The phenomenological character of mystical experience is not that hard to understand, at least in principle, and as a matter of abstract theory. Withdraw attention from all particular things and their qualia – including oneself – as all mystical disciplines insist their students should do, and in the limit the only quale remaining will be that of sheer being. But to experience sheer being is to experience something of what being is like for God, who is Being as such. Being is the basic good, the good of which all other goods are portions; so the feeling of being as such is blissful.
While the situation of Christianity in The West is dire, whichever way you look at it, there are places in Africa, Asia (especially China) and in some Arabian countries where Christianity is growing fast and Christians are active, devout, energetic – to the point that the numerical decline of The West is approximately balanced by expansion elsewhere.
This is a litmus test issue, because of the nature of the churches that are growing – on the whole this massive growth is among what is termed ‘Renewalist’ churches – that it to say Pentecostal and Charismatic churches…
Is this growth of Christianity something to be celebrated by Western Christians, despite that it is happening among churches and people who – if they were located in the West – would be regarded with dismay, and indeed strongly disapproved of, by most Christian commentators from most of the major Western denominations?
In a phrase: is the actual worldwide growth of Christianity A Good Thing, or not? …
My impression is that people distinguish between a type of Christianity that is appropriate for African or Chinese in their own nations – and what is appropriate for the West, so they can celebrate growth of types of Christianity in other places that they would argue vehemently against in the West. But with unprecedented world population movements this attitude may not be viable – aside from the fact that it seems evasive to the point of dishonesty.
The question Western Christians need to ask themselves – from their perspective as devout and serious Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Anglicans, Orthodox, or from being a Jehovah’s Witness, a Mormon or whatever – is whether they personally would approve of a Western Christian revival IF it was of the same type as actual recent and current Christian growth in other parts of the world?
If Pentecostal and Charismatic churches of many shapes and sizes began to spring up in The West with a focus on personal supernatural experiences – if these churches changed people’s lives, lent them enthusiasm, courage, energy… would you be pleased, or dismayed?
Because such a phenomenon could not be a matter of indifference. Sooner or later you, like everyone, would need to take sides and decide: Are such Christian churches to be encouraged, or suppressed?
My article on “The West’s Cultural Continuity” appears at The Gates of Vienna, here:
The article discusses the work of Henri Pirenne, Sylvain Gouguenheim, and Emmett Scott.
I offer an excerpt:
In addition to passing remarks, Gouguenheim devotes a separate chapter to the classicizing tendencies of the Syriac and Arab Christians, as distinct from their linguistic cousins and brethren in the Islamic faith. As part of Byzantium, of which their main region of Cappadocia was a province, Syriac Christians played a central role in constituting the Eastern theological discourse during the medieval centuries, continuing to do so even after they had fallen under the sway of the Caliphs, thereby assisting in the westward transmission of Attic and Alexandrian lore. Gouguenheim writes: “Insofar as one speaks of ‘Arabic-Muslim culture’ in the Seventh through the Tenth Centuries, one commits an anachronism… because the culture was at that time barely Muslim and was Arab only by displaced appellation.” Truly, “Syriac is closer to Hebrew than to Arabic,” and the elites of the Nestorian and Monophysite dispensations could generally boast bilingualism in their own tongue and the Koine of the Empire. The jolly idea of Muslim competence in classical learning, as Gouguenheim argues, rests on a misunderstanding: what Islam knew of Greco-Roman wisdom, which it possessed at no time extensively, it knew largely thanks to Syriac scholars. “The Syriac [Christians] were in effect the essential intermediaries of the transmission into Arabic of the philosophical texts of the ancient Greeks,” who generously gave far more than the reluctant takers took. Obtuse westerners betray their lack of discrimination and their poverty of real knowledge in failing to differentiate between Syriac culture and the Arabic-Muslim culture that, by means of the Jihad, conquered and cruelly stamped out Nestorian (and Coptic and Byzantine) society.
Unlike their Muslim beneficiaries, however, the Syriac Christians could assimilate the full range of Greek logic and speculation. The Johannine Logos stemmed from the Greek Logos and the Christianity of the Patres — whether Greek, Latin, or Syriac — therefore comported itself as a rational theology. Already in Late Antiquity, Cappadocians and Syrians stood out as the chief developers of Neo-Platonism; emperors both Pagan and Christian sought counsel from the professors of Antioch’s renowned Daphnaeum. In a chapter on “Islam and Greek Knowledge,” Gouguenheim notes that for Muslims, on the other hand, the Logos constituted an inassimilable scandal, subversive of the absolute submission to Allah’s commands, as articulated in the Koran, that the name Islam denotes. Islam kept of Greek thought “in general [only] that which could not come in contradiction with Koranic teaching.” Furthermore, “Greece — and so too Rome — represented a world radically foreign to Islam, for reasons religious, but also political”; and, unlike the Latinate and Frankish peoples, “Muslims did not interest themselves in the languages of those whom they had conquered” because “Arabic was the sacred language par excellence, and that of revelation.”
Thirty years ago, men who coveted a reputation for deep thinking were wont to discuss Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being. I was such a man and I remember such a discussion, sitting on the roof of a Boston apartment building late one night, in the company of an unemployed actor, who was connected to the sister of a woman with whom I was connected. As is so often the case with rooftop conversations, I remember the circumstances better than the substance. I clearly remember the John Hancock Tower rising up before us, against a backdrop of phosphorescent clouds; I clearly remember people below us, spilling onto the sidewalk before the Berklee College of Music; I clearly remember the roar of traffic on the Mass Pike and the earnest and sonorous voice of the unemployed actor. My memory of what the actor said is not so clear, but I believe it was in an existentialist vein, and that he laid considerable weight on such things as the “authentic life,” the “deliberate act,” and “the deed.” My memory of what I said is no clearer, which is just as well, given the sorts of things I said thirty years ago. 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
Two of three parts of my essay on “Lewis Spence, True Myth, and Modernity” have appeared at Angel Millar’s People of Shambhala website. Part I is “The Atlantis Myth – Its Pedigree.” Part II is “Will Europe Follow Atlantis?” Part III, “The Table Round of Atlantean Eccentrics,” will appear next Saturday. The essay explores Scotsman Lewis Spence’s lifelong meditation on the meaning and probability of Plato’s Atlantis Myth.
I offer an extract:
Spence resembles William Blake, William Butler Yeats, perhaps even Arnold Toynbee, a bit staid in style but hardly so in content, in his visionary proclivity to see local events in the largest possible context, as participating in the cycles of a Platonic Great Year, or something like it; and as boasting always and everywhere a metaphysical-eternal as well as a physical-temporal meaning. So too Spence resembles Joseph de Maistre on the French Revolution, who grasped the Jacobin uprising as an ultimately self-punishing recrudescence of idolatry and human sacrifice, as both insufferable profanation and sanguine atonement all at once. Spence, who referred to himself as a ‘British traditionalist,’ prefigures later Traditionalist figures like John Michell (1933 – 2009) and Geoffrey Ashe (born 1923), whose thought goes perpendicular to anything established. Michell’s View over Atlantis (1969) and Ashe’s Camelot and the Vision of Albion (1975) follow in the eccentric path first trail-blazed by Spence. Their eccentricity – and Spence’s – likens itself to the fortuitous topography of the Nile Delta according to the Egyptian priests in Plato’s Timaeus, sheltering the adytum of insight-in-eccentricity from the deluge of opinion in conformity. The discussion must return to this topic of eccentricity, closely related as it is to the opposition of myth and poetry to economics, and to the much-underrated value of eccentric people and their views under a conformist regime; but for the time being let Spence’s marvelous tome be to the fore.
PS. I would like to thank the thoughtful and charitable party who sent me the set of beer-mug coasters. Any other gift that I might receive during the Christmas Season will pale, I fear, next to them.
In the nineteen fifties, Lawrence Kohlberg produced a theory of moral development. The three main levels are pre-conventional, conventional and post-conventional. In nineteen eighty-two, Carol Gilligan published In a Different Voice that claimed to add a more feminine perspective to Kohlberg’s theories. Gilligan noted that all the subjects in Kohlberg’s scientific studies were boys. Gilligan wondered what would happen if girls were included.
There are some problems with Gilligan’s research. It seems likely that she never conducted any research. She has been asked to produce the data upon which she based her conclusions but Gilligan refused on the basis of privacy. The requester replied that she would be quite happy to have all the names redacted if in fact there were any names or any details that could lead to identifying the research subjects, but Gilligan declined. So, we have no evidence that any studies were actually conducted.
That being said, Gilligan’s claims have some plausibility. Gilligan contends that little boys tend to favor abstract rules of justice and fairness and imagine that morality can best be served by having one rule that applies to all. The example given is of boys playing baseball. Three strikes and you are out. This is just and fair because the same rules apply to each participant with no favoritism. However, sometimes a participant might cry and be particularly inept. When girls were playing, they were more likely to want to make an exception. They felt sorry for the lame duck. Gilligan contends that the girls tended to favor empathy and compassion over impartial abstract rules. Girls’ moral development would tend to go from selfish, then empathetic within the group, to compassion for all in general.
According to the current Leftist narrative, everything evil in the world is the fault of white Christian men, for this world is the world that such men built and have maintained. If this is true, then either white Christian men are just that much better than every other sort of human, and therefore in justice *ought* to rule the planet, or else they are the only sort of men who have free agency, ergo any real power. Notice that the second alternative is just the most extreme version of the first: if white Christian men are the only sort with real agency, then they are categorically superior to all others, who are their pawns and puppets, whom they have always ruled, and will always rule, despite appearances to the contrary.
Harry Woodburn Chase was president of three universities between 1919 and 1951. His last, longest and most prestigious post was at New York University, where he settled into the chair behind the big desk in 1933. Soon thereafter, at the installation of a new Chancellor, Chase read an address entitled “The Mission of the University,” in which he opined,
“It is not the business of the universities to be instruments of indoctrination and propaganda. It is not their mission, on the one hand, to evolve theoretical utopias, and then condition people for participation in them. Nor is it, on the other hand, their mission to become apologists for the dogma that whatever is, is right” (1).
Chase was asserting that universities should be disinterested in the affairs of the world. They should not be traitorous institutions actively working to subvert the social order, but neither should they be loyal institutions pledged to stand with the social order against all adversaries. In the hurly-burly of life, universities should act as neither enemy nor ally, as neither friend nor foe. They should stand, instead, above the fray, observing the tumults of men and nature with the cool and critical indifference of the Olympian gods. Continue reading
Thomas Bertonneau’s last posting mentioned that René Girard states that the West is becoming simultaneously more Christian and less Christian. The liberal West has become hyper-aware of the possibility of scapegoating; of picking en masse on an innocent victim. But at the same time the anti-scapegoating message of Christ’s death – making us aware of the ways victims are killed to stop intra-group violence – is missed by the liberal if the victim seems to fall within the class of “persecutor.”
Girard notes in Violence and the Sacred that there are two traditional classes of victim. What one might call the upper and the lower. The lower include all the dispossessed; the POW, the slave, the handicapped, the foreigner; preferably, someone with no family to retaliate when the person is killed. In this manner, the West is more Christian. But the other class of victim found in probably all cultures is the upper; the king or his equivalent social position. When things go wrong, it seems logical to blame the person in charge even if in fact he is innocent. The king is already socially isolated because of his position. The king is exposed and can easily become the minus one against the unity of the mob.
The Christianized West has become aware and solicitous of the lower victims. We pass laws protecting the handicapped and “the weaker sex.” But the West is blind to its tendency to scapegoat anyone belonging to the class of supposed persecutors. It scapegoats with a clear conscience as unaware as any primitive scapegoaters of what they are doing. At times the liberal West makes the same mistake as Nietzsche. It imagines that single victims, the 1%, is the strong, the persecutor, and side with the mob against the few.