How I Got Religion

Not, “how I became religious,” but “how I came to understand religion.”

It is extremely difficult for most moderns to negotiate the passage to the fundamentally spiritual perspective that all humans shared before the Enlightenment. At least, I found it so, for the longest time. Despite a number of spiritual experiences that I could nowise gainsay, I could make no philosophical sense of spiritual realities using the intellectual tool kit my Modern education had provided me. I got a lot of training in how to think about the physical, but I didn’t know how to think about the spiritual (or, for that matter, anything not physical). That made it somewhat incredible, and indeed somewhat scandalous. And this made it quite difficult to be wholeheartedly religious – to worship or say the Credo without invoking a string of philosophical hedges and equivocations that rather emptied the whole procedure of its numinous, compelling quality, and thus of its point.

Having no way to comprehend spiritual realities, I could not even understand quite exactly what the articles of the Credo properly mean, or what I was meant to be doing in worship. I now realize that I often encounter that same incapacity in atheist interlocutors. They don’t seem to have a way of understanding what it is that theists are talking about. So their arguments often miss the point entirely, and when theists point this out to them they simply can’t see that they are fundamentally misunderstanding the terms of the dialogue.

Modernity’s inadequacy to spiritual realities is echoed in its incomprehension of consciousness, agency, meaning, value, morality, and in the limit truth, beauty, and virtue – or their antipodes. Under its own terms, Modernism cannot account for these things, and must if it is to discuss them at all resort to unprincipled exceptions. This renders it incapable of coherent treatment of any of the basic aspects of life as it is actually lived and experienced. It is, in a word, unable to understand minds, or therefore persons, or a fortiori their lives.

Modernity does however comprehend bodies, better by an order of magnitude than any previous age. So naturally, and like any other successful weltanschauung, it wants to interpret everything under its own terms. It wants to make bodies basic, and reduce all experience to motions of bodies.

Modernism takes bodies to be utterly dead. It wants to say that everything is motions of those dead objects. But as is obvious to the most cursory consideration, the life of the mind is not a congeries of dead things, or of their lifeless collisions. It is an active, lively process. It is a series of happenings, a temporal assemblage of occasions, each of which – whether conscious or not – is in some degree alive to its past and intends some future.

[Of such lively intensions implemented in actual transactions among entities is the causal nexus that connects and relates disparate events constituted as a coherent integral world system.]

It is furthermore transparently obvious that no configuration of dead things can be alive. Only what is alive can be alive.

As incoherent, then, the Modern project of reducing life to motions of dead bodies is, not just doomed to failure, not just impossible (as a complete consistent logical calculus, while conceivable, is not possible), but strictly meaningless, ergo unthinkable: not even wrong.

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The Non-religious Objection to Homosexuality Cannot be Sustained

At his blog, [Correction: A commenter says she’s a woman] in a post having nothing to do with the present topic, EvolutionistX writes

Take the most common argument against homosexuality: “God says it is a sin.” Young people are fairly atheist, believe in separation of church and state, and think a god who doesn’t like gay people is a jerk. This argument doesn’t just fail at convincing young people that gay marriage is bad; it also convinces them that God is bad.

By contrast, a simple graph showing STD rates among gay people makes a pretty persuasive argument that the “gay lifestyle” isn’t terribly healthy.

She’s not the only one to make such an observation. Radio talk show host Michael Medved has said much the same thing, that we should avoid religious arguments against homosexuality in the political arena.

Problem is, if God doesn’t oppose homosexuality then there’s ultimately nothing wrong with it. Continue reading

The Troubled Atheists

I suggested a few weeks ago that perhaps the reason Lucifer maintains his hopeless contest with God on the battlefield of the created order – being a seraph, shouldn’t he know better than to keep at it? – is that, in his initial turn from God he ipso facto turned from a full apprehension of the whole of Truth, which is to be found only in God, as God; and that this turn from Truth effectually blinded him, totally and permanently, to the whole Category of the Ultimate (which consists entirely of God), so that his thinking was thenceforth subtly and profoundly disordered. He would thenceforth have apprehended YHWH as merely a seraph like himself, and nothing anyone told him to the contrary could ever possibly penetrate his intellect and reform his understanding; for, the Category of the Ultimate having been excised from his intellectual toolkit, any inditia of Ultimacy would forever pass him by, completely unseen for what they were. They would be to him, wrongly, inditia of creaturity, or else simply meaningless nonsense.

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The Trouble with Atheists

Two weeks ago, Kristor published “The Archetypal Atheist.”   This post argued that Satan rebelled against God because he believed God was a tyrant in the literal and original sense of usurper. He believed that God had arrogated a divine supremacy to which he was not entitled, and for this reason mounted the rebellion known to Christians as the War in Heaven. In his repudiation of, and rebellion against, God’s proper supremacy, Kristor said that Satan cast the mold for the spiritual type we know as the atheist. Continue reading

A Strictly Derivative Proposition

Seven Seals

For discussion: Atheism is a strictly derivative proposition. If every single theist of every kind were at last one day to die off, leaving a human population of atheists only – the atheistic proposition would still, historically, conceptually, and grammatically be a strictly derivative proposition. Being a derivative proposition, atheism is necessarily prone to resentment, and what atheism resents is the originality of theism, or theism’s firstness, whose status it can never usurp. Indeed, atheism can have no status at all, not even its derivative status, except for the prior existence of theism. Whereas atheism is clearly derivative of theism, it is difficult to imagine how a subsequent theism might ever derive itself from an original atheism. There would be nothing, in the first place, to negate, and therefore nothing to serve as the basis for a derivation. Such resentment, attaching necessarily to its embarrassing structural character, would explain the vehemence and petulance of atheism. Lucretius, following Epicurus, was probably wise to reject outright atheism for his brand of theistic minimalism, never denying the being of the gods, but declaring their non-intervention policy with respect to humanity. Even for Lucretius, however, imitating the gods – following the model of their blitheness – remained a desideratum.*

Atheism’s debt to theism resembles the debt of any attempt to dethrone metaphysics to the selfsame metaphysics that it would dethrone.  The abolition of the axioms is left finally with its own lame axiom, just the one, complete with the embarrassing negation, dangling from the proposition like a wet tail.  Nietzsche’s God who is Dead, for example, must previously have been Alive, an irritation concerning which Nietzsche seems to have been aware, to credit him with that much, at least.  (Was Nietzsche really an atheist?  In his own description he was a Dionysiac, pitching Dionysus against Christ.)

In their pursuit of firstness, derivative propositions are always-already checked.

Of course the bland terms theism and atheism, to put them in their proper order, are not quite adequate.  The Theos against which atheism pits itself is never Huitzilopotchli or Istustaya, Sol Invictus or Domna Luna; it is invariably the Christian Trinity.  The atheism of our age (and it is not clear that atheism can claim any previous age) is simply another form of the pervasive and resentful anti-Christianity, which spurns the Christian remonstrance to give up resentment, and which has been angrily present in Western society since the Parisian Blutrausch of 1789.

[*A minor mystery of antiquity is the sudden disappearance of the Epicureans, who had constituted a major segment of the Imperial citizenry all over the Empire, in the middle of the Third Century.  The most plausible explanation for their abrupt departure from the scene was offered by Walter Pater in his novel Marius the Epicurean (1885): In rejecting the sacrificial gods, the Epicureans were already extremely close to Christianity, to which they converted very nearly en masse.]

The Mandate of Heaven

Where God is not reckoned, no lesser authority whatsoever can seem quite legitimate. It’s not just that lesser authorities derive their authority from the supreme authority of God (although they do), but that if there be no supreme authority then there can be no perspective upon things that is indubitably, certainly more competent to reckon truth than any other. And this means that the competitive advantage of competence to truth must be distributed among men more or less adventitiously, rendering any such authority as is anywhere to be found merely capricious, nowise founded upon objective intelligible reasons – which is to say, unjust.

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The Archetypal Atheist

Why doesn’t Satan throw in the towel? He’s a seraph, so he must know better than any other sort of creature ever could that God is doomed to crush him, and that he himself is doomed to fail. Why does he then keep roaming the world seeking the ruin of souls? Why doesn’t he save himself the trouble?

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The Pragmatic Argument from Verisimilitude

What would life be like if God did not exist? If we found that such a life would be quite unlike our own lives as actually lived, that would be a pretty strong indication that atheism is false; that it disagrees with reality as we actually encounter it. Since God, if he exists, is by far – infinitely far – the biggest most important thing there is, our decision about whether he exists is the most important and far-reaching decision we can make in life. Thus if God exists, and we approached the question of his existence in the wrong spirit, it would be the worst mistake of our lives; as if we had spat on the Good King, but far, far worse; for the King in question would be the King of Everything.

It behooves us to approach the question in the right frame of mind, so that we are less likely to err in our thinking.

Part of approaching the question in the right spirit is being honest with ourselves about how things would be if God did not exist. To begin with a closed mind, or to beg the question and insist that nothing could be different if God did not exist, would be to cheat the whole project. But it is crucial to recognize that, in cheating the project, we would be hurting only ourselves.

What are the aspects of life that we are going to find most indicative? What, that is, are the things that might be quite different for us if there were no God? Well, what are the basic features of our lives?

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Importance Iff God

A public discourse that recuses from any reference to a supreme and ultimate and ultimately binding moral order – that is, i.e., morally relativistic – forecloses any possibility of investing any public act with true and perfectly general meaning. When there is nothing that must in virtue of its factual meaning under the highest heaven certainly mean therefore at least one same thing to everyone beneath the orbit of the moon, nothing can mean the same thing to anyone except by happenstance, or by the constraints ever imposed upon all creatures by the logos of corporeal becoming (as, e.g., when the flood approaches and everyone feels it truly and existentially important and valuable to flee, regardless of their politics or sexual identification).

To put it bluntly: if you can’t talk of God and his will for us in a language that everyone understands and accepts (even if only pro forma), then nothing you say can be quite definite, in the final analysis, or therefore definitive, or then authoritative, or suasive. Every utterance then will be tentative, merely pro forma and nothing more; ergo, not really binding, or even interesting, but only conventionally. At most, you’ll muster only indignant insistence about this or that outrage, full of sound and fury but, as signifying really nothing, empty of any real conviction.

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Gnostic Despair

For the Jew or the Christian, this world and its logos, as creatures of the Good himself, are likewise fundamentally good, and so conformity to that logos can possibly be righteous. There is for them a Way of Heaven, a Tao, that pervades the Earth, forms and guides her and all her denizens as she moves in and with it; a Way to which they may, and indeed ought, to aspire. Such folks have a shot at holiness themselves. So we sometimes find them taking that shot, and trying to be good.

For the gnostic, no such luck. Having rejected the creator of this world, and classed him among the evil ones, there is no way that a gnostic can consistently understand the order of his world as intelligibly good. Nor therefore can he believe that agreement with this world’s corrupt order is somehow good or righteous, let alone holy.

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