Article of Interest

Michael Presley’s essay “Sorcerers and Warriors: The Initiatic Journey in Chinese Mythology” is currently the featured article at Angel Millar’s People of Shambhala website.  It will be of interest to readers of The Orthosphere.  Presley explores the Traditional meaning of two important Chinese folktales using an exegetical framework based on Marshal McLuhan’s theory of oral narrative.  Presley is interested, not only in the canonical narratives, but also in their recent adaptation to cinema.  The article is here: http://peopleofshambhala.com/sorcerers-and-warriors-the-initiatic-journey-in-chinese-mythology/[.]  Presley’s knowledge of Chinese film, in its historical depth, is especially noteworthy.  I have been the beneficiary of it for a number of years.  Chinese cinema has long since surpassed Hollywood in the technicalities of film making and more than that, contemporary Chinese film is a department of moral narrative — a thing now entirely foreign to the American movie industry.

The Structure of Education is the Structure of Faith

Thomas F. Bertonneau

This is the first in a series of three essays intended to critique selected aspects of the prevailing modern worldview of the West’s ubiquitous liberal regime. In the present essay, I am interested in the prevailing modern view of education; I argue that various pre-modern ways of understanding education address their topic with a good deal more penetration than that achieved by the modern view, which tends to insipidity. In a follow-on essay to this one I will address the question how revelation is related to reality; a third essay will devote itself to a discussion of memory considered as an institution.

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Article of Interest

My friend and colleague Richard Cocks has an article, “Are Friends Electric,” at The People of Shambhala that will, I believe, be of interest to Orthosphereans.

I offer an excerpt:

To some people being an emotionless machine is enormously attractive. Any view that seems to offer support for the mechanistic notion will seem appealing. It’s actually going to be an enormously counter-productive attitude to adopt in living one’s actual life. But it remains an ideal for many. It would indeed make things simpler. When the Earl of Shaftesbury said that pleasure was the one and only source of human motivation, one seems to be encountering a person of such emotional stupidity with so little insight into the multi-faceted nature of human existence that it beggars belief. That whole generations of English philosophers followed suit indicates to me that Anglo-American philosophy has become a self-selecting discipline filled with emotional imbeciles, just as psychopaths were once described as moral imbeciles. Sociopaths tend to be skeptical about morality because they lack empathy and a conscience of their own. They extrapolate from their own experience, as we all do. Interestingly, many Anglo-American philosophers have expressed skepticism about moral matters too, such as the logical positivists. To be frank, being a normally mentally functioning person in such a context can be a very bizarre experience.

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.

The Impotence of Atheism

It’s not that atheist explanations are wrong, so much as that, qua explanations, they are in the final analysis simply impotent. At bottom, they have no basis in necessity. So, at bottom, they end up able to say no more than, “this is the way things happened; er, that’s all.” They are descriptions, rather than explanations. Not wrong; not uninformative; often utile; but, just inadequate. Atheist explanations cannot close the deal; for, they have no ultimate cash value.

This is why the juridical question is efficacious against an atheist. Just keep asking “Why?” Eventually, he will be forced to reply with an exasperated, “Because that’s just the way it is; there is no further explanation.” So saying, he cannot but reveal his unreason; which, as sapping the very foundations of his doctrine, so vitiates the whole structure thereof – and so, could he but see, ruins it utterly.

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Essay on Rene Girard at The Brussels Journal

My latest at The Brussels Journal is an essay entitled “René Girard on the ‘Ontological Sickness.’” I taught Girard’s I See Satan Fall like Lightning to the students in my “Introduction to Literary Criticism” this semester and found myself re-reading him with a good deal of renewed interest. Girard’s notion of “ontological sickness” explains a good deal about modernity, especially about what is sometimes called “entitlement mentality.” In the essay, I try to show how this is so. The essay includes an interpretation of what I regard as one of the major modern parables about the “ontological sickness,” the HAL subplot of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The link is http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/5178

I offer a sample below.

In Things Hidden, Girard writes: “Modern people still fondly imagine that their discomfort and unease is a product of the strait-jacket that religious taboos, cultural prohibitions and, in our day, even the legal forms of protection guaranteed by the judiciary place upon desire. They think that once this confinement is over, desire will be able to blossom forth [and that] its wonderful innocence will finally be able to bear fruit.” The modern subject, wanting liberté, inveterately seeks liberation and just as inveterately experiences the belaboring frustration of its every liberating triumph. The “Declaration of Sentiments” (1848) of the Seneca Falls Convention of early feminists employs the essential “liberationist” vocabulary: “Disenfranchisement,” “social and religious degradation,” a mass of the “oppressed,” whose constituents “feel… aggrieved” and who want “rights and privileges” wickedly withheld by malefactors. The male oppressor, as the document asserts, “Has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for [the generic woman] a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and her God.” In her much-celebrated speech on the same occasion, Elizabeth Cady Stanton invoked the image of the sovereign self in its absoluteness: “There is a solitude… more inaccessible than the ice-cold mountains, more profound than the midnight sea,” which neither “eye nor touch of man or angel has ever pierced.”

The themes of the usurpation of being and of the radical autonomy of the individual, Girard’s self-inflating quasi-divine ego, come into their necessary conjunction at the inception of what would later take the name of women’s liberation.

The feminist “Declaration” and its adjunct texts were already hackneyed. Jean-Jacques Rousseau had set the tone brilliantly nearly a century before, in his Discourse upon the Origin and the Foundation of the Inequality among Mankind (1754). The second part of Rousseau’s essay begins with the speculative scenario that must have inspired Karl Marx to write The Communist Manifesto (1848 – the same year as the Seneca Falls Convention): “The first man, who, after enclosing a piece of ground, took it into his head to say, ‘This is mine,’ and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society.” Not merely property, but society itself, for Rousseau, is theft or usurpation. Under tutelage of Girard, one might reduce the formula even further: Usurpation is the Other, by the mere fact of his existence. In the sequel, Rousseau, speaking on behalf of the usurped, rouses the mob against the usurper: “How many crimes, how many wars, how many murders, how many misfortunes and horrors, would that man have saved the human species, who pulling up the stakes or filling up the ditches should have cried to his fellows: Be sure not to listen to this imposter; you are lost, if you forget that, the fruits of the earth belong equally to us all, and the earth itself to nobody!”

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.