Nicolas Poussin (1594 – 1665): Adoration of the Golden Calf (1634)
Introduction. The Western layman approaching the Koran for the first time must experience something like befuddlement. Supposing that the layman possesses a good education, including knowledge of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible and the core classics of the Greek and Roman worlds, the Koran will strike him as something like the opposite of that with which he enjoys familiarity. Take the Bible’s Genesis: It deals in straightforward narrative, as do its Near Eastern precursor texts such as the Babylonian Creation or Enuma Elish. The very opening words of Genesis invoke the concept of a beginning, which implies in advance both an ensuing middle and an end. The same is true of the Greek poet Hesiod’s account of the generations of the gods – Elemental, Titanic, and Olympian – in his Theogony. After Hesiod explains his own function as an interpreter of the lore concerning these things, he launches into his genealogical story whose episodes follow one another in comprehensible sequence: Once again, a beginning, a middle, and an end. In much the same way, the New Testament follows the Old Testament so that, taken together, they constitute a unified tale. The events in Homer’s Odyssey similarly follow in a comprehensible way the events in Homer’s Iliad. The essential seriality, as it might be called, of Western narrative and exposition connects itself to their seriousness and to their comprehensibility. Both the Old Testament and the New generally sort out their chapters so as to keep non-narrative prose separate from narrative prose. This consideration helps the reader. To whomsoever compiled the Koran these principles meant nothing; he was entirely unfamiliar with them. The Koran lards non-narrative exposition into its narratives – promiscuously and confusingly from a readerly point of view. A properly chronological narrative can, by a difficult labor, be reconstructed from the Koran’s chapters or surahs, which lifts the history of prophecy from the Old Testament, but the naïve Western reader who proceeds from one surah to another will encounter no orderly arrangement of episodes such as he might expect in the Bible or Homer.
The Koran bears some resemblance to a little-known category of quasi-Western literature that appeared in the Greek-speaking parts of the divided Roman Empire in the centuries that historians label as Late Antiquity. The literature of the Third through the Fifth Centuries was largely religious and it was also competitively religious as sects and heresies of various kinds metastasized and proliferated. The Bible familiar to modern Westerners had already been codified and enjoyed wide dissemination. The Greek classics were still known to educated people. Classical High Culture still existed and by the Fifth Century Nicene Christianity had established itself as the majoritarian religion of the Empire. The sectarian pamphlets of the time, which constitute the little-known category referred to above, urge the causes of the multitudinous competing faiths, many of which belong to Gnostic religiosity. (Definition to come) A great cache of such documents came to light in the late 1940s and goes by the name of the Nag Hammadi Library, after the Egyptian locale where archaeologists discovered it. One characteristic of the pamphlets in this collection is their parasitic relation to established texts, especially to the canonical Testaments; another is their implacable hostility to the established Scripture and its interpretation. The word Gnostic describes the common attitude of the sectarian writers, which is one of absolute conviction and certainty, first, that the faith of the established Church is corrupt and false, and second that the writer has been vouchsafed by the Supreme Deity with a type of knowledge concerning these matters that is self-guaranteeing. Gnosis refers to a type of secret revelation unavailable directly to the mass of people, who must trust the claims of the illuminatus if they want to participate in or benefit by it.
My heart is of course broken at the disaster inflicted yesterday upon Notre Dame de Paris. All that must be said about the cultural and religious meaning of this catastrophe has already been well said by many commentators of the Right, so I shall not here repeat them. Everyone knows that this was an attack of the Enemy upon the Body of Christ, and upon Christendom, such as she still is. The chorus of the Right has now, rightly, begun to ask why this obvious fact may not be mentioned. And everyone knows the answer to that question, too: Islam, modernism and Liberalism are all bound and determined to destroy Christianity, and Christendom.
One thing only, of the obvious, necessary things that must be said, have I not yet seen anywhere said: Saint Denis, Our Lady, and all the saints, pray for France, for the West, and for her Church.
There is a yet deeper question: why is it, exactly, that Liberalism, modernism, Islam, et alia, are so determined to destroy Christianity?
Berdyaev points out that if God and the individual human Personality are not someone’s highest ideal then that person is effectively promising to sacrifice the individual in the name of that supposedly higher ideal. The logic is simple and undeniable.
If someone says that under any circumstances, no matter what competing goods there may be or seem to be, the Personality is sacrosanct and to be protected at all costs, then that person is elevating Personality to the highest level of their morality in the manner that Berdyaev identifies as necessary and has abandoned his former allegiances.
Alternatives to the genuine highest good include the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, well-being, just plain “happiness,” social justice, feminism, equality, the nation, workers of the world, rationalism, science, and progress.
Every one of those “goods” is a murderous cult bent on the immolation of the human individual. If any object to this accusation, let him agree that Personality is paramount and beats out all competing ideals and that his former highest good is now secondary and always, in every situation, to be trumped by God and Personality. Continue reading →
At Gates of Vienna, I review, somewhat belatedly, Pierre Manent’s book Beyond Radical Secularism (2016). The book carries the subtitle How France and the Christian West Should Respond to the Islamic Challenge. I offer an excerpt. —
What is radical secularism? Manent defines radical secularism as the opinion, pervasive in modern Europe since the end of World War Two, that views religion merely and strictly “as an individual option, something private, a feeling that is finally incommunicable.” Manent argues, however, that this opinion is not native to those who hold it, but rather is the result of a propaganda regime in place for many decades. “The power of this perspective over us,” Manent writes, “is all the greater because it is essentially dictated by our political regime, and because we are good citizens.” It belongs to the bland conformism of the modern – or postmodern – person that he wishes to participate in such self-lauding phenomena as “enlightenment” and “progress.” Not even “the acts of war committed in early 2015 in Paris” seem to have shaken that conformism, which confirmed its blandness with a brief rush of emotion followed by a return of the characterless routine. France finds itself in a state of “paralysis,” Manent concludes. Its program, from the presidency down through the institutions right to the conformist mass of citizen-individuals appears to be to see nothing and to do nothing. The Muslim problem exists, according to Manent, because the French state is weak and cannot produce the secularity, which would integrate Muslims, and which it declares as its program. Whereas “the State of the Third Republic had authority” and “represented that all held sacred,” as Manent argues; “our state [the Fifth Republic] has abandoned its representative ambition and pride, thus losing a good part of its legitimacy in the eyes of citizens.”
Manent continues: “Our state now obeys a principle of indeterminacy and dissipation.” Indeed, the French state, committed to the European Union, is programmatically self-minimizing. This trend attaches to another: The rising hostility to and elision of national culture and national identity. Manent points out that “the work of the state… has tended to deprive education of its content, or empty these contents of what I dare call their imperatively desirable character.” Under the Third Republic, pride in the achievement of one’s nation – or at the very least, the explicit acknowledgment of those achievements – expressed itself robustly and informed the national curriculum. The existing curriculum, in the name of multiculturalism, has elbowed the lesson in what it means to inherit the French nation out to the margin of the page or out of the textbook altogether. “How can we begin from the beginning,” Manent asks, “and gather children together in the competent practice of the French language, when we have done so much to strip this language of its ‘privilege?’” Given that secularity itself is such an empty concept, how might teachers teach secularism, the primary principle supposedly of the state – say, to Muslim students who crowd France’s urban schools? One can teach the heritage of a nation, but one finds himself hard-pressed to teach a self-evacuating notion. “Under the name of secularism we dream of a teaching without content that would effectively prepare children to be members of a formless society in which religions would be dissolved along with everything else.”
I am an investment advisor, working for a fairly substantial firm (as such firms go), that I helped my two partners organize more than twenty years ago. The compliance policies I myself enforce upon our employees – and, so, upon myself – do not allow me to discuss securities except under the aegis of our firm’s publications and website. The following, accordingly, does not constitute a recommendation or offer either to buy or to sell any security, or any type of security. Indeed, it does not even mention any security, whatever. It is not a discussion of securities.
So much for the preliminaries.
The astounding run up in economic statistics – financial markets, employment, manufacturing jobs, consumer confidence, business confidence, you name it (even the Fed seems fairly sanguine) – since the beginning of the Trump Administration have taken many analysts by surprise. But they are just what one would expect to observe at the end of a vicious cycle, and at the beginning of a virtuous cycle.
In a recent essay, I suggested that the angels are the concrete archetypes of the Platonic Forms. This in response to a few Ockhamian challenges to Plato regarding the Forms that I there adduced:
What’s the Platonic Realm, for Heaven’s sake? Where is it? How does it interact with our own? If it does interact with our own, then isn’t it really integral with our own? If so, then what sets the Forms apart from their contingent instantiations here below? What does eternity have to do with creaturity?
… If [the Platonic Realm is concrete], and therefore ineluctably particular, then how is it universally and archetypally Formal?
Well, OK. Stipulating to the notion that the angels are the concrete archetypes of the Forms, how does that help us answer those questions?
I argued in a recent post that, because of its militant, totalitarian presumptions, Islam must sooner or later be destroyed if any other cult – including the cult of the Living God, YHWH our Lord Jesus – is to survive. Because God in Jesus assured us (Matthew 16:18) that his cult simply *cannot* be destroyed (which would only make sense, it being the cult of the Omnipotent One), we may be sure that, sooner or later, Islam certainly *will* be destroyed, or else by some mass apostasy of Muslims simply wither and vanish, as insane cults are wont eventually to do.
Insanity, after all, is autophagic. Like all error, it works its own destruction.
The post garnered more page views than any other we had published since our first few days of existence. Thanks, Western Rifle Shooters!
The estimable Laura Wood, an orthospherean shield mate of long standing in the culture wars, and an old friend, responded to my recent post on The New Castellation of the Eurosphere (which adduced the recent proliferation of bollards as its material) with an intelligent and forceful critique of my attribution of that castellation and all its dire cultural sequelae to the threat of Muslim terrorism. This post is a response to her comments.
All the big new buildings of Christendom have them. I was just down at the new – almost complete – Salesforce Tower in downtown San Francisco, and the bollards are everywhere. Ditto for the new immediately adjacent TransBay Terminal, still a year or two away from completion. They’ve got bollards by the thousand there – it’s a huge building – ready to be installed.
The newly ubiquitous bollards are the beginning of the closure of the formerly open West.
Cult effects culture. A people cannot efficiently coordinate their activities except insofar as they share a common understanding of the way things are, and of the proper way to deal with them. At the very least, they must agree about what is real, what reality is like, what it is for, and so forth; they must agree about First Things, and indeed Most Things. This they generally do, without ever even noticing all their myriad agreements; men rather tend to notice only their irksome disagreements, however petty.
A people among whom heterodoxy regarding First Things begins to gain a foothold begins ipso facto to become confused in their motions: in their heads, hearts, and acts. Their loyalties are then divided, and so vitiated, at least at the margins.
Heterodoxy is cold civil war. Let it compound long enough, and it will go hot. So healthy societies must control for heterodoxy, especially about First Things.