The Perils of Public Prayer

I agree with the epigraph that stands at the head of the Orthosphere webpage. “Wherever an altar is found, there civilization exists.” If the wise Savoyard had ventured the converse formulation, I would agree with that also. For there can be no civilization where an altar is absent. The reason for this is plain enough. Civilization is man’s attempt to rise from brutality; an altar is a barred gate through which we see how very far we have to go. Remove the altar and there is no prospect of higher ground; remove the prospect of higher ground and we will shrug, turn away, and trudge back to the mire from whence we came.

The same might be said of prayer, as it both confirms and reveals the higher ground. Prayer is rather like a rope with which a benighted wanderer hopes to raise himself from a sucking morass. He casts his coil into the gloom, perchance it catches or is caught, and with this anchored line he heaves and hauls and slowly makes his upward way. This is why civilization cannot survive without prayer. If the rope does not catch, if the rope is not cast, there is nothing to climb. There is nothing but the sucking morass.

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Letter from Zeboim 1

The modern American university does not appear to best advantage when viewed from the Right. Viewed from the Left, it appears as a glistening City on a Hill. From the Right, it appears as one of the seedier Cities of the Plain. If not Sodom itself, perhaps Zeboim.

Zeboim came in for rough treatment in Genesis, but recovered and was back in business by the time of 1 Samuel. In fact, I find my ancestors hard at work in Zeboim, for it was to that city that the Israelites took themselves when they needed to sharpen an ax or a mattock, as in their own country “there was no Smith to be found” (1 Samuel 13: 19-20).

This is a letter from Zeboim, where this Smith has been hammering young scholars on the anvil of knowledge for twenty-five years. The sign outside my shop says I am a geographer, but as you are about to see, this advertisement tells you less than you may imagine, since a man who tells you he is a geographer doesn’t tell you much at all.

Consider the items that follow. They are précises of “calls for papers” (CFPs) that I recently received from geographers in my sub-specialty (cultural-historical geography). These geographers are assembling “sessions” of papers to be read at the big geography shindig in San Francisco next spring, and they sent these CFPs to various list-serves in order to round up participants. My précises are intended to highlight the ludicrous, but they are not misleading and all the titles and quotes are real. I have not cherry-picked weird CFPs.

Welcome to Zeboim!

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The Argument from Finity

I have from time to time argued that this or that indispensable aspect of our lives presupposes in its partiality and incompleteness the prior exhaustive comprehension and completeness of the eternal divine act, so that absent that act we could not do what we do in fact constantly do. The Pragmatic Argument from Verisimilitude and The Argument from Truth both come to mind. The basic motion of such arguments is this: you can’t get a posteriori partiality or finitude of any sort unless wholeness and infinity have been accomplished a priori. More simply, the a posteriori as such presupposes the a priori, and cannot come to pass without it. No infinity, then no finite thing whatever.

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Sydney Traditionalist Forum: 2015 Symposium

Our own Thomas Bertonneau is one of the contributors to the 2015 Symposium of our friends over at the Sydney Traditionalist Forum, Quo Vadis Conservatism: or, Do Traditionalists have a Place in the Current Party Political System?

Before your knee jerks and you answer “No,” go check out the Forum, get educated about the question … and then answer, “No.”

On Ranting

With this post, we are happy to welcome Professor JM Smith, Geographer of the Human Spectacle, as a regular contributor to the Orthosphere. Dr. Smith  has contributed a few guest posts, and has often commented here perspicuously. Regular visitors will be familiar with his wry, rapier wit. His interest in and knowledge of the intellectual history of the West since the late Middle Ages will, we trust, add a new and rarefied note to our construction of a traditionalist diapason. KL 


Nowadays, a rant is a tirade. It is an unchecked outburst of anger, umbrage and bile. Sour old men rant in broken-down armchairs. Delirious vagrants rant on dirty sidewalks. Defeated professors rant in somnolent lecture halls. To us, today, a rant is a squall of impotent rage. It is a loud, bitter, and pathetic gripe.

This was not always so. When the word first appeared around 1600, to rant was to talk wildly, but one could rant out of happiness or grief as well as anger. The grieving Hamlet is said to have ranted beside Ophelia’s grave; in The Merry Wives of Windsor, the ranting character is a jovial and bombastic innkeeper. At that time, to rant was to speak without meaning—to vapor, to burble, to boast. But it was not, or was only incidentally, to complain. Ranting was empty talk. It was not, as now, empty threats. It took in more than the sputtering that accompanies the shaken fists of sour old men, delirious vagrants, and defeated professors.

We must bear this semantic slippage in mind when we read about the seventeenth-century religious enthusiasts who were called Ranters. These Ranters were not angry. They did not commandeer street corners to castigate passers by. They most often capered in the streets, burbling about “joy” and “love” and “bliss.” Ranters were the mooncalves of early-modern England. If you met one today, you would call him a hippy, and a dippy hippy at that.

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The Argument from Imperfection

In general, an imperfection of x cannot be obtained in the absence of a perfection of x. This is most easily seen with noise. There can be no defect of signal if there is no signal in the first place. Likewise you can’t disorder what is not ordered. Nor can you sin if there is no righteousness, or kill what is not alive.

Partiality is another sort of imperfection: you can’t be a part of a whole that is not there to begin with. So likewise, participating a form is impossible if there is no such form.

Then there is incompleteness. What cannot be completed cannot be incomplete, strictly speaking. We can’t count to infinity; if we count to 100, then, we have completed, not part of the count to infinity, but only the count to 100. Likewise, partial knowledge is not knowledge at all in the absence of omniscience.

Our lives are pervasively imperfect. They point always toward perfection. They indicate it; and they aim at it. If there were no such perfection in the first place, there could be no imperfection in our experience, nor therefore any nisus to correct it. If there were no perfection, it could not be a problem for us that we feel we have not achieved it, and we would not feel its lack as painful. Yet we do.

Imperfection presupposes perfection. The latter is therefore prior to the former, and is its forecondition.

The Pragmatic Argument from Verisimilitude

What would life be like if God did not exist? If we found that such a life would be quite unlike our own lives as actually lived, that would be a pretty strong indication that atheism is false; that it disagrees with reality as we actually encounter it. Since God, if he exists, is by far – infinitely far – the biggest most important thing there is, our decision about whether he exists is the most important and far-reaching decision we can make in life. Thus if God exists, and we approached the question of his existence in the wrong spirit, it would be the worst mistake of our lives; as if we had spat on the Good King, but far, far worse; for the King in question would be the King of Everything.

It behooves us to approach the question in the right frame of mind, so that we are less likely to err in our thinking.

Part of approaching the question in the right spirit is being honest with ourselves about how things would be if God did not exist. To begin with a closed mind, or to beg the question and insist that nothing could be different if God did not exist, would be to cheat the whole project. But it is crucial to recognize that, in cheating the project, we would be hurting only ourselves.

What are the aspects of life that we are going to find most indicative? What, that is, are the things that might be quite different for us if there were no God? Well, what are the basic features of our lives?

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Christian, is the Unbeliever Your Enemy?

Short answer:  In one sense, no. In another sense, maybe. In yet another sense, definitely yes.


Mark Citadel, at his blog, posts an excellent essay Parallel Blueprint to Victory. In it he points to the successful colonization of parts of Western Europe by Muslims who reject their host societies, and he urges Christians to learn from their success.  This post is not an evaluation of Mr. Citadel’s entire essay, but a meditation on part of it: Are unbelievers our enemies?

Some quotes from Mr. Citadel:

The solution for us [traditionalists] is not much different from the solution that Muslim immigrants to Europe have exemplified.

We call this the ‘parallel society’. This is not the creation of a hermit kingdom, it is the creation of [an] entirely separate and hostile social system that runs alongside the main culture.

…this approach is much more openly hostile than the one which [Rod] Dreher espoused, and I would argue it is this aggressive nature that determines long-term stagnation or long-term victory.


Christians primarily need to start raising their children on two essential doctrines of this struggle.

1) You are Christian, you were born Christian, you will die Christian.

2) The world is not Christian. The world is your enemy.

[Emphasis in original.]

The key word for the present discussion is hostile. Since we are Christians, says Mr. Citadel, we should be hostile to those who are hostile to us. But to what extent are unbelievers our enemies? Continue reading

Why modern men don’t want to believe in heaven

The top branches of the other trees of the forest now peeped through the clouds; they, too, were growing, lifting themselves up to the sky, toward the sun.  Bushes and flowers followed; some of them had freed themselves from the earth and were flying…

“But where are the little blue flowers from the pond?” shouted the oak tree.  “And the red harebell and the little primrose?”  The old oak did not want anyone to be forgotten.

“We are here, we are here!” sang voices all around it.

“But the woodruff from last summer and all the lilies of the valley from the summer before that, where are they?  I remember the year when the wild apples bloomed so beautifully.  Oh, so much beauty do I recall through all the years of my life!  If it only were all alive now and could be with us!”

“We are, we are,” came cries from somewhere higher up; they must have flown there earlier.

“That is the most marvelous of all,” rejoiced the old oak tree.  “Everything that I have known is here.  Nothing has been forgotten, not the tiniest flower or the smallest bird.  How is such joy possible?  Where is such happiness conceivable?”

“In heaven it is possible,” sang the voices.

And the tree felt its roots loosen their grasp on the earth.

— from “The Old Oak Tree’s Last Dream” by Hans Christian Andersen

Modern readers are bound to be surprised at the prominence of heaven in so many of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories.  “The Little Match Girl” has a vision of being reunited with her grandmother in heaven, and this adds some hope to an otherwise harrowing story of a little girl slowly freezing to death.  “The Dead Child” comforts his grieving mother before returning to God in heaven.  “The Little Mermaid” wants to become a human because she is in love with a prince, but most of all so she can have an immortal soul and spend eternity with God.

Modern Christians are clearly embarrassed by the idea of eternal beatitude, but this was not the case for our ancestors.  Saint Augustine and his dying mother famously speculated on the joys of heaven.  Pascal in Pensee 427 expresses astonishment that anyone could fail to find our fate after death the most important of topics.  In contrast, the 20th century’s best-known apologetic work, C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, mostly confines discussion of heaven to a small chapter near the end on the virtue of hope.  Lewis’ understanding of the desire for heaven is based on a rare sort of aesthetic experience, one I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced.  Anglican theologian N. T. Wright wrote a book attacking the idea of heaven in popular piety.  By the end of the 20th century, Christianity had returned to an Old Testament-style reticence about the afterlife.

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The Irreducible Remainder of Improper Reduction

If you reduce all x to nothing but y, then what you have left at the end of the process is no x at all: nothing to explain. To say that x is nothing but y is to say that there is really no such thing as x in the first place.

Eliminative reductionists generally prefer to overlook this difficulty. They try to explain explananda exhaustively as nothing but collisions of dead items, yet retain their reference to the explananda. They won’t take the last entailed step of asserting that there is in the first place simply no such thing as the explananda.

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