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Why Cultural Marxism (a.k.a. Progressivism) is the worst affliction of today’s churches

Posted by nouspraktikon on September 15, 2016

The Big Issue vs. the small stuff

Martin Luther once said that one had to find the point at which the devil attacked and then go there.  He noted that there were any number of side issues that a Christian could preoccupy himself with and yet maintain a serene peace with the world.  There are always nice improvements in manners, morals, and doctrine which will win the Christian applause both within and even without the walls of the sanctuary.  But if you try to defend the gap where the enemy is intent on marshaling his forces, then expect to be cast as a villain by both the world and its operatives inside the church.

The problem is that the battle rages from front to front, and each age has its characteristic heresy.  For Martin Luther himself it was the Babylonian captivity of the universal church by a sensual and apostate hierarchy south of the Alps.  In the 4th century it was the Arians and their bitheism of Father God and his deputy Jesus the creature.  In the 2nd century it was the systems of Gnostic speculation, and later on it was Manicheanism.   But today the battle has moved on to new territory.

The problem is that many so-called apologetics ministries are fighting on fronts from which the battle has long since moved on.  Yes, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have bad doctrine, but their Arianism isn’t threatening in the way that it would have been in the 4th century when Roman Emperors avowed a doctrine.  And who really cares what day the Seventh Day Adventists choose to regard as their sabbath?  So-called “apologists” who make it their business to call out denominations which have fallen back into the hoary heresies of antiquity are sometimes little more than exhibitionist pseudo-ministries more cultish than the sects which they brand as “the cults.”  Since they attack minority views, they are safe in so doing, and risk little.  Conversely, by evading battle with Satan’s main deception in our age, they risk cowardice.

The polite name for the  dominant ideology of today’s world is Progressive Humanism.  A bit beneath the surface, a more historically descriptive title for the same world-view would be Cultural Marxism.  Further beneath the surface, and much more difficult to connect with its cheery exterior, this is none other than the original error of Adam.  To call this Satanism would be imprecise, rather it is the fleshly component of that compact with the devil which renders sinful man useful to the powers of darkness.

Inside the church, this is more than ideology, it is heresy

The problem would be bad enough if the churches were beset with affliction from the secular majority.  Unfortunately the problem does not stop there.  Most of the mainstream churches, in their doctrine and practice have been vitiated by Cultural Marxism, and their influence as Christian fellowships is now often more pernicious than beneficial.   The cheery altruism and support for governmental and para-governmental initiatives which characterizes the mainstream churches, masks a contempt for the primitive truth of the scriptures, and shows that a new gospel has been wholeheartedly embraced, one which is both pleasing to humanity and at enmity with God.

Human beings, in their desire to please each other and the powers that be, will question why the choice between Progressive Humanism and the Primitive Gospel must be either/or…rather than both/and.  Are not social altruism and Christianity cut from the same cloth?  What about the Sermon on the Mount?  Do we not hear echos of it in the Communist Manifesto…albeit somewhat less in Das Capital.

No.  Human beings, even before they ask Lenin’s question of “what is to be done?” must first ask the anthropological question “what are we?”  Surprisingly, there is a family resemblance between the Marxist and the Christian answer to the anthropological question (really not surprising if one remembers that Marxism is really just a heresy cut off from original truth).  Both Christianity and Marxism (Progressive Humanism) claim that humanity, in its present form, is twisted and evil, and ripe for destruction.  In the case of Christianity we can substantiate this in the righteous judgement exercised by God on humanity in Noah’s time.  In the case of Marxism, there is more recent substantiation in the fate of countless kulaks, internal exiles to the Gulag, planned starvation in the Ukraine and elsewhere, Mao’s cultural revolution, Pol Pot’s “killing fields” and so on without cease, and indeed recently illustrated by the present dire state of Venezuela.  Furthermore both Christianity and Marxism agree that the old humanity having been eliminated, a new era will dawn.

So much for the similarities, what about the differences?  In Marxism, humanity starts as evil and ends up good.  With Christianity it is a bit more complicated.  Humanity starts off good, falls into evil, and then is redeemed back to good.  Quite a bit is entailed in the difference between the two and the three-step doctrines.  In Christianity humanity has an essence which is restored by an external agency, namely God.  One may not have enough faith to believe that this has actually taken place, but at least it seems consistent with logic and common sense.  After all, we all know of instances where there was some object or machine or animal which was shiny and in mint shape which somehow got ruined through malice or neglect, and which then has been made “good as new” through the exertions of an expert fixer-upper.  It happens all the time, and when it does we are heartily glad.

The view of the Progressive Humanist/Marxist is much more mysterious.  Humanity starts off, not just as evil, but actually as nothing, and in bad need not just of improvement but of existence.  Somehow it manages to come into existence, which is an embarrassingly improbable step, but which we will pass over as a diversion from the main focus here.  Many eons latter the tidal wave of natural selection is ready to turn control of evolution over to the designs of an intelligent species.  Human beings will start improving themselves from now on.  How?

Using education to edify the species people are gradually improved.  Now that human beings actually exist (thanks to evolution) they merit the designation “evil.”  Being stupid and weak, they need to be brought up to a higher standard.  Herein lies the problem.  If human beings are stupid and weak and in bad need of improvement, against what standard are they being judged so, and in according to what curriculum are they to be edified?  The Christian (and other theist) has an external standard, but what about the atheist?  If humanity starts off as evil, is it not more likely that further attempts at self-transformation will only increase the extent and power of evil?

On the surface Progressive thinkers seem to have a boundless faith in some sort of neg-entropic principle operating in the universe.  However their deeper thinkers, the ones who understand the basics of Cultural Marxism, realize that no species can pull itself up “by the bootstraps” without an external agency.  Even Newtonian mechanics figured that one out.  Rather they resort to class theory, abandoning Humanism (except as a ruse) and viewing the process of improvement as one  where useless classes are culled from the body politic.  In the last resort, there are only two classes, the class of the planners, and everyone else.  However everyone else consists of two subdivisions, those who are susceptible to education and those who must be eliminated as class enemies.

Incompatible Routs

There are two routs to human perfection.  Edification and the Crucifixion.  Blood, sweat and tears, or the blood of Jesus.  One is cultural creation according to an internal standard (in other words “we make it up as we go along.”)  The other is human restoration according to a standard which is both external and eternal.

The churches today must see that these two routs are mutually exclusive.  One cannot believe that the essential character of humanity can be changed through a process of edification while at the same time claiming the gospel of Jesus, and Him crucified.  To be sure, there is change of a technological and cultural nature, and sometimes this is highly beneficial.   However it is impossible, from a Christian point of view, that the moral nature of the human species can be improved, it can only be redeemed.

But this is precisely what the Cultural Marxist does believe.  All the evils which the Christian ascribes to sin, the Progressive ascribes to past (evil) culture.  All the goodness and hope which the Christian places in the Kingdom of God, the Marxist aspires to in future culture.  Every step forward according to the Progressive agenda (as determined by the class of planners) is a transition from the world of evil to the world of goodness in the mind of the Marxist.

This is in itself sufficient explanation as to why the self-styled Progressive is in a perpetual state of moral hysteria.  Any encounter with someone who doesn’t endorse the next step of social progress is an encounter with total evil, since there are no standards of either redemption or forgiveness which transcend human society.  As far as the past is concerned, all the alleged gains of Progressive/Marxist social movements are frozen in time and beyond question.  Looking towards the future, every day must see the bar of moral progress raised higher and higher if the blueprints of the planning class are to attain realization.  This entails less tolerance for error with each passing day, and since there is no other social or supernatural agency to enforce sanctions, more state coercion as well.

This is a tough minded religion, one in which the Cultural Marxists can take justifiable pride.  But it is a religion without grace.  How different this religion of human improvement through self-creation/destruction  is from Christ’s redemption of a sullied but loved human nature!

Churches can follow have one or the other of these gospels… but not both.



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Mr. Trump’s deepest, darkest secret revealed!

Posted by nouspraktikon on August 26, 2016

He’s a Centrist!

Sarah Palin just found out, but I figured it out earlier…and psychologist/cartoonist Scott Adams probably had discerned the secret long before anyone else.  Surprisingly, the liberal media covered for Mr. Trump in this particular instance, battening down the kind of tight lid they normally reserve for Ms. Clinton’s emails.

Mr. Trump isn’t a Conservative, he’s a Centrist!

Of course Trump had blurted it out long ago.  In a candid moment (for he has no other kind) he declared, “This isn’t the Conservative party, this is the Republican party, get used to it!”  Few seem to have deduced a confession of Centrism from the statement, which is unsurprising since the prospect is so alarming that most political minds would banish the notion to that untidy abyss where mental monstrosities lurk.   After all, a genuine Centrist would be something new in American politics, a terrifying possibility which, in lieu of getting used to, we had better examine critically. Well, do you know anybody who voluntarily describes themselves as a “Centrist”?  I thought not.  We all want to be a little weird, trending to the left or right to assert our personal quirks.  As individuals we will have nothing to do with Centrism, but collectively….ah, there’s the rub…

Then again, what the heck is a Centrist, that Mr. Trump should be such a creature?  Perhaps the via negativa is our surest line of inquiry into the matter.  Thus we should proceed by a process of elimination, and winnow away the pseudo-centers until we get to the real core, the genuine marrow…or perchance that hole in the political doughnut called Centrism.

First we must dispense with the great national myth of Centrism, a hoary relic which functions, as intended, to make political and historical thought impossible.  Once, so we are told, there was a time in the primeval depths when we were all Centrists.  There were wonderful leaders, men like Lyndon Banes Johnson, who inherited a great country and aimed to keep it that way.  There were eloquent bards like Walter Cronkite who could express the American mind with an unequivocal unanimity, and dub this the “national consensus.”  Then there was some sort of terrible falling out, the bowl of Centrism was broken, and from its shards the warring demons of Left and Right were born.  So we are told.

We are not told that this so-called Centrism was a ploy to marginalize debate on the national level and consolidate a political duopoly.  If such be the case then this mythical “Centrism” can bear little resemblance to Mr. Trump’s politics, which is opening up new questions and exposing old divisions between the political class and the rest of us.  A painful process no doubt, but one which is essential if politics is to have any meaning distinct from administration.

A more recent form of alleged Centrism might be called Rhino-centrism.  Alas,  this is not an amiable obsessing over riparian mammals of the upper Nile, but a political disease.  However like the Blue and White Nile, Rhino-centrism is a confluence of two currents, crypto-liberals in search of power joined with conservatives willing to compromise for the sake of sinecures and security.  Confusingly, the former stream is called “neo-Conservatives” but at the point of convergence they might as well be called Centrists, albeit of the RINO variety.  These people uniformly hate Mr. Trump, so we can only guess that their Centrism is a horned animal pointing in the opposite direction from the elephantine Trump in the living room.

Then there are the chattering classes who call themselves moderates, but who are really just conservatives who are too fearful to broach the salient issues, knowing that doing so would be like touching a naked wire.  Mr. Trump has touched that wire, and we all have seen what happened.  Better safe than sorry!  Yet if these people are Centrists, what is Mr. Trump?

I, Ideologist!

Mr. Trump is a very unsatisfactory person for those of us who deem ourselves thinkers, especially thinkers on the right.  Let’s take two issues, one popular and one fairly esoteric.  One is hard pressed to think what Mr. Trump is going to do in the case of pro-life/pro-choice.  He waffles.  One surmises that he is genuinely of two minds on the issue.  In this regard his personal meditations would reflect the non-consensus of the American people…a kind of Centrism if you will.

At the other extreme is an issue which nobody except libertarians and lawyers care about, eminent domain.  The courts are now saying that the government can seize any land it wishes if the promotion of greater social and economic welfare can be demonstrated by the state.  It doesn’t take too much imagination to see Mr. Trump, with his real estate background and utilitarian mode of thinking, concurring in this doctrine.

As a libertarian I am offended by the doctrine of eminent domain, which asserts that the Earth ultimately belongs to the state.  Not to God, not to communities, not to individuals…to the state.  Qua ideologist I could never permit myself to vote for any magistrate who concurred with the doctrine of eminent domain.  Qua ideologist I would willingly sit this one out.  Indeed, there are good reasons adduced by conservatives to throw the election to Ms. Clinton…either by not voting or by voting for Mr. Johnson.  Perhaps the best argument is that, in expectation of a recession/depression, Ms. Clinton would be the one holding the hot potato.

Eminent domain!  Eminent domain!  Oh, if only everyone could see with my kind of moral clarity!  And yet, one wonders if Mr. Trump, so egregious in theory, would be so really bad in practice.  Could he be as bad as Mr. Obama, who with a flick of the pen is trying to transfer as much land from private to federal domain as possible?  Indeed, the land acquisition policy is beginning to take on almost Shammanic overtones, with the Earth as god and the state as its prophet.  Indeed, if you think that for-profit land use is bad, and surely it can be, wait until the advent of the false prophet…for unalloyed badness!

Likewise with pro-life.  Whatever his ultimate views on human life and sexuality might be, Mr. Trump could hardly make worse Supreme Court appointments than Ms. Clinton.  And while we are at it, what about World War III?  Might that not have something to do with life?  I don’t particularly approve of Mr. Putin, but a bit of “making nice” to the Russians might be preferable to Ms. Clinton’s harrowing neo-Conservative record of “creative destruction” and foreign entanglements.

Yes, as an ideologist I am offended by Mr. Trump’s lack of principle, by his shameless ferreting out of that elusive volunte general, i.e., the general will of the American people.  It smacks of “democracy” in the pejorative sense that Edmund Burke gave to that term, indeed, as a new form Centrism, simultaneously bold and enigmatic.  Yet, as a human being I am persuaded that we can live with Centrism…indeed, that we may not be able to live without it.


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Observations on the Christian Libertarian Conference (Aug. 2016, Austin TX), Pt. 2 Afternoon session

Posted by nouspraktikon on August 19, 2016

The Soul of the Entrepreneur

Dr. Victor Claar gave the most upbeat presentation at a conference which was distinguished by a generally upbeat tone.  One had the feeling of being in Sunday school, with plenty of scripture being quoted, and careful analogies drawn between the Biblical narrative and action in modern day society.  Claars’ premise was that entrepreneurial action was an image of God’s creative action.  Good uplifting stuff, albeit it tended to sell short the sense in which human finite reason and senses were only a poor hint at the fiat creation of an omnipotent and omniscient God.

A useful term for this same insight, which Dr. Claar did not employ, was J. R. R. Tolkein’s “sub-creation.”   All human activity, from art to entrepreneurship, is mundane mirroring of God’s creative action.  It struck me that there are actually two levels operative here, the moving about of productive factors within creation, and the imaginative reconstruction of the world with language.  These are different, with the former being closer to God’s creation in substance, while the second seems closer in terms of form.

One objection to any parallelism between entrepreneurship and God’s creative act is the presence of uncertainty in the former.  Theorists of entrepreneurship, such as the Austrian school’s Israel Kirzner, have talked about the entrepreneur as someone who is capable of “seeing around the corner” and discovering a gap in the market, some need or deficiency which has not been hitherto met.  However the entrepreneur cannot magically control the outcome of the enterprise.  This human capacity for being wrong renders the analogy between human action and creation less than perfect.  I mentioned this to Dr. Claar and he seemed to concur with this caveat.

The Plot Thickens: Enter Rene Girard as mimed by David Gornoski

“A Neighbor’s Choice” applied mimetic theory (MT) to the issues of politics and liberty.  Of all the presentations this was the one which came closest to offering a Christian solution to tyranny, and human bondage in general.  Most of the audience was probably unaware of the late Rene Girard’s work on social imitation, the mimetic triangle, and scapegoating.  As one of the conference attendees noted “libertarians scapegoat the state.”  Well, I am not sure that the way libertarians blame the state is congruent with Girard’s “scapegoat” theory, but the comment articulates an important truth.  The “state” is an abstraction which can only become incarnate in human action.  Therefore we must ask ourselves what is the primal human motive which results in the institution of elaborate and tyrannical systems of control.

For Rene Girard, it is the violation of the tenth commandment, Envy, which is at the heart of both social cohesion and conflict.  Imitation is the indispensable mortar for building individual bricks into a social structure, but imitation turns to nihilism as the fires of envy intensify and the continued existence of the imitated other becomes unbearable.  At the root of the problem is the unique quality of human imitation, which, unlike animal imitation is not just a miming of behavior but a imaginative appropriation of the other person’s desires.  This leads to rivalry and ultimately the assassination of the rival so that one can occupy and replace one’s rival’s very selfhood.  The assassination is then speedily mythologized, and turned into a religion to mask the aggression of the new leadership, a strategy which is generally successful in the short term, or at least until the fires of envy once again build up beyond a tolerable limit.

According to Girard, this pattern continued throughout human prehistory until it was unmasked by the passion of Christ.  In the gospel records for the first time ever, the narrative is related from the point of view of the victim.  Ideally, Christ should have been the last victim of mimetic rivalry, but as David Gornoski reminded the audience, the pattern has continued to operate up to the present and provide a rationale for that institution which we call “the state.”  Gornoski reminded the audience that the gospel accounts not only provide a diagnosis of the sinful basis of society, but also a strategy for dealing with mimetic rivalry…to eschew rivalry and usurping of the tyrannical rival’s functions, no matter if the overthrow and replacement be masked as “justice.”

It would seem that with Mr. Gornoski’s presentation we had got to a point during the conference where theory was beginning to give way to practice.  However the “practice” of a Girardian anti-mimesis would be less action than restraint on action, which brings to the foreground the common tendency of anarchism to encourage quietism rather than political activism.

Pico himself was beset by his usual theological scruples, and being a Girardian himself, though perhaps in bad standing, was eager to sound out Mr. Gornoski on the dangers of diverting the passion narrative from soterology to sociology.  Mr. Gornoski replied that he was convinced a sociological perspective on Christ’s victimhood in no way diminished the doctrine of the atonement, and that Girard himself (who became a practicing Catholic) saw no contradiction.  Pico was willing to let the matter stand, although this is a fundamental point which needs to be clarified in Girardian circles.

Conclusion: Political Burlesque and a Resounding Call to Inaction

It was inevitable that, in a Presidential election year, there would have to be some concluding fireworks…and that these would have to be managed so that the dangerous explosives didn’t blow apart the meeting in a satisfying but divisive finale.  This job was delegated to Jason Rink who’s semi-comic “Never a Chump: A Christian Libertarian guide to the 2016 Election” concluded with an appeal for libertarians to vote, not with their feet, but with their couch.  Even Mr. Johnson, the darling of the LP and other mild-mannered reformers, got the cold shoulder on the premise that if you don’t vote you aren’t morally responsible for the inevitable brutality of practical statecraft.  Of course this went double for Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton.

Wisely, there were no rebuttals due to time constraints, so partisan matches and fireworks were kept from any incendiary conjunction. The enthusiasts of Mr. Johnson just had to grit their teeth and defer to their anarchist betters.  However, just for the record, Pico would like to ask: Are there not crimes of omission rather than commission?

Let me get down to specifics.  After all, Pico has made no secret of the fact that he is sympathetic to the oh-so-terrible Mr. Trump, so let me take Mr. Rink to task on his logic.  With regard to the Republic slate in general, Mr. Rink correctly observes that the Christian Right have served as the useful idiots (a.k.a. “chumps”) for a G.O.P. which has become subservient to neoconservative policies and banking interests.  Rink therefore concludes that now is the time for Christians in general and libertarians in particular to assert their independence from the Republican machine.   Four or eight years ago this would have been a valid premise, and in fact many Evangelicals did desert the G.O.P in 2012, if only due to Mr. Romney’s religion.

However Mr. Rink fails to understand that a G.O.P. under the sway of the Trump movement is no longer the Republican party of pre-2016.  If Trump has his way (and in spite of the obtuse G.O.P. leadership he seems to be getting it) the only continuity between today’s party and the pre-2016 organization will be the name.  If Mr. Rink, and the rest of us, could get beyond labels and pose the question objectively we would ask: Can Christian Libertarians support the Bull Moose Party, or the Populist Party, or whatever moniker you fancy for Trump’s new breed? Indeed, it was a tremendous coup (literally!) for Trump and his people to retain the name and franchise of “Republican” but that’s a whole new animal you see walking around the elephant’s skin.  So we pose the question whether Christians should join fortune at its tide, and be counted among those who will have clout in a possible Trump administration, or not?  I have a hunch that a Trump administration might succeed in “Making America Small Again” which would be an improvement on the present globalist regime.  Of course don’t expect Mr. Trump to be saying any such thing, which would be against both prudence and his own expansive nature, its just that rhetoric and results are often polar opposites.

Still, I suspect that it is Mr. Rink and not Pico who had his hand on the pulse on the conclave’s membership.  The dominant strain in the organization, which is now three years old, seems to be pietistic semi-anarchism of the David Lipscomb variety.  That is a worthy tradition and not be gainsaid, albeit Pico has been tending more towards a theonomic perspective recently.

Most of all, whether we are inclined towards libertarianism or theonomy, it is important to oppose the mainstream Christian Right in its fatal love affair with militarism and American exceptionalism.  To that end, I was glad to see that Dr. Norman Horne, the conference organizer, had learned some hard lessons from his debate with Dr. Al Mohler, President Emeritus of the largest Protestant denomination in America, and an evangelical celebrity.  During this previous encounter Mohler had dismissed “libertarianism” as a distracting ideology which was inherently non-Christian if not anti-Christian.  By his own account, Dr. Horn felt he came off poorly in the debate, as one would only expect of an upstart idealist going to the mat with a seasoned polemicist.

Dr. Horne concluded that in a projected rematch he would be less inclined to mince words and accept Dr. Mohler’s premises at face value.  Rather, he would have recourse to libertarian first principles, which are in fact Christian first principles.  He would like to remind Dr. Mohler that aggression is not endorsed by the gospel and that power corrupts.

Whether there is a reprise of the Horne/Mohler debate, let’s hope that someone is listening.  War drums are beating ever louder, Ms. Clinton is solidly in the pocket of the neocons, and militarists are wrangling for influence with Mr. Trump.  Christians, both committed and nominal, still represent the biggest single demographic in America, and a force for good or evil depending on how they are mobilized.

Let us meditate deeply on what action, or perhaps inaction, we should take in 2016…and may God help us all.


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Observations on the Christian Libertarian Conference, (Austin TX, Aug. 1016) Pt. 1, Morning session and main speaker

Posted by nouspraktikon on August 10, 2016

Can Christians be Libertarians?

Pico had the rare privilege of attending the third annual Christians for Liberty Conference, held in Austin Texas on Aug. 6.   There were about a hundred or so Christians and libertarians in attendance (mostly those who were both, but perhaps a few who were neither but curious) which made it lively enough for what is unfortunately still deemed an eccentricity, and drawing people, such as yours truly, from far and yon.  Now this writer, “Pico” if you will, is more of a paleoconservative, or at least a paleolibertarian, and perhaps there were a few of similar persuasion lurking among the crowd.  Undoubtedly this will give my observations a certain piquant sharpness since I fall short of whatever ideological median existed among the participants.  Yet this range of views is the glory of all such libertarian conclaves, such that one can hardly bring any two of the participants together without finding three opinions among them.   If you were to scratch the surface of conviviality, it would have revealed anarchists, minarchists, low-tax liberals, Rothbardian purists, one or two misdirected Randians, LP activists-on-the-make, pissed-off Republicrats, and a vast variety of other species in attendance.  But, characteristic of this fusion of freedom and gospel, there was no rancor among the sub-sects, and the whole thing concluded with a resounding call to spread the complementary messages of political autonomy and spiritual dedication to Christ.

The conference was sponsored by the Christian Libertarian Institute, itself the brainchild of Dr. Norman Horne, who was the chief organizer of the event.  The first speakers were Elise Daniel and Jacqueline Isaacs, who posed the question “Can Christians be Libertarians?.”  While Pico hates the generational monikers which the media have made into mandatory age-casts, for ease of understanding, I will reluctantly describe Ms. Daniel and Ms. Isaacs as so-called “millennials” addressing their peers.  As always there is tragedy and hope.  The tragedy is that young Christians in public universities and starting corporate careers are members of an oppressed minority which is still stigmatized as an oppressing majority.  The hope is that the brightest among the millennials will come to understand that Christianity is not a form of authoritarianism, but an exercise in responsible individualism mandated by God.

On the other hand there is a prejudice in the church which conflates libertarianism with a kind of roll-your-own lifestyle (properly, this would be termed “libertinism”), a view reinforced by the image of the pot-smoking narcissist who cares only for his or her own rights to enjoy the things of this world.   However to decriminalize sinful behavior is not to give it moral sanction, indeed, it is to restore responsibility for the moral order to the teaching and sanctions of the family and the church.  Libertarianism doesn’t teach the “unleashing of desire” promised by the progressives, but rather seeks to end the usurpation of individual responsibility by the state. Rather than an end to all governance, one of the speakers gave an apt summary, “I like my religion top down, and my politics bottom up!”  In the pursuit of that goal, these two bright lights in the rising constellation of Christians for liberty have combined with four of their peers on a project to show how the age old ideal of “liberty in Christ” can speak in a contemporary idiom.  The outcome will be a new perspective entitled Called To Liberty, which answers the question “can Christians be libertarian” through the experience and personal reflections of the six witnesses.  This is a faith-based initiative in both the gospel and the entrepreneurial sense, since at the time of the conference the book was still half way towards being crowd-funded for publication.

A more somber and historical tone was struck by next two speakers Dr. Jamin Hubner and Dr. Mark Cherry.  Hubner called the historical record to witness, and answered the question of whether Christians can be libertarians in the affirmative.  Indeed, Hubner seemed indignant that the question even needed to be posed, since the anti-statist nature of the gospel was less evident in the apologetic tracts of the early theologians than the praxis of the catacombs and the Colosseum.   While Hubner was pointed and direct, Cherry was rather baroque in his philosophical analysis of the theological epochs of the church, illustrating how Christians often got off track by rendering their faith too abstract and universal.  For Cherry, the interesting question was not how libertarians and Christians could propagate their understandings indiscriminately, but how freedom of concrete choices empowered Christian individuals and families to live out of the will of God in the face of clear alternatives.

Since, as common sense and Austrian economics both teach, there is no such thing as equality in the realm of values, anyone attending a conference on libertarianism and Christianity must eventually ask which is the head and which is the tail, the Christian part or the freedom part.  There were many pious statements implying that the joint endeavor would lead Christians to become more libertarian and libertarians to become more Christian.  Yet without further clarification the deadly hint of dual allegiance inevitably starts to debilitate the methods and motives of all hyphenated movements.  So it was with great relief that Pico and others heard Ms. Daniel affirm that the most important value was Christian faith, besides which infinite value no secular ideal can compare.

The Keynote Speaker: Dr. Robert Murphy

The featured Dr. Murphy was not a particular “draw” for Pico, since that latter had some vague reservations about the author of the “Contra-Krugman” blog.  Many Austrian economists have a smart-Alec approach to lecturing.  Knowing (and I feel they are correct in this assumption) that they are among the most intelligent human beings on the planet, they are keen to confirm the general public in the same conviction.  Perhaps some decades-old encounter with Dr. Murphy had filled me with trepidation about the speaker.  But as he began his talk it became clear  that, like Pico, Dr. Murphy had at some point in his personal sojourn become “a new creature in Christ” and I warmed to him.  Yes, he was every bit as witty and contentious as he had ever been, but, now bearing the mark of a servant, one could see that there was more than ego involved.

Moreover, Dr. Murphy’s topic was neither libertarianism nor Christianity per se but, surprisingly, apologetics.  Granted that his title “Is God a tyrant?” would have hinted broadly at apologetics in any session where the themes were less political and more theological.  The thesis was indeed a tour de force, and while Dr. Murphy (with his new found modesty) demurred from making any such claim, I will go ahead and call this an entirely new and revolutionary kind of apologetics.  How so?

Keeping in mind that Dr. Murphy did not make any such claim, it seems to Pico that he was hinting at a “third way” within apologetics.  If the first way is Classical apologetics (associated with Aristotle) and is evidence based, and the second way is Prepositional (associated with Paul, Anselm, and certain reformed thinkers) “believe that you may know” then Dr. Murphy’s take on the matter seems different from either. I’m not sure whether to call it Economic, or Judicial apologetics, or something else, but the take-away is that the thought of Murry Rothbard (a Jewish “pagan”) takes on a contemporary significance analogous to the influence of Aristotle on scholastic apologetics.

Rothbardians, following Locke, understand property as originating in the creation of goods through the mixing of labor with the materials provided by nature.  Once these goods have been created, they are owned absolutely by their creator.  He or she has the right to keep, destroy, or give away the created good voluntarily.  Conversely, nobody else has a right to possess, occupy, or enjoy the good owned by the owner (who is either the creator or a successor to the original creator at some subsequent degree of gifting and/or purchase).  As Murphy notes, this doctrine leads to any number of potential scenarios which normal people find morally uncomfortable.  A typical illustration will involve the owner expelling from his or her property a trespasser who is certain to die in the hostile environment surrounding the owner’s place of business or habitation. However these dire consequences are not logical paradoxes, they follow from logical principles whether or not people feel emotionally or morally comfortable with the outcome.

When we consider God as the first laborer to whom all artifactual creaton by humans is analogous, then we can understand the parallel between the libertarian defense of property rights and God’s sovereignty over creation.  God owns everything, and therefore has a right to dispose of His property as he sees fit.  We are his property and in no position to claim any rights which does not acknowledge the prior claims of God on everything we are and own.

I find this kind of reasoning compelling, even though, or because, it gives one a sobering realization of how wrong it is to claim autonomy in the face of one’s Creator.  There is a complementarity here, where the heteronomy of the creature is both contrasted to, and supported by, that same creature’s legal status as an autonomous person within civil society.  It is also remarkably in accordance with scripture once we consider the gospel as part of an integral covenant rooted in the so-called Old Testament.  Basically, Israel is a community of freeholders, yet they do not truly hold freely, but by the grace of God.

In summary, God is not a tyrant because he made the people over whom he allegedly tyrannizes.  Human tyrants are what they are because they have not only usurped Christ.s crown rights, but they have intruded into the lives and properties of their fellow human beings.  If they had made themselves and us, human tyrants would be in better shape to assert their claims, but fortunately we do not owe them our existence…as we do to God.

And now for something completely different

Dr. Murphy concluded his talk on an ominous note, echoing Paul’s observation that we battle not against flesh, but against powers and dominions, he cautioned against optimism based on a naive belief in rational persuasion of  the masses.  He noted that behind support for statism lurks something more than bad thinking or even vested interest, rather there are strong spiritual forces arrayed against freedom.  Pico entirely concurs, and feels that libertarians as a whole are a rather Quixotic bunch.  Leaving the ultimately supernatural opposition aside, there are many factors even in mundane existence which libertarians generally prefer to ignore, such as who precisely is doing what to whom, and if this involves money or other levers to power.  It would seem that when God divided up political intelligence the right got principles and the left got strategy, and one wonders if it is too late in the day for the former to learn any new tricks, dirty or otherwise.

Of course there is always the flip side, as illustrated by those self-professed pragmatic “libertarians” whom Murray Rothbard despised but who arguably have a better grasp on reality than the utopians.  As if on cue, Dr. Murphy’s talk was followed by Lauren Daugherty’s “Toward a Libertarian Foreign Policy” which seemed like an attempt to synthesize moral and economic liberalism with certain aspects of neoconservative doctrine.  Knowing that the room was peppered with anarchists and pacifists, it took visible courage on Ms. Daugherty’s part to advocate a rather muscular retention of pax Americana, albeit one which clearly prioritized cultural propaganda and sea power in preference to boots sinking into quagmires.  Pico always enjoys it when a solitary individual stands her ground in the face of a crowd, and sure enough, the young lady prevailed, while the crowd, generally speaking, “blinked.”  To paraphrase Star Wars’ Senator Palpitine, many will be watching Ms. Daugherty’s career with great interest, and hopefully she will not succumb to the dark side of the force.


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Surrealism, the backdoor between Marxism and the Occult: The case of Frida Kahlo

Posted by nouspraktikon on August 2, 2016

Pictures at an exhibition:  Beyond political correctness to Marxist memorial

The press release from the Harn Museum of Art (an institution associated with the University of Florida) read as follows,

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) known for her self-portrait paintings, was among the most photographed women of her generation.  In addition to the photographic works of Kahlo, the exhibition will include a PBS film “The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo,” two works (a drawing and a painting) by Kahlo and ancient and contemporary Mexican ceramics and sculpture from a local collector and the Harn’s collection.

What the press release did not mention, but which is sufficiently illustrated by the documentary film, is that Kahlo was a life long leftist who’s Marxism became increasingly enthusiastic over the course of her tumultuous and troubled life.  None the less, the tone of the film and the exhibition are laudatory, not critical, and one has to wonder why PBS and the Harn are now shamelessly promoting the worship of  Marxist icons?  Kahlo’s passion for her husband Diego Rivera (1886-1957), who raised the Mexican mural genre to the status of political art, did not preclude an adulterous interlude with exiled Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky.  Neither did any lingering sentiment for Trotsky prevent Kahlo from memorializing his murderer, Joseph Stalin, with art and adulation.

Although the information set forth is intended to portray Kahlo sympathetically, the narratives and pictures are sufficiently candid to tell a different story from that intended by their politically correct sponsors.  These sponsors seem to be relying on the historical ignorance of the general public to omit the context in which Kahlo and her associates’ life and work transpired.  For example, one is not supposed to recollect that Christianity in the Mexico of the mid-twentieth century had been suppressed with a vehemence and violence that aspired to emulate conditions in the Soviet Union itself.  However, if we are able to restore this context, then the exhibition and film do become vastly educational, albeit not in the sense that its sponsors intended.

Surrealism, art, and agitation

From the first it needs to be kept in mind that Kahlo was never an isolated artist, but rather part of that larger movement which called itself “Surrealism.”  As an emigre from France to Mexico, Kahlo was a major force in the regional propagation of the movement, but not its leading international star.  Although historians classify surrealism as an artistic movement, its originators deemed it a revolutionary philosophy, one which was capable of altering human perception to such a degree that it would facilitate social and cultural transformation.  The mastermind of this movement was Andre Breton(1896-1966).  Breton was not only a mentor of Kahlo but a social acquaintance, the PBS documentary even mentioning an alleged lesbian relationship between Kahlo and Breton’s wife.  Be that as it may, Breton’s theory found a natural conduit to the masses in the work of Kahlo and other disciples.

Though Breton was a Marxist, his artistic theory was far to the “left” of mainstream Marxist aesthetics of the time, which was trying to promote the stodgy doctrine of Soviet Realism which reduced all art to a kind of photography of sense impressions.  Like kindred theories which were starting to make waves in the ’20s and ’30s, notably the Frankfort School’s critical theory and Antonio Gramci’s cultural Marxism, the Surrealists felt that the bourgeois  mind could not simply be chopped off from the shoulders of material reality.   Rather, it required transformation, and the Surrealists felt that they, being revolutionary geniuses, had devised just the right formula to bring about the desired result.

The essence of the theory was that the human mind had been confined by logic to conform to an artificial matrix of perception.  A particular kind kind of logic, explained by Aristotle but thought to be natural and universal, was responsible for the way human beings, at least in the West, categorized the world given by the senses.   Thus normally, the sensory manifold was interpreted as evidence of discrete entities (such as rational persons) their qualities (such as owning their bodies and property) and relationships (such as the binary distinction between justice/injustice). Contrary to this “common sense” doctrine, the Surrealists felt that if bourgeois civilization were to be overthrown, these categories needed to be neutralized and overcome.  The avenue by which the human mind was most liable to reconditioned away from what had previously been defined as “sanity” and “reality” was art, especially graphic and photographic recombination and mutation of common scenes.

Whereas the Soviet Realist wished to reduce all perception to a logic of despiritualized bodies interacting in time and space, the Surrealist wished to abolish logic completely, and reduce the mind to a series of kaleidoscope impressions, devoid of any supervening criteria of judgement of as to whether the sensations were illusory or genuine.  In contrast to the doctrinaire Realists, the Surrealists wished to retain psychology at the heart of their world-view.  This was tremendously appealing to a varied assortment of intellectuals and artists who’s narcissistic tendencies made them unlikely candidates for the kind of impersonal doctrine being dished out to rank-and-file Communists.  Frieda Kahlo, who’s self-constructed image appears repeatedly in the exhibition, is clearly an instance of such a comrade-narcissist.

Frieda Kahlo, from Shamanism to Stalinism

In the minds of Breton’s European contemporaries, Surrealism’s psychologization of perception was expected to destroy bourgeois idealism, striping the mind of reasonable objections to the assault of the strong material forces which were destined overwhelm civilization.  These forces, industrial, military, economic, and demographic were all material in their foundation.  Therefore critics of Communism who have ventured to apply terms such as “demonic” and even “Satanic” to the movement have been accused of hyperbolic expression, if not outright paranoia.  After all, an atheist, whatever her or his faults, is an unlikely candidate for demon-worship.

However, would not the Surrealist movement, in striping the mind of rationality, leave it prey to not just brute natural forces,  but also to preternatural entities, if indeed the latter have any objective reality?  In the absence of characters such as Frieda Kahlo, such a hypothesis would be purely conjectural.  However we can see in her art the portrayal of a parallel world which seems to have more in common with the shammanic visions portrayed by Carlos Castennada than the pop leftist Parisian cafes which Frieda Kahlo despised.  Whatever their differences in world-view both the sorcerer and the commissar seek to attain unlimited power without the burdens of ethical constraint, and it is no accident that a disciple of Andre Breton was able to break down the partition between two of hell’s antechambers.

Does this mean that there was no value to the art of the surrealists or to the teaching of Frieda Kahlo?  Not necessarily, however the ultimate value of any work lies in to whom that work has been consecrated.  Not to consecrate at all, out of human pride, is to assume a godless universe and thus to consecrate one’s work to demons, should they happen to exist, by default.  The first assumption was implicit in the ideology of the Realists while the latter was worked out in the practice of the Surrealists.  Indeed it may be that, as Frieda Kahlo rightfully insisted, there is more to art than painting endless stereotypes of boring floral arrangements, but hopefully we can become creative without denying the primal Creator and consequently taking the full credit for our own spiritual and physical mutations.  Salvador Dali, the archenemy of Andre Breton, was as creative as any of the leftist cult’s artists, but he possessed two qualities which tend to escape armchair revolutionaries, devotion to God and a sense of humor.

Some people will come away from the Frieda Kahlo exhibition in awed reverence, others, more discerning, will feel vaguely nauseated.  Nobody is likely to leave laughing.



[NB God willing the series on Christian Anthropology will be extended in the near future, however it was thought expedient to interrupt with a few out of series posts…thanks as always to my patient readers]


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Christian Anthropology Pt. 5 The Anthropological basis of knowledge

Posted by nouspraktikon on July 30, 2016

A Recapitulation

To summarize what has be said in the discussion, let’s pose the same content in the form of questions and answers.   First, do we live in an impersonal universe?  No, we live in a personal universe.  Next, do we live in a persistent chaos inhabited by multiple personalities?  No, we live in a created order authored by a creating Personality.  If so, can we know this creating Personality directly?  No, we can only know this Personality analogically using categories immanent to our own being and applying them to the Creator Being.

If one accepts these assertions then a number of important correlative theses obtain.  First of all ethics is the key to metaphysics, not the other way around.  Second, anthropology is the master science, on the one hand, in preference to physics, and on the other, in preference to theology, or more precisely theosophy.  This latter proposition requires some elaboration, since it might scandalize religious minds who are only looking at the proposition superficially.  If we state that anthropology precedes theology and perhaps excludes theosophy altogether, are we not setting up Man as a higher object of devotion than God?  Bear in mind that that purpose of this series of essays is to distinguish Christian Anthropology from Humanism, which entails disentangling what we know from what we worship.  Therefore, the analogical knowledge of God via anthropology is being distinguished from heretical forms of gnosis.  In other words, we are comparing different methods of knowledge rather than different kinds of being.  Paul called the royal road to knowledge which travels through Christ the “epignosis” which is Greek for “full knowledge.”  This orthodox, mediated, gnosis contrasts sharply with the unmediated gnosis of the heretics.

To “Grock” or not to “Grock

A contemporary reader confronted with a phrase like “the unmediated gnosis of the heretics” is probably wary of getting dragged into a discussion of the Manacheans, Valentinians, Basilideans and other exotic species of ancient philosophers.   On the other hand, readers of Eric Voegelin are apt to be prejudiced (either for or against) a usage of “Gnostic” which is only too broad and contemporary.  Yet, heretical gnosis, in the sense intended here is both perennial and specific.  There was a huge influx of this kind of thought in the third quarter of the last century (typically referred to as “the sixties”) and its influence persists into the present day.

If we want knowledge of God without availing ourselves of a mediator, then we are in a severe predicament.  We must “break through” into a plane of Being which is altogether superior to our own level of existence.  This is the task which the advocate of “unmediated gnosis” feels to be almost, but not quite, beyond the capacity of human endeavor.  This “not quite” qualification on the otherwise total impossibility of transcendental knowledge, is usually claimed on the basis of some secret path which leads to heaven’s back door.  In “the sixties” this kind of a path typically either involved drugs or yoga or some combination of both.  In one specimen from the period’s literature an Earth man who had been raised on Mars by aliens was capable of breaking through at will onto the level of ultimate reality.  The experience was called “grock” or “grocking.”  Even in a period when it was thought that intelligent alien life was likely to be living on Mars, a human being raised by Martians was clearly a rare breed, an exception that proved the rule that transcendental knowledge is impossible for all but a few…an elite.

Being an elite project, unmediated gnosis always begins with great conviction and sincerity.  There is nothing feigned about it, yet is has a short shelf life and is quickly replaced by cheap imitations.  During and after the sixties, the entheogens (literally “god-engendering pharmaceuticals”) of the drug researchers were gradually transformed into recreational drugs, and the yoga of the sages was adulterated and marketed as a physical fitness program.  Few ever “grocked” and those who claimed success as often as not returned from their altered state with tales of nightmares rather than paradise.  The pioneers continued to market their enlightenment experience, but of course they were advocates in their own cause.  For the rank and file “ecstasy” gradually lost its original meaning of transcendence and came to mean the optimization of pleasure through peak experiences.

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Christian Anthropology Pt. 4: A Quadrature of possible Ethical Anthropologies

Posted by nouspraktikon on July 21, 2016

Ahumanism vs. Anthropology

In the first of these essays, out of respect for the American poet Robinson Jeffers, I called the view that there is no species central to the drama of Creation “Inhumanism.”  A less emotionally toned characterization of this view would be “ahumanism” since from a purely naturalistic view the population that is conventionally isolated as “homo sapiens” is simply a cluster of attributes within  the continuum of living organisms.  This is the mainstream point of view of that natural science called “Anthropology” which is diametrically opposed to the minority report filed by Christian Anthropology which these essays are trying to establish.  Thus, paradoxically, what is conventionally termed “Anthropology” denies that its subject matter has any defining characteristic, although it certainly has a content, albeit this content is rather eclectically distributed among various research programs associated with archeology, paleontology, ethnography, linguistics, social anthropology, human genetics, and so forth and so on, not to mention various allied applied and forensic studies.

Indeed, it would appear that Christian Anthropology is quite the inverse of naturalistic “anthropology.”  First of all, in contrast to naturalism, Christianity has a very precise doctrine of Man, or, if you will, the human species-being.  Thanks to its grounding in theism, for Christian Anthropology, humanity as a category stands out clearly in contrast to both God and the rest of creation. Against its theological background, humanity, like a “Gestalt” diagram, has a clear form and sharply defined boundaries.  On the other hand, it might be supposed that Christian Anthropology, having once secured the existence of its subject matter, restricts itself to grand generalities, abandoning substantive discussion of human particulars to naturalistic anthropology.

I maintain that this is not the case, that Christian Anthropology is both precise in the definition of its subject matter and capable of plenary description of all aspects of human life, either through deduction from first principles of doctrine or through a selective “baptizing” of empirical studies whenever they can be devolved from the context of higher axioms.  Later it will be shown in great detail how the various particulars of the human species-being can be enumerated and explained.  However, in keeping with the axiomatic character of the doctrine, it is necessary to arive at particulars by passing first through an ethical examination.  As stated in the previous essay, ethics is the very marrow of Christian  Anthropology, and this fact alone gives it both precise and plenary understanding of the human species.  For without a primordial relationship to the Creator, Humanism would be scarcely any better off than Ahumanism, since the entire cosmos would be “in Man” and hence the latter would not be ethically determinable, since ethics necessitates some sort of relationship, either among individuals or species.

The Quadrature of Ethical Anthropologies

However the theistic background permits us a four-fold ethical analysis of possible anthropologies, as follows,

  1. Optimistic Anthropology  “humans are good” (a.k.a. “Humanism”)
  2. Selective Depravity, “some humans are wrong” (conversely, “all humans are partially wrong”)
  3. Total Depravity, “all humans are wrong” (or, “all humans are essentially wrong”)
  4. Anti-Anthropology “humans are evil” (or, “the human essence is wrong”)

The first view is that of Humanism.  Little needs to be said of this, since it has been the official view of the modern, Western world, at least since the time of this “Pico’s” namesake, the famous Mirandola (late 15th c., NB Pico repented of Humanism to become a revivalist in Savonarola’s party) .  The human species is said to dominate the cosmos by right of being the supreme active intelligence, under the assumption that God is either remote, disinterested, or non-existent.

The second view is rather involved and will require subsequent elaboration.  I am using the term “Selective Depravity” as a catch-all for a vast assortment of views which assert that human beings are a mixture of good and evil.  All versions assert that there is a good part of humanity and a bad part of humanity.  Moreover there are realist and nominalist versions of this view.  In terms of realism, where it is granted that “Man” is a real species, evil is assigned to some faculty or aspect of human nature.  Famously, the various Platonic schools consider the carnal aspect of human existence to be evil and the spiritual aspect to be good, however there are other ways of partitioning human nature and stigmatizing one part in order to explain evil.

The nominalist versions of Selective Depravity divide the human population into discrete classes and and scapegoat one or the other of these classes as the bearers of evil.  This is the world view which meets us every morning when we read the newspaper, or whatever media may be current at the time.  These classes may be based on racial, national, gender, economic, or other criteria.  The potential perfection of the human species is held to have been marred by the presence of some group or groups which have dragged the entirety of humanity down to destruction.

We shall return to the knotty problems of Selective Depravity shortly, for  we ought not be detained longer than necessary, as Total Depravity is the most important of the four views under consideration.  This is the view of Christianity, if by that term we are referring to orthodoxy in its Augustinian form.  Those who subject our faith to calumny (accusations which go back at least to Marcus Aurelius in the 2nd c.) consider this view, namely “all human beings are wrong” to be the epitome of misanthropy.   Conversely, Christians who fear calumny may balk at marching under the banner of Anti-Humanism, preferring the hybrid label, Christian Humanism.  However our purpose in these essays has been to distinguish Christian anti-Humanism from misanthropy.

In actuality, Humanism, not Christianity, is the font of misanthropy.  We can see this in operation today, when technology and modern politics have rendered to Man a seeming supremacy over the Earth, while concurrently human self-loathing has reached a fevered pitch.  As the crown of creation (or rather “evolution”) a lonely humanity must, and indeed ought to, take the brunt of any disappointment with the affairs of this world.  The same individuals and groups who are most strident in their optimism about human potential are liable to be the very ones who “flip” into malaise and misanthropy when confronted by the ill-starred results of human endeavor.  This “flip” in the official ideology of erstwhile Humanists, from Optimistic Anthropology to Anti-Anthropology, is well instantiated in the thoughts and attitudes of the deep ecologists.  Reacting against the dreams of the technological frontier, they openly welcome prospect of human species-extinction.  Note that here “Nihilism” so far from being a bugbear of orthodox critics of modernity, is actually the concrete and explicit policy of a well publicized movement.

However the outlook from the point of view of Christianity is not nearly so bad, since the gospel rests on theological, not anthropological, optimism.  Christian Anthropology, set against the background of theism, is able to make a distinction of which pure humanism is incapable.  Since the primary ethical relationship is that between God and the human species, the souring of this relationship, as an event in time, involves the choice of humanity rather than the nature of humanity.  Thus we are able to make a subtle, but all important, distinction between the “wrongness” of humanity and the “evil” of humanity.  If humanity were totally evil, it would have been beyond redemption.  However since humanity became depraved by choice, sullying the initial goodness of human nature, restorative divine action was possible.  On this point all which is salient in Christian Anthropology rests.

It must be born in mind that it is Divine Action, not human action, which is at the core of Christianity.   None the less, all our cognition is worked out on the basis of human self-understanding.  Most importantly, scripture itself is written in human language, and almost entirely describes human scenes and events, not scenes and events in the heavens.  Admittedly, this predicament leaves the human appetite for theosophy unsatisfied, and many a tome has been forged to make up the supposed deficiency of Scripture.  However to the extent that we can get sound knowledge about God, it must be mediated by human concepts applied analogically.  Thus we are dependent, in a general way, on the written Word, and more especially on His Living Word.  The atheist is half-right who says “the proper study of humanity is mankind”…the desideratum is to learn to reckon with the Second, not just the first, Man.

Theologically speaking, that is all that needs to be said, for the main theme belongs to God and to God alone.  However I have promised to elaborate on the particulars of human nature as revealed through Christian Anthropology.  This is likely to require several more installments, since as the expression goes, “the devil is in the details,” and whatever is said of the devil is likely to apply with equal force to his willing dupe, the first man.

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Christian Anthropology pt. 3: The Primacy of Ethics

Posted by nouspraktikon on July 16, 2016

The Metaphysical Consequences of Personalism

In the first installment of these essays, it was maintained that while Christianity is not “Humanism” in the conventional sense, it is centered on persons, in contrast to mere “Being” in the abstract.  Furthermore, while there may be other persons in creation (angelic, demonic, animate) the primary drama of creation is an interaction between Divine persons and the human race.  Hence theology and anthropology are the highest sciences, the forms of wisdom which underpin the foundation of all other understanding.  Moreover, since God is totally transcendent, we can only understand Divine persons analogically, using the type of the human personality.  Thus the Humanist who professes that “the proper study of mankind is man” is objectively wrong but methodologically on the path to a true science, since anthropology is nothing but theology written in a lower key.  None the less, this is a sufficient “key” to understand everything, for as the Lord said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father!”

If the substance of science is anthropology, the substance of anthropology is ethics.  This contrasts with the common sense view of naturalism where physics is regarded as the fundamental basis of all understanding.  From the point of view of naturalism, such attributes of personality as consciousness, will, reason and memory are mere epiphenomena which require explanation on the basis of material causes.  For naturalism, the law of sufficient reason works from simple to complex, from bare matter to organisms to consciousness.  However for Christian anthropology this is a mistake and a transposition of the true law of sufficient reason, wherein persons are primary and their thoughts/acts/artifacts are secondary.  Thus God creates nature and the human race creates technology, and hence our proper understanding of creation must be based on an analogy of divine action with our own.  The problem with the sinful human mind is that its drive towards autonomy forces it to stop halfway in the process of understanding and to idolize the works of its own hands.  We know that our own works don’t just “pop up” of their own accord, yet we loath to think that we are in turn the production of a higher Person,  thus sin drives us to the far deeper humiliation of a conjectural origin out of inanimate matter.  Notice here how an ethical fact (our sin nature) determines our world view, rather than our world view determining our ethics.

How to Distinguish Christianity from Humanism

Let us summarize what has been mentioned previously.  Reasoning ontologically, Christianity might be considered a kind of “humanism” in contrast to naturalism, materialism, nihilism and sundry “inhumanist” thinking.   However, having once affirmed that we live primarily in a world of persons and not things, we must reason ethically rather than ontologically.  Once we find that we are dwelling within a personal universe, the fact that God and human beings are alike “persons” becomes a trivial statement.  The salient questions become those which deal with the ethical relationship among persons, notably the relationship between God and the human race.  It is here where world-views, and their corresponding emotional sentiments, will diverge radically.  While there might be innumerable variations on these world-views, they can all be reduced to a four-cell schematic intersection of the following doublets: God/Man//good/evil.

To reduce things to absurdity, take the example of the militant atheist.  Such a person pictures God as evil and the human race as good.  However since the atheist doesn’t actually believe in God, what he or she actually intends is that the “idea of God” is evil, and (since few atheists are philosophical idealists) especially that the class of people who believe in God are evil.  Really the atheist has refused to enter into the lists of ethical combat by making an ethical accusation against an alleged pseudo-person, and this insincere allegation serves no purpose except to mask hatred towards a class of acknowledged persons, the theistic believers.  Incidentally, this is a signal example of the doctrine of “selective depravity” which I hope to elaborate on in future installments.  However what I want to point to here is the ethical double-think that masquerades as ontological argumentation.

Now theologically speaking (not practically, of course!) the Satanist is on surer ground than the militant atheist.  The Satanist glories in the notion that his god is evil.  However lamentable this statement might be, it is a coherently ethical proposition since it connects a person (i.e., a “god”) with an attribute (evil).  The difficulty with this terminology is that even the Satanist thinks his god is good, albeit that what is good for the Satanist is liable to be a transvaluation of what would more commonly be called evil.

Objectively speaking, it is very hard for anyone to coherently maintain that God is evil.  Whenever such a sentiment is uttered, it is likely to be no more than a displaced ontological claim (i.e., the atheists)  or a transvaluation of the term “evil” (i.e., the Satanists) or a non-cognitive outburst in the face of the tragedies of life (possibly anyone at any time).  However, be this as it may, it is not possible for the Christian, or anyone who believes in the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, to believe that the God of creation is evil.  Therefore since ethical judgement of God is a moot point, and indeed human evaluations on this subject are not science but sin, the only candidate for a science of sciences is anthropology.  Furthermore the central question in anthropology is always the ethical question.

Looked at from a complementary perspective, if human beings were  the only persons in the the universe, any ethical inquiry into human nature would be impossible, since the plenary nature of “Humanity” would exclude any external criteria which would allow us to pose the question, “is the human race good or evil?”  However the existence of God renders the question not only possible but inescapable.  Now, having shown that Christianity is “humanistic” in some notional sense, we are at last ready to attack the more significant differences between what is normally termed “humanism” and the anthropology of Christian doctrine.  Furthermore, within the doublet God/Man, we have already excluded the possibility that the former person can be evil.  Therefore, “what of Man?”  It is the various answers to this question which determine our general outlook on life, and whether what we profess is essentially Christian or humanistic.

In the previous essay we already mentioned the most comfortable answer to this question, albeit not the truest: God is good and so is Man.  Many thinkers have striven valiantly to uphold this pleasing conjunction of divinity and humanity.  A signal example was Max Scheler, the philosophical anthropologist who sought to rigorously and conscientiously defend the eternal in human nature.  Indeed, he was rigorous and honest enough to admit that his attempt failed, that he could not exorcise the dimension of evil from intelligent and personal creatures and still retain a belief in the Christian God.  Although the future is always open to more brilliant compromisers, Scheler’s attempt is a strong indication that Humanism, if by that we mean an optimistic anthropology, will always drive out Christianity in the minds of its holders.

Does this mean that, if we wish to be staunch Christians, we must embrace the opposite proposition, that God is good and Man is evil?  Before proceeding on to such a conclusion it will be necessary to make some further inquiries which exhaust other possible answers to our question.  After all, we seem to be spending a lot of words and energy chasing a phantom.  Surely it has not escaped the reader’s attention that there are very few self-professing and consistent Humanists around?  Furthermore, the odd Humanist that one may happen to encounter is likely to be a genial and intelligent person.  Might it not be that this whole line of inquiry is, at best, a straw man argument, or worse, gratuitous slander?

No it is not, for we are proceeding methodically to establish a framework for thought which normally eludes the denizens of secular society.  Readers who have followed the argument so far will now have a clear definition of “Humanism” which may come in very handy, since that term often serves as a monkey-wrench thrown into philosophical and apologetic argumentation.  If we allow “humanism” to become a portmanteau term which stands for a congeries of good and bad things, Christian apologists will be like combatants at night firing from different angels and liable to be injured by friendly fire.  However if we define Humanism as “optimistic anthropology” and nothing more than “optimistic anthropology” we have a good handle for grasping what will ensue.  We will now agree on what we are disagreeing on, which is a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, with the dawn of clarity comes alarm, for the battlefield situation is likely revealed to be worse than one might have supposed.  For a large and influential proportion of those who profess Christianity hold to the doctrine of “optimistic anthropology”…albeit with various degrees of enthusiasm and clarity.  Furthermore, the great majority of people in the modern world are not even Humanists according to our definition, let alone Christians.  But we must defer this “sub-Humanism” what it is and whence it arises, to a future installment.

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Christian Anthropology Pt. 2: The Temptation to Compromise

Posted by nouspraktikon on July 13, 2016

Must there be a specifically “Christian” Anthropology?

In the first installment of this series, the sense in which a Christian Anthropology is, or is not, human-centered was discussed.  In the most fundamental sense, Christianity is human-centered since its great theme is the alienation, and subsequent reconciliation, of God with Man.  It is not a philosophy of the totality of Being, or of how this universal Being has become tired or painful or frustrating.  Buddhism or existentialism might commerce in such profundities, but Christianity from its outset is anthropological.  The Creation, the Fall, and the Redemption are all dramas in which the lead characters are persons, and these persons are authentic persons with mind, will, feelings, memory, responsibility, and fidelity.  These qualities, plenary in the case of God, make Christianity anthropological, while their human impediment puts Christian doctrine at odds with any secular philosophy which elevates humanity as its own standard.

Now we must consider whether Christianity, as the anthropological religion par excellance, has inherited a particular doctrine of the human species as part of its doctrine of faith?  Conversely, may we not freely inquire into what it might be that constitutes human nature, and publish our conclusions as a new scientific understanding?  This latter is the procedure of philosophical anthropology.

The Eternal In Man

Max Scheler is a good example of someone who started off on the right foot and then stumbled into into a anthropology which, if not nihilistic, was at least vulnerable to nihilist attack.  The title of an early collection of works, “The Eternal in Man” is suggestive of where Scheler got seriously off the track.  It is not that there is something eternal “in man” so much as that Man (NB representing both males and females) is an eternal type, indeed the image of God.  It is not that there is a “soul” which represents eternity in the human body, but rather that the human archetype, like God himself, is outside of time and space, at least if one goes by Christian doctrine.  A God who is not only a Creator but a Redeemer must transcend both the categories of universal and concrete, in effect being a “concrete universal.”  Both Adam and Christ share the same archetype, but they manifested this archetype in diametrically different expressions.  Even Jung, for all his gnostic weirdness seems to have had a better grasp on this than Scheler.

Scheler felt, justifiably, that Immanuel Kant was the founder of modern philosophical anthropology, but that Kant’s ethics were too formal.  In response, Scheler tried to develop a substantive doctrine of Man, where ethics were based on “heart” and virtue.  He tried to free anthropology from “the law” but he did not deliver it “into grace” because humanity for Scheler was a special nature with its own virtues and defects independent of its relationship to God.  God appears on the scene as a kind of repair man, but neither the origin nor the fall nor the redemption are linked to any essential definition of humanity.  Scheler is a Christian Humanist in the sense that he sees personality as the highest expression of Being.  Of course this is a much more attractive philosophy than that of the Inhumanists.   For Scheler there are grades of perfection among personalities.  A courageous and strong leader such as Napoleon is morally satisfying on the level of bare heroism, but Scheler assures that there are even higher levels of personality such as sainthood, culminating in the perfect sainthood of Jesus.  The small goods of little personalities are ultimately eclipsed by the summa bonnim of perfect personality.  This is an attractive Humanism since it provides us with a god, with an alternative to nihilism, and it comforts us with an optimistic world-view.  But will it hold water?

Scheler himself was forced to abandon his initial philosophy for a greatly revised version.  Part of the revision involved eliminating God, at least the Christian God.  If we are kind enough to abstract Scheler’s thought from personal problems in his life and with his church, we are still left with some salient reasons why Scheler’s first system turned out the be an unworkable hybrid between Humanism and Christianity.  The continuum nature of the first system, with its small and weak personalities seamlessly grading into the great souls and exemplars of humanity did scant justice to the problem of radical evil running amok on planet Earth, and the misfortune that had Scheler publishing around the time of the First World War made this a difficult issue to ignore.  The well-meaning Scheler had to sacrifice his initial theistic inclinations to an ontological dualism of Mind and Urge.  Significantly this was not an ethical dualism, such as those found in ancient Iranian religion or Gnosticism.  Scheler didn’t want a conflict between good and evil, but an evolutionary collaboration among morally neutral forces.  In this respect he resembles the moral consensus of our contemporary New Age thinkers, except that he was much more clear and analytical than your typical New Ager.

Few people have found Scheler’s second system very satisfying.  The hard-core nihilists were weaned away from his influence through the philosophical ascendancy of Martin Heidegger, which occurred roughly around the time of Scheler’s death (1928).  The crucial deficiency in both of Scheler’s systems was his unwillingness to see how personality could be combined with evil.  If personality is the sum of all goods, then there shouldn’t be such things as intentional malice or intelligent deception.  However the Christian doctrine of sin does a very good job of accounting for such phenomena.  None the less, many balk at giving assent to this doctrine, which is not only an offense to human pride but also necessitates a sober world-view where both evil and the diabolical play a part.  Of course the Christian doctrine is supremely optimistic…but only in the “last act.”

The notion that an anthropology can be formulated by excluding (as per Kant), or (as in Scheler’s case) holding Christian doctrine at arm’s length, is an understandable temptation.  Ultimately anthropology must be worked exclusively out of Christian doctrine, not a through combination of Christian doctrine and some exogenous, autonomous, principle, even a principle as benevolent as Scheler’s “non-formal ethics of personality.”  Inevitably  future “geniuses” will continue to try to square this particular circle.  They will have their work cut out for them if they try to outdo Scheler’s elaborate but tragic attempt at combining Christianity and Humanism.

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Christian Anthropology Pt. 1: Between Humanism and Inhumanism

Posted by nouspraktikon on July 7, 2016

Christian anti-Humanism, what it is, and what it is not

It is of the greatest importance to understand the sense in which the Christian doctrine of humanity is anti-Humanistic.  On the rhetorical level, to suggest that one holds to doctrines antithetical to Humanism, is to conjure up the specter of cruel and misanthropic disregard of all those values which humanity cherishes.  So the very first task of any Christian critique of Humanism is to distinguish Christian doctrine from Inhumanism, and as indeed the only fully consistent objection to Inhumanism.

If anti-Humanism seems vicious at the outset, anti-Inhumanism appears to set up a straw man (or a straw anti-man) with no correspondence to anything in the real world.  Would that such were the case!  However if we allow this bold term to stand as a generic label for a wide variety of attitudes which have gained currency in the modern and post-modern worlds, their self-descriptors ranging from nihilism to naturalism, then the straw man dissolves not, assuredly into flesh, but into a redoubtable stone colossus which has tyrannized over the majority of human souls for only too long.

If we were to take modern cosmology as the significant datum of our world view, then the conclusion that human existence is epiphenomenal seems inescapable.  This is a commonplace of natural science, and is seldom expressed by literary humanists for obvious reasons.  Yet seldom is not the same as never, and America was blessed with a sensitive poet who was both imaginative enough and perverse enough to to give expression to a world view in which neither language, thought, or anything else human was primary.  Indeed, it was Robinson Jeffers who coined the term “Inhumanism” for an ethos which dethroned human qualities in favor of instinct and unconscious extended matter as not only the primary but the most significant aspects of reality.

Part of the appeal of Jeffers’ poetry is the paradox of witnessing the human mind denounce itself in eloquent words, as in the following famous instance,

Carmel Point
The extraordinary patience of things!
This beautiful place defaced with a crop of suburban houses—
How beautiful when we first beheld it,
Unbroken field of poppy and lupin walled with clean cliffs;
No intrusion but two or three horses pasturing,
Or a few milch cows rubbing their flanks on the outcrop rock-heads—
Now the spoiler has come: does it care?
Not faintly. It has all time. It knows the people are a tide
That swells and in time will ebb, and all
Their works dissolve. Meanwhile the image of the pristine beauty
Lives in the very grain of the granite,
Safe as the endless ocean that climbs our cliff.—As for us:
We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;
We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.
—Robinson Jeffers


Superficially this seems to be a poetic expression of eco-friendly platitudes, however they were not platitudes at the time that Jeffers (d. 1962) was writing.  Rather, they are a logically deduced emotional response to the marginalization of human history by materialism and evolutionism.   When Jeffers writes,

We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.

He does not declare that there is some sort of pantheistic super-mind which we must see ourselves as part of, but rather he is suggesting that we project ourselves imaginatively into the pure unconsciousness of the insentient world, an unconsciousness which is at the root of all things.

This world-view (Inhumanism) is, on the one hand, a reasonable induction from the data provided by mainstream science, and on the other hand completely antithetical to Christian doctrine, the latter being, in this context, justly describable as “humanistic.”  Of course Jeffers, son of a Presbyterian minister, was explicitly aware of this antithesis.  The substance of the antithetical doctrines are simply results of different epistemological principles, Inhumanism being founded on naturalistic induction, while Christianity is based on deduction from axioms contained in Scripture.  Everything hangs on the principle that Christians live “by faith” and not “by sight” (a.k.a. induction).

Robinson Jeffers was evidently a man with a complex and creative personality, yet in the world view that he articulated there was no room for his personality (or anyone else’s) to have metaphysical significance.  He passed across the hard exterior of his postulated reality as a kind of ghost, a vapor which expressed itself with great eloquence and then dissipated with the sunlight of critical realism.

In contrast, personality is the salient characteristic of Christian witness and doctrine.  A personal God has created a personal humanity, together with much else.  The “much else” has intrinsic worth, but relative to the human race these are largely relegated to the status of props within the drama of human history.  That these “props” have suffered violence from the human race, rather than being lifted up as a precious inheritance from the Creator, is not an argument against humanism of the Christian variety, so much as a witness to the sinful misappropriation of creation.

For those of us who take revelation to be the enscripturated witness of the Holy Spirit, the following is a most important hermenutic principle: The Bible is not a theology book written by human beings, but an anthropology book written by God.  In this sense, if in no other, we must consent to being called “humanists.”  Yet it is a humanism of a bittersweet character, since the first act of the drama is a tragedy, in which Adam leads the hapless world of nature headlong into disaster.  That nature could be lead “headlong” implies the existence of a head with dominion powers, albeit that he turns into a villain.  The dawn must wait the second and concluding act, with the arrival of the Second Man.  It is this duplex quality of Christian anthropology which makes it stand out among all possible anthropologies as uniquely robust and just in its encapsulation of human history.

We will deal with these secular anthropologies at greater length elsewhere, but first it has been necessary to strip down to the bare minimum and wage a preemptive war against those who see the very notion of a human race as illusory.  Such thinkers are legion, and have tended to grow in strength as modernity has progressed.  Robinson Jeffers was atypical of their ilk, since he was able to draw out the emotional consequences of sojourning in a world where neither emotions, nor consciousness, nor personality, nor truth, nor justice had any significance.  The Christian will instantly recognize that each of these attributes (and many more) are qualities of God.  Moreover, they are qualities which God has deigned to share with us.

Few have understood the consequences of rejecting God with the clarity of Robinson Jeffers.  With poetic candor he advocated “give your heart to the hawks!”  Indeed, for Inhumanism, even the anguished instincts of predators must surrender at last to the insentient void of cosmic night.  Ultimately, what Jeffers concluded was that we must give our hearts to the stones, or what the Apostle Paul called “the beggerly elements.”

In contrast, Christianity is unabashedly anthropological.  This is not an anthropology which can be arrived at through induction, but it can be attained when hearts of stone are circumcised and made into flesh.


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