Glen Scrivener has a video series in which he has discussions with various people regarding the earliest stories in Genesis and how these might be applicable to our time. In the current video, his discussion is with Jonathan Pageau.
Within the circle of current discussants in this conversation, I have found Pageau to have the most realistic views on the situation facing the West. To be clear, at the macro level – call it the meaning crisis – all discussants hold similar views; we are in one. It is at the micro level – how this meaning crisis is manifest through things like the political split and covid – where Pageau demonstrates a better understanding.
He is asked by Scrivener: where did this all begin to fall apart. Pageau offers that there were signs of it at the end of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, but it can be most clearly seen in the Enlightenment, “where in this desire to limit the world to this kind of reason and scientific progress, that is when things started to break apart.”
It is a point also made by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn in 1978:
This means that the mistake must be at the root, at the very basis of human thinking in the past centuries. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world which was first born during the Renaissance and found its political expression from the period of the Enlightenment. …the proclaimed and enforced autonomy of man from any higher force above him.
Returning to Pageau: it was at this high-point of the West where we can see things already starting to come apart, and we see the fruits of it today – watching Europe break down and America break down.
People who argued for it at the end of the nineteenth century, who said this is happening, it was hard to convince people at that time. But now, everybody sees it; everybody has that sense.
Pageau disagrees with Tom Holland on one point: where Holland sees the seeds of Western destruction in Christianity, Pageau sees things otherwise: Christianity offers a proper hierarchy – what is above and what is below: what is above is to care for what is below, and in response that which is below is to submit to and obey that which is above.
To me, the Christianity that Holland sees is a bastardized Christianity: separating liberty from responsibility. I have commented before: one side focusses on the Ten Commandments, while the other side focusses on the parable of the good Samaritan (not a perfect way to describe it, but I hope my meaning is clear).
I have written of this hierarchy in the context of demonstrating a natural law ethic solely through Scripture: God made man – all men and all women – in His image. At the same time, God established hierarchy; He established terms of service and respect among and between those above and those below.
Pageau offers: where Christianity starts getting sideways is when it starts looking like a revolution: that which is below wants to take power from that which is above. This is what has been occurring throughout the West – and, it seems, driven by placing the liberty of the individual as the highest goal or objective.
What is not explored in this conversation is that the revolution also occurred in those who are above: they stopped caring about those below. Lots of chicken-and-egg unpacking to do here, but for now it is enough to suggest that once the individual was made supreme, those above had free reign to manipulate the individuals below.
Scrivener really pushes on this – it is not clear if he is advocating his view or just playing devil’s advocate: can’t it be seen another way: those above willingly giving up power, via the Magna Carta and other such agreements? Pageau sees such events differently – those above looking to recognize the “amen” of the people.
I see it differently still: a written constitution was of greater benefit to the ruler than the ruled. From Fritz Kern:
[Prior to a written constitution] The monarch was subject not to a specific constitutional check, but to the law in general, which is all-powerful and almost boundless in its lack of definition; he is limited by this law and bound to this law.
From the point of view of constitutional machinery, the control exercised in this way by the law will presumably be very incomplete and insecure – the very breadth of the mediaeval idea of law allows us to guess this. But in theory there resulted a complete control of the monarch, a subjection to law so thorough that political considerations and reason of State were excluded and out of the question.
Returning to the video, Pageau offers: “I don’t think democracy is necessarily a Christian thing, although in the modern world it is probably the best solution to the modern problem.” Again, Scrivener pushes back, noting that the first time the phrase “of the people, by the people, and for the people” was used was by John Wycliffe, in a preface to a translation to the New Testament – as a meditation on the priesthood of Christ. “That’s kind of a Christian thing, wouldn’t you say?” Scrivener offers, with a smirk on his face – hoping for some positive response.
Pageau counters: the modern world wants to say Christ is King, so we won’t have any kings; Christ is Lord, so we won’t have any lords. As if to say hierarchy is great for God, but everything else is all equal. By this, we don’t understand value or what brings us together into one.
Ancient Christianity understood that the hierarchy was based on love – and you can see this in Pageau’s earlier statement of those above caring for those below. “And love is the key, to how God exists and how everything exists. Love doesn’t abolish multiplicity.” You don’t want to suck them into you, but you also have something that binds the two of you. It is a balance of unity and multiplicity.
The Apostle Paul wrote several times of the different roles played by different parts of the body, yet it is one body: unity and multiplicity; not all equal, but all necessary for the body to survive and all deserving of respect. Pageau would offer, regarding proper hierarchy: the purpose of that which is above is to love that which is below. A very Christ-like thought, much more so than suggesting that this relationship should only exist between God and man – all men, individually.
This far, I have commented on only the first fourteen minutes of a one-hour discussion. It is at this point that Scrivener asks how can this be mapped onto our current political divide (beginning here). There is a discussion about Pageau often noting the craziness on the left. So, what about the 6th of January? Has that made you change your mind?
I have talked about the excesses of the right. The issue is that the excesses of the left don’t show so much because the left has control over the discourse right now. So, speaking against the left appears much brighter.
Regarding what happened at the capitol…it’s hard to be objective. Since spring, there have been riots and insurgencies in the US, nonstop. They have been trying to take the federal court building in Portland for months, attacking it with fireworks and explosives. But then this thing happens [on January 6], and everybody goes insane.
It makes you see who holds the discourse – why weren’t they going insane all summer?
Pageau continues – yes, what happened on the 6th was insane, and almost everyone even on the right denounces it. But it is clear that it is the left that is unhinged. However, it is the underground currents that are extremely dangerous. If the cultural conflict continues, these will surface – it’s just going to happen – you can’t just push on one side forever.
Now I have covered the first twenty minutes. It is enough for my notes and comments. What follows is an interesting discussion on some of the differences between the Orthodox tradition and the Protestant tradition (albeit the latter is quite diverse). Further on, a discussion of Genesis and the fall – a reference to the game Chutes and Ladders is incorporated. Christ can only be understood if one understands the story of the fall. There is much more of interest – especially for those who want to explore some basic understanding of how an orthodox Christian might see the world.
In this conversation I have been following – Peterson, VanderKlay, Pageau, Vervaeke, etc., including others who I have not followed as closely, like the Weinstein brothers – they all keep circling around a topic that, for some reason, none have mentioned: natural law.
It is this that they are searching for; hopefully, one day, it will come to the surface of this discussion.