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Archive for May, 2016

Seven words intended to destroy your mind: Offender #1 “meme” (pl. “memes”)

Posted by nouspraktikon on May 31, 2016

Just say “no” to anti-cognitive words!

Without anything as obviously Orwellian as a Ministry of Truth, a memory hole, or directives from the inner party, Newspeak is here.  We live in a world where increasingly, our minds are controlled not by the threat of immediate coercion, so much as by self-regulating compliance with acceptable cannons of expression.  This is an extremely efficient mode of tyranny.  Some of these words, like “racist” and “sexist” are obvious derivations from the playbook of Marxism-Leninism which have been adapted for general use in popular invective.  Such expressions are polemical rather than noetic, that is to say, they are intended for purposes of accusation rather than understanding.  The popularity of such expressions represents the final stage of linguistic degeneration in which words are intended to hurt and kill, or at least to kill the mind.  The world would have been a better place if such words had never come into existence.  This is not to say that the problems toward which terms like “racism” and “sexism” are ostensibly aimed are not important or severe, but rather that there would have been more likely ways of solving these issues, had our public discourse not been usurped by terms designed to promote the perpetual conflict of class-warfare.

Yet these weaponized words are only the end result, not the root, of linguistic degeneration.  Just as sin is the root of all evil, cutting the connection between God and the human race, likewise, cutting language loose from the human mind, in a mad search for linguistic autonomy, inevitably leads to the destruction of language itself.  This quest for linguistic autonomy has deep and twisted philosophical roots, stretching back though the the Nihilism of the last two centuries, all the  way back to the European Renaissance, however in lieu of a discourse on intellectual history,  lets look at the fruit of this process, the vocabulary of our 21st century “Newspeak.”

As an example of “Newspeak”I can think of no better Exhibit A than the ubiquitous expression “meme” which is bantered about by nearly everyone these days.  Meme was originally associated with a body of thought called “Meme Theory” but people who use the term today are likely to pick it up as a colloquialism, in such a way that someone using “meme” likely unaware of any meme theory, just as casual  use of the word “culture” seldom implys a deep awareness of anthropological theory.   In fact, the juxtaposition of “meme” and “theory” is an oxymoron…as we shall see.

Why is “meme” so evil?  Let’s compare it to the word it is intended to replace: idea.  These are contrary lexical items, not complementary words which can alternate with each other for the purpose of viewing the same thing from different perspectives.  The English word idea can be traced back to a Greek original which implied a sort of mental form or essence.  The word itself was nurtured in the discourse of the West and came to mean whatever we have when we “have a thought.”  For those who still care about such things “idea” can claim the sanction of tradition, if a few thousand years count for anything.  In contrast, “meme” is a neologism, with a current life span measurable in years, or at most decades.

Spiritual Significance vs. Biological Reductionism

Not that neologisms are necessarily evil, if they are coined with a view towards helping  or edifying the understanding.  Rather, “meme” is an inherently degrading and anti-spiritual term, one which attempts to reduce thinking to a department of biology.  Of course, depending on how one solves the mind/body problem, thinking might very well be a function of bodily life.  We all know that a stiff drink, medication, sleep or lack thereof, or just a hard knock on the head can have repercussions on our mental state.  But that is not the issue at hand, for “meme” is not an honest hypothesis of naturalistic psychology, mistaken or otherwise.  Rather it is an ideologically derived term which seems to have been propagated with the intent of consolidating a special world-view in the minds of the public.

Most people will instantly recognize that “meme” is an analogical term,  one which attempts to depict human thought along lines parallel to the role of genetics in biology.  It doesn’t take a genius to see the equivalence of thought:meme::life:gene.  But in both theory and usage, meme indicates a process of contagion rather than inheritance.  Education, tuition, tradition…these already can be represented by “culture” as an analogy to biological inheritance.  A “meme” is not so much learned as caught, not a gene but a germ.

Human thought are…germs?  Where have we heard that before?  Naturally it evokes the image of brain-washing, that antiseptic wiping of the subjective patient’s mind back to the assumed objectivity of the agent’s ideology.  The notion is that human minds are infected with their contents, that consciousness is not a mirror of reality, but a blank slate overwritten by graffiti, possibly beautiful and functional, but much more probably ugly and useless.  These mental contents are not thought out but rather passively “caught” from a fever swamp of collective symbols and communication.  Such are “memes.”

As a psychology, or more accurately a phenomenology of what transpires between most individual minds and their environments, meme theory is disturbingly accurate.  The problem is not when specialists use such a word to describe the pathology of collective existence, but when the word itself becomes an increasingly popular descriptor of how people acquire, keep, and even lose their mental contents.  This popularity seems to indicate that the base notion of mental contagion, like Gresham’s law in economics, tends to drive out the more noble theories of the intellect.  Ironically, the best example of a meme is “meme” itself, which has become pandemic!

In contrast, the analogical bases of classical theories of the intellect were typically architectural rather than biological.  This is not to say that classical thinkers were unaware that there was a connection between the brain and thought, or that they denied that the brain was a fleshly organ.  But it was considered important to have a distinct, though interpenetrating sphere to explain the unique qualities of the human mind.  The architectural analogy worked wonders in that regard, with its ideas of complexity, functionality, and organic unity.  Even a very late and confused modern movement like Structuralism payed homage to the utility of the architectural analogy.

Real biology recognizes the intricate complexity of the genome.  But the pseudo-biological theory of the mind packed up in the word “meme” seems more like an imaginative construction based on the crudities of early germ theory.  The mind is simple, passive, and dirty.  Well, aren’t we all!  None the less, educators have a duty to edify, and describing social and intellectual movements as the transmission of memes is singularly unhelpful in that regard.  Moreover it is lazy.  In contrast to the elaborate architecture of ideas presented by human history, the educator can default to a simplified analogy of natural history.

It would be nice to think that the popularity of “memes” was a product of nothing worse than a lazy and unimaginative naturalism.  However one fears that there are other motives held by at least some of its popularizers , and  that the notion’s ostensible materialism is nothing more than a facade over a nihilistic power motive…a desire to see human beings dumbed down and rendered more cattle-like.  If so, the movement in that direction seems to be making considerable headway.  Ludwig Feuerbach famously said, “What you eat you are!” and whether he intended the expression in a gustatory or an educational sense, the public today seems to be consuming more “memes” than ideas in its mental diet.

Ideas have consequences, and memes do too.  The difference is that while ideas can be true or false, good or evil, memes are just memes.  The consequence of a meme is more similar memes, unless there is a contagion of different memes which drives out the earlier memes.  There is a maddening simplicity to it all…and that may be the whole point.



Posted in Anthropology, Christian Education, Christianity, Culture & Politics, Philosophy, Politics, Theology, Traditionalism | Leave a Comment »

Boys in the Girl’s bathroom? Blame Margaret Mead

Posted by nouspraktikon on May 21, 2016

Modern Nihilism didn’t suddenly arrive yesterday!

Boys in the Girl’s bathrooms?  Well, there is a certain formidable logic to that…for as Nietzsche, the most authentic voice of Nihilism, once stated,

Of all that which was formerly held to be true, not one word is to be credited.  Everything which was formerly disdained as unholy, forbidden, contemptible, and fatal–all these flowers now bloom on the most charming paths of truth.

And what could be more “charming” than boys in the girl’s bathrooms, especially if one happened to be a rapist or a pedophile?  More importantly, how did it ever come to this?  Hint: not by studying the works of  Nietzsche.

America in the first half of the 20th century, optimistic, materialistic, crass…but hardly ready to jump into the boiling cauldron of Nihilism, was none the less ripe for a slow simmer which would put its moral frogs to sleep in the bath.  The desideratum was something attractive which would provide a bridge to hard-core amoralism.  Much of the responsibility for this Nihilist propaedutic fell to the most liberal, enlightened, and entertaining genre which ever emerged out of American academia…the Boazian school of anthropology, otherwise known as cultural determinism.

Except for academics, nobody knew who Franz Boaz was, but everybody knew Margaret Mead, the engaging author of a supposedly scientific treatise called Growing Up in Samoa, which became a best seller after its publication in 1928.  This should have been suspicious from the get-go, after all, how many research treatises become instant best-sellers?  From there it became standard fare for social science reading in American public schools.  It was easy reading since it purported to show easygoing island boys and girls growing up in a tropical paradise devoid of guilt, anger, revenge or any of the institutional and religious restraints which had hitherto been regarded as the universal burdens of social life.

The message of the book was clear, learned patterns of behavior determine everything.  Apart from the exoticism, Americans in the 1920s weren’t really interested in what was going on in Samoa.  They, the men and women of the “Flapper Era” (or any era) wanted to escape from what secularists call “the constraints of nature” and what Christians recognize as “the inherited sin nature.”  What made the 1920s different was the rise of two new secular priesthoods, rival claimants to worldly salvation, the Eugenicists and the Social Scientists.  Both wanted to engineer a new humanity, but using different tool kits.  The Social Scientists preferred changing people’s moral ideas, while the Eugenicists wanted to improve people’s genes.  Both were generally viewed as “progressive” schools, however the Eugenicists fell out of favor after the Third Reich showed the moral consequences of implementing their program.  Moreover, the biology of the time was fairly primitive, and didn’t inspire confidence as a fast-track to utopia.

Rather, the fast-track was to change people’s moral ideas through education.  If “nature” was an indeterminate substance which one could kneed into any desired shape using ideas, then all the social scientist had to do was to change human opinions in order to create a more peaceful and harmonious society.  This is why the publication of Margaret Mead’s work was essential to popularize the idea of “culture” and the mass acceptance of a plastic, improvable humanity.  While gender fluidity was not the subject of Growing Up In Samoa, it featured in follow up works of Mead, much in the way that the Descent of Man followed up on The Origin of Species.  The line of thought had already been determined.

That was 1928, fast forward to 2016 and the trans-genderization of public school bathrooms.  Whether nature is changeable or not, eighty years is sufficient lead time to change the moral climate of a nation.  Gender has long been taught to be something which goes on inside people’s heads, but it took a while for sanctions to catch up to the doctrines which had been embraced by social elites ever since the publication Mead’s Samoan research.

There was only one problem.  Margaret Mead never did any research on adolescents in Samoa.  Rather, she wrote what was, in effect, an entertaining novel spun out of campfire tales told by her informants to a credulous, or cunning, anthropologist.  Whatever Mead’s degree of culpability, the narrative was basically a lie.  Respectable opinion among the Samoan population repudiated Mead and her work, but in the days before the internet the climate of opinion on a small archipelago in the South Pacific had little impact on either Western scholarship or the American public.  It took the patient labors of New Zealand researcher Derek Friedman decades to uncover the essential falsity of Growing Up In Samoa, and its ideological motives.  According to Friedman’s meticulous research, guilt, rivalry, and instinctual repression were every bit as common in Samoa as in other societies.  A high moral code had been demanded of Samoan youths even in pagan times, and since the first half of the 19th century the islands had embraced a robust and rigorous Christianity, facts conveniently glossed over in Mead’s narrative.   Even with extensive on-site and historical research to back him up, Friedman had to wait until after Mead’s death to get a serious hearing within the Anthropological establishment.  By that time the damage had been done, and the cannon of American classical anthropology had been effectively closed, with Mead’s work securely enshrined therein.

Paradigm Inversion and the Transvaluation of Values

Friedman had his own axes to grind, and he leaned rather heavily in the direction of Sociobiology, a kinder, gentler, or at least ostensibly value-neutral successor to the old Eugenics cult.  None the less he showed that Mead’s views on adolescence, sex, and much else did not emerge painstakingly from the raw data of indisputable research.  In his endeavor to unmask the fraud he was aided by advances in the philosophy of science which had been popularized only in the latter half of the 20th century.  In the 1920s much of the American public held to the sacred objectivity of positivist science, a priesthood so pure that no subjectivity of opinion or falsity of truth-claims could possibly be admitted.  This view was increasingly challenged, especially after the publication of Thomas Khune’s The Logic of Scientific Discovery in 1962.  Khune’s image of the scientist was the opposite of the hard-headed disciple of truth who would gladly sacrifice not only fame and reputation, but even fond opinions in the face of contradictory evidence.  For Khune the typical scientist was similar to the typical non-scientist, a prejudiced and partial person in search of data to justify a theory.  If the data didn’t fit the theory, it just went to prove that better data was needed.  Khune called a complex of ideas more or less backed up by data and in quest of scientific legitimacy a “paradigm.”  The purpose was less to discover the truth than to win, at all costs.

Mead’s version of Fraz Boaz’s cultural determinism is a good example of a paradigm which won out at a certain moment of history.  Today we are still paying the cost.  At the most obvious level this is an example of people being fooled by the concept of the moral neutrality of science.  To put it in simple diagramatic form, below is the shape of the pre-Khunian consensus on scientific neutrality

data—–> theory

In contrast to the post-Khunian theory of paradigms,

theory—–> data

However neither of these does total justice to the ultimate motivation behind the propagation of scientific theories.  For the Christian thinker the ultimate fact of the sin nature in all human beings can never be overlooked as a motive for individual and social initiatives.  Cultural determinism needed something like the spurious data provided by Mead to give it scientific legitimacy.  But more fundamentally, Western thinking in the 1920s needed something like the spurious theory of cultural determinism to give itself moral validity.  So we can amend the inversion of theory and data posited by the notion of “paradigms” with the addition of a moral stage.

So according to (social) liberalism,


But if Christianity is taken seriously, and the truth-finding faculty of the human mind is held to have been warped by the fall, then,


Furthermore, these elementary relationships are cumulative and progressive, so that in the case of (social) liberalism,

data—–>theory—–>freedom——>more data——>better theories——->more freedom, etc.

Or conversely,

sin——>theory—–>data——>justification of more sin——–>more radical theories——-> more data etc.

Thus the theories of evolutionary social science and the Christian understanding of history are not only moral transvaluations of each other (as per Nietzsche) but they are methodological mirror images as well.  The upshot of the affair is the uniformity of human nature, not its plastic variability.  It is our uniform sin nature which manufactures any number of theories designed to show that there must be multiple exceptions and escape clauses to the Ten Commandments and its various natural law adaptations.  Secondary though they may be, the special pleading of these theories are essential to transform moral intent into social acceptance.  Likewise, the theories remain dry and academic until they are retroactively fitted with entertaining narratives in the guise of empirical data.

Yes, we can blame Margaret Mead, and more broadly the Boazian school of human indeterminacy, which was really a theory by which social scientists could determine human nature by re-culturing society.  Most of all we should blame ourselves for gladly falling for these lies, lies which for several generations seemed to be more liberating than enslaving.  After all, the Flapper of the 1920’s sitting on the john and reading a dog-eared copy of Growing Up In Samoa probably wasn’t expecting a member of the opposite sex, or ambiguous sex, to break into her or his stall.  But then again, who knows what people think about?  What is almost certain is that they didn’t expect a constable to arrive with a warrant demanding that the other-sexed creature be admitted.   Boys in the girls bathrooms may not be as romantic or congenial as the ambiguity of gender in the South Seas, but they are transpositions of a single meta-narrative, the earliest recorded version of which concerned a snake, an apple, and a rather unfortunate woman.  All things considered, it is a wonder that it took eighty years for the constable to arrive.

Posted in Anthropology, Christian Education, Christianity, Culture & Politics, Politics, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

The Whore of Babylon, reviewed by George Gibbons

Posted by nouspraktikon on May 15, 2016

High Praise for M.R. Sunwall’s The Whore of Babylon


Delving into Sex, Sin, and the City (-State) M. R. Sunwall’s The Whore of Babylon reveals the story behind the destruction of the ancient world and the rise of the flawed gospel of Ceasaropapism.

Now Available on Amazon.com

Review by George Gibbons

To the early Christians, survival in a hostile political environment was the most pressing concern, and it was only later when the Emperor Constantine lifted the prohibitions were they afforded the luxury of doctrinal debate which gave rise to the upheavals, acrimony, and violence that characterized much of the Christian religion throughout the 4th and first half of the 5th century.  It is in the midst of this period, between the Second and Third Councils and during the reign of Emperor Theodosius the Younger, that Mark Sunwall weaves his story.  Centered on Alexandria, the Byzantine Empire’s second most important, at one of the most complex and frightening times in history, this dramatic tale highlights a complex range of characters caught up in the old pagan world’s struggle against change and the rising power of the church, and masterfully captures the socio-political climate of the age in constructing a realistic and earthy narrative, with the twists and turns of an Agatha Christie novel.  The reader is immersed in  a cauldron of confusing forces: the pagan Neoplatonic philosopher, Hypatia, a much loved teacher by pagans and Christians alike; the governing administration under the imperial prefect, Orestes, adrift in a changing world; Alexandria’s ancient Jewish community, caught in the middle of the fray, subject to the worst anti-Jewish riots in the city’s history; all destined to become major victims of the turmoil.  The Church being one of the prime movers of developments, first under Archbishop Theophilius, and then under his capable, ambitious, but intolerant nephew, Cyril, who employs a combination of coercion and Nicine doctrine, aided also by gangs of pugnacious supporters – the religious fundamentalists of the day – to strengthen his quest for dominance.  This being the backdrop to this fascinating work of historic fiction in which two of the main characters are literally snatched out of Babylon (on the Nile), forced to play a variety of roles in the unwinding drama and who survive the turbulence with their heads and sanity intact, but only just, to head off to a new life in Arabia Felix.  An important phase in the early Christian world, brought to life in a dramatic fashion.  Ideal reading for those of a historical bent, who feel likely to be inspired by a sophisticated and imaginative tale that captures the socio-political upheavals of the times.

George Gibbons OBE, FRGS is a Lecturer in Global Cultural Studies, and is an expert in the history and philately of the Far East, where he lives.


Posted in Christianity, Culture & Politics, Fiction, Historical Romance, Historical Romance, Philosophy, Politics | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Christian Education’s Big Fat Greek Curriculum and the Fear of Revelational Insufficientcy

Posted by nouspraktikon on May 14, 2016

What do we need in the West today?  Christian revival or European Renaissance Part II?

This is less of a choice than a rhetorical question addressed to two distinct groups of people, albeit with the possibility of cross-over likely as the lines of division become clearer and sharper.  For purposes of approximation, lets use those shopworn monikers “liberal” and “conservative.” Understandably liberals and humanists are in a panic.  The walls are tumbling down and the barbarians are within the gates.  What is needed is time to effect a new civilizational synthesis out of the inchoate multicultural mass, and events are accelerating beyond human control.

Now according to the (social, not market) liberal theory, mankind is basically good, but apt to be driven mad by ideas, especially clear, consistent ideas.  What these people want are tolerant ladies and gentlemen, people who are intelligent but not dogmatic.  Intellectual consistency has been tried and has failed time and again.  Nazism, Communism, Radical Jihadism…these are the fruits of too much ideology and too little common sense.  So you want to be a muslim?  Fine, but at least be a sensible muslim.  Become a sufi, mix the Qur’an with a bit of Hinduism or whatnot.  You may or may not be spiritually satisfied but at least you won’t be a danger to the rest of us.

In this way the secular world has muddled on from crisis to crisis.  Human thought is held to be inherently contradictory (dialectical in the Hegelian sense) and hence to be a principled advocate of any view leads to intolerance and ultimately violence. Perhaps the greatest prophet of postmodernism was Ralph Waldo Emerson, who famously claimed that “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”  This way of thinking, or rather not thinking, has come to fruition among a large segment of the so-called “millenial” generation.

On the other hand, be a true Christian is to be committed to “the exceptional ideology”…an ideology which is not really an ideology in the narrow sense of the term.  According to the claims of the gospel, the more single minded, the more exclusive, the more “fanatical” a Christian one becomes, the kinder and gentler one will become.  In fact, the true Christian risks being mistaken for a well-bred, mild-mannered lady or gentleman.  Appearances can be deceiving, but none the less, a Christian should be an asset, not a danger, to self, to community, and to the surrounding society.

Here I’ll try to avoid any “classical apologetic” attempting to refute the liberal humanist’s prudent inconsistency.  Everyone can see that it has a superficial plausibility and moreover has the attraction of minimizing ideological antagonism in the short-term, whatever its long term costs might turn out to be.  Rather, I think it would be more profitable to examine the fear of consistency which lurks even among the committed advocates of Christianity and Christian education.  Conservative, orthodox Christian educators ought to question their own principles.  Can a curriculum be based entirely on revelation, or must it resort to extra-revelational supplements?  Of course it all depends on what one includes within the sphere of revelation, and specifically whether the world of things outside of scripture is treated as “creation” (hence direct revelation) or “nature” (non-revelation, or at best indirect phenomenal hints of revelation).

Hellenism and the Dual Magisterium in Christian Education

Yet, more often than not, Christians, and I mean conservative orthodox Christians, fear consistency.  Part of this comes from the world out of which the Christian has been separated.  Knowing that fanaticism is something which is normally to be feared, the believer hesitates to put all of his or her eggs in one basket.  This is just the sin-nature having its say.  None the less, there are sufficient objections to a revelation based curriculum that most christian educators would endorse a Dual Magisterium.  This has pretty much been around since Thomas Aquinas put natural knowledge (mostly Aristotle’s work) on a par with revelation as the two sources of knowledge.   These two “teachers” are what constitute the Dual Magisterium.

In fact, there is only one ultimate teacher, God, although the specific content of the various sciences are received through a variety of secondary causes.  The fundamental error in denying the sufficiency (actually the ubiquity) of revelation lies in failing to distinguish between special and general revelation, special revelation being the text of scripture, and general revelation being creation itself.  When people fear basing knowledge exclusively on revelation, it is usually because they exclude general revelation.  They reject, and rightly so, the notion that all the sciences can be deduced from from the texts of scripture without reference to the phenomena of the human and natural history.

In fact, the notion of ignoring the phenomena of human and natural history is not an orthodox Christian attitude.  None the less there is a deep seated fear of what might be termed “scriptural deductionism” which compels cautious minds to assert the necessity of a Dual Magisterium.   Why would any Christian educator fear this bogeyman, when it is clearly separate from the mainstream of Christian thought.  A bit of history goes a long way to explain the origins of this fear.

The Hebraist/ Hellenist Antinomy

Early Christians, even those who spoke Greek, lived on the littorals of the Eastern Mediterranean,  and were what we today would assume to be “ethnic Greeks” thought of themselves as either Christians or Romans or both.  In the former case they saw themselves as members of a new called-out people, the church, in contrast to the “gentiles” the equivalent in Greek language being “ethnoi.”  Ideally, when they accepted Christ, they forsook  Homer, as well as the other Greek poets, for the Biblical Patriarchs and Prophets.  In other words, they assumed a new identity.  Of course they continued to read and speak Greek, most importantly the Septuagint, or Greek bible.

This didn’t mean they instantly became incredibly stupid, the assumption of secularists since at least the time of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  Rather, instead of amusing themselves with tales of  orgies on Mount Olympus, they could now study a wide variety of Christian literature together with newly “baptized” science and philosophy.  While according to Gibbon and his ilk, this was a time when people “feared to look up into the sky”…this does not mean that nature had become off-bounds for human observation and speculation.  What ran afoul of Christian thinking was divination, i.e., fortune telling, which might involve the observation of birds or stars.  There was never any prohibition against “looking at nature” in preference to burying one’s head in the Bible from dawn to dusk.  The Christian doctrine of creation, which encourages the study of God’s works, renders such an attitude perverse.  In fact, science continued its progress uninterrupted in Christian late antiquity.  One of the outstanding examples of this movement was John the Grammarian, who made several insightful improvements on Aristotle’s physics, anticipating the mechanics of Galileo by eleven hundred years.

But there was a group of thinkers, outside the church, which felt that the Bible had to be walled off from natural science to protect its purity.  These were the rabbis of what became Talmudic Judaism.  Reacting against the doctrine of the incarnation, they withdrew into Biblical introspection, outlawing the Greek “Old Testament”, but weaving Hebrew scriptures verse against  verse into new legal and mystical doctrines while ignoring the witness of creation.  By the middle ages, science was becoming all the rage in Islamic lands, and Moses Maimonides, a Jew operating out of Egypt, was compelled to wear two hats, that of an Aristotelian philosopher and that of a rabbi.  Hence the birth of the Dual Magisterium.  Impressed by a tidal wave of new Aristotelian translations into Latin, the church abandoned the synthetic view of Augustine, and embraced a duality of supernatural and natural revelation.  In a contrary movement, many in the Jewish community (particularly the “kabbalah” movement of the middle ages) rejected the “Greek learning” and returned to a Bible-only curriculum, in reality a Bible-plus-rabbinical-commentary only curriculum.  The disciples of Maimonides and the Kabbalists were never on speaking terms after that.

The Straw Man of Bible-only informational insufficientcy

Surely we are all adults now and know that study of the Bible and study of nature are not two mutually exclusive activities.  In fact, since the study of the Bible requires extra-Biblical knowledge, notably a knowledge of language and of the relationship between signs and signified things, a human mind containing an exclusively Biblical-derived knowledge is an impossibility.  Actually, all Christian knowledge implies a mutually conditioned interaction between God’s word (symbolic revelation) and God’s creation (a.k.a. “nature”, including our physical bodies).  It is not a question of a Dual Magisterium, rather there is a sole Magisterium of God, who operates through various modalities.  If one accepts the doctrine of Creation, then all knowledge is ultimately revelation, albeit mediated through various secondary agencies (prophets, telescopes, etc.)  The volume of information contained in the universe and the volume of information conveyed through revelation are equivalent sums.

If this is the historical Christian attitude towards creation, why is science often considered a novel appendix to Biblical knowledge in contemporary Christian circles?  Consider the triumphant announcement by the Templeton Foundation, that the study of nature would lead to a “Ten thousand fold increase of knowledge” over any theology and apologetics based on the Bible alone.  But who, outside of Orthodox Judaism, ever tried to construct an intellectual world which prohibited the observation of nature and the use of any texts which were not in some way commentaries on the bible?  Even among the Orthodox Jews it was difficult to hold to this degree of Biblical exclusivism, as the efforts of the Maimonideans and sundry rationalists show.

None the less there were heroic attempts, especially in that branch of Jewish mysticism called the Kabbalah.  Recognizing the inadequacy of the plain text of the Bible as a compendium of all possible knowledge, and prohibited the insights of gentile (usually Greek) science, the Kabbalists attempted to break down the semantic units of the text from the word level to the letter-level.  This “literalism,” or rather letter-ism did indeed lead to an exponential increase in the data available to Biblical exclusivists.  Whether this expanded data set was useful or simply junk depends on the degree that one credits Kabbalistic doctrine.  In defense of the plausibility of the method, it should be noted that Hebrew letters have a meaning content which is not characteristic of most other written languages.  The method was enhanced by further manipulations and rearrangement of the Biblical text, which further magnified the informational possibilities.  Not surprisingly, this highly subjective mining of the Biblical text veered off strongly towards the magical side of the science-magic continuum.

Despite the fact that no such methods ever were employed within mainstream Christianity, a notion persists that revelation-based knowledge is equivalent to knowledge based exclusively on the Biblical text, ignoring creation.  The one theological school which has explicitly developed this notion is neo-orthodoxy.  According to neo-orthodoxy creation is not a revelation of the mind of God.  The church only has possession of an ethical book, called the Bible, and any statements in scripture which refer to creation are considered fables.  For neo-orthodoxy, metaphysics is not a serious human concern like ethics and salvation.  Whereas the Kabbalist gave up science to develop a metaphysics out of Bible codes, the neo-orthodox theologians give up nature itself.   For them nature is not a created order, but a chaotic distraction from the deep faith concerns of the believer.

Conclusion: Conservatives can afford to put their Big Fat Greek Curriculum on a diet!

It is conservatives (Reformed, Evangelical, Fundamental, Pentacostal etc.) who honor both God’s textual revelation in scripture, and God’s material revelation in creation.  These are in fact two curricula taught, ultimately, by a single Teacher.  Why then are conservatives constantly “surprised” by nature.  Why do they go out of their way to assure themselves and others that they have a Dual Magisterium? This this only remotely due to the prestige of the ancient Greeks.  Proximately it is due to the desire for respectable “Liberal Education.”  However there is a nagging conviction that if there were no Dual Magisterium, religious minds would withdraw into the metaphysical ghetto of the Kabbalists or the brooding ethical cell of the neo-orthodox.

In fact this scruple is a canard based on a category mistake.  Instead of two teachers (God and Nature) delivering one curriculum, there is one Teacher (God) delivering two curricula, scripture and creation.  No information is sacrificed by getting rid of the second “teacher.”  The only reason to think that nature was a “teacher” is due to the personification of science by its codifiers, notably Aristotle.  Of course we can use the name of Aristotle as a mnemonic, as in “Aristotle’s law of the excluded middle” but it would have been a law regardless of Aristotle.  The same is true of many areas where Hellenic and Hellenistic scientists brought to popular attention aspects of our world, aspects which they discovered but did not create themselves.

One must give credit where credit is due, but not to the point of making Classical Education a shibboleth.  Above all, in using eclectic sources to illustrate ancient history and science the Christian educator must never fall into the habit of idealizing ancient pagan culture.  Dr. Gary North has identified at least nine areas (from infanticide to slavery) where the norms of ancient Greece taught what a Christian must consider the most dangerous forms of sin.  This is not to say that the study of classical authors or classical languages should be off limits, as content, not form, must be the criteria.  Nobody ever fell into sin studying Euclid…unless boredom is a sin.

If we must have our Greeks and Latins in education, and it seems we must, then at least it should not be in the service of a nineteenth century educational ideal which was already questionable in the days of Thomas Arnold.  We can cut down on the classics, from the gluttony of the Renaissance to the gourmet fastidiousness of the Scholastics, and finally down to appropriately slenderized Augustinian synthesis.  Many others have made this point.  However I have tried to remove the one seemingly valid objection to a Singular Magisiterium based exclusively on revelation.  There is always enough information…because the author is God.


Posted in Christian Education, Christianity, Culture & Politics, Kabbalah, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Politics, Theology, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Apologia pro Trump, or, three blasts of the Donald contra mundo: The flesh, the world and the devil!

Posted by nouspraktikon on May 5, 2016

Contra Mundo!

“They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.” 1 John 4:5

“These that have turned the world upside down…”Acts, 17:6

It seems that all the world, from the Pope to the Pakistanis, from the DNC to the RNC, hates Donald Trump, indeed everyone (with the exception of those millions of Americans who have had the honor of voting for him) delights in reviling him.  I am not saying that the Donald might not be wrong, but can we be totally sure that the world is right?  By “the world” I don’t mean the universe or the planet Earth.  I have inquired of these what they thought of Donald Trump and their answer was a judicious silence.  Rather, let’s denominate as “the world” the same which the New Testament calls the kosmos, or Ibn Rushid termed the “world-soul”…that thinking, chattering, web of human minds which surrounds the biosphere like a luminous glove.  It is that world which is one third of the famous trio who’s other parts consist of the flesh and the devil.  Therefore we ought to take spiritual council, lest in being anti-Trump (or rather, pro-Mundo) we find ourselves in bad company.

Do I hear an “Amen”? Good!  Then let me  proceed with a brief three point lay sermon on why it behooves all Americans, and Christians in particular, to patiently consider the merits of Mr. Trump.

Point One: The Flesh, or “Behold the Man”

“…and I will give you an heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

To the hardened Trump hater, the Donald might seem to be the epitome of the carnal-minded man, yet we are told to not to hasten to judgment, and moreover be as innocent as doves and as wise as serpents.   Therefore, let us pause for a moment of discernment.  Is Trump a man on a white horse?  Heaven forbid!  He is just his old self, in and out of season.  Not enough brains?  Well yes, he only has one, not two, or more as the case may be.  Doesn’t the apostle James inveigh against the “double minded man” in his epistle?  So, hail Donald the single-minded!  His may be a carnal mind, but at least it hasn’t multiplied at the rate of the “talking heads” in the media or the man-pleasing apparatus-operatives of the political class, who are unlikely to be exorcised until a few thousand pigs can be coaxed into jumping off a cliff as their mental proxies.

So let it be resolved that Donald Trump is a man.  Perhaps a sinful man, perhaps a carnal man, perhaps not the kind of person one would want to have as one’s best friend forever…but at least nothing worse than a man.  There is no stifling atmosphere surrounding the Donald, even in the dreams of his worst haters, which gives one a shudder of reptilian horror.  He is quite mammalian, perhaps too much so.   So, having established the presumption that Donald Trump is a human being, and leaving the question of his sainthood or otherwise out of the discussion, do not Christians owe him the same charitable consideration that is due to all sons of Adam?

Furthermore, even the scriptures are not unequivocal in their condemnation of “the flesh”…rather what they abominate is “strange flesh.”  What is singularly ominous about our epoch is that flesh has become metal, and we march to the beat of the machine.  Machine politics is no longer a metaphor, and the machine increasingly summons a straggling humanity to a perfection which ill suits our species.  When the very definition of politics is altered from “the art of compromise” to “correctness” tyranny is at the door, and the strange flesh of the machine has advanced to harden the human heart.  Yet we recall that God loves the worst human being more than the highest angel, and take delight in our flaws.

Yes, Trump is human, but is he “all too human”?  It depends on which side of the uncanny valley you view the matter.

Point Two: The World, or Globalism

“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” Exodus 20:26

Although war, peace, trade, the economy, and immigration are alternatively considered the top issues in this election, they might best be reduced to the following debating point “Should, or should not, the United States of America be abolished?”  I think that formula captures the spirit of our historical moment best.  Granted, it is a rather narrow point, since what confronts today’s world is more than just a transfer of sovereignty on the north American continent.  So let’s make two hundred iterations of the point, going down the list of erstwhile national “sovereign” states.  Hence, “Should, or should not Albania…ditto, ditto, ditto….to… Zambia be abolished.”  In other world, should the world of nation-states be abolished in favor of…well, whatever.

Baldly stated, its an exciting question and one which should be approached without prejudice.  Your anarchist, your Christian libertarian, and your Fifth Monarchy Man will no doubt think it is a jolly good idea.  However we aren’t quite there yet.  Getting back to Mr. Trump, or perhaps the movement which he spearheads, the question is more like, “Should, or should not, the United States of America be abolished without referendum?”  That final clause is the spoiler, and even the hardened anti-nationalist will feel  a twinge of remorse at the formula “Ay!  The United States of America should be abolished through stealth!”

Anarchism or none, stealth is a form of deceit, a violation of both the ninth Amendment and the ninth Commandment.

Trump is a surprising fellow, and he might even turn post-American on us some day.  However, one thing is certain, he will insist on a great deal of negotiation, above the table, before hauling down the old flag.  Bad as he may be, he is no double-dealer, contract-evader, covenant-denier, or oath-breaker.  He’s not what the Anglo-Saxons called a “warlock.”


Point Three: The Devil, or the Tyranny of Bad Intentions

“…that it be not changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which altereth  not.” Daniel 6:8

Which brings us to last things, or what theologians call eschatology.  In other words, 1)Who is in control here and 2)where are we headed?  Christians typically divide up on the latter point.  There are wide variety of eschatological schools, from future-oriented pre-tribulational rapture enthusiasts to staid and history-minded preterists.  However all Christians agree  on the answer to the first point, for it is God, in his sovereign will, who our faith tells us is ultimately in control.

What does all this have to do with Donald Trump, who has probably never had an eschatological thought in his whole life?  Seemingly nothing at all, at least directly, but for the “mundo” i.e., for that world which is a “world-against-Trump,” quite a bit.  What could possibly motivate the unprecedented and near unanimous hostility towards a public figure?  His hair?  His remarriage?  His wealth?  Surely everyone knows that bad hair, adultery, and riches have never been obstacles to popularity in the corridors of opinion, power, information, and entertainment?

The clue is that not everybody agrees on the first point mentioned above.  You and me and Donald Trump all see ourselves as being carried along on the river of time.  We are not completely at the mercy of the current, since we can move our raft back and forth with some degree of freedom, and with a little effort and help from God (or the horoscope, or lady Fortune, etc. in the case of non-theists) we can manage not to sink.  As the Donald might put it, we can “negotiate.”

Yet there are some on this planet who do not share this bucolic view of time.  They see themselves outside and above the current of history.  The future has already been devised according to their intentions and thus written on tablets of jade, such as the laws of the ancient Medes and Persians.  Whether these intentions be good or bad, and whether they be to everyone’s benefit or to the profit of the few is of no moment.  Transcendence is the thing!

The implacable hatred of Mr. Trump indicates that there is something about his movement which threatens to unbind the chains which have been so meticulously woven around the future.  Perhaps he is on the verge of cutting some Gordian knot, the releasing from which will deliver us, if not into a promised land, at least back to the land of freedom and individual responsibility which was once considered the birthright of all Americans.  Yet while this policy might be good for us ordinary mortals, what greater disaster could befall the gods, than to know that they are not gods?

Those of us who already knew that the gods were not gods, need not make a god of Mr. Trump either.  None the less, we ought to at least be grateful to him for clarifying the situation, and for giving America a splendid opportunity, an opportunity which, if not grasped, is not likely to be offered again.  Note that I have not praised Mr. Trump.  I have not claimed that he is saintly or that he is God’s anointed.  Some people, no doubt with greater spiritual discernment than myself, do make such claims.  Rather, elaborating on information which is already well known, I have just tried to show the situation as it stands.  To be sure, Christians need not  “stump for Trump” if that violates their conscience, but I think I’ve given some suggestions for rethinking any such conscientious objections.

As for the “never Trump” crowd, all I can offer is Gamaliel’s advice.  If this movement is outside of the divine will, then it shall come to nothing, and can be safely ignored, but if one opposes it, then make sure … lest one be found fighting against God.

Posted in Christianity, Culture & Politics, Libertarianism, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Politics | Tagged: | 3 Comments »