My essay A Novel for Our Time appears at Baron Bodissey’s Gates of Vienna website. The “novel for our time” is Dark Angel (1952) by the Finnish writer Mika Waltari (1931 – 1979), a fictionalized account, drawing on historical sources, of the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Waltari’s work is today largely forgotten, but during his lifetime it received widespread appreciation and made itself available to non-Finnish speakers through translations in a dozen languages. (Waltari’s novel The Egyptian, for example, would become the basis of a lavishly produced Hollywood film of the same name.) Dark Angel is partly allegory, being a study in loyalty to civilization and its opposite; and it is partly a call to its audience to remember an event that is increasingly obscure or entirely unknown to most Western people. Most importantly – and most relevantly from the perspective of sixty years later – Dark Angel is an attempt to grasp the essence of Islam. Waltari’s characterization of Islam stands at an angle to a number of assumptions that critics of that creed at the present time make of it – and in a way that heightens the claim of radical incompatibility between Islam and the West.
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
I teach at a large, public university in the Bible belt. It has a reputation for conservatism, and there are said to be many Christians among its students. As a public institution it is, however, rigidly secular in its outward appearance and official pronouncements, so this is one place where it is not beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
We do have a thirteen-foot menorah on the principal public plaza, though; which was raised last night with the assistance of the President (a Mormon), and is presumably slated to remain in place for the duration of Hanukkah. As I was in the neighborhood, I strolled through the plaza this morning, to see the menorah, and to see any other symbols that might have been raised to mark the holiday season.
There weren’t any. Continue reading
I have a friend of long standing who suffers periodic paroxysms of rage against Christians, whom he calls “Christers” to underscore his contempt. I have pointed out that the term is a slur at which one might take offense, but he is attached to it and I am attached to him, so what am I going to do? When he used the term recently, however, it started me wondering where the word came from, and I think you may be interested in what I found.
Everyone has heard the quote, “to learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” This is always attributed to Voltaire, although apparently without warrant, since there is no record of his having said it. In fact, it is most probably a refinement of a statement first made in 1993 by Kevin Alfred Strom, a White Nationalist who was thinking of his persecution for Holocaust denial. Whatever its provenance, it is now an internet meme, and rightly so, since it neatly encapsulates a self-evident truth. Power has its privileges, one of them being lèse-majesté.
We can invert this and say that a sure sign of powerlessness is the absence of lèse-majesté. In other words, “to learn who the truly marginal nobodies are, simply ask who you are allowed to criticize.” Criticize here means mock, ridicule and call rude names. To lay the proposition out fully, we should state it thus: “to learn who the truly marginal nobodies are, simply ask who you are allowed to mock, ridicule and call rude names in polite society.” If you can make a group the butt of a joke, or the object of scorn, and still be invited to the next wine and cheese party, that group has no lèse-majesté. They are marginal nobodies.
Which brings me to the subject of Christers, a group more or less bereft of lèse-majesté. It has been close to a hundred years since anyone was dropped from fashionable guest lists for mocking Christers.
This is the third in a series of four articles exploring the phenomenon of Gnosis or Gnosticism from a “Non-Voegelinian Perspective.” Eric Voegelin (1901-1986) in The New Science of Politics (1952), Science Politics & Gnosticism (1965), and elsewhere used the term “Gnosticism” to refer to the “closed” or ideological-totalitarian systems that, for him, expressed the essence of modernity. Voegelin was a critic of modernity, just as he was a critic of the ideological-totalitarian systems, and in his usage the term Gnosticism (taking it out of quotation-marks) always carried a strong pejorative connotation. In Voegelin’s view, as expressed especially in the multi-volume study Order and History (1957-1965), Gnosticism sought to triumph but failed to do so in Antiquity, but then emerged anew in the early modern period to become the dominant Weltanschauung of the later centuries. Voegelin did not mean – as some took him to mean – that specific Gnostic doctrines, surviving in latency during the Medieval Period, then sprang back to life in all their details; rather, Voegelin argued that the difficulty of coming to terms with the “tension” (the perceived imperfection or even hostility) of existence inclined some people to deny existence by constructing an elaborate “second reality.”
The “second reality” eliminates, by various gestures of denial, anything inimical to the maladjusted ego in the real world. The “second reality” is a flight from reality – a fugue. The real world persists, which means that the advocates of the “second reality” find themselves in perpetual conflict, both rhetorical and psychological, with existence. Ideology, for Voegelin, is a magical gesture aimed at altering the structure of reality through unanimous declaration; the requirement for unanimity means that the Gnostic polity must quash all dissenting voices.
Voegelin did not evoke the topic of Gnosticism in a vacuum. The scholarship of Gnosis goes back to various students of G.W.F. Hegel, particularly to Ferdinand Christian Baur (1792-1860), whose pioneering study, Die Christliche Gnosis (Christian Gnosis, 1835), remains a touchstone. Nevertheless, the take-off of Gnostic scholarship happened in the Twentieth Century. A pivotal work appeared in The Gnostic Religion (1958), by Hans Jonas (1903-1993), reissued in a revised text in 1963, 1991, and 2001. With Kurt Rudolph (born 1929), whose Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism appeared in 1977, Jonas was a dominant presence in the field right up to his death. More recently, the names of Giovanni Filoramo (born 1945) and Yuri Stoyanov (born 1961) have become obligatory references. So has that of Michel Tardieu (born 1938) for his succinct book, Manichaeism (1981; English version 2008). It should be emphasized that Voegelin was never a primary scholar of Gnosticism. Jonas, Rudolph, and Filoramo, with whom the present essay deals, were and are primary scholars of Gnosticism. Their objectivity distinguishes them from well-known others (J. M. Robinson, for example, and Elaine Pagels) whose interest in Gnosticism is rather more advocative than rigorous. Continue reading