A menace not of heresy but of apostasy and its attraction

Bruce Charlton writes

I see this A Lot in discussions online, and sometimes in real life. Secular liberal apostasy (i.e. the stepwise process of losing faith and leaving Christianity) presents itself as heresy (i.e. an unorthodox type of Christianity).

Traditionalists fall into the trap because they are unwilling to judge the true motivations of the liberalisers. Instead they try to resist apostasy legalistically – by more tightly defining and enforcing theological doctrines and rules of church order. They do this because it seems more ‘objective’.

But the more tightly they define and enforce the ‘objective’ rules and practices of their denomination or church; the more they separate themselves from other Traditionalist Christians.

and

But the real problem is not heresy but apostasy – the Fake Christians may be orthodox in narrowly defined legalistic terms, they are usually prepared to stand up and make strict oaths and promises in which they do not believe and have zero intention of living-by; but they are Obviously Not Christian in terms of not being followers of Jesus and/ or not believing in the divinity of Jesus.

He’s absolutely right.  The point is central to the mission of the Orthosphere, and it connects to what I see as several weaknesses of traditionalist Christians.

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Scholastic investigations

At Throne and Altar, I have been writing about some of the tricky issues of scholastic philosophy.

  • Natural law:  Suppose there were vampires so constituted that they could only feed on human blood.  Would it be acceptable for them to prey on us?  To answer this question, I outline general principles of natural law reasoning.  (Natural law arguments often skip important steps)
  • Divine simplicity:  If God is identical with His attributes, how can he have contingent properties such as knowing about His creation?  I clarify the doctrine using the idea of state spaces.
  • Prime matter:  Do we really need it?  Could it be rather that everything is information?  Possibly, but this would have some surprising consequences.  I make this point while reviewing William Dembski’s Being as Communion.
  • Analogy of Being:  No original analysis by me, but I review Kris McDaniel’s The Fragmentation of Being, in which he makes a case for rehabilitating this doctrine for contemporary analytic philosophy.
  • Predestination:  I have a look at Garrigou-Lagrange’s explanation of why God doesn’t give efficacious grace to everyone.

The Puritan question: prophets vs. priests

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.

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Book review: On Religion, Speeches to its Cultured Despisers

On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers
by Friedrich Schleiermacher (1799)

Orthosphere readers will have mixed feelings toward Schleiermacher.  On the one hand, he is perhaps the founder of the study of the phenomenology of religion, a study which was later carried to greater heights by Rudolf Otto and Mircea Eliade; he and these other thinkers have proved that religion is not merely a substitute for philosophy for the uneducated but contains its own irreducible value and insights.  In working to tie Protestant Christianity to the nascent Romantic Movement, Schleiermacher also stands as a forerunner of Romantic Christianity.  On the other hand, he more influentially stands as the founder of Liberal Protestantism, the project of gutting Christianity to accommodate bourgeois bohemian sensibilities.  Consider the title of the book.  It sounds ironic; we expect these “cultured” despisers to have their lack of proper cultivation quickly shown up.  The first speech’s hearty praise for the intelligence, morality, and progressiveness of its readers (presumed to be haters of religion) in what I took to be deliberately overwrought prose seems to confirm this impression.  I was a couple dozen pages in, still waiting for the hammer to drop, when I began to realize to my horror that Schleiermacher’s praise for his atheist friends is entirely in earnest and that what I had been reading is his real prose style.

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Book review: The Great Chain of Being

The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea
by Arthur O. Lovejoy, 1936
originally posted at Throne and Altar

The author proposes to trace the career of an idea from its invention by Plato to the early Romantics at the beginning of the nineteenth century.  To sum up, the “great chain of being” is a proposed reason God had for creating the universe.  Although perfect and self-sufficient, He is prompted by His very goodness to share His being and have it reflected in various partial ways through finite creatures.  Although some creatures are more excellent than others, none perfectly manifests the perfection of its Creator, so a fuller, better universe that more adequately glorifies its Creator will have a diversity of creatures all along the scale of being, from the highest angels to the lowest inert matter.

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Morality is for victims

Some years ago, back when I would occasionally flip through cable channels, I came across a bit of a news documentary about a professional ethicist analyzing the moral reasoning of grade school students.  First the students were interviewed and said rather unremarkable things such as that cheating on homework or tests is wrong.  These interviews were reviewed by the ethicist, who pronounced himself “disturbed” at how students never question the justice of school rules against cheating “…blah blah white supremacy patriarchy structural capitalist oppression blah blah…”

As an antidote, some quotes from wise men:

…if geometry were as much opposed to our passions and present interests as is ethics, we should contest it and violate it but little less, notwithstanding all the demonstrations of Euclid and Archimedes…

                                                                             — Gottfried Leibniz

Why, Sir, if the fellow does not think as he speaks, he is lying; and I see not what honour he can propose to himself from having the character of a liar. But if he does really think that there is no distinction between virtue and vice, why, Sir, when he leaves our houses let us count our spoons.

                                                                             — Samuel Johnson

The matter is quite simple. The bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.

— Søren Kierkegaard

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Cross-post: Memory and anticipation in the age of Leftist power

History really did end, not because things stopped changing but because they stopped staying the same.  There was a time not long ago when the past seemed to have some weight, and that which had long endured was assumed to have deep roots.  A conservative accusing progressives of seeking to change the definition of marriage from what it has been “for thousands of years” alludes to this sense.  A progressive invoking the “long arc of history” does as well.  Now, effective resistance to the Left has nearly ceased to exist, and one can expect any aspect of social life to be transformed or eliminated as soon as a consensus on the Left forms that social justice demands it.  Whether this is good or bad, it means the death of the historical sense. [1]

This might seem an odd accusation, at least when directed at progressives.  After all, their entire worldview is indignation at the oppressive past and devotion to a utopian future.  But this worldview is ahistorical in the sense that modernists used to accuse traditionalists of being ahistorical in their devotion to the past, in that the past is imagined to have been static (all history until yesterday being white Christian patriarchal oppression in about equal measure as far as the progressive is concerned) and morally unambiguous (evil, in this case).  (Whiggery, by contrast, was not ahistorical in this sense.)  Nor can today’s progressive imagine what future progressives will be demanding in a hundred years; if he could imagine it, he would be demanding it right now.  So he is not consciously a link in a continuous progression.  His moment is the phase transition from evil to good, the only truly dynamic moment of mankind.

In the face of Leftist power, the conservative also steps outside of history.  The past has no enduring presence, and we feel completely alone when we believe what all of our ancestors believed.  The future has no reality for us.  It no longer makes sense to say that one is fighting to preserve something for one’s children or grandchildren.  The time of their adulthood presumably will come, but it is beyond our horizon; we can neither predict it nor do anything to influence it.  As I’ve written before, the whole purpose of conservatism has changed.  One no longer fights liberalism with hopes of victory or even stalemate.  Defiance is a performance, an act of fidelity–to God, to the truth as one sees it, or to oneself–carried out for its own sake.  Because it cannot accomplish anything, there is no obligation, no uniquely right decision.  The very fact that a man has only the present compels him to decide what he wants to do with his time (a short time, but the only time that is real to him), how he wants to live it.

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