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.
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.
Despite their many differences, Traditional Christians of diverse sects seem doomed to each other as shield mates for the foreseeable future, willy nilly. But someday their common dire enemies – modernism and Mohammedanism – will have been vanquished, if only in virtue of their enmity to Truth and disagreement with reality. The spectrum of doctrines found on the orthogonal Right will then constitute the full diapason of political discourse. Assuming they have not by then been forced by exigencies of war into a single catholic confession of brothers in arms – a not unlikely eventuality, in my opinion – will the Christian sects be able to live thenceforth together in peace?
Cults are incompatible when their doctrines contradict and entail taboos that conflict irreconcilably, in such a way that they cannot be practically and honestly and harmoniously honored by and in a man, or therefore in any society of men. E.g., one can’t live and render each his due unto Caesar and YHWH if Caesar insists that what belongs properly to YHWH should be given instead to him. No man can serve two masters, nor can any people.
When incompatible cults continuously interact, war between them is inevitable. The choice for Christians before the Edict of Milan was between apostasy and persecution. Rome was at war with Christianity.
Likewise today, it is more and more difficult to live as a Christian in the West. More and more, our choice is between apostasy and persecution: either we agree to live by the taboos of liberalism, implicitly rejecting those of Christianity, or we shall be persecuted. Islam and Christianity are likewise incompatible, as are Islam and liberalism. All of these cults but one will eventually be deleted.
I recently finished another of my favorite sort of book, the sort that brings order and intelligibility to a mass of fascinating facts, many of them new to me: The Cuisine of Sacrifice Among the Greeks. It is a collection of papers by European classicists and folklorists, mostly French, edited by the eminent scholars Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant. Three key insights inform everything in the book:
- In the ancient world, essentially all the meat available for consumption in human settlements was the fruit of sacrificial rites.
- Cookery and sacrifice were therefore aspects of the same procedure. Sacrifice was the way animals were slaughtered and butchered in preparation for cooking; cooking the meat was part of the sacrificial rite.
- Participation in the communal feast on the fruits of the sacrifice was the rite of social assimilation. To share the common meal was to declare loyalty to the cult, and to the settlement that it informed. To refuse participation – as with, e.g., vegetarian cults like that of the Pythagoreans – was to refuse membership in the community.
The book examines various aspects of animal sacrifice in myth, history, and down to the present day. It is well worth a read, if only for the factoids that litter its pages by the hundred. What follows are some of my marginal notes, organized not at all. Many of them are speculative; I do not present them as anything more than a record of suggestive associations that occurred to me in reading.
The hunter has paid for his kill, by his excellence, his effort, his diligence in training and attention, his dedication and focus. Nevertheless it is the god who has given the kill to the hunter, by putting the prey in his way. In the excellence of the hunter and of his works is the way; the prey he finds in that way is from the god, and gratuitous, nowise earned. The hunter does not make the prey, after all, and cannot. All he can do is fit himself to the gift of it. He therefore stands in ontological debt to his divine benefactor (sometimes personified in and as the prey itself, often understood as an avatar or totem of the god). So the duteous, righteous hunter, who would that his own ways continued prosperous, is not proud, but rather gives back his kill to the god who sent it his way in the first place. Along with the effort he has expended in the hunt, and the excellence of his hunting (learned – earned – by arduous training to the mastery of his art), the sacrifice is partial payment for the hunter’s ontological debt.
It goes deeper. Like all his fellows, the hunter knows well and in his bones that he stands in irreparable debt to the god not just for the kill but for his own very being – and with it his capacity to pursue his way – which he cannot himself procure. As the hunter cannot create his prey, nor can he create himself. Everything, then, is owed to the god. So at the root and uttermost limit of sacrifice, the righteous man dedicates the whole of his own life and work to the god, and stands ready to make of himself the sacrifice, to the god and for his people, his flock.
From its founding, First Things has been the premier journal of high Christian engagement with the public square in the West. The basic proposition of the journal has been that American liberal democracy could be domesticated to Christ by a concerted ecumenical effort of philosophical evangelism. First Things intended to provide a forum for that discourse, and a rally point. Much good has come of this project. But with the recent spate of stunning reversals on sexual policy, and with Christianity ever more clearly in the crosshairs of our secular overlords, the writers of First Things seem to be recoiling from the profane culture of the West and its liberal cult of Moloch. They begin to see that their project has failed, and that perhaps it was doomed to fail from the start. More and more, they seem to realize that rapprochement with liberalism is in any case a pact with the devil.
It’s not just that the editors saw fit to publish an article by our own Jim Kalb back in December. In the February issue, First Things took a decided turn toward orthogony to secular political discourse, as if they all with one mind awoke to a realization that dawned on most traditionalists several years ago: America is too far gone to be saved. As Lawrence Auster then began to say, “It’s their country now.” Likewise also for the West in general.
First Things seems now to have reached the same conclusion.
Orthospherean James Kalb has written an essay for the latest issue of First Things. Sex and the Religion of Me: A challenge to the project of sexual liberation is about – well, you can pretty much tell what it is about.
The full article is behind a pay wall. Jim’s writing is good enough to warrant a subscription in its own right, of course, but it would be understandable if orthosphereans were to pause before committing their dough. At its beginnings, First Things was a revolutionary pioneer of intelligent, erudite Mere Christian traditionalism, both muscular and optimistic. But gradually it became an institution, and more mainstream. Partly this was due to the fact that its own success in making traditionalism respectable was a major factor of the recent increase in our numbers, many of whom are naturally more radical than the coterie of first class writers and thinkers at First Things. For many of the traditionalists First Things helped to incubate, it was not traditional enough, and too ready to accomodate itself to the terms of the discourse under the prevailing political weltanschauung.
In recent months, however, a number of exogenous factors seem to be radicalizing the whole traditionalist right, and First Things is no exception. The recent reversals on gay “marriage,” the apparent nod to libertinism of Pope Francis, last month’s fractious Synod, and the accelerating progress down the slippery slope to utter insanity of every aspect of our culture seem to have made pragmatic engagement with the political establishment impossible for serious Christians. More and more, it seems, the only options open to us are recusal, protest or civil disobedience. As the issues grow ever starker, the fissures ever deeper and steeper, the middle ground disappears. So, the writers at First Things find themselves more and more isolate from and inimical to the American political culture the journal had hoped to influence. Bruised and saddened, they seem to be moving rightward – or no, wait: upward, rather, and ever more perpendicular to the spectra by which kingdoms of this world calibrate each other.
That might make their conversations more interesting to orthosphereans and our ilk.
As a bonus, there is in every issue, and always at the First Things website, a plethora of insightful theology. David Bentley Hart and Peter Leithart are particularly worthy and voluminous contributors under that heading.
But remember, same-sex “marriage” doesn’t concern you!
Father Edmund Waldstein has posted some excellent writings explaining the pre-modern (classical and Christian) view of politcs and defending it from its ill-informed liberal detractors. I particularly recommend them to Orthosphere readers, even though I know by now you’ve all heard plenty of arguments against modern autonomy-worship, because Waldstein bases himself on an understanding of the common good that, although a part of our philosophical patrimony, has been all but forgotten. To sum it up
the human good is a participation in a higher, divine good. Thus our good exists not principally in our selves, but principally in the divine realm, and secondarily in ourselves. The divine good is more our own good than the good which exists in our own souls.
the community of men reflects God more than an individual man just as the universe reflects Him more perfectly than any one creature. Recall what I said about participation a moment ago: my own good exists more in the divine than in my individual existence; a corollary can now be seen: the common good, the order of the community, is more my good than any private good of mine. The common good of order or peace is common in fullest sense of the word: all the members of the community share it without it being divided or lessened by this sharing. Thus the common good is not merely a useful good; it is not merely the conditions that enable individuals to get what they want, it is the best good that individuals can have, it is that in which they find their happiness.
By the way, Waldstein is guided on this subject by the work of early twentieth-century Thomist philosopher Charles De Koninck, whose writings are one of those many Catholic intellectual resources that seem to have been thrown out and forgotten during the post-Vatican II deluge.