The Orthosphere yesterday reached 1,000 posts since we began writing here in early 2012. Meaningless in itself, this passage nevertheless marks a milestone. It is fitting then to reflect on how well we have met our original purpose, of providing a traditional, orthodox Christian perspective on the maelstrom ever in progress here on Earth.
Given the productive discussion that has ensued from my quotations from Constantine’s Edict of Milan and Theodosius’ Codex here at The Orthosphere, I thought that it would not be inappropriate to call attention to an article of mine that appears in the latest number of Anthropoetics, the online journal of Generative Anthropology and related sciences. The article bears the title, Flaubert’s Tentation de Saint-Antoine : Three Approaches. Educated people know Gustave Flaubert (1821 – 1880) mainly as the author of Madame Bovary (1857) and A Sentimental Education (1869), classics of the Nineteenth Century social novel – and simply of the novel. Like the poet Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867), Flaubert stands in a line of dissentient artists and intellectuals who, in France, stem from the counter-revolutionary thinking of Joseph de Maistre (1753 – 1821). That fact by itself should attract the interest of Traditionalists; but more than that, Flaubert maintained a lifelong fascination for the history of religion, most particularly that of Christianity. Indeed, the work that occupied Flaubert longer than any other and which he considered to be his masterpiece, is La tentation de Saint-Antoine (final version 1870). La tentation is difficult work to describe. It is in some fashion a novel, but it is otherwise a drama of the imagination in the form of an internal monologue by the famous instigator of desert monachism (the Thebaïd) whose life spanned the last half of the Third and the first half of the Fourth Centuries.
Flaubert wrote a number of other works with a religious content, notably his Trois Contes or Three Tales (1877), one of which is about Herod, John the Baptist, and Salome, another about St. Julian the Hospitaler, and the third about a naive but pious woman who lives out her life in the confines of small village. Flaubert’s Salammbô (1862), set in Carthage just after the First Punic War, treats the notorious Moloch Cult in detail.
The article not only offers an interpretation of La tentation from three perspectives – Voegelinian, Girardian, and Gansian – but it also traces the unexpected influence of the masterpiece on later writers. John Dos Passos’ first important novel, Three Soldiers (1921), an autobiographical fictionalization of its author’s wartime experiences, frequently alludes to and may be said to absorb La tentation.
It is a straightforward corollary of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem that no strict formalization of political theory can possibly adequate to the multifarity of human reality, either in the most general terms or, a fortiori, in the particular and peculiar. Only a very informal formalism respecting genera, types or sorts of political order – as democracy, monarchy, etc. – is practical. When it comes to the formulation of concrete policy for a particular concrete polity, then, only the most general recommendations can make good general sense. And even a good general recommendation based on the eternal verities of human society must be tweaked if it is to fit a particular society in its given historical condition.
Homo economicus gets a bad rap, as being insensible of the finer things in life: love, charity, worship, beauty, and so forth. He is supposed to be interested only in profit for himself.
In fact, the notion is far more comprehensive. Included in the calculus of what is profitable to economic man is his evaluation of what is morally best, spiritually best, and so forth. We all weigh our decisions in this manner, balancing our desires to fulfill obligations, to meet duties, to care for our bodies and for those whom we love, to tend the garden, make some profitable trades, respond to customers, go to church, and so forth. Economic life is not about spending and getting money, it is about allocating time. And the question ever before each of us is always the same: what is the right thing to do now, mutatis mutandis? I.e., given my overall schedule of preferences for all the possible things that I could do – including doing nothing – what is optimal?
Homo economicus is often profane and wicked and debased and ignoble, to be sure; but only because he is Fallen, and then only insofar as he has not been baptized and converted to a new and righteous and truer mind, so that his preferences are still whacked by idolatry and falsehood and unbelief, thus queering and ruining all his evaluations. The homo economicus that people gripe about is miscalled. His true name is homo irreligiosus.
EH Looney writes somewhere that, “Antiquity is the prologue; modernity is the epilogue.” If so, then what came between antiquity and modernity – the age between the ages, the Mediaeval Age – is the main matter of history, its greatest intensification of value and significance so far. What came before it was a prolegomenon; what came after, merely after. This is nowise to deprecate the achievements either of ancient or modern civilization, but only to put them in perspective.
Is it a credible notion?
In a comment here at the Orthosphere, Wm. Lewis quotes Lawrence Auster to great effect in responding to the claim made by some that Protestantism is the mother of Liberalism:
Some commenters have observed, correctly, that formerly Protestant countries are in the vanguard of liberalism and its destruction of the West. This is due not to some defect within Protestantism; formerly Roman Catholic countries are also being destroyed by liberalism. We also see leaders within the Roman Catholic Church advancing liberal destruction (e.g., American bishops advocating open borders), so vulnerability to liberalism is unique neither to Protestantism nor to Roman Catholicism.
A guest post by Mark Citadel:
I write to you as an outsider. A sincere Roman Catholic might not write such a letter out of his admirable respect for the Papacy, and a letter written by a non-Christian might mean little to you. And so it falls to me to say what must be said. I want to start by saying that we of the Eastern Orthodox tradition consider ourselves to practice our faith in the character of the earliest Christians, and though it might seem arrogant, we hold that through tired eyes Orthodoxy has witnessed many great tragedies; the Diocletian Persecutions, the fall of Constantinople, the abduction of thousands of Serb boys and Greek girls to serve as Janissaries and courtesans, and of course the scourge of Bolshevism that cloaked the entire East in poverty and despair for almost a century. Though you consider us schismatics, I would hope that you do not think us fools, and your cordial relations with His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew I, as well as your historic meeting with His Beatitude Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Rus, leaves me with hope that you will consider this carefully.
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
In the post proposing the Pact, I wrote
The pact would start with members of the three varieties of Christianity affirming their right to disagree with one another, both in the sense of holding different convictions and of speaking publicly against the errors of the other parties.
This point needs clarification. Here are some situations I had in mind when writing these words: Continue reading
Protestants, Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox might regard each other as different religions (then again, they might not), but our enemies certainly don’t. For liberals, Moslems, homosexualists, feminists, radical environmentalists, et al, the three versions of Christianity are just slightly different flavors of the same poison. Or, to switch metaphors, our common enemies see Christians of all sorts as essentially the same pack of rats who deserve to be exterminated. Continue reading