Superstition & Subscendence: An Essay in Honor of Tom Bertonneau

Bear with me here. I hardly know where I am going with this, although I feel I have caught the spoor of something Tom would find delightful – that he would join with me joyfully in this new hunt. I’m confused because all I have is that spoor, and my spirits are in a hurry and a muddle due to his too soon death. I miss my friend of many years – of too few! I am not yet sure how to do with the world that, henceforth, shall miss him.

Tom has been a valued colleague since we first encountered each other. We corresponded often – not often enough, alas – about our hopes and worries in respect to our work, much of it coordinate here. We sometimes asked each other for editorial advice upon that work. I could rely on Tom for sound counsel. I hardly know how I shall manage without his sagacity.

But I must. I bid you all help me in that project, in which we may hope we can all together proceed for many more years to come. That would be a fitting legacy of his penetrant honest cheerful mind.

I propose that this essay be an early installment in something like a festschrift for Tom. Let us all try to limn what it was that he taught us. Perhaps we might make a book out of it. Or maybe just something on the scale of an issue of Amazing Stories, circa 1935: the sort of thing that was an important source of grist for the mill of his wits. That would please him, perhaps above all things we might do to honor him.

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Pray for Lydia McGrew

Philosopher and Biblical scholar Lydia McGrew, our longstanding friend and dauntless shieldmate in the culture wars since the VFR days, has just revealed over at What’s Wrong With the World that since a week after her Pfizer covid vaccination in April, she has been afflicted with a devastating but mysterious – and, not yet diagnosed – malady that causes her daily intense and more or less constant pain. It has interfered with sleep, eating, work, sitting, walking: everything. It acts like inflammation of nerves, but that has not yet been ascertained. Since she began documenting her symptoms, Lydia has learned of many hundreds of other such cases. Perhaps thousands.

Before she got the shot, she was, so far as she knew, perfectly healthy.

Lydia is hanging in there, and she is one tough gal, but I have to say that this sounds pretty bad. Lydia wrote me last evening to ask for my prayers. I agreed, of course, and asked if I could post this appeal. She said yes.

Please join me, therefore, in an earnest prayer for the health of Lydia McGrew. Or several hundred of them.

If you do not know of Lydia’s terrific work for our side in the present war, it would do you good to check it out. You won’t be able to read it all. She’s far more prolific than all of us here put together, and she’s been at it for longer. But it’s all worth reading. With Lawrence Auster, Jim Kalb, Bruce Charlton, and Zippy Catholic, Lydia has from early days in my own career as an online apologist and culture warrior been an important and beneficent influence upon me, and if you read her stuff I think it will be the same for you. I’m going to tag this post as an Apologetical Weapon, because that’s what Lydia is.

May God bless and keep his faithful servant, Lydia McGrew. May he bring her into all knowledge, restore her to health, and give her peace and rest in him, if not yet, then soon, and at last, and forever. Amen, amen.

The Devil’s Latest Dictionary, Part I

[In the spirit of Ambrose Bierce.]

Note: Most of these definitions assume a certain point of view without which they become incoherent.

*

Fundamentalist. Noun. When you believe your religion is true and / or you support your people. Synonyms: bιgοτ, deplorable, suprεmαcιsτ.

Mansplain. Verb. To be competent and confident.

Equity. Noun. More for us, less for you.

Democracy. Noun. A political outcome or system which gives results we like.

Fαscιsμ. Noun. A political outcome or system which gives results you like. Synonyms: ωhιtε sυprεmαcy, institutional rαcιsm.

Protestor. Noun. Someone publicly taking our side.

Rioter. Noun. Someone publicly taking your side.

Diverse. Adjective. More of us, fewer of you. Synonyms: vibrant, inclusive.

Tolerant. Adjective. Demanding things be done our way.

Intolerant. Adjective. Wanting things to be done your way.

Cμlτμrαl αρρroρrιατιοη. Noun. When you play with our toys and we hαtε it because we hαtε you.

Rαcιsτ.  1) (Archaic noun) One who hαtεs people only because of their rαcε. 2) Adjective. The quality possessed by anything nonωhιτεs don’t like. 3) Noun or Adjective. ωhιtε people and their activities and achievements.

Science. Noun. A discipline or study which confirms our beliefs.

Superstition. Noun. A so-called discipline or study which denies our beliefs.

Crιτιcαl Rαcε Thεοry. Proper noun. You bad, we good.

Whιτε Prινιlεgε. Noun. Your ancestors established the culture of their nation according to their preferences.

Hαtε. Noun. Disagreement with our doctrine.

Love. Noun. Agreement with our doctrine.

Girard on Anthropogenesis

Sacer 10 St. Stephen (1604) Annibale Carracci (1550 - 1609)

 Annibale Carracci (1550 – 1609): Lapidation of St. Stephen (1604)

In the two classic pre-Christian canons of Western myth – the Greek and the Norse – anthropogenesis is brought about by natural processes under the observation of the gods.  Man is earthborn in both canons, although indirectly in the Norse, and can therefore lay claim to a mother, either Gaia or Erda.  In both myths fatherhood remains in the shadows.  The gods who observe and interact with the earliest men conform to a model thoroughly anthropomorphic.  The presence of fully human gods suggests that man existed before he existed and that man needed instruction from man in order to recognize himself and learn how to adapt himself to the cosmic environment.  In the Hellenic and Scandinavian myths humanity enters into a world of violence.  Neither Zeus nor Odin has as yet organized the world under the concept of law.  The Greek and Norse canons share a word: Titan, an item of vocabulary that carries the inner meaning of brutal criminality.  This word occurs in Old West Norse as Jotun and in Anglo-Saxon as Eotan.  The giants, that is to say the Titans and Jotuns, war perpetually with the younger generation of gods.  Peace requires the Olympians or the Aesir to suppress the giants by main force; and even then peace reprieves the universe only temporarily.  Eruptions of chaos can occur anytime and anywhere.  The Christian anthropogenesis, which is in fact the Hebrew anthropogenesis, differs minimally from its Pagan and Heathen counterparts, but it differs nevertheless in subtle ways, which make a difference.  The Biblical God draws man forth from the clay, for example, by an intentional act; and God deliberately shapes man to resemble his Creator.  The Hebrew God is less anthropomorphic than the Olympians or the Aesir, even aniconic, but his immediate precursors in Near Eastern myth, such as the Canaanite Baal and the Babylonian Ea, testify that he stems from a man-like version of deity, fit for a standing image.  The physiognomic resemblance between Creator and creature is thereby explained.

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Philosophical Skeleton Keys: The Play: Its Wright, Players, & Characters

This post is a sequel to my post on the stack of worlds. It tries to understand a few things about how a stack of worlds might work – or, perhaps, *must* work – and how those workings might help us untangle a few perplexities that have bedeviled thinkers for millennia. It is absurdly long, and for that I beg forgiveness. But I find there is little I can do about that, at present: when the inspiration comes, it comes as a unit, and the overwhelming necessity is just to get it all down before it vanishes.

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Presuppositional Apologetics: Using intuition to Discover Truth and Defend Christendom and America

 

Is it not wonderful that they should have failed to deduce from the works of God the vitally momentous consideration that a perfect consistency can be nothing but an absolute truth?

Edgar Allan Poe, quoted by Thomas Bertonneau.

Our religion is under attack. We are under attack. To defeat our opponents we must first convince ourselves that our doctrines are true and our ways are good. How can we know these things?

To know despite uncertainty and opposition we must have an argument. Not “argument” in the sense of fighting, but having a persuasive case. We must persuade ourselves first and then (God willing) we can persuade others.

My emphasis here is on persuading ourselves. If we know how we know, and we know our doctrine is true, only then can we defend ourselves.

Using arguments to defend one’s doctrine goes by the name “apologetics,” especially in Christendom. There has always been disagreement over the best type of apologetics. A recent development (about a hundred years old) is the school of Presuppositional Apologetics. It arose within Protestantism of the Reformed variety. Like all important terms, “presuppositional apologetics” has many layers of meaning. There are a few root ideas and many subsequent developments. As with all schools of thought, the presuppositional schoolmen sometimes go off into the weeds.

But the root idea of presuppositionalism is decisive for apologetics: All thinking is governed by presuppositions, meaning basic beliefs that are accepted without proof and often without conscious awareness. Continue reading

Eliade on the Sacred and the Profane

Bird 10 Willmann, Michael (1630 - 1706) - Creation of the World (1668)

Michael Willman (1626 – 1679): Creation of the World (1668)

The Romanian born anthropologist Mircea Eliade (1907 – 1986) led a hectic life in his thirties.  Embroiling himself in politics on the right, he became a target even so of right-wing ire on the accusation that his novella Domnișoara Christina (1936) partook in pornography and obscenity, but the very next year he enthusiastically espoused the Iron Guard’s program that Romania should reconcile itself with its Byzantine, and therefore Christian, origins.  No one in the 2020s knows anything about the Iron Guard except, when hearing it mentioned, to categorize it automatically with “fascism.”  Eliade left Romania after the Communist takeover in 1945, migrated to France, and taught in Paris; he migrated to the United States in 1956 and lectured at the University of Chicago and elsewhere on the topic that obsessed him in the second half of his life – the meaning and function of religion, especially of the sacred.  That Eliade had a stake in Romanian Orthodoxy is not contradicted by his opposition to “spiritualism.”  In his twenties, Eliade read the French writer René Guénon (1886 – 1951), and came under his spell.  Guénon also opposed “spiritualism,” by which he indicated the various theosophical banalities descending out of the Nineteenth Century, including Theosophy itself.  Guénon wrote a hefty volume on the fraudulence of Helena Blavatsky’s mystical posturing and the quasi-criminal undertakings of her dubious followers.  Elsewhere Guénon consistently emphasized the radical difference between his own Traditionalism and the somber but hollow tenets of Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine (1888).  Theosophy belonged to pseudo-initiation and counter-initiation, Guénon argued.  These Guénonian attitudes became Eliade’s own; they inform his work.  With Guénon and Julius Evola (1898 – 1974), Eliade constitutes the stable core of what might be called Twentieth Century skeptical esotericism.

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To be a Christian, Part II: Why Do It?

[Part I, which lays out basic Christian teaching, is here.]

Christianity is not like any other thing you can join.

You join other things because they are enjoyable, or beneficial, or their cause is important to you. Otherwise, you have no reason to join.

Granted that it can be enjoyable, beneficial, or an important cause, Christianity is not like other things you can join. When it comes to ultimate issues, the criteria for joining a thing are different.

There are two basic reasons why you should join Christianity. One, unless your sins are forgiven you face eternity in hell, and forgiveness of sins comes only through Jesus of Nazareth. All humans live forever, but some live forever in a bad place.

The other reason is this: The completely true description of what reality is and how it operates comes only from Christianity, because God revealed this knowledge in the Bible. When a society rejects Christianity (as ours is doing) it cannot function correctly (as ours increasingly does not.)

A non-Christian society can sometimes function adequately, based on its partial understanding of reality that man can attain because he is made in the image of God and is therefore capable of grasping many truths. But America lacks even this pagan common sense. Our rulers are anti-reality, not just non-reality, in their basic orientation. We need the sanity (to say nothing of the wisdom) that comes only from Christianity. Continue reading

Fighting against Sleep: Colin Wilson’s Necessary Doubt as Phenomenological Thriller

Doubt 01
I recalled the last phases of my former life, that darkling climax of pursuit and anger and universal darkness and the whirling green vapors of extinction. The comet had struck the earth and made an end to all things; of that too I was assured.
But afterward? . . .
And now?
The imaginations of my boyhood came back as speculative possibilities. In those days I had believed firmly in the necessary advent of a last day, a great coming out of the sky, trumpetings and fear, the Resurrection, and the Judgment. My roving fancy now suggested to me that this Judgment must have come and passed. That it had passed and in some manner missed me. I was left alone here, in a swept and garnished world (except, of course, for this label of Swindells’) to begin again perhaps…
***********
The miracle of the awakening came to me in solitude, the laughter, and then the tears. Only after some time did I come upon another man. Until I heard his voice calling I did not seem to feel there were any other people in the world. All that seemed past, with all the stresses that were past. I had come out of the individual pit in which my shy egotism had lurked, I had overflowed to all humanity, I had seemed to be all humanity; I had laughed at Swindells as I could have laughed at myself, and this shout that came to me seemed like the coming of an unexpected thought in my own mind. But when it was repeated I answered.
H. G. Wells, In the Year of the Comet (1906)

That the comet’s “green vapors” amount to a Deus ex machina is no reason not to notice the real interest in the passage: The description, which goes on for pages, of the metamorphosis of consciousness that permits the narrator to see the world at last — as if the Blakean “Doors of Perception” had been flung wide.  The narrator has ascended to a new order of existence. He is now a kind of superman, at least where keen-sightedness and self-clarity are concerned.  The state of heightened consciousness is a recurrent motif in Wells’ oeuvre; so is the Nietzschean Übermensch.  In Kipps (1905), the priggish Walsingham, who “had been reading Appearing roughly five years after Ritual in the Dark (1959) and roughly five years before The Philosopher’s Stone (1969), Colin Wilson’s ambitious novel Necessary Doubt (1964) represents its author in the moment when, beginning to appropriate genre formulas (murder mystery, science fiction, espionage novel), he simultaneously began to foreground philosophical themes and to exploit a version of Platonic dialogue for the dramatic exposition of ideas.  Necessary Doubt echoes Ritual in a number of ways, particularly in granting to its point-of-view character the privilege of withholding testimony by which he would cooperate with official charges against an acquaintance other than perfectly innocent.  The protagonist in Necessary Doubt is Professor Karl Zweig, an existential theologian of Austrian origin whom Wilson models in part on Paul Tillich.  Zweig’s relation to the dubious and off-putting Gustav Neumann is somewhat analogous to Gerard Sorme’s relation to Austin Nunn in Ritual although Neumann differs from Nunn in his degree of social pathology (less acute than Nunn’s) and intelligence (higher than Nunn’s).  As for The Philosopher’s Stone, Necessary Doubt anticipates it in the notion that access to intensified consciousness might be mediated by psychotropic drugs or by neurosurgery.  The metallic substance that accomplishes this goal in The Philosopher’s Stone is called the Neumann Alloy, in a direct backwards link to the earlier work, as Nicolas Tredell has noted.[i]

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Ralph Vaughan Williams – The “London” and “Pastoral” Symphonies and “Sinfonia Antartica”

RVW 14 port-of-london

Claude Monet (1840 – 1926): Port of London (1871)

The English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958) wrote nine symphonies over his lifetime beginning with the choral-orchestral Sea Symphony of 1910, a setting of Walt Whitman’s maritime verse, and ending with the Symphony in E-Minor of 1957.  Vaughan Williams eschewed a numbering system, designating his symphonic scores, which form the trunk of his compositional achievement, only by title or key signature.  As follow-ups to his Sea Symphony, Vaughan Williams produced A London Symphony (first version 1914; final revision, 1936) and A Pastoral Symphony (1921), both of which exhibit programmatic qualities although their author downplayed these, as have subsequent commentators.  The original version of A London Symphony had its first performance under Geoffrey Toye in its namesake city in March 1914, and A Pastoral Symphony, also in London, in January 1922 under Adrian Boult.  The next three symphonies (F-Minor, D-Major, and E-Minor) lacked titles, but the seventh, which drew on a film-score that the composer had written in 1947, he called Sinfonia Antartica.  The composer completed Sinfonia Antartica, after several years of revision, in 1952.  John Barbirolli then conducted the premiere in January 1953 with the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester.  The final symphony, sharing its key-signature (E-Minor) with the sixth, has literary roots in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891).  It depicts a characteristic topography, in this case the Salisbury Plain, as do A London Symphony, A Pastoral Symphony, and Sinfonia Antartica theirs – but it remains untitled.  In fact, A London Symphony also takes inspiration, at least in part, from a literary source – the epilogue to H. G. Wells’ Tono-Bungay, a novel that saw publication in 1906.  Although professedly an agnostic, Vaughan Williams (hereafter RVW) in his works, including the symphonies, repeatedly and almost obsessively approached the topic, in all its aspects, of transcendence.

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