There is a debate on Orthosphere blogs about the Puritan Hypothesis, the claim that today’s social justice Left (as well as all earlier iterations of Leftism) is just a secularized version of Puritanism. JMSmith has given some support to this hypothesis, while Bruce Charlton has dissented. On the one hand, that the Puritan Roundheads during the English Civil War were the precursors of later Leftism seems to me a plain historical fact. And yet, one may still dispute the larger claim of an intrinsic spiritual affinity between the two. I myself have agreed with Bruce that it is wrong to call Leftism an outgrowth of Christianity, even a heretical one. There is simply nothing distinctively Christian about liberalism or Leftism.
The accusation that Protestants, and Puritans in particular, are precursors of later godless rebellions is an old Catholic polemic, long predating Moldbug. “Puritans” in this context does not mean overly zealous Christians. Naturally, no Catholic would grant low-church Protestants a monopoly on that! Zeal vs. lukewarmness is one dichotomy of religious styles, one that transcends Christianity. (Muslims, Buddhists, etc may also have or lack zeal.) But there is another more relevant to us.
The two most enduring religious styles are the priestly and the prophetic. They can both inspire great piety, but in content they are polar opposites. The priest preaches God’s presence in the world, the prophet His absence–His alienation–from it. The prophet condemns the exiting social order; the priest consecrates it. The prophet proclaims God’s wrath, the priest God’s forgiveness. It is for the priest to mitigate the cruelty of religious moralizing. In speaking to the people of God’s manifestation in the world, the prophet warns against false positives, the priest against false negatives. To the prophet, the great sin is idolatry, to see God where society says He is but where in fact He is not. Any pretense of the social order to sacrality is anathema to prophets. The only polity that could command his loyalty is the impossible Messianic kingdom of his fantasy. Hence today they rail against patriotism and “racism”, and take the disenchantment of the world as a religious imperative. The priest is at home in the world, for all order is part of God’s order. To the priest, the great sin is sacrilege, profanation, impiety.
Prophets are relentless self-promoters, and the near unanimous opinion of men is that “prophetic” religion is good, while “priestcraft” is bad. They are all wrong. The prophetic innovators of the Axial Age created a terrible spiritual wound, expelling God from the world, alienating man from his sacred rituals, destroying the compactness of man’s primitive religious representation of the cosmos. Today we see what a world of prophets looks like: twitter mobs, antifa terrorists, ideological struggle sessions in every workplace. The endpoint would be a crowd of moralistic sadists clawing each others’ eyes out in a frenzy of holy hatred. They say that university professors are priests of Progressivism. Would that it were so! Imagine if professors taught students to be grateful to the great god Social Justice, to see all around them how Social Justice sustains and reconciles all things, to therefore to cherish these things. But no, Social Justice is forever an angry god.
Islam and post-temple Judaism are prophetic religions. In Jesus Christ we see a prophet turning the prophetic critique against itself in His criticisms of the Pharisees, who were the prophetic branch of the Judaism of the day. None did Jesus condemn so vociferously as the moral preeners and those who presumed to gauge other men’s moral worth. Most significantly of all, Jesus declared Himself to be the fulfillment of prophesy. As hinted by Jesus Himself and stated explicitly by the early Church, this fulfillment was of a priestly, sacrificial nature. So, if the prophesies are fulfilled, we have no more need for prophets! Jesus is the prophet who abolishes prophesy and the priest who reconstitutes the priesthood. The Catholic Church has always organized itself around the priestly principle. Promoting social justice, critiquing “structures of power”, giving “voice to the voiceless”, “healing the world”–all of these things are totally alien to her nature. Our Messiah has already arrived and is found bodily on our altars.
The Protestant Reformation had nothing to do with corruption in the Church; the Reformers themselves would not wish it to be trivialized so. They struck at the basis of the Church’s priestly self-understanding, the doctrine of the Eucharist. The Reformers denied that the Eucharist has a sacrificial character; this is the core of the Reformation debate, and everything else follows from it. They worried that the celebration of the Eucharist constitutes additional sacrifices to Christ’s self-offering on Calvary, and that this would thus imply that the latter is inadequate.
Without stepping too far into this debate–for I am no theologian–it is helpful to recall the Catholic doctrine reaffirmed at Trent. The Catholic Church teaches that each celebration of the Eucharist is not a new sacrifice, but a new appropriation of Jesus’ one all-sufficient sacrifice. It is the nature of symbols to be suprapersonal in that their meaning is part of the public world rather than of the performer’s intentions, making it possible for others to affix their assent as well while remaining a single symbolic act. Here we see the rationale of the Incarnation. A purely spiritual act of devotion by the Son to the Father, however perfect, would be His alone, incommunicable, while a physical bodily self-sacrifice could be a symbol which we can appropriate in all its unfathomable depths of meaning. Behind all of this is the priestly sacramental sense that the physical world is actually more capable of bearing meaning than are human thoughts and acts of will on their own.
Thus, it is certainly true that the Reformation contributed to the ascendency of the prophetic mode of religion. Offering sacrifices is the defining role of a priest (just as moralistic bullying is the defining role of the prophet). Nevertheless, among Protestants the two styles are found in varying combinations. Anglicans strike me as nearly the same in religious temperament as Catholics. Puritans were entirely prophetic and free of all priesthood, as they would proudly tell you. Lutherans are somewhere in between. Atheist Leftism is in no way a type of Christianity–“heretical”, “secularized”, or any other kind–but it clearly is in the prophetic style. (Hence Jews and Muslims have greater affinity for it than Protestants. Protestants affirm the Incarnation and substitutionary atonement and so retain some of the priestly imagination.) Meanwhile, Catholics since Vatican II have made a farce of their religion trying to be prophetic with protests, public statements, solicitude for high-status official victims, and humiliating apologies for historic failures to follow prophetic morality.
The only viable Catholic response would be to refuse to recognize in the prophets their precious moral superiority, to argue forthrightly the superiority of priestcraft over prophesy.
There is much concern over the upcoming Amazon Synod, in which the Church, in praising the pagan natives, seems to extol animism, pantheism, and ancestor worship. Is it part of an ongoing apostasy? Or could it be the Catholic Church beginning to embrace her own priestly, anti-prophetic nature?