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Either/Or….Two 19th Century Christian theologians, one or the other of whom dominates the thought of all modern religionists

Posted by nouspraktikon on December 22, 2016

Hegel or Darby

To be sure, there are some thinkers who have tried to avoid all entaglement with the outbreak of 19th century thought systems.  Whether these have been successful in evading modernity, let alone post-modernity, can be left as a moot question.  Various strains of neo-Thomism, neo-Calvinism, and neo-Traditionalism might fit the bill.  We are not trying to be exhaustive here.  But whereas they sung in that great 19th century satire Iolanthe “Everyone is a bit Platonic or Aristotelian”…the salient thought of Christian intellectuals and those whom they have influenced pretty comes down to these two Titans and the giants that sprang from their loins.

In the case of Hegel the giants are well known, since the descendants of Hegel captured the academy, the state, and the media in that order.  It has been said that the battle of Stalingrad was a fight between right-wing and left-wing Hegelians.   The left won, which is why modernity was ostensibly dominated by atheistic Sartre and theistic Kirkegaard (the controlled Hegelian opposition) rather than the ponderous Heidegger.  Likewise, as the left has consolidated its power over Western civilization, it is Gramchi and the Frankfort school who have come to dominate post-modernism.

Darby’s followers on the other hand have been confined to the evangelical and fundamentalist ghettos of post-Christendom, principally within the Anglosphere.   However Darby’s thought has long since broken free of the ecclesial cocoon  where it was first nurtured, and has become a grab-bag of inspiration for all who seek a more literal yet spiritual Protestantism, a project which has broad, albeit unorganized and unrecognized appeal.   It is precisely this contrast between the heirs of Hegel and those of Darby which makes them so interesting to compare.  Hegel got the intellectuals, while Darby (Franz Fanon notwithstanding!) got the wretched of the Earth.  Which of them, if either, is the true gospel, is yet a different question altogether.

The Great Divide

For Hegel, all human history is the outworking of revelation.  For Darby revelation and history are two different things, and the latter is understood through the former, not vice versa.

For Hegel, the “heroic” is a type and informs anthropology at periodic stages of history.  For Darby there are no heroes, although there were “men of renown” who cooperated with God prior to Christ, not with much success, and of course the God-Man himself, who was singularly successful.

For Hegel, the “end of history” is a point in the future where the possibilities of the dialectic will exhaust itself.  For Darby, the “end of history” can be located around 30AD when Christ uttered the phrase, “It is finished” on the cross.

For Hegel, God is more or less identical to the spacio-temporal manifestation of Being, with the conscious, or intellectual aspect of Being (a.k.a. human history), taking center stage.  For Darby, the entire spacio-temporal manifold is a creature of God, which the God-Man can penetrate into, as from a higher dimension or dimensions.

There are many more points of contrast, but that should suffice.

Afterthoughts

Odd though it might seem, Hegel and his heirs have promoted a very cozy, almost simplistic, mode of thought, which intellectuals are quick to recognize as well within their comfort zone.  Behind all the jargon it is basically “human beings talking about human beings” which has the seeming advantage of evading Divine judgement.  None the less, human beings left to their own judgement of themselves prove, apart from grace, to be the least merciful of creatures.

In contrast, for all the numinous terror of Darby’s eschatology, there is at least an antidote, which is the blood of Christ.  For while with men there is no forgiveness, there is always forgiveness from God.  But with Hegel the whole issue of condemnation and forgiveness fades into a haze, since individuals lose themselves in the abstract forces of history.  The post-Hegelian individual would seem to enter into a sort of Limbo, which probably seems like a very safe and warm place to the children of post-modernity.

Yet are the children of post-modernism really safe among the Hegel-spawned gods of our age?  The Marxists, the Feminists, the epigons of the Frankfurt school and of the French critical schools?  Or are these academic gods suppressing the truth about certain matters vital to the well being of their wards?  One of the most important facts which they have suppressed is their own lineage as Christian theologians, albeit heretical ones.  Their project, long forgotten, was to abolish orthodoxy in favor of a New Christianity, and now that they have been so fabulously successful, they have tried to stuff the very name of God down the memory hole.  They are doomed to eventual frustration, since the surge of Time can never wear down the Rock of Eternity.

Certainly Darby had many failings, both as a man and as a theologian.  Yet he is an important witness against modernity, even if he espoused a kind of hyper-modernity.  Hegel saw Napoleon passing by and thought he saw Christ walking upon the Earth, while Darby, half a generation later, meditated on the same emperor and could only see a harbinger of the Anti-Christ.  C.H. Spurgeon might tease Darby and his movement by paraphrasing the book of Acts, “Men of Plymoth, why stand you there gazing up to Heaven?”  To be sure many a fundamental Christian has been encouraged to withdraw from the fight “contra mundo” through the pietistic, if not outright quietist, strain in Darby’s system.  None the less, it would be hard for anyone to claim that Darby’s system was anything other than a system of fervent belief.

In brief, while Hegel was an advocate for Being and Time, Darby was an advocate for Eternity, albeit an Eternity to which the temporal world was related through a system of dispensations.  Thus while Hegel may or may  not have been an “anti-Christ” in the generic sense of the term, we are on solid grounds if we dub Rev. Darby (over Kirkegaard and all other contenders) the true “Anti-Hegel.”

 

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If Hillary electors really cared about national reconciliation…

Posted by nouspraktikon on December 19, 2016

…they would break their pledge and make Mr. Trump’s election unanimous

The electoral college critics have a weighty argument on their side.  Electors were not intended by the Founders to be puppets of their states’ voting majorities.  The entire idea of the Electoral College is to serve as a bulwark against the system called “direct democracy” a.k.a. mob rule.  Democracy only works well in the market, where consumers can vote their preferences on a wide variety competing but not conflicting goods.  The fact that I like sweet tea and you like lemonade doesn’t put your life, liberty, or property on the line…it just means that if the sweet tea party wins the market vote, you and your fellow holdouts for squeezed lemon will have to travel farther to find a lemonade stand.  Public choice is different from market choice, since it is a vote to see which majority gets to hold a gun to the head of which minority.

This makes democratic elections a dangerous thing.  The left has suddenly realized this and is now promoting what the Founders always envisioned, a body of citizens selected by the people of their states, free to wrestle with their consciences on the merits of the various candidates.  This is the true, prelapsarian, doctrine of the American republic, a political society in which principles of democracy and monarchy were blended to produce an aristocracy of merit and virtue…or something to that effect.  In fact, we inhabit a postlapsarian America, fallen from the philosophical pinnacle of the Founders’ thought and into the purgatory of party politics.  Today we accept that the electors can be trusted to tow the party line as mandated by the popular vote in their respective states.  In effect the majority-by-state principle is a compromise between the aristocracy of virtue and a national referendum.  It is not a scrupulously constitutional way of proceeding but, as the saying goes, close enough for government work.

Now the rump of the Clinton campaign, faced with the certainty of a Trump administration, has undergone a death-bed conversion to the aristocratic ideals of the early republic.  Like all conversions, it is both to be welcomed and its motives questioned.  But let us not impugn the fine ideals of these newly decked out counts and countesses of the commentariat.   Let us assume that their sensibilities and sensitivities are in earnest, and address them with all the reverence due a moral aristocracy.  O you who are about to vote, take not into consideration the clamor of the vulgar mob, but only the political virtue of the two most likely candidates.

Keep in mind that the duty of the electors is to consider the political virtue of the candidates to the exclusion of any other moral characteristics.   Thus we need not consider any of those flaws in Mr. Trump’s character which would have so justly offended the Reverends Wesley or Witfield…rather we ought to consider who, by the standards of Hamilton, Madison, Jefferson, and Jay, would have been considered a danger to the state, and altogether unworthy of nomination, let alone election, to high office.

In fact there is one such dangerous person under consideration, and the list of her alleged failings is too long and too murkey to be mentioned here, yet these might include

…entangling the United States in unnecessary and unprofitable conflicts abroad, resulting in the shedding of much American blood,

…putting American envoys in mortal danger in one such foreign conflict,

…running a foundation to accrue private gain and public power under the pretext of charity,

…being influenced by foreign agents on her staff while engaging in government business,

…shielding her spouse from prosecution on moral grounds,

…and the list could be prolonged practically without limit.  The point is that whether any or all of these suspicious activities can be substantiated in either Congress or a court of law, the mere suspicion should  completely disqualify such a candidate from receiving even a single electoral vote.  Of course I am not speaking of the worthy Mr. Trump, who’s private pecadillos will surely give way to both pastoral rebuke and the waxing wisdom of mature years.  His electors can all vote with great zeal and good faith.

However the electors pledged to Mrs. Clinton face an exacting moral dilemma.   Can they safely ignore such weighty allegations without perjuring their conscience?  Since Mr. Trump is bound to win anyway, should they leave a stain on this nation’s history by endowing Mrs. Clinton with some scrap of moral legitimacy?  Would it not be a noble gesture for them to cast their votes for Mr. Trump, giving him, not just the majority, but the unanimity, of the Electoral College?

I for one would like to see national reconciliation, and would delight in seeing blue states such as New York, Illinois…and yes, even California, return to the fold of sane, albeit imperfect, governance.  And dear Clinton electors, consider one more fact before you vote.  Those Clinton strongholds might actually be red states if we had accurate recounts in all of them.  You can salve your democratic consciences with that as you vote for Trump!

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You can walk like an Egyptian, but please don’t think like an Episcopalian

Posted by nouspraktikon on December 8, 2016

…and a nice time was had by all

How would you feel if you were at the last service in a church which was shutting its doors?  I recently heard that 6,000 local churches and denominational parishes vanish into the annals of history every year.  I hope I was misinformed, as the number seems too high.  None the less, it happens from time to time.  The other day I was at such a service, at a church which figured importantly in my family history but in which I had long ceased to be a member.  One always worries that something negative will happen in such a situation…that there will be some lamentation, or accusation, or that someone will create a “scene.”

Actually the whole affair was quite tasteful…if anything, too tasteful.  There was some nice baroque music performed by the soon to be dismissed choir, a very nice sermon which restricted itself to the recitation of some Biblical archetypes, mercifully devoid of contemporary illustration, and word-for-word recitation from an ancient liturgy.  I ducked out after the service, but I understand there was fellowship with champagne afterwards.  Perhaps that was when things started to get nasty.  Or more lamentably, and probably, people just started to waft off into a nirvana of nostalgia.

The problem is when the violent don’t bear it away

As you can probably guess, this was not a church from which the firebrand gospel had been recently preached by any of Billy Sunday’s spiritual descendants.  It was a church where negative growth had been slowed, if at all, by older people moving into a growing region in search of a convenient location or a parish which reflected their own denominational background.  Although it was a church which baptized infants, there had probably been few of these since the congregation was aging, with few young couples of child bearing age.  And I doubt that there were many, if any, adult conversions.

You might also guess that this was a parish subject to denominational governance, not an autonomous congregation.  If you don’t think there is a relation between church growth and governance, consider the following.  There was a man who desperately wanted to be a preacher in a small congregation.  I don’t know if this church was Baptist, Congregational, Pentacostal or whatever, but it was self-governing.  There was an election and another man won the coveted post of senior pastor and chief preacher.  This didn’t discourage the runner-up, since he was a strong man of prayer and a willing evangelist.  He hit the streets with the saving message of Jesus, and by the time the next year’s general meeting rolled around, enough new members were enrolled to tip the scales in favor of the challenger.  Perhaps that’s not a happy story from the perspective of the “established” pastor, but it did result in a net gain in church membership.  One can imagine one of two outcomes, either the established pastor and the upstart were reconciled to continue growing an undivided church, or there was a split and there were now two churches rather than one.   And while I’m tempted to introduce loafs, fishes, and miracles into this story…I’ll just stick to the bottom line, that its better to go from one to two than from one to zero.

The via media isn’t viable

You would win your bet if you had guessed that this vanished church was of the Episcopal persuasion, and of course “episcopal” with a small “e” is the name of a governance-system, not a theology.  But there is a habit of thought, not at all restricted to members of the Anglican communion, which is even more dangerous to the church than a faulty system of governance, since “…as a man thinketh.”  Anglicans just happen to have a fancy Latin name for it, but I think “split-the-difference-ism” expresses it with greater clarity.

Again, as  a conservative, I wasn’t particularly offended by anything in the scuttled church.  There were no banners proclaiming the slogans of Liberation Theology, or portraits intentionally conflating the image of Christ with that of Che Guevara.  If there had been such in-your-face leftism I suspect that the parish wouldn’t have perished.  Indeed, it probably would have grown, if only in heresy and numbers.  But these were not wicked people, they were good, albeit ineffective people.  The problem, both for Christians or anyone else, is by what criteria do we determine “the Good.”  Jesus solved that problem when he was hailed as a Good Man, and he rejected, or at least questioned, the praise, noting that only God is Good.  Does that mean Man is Bad?

Fearing the worst, the carnal human mind drops that whole line of reasoning, and goes on to frame a wide variety of ethical standards.  Split-the-difference-ism is one of the less sophisticated but more popular solutions to the problem of moral standards.  Take the measure of two extremes, both bad, and find a happy medium between them.  Aristotle made a virtual science out of this way of thinking, but it survives as a handy rule of thumb for positioning oneself in the broad mainstream of opinion.  Again, Jesus would demure and say some unpleasant things about a “narrow gate”…but for those who’s God is far, while human beings threaten ambush from close at hand, the council of prudence lies on the side of split-the-difference-ism.

A number of criticisms could be made of split-the-difference-ism, but since we started with the problem of church growth vs. church extinction, it should be noted that split-the-difference-ism isn’t sexy.  Again, there are two ways to grow a church, one is through actual sex, or procreation by believers.  The other is by making the gospel “sexy” to unbelievers.  This doesn’t mean that the unbelievers are attracted to a good-looking Christian rock star or worship leader, although many mega-churches seem to be embracing that strategy.  It means that in the heat of revival there is usually some strong sentiment of attraction to God, a spiritual analogue to the kind of violent psychological compulsion which people experience during sexual attraction.  Split-the-difference-ism mitigates against the strong contrast between right and wrong, left and right, orthodox and unorthodox which draws souls to a clear decision.  The devil may be in the details but Christ is more often found in a striking binary Gestalt.

Walk like an Egyptian

But the most frustrating thing about split-the-difference-ism is its refusal to split.  Above all, it is gregarious and ecumenical, seeking never to offend.  If this nuanced avoidance of extremes was actually growing, like “”The Blob From Outer Space”, rolling on and on and absorbing everything in its path, there might be some argument in its favor.  However the gospel, unlike the blob, globalism, or split-the-difference-ism, preserves souls rather than destroying them.  The only things that split-the-difference-ism can grow are collectives, a.k.a., denominations, para-church organizations, and sundry societies.  Larger collectives standing for fewer convictions representing less and less people.   That’s split-the-difference-ism, handmaiden of ecumenicalism.

Instead of split-the-difference-ism, why not just split?  Instead of giving up your convictions, why not give up your church, or at least your church building, and find another.  Fortunately, for the vanishing church that I visited, there was what Paul Hardy would have called “…the rest of the story,” since that parish was the reluctant and unrecognized mother-church of many a dissident faction, each of which went on to form its own congregation.  Many of these congregations, be they evangelical, orthodox, traditional, or conservative are today flourishing, growing, and even building…both spiritually and materially.  They are a diverse and unrecognized brood, but they were all founded by spliters, not split-the-differencers.

Search the scriptures, and you will be hard pressed to find moral and doctrinal compromise confused with charity.  We must love the heretic, but even so, hate the heresy.  Moses was raised among the fleshpots of Egypt, but he took a walk, taking a multitude with him.  Sometimes its not enough just to “go along to get along”…one has to forfeit a pleasant environment as the price of upholding principle.   One has to walk away from Egypt, even though you are still an Egyptian at heart.  There is a Spirit that is calling you into the wilderness, a Spirit which will transform you into something other, and better, than an Egyptian.

 

 

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Christian Historicism and the fine art of Political fence-sitting

Posted by nouspraktikon on November 10, 2016

This time the churches woke up, some of them…

I hear that many missions and para-church organizations, for example Franklin Graham, were able to make an eleventh hour appeal which allowed Evangelicals to lay aside their prejudice towards Mr. Trump and cast a vote with the better interests of the country in mind.

But not everyone…

A dear Christian friend of mine sent me a podcast of a sermon which he had attended the Sunday before the election.  It was, by some standards, a competent and well delivered sermon, well within the standards of orthodoxy of the denomination in which it was preached.  In fact, so unobjectionable that I had a sense of deja vu.  Not that I have any doubts that it was an original sermon, prepared with much prayerful labor the week before.  None the less I had heard its like many times before…so much so that I could tell where it was going as soon as its first lap around the homiletic field had been passed.

The theme was “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s” and as with all competent preaching on the gospel passages, it noted that the coin was in Caesar’s image and each human is likewise stamped with God’s image.  Accordingly we obey Caesar but live for the Lord.  Doesn’t that sound familiar…yes, and true as well.

True as far as it goes…but is that enough?

The problem of Historicism

This genre of sermon can be improved without limit, simply by adding more detail drawing from historical and archaeological sources.  The preacher can illuminate the encounter between the Pharasees and Christ with all sorts of interesting and relevant observations on Jewish sects and Roman administration during the first century AD.  However this tends to turn Jesus into a historical figure.  Of course, Jesus is indeed a historical figure…but he is much more than that to men and women of Christian faith, for he our coming Lord as well and most importantly our now living and resurrected Savior.  If our present situation was similar to what the Church faced in early gnosticism, then the salient battle would be to convince people that Jesus was a historical person.  However, aside from certain New Age and occult movements of negligible importance, nobody today believes in a “spirit Jesus” who never suffered in an incarnate body.

Most people today do in fact believe that Jesus of Nazareth lived and died on earth, but not all understand that he is presently alive and will come again at the end of the age.  Whatever preachers may believe in their hearts, much of the preaching in mainstream churches is still infected by 19th century historicism, and therefore gives the impression that Jesus is a historical figure rather than a present Lord.

The problem of Secularization

Obviously a pure historicism would lead to infidelity.  Many great atheists, such as Ernest Renan the French author of a famous Life of Jesus, not only believed that Jesus really existed but greatly respected him as a radical thinker and ethical exemplar.  This “Jesus-ism” whatever its merits as philosophy, is far removed from Christian faith, and I don’t mean to imply (aside from some Unitarians and other extreme liberal pastors) that it is characteristic of mainstream churches.  What is more characteristic is a misplaced faith in the agency of human institutions and movements to improve human nature, as if Christ had poured his spirit out, not just into the church, but into civilization as a whole.

According to this theory, the human race has undergone two-thousand years of edification.  First Christ, then the church, and finally the generality of the human race has been lifted up into a kinder and gentler form of existence.  This is called  by some theological tyros, the process of “secularization.” Circuses have been replaced by hospitals and schools.  We are no longer barbarians, we are Christians.  If there are any barbarians left, they just aren’t up to speed with the program, and they are in bad need of edification…by schooling if possible, by force if necessary.

There is something in me that finds this way of thinking very agreeable.  Let’s call it the Hegelian temptation.  We just drift on the current of history and things keep improving.  The human race is constantly engaged in a discovery process and the cultural conversation keeps getting better and better.  Since we are basically good, we don’t need any scary supernatural interventions, and we can dispense with prayer and the Person prayed to.  It is an activist, but purely immanent Christianity.  Indeed, it is a Christianity which is ultimately “too good” to be denominated Christianity at all, and boldly declared to be Humanism.

The opposition between good intentions and Scriptural realism

All of this is quite attractive…but unfortunately a lie.  It stumbles on the doctrines of original sin and the necessity of an atonement for sin.  This atonement must be one which humans cannot self-administer to themselves apart from a Savior who breaks into our sinking world of cozy immanence.  Ultimately, the societal effects of sin are so debilitating that this Savior will have to come back to planet Earth in order to restore our planet to truth and justice.  Thus the doctrine of “secularization” runs afoul not only of the scriptural doctrines of original sin and vicarious atonement, but it obviates the necessity of a second coming of the Lord.

I doubt that I can convince anyone using mere words.  Rather, Christianity is an experiential religion.  Do you, the reader, feel that human nature is improving due to a sustained collective self-effort?  If not, why not?  Compare what you observe with the world-view that you discover in the Bible.  It may or may not be the world-view that you would embrace out of any number of possible alternatives, but never mind that, rather, is it the truth or not?

It would appear that modern men and women have a bias towards the left-wing version of Hegelianism, or what is popularly known as “progressivism”…namely,  the feeling that human society can be reformed through collective action.  Every human institution must come up for a referendum on reform or abolition, whether it be marriage, property, or the state.  The upshot is (especially since the secular millennium has take the place of the second coming of Christ) a bar of reform which must constantly be raised higher and higher, in which all particularities within society are homogenized into a undifferentiated Being.   Of course this is not called Neutral Monism, or even “the blob from outer space”…but rather is decked out in attractive slogans like “democracy” and “equality.”

In the meantime the right-wing Hegelians, the ones who still call themselves Christians, sit in the pews and listen to sermons on a man who lived a comfortable two-thousand years ago.  They too have faith, at least until recently, that that inexorable process of secularization, by which church values would become social values, bespeaking a kinder and a gentler world.  Thus the progressive and the conservative can listen to the same historical message and draw forth different applications.  For the conservative the application is quiet acceptance of a mysterious transcendental will working itself out in history, while for the progressive it is a call to social activism.  This is convenient for the pastor, who can appeal to both sectors of his congregation ( I almost said, clients) without too much discord.  I won’t speculate whether this is deliberate cunning or something beyond individual intentions.

Build the wall

Neither quietism nor autonomous activism is appropriate to the believer.  The message must be neither a call to usher in the millennium or to sit on one’s hands.  If you hear a voice saying “tear down the wall” you may be assured that the apostles of Being are calling you to action.  If you say, I won’t tear down the wall and I won’t build it either…I will allow the will of God to work itself out in the dialectic of history, you are obviously competing for the laurel wreaths of the right-wing Hegelian academy.  Unfortunately, that house is burning down quickly, and my advice is to get out with your soul intact.

Nehemiah built a wall.  It was built successfully under adverse circumstances and with much nay-saying.  None the less he prodded his countrymen to activism through a clear exposition of the will of God.   He didn’t sit on a fence…he built one.  Likewise we are called to build walls around ourselves, walls protecting decency, walls delimiting the just portion of each individual or family from the other, walls against the intrusion of occult forces which seek to penetrate into the human realm, walls delimiting the authority of various modes of social governance to their special spheres, and many, many other kinds of walls.

Whether there should be a wall between the United States and Mexico is a matter that should be decided through the agreement of the nations concerned.  However there is one wall-building from which no Christian is exempt.  Building the wall against sin.

 

 

 

 

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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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