularity in light of this new universalistic perspective.  Having mentally “risen above” the tribe, how does one get back down?

Christianity did not create this problem.  Christianity is one proposed solution, the most adequate on offer, in my opinion.

What is the other solution?  Imagine the predicament of man who loves his tribe or country but has come to accept that this love, loyalty, and piety are rationally and morally indefensible.  His highest moral principles condemn his noblest sentiments.  In fact, you don’t have to imagine this–you’re living it–but I’ll get back to that.  How can he live with such a spiritual wound?  The problem, as he misconstrues it, is this:  how, from a universal perspective (shedding, as he imagines he must, his own “empirical ego”) can it be justified to favor this group in particular?

The group must be special in some absolute, objective sense.  The only quality that really matters is morality, and the heart of morality (as he understands it) is universalism.  And here is the solution!  His group is the one to have discovered universalism.  That doesn’t, of course, mean that they own it, that they can hoard this treasure for themselves.  Quite the opposite!  They have a duty to spread their light to those still in darkness.  This is, indeed, the very essence and reason-for-being of the group:  to spread universalism.  A group dedicated to the abolition of groups.  A universal, a propositional people.  So our man lays down his natural loyalty, and in return he is allowed to pick up a new unnatural loyalty.  His new love, for an idea rather than a concrete people, is a cold and inhuman thing compared to the love he left behind, but it is the only thing his cold and inhuman morality of universal brotherhood will allow him, so he makes due with it.

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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.

 

New Article

My latest at The Brussels Journal is “Owen Barfield’s Critical Semantics.”  The essay devotes itself to Barfield’s History in English Words (1926), a diagnosis based on etymological studies of the afflicted modern mentality.  It is accessible here:

http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/5162

Barfield was friendly with T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and others familiar to “Orthosphereans.”  As a follower of Rudolph Steiner’s “Anthroposophy,” he was something of a Gnostic, but that does not invalidate his observations.

I offer a sample paragraph:

Barfield’s argument has by this point in the sequence of his chapters revealed its critical radicalism. From the reconstructed prehistoric beginnings of the Indo-European languages to the High Middle Ages, Barfield sees, in his case-language, English, a net increase of meaning beneficial to the speakers of the tongue; but with the Reformation, which brings the Medieval Period to its end, he sees the phase of meaning-change in the lamentable direction of contraction and diminution for which he employs his term internalization. The same internalization represents a flight from rich participation in reality, with a possibility of transcendence either religious or aesthetic, to cloistered abstraction in the grim Cartesian fortress of disembodied rationality. The resemblance to insanity is hard to miss. No doubt but Barfield intends it. Consciousness, by believing to have discovered its own origin in a random and meaningless process, necessarily renders itself otiose, for how could it be other than random and meaningless? What could it mean to think where consciousness has demoted itself in the world-picture to a neuro-chemical epiphenomenon? But schizophrenically, as it were, the thinking that has abolished itself by a clever theory uselessly goes on jabbering and claims its jabbering to be thinking.

One God, many peoples IV: “neither Jew nor Gentile”

This is part 4 of a 6 part series.  (Yes, the planned length has increased.)

Among those who accuse Christianity of universalism, much is made of its Great Commission to spread the faith and convert all peoples.  (I will make no distinction below between “proselytizing” and “evangelizing” because there isn’t any.  Since this is a historical-theological study, I will also ignore the current Bishop of Rome’s emphatic rejection of the Savior’s command, which, assuming he has the authority to do such a thing, presumably satisfies anyone concerned with Rome’s universalism.)  Undeniably, a conversion of the whole world to Christianity would mean the end of a certain kind of diversity.  However, proselytism is not unique to Christianity or monotheism.  Every person has some idea of truths that it is important for everyone else to know, meaning naturally that as great a unanimity in favor of such truths should be achieved as possible.  Which beliefs should inspire evangelical fervor can be surprising, at least to me.  I can understand the practical reason why the believers of anthropogenic global warming should think it important that others believe as they do, but I cannot fathom why evolution by natural selection should be such an aggressively proselytizing faith, while no one feels the same zeal to eliminate unbelief in Kirchhoff’s circuit laws or the theory of plate tectonics.

However, this doesn’t make AGW or Darwinism universalist faiths, in that they don’t necessarily undermine loyalty to non-universal groups.  They may accidentally undermine a group if it has a contradictory ideological component, but particular group identity and loyalty is not ruled out in principle.  To be a Darwinist doesn’t necessarily mean one is allowed loyalty only to “mankind” or a universal Darwinist Church.  That is, AGW and Darwinism are proselytizing but not homogenizing faiths.

Liberalism is an interesting case, with its claim to represent ideological neutrality, and thus be acceptable to peoples of all different beliefs and loyalties.  As we have often argued, this neutrality claim is a sham.  To reduce religions and communal identities to private hobbies allowed no influence on public life is to destroy them.  Liberalism’s demands for freedom, tolerance, and inclusiveness, which ultimately mean the delegitimation of anything other than itself, make it the ultimate homogenizing faith.

What about Christianity?

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Talking about talking about the Gospel

Courtesy of Catholic World News:

A homosexual activist group will march in New York’s St. Patrick’s Day parade next year, with the tacit approval of Cardinal Timothy Dolan. …

Cardinal Dolan, in a statement responding to the organizers’ decision, noted that the archdiocese was not responsible for decisions about which groups were included in the parade. However, he said, “The Saint Patrick’s Day Parade Committee continues to have my confidence and support.”

Well, but that’s not entirely true, because the Archdiocese is certainly responsible for at least one group’s participation in the parade: its own.

What are we to conclude when a Cardinal, who previously applauded as a good thing a minor celebrity’s identification with sodomy, doesn’t even blink at the inclusion in the parade (which he is personally leading!) of a group of homosexual activists – not merely people who struggle with same-sex attraction who are marching in good faith as Irishmen or as Catholics, but people who are marching as proponents of that lifestyle, in support of what Robert Oscar Lopez called an “engine of world-historical evil“? The obvious conclusion would be that he doesn’t think it especially compelling to oppose such moves or even really to talk a lot about them. And why not? After all, Pope Francis changed all that, right? Whether or not that conclusion is true of Cardinal Dolan, a person who reached it could hardly be accused of thinking unsoundly.

But wait! chimes in the servile ultramontanist suck-up who thinks the only sin we can judge is that of thinking prelates capable of acting imprudently. Cardinal Dolan is merely setting the stage for a bold proclamation of the Gospel and a witness to the New Evangelization and so on! If that’s the case, then I await with great anticipation his homily at the St. Patrick’s Day Mass, rebuking the sins of the age to all those assembled, urging them to repent of their sins and to profess the divinity and Lordship of Jesus Christ and to receive Baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and calling on them to “save yourselves from this perverse generation” (Acts 2:40).

But we won’t hear that, because we’re not really allowed to talk about sin or repentance, either, are we? Because neither do those things “set the stage for a bold proclamation of the Gospel,” we are always told. As usual, it’s talk, talk, talk: talking about talking about the Gospel, a crutch against which to lean our refusal to actually talk about the Gospel.

One God, many peoples III: false prophets and merely obnoxious ones

The existence of liberal Christians is an important piece of evidence in the neopagan-neoreactionary indictment of Christianity, but such people are in the obviously anomalous situation of rejecting their own tradition to follow novel doctrines invented by explicitly anti-Christian groups.  What are we to make of them?  Our own JMSmith, among others, identifies them with Puritanism, whose essence he identifies with “sanctimonious browbeating“, the ideological justification for the Puritan’s self-righteousness being accidental.  We’re all familiar with this phenomenon, but I’d like to fill out the picture.  Since nobody calls himself a “Puritan”, that word’s use is mainly polemical rather than neutrally descriptive, or at least that’s how someone using it will be understood.  I like to let people define and label their own beliefs.  What do liberal Christians call their program?  “Prophetic“, of course!

In my years as an Episcopal activist, I duly read all the “progressive” magazines and newsletters and press releases and sat through dozens of “progressive” sermons, lectures, press conferences, and literally weeks of General Convention meetings, covering the debates both of the house of bishops and the house of deputies (which included clerics and laymen both). I was surprised, after a while, to notice not only how often the progressives used the word “prophetic,” but how un-ironically they used it.

“Inclusive” language liturgy was Prophetic! and “gay marriage” was Prophetic! and support for illegal immigrants was Prophetic! and legalized abortion was prophetic and so was that and that and that! Nothing they said or did was non-prophetic. Nothing, or almost nothing, was just a good idea or the right thing to do or simply useful or helpful.

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One God, many peoples II: Muslim individualism, Christian corporatism

This is the second part of a four part series.  Part I is here.

Malise Ruthven, in discussing why capitalism arose under Christianity rather than Islam, identifies a core difference between Christian and Muslim societies.  (See here for a more extended quote.)

The key to the seemingly anarchic or ‘irrational’ growth of the Muslim city may lie in a singular fact of the Shari’a law:  the absence of the Roman-law concept of ‘legal personality’.  In Europe, the public right is an abstraction which can be upheld by defending it in law as a ‘legal person’.  Litigation between the public and private interest can therefore–for civil purposes–take the form of an adjudication between two parties…The absence of juridicial personality in the Muslim law may not have been an oversight:  it is certainly consistent with the uncompromising individualism of the Shari’a.  Many aspects of Roman-Byzantine law and administration were taken over by the Arabs…This absence of a juridicial definition of the public sphere had far-reaching consequences.  Islamic law did not recognize cities as such, nor did it admit corporate bodies…

To add a few links to this argument I suggest that in the West the Church, the ‘mystical body’ of Christ which alone guaranteed salvation, became the archetype in law of a whole raft of secular corporations that succeeded it during the early modern period.  The mystic qualities of fictional personhood originating in the Body of Christ were eventually devolved to joint stock companies and public corporations with tradable shares.

 

– from “Islam in the World”

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One God, many peoples I: JudeoIslamic universalism

This is the first of a 4-part series.

The reactionary blogosphere is largely a debate between Christians and secular or pagan antiliberals.  Thus, we argue a lot about whether Christianity is to blame for unleashing anti-cultural universalism and egalitarianism on the world.  The related but deeper question is what spiritual forces, whether or not they are distinctly Christian, have driven these movements. I’d like to start this little investigation by inviting a couple of interesting outsiders to have their say, reserving my own arguments for later.

First, here’s historian David Levering Lewis lamenting the victory of Charles Martel at Tours:

Had [Muslim general] ‘Abd al-Rahman’s men prevailed that October day, the post-Roman Occident would probably have been incorporated into a cosmopolitan, Muslim regnum unobstructed by borders … one devoid of a priestly caste, animated by the dogma of equality of the faithful, and respectful of all religious faiths … [T]he victory of Charles the Hammer must be seen as greatly contributing to the creation of an economically retarded, balkanized, fratricidal Europe that, in defining itself in opposition to Islam, made virtues out of religious persecution, cultural particularism, and hereditary aristocracy.

How about that?  Islam=equality, cosmopolitanism, and tolerance.  Christianity=particularism and hierarchy.  That’s the common wisdom among historians.  Not all monotheisms are the same, and if group loyalty is what you care about, you’re much better off with Christianity.  For their part, Muslims seem to be proud that their faith and its law teach individualism and equality, that it dissolves national and ethnic boundaries.

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Whether Leftism is a Christian heresy

Of course not.  And yet the claim is often heard from groups that otherwise agree on very little.  The neo-pagan and neo-reactionary Right say that Leftism is just the working out of noxious elements present in Christianity from the beginning.  Some say that these were temporarily offset by other, positive, elements of Christianity; others are under the impression that Christianity itself is pure Leftist drivel but only seemed otherwise because of its “Germanization”, i.e. a borrowed veneer of pagan virility.  (Remember, most people don’t know anything about the pre-Constantinian Church or the Christianized Roman Empire, so the idea that Christians were a bunch of pacifist, egalitarian hippies until the conversion of the Germans actually sounds plausible to them.)  On the other hand, we have all encountered Christian apologists eager to claim that, on balance, Christianity has been on the side of “progress”, that democracy, female equality, and anti-racism really are in some profound sense our ideas and could never have taken hold without the Gospel.

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Thoughts (for Students) on Language

Unexpectedly in mid-summer vacation, my departmental chair asked me whether I could assume supervision of some courses previously taught by a faculty member who had taken retirement on short notice at the end of the spring semester. One course concerned the Anglo-Saxon and Norman roots of Modern English and in general the history of the language. The other course concerned theories of language, of which it is designed to offer a survey, more or less at the instructor’s discretion. The clientele for both courses comes largely from the current cohort of teachers-in-training in my college’s School of Education and in some part from English majors. The new assignment required me to marshal my knowledge of the two areas and quickly to devise two syllabi. In writing the syllabi, I decided to introduce each course to its enrollment in the form of an essay. There is some repetition of ideas in both introductions, but that is inevitable given that the subject-matter of the two courses necessarily overlaps. I share the results with my fellow Orthosphereans.

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