Wednesday, May 29, 2024

The Death of Man

 

He's a real nowhere man

Sitting in his nowhere land

Making all his nowhere plans for nobody

-          Nowhere Man, The Beatles

---------------------------------------------------------------

We're on a ride to nowhere

Come on inside

Taking that ride to nowhere

We'll take that ride

-          Road to Nowhere, The Talking Heads

---------------------------------------------------------------

Knowhere (pronounced "no where") is a fictional location appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics and in related media. It is depicted as the enormous severed head of an ancient celestial being….

---------------------------------------------------------------

The Age of Nihilism: Christendom from the Great War to the Culture Wars, by John Strickland

Utopia means literally “nowhere.  And in his playful way, [Thomas More] coined a variation of it, eutopia. Which he used in his book’s subtitle.  The second term means “good place.”  It is this, of course, that ultimately came to give utopia its meaning.

And so, to extend More’s play on words, it can be said that if there is anything the history of Christendom demonstrates during its age of nihilism, it is that a good place without God is nowhere.

Whether via communism, fascism, or liberalism, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche could not be evaded: the death of God permits any action as moral.  This is inescapable, and we see today that we have not escaped it.

An understanding that we are all fallen – as Solzhenitsyn would write (paraphrased), the line dividing good and evil runs through every human heart – leads to the humility of repentance.  We have stopped recognizing the line within us and only find it between us and others.  Repentance isn’t to be found in a culture built on indignation. 

Fascism fell with the fall of the Nazis; at least that’s what we tell ourselves.  Communism would fall, or so it seemed at the time, with the fall of the Soviet Union some forty-five years later.  Economic plans, even economic miracles were promised, and failed to produce. 

Promises to double meat production resulted in the killing, first of dairy cows, then of breeding cows.  Still the doubling wasn’t achieved, and the consequences lasted for years thereafter.  Larionov, the author of this scheme, was first given the Order of Lenin by Kruschev – based solely on his promise.  After the failure, he would commit suicide.

Reforms introduced by Gorbachev only opened the door to express discontent.  Chernobyl blew the doors open: no containment structures in place (a cost saving measure driven by scarce financial resources), the disaster was initially covered up, only furthering the speed toward implosion of the communist state.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

For the Moment…

A few thoughts on the topics of the day….

One-Issue Voter

No, not abortion, not Israel, not Trump Derangement Syndrome.  My one issue is the non-aggression principle (NAP).  A politician who speaks to this and has a track record of living to this will get my vote.  Not that it will make any difference…. (for sure, not since November 22, 1963).

Now, the application of the NAP takes some unpacking.  There are self-described libertarians who are on all sides of almost all issues, each one claiming he is making the thin libertarian argument.  I spent the first several years of this blog working out my views on several such seemingly controversial topics; the libertarian answer turned out not to be so difficult for me:

·         Abortion (no)

·         The Jab and other such forced medical treatments (no, yet, stunningly, many so-called libertarians went haywire about this)

·         Open borders (the NAP can’t answer this question in a world where the state prevents me from defending my private property; the closest approximation given state control is to answer “no”)

·         Foreign wars (no)

·         Foreign aid (who would have thought this would be controversial amongst libertarians…October 7 blew this door wide open, at least for one very prominent libertarian)

·         Secession and decentralization in state governance (yes, always)

Of course, I could simplify all of this by just saying “property rights,” but as this would eliminate most forms of taxation, well…in a world of humans, I can’t afford to be a purist.

There are hundreds of candidates who oppose the taking of life in the womb yet fully support the taking of life in places like Syria, Iraq, Ukraine and Gaza.  There are hundreds who take the exact opposite view on each. 

“My body, my choice” is supported by those who want to murder unborn infants, yet is denied by the same people when it comes to penetrating my skin with a foreign object.

There are hundreds who profess Christianity yet have yet to discover a war they didn’t like.  There are some who claim to desire border control yet at the same time have no problem voting to invade my personal borders.

There are a handful who oppose foreign aid, except foreign aid for the land-based aircraft carrier also known as the fifty-first state.

There are none, or none that I am aware of, who support plebiscites to determine secession and decentralization. 

If It’s True…

…then no law is needed to protect it.  Just open discussion among honest participants.  If it’s true, then cancel culture is exactly the opposite tool to be applied – again, open discussion will expose the lies and offer the means to land on the truth.

There is a panic about what has recently happened on college campuses, a panic about how views are changing regarding that aforementioned fifty-first state.  The panic is resulting in proposed laws, as well as banishment and isolation.

But truth doesn’t need any such protection offered by laws or cancel culture; only lies do.

Self-fulfilling Prophecy

Christian Zionism (simplified): unquestioning and unreserved support the state of Israel; the Battle of Armageddon; an army of two-hundred million; total destruction.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

The Summer of Love

 

In fact, the latest quest for transcendence would lead the West into a spiritual freefall. … The plunge began in a corner of Christendom called hippiedom.

The Age of Nihilism: Christendom from the Great War to the Culture Wars, by John Strickland

While rejecting Christianity, this hippiedom couched itself in an expressly transcendent character.  There was an earnest religiosity.  They had their sacraments: sex, drugs, and rock and roll. 

The science of inebriation: Sandoz Laboratories in Switzerland developed the synthetic chemical, lysergic acid diethylamide: LSD.  The firm brought the drug to market, despite – or maybe because of – the chemist who invented it having reported experiencing an assault by demonic beings after taking a sample.

Mescaline.  Aldous Huxley was a big fan.  He would publish an account of his experience.  After graduating to LSD, he spent his days on acid trips and writing about the effects.  Confronted with terminal cancer, he instructed his wife to give him a lethal dose….

Timothy Leary.  He would get high with students at Harvard.  He described drugs as a sacrament: “…a visible external thing which turns the key to the inner doors.”  At his twelve-year-old daughter’s birthday party, he plied the guests with drugs.  One of the guests attempted to rape his daughter, which brought Leary to ponder why such an action is considered wrong. 

The second main element in this culture was sexual promiscuity – a means of linking one’s transcendence with another.  All boundaries of sexuality were dissolved; restraints in place for centuries were abandoned.  Public nudity, movies, adultery, swinging.

The third element was rock and roll.  Rhythm and Blues. Elvis Presley and his hips.  But the main event was to be found in The Beatles, whose career is a microcosm of the changing landscape. 

They started with innocuous songs: “Love, Love Me Do.”  Then they discovered acid.  This moved them into what I have always described as their drug-induced era.  Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds; A Day in the Life.

The 1967 Summer of Love; Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco.  Are you going, with flowers in your hair?  The Monterrey Pop Festival: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Who and their drummer Keith Moon.  All three would soon enough die from a drug overdose.  Nihilism on steroids; sex, drugs, and rock and roll all in one package.  Plenty of sacraments, but no ritual murders…until later: Charles Manson.  Woodstock would follow, in 1969. 

This was in the wake of Norman Vincent Peale and his bestseller, The Power of Positive Thinking, published in 1952.  “The minister of millions,” so wrote one biographer.  Little to do with salvation, but, using Biblical quotes, much to do with achieving the American Dream and the almost limitless potential for self-realization.  I guess this means sanctification, of a sort.

Other Christians wrote in a different manner:

…Richard Niebuhr famously expressed dismay at the liberal theological claim that “a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgement through the ministrations of Christ without a cross.”

Other notable Protestant leaders would come to a similar point, recognizing a proper relationship between God and man. 

Abortion: Howard Moody, a Greenwich Village Baptist preacher, formed a nationwide Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, designed to help women bypass state laws that prevented them from ending unwanted pregnancies.  Mainline Protestant bodies would join in: the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church, the United Church of Christ.  The United Methodist Church offered office space in Washington DC.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

The Sound of Inevitability

 

Nevertheless, however fervently Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox writers called nihilistic Christendom back from the abyss, theirs remained little more than a cry in the wilderness.

The Age of Nihilism: Christendom from the Great War to the Culture Wars, by John Strickland

Communism and liberalism (of a sort) came out of World War Two as victors.  Communism would fall first, at least its Soviet incarnation.  Liberalism would limp along, albeit that limp grew increasingly more noticeable over time.

Secular ideology was not the solution; utopia, whether communism or liberalism, was a failure.  While many Christians continued to pursue utopia, there were those who saw the problem clearly.  Nicolas Berdyaev would write:

“…what is taking place in the world today is not a crisis of humanism (that is a topic of secondary importance), but a crisis of humanity.”

It was a process of dehumanization in all phases of culture and social life; most importantly, the dehumanization of moral life.  Man ceased to have any value at all; to be powerless and to be replaced.

Referring to C.S. Lewis:

To confront this development, the Oxford literary scholar and accidental theologian wrote a book with the dystopian title The Abolition of Man (1943).

Man was reduced to instinct, and he was allowed only his rational mind to confront this life.  In other words, men without chests.

T. S. Eliot would write (sounding a lot like Doug Wilson):

“…we must abandon the notion that the Christian should be content with freedom of cultus…. The Christian can be satisfied with nothing less than a Christian organization of society.”

Not that every member of society need be a Christian, but it would be a society that the natural end of man is acknowledged for all, with the supernatural end of beatitude for the Christian.

Absent this, in other words, and continuing down the slide of secularism, totalitarianism was the likely outcome.  Yes, perhaps a soft totalitarianism, but it would be totalitarianism nonetheless. 

Stalin was out, Kruschev was in.  Although a true believer in communism, he at least toned down the actions of the police state within the Soviet Union.  But it remained totalitarian.

Liberalism fared little better; this was even anticipated by many.  Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World offered a picture of this illiberal future dressed in liberal garb.  Totalitarianism was the inevitable destiny for the West:

“The quaint old forms – elections, parliaments, Supreme Courts, and all the rest – will remain.  The underlying substance will be a new kind of non-violent totalitarianism.”

Yes, the forms remain: we still pretend to hold elections, pretend that there is a Supreme Court that applies justice, pretend that our parliament represents us and upholds the Constitution.  But it is all a façade, a Potemkin Village of governance.

Friday, April 26, 2024

The Liberal Utopia

 

What was valued was not an orientation toward the kingdom of heaven but confidence that America offered a utopian alternative to it.

The Age of Nihilism: Christendom from the Great War to the Culture Wars, by John Strickland

Strickland begins this chapter on liberalism with World War Two (he has offered much work on the reasons and drivers behind liberalism in the many earlier chapters).  With Nazi fascism defeated, communism in the east and liberalism in the west were left to stand off against each other.

Toward the war’s conclusion, of course, the west, led by the United States, would carpet bomb Dresden and drop nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

Total warfare had exposed the shortcomings of utopia to all Christendom.

I think this was well exposed in the Great War, and in the United States in the (so-called) Civil War before this.  Yet, I take Strickland’s point: without the transcendent, every strongman is quite sure of what utopia should look like.

America was the free world; Nazi Germany, the slave world.  One must live and one must die.  Propaganda through film and other means would help shape these narratives.  Ideology replaced Christianity, and therefore it was up to ideology (liberalism) to offer the solution against another ideology (fascism).

John Locke offered inspiration.  The United States was the first nation to embrace this liberal philosophy, this ideology as the basis for societal formation.  Individual liberty was to become the highest good, and it was the trademark of the United States. 

The individual was free to define and create himself.  John Stuart Mill kept it simple: pleasure and happiness, these would guide.  Utilitarianism.  This was determined on a case-by-case basis; nothing transcendent here.  A free exchange of ideas would provide the light to shine the way.

…individuals would reach conclusions about right and wrong on their own.  This would yield a utopia of individual liberty.

Post-war America had a mission: to spread this ideal around the world; to evangelize.  American exceptionalism.  Of course, this trend started from the beginning – a manifest destiny took the former colonies to the west coast of North America and beyond.  Now all of Western Europe was at her feet, as was Japan in the Far East. 

Religious diversity would drive a strengthened national identity.  Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox from eastern Europe, Jews.  Given this diversity, another uniting force was required, and the nation-state was happy to offer the alternative.

The “American Way.” It has been observed that this phrase appeared in the New York Times about 700 times from the Civil War to 1932.  In just the subsequent decade, coincidentally coinciding with the build up to war – a war that most Americans didn’t want – it appeared over 2200 times.

The “American Dream.”  This phrase was coined in 1931 – not really the dreamiest of times.  Each individual had an “inherent right to be restricted by no barriers.”  Man’s nature is not fixed – a plasticity, to be shaped individually. 

Friday, April 12, 2024

Continuities and Discontinuities

 

“It doesn’t matter what we believe in, as long as we believe.”

-          From the diary of Joseph Goebbels

The Age of Nihilism: Christendom from the Great War to the Culture Wars, by John Strickland

In this chapter, Strickland moves from the Communism of the Soviet Union to the National Socialism of Germany (next will come a look into the Liberalism of the West).  Just as in the chapter on Communism, there is much here that will sound, unfortunately, as if it is being written about today’s western democracies.  This chapter adds another dimension: a striking mirror to Israel’s actions regarding Palestinians in Gaza.

National Socialism was the most bestial vision of the West ever concocted.  More even than Communism, it promised to replace decrepit humanism and moralistic Christianity with a totally new moral order unrestrained by reason or mercy.

I struggle with this statement.  Was National Socialism somehow worse in this regard than Communism?  It is the story we are supposed to believe: Hitler, not Stalin, has become the stand-in for Satan.  But regarding this “totally new moral order unrestrained by reason or mercy,” one could argue that National Socialism at least held some mercy toward Germans. 

This mercy toward Germans can be seen in the three nihilistic convictions that lay at the heart of National Socialism:

“…the existence of a master race, the inferiority of other races, and the need for a war of racial annihilation.”

By the way, is this not inarguably the view of Israel when it comes to their position and against the position of Palestinians? 

In any case, for whom did Communism, under Stalin, hold any mercy?  He purged those even in his inner circles, let alone Russian, Ukrainian, or Georgian commoners.  In the battle of “most bestial,” Stalin killed far more civilians before the first shot was fired in Europe in World War Two than did Hitler.

As to the first conviction, the existence of a master race, Strickland sees this as necessary within Hitler’s framework as a defense of “Christendom in general and Germany in particular.”  This is a second statement which is baffling to me. 

There is nothing in Hitler’s actions that were a defense of Christendom.  Worship was of Hitler; allegiance was sworn to Hitler.  Strickland offers many examples that counter his own assertion:

·         Mixing Wagnerian nationalism with Nietzschean worship of the will…

·         …the West was built by a master race called the Aryans.

·         …preserved Aryan supremacy through morally unflinching expansion and conquest.

·         …racist nationalism…

·         …the racial transformation of the world…

·         …evolutionary ideas about an Aryan master race…

·         …individual human beings have no innate value.

·         “A stronger generation will drive out the weaklings,” Hitler claimed.

There is no defense of Christendom here, not in any sense to understand the word.  And this points to one of the problems I have had with Strickland’s entire narrative arc (as valuable as I have found his work in many ways).  His narrative depends on hinging the problems of the West to the schism of 1054.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

The Bible and Slavery

 

Slavery in the Bible: Answering Atheist Critiques, Gavin Ortlund

What follows is my comment at the video, but meaningfully expanded:

-------------------------------------------

It really is inappropriate to accuse God, through the Bible, of condoning or endorsing slavery.  God gave His standard in the opening of the Bible: man is made in the image of God. 

Genesis 1: 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

The implications of this are easily deduced, not only regarding slavery, but regarding all human interaction.

It strikes me that the root of this critique regarding the Bible and slavery is the unwillingness to acknowledge man’s fall, the depth of that fall, and the consuming power of sin over man.

If this is acknowledged, then one can grasp the idea that God understood that achieving thousands of years of ethical, Christian, progress in one day was not possible given man’s depth in sin.  Many of the Old Testament commandments are a reflection of this: God was reigning in the corruption, trying to bring it under some control, setting standards to minimize the chaos.

Slavery, along with many other behaviors that ran counter to the truth that all men are created in God’s image, was accepted as morally just in every society.  Man first had to be brought into a condition where the corruption was minimized.  They were not at all ready for returning to the condition intended in the Garden.

We know this, if for no other reason, than Jesus’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.  “Ye have heard it said…But I say unto you….” In addition to the Pharisees and scribes modifying some of these commandments, they didn’t go all the way; they only dealt with action, the observable behavior.  Jesus made clear that the point was the heart, not merely superficial action.  Get the heart right, then you can understand and live properly with your fellow man who is created in God’s image – as God intended.

We also see this in the teaching of the apostle Paul regarding slavery, the relationship between husband and wife, parents and children.  In the Roman world of his time, with the accepted ethic of slavery, of a male citizen satisfying his desire to ejaculate in any orifice available to him, with the tossing of babies into the sewer, Paul’s message was infinitely more radical than anything we have seen since within the context of time.

Jesus’s teaching is not seen as merely reigning in the chaos; He is preaching an entirely new man – but not really a new man.  It was man as intended in creation, before the fall.  Which comes back to Genesis 1:27.  This was God’s intent for man in creation, and man’s fall tore him away from God’s design.

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere, taught the intent of the law, and brought to us the next level of understanding – consistent with the law, but not as a new law to follow.  He taught a change of the heart; this was what God intended all along.

Conclusion

Knowing the depth of man’s fall, was there another way?  A way that recognized man had free will to act?  A way that would not have turned all of mankind into God’s slaves?  

I don’t see it.

Epilogue

As an aside: slavery was an improvement over what came before.  In battle, defeated enemies were slaughtered, to the last.  Someone figured out that some of the defeated might be more valuable as slaves. 

I would guess most of the conquered preferred this option to death; those that didn’t certainly had the ability to change their circumstance to that which they preferred.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Christ Pantocrator

 

About Jordan Peterson’s horrendous tweet at Netanyahu: “Give ‘em hell.  Enough is enough.”

I check [my moral compass] as follows: the only people who suffer in such situations are the common people who have or want nothing to do with such violence, who want nothing more than to raise their children, give them a good education, have a decent job, feed their families.

All of the actors – the movers and shakers?  None of them are physically at risk.  They have either put these wheels in motion or are trying to figure out how to leverage these events to their advantage – or both.

I wrote that just a few days after October 7.  We can see now, although it was obvious then, what those who were to support the state of Israel were calling for when they used words like Peterson’s.

Given what we have seen the last several months, the mea culpas should be flowing.  Very few are….

-----------------------------------

This episode was certain to tear the left apart, as there was nothing that held the elite and the raving masses together other than hate for western civilization.  It turns out the raving masses were consistent in their application, and the elites didn’t like that:

The Left is Consuming Itself

This was a certainty – just as feminism was going to be consumed by trans athletes, support for people of color ™ was going to be embraced until it touched on the people of color living between the river and the sea ™.

It isn’t just the left that has its zanies:

Well, the so-called right isn’t doing any better, with one outdoing the other on the desire to fulfill zany end-times lunacy.

Christian Zionists for Genocide?

Speaking of zany end-times lunacy…. Can we put a knife in the horrendous blasphemy that is Scofield, once and for all?

This followed by an image of John Hagee entitled “Israel: God’s Battle-Ax.”  Well, yes on the battle-ax part.  But is it God’s? 

-----------------------------------

How are these Scofield evangelicals going to handle the antisemitism of saying “Christ is King”?  What happens to these Scofield evangelicals when they decide they can’t withstand the social pressure of saying such words?  What happens to them when the following words are labelled antisemitic, hence cancelling Jesus?

·         A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed.

·         But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

·         Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.

·         But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! … Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?

·         Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.

Doug Wilson points out that it is the evangelical Zionists that are the bulwark against crazy in America – given their size and voting power.  Yes, maybe.  But sooner or later this bulwark is going to have to choose: Just who, or what, is their king? 

Romans 9:5(b) Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever.

Christ Pantocrator: Christ, ruler of all.  That would make Him king.

-----------------------------------

No, no trope or dog whistle here.  I have used this phrase many times in the past in posts that have nothing to do with current controversies, for example, August 2021:

In this chapter, Strickland offers descriptions of several of the icons one will find in an Eastern Orthodox church.  Christ Pantocrator at the top of the dome; Mary and the infant Jesus above the alter.  To see these icons (and dozens of others) in person is truly a moving experience, something that I believe is a loss in most, if not all, protestant churches.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Show Me the Man…

 

…and I will show you the crime.

Total warfare opened an abyss for nearly everyone.  Millions of men were slaughtered by the weapons of progress, and millions more – along with wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters – were forced to adjust to the horror.

The Age of Nihilism: Christendom from the Great War to the Culture Wars, by John Strickland

With this chapter, Strickland examines the first of three ideologies that grew out of the Enlightenment’s removal of God from man and society.  Here, he will examine communism; in subsequent chapters, he will examine nationalism (through the lens of national socialism), and then liberalism. 

…liberalism was dedicated to the individual; nationalism was dedicated to the national community; and socialism was dedicated to the working class…

In each case, the eschatology was a kingdom of posterity: transcendence through progress.  In each case, an impotent attempt at deriving meaning was attempted; impotent, because none of these offered a meaningfully transcendent possibility.

There were glimpses of the old Christendom coming through: the Christmas truce of 1914 – not a formal truce between the warring parties, but informal, on the lines, between and among French, German, and British soldiers, many of whom said enough of this: let’s play football, hold a mass, and sing Christmas songs.

But the underlying current was one of a civilization without a stable culture to support it. 

…an important difference exists between civilization and culture.  The former depends on the latter, drawing from culture the beliefs and values that sustain it.  But when culture dies out, it leaves civilization in a state of rootlessness.

The utopian culture of humanism had died out with the Great War.  Civilization was groping for a culture that could replace it; absent a culture that could sustain civilization, civilization would die as well.  It is here where Strickland offers the three secular ideologies of the Communists, National Socialists, and liberalism as man’s attempts to build culture.

But as we shall see, this therapy could not be accomplished without purgatives and amputations equal in many cases to the effects of the Great War.

Making omelets requires breaking eggs, etc.  Which brings us to a focus on the communists.  Within this post, I will intersperse some of my thoughts of how all of this from one hundred years ago is available to us today in the West – in full flower, out in the open, no longer even hidden under a superficial veneer.

The year 1927 marked the beginning of a new start for the Soviet Union, ten years after the revolution.  Vladimir Lenin had died a few years earlier.  A parade, on Revolution Day, with Joseph Stalin atop the monumental tomb dedicated to Lenin.  Stalin stood there, having staged and executed a ruthless struggle to succeed the founder.

Films were made of the founding and of Lenin.  These adapted the concept of Nietzsche’s “great man,” and Strickland offers the idea that Nietzsche as much as Marx influenced communists and communism’s ideology (or, at least, its implementation).

Lenin managed the party with an iron will that would have impressed the “self-overcoming” creator of Zarathustra.  He overwhelmed his rivals with an intellectual brilliance and violent contempt lacking any pretense of human sympathy.

It strikes me that this need not be driven by a deliberate merging of the two thinkers – Nietzsche and Marx – nor does Strickland suggest this.  It seems, more so, that such a merging of Nietzsche with any impotent ideology (including nationalism and liberalism) is inevitable when the impotence is due to a lack of a transcendent.  Someone or something has to be in charge, at the top.  Always.

Leon Trotsky was present from the beginning – 1917.  When it was announced that the revolution had to begin with a dictatorship, many revolutionaries (Mensheviks) objected, and Trotsky gave his “dustbin of history” speech. 

“You are pitiful, isolated individuals! You are bankrupts. Your role is played out. Go where you belong from now on – into the dustbin of history!”

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Men Have Forgotten God

 

If modernist art and the human sciences had been dissolving the West’s cultural foundations for decades, the First World War brought the utopian structure down like an edifice demolished.

The Age of Nihilism: Christendom from the Great War to the Culture Wars, by John Strickland

The Enlightenment project hit its peak in the second half of the nineteenth century.  The last stronghold of the institutionalized inequality of man, slavery, was banished in the West.  Economic growth was accelerating – a clear vision of an improved economic standard of living for all.  Personal liberty, for most, was clearly advancing.

The achievements of utopia may have been impressive on economic and political levels, but on a cultural level things were different. … It was becoming increasingly evident that utopia was threatened by the very beliefs and values that inspired it.

In other words, liberalism does not have the means to defend and hold onto liberalism; Enlightenment values were killing the Enlightenment.  It is very easy to see this today, but there were those who saw this coming more than a century ago – men like Chesterton and Belloc.

Nietzsche and Wagner were already being venerated at the dawn of the twentieth century.  They inspired a new generation of nihilist thinkers.  Music, art, literature, science, philosophy – all developed branches from this nihilistic trunk.  The one thing all had in common, regardless of discipline: a conscious effort to destroy Christianity.  In other words, deconstruction: a rejection of what the West had once been, to be replaced with…whatever.

For its elitist membership, all values inherited from Christendom’s distant and recent past were to be abandoned in exchange for a life of sensuality and rebellion.

Franz Kafka demonstrates the inevitable future.  In Metamorphosis, the hero awakens one morning to find he has been transformed into a monstrous insect:

It is an absurd and disturbing opening, but the story amasses an ever-growing series of setbacks to demonstrate that utopian man is anything but what the humanists had once proclaimed.

But this is almost child’s play when seen against The Trial.  The hero is charged with a crime he did not commit.  In fact, the crime is never even named. 

His hero is persecuted, arrested, put on trial, and finally, in the last scene, “shot like a dog.”

Emile Durkheim would write of anomie, a condition in which the individual, cut off from traditional morality, is unable to live morally.  In other words, it isn’t that God is dead; it is that man is dead to God.

Durkheim met the end of his life wondering when, exactly, the anomy caused by secularization would be alleviated.  For his twenty-first century successors measuring suicide rates in the sociology departments of modern universities, the question is still being asked.

But of all of the branches that grew from the trunk of nihilism, perhaps the most culturally subversive human science to appear was psychology.  And the father of this branch was Sigmund Freud.  In his wake, the sexual conventions of two millennia became casualties.  And the fruit of this nihilistic tree was running full-speed toward the abyss of the Great War. 

The blow that hurled the modern world on its course of self-destruction was the Great War of 1914 – 1918. (Barzun*)

Ideological nationalism, the efficiency of the bureaucratic state, government-led propaganda, mass conscription, and the new industrial economy – all products of the new utopian civilization erected over the previous century – led to the deaths of some ten million soldiers and another ten million civilians due to hunger and disease.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Rebel With a Cause

 

The record is stunning.  To take only one microcosmic example: In the year 1866, two important works of literature had begun to appear in serial form side by side in the same literary journal. The Russian Mesenger (Russky vestnik). 

The first novel was War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.  The second was Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

The Age of Nihilism: Christendom from the Great War to the Culture Wars, by John Strickland

Stickland is describing the boom that occurred in Russian secular culture once the West’s humanist ideals were embraced.  Here, Stickland will focus on Dostoevsky, noting that he would document, better than any of his contemporaries, the growing crisis of utopian Christendom – the version of Christendom that came to replace, in Strickland’s view, the paradisaical Christendom that existed for the first thousand years in the West, and, until more recently, in the East.

Dostoevsky, son of a brutal father who was murdered when his peasants rose up against him, was never an atheist, although he nevertheless liked to spend his time among atheists.  He would keep up with the latest streams of progressive Western thought.  Most in this camp would look at the Russian Orthodox Church with contempt.

They would also look down on the poor and impoverished.  Dostoevsky would write of these same poor and impoverished, stirring dissatisfaction with the status quo.  A lesson for our time, perhaps: when the status quo is atheist, it is the Christian who is a rebel:

John 15: 18-19 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.  If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

Dostoevsky would write, when contemplating how different he was, the torment he suffered as “a child of this century”:

“And despite all this, God sent me moments of great tranquility, moments during which I love and find I am loved by others.  … This symbol is very simple, and here is what it is: to believe that there is nothing more beautiful, more profound, than Christ…”

Yet, he would remain rebellious in temperament.  He would join a group that would meet at night, discussing books by prominent French socialists.  Having been found out, the members of the group were sentenced to execution.

As they were being marched out to receive this punishment, a rider came up with a message from the tsar: they would not be executed, but instead sent for hard labor in Siberia.  A reprieve.  In Siberia, instead of limiting himself to live within the world of the intelligentsia, he would have hardened criminals for companions: murderers, rapists, child abusers.

He was not allowed to bring any of his books with him, yet somehow a charitable society did provide copies of the New Testament for the prisoners.  Dostoevsky would keep his under his pillow in the barracks for the next four years.

What Dostoevsky would discover in his time with the criminals: even if the world was transformed into a utopia, with everyone given wealth, health, and freedom, in the end that world was still populated by men such as these.  There is nothing in such a utopia that would heal the hearts of such men.

“In the course of several years, I never saw a sign of repentance among these people…”

Just like Nietzsche, Dostoevsky saw the dark side, the nihilism.  Dostoevsky was in prison, Nietzsche in the splendor of Bayreuth.  Yet, unlike Nietzsche, Dostoevsky was a Christian – this reality gave Dostoevsky the means to transcend this broken world.

Seeing a man savagely beaten in prison, Dostoevsky’s mind raced back to a time in childhood.  Out in the family forest, he heard the cry of a wolf.  Terrified, he fled the wood and came to Marey, one of his father’s peasants.  Peasants who were so cruelly beaten by Dostoevsky’s father that they would one day rise up and murder him.

Monday, March 4, 2024

History Rhymes

 

I am working through Matthew Barrett’s book, The Reformation as Renewal: Retrieving the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, at my substack.  However, I have a thought based on one portion of the text that I think better fits at this blog.

“Stab, smite, slay.”  And if “you die in doing it, good for you!”  To do nothing was to be an accomplice.  “If he is able to punish and does not do it – even though he would have had to kill someone or shed blood – he becomes guilty of all the murder and evil that these people commit.”  Not grace, but sword, said Luther.  And if you die trying to kill one of these rebellious peasants, fear not – you are a “true martyr in the eyes of God.”

The occasion was the Peasants Revolt in 1525.  Luther called for indiscriminate killing on the part of the nobles and princes and against the peasants. 

By its conclusion, the Peasants’ War resulted in mass carnage.  Different numbers have been estimated, but something like eighty thousand may have died in battle.

Barely armed common folk were pitted against well-trained soldiers.  It was a one-sided slaughter.

Across Germany the insurrection was snuffed out, dead bodies lay everywhere, and the outcry in Germany was so agonizing it felt unbearable. 

Having called for slaughter, Luther faced the backlash.  While he had no control of the soldiers, he could not escape his call to stab, smite, and slay.

With countless corpses rotting in the hot summer sun, Luther’s commission now seemed cruel, even malicious, and his credibility was tarnished, as was the reputation of the Reformation as a whole.

The carnage was apocalyptic in proportion, and the devastation was so severe that recovery felt like an impossibility.

------------------------------------

Christian Zionist leaders cheer on Israel.  In the wake of October 7, they cheered on Israel.  Today, many continue to cheer on Israel.  Despite the slaughter, they cheer on Israel.  In fact, knowing the imbalance, they cheered on Israel four months ago in the face of the genocidal statements from Israeli leaders and despite what was certain to be the result of Israel’s aggression.

One of the best equipped militaries in the world against a trapped peasant army.  Tens of thousands killed, large portions of housing destroyed.  Hospitals targeted.  Food and power cut off.  Like shooting fish in a barrel, but only after not feeding the fish and pouring a little acid in the water.

I pray that the idea that Christians have to somehow support this corrupt state in order to give God the ability to carry out (their corrupt version of) His plan gets crushed.  In fact, I pray this crushes their corrupt version of God’s plan.

I pray that the reputation of these Christian Zionist leaders today is not only tarnished, but destroyed.  Unfortunately, they add to the reputational destruction of the Church.

------------------------------------

Despite the damage to Luther’s name, the Reformer did not regret his previous writings.  He wrote An Open Letter on the Harsh Book against the Peasants and further defended himself.

------------------------------------

And I bet most of today’s Christian Zionists will do the same.  The money is too good.