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A god who failed: William F. Buckley and his “conservative” movement

Posted by nouspraktikon on August 30, 2017

A Fabian Conservatism?

There are two systems operating on this Earth.  According to one, every man, woman, and child strives with carnal jealously to grasp and hold on to their rights to self and things, and when there is more than enough, the excess is disposed of, given away, or traded on the open market.  That is the better of the two systems.  According to the other system, men and women quest for virtue and renown, seeking to bring the Kingdom of Heaven down to this world, by violence if necessary, and we are further told that at the end of this process a man shall appear who resembles Christ in certain regards.  It is this second system which attracts the best and the brightest.  The late William F. Buckley Jr., 1925-2008, practicing Catholic, family man, nominal patriot and putative spy, Yale graduate, novelist, journalist, polymath and polyglot, yet above all things, “intellectual”, was certainly among the brightest of his generation.  As a general principle, we ought not speak ill of those whom God has loved and endowed with great talents, yet it is incumbent upon anyone who wishes to preserve both truth and memory to render judgement on matters of public record, and especially those actions or omissions which have led the American body politic down its present primrose path.  If we are the proverbial tin can, well then, Mr. Buckley was a chief contender among those who kicked us down the road and into the ditch.  Assuredly, we have every right to inquire into his mind and motives.

My first memory of William F. Buckley is the televised image of two posh, erudite men engaged in a furious altercation over the merits of the Republican presidential nominee in 1964.   The one on the left (from the viewers perspective) was a scandalous representative of the liberal avant guard, an inconsistent and curmudgeonly  libertarian/left/democrat, surely an entertaining character if one were to consider him in isolation.  However he could barely gain a point against the other man, the one on the right (again keeping perspective in mind) who seemed an utter novelty, the Adam of a new race which was awaiting formation, or rather self-formation.  Gore Vidal, (stage left) has kept a loyal following of fans and detractors, yet Vidal by himself would never have become an epochal, or a defining figure of those crisis years.  It was Buckley’s, not Vidal’s, video debut , which marked off a new era, not (sadly) of American political thought, but of rhetoric and reality television.

Thus was born, at least in the viewing public’s mind, that oxymoron, the “conservative intellectual.”  The hokum of Dogpatch, an image of the American right as rustic buffoons so carefully crafted by liberal opinion makers was momentarily shattered by a visible presence.  Since I was a kid, I didn’t know that Buckley had already attained considerable celebrity in literary and journalistic circles, as early as 1950, with the publication of his  God and Man at Yale, but now the word had become flesh, visible to millions upon millions of couch dwellers and potato chip eaters.   He spoke, and he spoke well, interspersing his verbal darts with the flick of a serpentine tongue across tightly drawn lips.  Suddenly, the viewers glimpsed a crack of light shining through the deadening conformity of consensus politics.  Was this the chiaroscuro dawn of a new day, or just a hoax?  It was ominous when, in a fit of peek, the new god dropped his smooth mask to coin a notorious neologism.  Vidal, he fulminated, was an “octo-moron!”  In those days of civil discourse you didn’t just go calling someone an eight-fold idiot in front of America’s families…not to mention the lexicographers!

Fast forwarding to the present, and the perspective of the post-Trump, post-civil discourse era, it becomes painfully clear that this erudite “conservatism”  has failed. Someone once observed that Hegel only “died” in 1933, a watershed beyond which many conceded that his “dialectic of history” bore scant resemblance to the logical deductions of some charitable and edifying Deity.  We might likewise reckon that  Buckley “died” in 2016, when it became abundantly clear that the chattering of the political class could no longer be confined to a salon discussion constrained by the niceties of an Americanized high tea.   Today we must reluctantly acknowledge that even domestic politics is war, perhaps not quite violent war, but war none the less.  But then, shouldn’t we have known that all along?  If we didn’t it was mainly our own fault, yet no thanks to Bill Buckley and others who were only too happy to perpetuate our fond illusions.  Hence, those moderates who have managed to wake up to the situation often discover that they are very late into a long war of attrition conducted by the left, poised on unfavorable terrain, and desperately short of intellectual ammunition.

Not that all possible ideologies which might be denominated as conservative are bankrupt, rather, it is especially the smug, above-the-fray “conservatism” defined by William F. Buckley which circumstances have rendered impotent.  Herein is the real eight-fold idiocy, not that Buckley was able to concoct a new ideology, which he had the brains and the perfect right to do, but that he usurped the nomenclature of a previous movement, the Old Right, and applied it to his novelties.  A guileless Buckley would have decanted his fresh ideological wine into new, or at least newly labeled, wine-skins.  Accordingly, Buckley might have dubbed his concoction “Fabian Conservatism” or some such critter…but he insisted on preserving the illusion of continuity with the anti-New Deal coalition.   Ironically, the moderate Socialists of the early 20th century showed a greater respect for intellectual property rights by relabeling themselves as Fabians, thus permitting the revolutionary Bolshoi to maintain their identity as “Reds.”

Actually, “Fabian” would have been a far better moniker for whatever Buckley was up to.  For one thing, the progressives, then and now, have never intended to give up a single inch of political gain.  It is always a matter of advance to the front, either slow and Fabian or fast and revolutionary.  In contrast,”conservatism” as it was reinvented by Buckley’s National Review in in the 1950s, has been much closer to the strategy of Quintus Fabius “the delayer”(Rome, 3rd c BC)…defining itself as the weaker side and then enlisting for a long, indeed perpetual, retreat.  Today we are experiencing the results of this capitulation.   Buckley, much like Keynes “in the long run”, did not live to see the full consequences of this “Fabian” defeatism, a nation in which the conservative brand as a whole has been discredited, and where only a retrenched populism and leftism remain as the primary  engines of our uncivil  discourse.

Pied Piper of the Establishment

Was Buckley’s defeatism a matter of principle?  Was it motivated by an Oswald-Spenglerian ennui in the face of irresistible winds of change?  Or was it something else, something less intellectual but more human, a quest for power and social acceptance by a man with the smarts and social connections to become a celebrity, combined with a secret contempt for moral absolutes?   John F. McManus considers this question in his William F. Buckley Jr.: Pied Piper of the Establishment, a look at the public words and actions of America’s most famous, so to speak, “conservative.”  In this concise and readable work McManus illustrates how virtually every major premise of conservatism was contravened by Mr. Buckley and his associated writers at National Review.  Did Buckley really “delay” the advent of the current unpleasant situation through judicious compromise, such as might merit the title Fabian Conservatism?  Or did he hasten on the day of reckoning by sapping the bulwarks of more authentic brands of resistance?  Mr. McManus doesn’t rush to judgement, but judge he does, by patiently building up a bill of particulars which will strongly incline the reader to embrace the latter hypothesis.  The major, though not the only, items that McManus itemizes in the antithetical “conservatism” of Mr. Buckley are the following.

  1. Buckley substituted an unidentified “conservatism” for the explicit definition of good government found in the Constitution.
  2. He shielded an unholy alliance between leftists, capitalists, and statists, or what Mr. McManus calls, “the conspiracy” from the public, by denying its existence and targeting its foes.
  3. By accepting membership in the Council on Foreign relations, he supplied dignity and cover to a key element of this conspiratorial apparatus, or what today might be called the shadow government of the deep state.
  4. He contributed to the undermining of the nation’s morality.
  5. He led Americans away from involvement in the kind of principled activism (a.k.a. any continuation of the anti-war, non-interventionist Old Right conservatism, such as flourished in the Robert Taft era).

If Mr. McManus has been able to give us a comprehensive account of Mr. Buckley, his ideology, friends, and actions, it is because, as a young conservative he was a Buckleyite himself.  Initially having no alternative to the narrative introduced by National Review which smeared the remnants of the Old Right, and in particular its revival in the organizational form of the John Birch Society, Mr. McManus was an enthusiastic “Fabian” conservative.  However the providential arrival of a letter from a total stranger (in those days before the internet when it was hard to canvass opinions beyond one’s circle or standard journalism) led McManus to question the spin which National Review had put on the distinction between “right-wing” and “conservative.”  Subsequently, McManus did his own investigations which forced him to completely rethink the ambiguous ideology of William Buckley and embrace a principled philosophy of freedom.  This in turn led to membership and later leadership in his once-scorned but now beloved John Birch Society.

Now in order to form a just estimate of William Buckley, such as McManus and others have attempted, one has to understand the context of the world into which this new “conservatism” (Buckleyite, Fabian, or just “faux”) emerged.  The Second World War had been a global victory which came at the price of weakening every domestic institution in America other than the state, and the conscience of the Old Right urged a return to something like a peacetime society and economy.  It was well understood, and not just by conservatives, that there was a natural iteration between times of war and times of peace, and that a condition of perpetual war was a recipe for tyranny.  True, there was the very real threat of Communism to be dealt with, but it had to be dealt with in such a way that the very institutions used to fight Communism did not replicate the evil they were designed to overcome.

However the wisdom of turning America back into a normal society was not so easily put into practice.  The vast wartime tangle of bureaus and red tape (into which many actual “Reds” had insinuated themselves) proved easier to dedicate to new missions than to mothball.  Predictably, the same political party which had given America the New Deal were enthusiasts for the National Security State (activated by legislation passed in 1947) which perpetuated and legitimated all the essential wartime security and military apparatus.

This rapidly consolidating system was rightfully seen by many conservatives as “Orwellian” (a coinage of that era, since 1984 was written in 1948).  Moreover, for objectors the remedy was both obvious and Constitutional, i.e., “Throw the bums out!” and restore a peacetime, lassez-faire economy.  According to the myth of the two party system, that was the expected order of things, with frequent turnarounds in power both affirming the sovereignty of the people and harmonizing  extremes of policy.  Around 1954, similar to the Trump election of 2016, enemies of the status quo envisaged that if their party won fair and square the “loyal opposition”  would consent to a fundamental reorientation of national policy.  Alas, then as now, the concept of “loyal opposition” proved to be an oxymoron…if not an eightfold idiocy!  Whatever the hardships and tragedy of the New Deal and the Second World War, the truly sinister development wasn’t triggered until, after a twenty years hiatus, a Republican administration was finally inaugurated.  To the shock and dismay of genuine conservatives, rather than a return to normality, under Eisenhower the progress towards a managerial welfare/warfare state was affirmed and even accelerated.

It was at this juncture of history that William F. Buckley Jr. appeared in the forums of public life.  Initially National Review shared the outrage of the Old Right, sill smarting from the primary defeat of Taft, at the wholesale adoption of New Deal programs and apparatus by the nominally Republican administration which had replaced Truman.  McManus notes that…

In December 1957 Buckley himself scolded President Eisenhower for his sorry leadership.  During a forum in New York City sponsored by National Review he excoriated Ike for having allowed the “problem of internal security” to grow to “to a state far worse than that under Mr. Truman.”  Insisting that “Mr. Eisenhower must, inevitably, be repudiated.”  Buckley lamented that he didn’t expect anything to be done because “Eisenhower does not take stands, except against [Senator Joseph] McCarthy and the Bricker Amendment [stipulation that treaty law did not supervene US sovereignty].”  His remarks were later published in the National Review.

Thus, early on in the editorial career of the National Review, a policy line was taken which seemed indistinguishable from the base of the Old Right/Taft Republican movement.  However as soon as these conservative bona fides were established, Buckley took a new tack, ingratiating himself to left and center by taking a more establishment approach to the issues, and, most importantly, positioning himself on the acceptable side of the “right-wing extremist” vs. “conservative” divide.   Conveniently, the criteria for judging this distinction were largely devised by Mr. Buckley himself. An initial omen of this strategy was McCarthy and his Enemies (1954) a book coauthored by Buckley  on the anti-Communist investigator, an ostensible defense which contained so many unseemly observations of its subject and his cause that it diminished both.  By the early ’60s it should have been clear that Buckley had done a two-step, 1) appropriate the label “conservative” through his initial appeals to the Old Right, and  2) change the definition of “conservative” by stigmatizing most of the positions traditionally held by the Old Right.

It is important to remember that the Old Right (used here as equivalent to the anti-New Deal coalition) was a lassez-faire, generally anti-war, limited government movement.  It was not “right-wing” in the pejorative sense that subsequent political rhetoric has framed the term.  Significantly, such genuine rightists as existed in the America of the ’30s and ’40s seldom opposed the New Deal in principle.  The segregationist “Dixicrats” were all aboard FDR’s gravy train, and the scattering of minuscule groups which sought to ape European fascism could only complain that the New Deal was insufficiently centralized, militarized, technocratic, paganized or dictatorial.

The making of a god

However, if one is positioning oneself as the ascending god of public opinion, it is not sufficient, though it may be necessary, to redraw a nation’s ideological cartography.  As McManus repeatedly points out in his criticism of Buckley, which is in fact a criticism of the way conservatives “do politics,” ideology is generally overrated as a ground of human action.  Contrary to whatever Richard Weaver may have intended, it is people, not ideas, who create political  consequences…at least in the short run.  To put it according to the myths of the old pagans, whether one is Oedipus or the King of Alba Longa, one must slay the god of the harvest if one wishes to establish a new religion.  In the case of William F. Buckley Jr., it was not enough to displace, disparage, and assume the mantle of a bloodless abstraction such as “conservatism” or the generic, and geriatric, “Old Right.”  As in days of yore, a living sacrifice was necessary.

Now it so happened that, preceding and shadowing the career of our Ivy League tyro was another man, a very different sort of fellow, a practical businessman and independent researcher, yet one who, in the technical definition of anthropologist Rene Girard might be reckoned as Buckley’s “double.”   That man was Robert Welch, who founded the John Birch Society in 1958.  Whatever the merits of Girard’s theories might be, it  is said that in a mimetic universe (that is, a society populated by imitative creatures, which indeed sounds rather familiar) it is impossible for doubles to long coexist.  Buckley and Welch were doubles in the sense that one or the other was destined to become the rallying point of the conservative cause.  One or the other, not both.

To translate from mythic to political terms, an assassination was in order!  Fortunately for Welch, especially considering Buckley’s career in operational intelligence, assassination of character was deemed sufficient.  Welch, having eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil  (something Buckley was especially dedicated to preventing among his fledgling “conservatives”) was cast out of the paradise of polite company, and into the valley of wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Except that Welch neither wailed nor gnashed his teeth, but took his public stigma, or what Girard would call his “skapegoating” with charitable fortitude.

Just as Girard’s mimetic theory would predict, it worked like a charm, this exchange of fates between Welch and Buckley.  McManus quotes Buckley biographer Judis on the potent effects…

Buckley’s attack on the John Birch Society also transformed him as a public figure.  He [Buckley] was no longer the pariah of the McCarthy days.  He was a public representative of the new conservatism that television producers and college deans could invite to appear without provoking an outcry.  Whether intentional or not, Buckley’s attack on the John Birch Society prepared the way for his own celebrity. (McManus p. 153)

[N.B., Pay attention to how  “without provoking an outcry” appears, from the vantage of the present,  on the forward side of a half-century historical parenthesis! Intimidation of speech outside of the left’s allowed parameters is not a novelty of the post-Trump era, but has been a frequent academic constraint in both 20th and 21st century America.  Perhaps the intermission of good feeling and toleration was only due to “Fabian” self-censorship on the part of conservatives.]

The scapegoating of Welch and the new ideological cartography mutually reinforced and validated each other.  One doesn’t have to be a Harry Turtledove to imagine an alternative historical scenario, a world in which Welch did the scapegoating and Buckley became the sacrifice.  The major obstacle to the realization of this alternative universe was the basic decency and fair-play of Welch himself, who refused to be drawn into mimetic rivalry with fellow conservatives.  Welch illustrated his own attitude by prefacing his response to the scapegoating with lines from the poet Edwin Markham…

He drew a circle and shut me out–

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle that took him in!  (McManus p.154)

Furthermore, the inverted ideological map of the alternative universe would actually make far more sense, with Welch positioned as the centrist and Buckley as “far right-wing.”  Most people at the mid-point of the 20th century would, setting aside propaganda, have regarded Welch as the solid “bourgeois” and Buckley as the scheming, effete, aristocrat.  Indeed, it was this almost French Bourbon air of amorality and private immunity which gave Buckley much of his charm and influence.  And if such quirks of character were not enough enough to make one suspect that Buckley was far to the “right” of Welch, what about the secret societies, the espionage, the pornography and similar intrigue?  I won’t go into the details here as McManus documents them extensively in his book.  However it might be  useful to take a synoptic glance at what McManus evidently considers Buckley’s most damning characteristic.

Barking up the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

To reiterate, Buckley made a sacrifice of Welch, thus becoming a divinity, the god of a new conservative movement formed in his own image.  However, there is a curse attendant on all mortals who pretend to godhood, that they must sleeplessly patrol the bounds of their sacred groves against the onslaught of fresh rivals.  We may liken Buckley to the cherub charged with guarding paradise, however the tree that he was set guard over was not that of life, but rather concerned a very specific form of knowledge.

To be sure, Buckley was not against knowledge or intellect, and with the exception of one particular form of knowing, he was pleased to spread abroad all sorts of chatty information and innuendo.  This included exposure of the more outrageous left wing follies, and to this was added his police function as a maintainer of conservative standards of belief and decorum.  In short, he was smart, and he was on a mission to save America from its own stupidity, stupidity and error of such magnitude that it threatened to lose the Cold War and bring Western Civilization to an untimely end.  Nor was he against knowledge in the sense of “carnal knowledge” and he had a Playboy interview to prove it.  That too was smart, in the sense of currying favor with “the smart set” of the ’60s.

Most significantly, as intellectual-in-chief, Buckley enjoyed the role of contrarian, stimulating all sorts of fascinating conversations by reversing conservative thought on key social and economic issues.  Should Richard Nixon have instituted wage-and-price controls?  Well, why not give it try?  Contrary to everything which the Austrian school of economics had painstakingly demonstrated, that wage-and-price controls would sabotage production and exchange, Buckley felt that one had to be open minded on the topic.  Should the Supreme court have had authority to determine whether abortion was murder?  Why not?  True, two-thousand years of Christian teaching had already provided a clear answer to this question.  However Mr. Buckley, though a Catholic, felt that discussion on the topic needed to be opened up and freed from dogma.  In addition to abortion and price controls, Mr. McManus lists over a dozen “indefensible positions”(pp. 220-229) where Buckley either reversed the conservative stand or introduced moral ambiguity.  And should we have been surprised?  After all, settled doctrines don’t sell magazines or increase the ratings of televised talk shows the way that controversy and factional in-fighting do.

Yet for all his delight in upsetting the apple cart of knowledge, there was one angle which Buckley declared taboo.  With regard to American government policy, and to some extent other institutions of society, all investigation had to take place within the smart/stupid framework.  The alternative framework, the good/evil framework, was strictly out of bounds.  Any policy commentator who suggested that there was a conspiracy in high places actively engaged in undermining America’s best interests, was just a dog barking up the tree of forbidden knowledge, and needing to be silenced.  These barking dogs were many, including not just Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Robert Welch, and Herbert Hoover, but ironically Buckley himself together with the staff of National Review, prior to his apotheosis as the god of a new conservatism.  Yet as early the mid-’50s it was clear that a new paradigm was taking hold.

In August 1956, at about the same time that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was warning of a “conspiracy so monstrous” that one “cannot believe that it exists,” Buckley offered his contrary view that America’s problems were occurring “spontaneously, not in compliance with a continuously imposed discipline.”  In effect, he was saying, “Don’t listen to Hoover, the House Committee, or the Senate Subcommittee.  Ignore even my own statement in McCarthy and His Enemies.  The bad that happens to our nation is the result of spontaneous stupidity, not orchestrated design.”  (McManus pp. 128-129)

Apart from questions of historical accuracy, why is this still a big deal?  Of all the trees in the political garden, why does the fruit of this one matter in a unique way?  Let’s pay attention to the observations of Mr. McManus….

Concluding that willful conspirators rather than mere bumbling do-gooders are at the root of such problems stimulates activity because of human nature’s most powerful instinct: self-preservation.  Most who decide that the disastrous transformation of America is the work of deliberate evildoers will do whatever they can to save their country, themselves, and their loved ones.

But those who become convinced that the damage being done results from well-intentioned mistakes will do little except grumble.  Even while witnessing the ongoing destruction, they will shrug their shoulders, continue working to keep their heads above water, and naively expect others in government and elesewhere to eventually see the error of their ways and take corrective action.

Today, as never before, many are willing to impute evil to their governing officials.  Unpleasant as this might be, it at least gives us grounds for reevaluating Buckley’s assessment that stupidity and not conspiracy was at the root of America’s ills.  Fewer and fewer people today would concur with this assessment, however time and energy have been lost through distractions…not the least of distractions being Buckley’s influence, an influence which both intellectualized and demoralized political discourse on the right.

Postscript on Intellectuals and Pseudo-Intellectuals

It was a balm to the pride of conservatives in the 20th century that thinkers on the left consisted not of actual, but of false or “pseudo”, intellectuals.  In contrast, Mr. Buckley and his cohorts could be trotted out as examples of the genuine article.  To be sure, Buckley and his friends were more erudite, not to mention amiable, than your average Weatherman.  However, in some ultimate sense Mr. Buckley was as “pseudo” as they came, and for reasons that should now be apparent, that, being a conscientious objector to the war against evil, he whiled away his time in the garden of ideas.

That is not to say that ideas cannot be serious.  However the number of people for whom ideas are central to existence is few indeed.  For Bill Buckley ideas were toys, baubles of the mind which could be entertained as hypotheses, not principles which compelled moral action.  How many of us can say that we deal with ideas in any other way?  Are we all not pseudo-intellectuals to one degree or another?  Perhaps that is our nature, the nature of those of us who are less than gods.  Perhaps it is good to be only a pseudo-intellectual.

Those who truly sought salvation in ideas have nearly vanished from the Earth.  Plato, Plotinus, Hypatia of Alexandria, and later during the Renaissance, Pletho and  Pico before his conversion by Savonarola, and perhaps a few others.  William F. Buckley was not among their company, and neither was Jesus of Nazareth.  So in spite of old Bill’s long list of sins, which I have barely touched upon here, this speaks well for his soul, that he was not an intellectual in the absolute sense.  There is always hope.




Posted in Appologetics, Christianity, Constitution, Culture & Politics, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Politics, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Sayings beyond syllogisms

Posted by nouspraktikon on August 10, 2017

Is it possible to straight talk to sinful human nature?

Skeptics argue that since the apostles were “illiterate peasants and shepherds” their moral teaching was  inferior to that of, say, the Greek philosophers.  Of course that characterization is false, and would be slanderous if peasants and shepherds were not generally wiser than Higher Critics.  James was one of many early followers who were educated to the standards of the rabbinical scholarly class, while Luke was certainly abreast of the latest developments in Greek science.  However the palm for scholarship, whatever value that might have, undoubtedly goes to Paul, who was adept in both Hebraism and Hellenism.

Indeed, to Paul’s contemporaries, the opposite side of the criticism was made.  Thus a Roman proconsul (no doubt vexed by Paul’s compelling but offensive reasoning) exclaimed in exasperation, “Too much learning has made you mad!”  This was a far more effective criticism than calling out the Apostle to the Gentiles as an “illiterate tentmaker.”  Think of Paul as a world-class scholar living in a world without grant applications…hence the day-job.  None the less, while it might be considered flattering to some people, the accusation of “to much learning” driving someone mad is preposterous.  I don’t mean that it is preposterous from the point of view of those who think more learning is always a good thing.  I doubt that endless learning is always beneficial.

Rather, from a specifically Christian point of view the statement, “too much learning has driven you mad” is utterly false.  It is false because people, all people, are mad prior to attaining any education whatsoever.  Surely this is what one must believe if the doctrine of total depravity has any meaningful application.  Whatever one might think of Calvinism, and this writer is several points short of full “five-point” affirmation, total depravity is one point which all Christians need to take seriously.  Our thinking part, wherever that may be located, has been as much afflicted by sin as any other portion of our being.  Paul never talked about our “good brain” struggling against our “bad genitals” for him it was all “our flesh.”  Contrary to Plato, the Prophet Mani and many other speculators, the good/evil cutting off point isn’t at the neck, its above the head or wherever our relation with God has been broken.

Yes, the shocking truth is that from God’s point of view all human beings are mad according to their sin-nature.  From our point of view, there is a kind of normative rationality which prevails in society, sufficient sanity to maintain morality and civil order, which individuals participate in to various degrees.  However this “rationality” is essentially a makeshift arrangement, capable of breaking down whenever societies as a whole consent to manifest the irrational in collective hysteria.  It is no substitute for God’s objective truth.

A preference for parables

Hence, from God’s point of view, the problem is how to communicate saving truth to those who are mad, considering that this is a pandemic and essential madness, not the isolated and accidental madness of those individuals who are considered insane by society.  It is important to realize that this is not a madness which has been “caught” by individuals due unfortunate turn of events.  We have been born that way.  In particular one cannot have been driven mad by any amount of learning.

However, and this is an important caveat, certain kinds of learning are likely to exacerbate the essential madness of mankind.  The most notorious, though not the only, learning which exacerbates madness is any kind of dabbling in the occult.  I strongly suspect that the unfortunate character who became the host of “Legion” had once staked out a career for himself as a sorcerer or a fortune-teller.  Inevitably his “familiars” got the better of him.  So yes, demoniacs and other afflicted persons are notably insane in a sense which goes beyond the ordinary madness of mankind.  One has to be careful what one let’s into one’s mind!

Yet nobody is saved by either prudence or philosophy!  If the major problem were keeping Satan out of our minds, then yes, it would make sense to complain of “too much learning (or other experience) driving someone mad” but it has long since gotten beyond that point, since Satan has been there all along in our individual minds, and since the Fall in terms of our species.  Rather, the problem is how to get God into our minds, minds which have been shut up against God by the ubiquitous insanity of sin.

Perhaps an insight is beginning to dawn upon you.  Perhaps you are now in a position to grasp what has eluded many philosophers: If sin is madness, then nobody can be reasoned out of sin!  Logic and the Socratic dialectic are fine tools, but they are only tools which work when the premises upon which they operate are true.  In the world of computer programing there is an expression “garbage in, garbage out” since even the most superb algorithm will crank out false results when incorrect data has been fed into the program.  Likewise, the human mind has superb powers of inference, both inductive and deductive.  However, to the extent that humans are self-programmed and not God-programmed, the premises of their reasoning will be based on sin, or more precisely, sin-as-thinking, i.e., madness.

Fortunately God has ways of getting around the obstacles which mankind has put in the way of communicating truth.  Christian apologists are the most unlikely of God’s angels, and their well intended attempts at dialectic are typically effective with those who have already surrendered to the Truth.  Salvation, as opposed to illumination, can be brought about through the teaching opportunities pregnant in all of life’s struggles.  For this reason Paul was more apt to use exhortation than discursive reasoning, although he was fully capable of the latter.  Finally, the Lord Jesus himself, though the Logos incarnate, preferred the obscurity of parables to straight on logical ( a.k.a.,”logos-ish”) demonstration.

This reaching out of the sane to the insane, the holy to the unholy, through the artful working of the Holy Spirit, has been misconstrued by secular critics as Christian “misology.”  On this misunderstanding rests all the scornful imagery of “illiterate peasants and shepherds.”   What the secularists fail to realize is that these soft admonitions of the Holy Spirit are a condescension to human weakness, to minds which would inevitably reject truth if it were presented to them in propositional forms.  Yet somehow, not through reasoning but through revelation, minds are transformed.  On the basis of this tacit operation some theologians, notably existential ones, have gloried in the supposed irrationality of the gospel.  However this is misleading.  It would be better to say that human minds are led to conclusions which can be rationally demonstrated, but which would never gain the assent of sinful minds without the subtle intervention of the Holy Spirit.

Of course He can do it any way he choses, but it would seem that the Holy Spirit prefers to play divine music on the soft strings of parable than the harsh cords of dialectic.

Posted in Appologetics, Charismata, Christian Education, Christianity, Philosophy | Leave a Comment »

The singularity…was

Posted by nouspraktikon on July 31, 2017

A meditation on the space between Genesis 11 and 12

Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah fathered Abram…

(Genesis 11:27)

Today we hear more and more about the “singularity”…a near future techno-event which will flip our reality upside down with the ease of a skinny judo sensei slamming a portly yellow-belt to the floor.  No doubt the future will witness some startling transformations in the relationship between the human species and whatever salient force is supposedly controlling our environment, therefore we reckon that Biblical prophecy should be flattered, not by these ominous portraits depicted through science fiction and futurology, but that imitation affirms the original.

It is not that I doubt “the singularity” rather, I think it is a more apt term for an event which took place long ago, somewhere in the range of thirty-six or thirty-seven centuries before the present.  This was an all encompassing event which, in the twinkling of an eye (historically speaking!) altered the human condition forever, and it had nothing, or very little to do with technology.  It wasn’t the so-called “Neolithic Revolution” or the “Urban Revolution” although such changes in technology and demographics were certainly ongoing at the time.  Rather, it was a change in the relationship between Man (a.k.a.,humans of both sexes!) and God.

Having let that slip, the atheists have got up and left the room!  Well, fine, because I’m not talking to atheists, I’m talking to philosophers, which (contrary to the prejudice of some believers) is not a distinction without a difference.  The true philosopher not only believes in God, or at least a god, but can even affirm the Hebrew scriptures…up to a point.

That point is the singularity, not a hypothetical future singularity, but the real, past, singularity which transpired once, and only once, at a time and place which we can determine with fair accuracy.  Before that time the human species as a whole was to worship God through reason.  Then suddenly, one man began to worship God through faith.  Understandably, the philosophers think this was a wrong turning, a path out into the wilderness which has distracted humanity from the level causeway of science.

To the philosophers, this turning is doubly offensive.  The first offense is the alleged substitution of faith for reason.  Endless lamps have burned late into the night refuting this accusation, but allow me a momentary respite from this main theme in Christian apologia.  The second offense is the shift from universal to special revelation.  I think this second issue strikes deeper into the heart of philosophical objections to scripture, that is, the narrative as it has been received from Moses onward, where the story of the world up through Genesis 11 must make way for the story of a family, the family of Abraham, beginning with chapter 12.

On the face of it, the philosophers have an easy case to make.  Perhaps that case is better stated in terms of science fiction rather than science.  For Christians, the Hebrew scriptures and their Greek sequel are a  kind of Guidebook to the Universe.  Now, one would expect a Guidebook to the Universe to explain the entire universe in sweeping and satisfying generalities.  Of course the Bible does no such thing, and for that matter, neither does the Guidebook to the Universe.  Any book which did would be a colossal bore, with the emphasis equally distributed between “colossal” and “bore.”   The Bible was written by the Holy Spirit for the edification of the human race, no doubt in the knowledge that a book without human interest would never find a human reader.

That is about as far as pastoral theology is likely to take the scene-change between Genesis 11 and 12.  However I know that the philosophers are unimpressed by folksy analogies, and I am determined to meet their objections in earnest.   I know that for the good philosopher, the kind who wants to believe in a Creator God and an orderly world, Abraham  is a stumbling block.  Such a philosopher, if pushed into a corner, will even declare that he or she could write a better Bible than the one which the Holy Spirit has authored.  Furthermore, some have gone ahead and made the attempt.

From the Universal to the Individual

And the whole Earth was of one language and one speech…

(Genesis 11:1)

Now, in the interests of clarity, let us absolve our hypothetical philosopher of any prejudice towards Abraham qua Abraham.  In 1800BC we are still too early for anti-Semitism, but not too early to get derailed by irrelevancies.  No, the hypothetical philosopher against whom we are arguing objects to the naked singularity, not to the qualities which make Abraham “the father of faith.”

For purposes of illustration lets do a thought-experiment.  Let’s take Genesis 1-11 as a unit, a unit which can be accepted by anyone who is a theist and a creationist.  Of course this will include Christian and Jewish creationists, but it will also include any “pagans” (or whatever you wish to call them) who acknowledge the High God who created the heavens, the earth, and the human race.  In our Bible, Genesis 1-11 is followed by Genesis 12-50, Exodus, Leviticus…and so on.  However in their “Bibles” after Genesis 1-11 the succeeding traditions go on to record the various ethnic histories other than that of the family of Abraham.  Keep in mind, this is only a thought-experiment, and I don’t claim that the nations actually had an accurate narrative of Genesis 1-11.  So in the case of some hypothetically creationist Greeks, the books in their “Bible” would be Genesis 1-11, followed by the Illiad, then the Odyssey, followed, perhaps, by the Works of Hesoid…and so forth.   I wont insist on the details as long as you see the general drift of the argument.

The import of the illustration is not to call attention to the ubiquity of creationism, but to pinpoint the disjuncture where our hypothetical philosopher has become scandalized.  The philosopher whom I am imagining would be just as offended by Achilles as Abraham.  As an apostle of reason, the philosopher does not want science mixed up in personal narratives.  The reasoning is that once personal narratives get mixed up into our scientific premises those premises cease to be objective.  In this view, the Bible from Genesis 12 and beyond is tainted by particularity, just as much as the Illiad, or any other tribal lore.  Granted there are names and persons in Genesis 1-11, but the Creation, the Fall, the Flood, and the Dispersion can all be affirmed as principles of doctrine, of whom the associated personalities are either real or mythical archetypes.  However once we get characters like Achilles or Abraham mucking around, not as representatives of humanity, but protagonists of particular families and nations, then the high ground of objective discourse on the nature of the world has been surrendered and we have seemingly landed in a pandemonium of  individual conflicts and claims.  Personally, I think there is far more depth to Abraham than Achilles, but I have pledged not to pull that card.  Doing so would be to argue for or against particular individuals, and it is particularity itself which the philosopher objects to.

To be blunt, what the philosopher wants is a Bible which only contains universal truths, and does not descend into the conflicts of individuals.  To take up the cause of Abraham, Achilles or anyone else would, in the mind of such a philosopher, betray the universal fatherhood of God to the idols of the tribe.  Moreover, the zealous among the universal philosophers have not contented themselves with carping at the Hebrew scriptures, rather they have authored many substitutes, sundry tomes which could be considered”corrected” Bibles, redolent of reason and purged of particularity.

A Monument of Monotonous Monotheism

Neither shall your name any more be called Abram but Abraham for a father of many nations I have made you…

(Genesis 17:5)

One of the better thought out and well-intended Bible-substitutes was Baruch Spinoza’s Ethics, written in the mid-17th century Netherlands, by a Jewish philosopher who worked a day job as an optician.  As befits the masterpiece of an optician, the Ethics is a very clean and translucent book.  A virtuous philosopher might carry it about as a vaudemecum, a portable Guide to the Universe, and never suffer any embarrassment.  Since the Ethics reduces reality to a set of logical propositions, it contains no narratives of rampaging heroes like Homer’s Achilles, or worse, perplexing anti-heroes like Abraham.  Already, in the war against religious perplexity, Maimonides (1135-1204), an important influence on Spinoza, had explained away God’s body.  Spinoza got rid of His emotions and personality as well.  Thus, Spinoza’s God was essentially the same as nature, although he made a distinction between two kinds of nature, creating nature and created nature.  Hence much of posterity has come to the conclusion that Spinoza was an atheist, either because they were scandalized by his ideas, or conversely, as atheism became stylish rather than stigmatized, they wished to honor him as a forerunner of Enlightenment infidelity.

Others, and I am counting our hypothetical philosopher among them, have taken Spinoza at his word, as a “God-intoxicated man” who sought to preserve the honor of the Deity from the scandal of particularity, and in particular from association with Abraham and his descendants.  One must wonder if Spinoza also wished to clean up the image of his people among the gentiles, an image formed by Abraham, David, and a rogues gallery of assorted sinners, to be replaced by gentler and more edifying examples of Hebrew scientists and scholars…a people among whom Baruch Spinoza himself stands out as a respectable archetype.  None the less, and without respect to Spinoza’s motives, we ought to deal with his theology on its own terms, as a theology and not (as per Leo Strauss and others) a crypto-atheistic doctrine, for we are trying to find out what kind of God would stand above all the messy facts of human history, and whether, as claimed, such a God is preferable to the God who reveals himself in Genesis 12 and beyond.

The value of philosophy is its ruthless consistency.  Many people reject the Bible out of squeamish aversion to nasty particulars, but they have no alternative world-view to substitute for scripture.  However rationalistic philosophers, of whom Spinoza is typical, have taken great pains to describe a God who is above all passions and particulars.   Now the salient characteristic of such a God is that He (if He is a he!) is closest to general laws and further from particular instances of those laws.  One might go so far as to say that He is the laws of the universe Himself.  This sounds quite reasonable, as does the converse, that such a God is furthest from individuals, since individuals are the most particular things in the universe, at the opposite pole from general laws.

Such a God, a god of generalities, might be reconciled to a Bible which ends at Genesis 11.  In the first part of Genesis God is seen as the creator of kinds, or what we call species.  In His dealing with men, it is as representatives of moral types, thus Cain is rebellious and Able is obedient, however after the Flood, and particularly after the Dispersion, the differentiation between individuals and races no longer expresses clear moral contraries, rather, it is variegated in the common sense of non-moral distinctiveness.   The human tribes emerging from the Dispersion are no longer different the way that Good and Evil are different, rather, they are different in the way that Apples and Oranges are different.

The Singularity

And I will make your seed as the dust of the Earth…

(Genesis 13:16)

The various “tables of the nations” after the Flood bear out this “Apples and Oranges” ethnology.  Gone are the scary Antediluvian cast of characters who are susceptible  of a Manichean interpretation.  After the early chapters of Genesis, people are just people, though chastened by the Flood and the Dispersion, and for a while God deals with them just as any rationalistic philosopher would have Him do, through the means of common grace and natural revelation.

Until Abraham.

This is the point at which human reason chokes.  Why, after having created a variegated species does God pick out one man in one family for special revelation?   The rationalistic philosopher would have God blaze his laws in the sky, for all the Earth to see without particularity or prejudice.  Instead, the singularity takes place in the nocturnal solitude of Abraham’s tents.  Humanity has never quite gotten over this event, this solicitude of God to one man and his family.  Here we are not concerned with the problematic reactions of posterity to “the choice” either the complaints of the Anti-Semites that the whole thing was a hoax or the apprehensions of Jews who feel it as an albatross around their neck.  Like it or not, the singularity was.   Rather, we are trying lift our eyes up to the purposes of the Creator, and weigh the claims of His two most plausible and noble interpreters, reason and special revelation.  Make no mistake, one of these two must be primary, and the second reduced to either a handmaiden or an allusion.

What we think about the source of our knowledge (reason vs. special revelation) will determine how we think about the the singularity, i.e., the “Abraham event.”  Conversely, how we understand the Abraham event will determine which is primary, special revelation or reason.  If we are to proceed philosophically, we will first want to understand in what sense these two sources of knowledge are similar, and then examine their differences.

At the risk of appearing commonplace, it needs to be acknowledged that both rational exposition and Biblical revelation are propositional forms of knowledge.  Now some people, especially those who claim to be mystics, are going to want to cavil at this assertion.  However I am not saying that all the things which are communicated by God to human beings take the form of propositions.  None the less, if we restrict ourselves to the revelations in the Bible, they are clearly propositional statements, such as “thou shalt not kill,” or “Cain traveled to the east and founded a city.”  They are logical statements intended for human comprehension.  Famously, during an age when men and women had drunk too deeply from the tap of mysticism, Dr. Luther objected that the Bible was a model of perspicuity, a plain message which didn’t require any spiritual advancement or academic prowess to understand.

Once we have acknowledged that both rational exposition and special revelation are propositional, it is easy to find the critical difference between these two sources of knowledge.  Rational exposition is dialectical, that is to say, it is a kind of machine for finding truth.  On the other hand special revelation is relational.  From our human standpoint, we could say that special revelation is similar to rhetoric, providing we are willing to ignore the negativity which surrounds the word “rhetoric.”  The ideal of rational exposition is independence from the prejudices of any hypothetical auditor.  In contrast, special revelation is more than just exposition, it is communication.

This is the “secret” of special revelation, which is not really a secret, but rather so obvious that it seldom occurs to anyone to give it much thought: The message of revelation is not just the propositional content of what is being revealed, rather the persons from whom and to whom the message is sent is part of the meaning itself, indeed, sometimes it is the main import of the revelation.  Revelation, i.e.,special revelation, can be defined as relationship + content.

Therefore something of critical importance is going on from the moment that God starts speaking with Abraham.  Personality, rather than matter, has been affirmed as the building block of the universe.  Or rather, since God is on one side of the equation, personality has been affirmed as the builder/building blocks of the universe.  An occasionalist would say that while he was talking with Abraham, God was actually creating the idea of personality.  Fortunately occasionalists (philosophers who think time is an illusion) are pretty nutty, so we can ignore their opinion.   Rather, if we adhere to the reality of creation, we can safely assume that personalities, both Divine and human, existed prior to the Abraham event, but that with that event the full meaning of “personality” was revealed to us.

Of course this doesn’t mean that the content of the revelation was irrelevant or trivial.  God didn’t tell Abraham “one two buckle your shoe” although that would have sufficed to initiate a Divine/human relationship.  Rather, all the things that God told Abraham and asked him to do were intended for not just for his good, but for our edification as well.

Singularity over Substance

…and the souls that they had gotten in Harran.

(Genesis 12:5)

Perhaps I am picking rather unfairly on Baruch Spinoza.  I am sure he was a very nice man.  However the great divide in this world is not between nice men and not-so-nice men (and ditto for women).  Rather, the great divide is between those who are on the side of Abraham and those who are on the other side, and I am not talking, at least primarily, about ethnicity.  In his goodness, Spinoza took solace in the concept of “substance” which was universal and inclusive of all people and things, the all-in-all.  Was this a universal cosmos-worship which denied a separate God, or a universal theism which denied the created universe?  I am sure that God  is not particularly troubled by the confusions of philosophers over nomenclature.  What should be troubling for us is the absence of personality in this metaphysical system, an absence which oddly manages to coexist with the egoistic basis of Spinoza’s ethics.  It is as if Spinoza were telling us, “Take care of yourself, but don’t take yourself too seriously…in the end you will drift away into the vapors!”

In contrast, Abraham takes himself and the fortunes of his family very seriously.  We would tend to count this as one of Abraham’s many faults if it were not that God took Abraham at least, if not more, seriously than Abraham did himself.  Abraham is a singularity, not a spoonful of the universal substance, but rather, a substance-in-himself.  Paradoxically, the fact that God authorizes Abraham’s uniqueness, and takes an interest in his survival, confirms the substantial reality of all the individuals who ever have and ever will exist throughout human history.  Not in vain was it written that those who bless Abraham will be blessed by God.

At last we have arrived at the point were the philosopher is most offended, yet the very point were the believer takes most satisfaction.  This is the scandal of the inclusion of the species inside the individual.  Here we are not speaking, primarily, about procreation.  Adam, Noah, Charles Darwin, or whomever,  may contain a population within their body, as we all know.  However Abraham is different, as all are different who are “in” Abraham, whether they be his biological descendants or not.  The naturalistic philosopher puts this “in” stuff down as an aberration of the apostle Paul, who is summarily dismissed as a poor logician, if not totally insane. However it is not logic which motivates these skeptics, but rather a nagging apprehension that Abraham is just the opening wedge in a fault line which will eventually pull asunder the veil between God and humanity some seventeen centuries later.  They want the veil to stay.

The common sense objections to “in” are based on a conflation of logic and ontology.  Although there are certain kinds of fanatics who delight in the irrational (a generation ago they were called existentialists, today it’s postmodernists)  God never contradicts himself.  He made the laws of logic and He’s sticking to them. To say that a species can be “in” an individual is not the same as claiming that a genus can be inside a species.  If I start a religion which claims that all mammals are zebras, I may have great faith, but  it is bad faith because the object of my faith is a falsehood.  A genus cannot be part of a species.  That would be a logical contradiction.

However a species can subsist within an individual.  This might be true in any number of senses, most of which are irrelevant to the issue at hand.  Procreation has already been mentioned.  Even people who don’t believe in Adam and Eve have heard of “mitochondrial Eve” although there might be resistance to talk of being “in” her, since secularists don’t like bracketing out time in their speculations, not to mention more commonplace squeamishness.  And speaking about what makes us squeamish, what about Legion?   Although “he” is hardly an pleasant topic, we have as sure testimony to Legion as anybody in scripture, including Abraham.   Legion was a species, or at least a population, who (prior to the Lord’s intervention) inhabited an individual.  Skeptics can dispute the truth of the story since they deny the reality of demonic possession, however they cannot claim that the story is logically contradictory, only that it violates their notions of ontological possibility.  If “he” had been a species of bacteria, it would be acceptable to naturalists.

However there is nothing of this biological or spiritually squeamish stuff going on with the “in” of Abraham.  Incorporation into the body of Abraham is incorporation “only” in the sense of being part of a body politic.  Although this may seem intangible in comparison to biological descent, nothing is more fundamental to human existence than having a legal personality which allows one to function in society.  This is easy to see in a worldly sense.  However when one has a standing in relation to Someone who is outside of time and space, it means that one is no longer just a drop in the ocean of universal substance.  Rather, it means that you have your own substance, an individuality which will persist beyond time.  It means that whatever you do will effect eternity.

Whether this is a good thing or not is yet a different question.  In the absence of some mechanism for the atonement for sin, one would have to be very careful indeed.  Considering the liabilities of eternal, individual, existence, it is easy to sympathize with those who wish nothing more than to dissolve into the ocean of Being.  Should life be lived seriously, or should it be viewed with amusement as a passing vanity?  The serious life begins with the singularity of the Abraham event, but fortunately it doesn’t end there, since with individuality comes the recognition of responsibility for sin, and setting sin straight would be a crushing burden if outside help were not forthcoming.  The help arrives when the outside help becomes inside help, and only those who have been tutored in the school of Abraham are prepared to understand how the “out” becomes the “in.”  They are the ones who understand that the uniformity of nature has been split apart, giving rise to individuals, nay, to souls, perchance saints.

Grace is now, but the singularity…was…


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Slouching towards the Post-Legal Society (Introduction: “The Beast”)

Posted by nouspraktikon on June 23, 2017

Cultural Marxism:  From show trials to no trials

If property is the proverbial nine points of the law, it is not surprising that Marxism, its frontal attack on property having stalled out (NB: ideology aside, we all like our “stuff”) would have eventually gotten around to launching a second front against law itself.  The total annihilation of law never succeeded with Communism Classic (Stalin’s version), since the Soviet state needed a judicial apparatus to highlight its superiority to “bourgeois law” …not to mention providing a half-way house on the way to the Gulag.  The nightmare of totalitarianism having been quietly put aside, if not entirely exorcised, we have emerged into the glaring, and presumably lawful, light of the Global Village.  Or have we?

Today, the legal “reforms” of the (allegedly) defunct Soviet state are held to be little more than antiquarian curiosities.  However this does not mean that “bourgeois law” a.k.a., classic legal principles of the Civil and Common law, have triumphed throughout the world.  Rather, the struggle against law has gone underground, or rather above ground and hidden in plain sight.  It dares not risk exposing itself, and therefore avoids clear opposition to the institution which makes civilization possible: Objective Law.  Since it eschews both thesis and antithesis, running for the dense cover of ambiguity, it must be tracked like a beast…by locating and examining its spores.  We know not what it is, but like W. B. Yeats, we can at least pose the question…

And what rough beast, its hour come at last

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

But at least we have a track, where the beast has digested large swaths of civilization’s foliage and left us a species-specific excrement where form has been neatly reduced to matter.   If we can track the down the spoor-dropper, perhaps it can be slain.  Or perhaps not.  But at least we may come to know who, or what, our adversary is.


We must pick up the beast’s trail in the foothills of religion, and especially false religion.  The journeyman tracker will think that we have found the beast itself, and with a gleeful cry of “Antinomianism! Antinomianism!” presume that they have him treed, when in fact it is just a spoor, albeit very a significant find.  Actually the beast has moved on to an entirely different part of the forest, since the “true” false region of today is not a religion at all, but science, or rather scientism.

However there are enough who still believe in ersatz-Christianity to cloud the contemporary scene with a subtle contempt for law.  This is an Oedipal Christianity in which the God of Law is slain by the Son of Love, a doctrine preached by a vague figure named Jesus something or other.  Scientifically this is supposed to be Yeshua ben Yosef, but it really doesn’t matter, since this ersatz-Christianity has been purified of all but universal truths which all good natured people ought to be able to agree to.  Among these is that law is mean and should be dispensed with in favor of good will.

Yeats was assuming that the reader of his poem knew that he was talking about the “Antichrist.”  However if we get too hung up on the idea of the Antichrist being an ugly, brutal, beast then we are likely to be deceived.  Granted, there are many cults which like to dress up in spandex costumes, going about sporting horns and tridents.  They may even enjoy frightening middle-class people on Halloween and sundry sabbaths with their clownish antics.  But this is all an exercise in misdirection.  Such cultists may be “anti-Christs” but not the final beast who arrives at the end of history. The real threat to our spiritual well being doesn’t come from avowed nihilists who dance around impersonating a cartoon Satan.

The real threat comes when the world-system (what the Bible calls the “Aeon”) proceeds to abolish law in favor of a “higher morality.”  In today’s virtue-signaling pseudo-saints we see a harbinger of the real Antichrist.  The real Antichrist will not look evil or demonic, in fact the real Antichrist will try to resemble Christ to  whatever extent that might be possible.  After all, Christ did transpose law-abiding to a higher abiding in Him.   Call that a “higher morality” if you will.  However the “higher morality” of the Antichrist will not be based on fear of the Creator, but fear of the creatures.  Specifically, it will involve fear of the Human collective, a fear that will initially manifest itself as virtue-signaling, but in fact will rest upon appeasement of human (and ultimately demonic) lusts.

Having broken through the firewall of law (whether we choose to call such formal restraints law, culture, morality, ethics, or whatever) the direct confluence of collective human lusts and fears will create a Democracy of Desire.  Initially such a state of affairs may not seem ugly to behold.  It may even appear to be morally beautiful.

A beautiful beast.


Posted in Anthropology, Appologetics, Charismata, Christianity, Constitutionalism, History, Law, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Politics, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

How Churchmen are changed into Ducks

Posted by nouspraktikon on May 9, 2017

George Whitfield (1714-1770)

Among the more formidable characters in church history is George Whitfield (sometimes spelled Whitefield but pronounced without the “e”) the preacher who spread a Calvinistic variety of Methodism in colonial America.  You must understand that at the time Methodism was, as the very name indicates, a methodology and not a sect.  It was Whitfield’s aggressive preaching method, not to the taste of some, which had such a tremendous effect on forming the unique spirituality of early America.

His odd looks (he was cross eyed) and forceful rhetoric must have convinced many that Whitfield  was more an angel than a man.  It was related that he could pronounce a word as neutral and exotic as “Mesopotamia” in such a way as to draw tears from his audience.  For some this was sorcery, but for others it was salvation, and the crowds that he was able to gather were a mighty tributary in that powerful river of revival which we call America’s Great Awakening.

Like his rival in preaching the good news, John Wesley, Whitfield was a life long clergyman in the Anglican church.  Oddly enough, this evangelist with Tory sympathies earned the esteem of freethinking Benjamin Franklin, and the two struck up a friendship which lasted throughout their mature lives.  None the less, it is hard to imagine Whitfield, who died five years before the outbreak of the American Revolution, throwing in his lot with the founding fathers.  For Whitfield being an Anglican was not a doctrinal affirmation, and indeed he despised most of what today would be called “Anglican theology.”  For him, membership in the established church was just the normative state of being born into the British branch of Christendom.  In the Whitmanian view, the established church didn’t get you into heaven, but you couldn’t get out of the established church.  A questionable deal, but a deal nobody could refuse in Britain or its colonies.

To Whitfield’s amazement, many of the Americans whom he had converted on matters spiritual in the 1740’s were loath to join his church, preferring to form into autonomous assemblies, notably Baptist associations.  Whitfield sighed, in reference to the immersion of his converts, “It seems that my fledglings have become ducks!”  From our modern perspective this seems odd as well, why would someone get evangelized by a preacher from one denomination and then go out and join another denomination?  Why did the Whitfield Christians “become ducks”?


To begin with, “denominations” in our contemporary sense didn’t exist, although there were already a multitude of sects.  What did exist was a passionate clash of opinions over ideological and theological issues which today seem obscure and unimportant.  A key word in these debates was “Erastianism” which dropped out of our household vocabularies a century and a half ago and has not been missed yet.

However, unless we know how this “Erastianism” could get people hot under the collar (both clerical and lay collars) we wont understand how churchmen became ducks.  Fortunately there is a term of  recent coinage which conveys much the same meaning to modern ears.  Among libertarian, Constitutional, and conservative circles “statism” has become the contemporary opprobrium of choice for what the colonists called “tyranny.”  Today we can define Erastianism as “statism applied to church governance”, or church-statism.  Keeping that in mind, and equipped with a Bible in one hand and the Declaration of Independence in the other, we are well underway to unravel the ecclesiastical conundrums of 18th century America.  We know what the outcome was, the rise of the Methodists and Baptists and the decline of the Anglican/Episcopalians.  Was this due to the vagaries of demographics or was there some underlying principle working itself out in the lives of Christian men and women?

Going back to the mid-18th century British America, one must keep in mind that Erastianism was not just a theory but a practice.  Take the colony of North Carolina as an example.  The Church of England was established as a public institution, essentially an arm of the state.  Did this mean that those early Tarheels were enthusiastic Anglicans?  Hardly!  In fact the region was largely unchurched during its early history.  None the less a system of church vestries (lay committees) was established paralleling the civil administration, and all subjects were required to pay taxes to maintain this apparatus.

As in all monarchical church-state systems the organization was pyramidal.  Yet, curiously, within British North America this was a truncated pyramid.  Above the vestries and the occasional parish priest, there were no high church officials.  North Carolina, and all other colonies (mostly outside New England) where Anglicanism was established, reported to the Bishop of London.  This led to a curious ambivalence on the part of the colonials.  Some persons, of an Episcopal persuasion, were eager to have cathedrals and bishops established on American shores.  They blamed the crown for foot-dragging on this issue.

Another, and presumably larger, party was heartily glad that the bishops had not yet arrived.  Their fear was that the crown was scheming to impose a hierarchy on the colonies, a hierarchy which would coerce believers in matters of doctrine and impose heftier church taxes.  This was a major item of contention among the colonists in the run up to the revolution, and the fact that it was not directly mentioned in the Declaration of Independence is, like the dog that doesn’t bark, rather a testimony to the seriousness of the issue than the contrary.  It was, like slavery, one of those issues that divided the Founders at a time when it was crucial to present a united front against the crown.

Voting with their (webbed) feet

Keeping these things in mind, perhaps it is easier to understand why the fruits of the Great Awakening, sparked by the evangelism of Anglican priests, did not redound to the Established Church.  Again, taking North Carolina as our example, there are records of a great increase in the membership of Baptist assemblies, while the Established Church remained largely a bureaucratic skeleton.  Converted by the Spirit (through the preaching of Whitfield, Wesley et al) the rustic colonists saw no need to perfect their salvation through works, where the “works” in question were attendance on the ceremony and obligations of local established parishes.  Moreover, such were were added on top of (prior to the revolution)the “work” of paying the church tax…that is regardless of one’s belief, atheist, dissenter or whatever.

Really, Whitfield ought not to have been surprised, for the Spirit was working through his eccentricities, not his Anglicanism.  The crowds swooned at his uncanny words such as “Mesopotamia”…I know not whether they would swoon at “Mother England.”

We too should cry when we hear the world “Mesopotamia”!

These things are of interest to me since I am persuaded by a kind of Calvinistic Methodism myself.  Albeit that I am only a Calvinist in supposing that all people are sinners, while my Method has little in common with that of the Wesley brothers.  Rather, the method consists in this, that (at least under ceterus paribus conditions, a.k.a., all things being equal) freedom is a good thing and coercion is wrong.

Now today in Christendom (or rather post-Christendom) we are no longer so clearly divided into and Established Church and Dissenters.  However the same perennial urges resurface under different guise.  Thus today we have Liberal churches and Conservative churches.  In both these “denominations” there are churches and individuals who seek to become an Establishment.  Both seek to establish a church-state, albeit according to a different view of what the proper function of the state might be.  The liberal churchmen, and churchwomen, want to be the altruistic cheerleaders of the journalistic-academic-welfare-health complex, while the conservatives want the church to be an official apologist for the military-industrial-banking complex.

However there is always a remnant which has been granted the wisdom to understand human folly.  Among the greatest of follies is what has been called “the tyranny of good intentions.”  This is when we try to force something good on someone.  If we try to force Christ on someone we get the Inquisition.  If we try to force “democracy” (a problematic concept in itself!) on a people we get…well, we get something like the contemporary Middle East, a region in constant turmoil where two thousand year old Christian communities are today on the verge of extinction.

It is we, not Whitfield’s auditors, who should weep when we hear that old name for Iraq and its neighbors…”Mesopotamia”!

Yet through the gloom of it all, let’s remember that Jesus loves us.  I’m afraid I may have increased the gloom by throwing a heavy theological tome at your head.  But at least I warned you…




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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.

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