Act Now!

What we do when a chance comes to us? When a new door opens before us? Well…the answers are often ones we don’t care to admit to ourselves. So in looking at why we fail to act, I say, most emphatically, we must act, and act now.

We draw back, we run away, we worry and fret and debate endlessly with ourselves whether or not we should take the chances or not. I know this because I do it all the time. I spent years worrying and fretting, and not acting. I’ve let chances slid right by, failed to follow-up. I have only of late begun to change that. Here’s part of why.

I am soon to turn 30 years of age. My family has taken great joy in ribbing me at how old I’m getting. I continually turn to myself and, acting as judge and prosecutor, ask why I have so often failed to do what I have often longed to do? I wish to write, to teach, to think as deeply as God allows me to. But I have largely failed to do so until now, why?

I am afraid, as many are. Afraid of failure. But as I’ve continued to strive and to think and to write, I’ve found that the old sayings are all true. We learn more by failure than we do by success. Knowing that we did right is easy, learning what we did wrong is hard. But it is the latter that provides the challenge to surpass ourselves, to do better, to climb higher.

Among my favorite blogs is The Art of Manliness. No other online resource has served to well to teach us again what it means to be a man, and why it is vital. One of the things taught on that blog is the need for men to act like men. Read that sentence again…to act like men. To be a man is to act, to live, to strive, to be, not to reside in a solipsistic stupor. It is to act in accord with what we are. This applies to both men and women, but I apply it to men since I am one, and because men have failed to be men, they have forgotten how to be men.

As I have watched the younger members of my family grow up, marry, have careers, children and all that, I have been made aware of my own failings. The Great Recession was for me a great setback, but does that mean I have the right to simply laze about and not press on? Certainly not! It gives me even greater cause to act.

When we look for an open door and find one, we feel fear at taking it. Fear is fine, but never allow that fear to paralyze you. Press onward. With hard work, preparation and a bit of wise guidance, all things are possible. Act now, and do not be afraid of failure. Act now!

C. McDonald

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The Frightening Future of Forstchen

My most recent light-novel read has been a good one, albeit frightening. William R. Fortschen’s 2009 post-apocalypse work, One Second After. The book stands upon the premise of America suffering three EMP attacks in a single day, which destroy electronic systems across the United States. It’s setting is a small Southern town, and how it survives the first few months after the attack.

Fortschen gives his characters the best possible chance survival. The leader of the town is an ex-military professor, John Matherson, who teaches at a local college. The story is told from his perspective. The fictional town of Black Mountain is an archetype of the small, Southern town. Christian, moral, lots of ex-military citizens, a small and trusted town leadership, with a small liberal-art school nearby.

Once the electronic system goes down, it takes the town a day or two to figure out what’s happened, and once they have the ugly reality of a world without power or electronic systems sets in. Without these benefices of modern civilization, society begins to degenerate. The local nursing home becomes a pit of death, decay and the odors of rot, infection, human waste. The scene is among the most horrifying in the book. Pharmacies become the scene of angry confrontations as people try to get a hold of enough medicine to survive. The town declares martial law and is forced to make hard decisions right from the start.

When it is realized that there is not enough food or medicine to keep everyone alive, harsh measures are brought into play. Ration cards are given only to those whose homes and properties are searched for food, to avoid hoarders who live off the public weal. In the course of the story, rations are cut so badly that many people slowly starve to death. The rationing of medicine is even more grim. Anyone who relies upon a daily medicine for their very lives is dead inside a month, with a few diabetics hanging on a few months more.

Young men who steal from the nursing home are publicly put to death, while armed patrols are put together to guard the town’s borders from the onrush of people from dead cities. These multitudes eventually form into a mob of cannibals, and a great battle ensues. The local college becomes a paramilitary organization to defend the town. Over the course of the book the decision is made, quietly, to give more food to those who stand the best chance of surviving, people between their late teens and late thirties.

Such moral choices are unimaginable in the world we live in today. As I was reading the story I was horrified at the choices they had to make, in many cases condemning thousands to a slow death to save the few who might make it. But in a world like that, the only choices are those that are bad, and those that are worse. The story ends with America struggling to regain some sense of unity, a year after the attack.

One Second After is not without its moments of human love and hope. The love of family is a source of solace amidst death and hunger. Mathersons’ eldest daughter Elizabeth gets pregnant by another young survivor, who dies in battle. While Matherson is understandably furious at the two youths, he is brought to realize that in a world where death may come any day, a little love is a source of comfort. When Elizabeth’s lover, Ben, dies, Matherson calls him his son, and swears to care for the young man’s son. The most heartbreaking moment is when Matherson’s youngest daughter Jennifer dies of her diabetes, because they can’t get insulin to her. The scene is awful to read, but serves as a reminder of how fragile are the lives of everyone who relies upon modern medicine to survive each day.

All told, One Second After is not a great work, but it is a good one. Like some other works of post-apocalypse literature, like Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse by James Wesley Rawles, it is built upon an all-too-plausible scenario of sudden collapse. Fortschen bases his book on a 2008 government report upon how vulnerable we are to an EMP attack.

After I read this book I called my mentor to complain of how bleak the world seemed in light of the book. His response is well-worth repeating, “If it happens or doesn’t I won’t worry, because I know the King.” How true, how true. While America does need to prepare for such an attack, since it is possible, we must not live in constant fear and panic. Neither should we be melancholic because of what might occur. History resides in the hands of the Most High, let it all be as according to His will. We know that no matter what, God is on the throne, working out the glorious endgame.

C. McDonald

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Why this blog has changed.

I have chosen to change this blog’s name. Its title will now be Old Right Blog. Some may ask why I have chosen this name as opposed to its former one. There are several reasons.

1. The old name, millenialconservator, was pretensions and obscure. It was too hard to remember and spell. Instead, a new name is needed.

2. I will someday write full-time. As a first step, I have chosen to turn my blog from a place to airily dispense bloated opinions into a place of more earnest and down-to-earth discussion. I will still discuss ideas and great thinkers, but not as before.

3. I admire the blogs of others, I admire their success. I want that sort of success for myself. This is a first step in attaining it. If anyone has suggestions for how I can improve this blog, its content, writing or appearance, please tell me.

Here’s to many more posts in the future.

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Manent and Secular Society I: Laicite

What is the nature of modern society? According to French philosopher Pierre Manent, the nature of democracy is a separation of functions. We separate the political power from the spiritual power, the economic from the legal and the legal from the other branches of government. This is a good understanding, it serves as a partial explanation of many problems facing the Western world today. In a world in which all functions, or spheres, are made separate from the others there is a danger of each forgetting its function as part of a whole and seeking its own interests alone. One of the most pressing concerns is the conflict which religion threatens to create. Manent’s own approach to this is curious to an American reader.

Manent takes note of that, in Europe and America, where abortion is legal, the Christian church, in its various institutional forms, continues in many places to oppose it as being legally sanctioned murder. He writes “The religious institution itself must reconcile its absolute refusal of abortion with its active participation in a society that legalizes it.” In this regard we must ask, what is the nature of this reconciliation, and, must the church reconcile to the present age at all? To answer this, we must briefly explain the context of Manent’s background as a French political thinker.

Like all thinkers, Manent comes at the church-state question from a particular context, his happens to be French. France has a legacy of secularism which is different from that found in the Anglosphere. French society was under the influence of the Roman Catholic Church for much of its history. Cardinals served in government, the most eminent of them, Cardinal Richelieu, effectively ruled France in place of weak kings. France saw a the effects of the Reformation, and French Protestants called Huguenots, were involved in the French religious civil wars from 1562-1598. The Edict of Nantes of 1598 allowed them to live in peace, until the Edict of Fountainbleu in 1685, which declared Protestantism to be illegal. The Catholic Church exerted such authority that later French philosophes like Voltaire had to labor to escape persecution. Scholar James Livingstone writes this, “The Catholic Church opposed free thinkers uncompromisingly and could call upon the State for assistance in repressing religious heterodoxy.” The French Revolution overturned all of this. Revolutionaries despised Christianity to such a degree that they tried to replace the Catholic calender and liturgy with a new, secular, religion of the State and the Nation. One of their leading figures was the French paint Jacques-Louis David, who memorialized such events as the death of Marat and the Tennis Court Oath and organized secular-religio festivals to show the absolute unity of the Nation.

The French turned this anti-clerical, anti-Catholicism, into a principle of politicalf, called laicite, which enshrined the secular principle into law. In France, religious voices have no place, there is no French Catholic Party, as there have been in other parts of Europe.  Given this historical context, when Manent writes of society, he sees it as an inherently secular enterprise.

In his work, A World Without Politics? Manent appears to be troubled, and even puzzled, by the conundrum offered by the Christian religion in a secular society. The problem Manent presents, between the two identities of Christian and Citizen, is, for an American, a false dichotomy. America has never had a history of anti-clericalism, neither has it been truly anti-religious. Many Americans have seen little or no contradiction between claiming to be a Christian and and American citizen. This may have to do with the idea of American Exceptionalism, which possess some religious undertones. French thinkers have, since 1789, seen themselves as the heirs to the French Revolution, the great act of overthrowing the decaying ancien regime and ushering in a new age of freedom and equality.

For France today, this problem of identity reaches into the soul of France as well as into her past. France denies any role to religion in the public sphere. Today she faces the problem of a growing Islamic group within its borders. French multiculturalism has failed to provide a way, or a rationale, by which people from Algeria and Morocco, two of the chief sources of emigres into France in the past, might become culturally French. Instead, many of have remained in government subsidized racial ghettoes, where traditional, often Islamic, ideas hold sway. As may be seen here, and here, French Muslims are allowed to violate the law and get away with it. France’s problems with her Muslim minority has led to the controversial banning of the burqa in 2010. The Islamization of France is a problem for the French thinker who, like Manent, takes laicite as a presumption of democratic life. Whether it will last remains to be seen.

 

C. McDonald

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The Toxic Fluff of Joel Osteen

Not to long ago a video popped up on YouTube featuring Joel Osteen and his wife, at their beyond-mega-church in Texas. Now this couple is something which I have avoided like plague, but every so often I get infected anyway.

In this video, Victoria Osteen says that we should obey God…for ourselves, and not for God. Obeying God because He says is, for her, ‘one way of looking at it.’

I read Joel Osteen years ago when his book, Your Best Life Now, came out. Being the curious sort, I decided to give his book a fair shake. What came out of the book after I’d shaken it was something I’d hardly expected. I was hoping for a good book of pastoral counseling with some discussion of Scripture as a foundation. What I found was a series of chapters on how God wants us to have good self-esteem.

Now I’m not against the idea of self-esteem, but like all such value-judgments I have to ask, on what grounds do people claim it? As far as I can tell, for the Osteens, you should feel good about who you are because God wants you to be who you are. That may sound illogical, that’s because it is. The God of Scripture is not a God who desires all of us to stay as we are, but to make us a new creation in Christ.

After reading Your Best Life Now, I reached the conclusion that Joel Osteen is a dangerous man. He is a prime example of the pop-Christian nice guy. The nice guy is inoffensive and smiling, he has no spine to stand for truth, neither has he the awareness that he is not truly good, but merely nice. A good man, a good pastor, will speak the Truth he is called to speak, unafraid to preach the Gospel, to teach good doctrine and to use the word sin when discussing human depravity. None of this is found in Osteen, in televised interviews he declines to speak of sin. Without sin, what need is there for the Cross?

If we good and fine without God, what glory is there in the Cross, what promise is found in the Resurrection? Without a fallen man, the Gospel is meaningless, for the Gospel is the Word of God preached to a race of mortals who are dead in trespasses and sins. Without the courage to preach what is truth, or even to say why the truth must be spoken, can we trust teachers like Osteen? His type is now prominent in the world of American milk-sop Christianity, a faith so weak as to be hardly worthy of the word. Let us pray that men like Osteen are brought to their senses by the words of Paul, that teachers will be judged more harshly than the rest of us.

 

C. McDonald

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Conservatism and Cultural Reductionism

Recent philosophical readings in the realm of philosophy of science and nature has led me to a series of questions, which I will attempt to investigate in the posting.

1. What is reductionism? Simply put, it is the attempt to intellectually reduce an experiecned reality to some single aspect of that realit.  According to Ian Barbour, there are several types of scientific reductionism. The first type is naturalistic reductionism, also called mechanistic reductionism. Naturalistic thinking reduces all of the world to so-called natural processes, usually thought to operate according to natural laws, which are identifiable in physics and debatable in biology. The next version tries to reduce experienced reality to the smallest possible scale, that is, the quantum scale. This is the line of thinking which says we, and the world around us, are “nothing but x,” with x being whatever they’re reducing us to. Such thinking has been attacked by Michael Polanyi.

 

2. Is there a political reductionism? Yes, I believe there is. It is found almost entirely among the more doctrinaire libertarians. Libertarian scholars, like Mises and Hayek, favor what they called ‘methodological individualism’ in which they approached questions of economics and social thought through first positing the individual as the originating point of economic and social behavior. Everything follows from this basic starting point. This model has much in common with the approaches of Locke and Hobbes. This is more clearly seen in the commonalities of method between Hobbes Leviathan and Mises Human Action. This reductionism is an advantage in the course of political thought, if the aim is to protect the value and dignity of the individual person. This is where it is an advantage. Yet, like the scientific forms of reductionism, it falters when its practitioners wish to say that society is nothing but individuals.

In light of this, what are we to make of the claim by thinkers like Christopher Dawson and Roger Scruton, who claim that religion is the root of social life? Is not this a form of reductionism? The answer is a modified no. Dawson and Scruton do not hold that society is nothing but religious associations writ large. What they argue is that human social cohesion is best understood as being the outgrowth of a shared vision of the Good, which is embodied in religion. The entirety of social life is not encapsulate in religion, but a significant part is.

Conservatism, respecting what has been called the ‘spice and variety of life’ does not embrace a magic-bullet theory of history. Humanity is best understood through a variety of aspects, each of which is needful for a fuller picture.

C. McDonald

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European Union and Democratic Weakness

The European Union is an uncertain creature. Founded in the 90s as the culminating answer to questions of European security and destiny after the catastrophes of World Wars I and II, which exposed the supposed weaknesses in the nation-state system established at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. As an economic entity the EU is unstable, as a political entity it is neither part of the European nation-states, nor is it fully superior to them, and democratically it does not command wide-spread support among the people of the European nations, nor does it rest wholly comfortably upon the national governments of those nations. Briefly state, the EU suffers from many problems, I will briefly discuss several.

1. The European Union is an attempt at what it sounds like: unity. But unity upon what grounds? The first answer might be upon the shared love of a religion such as Christianity, whether Protestant or Catholic. But this was forbidden by the secular nature of the treaties which created the EU, the Maastricht Treaty, and later in the Treaty of Lisbon. The Catholic Church, in particular the late Pontiff John Paul II sought to have recognition of Christianity’s role in the history of Europe written into the preamble, an effort which failed. Instead the EU has embraced a secular view of European history (secular here having the meaning of antagonism towards religion, not mere neutrality to religious claims). The EU fails at unity because it’s architects chose to ignore the most unifying element of the human experience, a shared story, a sense of belonging in history, which is centered upon and bounded by a share set of religious dogmas. This failure of religion and historical narrative leads to another failure of its lust for unity.

2. This Union is unlike the American Union, which was formed by ‘free and independent States’ who chose to live under a federal government which was accountable to them and to which they were accountable. This is federalism: a system in which the various governments, whether state or federal, are accountable to one another and each may, if the other oversteps their bounds, call them to account for their action. The challenges to federal gun laws and the ongoing fight against the Affordable Health Care Act may both serve as examples of federalism. The European Union does not enjoy such a close relation as the American Union does. The American Union is founded upon a series of shared goods. A shared government, social ideas, broad religious commitments, freedoms, culture and a shared historical narrative. The European Union shares none of these. What binds the European Union together is the action of supranational builders, a loyalty to something which presumed itself better than the benighted nation-states over which it is set. The European Union lacks a connection to a shared language, a shared history or religion. The Union’s architects are known to have plotted its creation against the desires of many in the nations of Europe, why let the opinions of stupid people get in the way of the greater good, especially when you and your like-minded peers determine what is the greater good?

3. The European Union stands upon a fallacy of political theory and history. The desire of many European elites to ‘get beyond’ the Westphalian structure of nation-states, Great Power politics, imperialism and Congresses is, on one level, understandable. The awesome attachment of many in European nations to their own histories, at least on a popular level, the political and cultural elites seem not to share in such mundane concerns as loyalty to the ‘democracy of the dead.’

Former Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who has closely observed and partaken in the EU, has written the following:

The authors of the concept of European integration managed to short-circuit the minds of the people, making a link between Hitler’s aggressive nationalism (nationalism of the totally negative type) and the traditional nation state, calling into question the existence of nation states in general. Of the many fatal mistakes and lies that have always underpinned the evolution of the European Union, this was one of the worst. It led to total obliteration of the enormous positive energy of national sentiments, or positive nationalism, (where the state is based on national identity and loyalty), ignoring the fact that throughout human history this form of statehood is the much more common standard. 1 

Klaus, Vaclav (2012-09-27). Europe: The Shattering of Illusions (Kindle Locations 261-266).

The error present in this ‘fatal mistake’ is that of assuming that any loyalty to the particulars of nation, government and the bonds of a common history, language, culture or faith is, by nature of its particularity, an evil. This is applied with particular force to the nation-state, perhaps the greatest instrument ever seen for ensuring a reasonable degree of happiness and comfort for the majority of mankind. The reasons for the general rejection of this system of balance of power are remarkably self-serving for those elites who disdain the nation-state. For these individuals, the nation-state is a relic of a benighted age out of which they alone are capable of taking Europe. The future they see is one in which the old loyalties are replaced by a loyalty to the amorphous thing called Europe. But this is no Europe bound by common interests of religion or history. Instead, these are rejected in favor a system which seems to be run more for the benefit of self-aggrandizing elites and self-serving bureaucrats.

4. The EU is not founded upon a true democracy. A democracy, as a social system and a form of government, presupposes a people, a true demos, who can be said to have something in common. Certain ideals I have used as examples of somethings in common are: history, religion, customs, ect. Yet these are but abstractions by which I refer to concrete realities. Edmund Burke wrote that, ‘liberty must inhere in some sensible object,’ and the same is true of loyalty. Loyalty inheres in the realities of belonging to a shared narrative, a shared story of our place in the world, under the eyes of God, under a law, with a government which is, hopefully, chosen by the people. Loyalty does not inhere in abstraction of which we can have no direct experience, but must be directed toward what is known.

Since there is no ‘demos of Europe’ and there is no European entity which the EU can claim the represent, I can only conclude that the EU is not a true democracy. Vaclav Klaus’ is again worth quoting at length.

At any rate, it is clear that national as well as territorial loyalties are the precondition for democratic governance. It seems equally obvious that the European continent is not a space suitable for territorial or national loyalty . You cannot grasp this diversity in one Augenblick – from Cyprus to Finland, from Portugal to Estonia. Therefore, no nation called European exists, and no such nation ever did exist. That is why the entire concept of the ‘ever -closer Europe’ of unification, centralization, harmonization and standardization (you could call it Gleichschaltung) and utmost suppression of the nation state, is a wrong concept. Eurocrats seem to know this, and that is why they do not talk about the national or continental principle . Instead, they talk about the ‘communitarian’ principle, which is yet another undefined and undefinable legal cliche, which can cover – and conceal at the same time – whatever it desires. The great and much too self-confident lawyers of the ‘European law’ naturally cannot defend this principle in any way: they just use it as something that descended from above, without any arguments supporting it – whether things are right or wrong, functional or dysfunctional, positive or negative, all they have to do is just say it is ‘communitarian’ or compliant with the communitarian law.

Klaus, Vaclav (2012-09-27). Europe: The Shattering of Illusions (Kindle Locations 1301-1311).

 

I pray that some will find these scattered thoughts of some value.

 

Your Humble Servant, C. McDonald

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Freud’s Errors

The Discontent of Sigmund Freud II

 

Last year I looked at the views of Sigmund Freud on the source and cost of civilization, along with a brief critique. Since this foundation has been laid beforehand, in this post I will concentrate on the final step in my critique of Freud. His views on religion are perhaps the most egregious area of Freud’s errors and foolish mistakes.

There are several grounds upon which Freud’s views on religion may be assaulted

 

I. Biographical

 

Our first point of attack is on Freud’s intellectual biography. Freud, like many atheists, never seems to have taken religious belief seriously or to have known anyone who did. Beyond a childhood nanny, Freud never had a friend or patient who was a serious Christian or Jewish believer in his life. How can a man who has never known a believer claim to know what is wrong with them? While Freud read the Old Testament when he was younger; he never read the New Testament or works by such thinkers as Augustine, Pascal, Aquinas, Maimonedes or other serious intellectuals of the Christian and Jewish theistic traditions. He dismisses any attempts at intellectual justification of these beliefs as being grounded in some form of neurosis, or unwillingness to face dreadful reality that such belief is a illusion. Insofar as he does deal with what religious people actually believe Freud only sneers at the religion of the lumpenproletariat.

The argument has been made by psychologist Paul C. Vitz, that Freud’s tremendous dislike of religion stems from a projection of Freud’s own dislike his weak, perhaps even sexually perverse, father, onto God, whom Western tradition knows as the Heavenly Father. This is a fascinating argument, which Vitz backs up by looking at the biographies of major atheists from Matthew Toland, Voltaire and Diderot to Freud, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. In all cases, these men suffered either from either a lack of a father, or they held their fathers in tremendous distaste, usually because the man was weak.

How marvelous it is! That a man who claimed religion was the projection of a father figure onto the world may have been guilty of projecting his own horrid father onto the Divine Creator.

 

II. Polemcial

 

Freud approaches religion with an arrogance which, although surpassed by other atheists, is considerable just the same. As noted above, Freud never knew a theist or studied Christian theism, just the same, we will briefly look at his discussion. In his account in Future of an Illusion, he gives us three foundations for faith: 1. antiquity of belief, 2. proofs handed down by antiquity, and 3. questioning of faith being made forbidden.1 Freud’s view also held that religion is a projection onto the world, of the wishes of man’s mind. Religion is wish-fulfillment. This is as close as Freud gets to addressing the serious ideas of Theists. While Freud’s followers, and many more besides, have used Freud’s ideas about religion to attack the faithful, they, and Freud, fail on several counts.

The first is that his supposed foundations are not well digested. The antiquity of a thing, while not always a proof for it, strongly suggests that it exists for a reason and should not be overthrown in a twinkling because present dictates it. The age of a faith is regarded, by Freud as a son of the Enlightenment and Romantic eras, as a proof of how modern men are as duped now as they were centuries ago. This is a classic error of the modern mind, the belief that, because we are modern, scientific, etc, we are, therefore, superior to all those who came before us. The Christian religion stands, in part, upon the idea that those men of old had a contact with the Divine which we today can only dream about. The antiquity of a belief is neither proof for or against a thing being true; it is simply a statement that many people have held it to be so. To those of a more humble spirit than Freud, antiquity begs the question of why it was held to and whether it should be overthrown merely because the ‘times have changed.’ The second claim falls flat due to Freud’s utter failure to address theistic philosophers and their arguments. Freud holds that there can be no ‘proof’ for faith, since religion is not really a matter of reason and evidence but a matter of ‘illusions.’ His third claim is faulty because, while many people seem to think that you cannot question a belief about God or the hereafter at risk of your soul, for thinking believers doubts and questions about their faith is part of the human condition. Augustine, Pascal, Anselm and Aquinas no doubt suffered periods where they could not ‘prove’ what they believed in a way that modern people will accept, but they managed to arrive at proofs, derived from both experience and logic, which, for them, showed that what they believed was indeed rational. Augustine set the path for many Christian thinkers, including this writer, by seeking to believe in God, in order that understanding of that belief and its Object, might follow.

In the end Freud’s arrogant treatment of religion and religious believers is a mark against him. For the many who share his sneering contempt of faith in the unseen God his attitude will be acceptable. This attitude serves to shield them from the need to either examine their ‘arguments’ against faith as well as from the need to seriously speak to religious believers. How often do we, today, see the atheist dismiss Christians as the epitome of ignorance, backwardness and stupidity?

 

III. Scientific

 

Freud’s theory of religion has several pieces, each of which is open to attack. The philosophical core of his religious critique is the theory of projection, which is not original to him. Projection as the source of religious belief, the psychogenesis of belief, was first given form by Ludwig Feuerbach in his works The Essence of Christianity and The Essence of Religion. Freud is known to have avidly read these works as a young man. Freud’s attempts at giving an anthropological and psychoanalyitical basis for religious belief is driven by his own tremendous dislike of religion, which he never seems to have really understood anyway. The first problem with projection is that it seems to lack any real criterion for determining when exactly we are guilty of projecting qualities we like or dislike upon another. Only an in-depth knowledge of a person’s biography could begin to allow us to say that such and such a person has done this.2

The next aspects are anthropological in nature. Freud argues, as did several famous anthropologists and sociologists(including Emile Durkheim) that religion is in fact totemistic in nature. Totemism is the theory that religion is built upon certain items, or totems, which are held to be sacred or special in nature; to this is often added the ritual which many associate with being a mark of all religions. Yet even in Freud’s day this theory of totemism was in doubt. It has been adopted by atheistic-minded anthropologists and sociologists who try to treat religion as if it is mere ritual without any aspect of actual belief. In basic terms these scholars of human society often fail to take religion on its own word, as being aimed at either attaining or repairing a relationship with certain deities, or with one deity, as the case may be.3

To totemism Freud adds the source of the Oedipal conflict. In his attempts to explain early man in Totem and Taboo, Freud presented the following theory. Early man consisted of family groupings, ruled entirely by the father who held all women as his own. In time the sons slay their father, and take the women, their mothers, as mates. These offspring also devour their father’s flesh as a symbolical way of attaining his strength and position. For this we have no evidence at all, only Freud’s speculations.

 

Brief Excurses on Freud’s Religious Views

Although Freud speaks of religion as if it were an ‘illusion’ by which men try to make light of life’s burdens he does grant a view sociological observations, which it may be profitable to review. To recap slightly, permit me to quote Freud, “every civilization rests on a compulsion to work and a renunciation of instinct and therefore inevitably provokes opposition from those affect by these demands…civilization cannot consist principally or solely in wealth itself and the means of acquiring it and the arrangements for its distributions; for these things are threatened by the rebelliousness and destructive mania of the participants in civilization.”4

To survive a civilization imposes upon its members a series of restraints. This is not done consciously. History tells us of no age in which a man, or group of men planned out the rules by which society was to live. Social rules and norms seem to have arisen in the course of human history, partially as a product of religious ideas. Nevertheless, rules are essential to the survival of men, Freud calls these ‘the mental assets of civilization.’

The purpose of civilization is, ‘to defend us against nature,’ which is red in tooth and claw. Freud is certainly no optimist about the legendary ‘state of nature’ which was touted by Locke and Rousseau. Freud’s nature is no comforting, loving thing in which men might find their true selves, but a raw beast against which we must be protected. Against a hostile nature, which becomes Fate, “Man’s self-regard, seriously menaced, calls for consolation; life and the universe must be robbed of their terrors; moreover his curiosity, moved, it is true, by the strongest practical interest, demands an answer.”5

In the face of cold Nature, man is helpless, like an infant before its’ parents. Here Freud finds the psychological root of religious faith. In keeping with his theory that human development is largely determined during infancy, Freud does not shrink from this comparison. Even the understanding of nature does not undo man’s infantile feelings of helplessness before the world. Freud writes, “the gods retain their threefold task: they must exorcize the terrors of nature, they must reconcile men to the cruelty of Fate…and they must compensate them for sufferings and privations which a civilized life common has imposed on them.”6 In Freud’s vision, religious ideas continue to exist because life is still uncertain for every new generation of mankind, whatever answers the previous generation might have, they must be instilled anew in the newer generation. Life is simply a set of endless trials at the end of which is the grave. This is unacceptable, men want to believe that there is more to their existence than simply a futile struggle against the inevitability of death. So they invent the idea of gods, and in the case of the Jews, a single God. This is a watershed for human religious evolution since, “Now that God was a single person, man’s relations to him could recover the intimacy and intensity of the child’s relation to his father.”7 The infantile theory of religious origins continues to be of use.

 

Freud’s Failings

 

The infantile theory of religious origins is of use in explaining not religion, by Atheism. As we know. Freud found the origin of all human belief in the father-figure. So, too, did he write, in Moses and Monotheism, that “young people lose their religious belief as soon as their father’s authority breaks down.”8 As we know from Vitz, the greatest anti-religious figures in Western history, from Voltaire and Diderot to Nietzsche and Freud all suffered from either a lack of a father, a bad relationship with their father, or a tremendous hatred and contempt for their fathers. Is it so impossible to believe that men who hate their earthly fathers would end in hating the God who is called their Heavenly Father?

Freud’s contention that we are largely shaped in childhood, and seemingly by little after that, does not hold much scientific water. Why should it be that we are a series of “cortical dominoes extending through the decades,” in the words of Frederick Crews?9 The reduction of people to quaking infants goes against all human experience that we do not remain children forever. It does however serve Freud’s well-known dislike of people, and even of his own patients.

My apologies to my readers for the crudity of this post, an excess of work and stress have prevented me from doing any writing for over a month now. I hope to remedy that in the weeks to come.

 

C. McDonald

1 Future of an Illusion, pg. 33

2 I admit this applies to Vitz as much as to Freud.

3 Cf. W. Schmidt, The Origin and Growth of Religion, Trans. by H.J. Rose, pgs. 110-115

4 Freud, Future of an Illusion, pg. 12

5 Ibid, pg. 20

6 Ibid, pg. 22

7 Pg. 24

8 Cited in Sigmund Freud’s Christian Unconscious, by Paul C. Vitz, pg. 220.

9 The Unauthorized Freud, Doubters Confront a Legend, edited by Frederick Crews, pg. 72

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Christian Thought and Literary Criticism

How ought a Christian to interact with the world? We are called to be ‘in the world, but not of the world.’ Paul’s letters include lessons to ‘live in peace, pray for Caesar,’ as well as to, ‘avoid vain philosophies.’ The Scriptures never give us an exact set of standards by which followers of Christ are to behave living in a world in which we are sojourners. This has led to a centuries long debate over what relationship should exist between Christians, who are called to ‘be holy, as I the LORD am holy,’ and the world, which shuns holiness. This question is so hard to answer that even now, in the preceding sentence, I presumed that Christians are somehow separate from the world around them, or ought to be, this is itself a disputed thing.

One set of reflections upon this issue came, not from Christian thinkers, but from the literary world. Of late, I was reading critical essays in a selection from Scrutiny, the famed modernist journal of literary criticism. In one essay the author, Q.D. Leavis, gives us several insights into the nature and problems of Christian literary thought. At a certain point Leavis comments upon a similarity between that Marxist criticism and Christian criticism, “we have to repeat to the dogmatic Christian discriminator the warning we gave to the Marxist critic, that before certifying a work on the grounds of content or apparent orthodoxy it is as well to be sure that its actual ‘message’, what it inevitably and essentially communicates, is what you thought it was.”1 This is a common failing of critics with an axe to grind, they too often measure a work of art, in this case, literary writing, by whether or not it openly subscribes to a predetermined standard of theological or ideological orthodoxy. In this line of argument Leavis seems to position himself in such a way that criticism and literature are necessarily distant from theological concerns. Later on he goes so far as to say that, “The novelist, unlike the theologian, works in terms of concrete particularity.”2 In his mind, the theologian is more airy and divorced from the world, whereas the novelist deals with what is real. Leavis denies that a Christian may first analyze literature in light of a Christian philosophy or theology, arguing that unless a Christian is a critic literature ‘he is nothing,’ preferring to ‘exercise some ‘standard of orthodoxy’. The standard of Christian orthodoxy appears then as a chain upon the powers of a Christian critic. Is this necessarily so? It would be the question of what it means to be a Christian critic, a Christian thinker.

C.S. Lewis, in his essays on Christianity and culture, held that Christianity had no great opinion of human culture, basing himself largely upon Paul’s brief comments on the topic. For Lewis, the world of culture may be useful and even beneficial for a Christian, but is not necessarily a good thing, since a culture is the product of fallen mankind. Yet his contemporary, T.S. Eliot differed. In his work Christianity and Culture, Eliot argued for a different conception of culture. For him, a culture derived necessarily and inherently from a religious standpoint, whether it is centered upon a god, Jesus, Revolution or some other thing. For Eliot a Christian culture was one in which the overall moral precepts of Christianity were accepted by the society at large, and that its cultural creators, writers, artists, poets ect. would operate under them. An example might include Western culture from the Renaissance to the 20th century. During this time religious themes were often prominent in the arts, whether or not the artists themselves were actually sincere followers of the Christian faith.

While for Lewis and Eliot a Christian criticism may be possible, Leavis dissents. In his eyes, applying the simple standards of religious orthodoxy is a violation of the nuance needed for literary criticism, he tells us, “For in examining a piece of literature as a literary critic he is inevitably appraising it and the appraisal is a process much more subtle than the application of any standard orthodoxy or the extraction of any moral lesson or he discovery of some panacea for a situation producing works of art that don’t’ answer to his doctrinal specifications.”3 I think that he is correct in this. The standards of a religious orthodoxy, even my own, cannot be purely applied to a literary work.

Many great writers have written of things and in ways that, for a strictly religious person, it is forbidden or immoral to do. An example would be I am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe. In the course of this work I found detailed descriptions of the moral degeneracy and sexual license present on American college campuses. I had two reactions to this. The first is that of a Christian, who finds Wolfe’s explicit language to be at best shocking and at worst a temptation to dwell upon such things as the promiscuity of a frat house party and the ‘hook-up culture’ I hear so much of. The second reaction is a questioning one, “why is he discussing this in so open a fashion?” Tom Wolfe is well-known as a social critic and has been called “the American Juvenal” by some. Given his reputation as a critic, I approached his novel with the knowledge that he is not writing merely to be salacious and vile, but is writing to a purpose. The purpose of I am Charlotte Simmons appears to be an honest look at the lifestyle of college students today. What is portrayed in the novel is socially horrible and morally condemnable as the worst sort of sexual license, coupled with backbiting and the hypocrisy of campus liberalism. If this is what Wolfe’s goal was, then he succeeded. The novel is well written, and displays and keen understanding of the sort of thinking, or non-thinking, that college students commonly do. My own experience of college has confirmed portions of his novel as being true to their topic. I would not recommend Wolfe’s novel to anyone unable to handle its immorality, although it is questionable whether anyone should have to do so in the first place. To my mind, a Christian thinker must be able to read many things, whether he is able to do so is largely dependent upon his maturity as a Christian. I cannot say whether the novel is wholly appropriate even for me. I do know that as a Christian thinker it is my role to understand what is being read, thought and watched in order to know how I am to defend the Christian faith.

Many writers have used crudity and even vulgar language in their works. The Greek Aristophanes wrote plays which are so vulgar as to offend and yet he uses crudity to satire and mock the stupidest conventions of his day. The Roman playwright Plautus was later to write in a similar vein. It is well known that Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is hardly a shining example of moral rectitude; the Wife of Bath’s tale is a ribald tale of moral insouciance and vulgar behavior. Both Boccacio and Rabelais brilliantly mocked churchmen, intellectuals, lords and rulers in their works. Shakespeare was not above using crude language. This tradition of using vulgarity to mock, expose and satire seems to have dropped off after the Protestant Reformation, though I do not ascribe its cessation to Protestants. It was only in the last century or so that writers like D.H. Lawrence, Norman Mailer and William Borroughs began to explore and use crudity again in literature. But these latter writers seem to have done so in the spirit of flippant rebellion against the supposed Christian moral norms of their day. Mailer and Borroughs have been especially vile for apparently no other purpose than to be vile. Historically there has been a line between crude literature which is brilliant at a set purpose, and crude literature which is simply salacious, vile and adolescent.

What I have just done is an example of moral criticism of writer’s works, my morality stems from my Christian faith. Were I asked to evaluate the work of Chaucer, Lawrence or George R.R. Martin on their literary basis alone, it would be a challenge. Yet criticism need not be, and I think cannot be, written in a vacuum. Leavis noted that, “At present we have, the inheritance from a long tradition, a centre of merely literary critics whose disinterested evaluations have mad possible some recognition of poets and novelists who subscribe to no orthodoxy, that is, nearly all creative artists of the last two centuries; this centre, moreover, provides and atmosphere and milieu where value-judgments can be discussed with more freedom.”4

Leavis further held that literature was best read in an atmosphere in which moralistic Christian thought was absent. Otherwise it might occur that, “the direct inspiration of the Devil is imputed to any artist who runs counter to our prejudices, in which access to the one source of absolute truth is confidently claimed by the critic, and anathema invoked on the dissentients.”5 The method of applying theological and philosophical moral standards to literature is thought to be too exacting, and in a sense, inappropriate to the field of literature. Leavis doubts that such intellectual training is even useful in literary studies, when he wrote, “There is no reason to suppose that those trained in theology, or philosophy for that matter, are likely to possess, what is essential to the practice of literary criticism, that ‘sensitiveness of intelligence, described by Matthew Arnold as equivalent to conscience in moral matters. A theological training seems to have a disabling effect and has subsequently to be struggled against when literary criticism is the concern. And there are other dangers. When theology is made a substitute for literary criticism or is tacked on to bad criticism the result is disastrous.”6 Such criticism is useful for those ‘who cannot begin to read for themselves’

To fully read and understand literature, one must possess a keen mind, an understanding of language, expression and a feeling for the nuances of different writers, their styles and modes. At first this seems a fool’s errand, men pursuing flights of literary fancy and calling it ‘criticism’ when in fact they follow only the flutter of the feelings. Yet Leavis bases himself upon the notion of a tradition of great readers and critics who have shown us how to engage in thoughtful, disinterested criticism of literary works. Now, does this mean that a critic ought not to uphold a standard? Of a certain not! Critics from Johnson and Coleridge to Hazlitt to Leavis to Kimball have all carried the work of the critic who seeks to understand the work he is reading, and then to apply to it the standards of artistic creation that we have inherited from the past. A tradition, such as that of criticism, is at first learned by reading those generally regarded as being the finest of their kind. As the craft is learnt from its masters, the student is in time able to engage in his own criticism. While I may not fully agree with Kimball or Leavis on some point or other of literature or the work of a critic, we may all agree that there are certain standards of creation, and even of moral thought, which may be rightfully applied to literary works.

As a Christian, I find it difficult to accept Leavis’ assertion that an orthodox outlook tends to undo literary perceptions of human society, since, “The tendency of orthodoxy is to repress these perceptions for its own convenience and cause a moral cramp in the developing consciousness.”7 This calls for me to lay aside my own strict beliefs and to allow writers to violate them in their works. But the alternative to literature which is generally bounded by its own great tradition is far preferable to lightweight, moralistic tales such as those found in Christian novelists of today.

Leavis may have a point when he wrote, “The method of literary criticism, as repeatedly defined in these pages, is to secure the maximum general agreement for evaluation by staring with something demonstrable – the surface of the work – and through practical criticism commanding assent (or giving an opening for disagreement and discussion.)”8 Were I to take a novel by a Christian, say Francine Rivers of Frank Peretti, and subject it to literary criticism, what would be the result? Ought I to approach it first as a Christian and then as a critic? This question broadly relate to the question of how Christians ought to read the Great Books. Should we read Shakespeare in light of Christianity or in light of Shakespeare?

I answer that, in approaching a popular Christian writer, it is good to first read them as a Christian. If their work is in line with Christian orthodox teaching, then it may be justly praised for its orthodoxy, but that is only the first step in the critical task. It is also the least important. The remaining work is to examine them in light of literature at large and to ask whether or not they achieve their task well, by what Johnson called ‘just representations of general nature.’ If they use too many stereotypes of moral behavior, as might be seen in Rivers’ work, then they have earned their criticism, and the critic should be unsparing in his treatment of them. Christian writers are not aided by being allowed to write milquetoast works which appeal only to those who are already Christian. A novelist like Dostoevsky was able to put elements of the Christian faith into his novels, but do it in such a way that he cannot be seen as being a mere partisan. Dostoevsky’s honest treatment of the plight of modern man is awe inspiring. Like Camus, Nietzsche and Marcel after him, Dostoevsky exposes the plight, moral and spiritual, of modern man who lives in an age of material prosperity and spiritual atrophy. But, unlike Nietzsche or Camus, Dostoevsky turns to the Christian faith, the Christian Savior, as the only one who can save us from ourselves. Camus never got that far, and Nietzsche rejected the Cross and all it stood for. So it is not true that a Christian writer need to a peddler of stereotypes and a purveyor of spiritual nostrums. He may be an honest writer, and show the hardship of the Christian faith, whether in being lived or in being attained.

The work a critic then, is best approached from a position in which moral considerations are present and play their part in keeping out the worst filth which is hailed as literature. While moral considerations are present, their theological underpinnings cannot be allowed to wholly overwhelm the work of the critic, which is not the work of a theologian or of a moral philosopher. I do not find it strange that, when theologians and philosophers wish to express a moral truth in a timeless way, they will often cite a novelist, playwright or poet. These men grasp what is eternal as well as their counterparts, and often do so in a way that everyone can understand appreciate. Many men will read a critic, and many more will read the books he criticizes, but few will read the philosopher or theologian who gives the foundation of the critics moral standards.

Your Humble Servant.

1 Charlotte Yonge and ‘Christian Discrimination”, by Q.D. Leavis, from A Selection from Scrutiny, compiled by F.R. Leavis, Volume I, Cambridge University Press, 1968, pg. 151

2 Ibid, pg. 155

3 Ibid, pg. 152

4 Ibid, pg. 152

5 Ibid., pg. 153

6 Ibid, pg. 153

7 Ibid, pg. 154

8 Ibid, pg. 153

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Reviving….what?

Several weeks ago I attended an event in Castle Rock, CO, which was entitled “Revive 1787.” It was a conservative sort of event, with the sort of things much beloved by Tea Party types. Given the name, I went, expecting that I would find some serious discussion of the Founding, the Constitution, it’s significance, it’s meaning and perhaps a refutation of the Progressive narrative which has largely replaced our own. What I found was something which resembled a religious revival more than a political event.

The first speakers were a trio of speakers, Rev. C.L. Bryant, a Baptist minster, Father Kemberling, a Catholic, and Rev. Walker, an Anglican. These men had some insightful remarks upon the state of faith today, though it was not investigated in any depth, though this may be due to the difference in faiths. Some of their comments were a bit muddled, as they had not thought sufficiently upon what they had to say. Bryant had perhaps the finest comment. He commented that when he began to embrace Black ideology in the 60s, his WWII veteran father said to him, “I fought so you could be free, not so you could be black.”

The second trio were a group of academics. Dr. Mike Adams, Dr. Frank Turek and Dr. Dix Winston III. These men discussed some of the problems of the academy, such as how many students accept the humanitarian theory of mankind, which then works its way out through a subtle shift in views. This acceptance of a seemingly minor point, according to Adams, was the reason why many Christian students return from college having adopted the Progressive worldview. In their question and answer session I was able to put a couple of questions to Dr. Adams, which he was good enough to answer. So far so good.

The main event in the evening was the most troublesome. The speakers were decent, leading to Dr. Ben Carson as their main event. They had a Vietnam vet who spoke on the sacrifice of military men, of which he knew much, having lost half of his face and hand to a grenade.

Dr. Carson spoke well. I never beheld such calm in a speaker, especially not at a political event. He was measured and audible, what he had to say made sense. I admit to a bit of disappointment at Carson. He spoke of his life, which I had already read in his memoir Gifted Hands. His prescriptions on steps to take towards advancing America to being great again were sensible. He called for a greater emphasis on practical education, technical knowledge, a love of country and an attitude which seeks to engage the world as God intended, rather than to simply complain how life is not as it ought to be. So much for the speakers.

What was most disturbing was the overall atmosphere and the attitude of those involved. I came across a great deal of dislike for President Obama, a great deal of contempt for him. Thankfully there was nothing of conspiratorial notions among the speakers or audience. Most troubling was the lack of depth. I had hoped to find some serious discussion by serious men of serious things. What I saw was a great deal of political revivalism, making it feel like a Charismatic event. Such attitudes are understandable at a rally for a politician but hardly seems appropriate for an event named “Revive 1787.” The Founders were serious men who did not trust to democracy, or to ‘the people’ the power of governance of affairs.

The event treated America as if she were a Chosen People, and she is not. The Hand of Providence may be seen in our history, but it is foolish to expect that the Divine Hand may not be removed from a thing which was once its instrument. Did not God use Nebuchadnezzer and Cyrus? Outside of Scripture we may ask as well, did not God use Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Edwards, Washington, Adams and Jefferson? I think He did, for He works all things to His purpose by means of Providence. But to treat the Founders as if they were divinely inspired is questionable at best.

America has been used of God, of that I have no doubt, but she is not the Chosen People. We are not Israel, though Israel may dwell among us. Our circumstances may be seen as the Divine Judgement, the loss of the blessing we had in former times. And all this is to the good, if it drives America to her knees in repentance to the King. What is needed most in these times is, first and foremost, a period of prayer and repentance to God, for America has gone astray and the churches in her midst have stayed silent in the face of evil, while the Church has fastened itself upon such foolishness as Charismatic revivalism, ‘moves of the Spirit’ and the love of money, large buildings and vast congregations.  We have God in whom our money says ‘we trust.’

 

America imagines herself in two ways, which are outgrowths of the growing partisan split in our political life. The most prominent one is the narrative of the political Left, one in which the Left is the eternal hero, like St. George of old, and America is eternally guilty of crimes against different forms of ‘the Other’ which must be remedied by Leftist nostrums of social justice and redistribution of wealth. The second is the one held by the political Right, by conservatives of various strands and by most libertarians. In this narrative, America is largely a force for good in the world, our Founders were great men, our nation has made many foolish choices but still stands for something noble, the ideal of liberty. Neither of these is wholly true, but that is not important. What is vital is that America imagines herself to be one of two extremes, either great evil or great good. Of these, the latter was most on display at the ‘Revive’ event.

I saw men treat the Founding as if they had done it, as if they had put pen to a paper pledging, ‘our lives, our fortunes, and sacred honour,’ to defend their rights. I have heard men speak as if present day figures are the equals of Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Lincoln, and we are not. We are not the equal of these figures, we have forgotten this. Our nation has sunk, morally and spiritually, far below the point these men could ever have imagined.

A nation, a people, who have sunk so far that evil men may take office, vileness is broadcast in public and may be bought at gas stations is not a nation that can claim the blessings of God. What I have never heard, but what must be heard, is a call for repentance. God alone is capable of healing America, but will He? We know from Scripture, that if God punishes a nation and that nation repents, He will relent. But I do not hear this spoken of. The Church in America is spiritually dead, besotted with the nostrums of liberalism, inter-faith acceptance and consumed by social justice issues. The invisible church in America has fared no better, assaulted as she is by mysticism and the ‘rulers of the darkness of the age’ of which Paul warned us. Let us seek the face of God, repent before Him with tears and weeping, and perhaps we may yet be healed.

 

 

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