Christers and the Smart Set

I have a friend of long standing who suffers periodic paroxysms of rage against Christians, whom he calls “Christers” to underscore his contempt. I have pointed out that the term is a slur at which one might take offense, but he is attached to it and I am attached to him, so what am I going to do? When he used the term recently, however, it started me wondering where the word came from, and I think you may be interested in what I found.

Everyone has heard the quote, “to learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” This is always attributed to Voltaire, although apparently without warrant, since there is no record of his having said it. In fact, it is most probably a refinement of a statement first made in 1993 by Kevin Alfred Strom, a White Nationalist who was thinking of his persecution for Holocaust denial. Whatever its provenance, it is now an internet meme, and rightly so, since it neatly encapsulates a self-evident truth. Power has its privileges, one of them being lèse-majesté.

We can invert this and say that a sure sign of powerlessness is the absence of lèse-majesté. In other words, “to learn who the truly marginal nobodies are, simply ask who you are allowed to criticize.” Criticize here means mock, ridicule and call rude names. To lay the proposition out fully, we should state it thus: “to learn who the truly marginal nobodies are, simply ask who you are allowed to mock, ridicule and call rude names in polite society.” If you can make a group the butt of a joke, or the object of scorn, and still be invited to the next wine and cheese party, that group has no lèse-majesté. They are marginal nobodies.

Which brings me to the subject of Christers, a group more or less bereft of lèse-majesté. It has been close to a hundred years since anyone was dropped from fashionable guest lists for mocking Christers.

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Voegelin on Gnosticism – A Revisitation

Gnosis 02

Eric Voegelin’s critique of modernity claims that Liberalism, the creed of the Enlightenment, is “Gnostic.” Voegelin (1901-1985) drew the term “Gnosticism” from its scholarly application in theological discussion to a strain of Late Antique religiosity. The term “Gnostic” refers to that array of sects and cults, the adherents of which saw themselves, as forming a saintly elect among the perishing masses on account of their possessing, as their souls, sparks of divinity that had become trapped in the world of matter. The ancient Gnostics abhorred the world of matter and claimed to sojourn in it only as exiles from a realm of pure light, which was the “real” world despite appearances. Voegelin labeled Gnosticism an anticosmic rebellion, a rebellion against reality, emphasizing the tendency of Gnostics to construct what – borrowing from novelists Robert Musil and Heimito von Doderer – he called a second reality built on principles contrary to those governing what morally and intellectually adjusted people understand to be the actual or first reality. Gnosticism for Voegelin constitutes a social pathology for the reason that the upholders of the second reality, once having invested their emotion in it, make it a fetish and regard criticism of it as lèse majesté. Organized Gnosticism tends to become a censorious war, a jihad, to protect the second reality from examination and, more aggressively, to coerce assent to the second reality’s existence.

It belongs to Voegelin’s critique of modernity as the re-emergence of Gnosticism that its object – the social pathology of the political religions – corresponds to an attitude (namely, rebuke) rather than to some specific doctrine that has persisted since antiquity. Voegelin never meant to argue that let us say the Valentinian speculation or Manichaeism as such could be identified with Marxism, National Socialism, Leninism, Feminism, Multiculturalism, or any other particular ismatic discourse. Yet, as Voegelin saw it, the ancient and the modern rebellions stubbornly resembled one another in their basic dispositions. When, therefore, in his posthumous In Search of Order (1987), Voegelin alludes to the characteristic modern “divinization of men,” he takes as his exemplar of the genus “the Feuerbach-Marx divinization of man,” whose purpose consists in “explaining divine reality as a human projection that, if returned to man, will produce full humanity.” That normative consciousness is false, that religion is false, that institutions are false and tyrannical, and that only an elite recognizes the situation: These motifs structure both ancient Gnostic speculation and modern ideological discourse – both of which envision their fulfillment in the abolition, one way or another, of existing reality.

Voegelin distinguishes the ancient and modern rebellions in this way: “At the extreme of the revolt in consciousness, ‘reality’ and the ‘Beyond’ become two separate entities, two ‘things’ to be magically manipulated by suffering man for the purpose of either abolishing ‘reality’ altogether and escaping into the ‘Beyond,’ or of forcing the order of the ‘Beyond’ into ‘reality.’ The first of the magic alternatives is preferred by the gnostics of antiquity, the second one by the modern gnostic thinkers.”

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On the Delicacy of Civilization

Civilization is amazingly robust so long as everyone in its ambit agrees in a commitment to its fundamental proposals. When everyone in Rome does as the Romans do, Rome is (within her own precincts at least) invincible. But when the phalanx breaks even a little, it tends to fall apart altogether.

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Cultural Diversity

With this post, we are happy to welcome philosopher Professor Richard Cocks as a regular contributor to the Orthosphere. Moral philosophy has been the focus of most of his essays published by such sites agreeable to the orthosphere as Brussels Journal and People of Shambhala, and in guest posts here. As befits a thinker who can be characterized rightly as Traditionalist – or, perhaps rather, simply realistic – Dr. Cocks has been interested to understand emotion in terms of the whole, true man. As no man is an island, neither is anything of man really isolable; so that it is at our peril that we neglect or denigrate such of man as the modern age has overlooked. Professor Cocks has been concerned to notice what our commissars have bid us ignore. KL


Culture, in the anthropological sense, is a combination of language and traditions involving values, ideas about education, cooking, family life and public life. Culture represents a certain level of agreement about what’s important, what’s respectable, success and failure and about how one ought to conduct one’s life and treat each other.

Cultures attain their distinctive character by being somewhat cut off from other cultures. There is a parochial aspect to culture. Diversity is made possible by separation. If every culture becomes cosmopolitan, then every culture becomes the same. Diversity within all cultures would mean no diversity at all. So is cultural diversity a good thing? Not if it becomes a global phenomenon, because diversity would be self-nullifying.

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Our Vaunted Loveliness, Alas

You may have noticed a recent news item reporting that mankind stands on the threshold of a new era, in which his most intimate relations will increasingly be transacted with robots. Pandering to human prurience, the report dwells upon the impressive possibilities for carnal knowledge of automatons, but it does not limit itself to the automation of solitary vice. Apparently one can already purchase a “chatbot” that will simulate interest in whatever maundering drivel one cares to type into one’s keyboard, and it is only a matter of time before these apps that simulate interest in our yakety-yack (or, rather, tapety-tap) receive a voice, a face and a body.

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Rene Girard 1923 – 2015


I have just learned of the death of Rene Girard.  In a healthy society, Girard would have been recognized as a thinker of the first order – and in a spiritually revived society, he will receive that attribution.  My first “scholarly publication” was an interview with M. Girard prefaced by an introduction to his work in 1986.  Girard treated even my stupid questions as serious.  The experience was in many ways life-changing for me.  Other people report the same.  I did not know Girard well, but I knew him now and again over the years and found him invariably to be friendly, ordinary, magnificently clear-sighted, and helpful.  He will be sorely missed, not only by his family and close friends,but also by his many students and readers.  I offer below an essay from 2008 on “The Gist of Rene Girard.”

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True Gnosticism

As with any other resilient heretical or erroneous doctrine, there is a kernel of truth at the heart of Gnosticism: namely, that if you are *merely* worldly, then the world is indeed truly evil, and with it the whole of our existence in it. By itself the world cannot but redound to its own corruption and eventual certain dissolution, rendering all creaturely suffering endured along the way completely pointless, base, and stupid. Mere worldliness is no more than ugly death.

The world and our life in it can be good only insofar as we approach it sub specie aeternitatis. In the world, but not of it; that’s the ticket.

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Are You a Nut?

A nut is a man obsessed by just one thing.  He is slave to an overmastering theory, or a compulsive activity, or a consuming ambition, or a fiendish desire. A “gun nut” dreams about guns and will pay dearly to possess them. A “health nut” dotes on his diet and broods over his bowel movements. The word “nut” is sometimes applied promiscuously, to every variety of mental disorder that one finds in a “nut house,” but a purist reserves it for men in the grip of an idée fixe, or obsession. When the word was first used in its psychological sense, towards the end of the nineteenth century, it denoted an overwhelming sexual infatuation. A besotted young man was said to be “nuts on the girl.”

So a nut is the same as a maniac, a fanatic, or an enthusiast. Each of these words has its peculiar associations, but at bottom they all denote an unbalanced mind. The mind of the besotted young man is unbalanced because the girl on whom he is nuts has eclipsed all else, and so caused him to neglect his work, his friends, his prayers, and perhaps his self-respect. We are nowadays instructed to refer to lechers and tramps as “sex positive,” but men and women with this imbalance formerly went under the good and descriptive title of sex maniac (or erotomanic, if you prefer). The fanatic was, originally, a religious nut who cared for nothing but the business of the temple, or fanum. His city could burn, his children could starve, so long as the gods were served. His modern namesake is so fascinated by the business of the stadium that he allows grass to grow knee-deep in his yard, to the sorrow of his neighbor, the persnickety garden enthusiast. Continue reading

Showing my Face

Bertonneau comme Frenchman II

As I have made it a principle to use my real name in my posts, I thought it would complement the principle to show my actual face – just to prove, as it were, that I have a face and that I exist. The photograph also serves to illustrate my “take” on the mind-body problem – or rather its solution!.  I am, of course, raising a “Salut!” to my Gallic ancestors (it being All Hallows Eve) and to my friends at The Orthosphere.

The Mind / Body Solution

The problem of how the mind relates to the body arises only if we presume – as perhaps is only natural for moderns – that bodies are prior to minds. If you think that minds somehow derive or emerge or supervene upon bodies consisting of mindless stuff, then you’ve got a problem: you’ve got to figure out how lifeless mindless stuff generates living minds. It’s an impossible project! Almost always, the effort to square this circle involves a lot of vague grandiloquence and handwaving.

The problem vanishes – is not there to begin with – if you presume the contrary: that bodies derive from mental processes. In that case, the body we now apprehend is as it were the record or fossil of the mental procedures of a moment ago. Just take mentation as fundamental, and bodies as derived from it, and hey presto, no problem.

I admit of course that the notion that the mental is procedurally prior to the corporeal is a stretch at first. I mean, it is one thing to think that my body as I now apprehend it reflects my mental acts of a moment ago – this is after all *exactly what our lives are like* – but what about all those other bodies out there in our sensoria? What about that rock? Is *it* a relic of some mental procedure?

Why not?

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