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Captain Obvious calling: What if Myths are just (you guessed it!) myths?

Posted by nouspraktikon on May 3, 2017

From unsophisticated lies to sophisticated rationalizations

I have spent more of my  life than I would care to admit trying to unravel the mysteries of myths and mythologies.   The dominant theories among anthropologists, psychologists and other scholars reflects the prevailing assumption that myth reflects a key to some deep primitive wisdom which modern people have gotten out of touch with.  Thus for Levi-Strauss, myth reveals the primitive meta-logic of the mind which is far more socially cohesive than the analytical categories of common sense logic.  Carl Jung goes further in seeing the primal spirituality of all human beings stored in a collective unconscious which from time to time is expressed in mythical terms.

The assumption is that there are truths too deep to be expressed in plain expository language.  But what if myth, far from expressing truths, is actually giving vent to falsehoods.  This is the viewpoint of Rene Girard, who sees in the incoherence of myth, a similarity to rationalization.  When the main character of a mythical narrative suddenly turns into a god or a totemic animal, Girard suggests that the hero was the subject of envy and fell victim to murder most foul.  To disguise the crime the survivors in society changed the narrative and promoted the hero from the status of victim to god.  Those who notice some similarity to Christ’s passion will not be surprised that Girard is a Christian and was influenced by the gospel narrative in framing his social theory.

One need not concur with all the details of Girard’s anthropology to see the wisdom of applying a forensic approach to myth.  If myths are primitive rationalizations of the great crimes committed in antiquity, this would go a long way to explaining the convoluted and contradictory logic which seems characteristic of all primitive societies.  As Mark Twain once said, “I don’t tell lies because its too much work to keep them all straight in my memory.”

From Fall to Falsehood

However the human race seems, on the whole, to have taken liberties with the truth at the price of developing a vast and often incoherent body of narratives which we call mythology.  To say that myths are lies and nothing more than lies, would seem to put the work of generations of anthropologists and folklorists to naught.  Yet this might be a true key to understanding the enigma of the human past.  All myths might be variations on one Big Lie which has been told generation after generation, growing in detail and complexity as each narrator attempted to put more distance between his contemporaries and some Primal Crime of deep antiquity.

In this context, it might be useful to note that the Bible, whatever “genre” we might assign to it, most certainly is not myth.  Even the most superficial acquaintance with scripture shows that its style and method is completely different from all the mythological systems which have been passed down through the traditions of the nations.  Indeed, scripture and myth are not just different but opposite, and comparing them is much like looking through a telescope alternatively from different ends.  Thus, while myths are human attempts at making a theology, the Bible was given us by God as a book of anthropology.  In understanding ourselves, we understand our relationship to God, or lack thereof.

Unlike myths, the Bible reveals to us the Great Crime which broke our fellowship with God.  It tells the truth in straight, unambiguous terms, in terms which would be recognized by any logician, whether or not such a logician accepted the moral of the story.  In contrast, mythology, the Bible’s primitive rival, is forever losing the logical thread of its narrative, much like dreams, which are simply the nocturnal counterpart of the mythological madness told in broad daylight.  When myth is on the witness stand the story is always changing, backtracking, and the names are changed to protect the guilty.

Not so with scripture, which radiates a clarity similar to the last pages in a classical “whodunit.”  Of course, this makes it unpopular with the criminal class, a class which (in regard to the Original Crime) includes the entirety of the human race.  Conversely this explains the popularity of myth which is, in the absence of other virtues…at least highly creative.

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Posted in Anthropology, Art, Christian Education, Christianity, culture, Fiction, History, Paleoconservativism, Theology, Uncategorized | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The Gun You Should Reach For When You Hear the Word “Culture”

Posted by nouspraktikon on April 24, 2017

Why “Culture” is a loaded word which needs to be disarmed

All advocates of a civilized world, and most emphatically all Christians, need to be skeptical every time the word “culture” is mentioned.  Evolution and culture are the two key concepts which have destroyed genuine anthropology, anthropology in the Christian sense of the word.  If today we live in a world where the barbarians are at the gates, it is only because the vital distinction between civilization and barbarism was first erased from the scholarly vocabulary in the name of an ambiguous and relativistic understanding of human nature, an understanding which is encapsulated in the term “culture.”

The word “culture” (an otherwise unobjectionable term) was adopted by secular anthropologists as the label for a mental package deal known as “the culture concept.”  The essence of this concept is that human beings create their own mental reality.  Even humanists are humble enough to realize that human beings do not create their own physical reality.  That sort of thing went out of style with Renaissance magic.  Humanists claim that the universe has arisen through something other than human agency, and since human agency is the only rational design they recognize, they conclude that it is a result of chance plus vast quantities of time.  This is the celebrated theory of evolution.

There is another sense in which Humanists exhibit a minimal degree of humility.  The culture concept implies that “Man Makes Himself” to quote a title  from V. Gordon Child, from a day when even left-wing scholars could use masculine pronouns.  However the culture concept admonishes the would be Ubermench that human individuals do not make themselves, only groups have the power to shape the mental environment of their members.  Since the culture concept derives ultimately from the thinking of Immanuel Kant, this is an important revision in the theory.  Kant asserted that the human mind creates its own reality, but he was very abstract in his presentation.  He didn’t stress the role of groups in forming their own environments.  This was worked out in the century after Kant by various neo-Kantian scholars and passed down through the educational system in the form of anthropological dogma.

This formula, that 1) evolution makes the physical environment, and 2) culture makes our mental environment, is the one-two punch of all Humanist thought.  It is diametrically opposed to Christian anthropology, which sees the human race as part of creation dependent upon almighty God.  To be sure, in the Christian view the human race occupies a unique role in creation, as the thinking and governing part, just as in Humanism the humans are unique in possessing “culture.”  However there is a world of difference in these two forms of uniqueness.  The first uniqueness is related to something personal outside itself, a condition which renders objective morality possible.  The second uniqueness, the uniqueness of “culture” is purely self-referential.  It cannot be brought to the bar of any moral standard higher than itself.  From the Humanist viewpoint, this isolated uniqueness reflects the principle of human autonomy.  From the Christian viewpoint, it is an illusion resulting from sin.

Culture as the moral ultimate means that culture itself cannot be judged, and implies relativism.  The history of the culture concept is the progress of increasingly consistent forms of relativism.  In the 19th century anthropologists tried to rank cultures on the basis of degrees of civilization, or put negatively, emergence from barbarism.  However as the relativistic implications of the culture concept were systematized, notably by Franz Boaz and his followers, attempts at judging cultures were suppressed.   Today, all judgments of different cultures according to some objective standard outside culture are considered prejudicial.  However this moral conclusion is the consequence of the supposed impossibility of any objective standard.

When the Nazi German Propaganda Minister Goebbels famously exclaimed, “When I hear the world culture I reach for my gun!” he was diametrically opposed to the cultural criticism which we are trying to undertake.  Like Franz Boas, Goebbels was aiming for the idea of “high culture” as opposed to barbarism.  We should translate his words as “when I hear the word ‘civilization’ I reach for my gun.”  Both Nazism and cultural relativism have tried to make it impossible to isolate barbarism as a descriptive category and set it over against civilization.  Of course there were profound moral differences between Boaz, the liberal Jew, and Goebbels, the German fascist.  The latter went beyond theory and was determined to normalize barbarism by acting it out in real life.  However in the long run it has been the gentle scholar who has been more effective in destroying civilization, first as an ideal and then as a reality, among people of good intentions.

Yes, traditions exist

The major opposition to a frontal assault on the culture concept is the contention that culture aptly describes the variety and richness of human traditions found throughout the world.  However this diversity has always been recognized, certainly prior to the academic hegemony of the culture concept.  Some of these traditions were instituted by the Most High God, some are human innovations, and some have been inspired by lesser spirits.  Human innovation is not to be gainsaid, either for good or for evil, and neither is the vast diversity of traditions.

The culture concept adds nothing to our understanding of the richness of human institutions.  However by insisting on the human origin of our mental world, the culture concept begs one of the most significant questions which can be asked about history: Who, or what, instituted institutions?  Its long range effect is to flatten out the mental world into the single, flat, plane of human reality.  Cultural Humanists boast of having an “immanent frame” in which they are free to make any judgement they wish about human affairs.  However “any judgement” ultimately means that no judgment is authoritative, and hence that all are meaningless.  This default to meaninglessness and nihilism is the next to last stage in the decline of cultural relativism.

The final stage occurs when “culture” having outlived its usefulness in the promotion of nihilism is reabsorbed by “evolution” the master-concept which required culture as a temporary supplement and diversion.  When the ideals of humanity have lost their charm, the spiritual descendants of Goebbels will round on the spiritual descendants of Boaz, with guns metaphorical or otherwise.

It is to save these people of good intentions, these so-called “Humanists” from the fate which dooms their concepts, their bodies, and their souls (not necessarily in that order) that we must insist on a God beyond culture.

Posted in Anthropology, Appologetics, culture, Culture & Politics, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Politics, Theology, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Dear Michael Savage, here is your prize-winning proof of Human Stupidity (which assumes the existence of God)

Posted by nouspraktikon on April 12, 2017

Dear Michael Savage,

First of all I want to let you know how much I enjoy your program.  After taking a lot of guff and being called a deplorable, you have now dumped the Trump train over Syria.  Just goes to show, that for true blooded deplorables, it was more than just a “thing” about the orange hair.  Oh well….

So much for WWIII and the other small stuff.  Now getting down to that proof of the existence of God!  As you and I and everyone else knows, God exists.  However there are a certain class of scholars, known as apologists, who go beyond just knowing that God exists to trying to prove that he exists.  God must love these people very much, since he doesn’t blast them out of existence for doing something which is ultimately blasphemous.  I love them too, especially the really complicated ones like Thomas Aquinas and Gottfried Leibniz, who’s thoughts are as intellectually challenging as they are useless.   These are the people who attempted  a frontal assault on human infidelity and ignorance, which in itself is rather stupid.

The correct procedure is to reverse the question and ask why human beings reject God and all knowledge of His existence and character.  In scholarly circles this method is called “presuppositionalism” and if left to run amuck it will lead to academic disputations as obscure as anything spawned from the pen of Thomas Aquinas.  However the basic insight perfectly simple.  We all live in a world which is screaming at us 24 hours a day seven days a week, “I am God’s creation!”  Yet there are two classes of human beings, those who accept the Creator and their creaturely status, and those who feel that both the universe and they themselves are self-made.

Since both the believers and the God-rejecting people live in the same world, a world in which we are nurtured and have our being, there would not seem to be much ground for metaphysical disputation.  Even rather evil people such as Martin Heidegger have never doubted that existence exists, although that benighted philosopher expressed great surprise that Being had managed to nudge out non-existence in the contest for reality.

No, both classes of human beings inhabit the same life-world, but they think according to different principles.  As scholars would say, they adhere to different epistemological systems.  The believers see themselves as mentally naked in front of God and the world.  For them there is no “problem of knowledge” per se, since the  information we get from our world is abundant and, except in limiting cases, generally reliable.

However, in the case of the non-believer, one must have an epistemology before venturing into the wilds of the universe.  For such people, there is a gap between the ego and reality, a gap which can only be bridged through strenuous philosophical or scientific investigation.  However this plight of inadequate knowledge is not just an epistemological inconvenience, but rather grounded in the moral attitude of the non-believer him or herself, since before staking any claim to knowledge the non-believer has already declared a state of ego-autonomy.  This declaration of independence has the unfortunate consequence of stranding the ego on a deserted island of his or her own making, from which venturing out into the world of bruit fact, governed only by the laws of chance,  is a perilous adventure.

Well now Mr. Savage, even if you accept all that I have written above, it certainly doesn’t present a “proof of the existence of God”…at least in the classic sense.  However, from a forensic point of view, it ought to make us suspicious of of the non-believer’s motivation.  Why the insistence on autonomy?  Why the cumbersome epistemological apparatus?  It would almost seem as if there were something or Someone out in the wilds of reality whom the non-believer was afraid of, and for whom this gap between the ego and the Other was improvised.

Indeed, there are grounds for supposing that the gap between the ego and its environment is not a fact of nature, but an improvisation designed to suppress the original confluence between the human mind and God.  This would also explain the general uselessness of “proofs of the existence of God” since these are attempting to employ a metaphysical tool in order to solve a moral problem.  The “proofs” usually only work on people who are already believers.

To conclude, Mr. Savage, I know that this is a rather bleak judgement, and furthermore begs the question, “What is to be done?”  After all it implies that humanity is divided into two non-communicating epistemological camps.  Instead of offering you an inductive or deductive proof of God’s existence, all I have done is explain the irreducible ignorance of a vast segment of humanity.  Or as you would say, the reason why “they are stupid.”

Well, I suppose prayer wouldn’t hurt.

Blessings upon you and yours,

Mark Sunwall

Posted in Anthropology, Christian Education, Christianity, Culture & Politics, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Theology, Uncategorized | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The Culture Conspiracy: A critical investigation into the destruction of civilization (Introduction)

Posted by nouspraktikon on April 10, 2017

The Culture Conspiracy

This is the first installment of a multi-part series on how the modern “culture concept” has, as a complement to the theory of evolution, demoralized and degraded civilization, or actual “culture” in the original intent of that word.  While it is not intended to be an exhaustive overview of the topic, the investigation will try to hit on all the major aspects of the problem.  Tentatively, it will be organized along the following themes,

  1. The Great Baton Pass
  2. The Measure of Man vs. the Measure of God
  3. From Custom to Culture
  4. Erasing the essential Civilization/Barbarism distinction
  5. From Kant to Hegel: From the individual to the species
  6. From Hegel to Boaz: From the species to the people
  7. The Super-organic, the Spiritual, and the Ugly
  8. The Enigma of Innovation
  9. Man Makes Himself Part II: From Custom to Customization
  10. Beyond the Culture Concept

Though each of these contains enough to provide a mini-course in itself, in its present state the work is likely to appear as the outline of a syllabus rather than a detailed treatment of the subject.

Introduction: The Culture Conspiracy

Suppose you were able to travel back in time to the mid-Victorian era.  Just to pick a date, let’s suppose it were 1859, the year in which Darwin published his master work, Origin of Species.  You arrive in London, England and are able to established communications with a middle class person, of either sex, and ask them two questions about the future.  First, do you expect technology to improve in the future?  Second, do you expect culture to improve in the future?  If I am not greatly mistaken, the answer of a well-informed Londoner of 1859 would be a resounding “Yes!” to both questions.

Next, through the magic of your time-traveling you offer them a vista of life at the beginning of the twenty-first century.  Now they are able to judge whether their optimistic prophecies have been vindicated.  There is no need to waste time on the answer to the first question.  The mid-Victorian would find the technological wonders of the present to be little less than a magical transformation of the human environment.  Even if the lady or gentleman in question were a Luddite, or like Mr. Butler, apprehensive of “machines” in general, they would be forced to admit that the machines had won the day, whether or not the technical triumph was in the long range interests of the human race.

And what of culture?  If cultural optimism were vindicated in proportion to the Victorian’s technological optimism, what wonderful variations on Moore’s Law might one expect?  In the year 2017 music would be one-hundred times more sonorous than Mozart, paintings one-hundred times beautiful than Turner, the law-courts one-hundred times more just and expeditious, families one-hundred times more peaceful and harmonious,  architecture one-hundred times more symmetrical and stately,  and the religious life of the average man or woman one-hundred times more pious.

I am sure everyone understands that such exaggerated expectations would suffer bitter disappointment.  But I would go beyond that and hypothesize that our representative Victorian would judge that much of culture had regressed rather than progressed.  Looking around at a population dressed in t-shirts and jeans, the well-dressed Victorian might assume that he or she (especially she) had landed in a sartorial dark ages.  Dress might be the most ubiquitous and offensive sign of cultural degeneration, but further investigation would reveal a myriad of aspects in which 21st century culture had decayed far beyond the lowest level of Victorian expectations.

Art might be cheap and easily accessible but so primitive, cartoon-like or commercial that the Victorian time-traveler would deem it rubbish.  Language, (unless our Victorian were a rater in Her Majesty’s Navy)  would have become unutterably vulgar.  Human relations would have become broader but shallower, and the family reduced to just one of the many nodes of association provided for the convenience of individuals.  The poor-house and the debtors prison would have been abolished, but by the year 2017 debt would have become the primary nexus holding the economy together.  Indeed, from the point of view of a middle-class Victorian, by the year 2017 society itself would have become one giant debtor’s prison.

This is not even to speak of the actual prisons of the 21st century, or the fact that Jack the Ripper (still in the future for 1859) would spawn, like some forensic Adam, a class of registered and unregistered offenders.  Finally our representative Victorian, even if not an enthusiast for the works of Herbert Spencer, might dimly recognize that by the standards of classical liberalism, the 21st century state had itself become a criminal network, engaged in perpetual borrowing and taxation for extensive regulation at home and endless warfare abroad.

Having safely deposited our Victorian time-traveler back to the homely 19th century, and drugged him with the obligatory milk of amnesia so that history won’t be spoiled, a familiar figure enters from stage left to deliver a soliloquy.  This is Mr. Carping Critic, who objects to the whole little drama.  He claims that our whole little experiment is a sham, based on false premises from the start.  He says that the two questions were apples and oranges from the start, and that the “no” verdict to the second question rests on biased judgment.  He says that when we jump from technology to culture we go from the measurable to the intangible, and we have entered into that shady region of values where nobody’s opinion (even that of a time-traveling Victorian) is more objective than that of someone else.

From the point of view of Mr. Carping Critic, the Victorian’s view of art is just an outmoded taste, so of course we should expect a negative verdict.  If the growth of the prison population is viewed negatively, it just shows the enduring grip of pastoral romanticism over the advantages of cozy confinement.  And so forth and so on in every department of “culture” since after all, culture is a matter of values, and as we all know, values change.  The seal of the entire argument is the whole ridiculous subject of clothing, which our time traveler had nothing better to venture than the opinion of a bigoted prude.

With that coup de grace, Mr. Carping Critic thinks he has stripped the Victorian of her secret!

I cannot refute Mr. Carping Critic on his own grounds, since they are not grounds at all, but the quicksands of a shifting and relativistic doctrine.  However it is a doctrine which has a history and that history can be exposed and criticized.  Indeed, I will go beyond Mr. Carping Critic to criticize the one concept which remains beyond criticism for him, namely “the culture concept.”  Yes, he is right to say that the time-traveling questions were not consistent, for in 1859 the word “culture” hadn’t quite assumed the connotation that we give it today.  Soon that would change, and it would change in such a way that people would no longer be as confident about making statements about objective reality as they had previously.

I think, in contrast to Mr. Carping Critic and his ilk, that objective reality, not just in the natural but the human world, continues to exist, and that an inability to talk about it puts anyone thus incapacitated at a severe disadvantage.  However our inability to talk about human affairs objectively is the end result of a kind of conspiracy, a conspiracy that started long ago and today has come to fruition in a multitude of crises.  In subsequent installments I will unmask this conspiracy… the culture conspiracy.

Posted in Anthropology, Art, Culture & Politics, Esoterism, Paleoconservativism, Theology, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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.

 

Posted in Anthropology, Christianity, Culture & Politics, Economics, Libertarianism, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Politics, Theology, Uncategorized | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

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

Posted by nouspraktikon on August 2, 2016

Pictures at an exhibition:  Beyond political correctness to Marxist memorial

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

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

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

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

Surrealism, art, and agitation

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

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

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

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

Frieda Kahlo, from Shamanism to Stalinism

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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Christian Anthropology Pt. 5 The Anthropological basis of knowledge

Posted by nouspraktikon on July 30, 2016

A Recapitulation

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

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

To “Grock” or not to “Grock

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

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

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

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

Posted by nouspraktikon on July 21, 2016

Ahumanism vs. Anthropology

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

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

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

The Quadrature of Ethical Anthropologies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Christian Anthropology pt. 3: The Primacy of Ethics

Posted by nouspraktikon on July 16, 2016

The Metaphysical Consequences of Personalism

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

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

How to Distinguish Christianity from Humanism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Christian Anthropology Pt. 2: The Temptation to Compromise

Posted by nouspraktikon on July 13, 2016

Must there be a specifically “Christian” Anthropology?

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

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

The Eternal In Man

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

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

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

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

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

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