To change the culture V: metahistory

Today’s history is Whig history on steroids. Whig history is just the application of the anti-Christian good guys vs. bad guys narrative to the past, with the Left cast as the heroes and their clients the innocent victims. The fact that this history is generally accepted and almost never contested gives the Left tremendous moral authority. Conservatives are cast in the position of arguing “Yes, we’ve always been wrong in the past, but this time we’re right!”

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To change the culture IV: metaethics and storytelling

The trouble is not just that contemporary man reaches incorrect moral conclusions, but that his premises and modes of reasoning are off. From the basic principles of personal autonomy, cosmopolitanism, and the progressive moral hierarchy, evil is bound to follow. I do not believe any genius-level work is needed on the theoretical side to counter this. Our flags have already been planted on the two crucial counter-principles: particular loyalty (stressed by countless conservatives) and given meanings in the body being an ennobling rather than demeaning thing (enunciated most forcefully by Pope John Paul II). The trouble is how to make these principles appreciated, which is presumably a job for the arts.

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To change the culture III: metaphysics

There will be a revival of Christianity when it becomes impossible to write a popular manual of science without referring to the incarnation of the Word.

Owen Barfield, Saving the Appearances, Chapter XXIII

Bruce Charlton is right–our disagreement with the World comes down to metaphysics. How does one choose a metaphysics? Rather, how does one choose between rival metaphysical assumptions? One cannot derive metaphysical beliefs from something more fundamental, because there is nothing more fundamental. One’s metaphysics must not conflict with experience, but that is a low bar; many systems provide some way of reading the observed facts. There are also internal checks. Whitehead says that a metaphysical system should be coherent, meaning not only that its parts don’t conflict, but that they all interrelate and co-depend. Metaphysics should also cohere with our scientific, psychological, aesthetic, and religious thinking. When one find oneself appealing to the (univocally) same concept when making sense of a quantum field theory calculation, when understanding the motives of an agitated friend, and when arguing that the Back to the Future sequels weren’t very good, one is inclined to accept that a concept with such reach has metaphysical validity.

What is the metaphysics of contemporary man? By his way of talking, he believes the universe has three basic components. First is “matter”, which is fundamentally a conglomeration of particles of some sort, although convenience leads us to give certain arbitrary groupings of particles their own names. (Like the ancient atomists, one probably must also posit space as an independent entity to make this work, but this will not be an important issue for what follows.) Second, there are “the laws of physics”, spoken as if actual entities rather than descriptions, which tell the particles how to move. The laws of physics at least logically pre-exist matter, because they created the universe ex nihilo. Finally, there is moral quality, which inheres in groups of people independent of their choices (free will is not required for moral quality), leading some to be identified as oppressors, others as oppressed. This moral quality does not seem to be grounded in a utilitarian calculus or neutral accounting of violations of some deontological moral law, but to be a primitive feature of the world. Finally, contemporary man believes truth is completely objective. He has shed all remnants of 20th century liberalism and postmodernism with its supposed multiplicity of “truths” and valid perspectives. No one may question “the science” (the truth of the first two components of the universe) or “justice” (the truth of the third).

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To change the culture II: speaking out

One reason the Left controls public spaces is that no one dares speak against them. Thus arises the idea that the Christian reactionary has a duty to speak out. I wish neither to encourage or discourage you from doing this. I only wish to help you clarify in your own mind what it is that you are wanting to do, and what you are hoping to accomplish by it.

  • Signaling allegiance. Some forms of “speaking out” are primarily intended to signal the alignment of the speaker with a particular cause or party. An example would be those “In this house we believe…” signs that Leftists put on their front yards. There is no attempt at an argument here. No conservative ever read one of those signs and changed his mind about anything. That’s not what they’re for. Certainly a Christian/reactionary could do something analogous, effectively putting a target on oneself and daring the cancelers to come for him. Why would he do this? The reason might be existential, of the “I have to look myself in the mirror when I shave” type. Or it might be strategic: one wishes to give heart to less courageous people of like mind and show to the undecided that Leftism is not indisputable. Ask yourself, why does Western society feel so much more totalitarian now than in 2019? It’s not COVID; it’s the fact that in 2020 every business and professional society decided it was part of their job to affirm and enforce Leftist orthodoxy. This was initially the “racial reckoning”, but it’s spread to everything, so that now every business has statements supporting Ukraine and abortion. These spaces should be contested. However, remember that what we need are not martyrs but survivors. Someone who speaks out and is fired is an example, a demonstration to all watching that the Leftist consensus is absolute. Someone who speaks out and is not fired but continues working as usual and interacting with co-workers has demonstrated that the Left does not totally own the workspace, which is indeed a major victory for us (in the sense of “getting us back toward where we were in 2019”). Note that for signaling allegiance, one must do it publicly under one’s own name for it to be meaningful at all. Nobody would bother anonymously posting “In this house we believe…” posters.
  • Teaching. Most people have a crude caricature of Christianity and non-Leftist thought put into their heads by post-WWII media and academia. We know better, having actually engaged with it from primary sources. This doesn’t mean we’re necessarily smarter than those who haven’t made this study, but from whatever accident of fate, we know things they don’t. One may consider one’s goal in speaking out to be pedagogical. You didn’t invent the arguments against democracy and for traditional sexual morality, but you know them, so you can share them. There is still much room for creativity in teaching–one must decide how to organize and present the body of knowledge. Whom should you teach? Those who are most open to learning–the undecided and mainstream conservatives. Unlike the allegiance signaler, the teacher can be anonymous. The point is the information being conveyed, not the commitment of the conveyor.
  • Researching. If you believe that significant rethinking of metaphysics, ethics, history, etc. is needed to recover the spiritual goods that before the Leftist onslaught we enjoyed unreflectively, then you may want to contribute to this intellectual project. This may require the work of a community of scholars rather than one isolated genius. If you can find this community, then with modest, not genius-level intellectual gifts, you can contribute to this project by working on some narrow aspect of the intellectual problems and communicating results to the community. Unlike the teacher, the researcher “speaks out” what he takes to be original thought. Unlike the allegiance signaler and teacher, the researcher is communicating mainly to those who already share his commitments. Without the community of scholars, narrow research is pointless, unless you have a passionate interest in some narrow question, in which case the point is personal and communication is secondary. The researcher cannot be anonymous, because dialogue with the community requires enduring recognized identity, but he can be pseudonymous. Indeed, if your work is valuable, there is an argument that the greater good is best served by protecting your livelihood. Like a good tenured professor, the Orthosphere engages in both teaching and research.
  • Revolutionizing. Or maybe you are trying to do isolated genius work, and your speaking out is presenting your new paradigm. I won’t make fun of you for that. As with the teacher and the researcher, the identity of the lone genius doesn’t matter, only his thought, so anonymity is fine. The lone genius by definition doesn’t require a community of fellow scholars, but he does require a society able to absorb his discoveries. You should put some thought into how you’re going to disseminate your work given the hostile media and academic environment. My recommendation would be to make friends with some teachers.

To change the culture I: the case of the mediocre reactionary

The following series of posts (I have written five and will post two tomorrow and two Saturday) is not directly inspired by the recent spat with our Romantic Christian friends, but there is a connection. As far as specifics go, I am probably in sharper disagreement with the RCs than the rest of the Orthosphere, in that I think the path forward is not in intuition but in rigorous analysis, not in discarding the corporate and sacramental aspects of religion, but in reclaiming and highlighting them. However, the Romantics are to be praised for appreciating the magnitude of the intellectual and imaginative task before us. A revolution of thought is needed for Christianity to make sense to and be attractive for contemporary men. Simply reiterating past thought, even true past thought, will not be enough. Not that we have spiritually advanced, but too much that was taken for granted has now become conscious and disputable; too many vague ideas must confront the more precise language we have inherited.

Hence we hear that we must change the culture–ideally that of wider society, hopefully that of a saved remnant, at the very least that in our own heads. This is a large task. What exactly is being asked of us? And first of all, who precisely is to accomplish the revolution? What should the individual reader feel called to do?

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On Branding Romantic Christians Enemies of Christianity

Francis Berger worries about my recent categorization of Romantic Christianity as inimical to the Church, who is the Body of Christ, and thus of Christ himself, and of the Christian revelation and religion he founded. But he doesn’t quite deny that the shoe fits.

It rather does. I’m not saying this to be mean, but rather as an act of charity in telling the truth. It was not a truth I came to happily, as I have for long read with profit and admiration the writings of several of the Romantic Christians. It was rather forced on me by an honest confrontation with what they had themselves recently written.

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Loving the Wineskins More than the Wine

The Church is the body of believers, and only God knows for certain who is and is not part of that body.  This body was historically divided into the Church Militant, consisting of those believers who dwell on earth and are at war with Satan and the world, and the Church Triumphant, which has safely passed out of this life to enjoy, or at least anticipate with assurance, the life of the world to come.

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Further Study of Bruce Charlton’s Theory of Christian Epistemology

Bruce has more to say about Christian epistemology in his latest post, titled Should Christians hand-over their eternal salvation to… historians? Romantic Christianity at the cutting-edge.

He is wrestling with one of the two foundational issues of the Protestant Reformation: How do we know Christian truth? Who or what is the ultimate authority and source of our knowledge of Christian truth?

This is not just a historic, Reformation-era issue. Because contemporary times are characterized by the catastrophic failure of so many of society’s authorities, many, many people are wrestling with this vital question. Bruce is like the canary in the coal mine.

As in my pervious post on this topic, my comments are left-justified, and Bruce’s words and Scriptural quotations are block-quoted.

 

Charlton:

At the cutting-edge of experienced-life –

The Church = What (some) Historians Say.

All claims of knowledge reduce to intuition/s; but for traditionalist Christians, the baseline intuition is that The Truth is a matter of history; and history is known through the work of ‘historians’ – broadly conceived.

 

No, truth is a matter of What Really Happened. But What Really Happened is not available for us to inspect directly. We must rely on secondary sources.

But we do not believe these secondary sources just because they say so. They must make a persuasive case, based on generally accepted modes of reasoning and the common experience of their likely readers.

For example. Christian teachers should point to the written Word of God, the Bible. They must point to the actual words used, along with their conventionally accepted meanings. Sometimes the full meaning cannot be known without additional, specialized knowledge, such as the unique nuances of meaning possessed by the original Greek or Hebrew words, or by the unique cultural customs of ancient times to which the text of Scripture refers or alludes.

But in all cases, the meaning is a matter of publicly-available knowledge (even if highly specialized knowledge.) Continue reading

Examining Bruce Charlton’s Theory of Knowing Christian Truth

I do not know how many people lean toward the Romantic Christianity espoused by Bruce.

[I use his first name because of our long association and my personal concern for him.]

I suspect many people are sympathetic to his approach, which downplays history and formal church and theological organization in favor of a direct / personal apprehension of Christianity. If many are sympathetic to his doctrine, it must be analyzed.

I think that his approach identifies some real problems but provides a mistaken solution. And since I once had something similar to the religious confusion that he says he once had but has transcended, I continue to interact publicly with his doctrine.

Some, of course, will say I am beating a dead horse. Not so. The horse is very much alive to many people. If it is dead to you, read no further.

I have copied below the entirety of Bruce’s post entitled Me-Here-Now versus History – what kind of Christian are you? My comments are left-justified; his post and Scriptural quotes are indented and highlighted as quotes in the WordPress way.

 

Charlton:

Christians will find themselves – sometimes again and again – at a point where there is a stark awareness and apprehension of Me-Here-Now – a situation of direct and ‘intuitive’ knowing; rooted in a personal and first-hand experience, and a person to person relationship – typically in relationship to Jesus Christ.

This contrasts with traditional church-based knowing; which is rooted in historical discourse and ‘scholarship’ of various types; and is therefore second-hand (or third-/ fourth-/ fifth-hand…).

Church-knowing is indirect knowledge-about… rather than experience-of. It is something we learn and strive to remember… rather than apprehend with instantaneous clarity and conviction.

 

According to the Bible, a non-Christian starts becoming a Christian when he reads and believes what the Bible – -especially the Gospels – – says about Jesus. The Gospels are a true and accurate written account of what really happened in specific places at specific times.

According to the Bible, when some people learn more and more about Jesus by reading the true accounts about Him, the Holy Spirit begins to work in them, giving them spiritual life. Others do not so respond, evidently because the Holy Spirit chose not to work in them. This gives the new Christian, inter alia, the ability to have true faith (knowledge, agreement, trust) in Jesus. Continue reading

Romantic Christianity versus Christianity Proper

To my recent post about Finding the True Way to Life, Bruce Charlton commented:

@Kristor – I find your post and comments both surprising and confusing! Your post concedes pretty much all the ground to Romantic Christianity; so that you seem to be advocating the same attitude to churches.

Your comment of July 25, 2022 at 4:49 AM suggests that any particular actual or manifest church (including the RCC) is ultimately ‘merely’ (secondarily) helpful or harmful – but never should be regarded as primary or decisive – precisely the Romantic Christian attitude.

And that the individual person’s intuitive knowledge of the mystical/spiritual/immaterial ‘church’ is all that *really* matters at the bottom line (albeit, I cannot distinguish this concept of ‘church’ from knowledge of deity – of God the Father/Jesus Christ/the Holy Ghost).

Most remarkably, you apparently regard the actual, worldly functioning of the Roman Catholic Church to be a matter of ultimate indifference to you! I.e., whether or not the RCC locks its churches; if it ceases to offer the mass, marriage, funerals; and if most of its bishops and priests focus their teachings on defending and endorsing … whatever policies the global totalitarian Establishment are currently pushing – you say:

I am not too troubled by all of this outward and merely formal ecclesial subjection to the tyrannical civil authority.

I suppose the crux is that you regard this as ‘merely’ formal submission. Yet when formal *and informal* RCC discourse overwhelmingly endorses – and indeed instructs – not just submission, but enthusiastic and active participation, over many years and increasingly … Well, I believe you are in error.

Altogether, I don’t [see] you are putting forward a coherent argument here – which may simply mean that you are in a transitional phase.

Indeed I hope so; because I find your casual, dismissive attitude to the RCC enthusiastic-self-shut-down of 2020 (etc.) to be abhorrent!

Like Archbishop Viganò; I regard 2020 as probably the worst disaster in the history of Christianity, an existential catastrophe, the significance of which can hardly be exaggerated.

These are all important points, and it is important that I respond to them cogently, and forthrightly. The first thing that I would say in response is that this latest travesty of the craven responses of the various church hierarchs to the mandates of the civil authorities in respect to the supposed crisis of covid is not our first rodeo of that sort. Things were much, much worse with the Church during the Black Death, a real pandemic:

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