Accessing the New Creation

Most evenings  I contentedly watch right-wing television, hearing the old story one more time, told by the same persons, with familiar graphic illustrations, a pro-life father about to be imprisoned by the F. B I. for protesting abortion, a trans person in the process of trying to reverse surgical mutilation, a retired  colonel who is supposed to know about Iran, and  so on. All very contented, but then comes an advertisement to interrupt my peace by loudly proclaiming that Christ is about appear like lightening shining from east to west, that at his appearing believers will be caught up to meet Jesus, leaving behind the earth and the unbelievers on to presumably await their destruction.

This is a theology generated by  First Thessalonians 4:16, which tells us that on Christ’s return those living as well as all those departed believers will go out to meet the Lord in the air, and so we  will always be with the  Lord.  The First Epistle to the Thessalonians uses the Greek word  ἁρπάζω, meaning “to snatch away” or “to seize”. “This view of eschatology is referred to as dispensational premillennialism, a form of futurism that considers various prophecies in the Bible as remaining unfulfilled and occurring   in the future.“  This understanding of the return of Jesus was put forward by J. R. Darby in the 1830s and has since always had a following. It tends always to assign  the world, invested as it is by sin, to destruction. 

Thessalonians 4 is not the only text that may be used to support Darby.  The parable of those suddenly taken from the mill, the shop, and the field may be used to support Darby.  The account of the Apostle Peter that the cosmos will be destroyed by fire (while presumably the elect are saved) supports Darby obliquely because it assumes the destruction of the cosmos. 

Let it be said that in the first three centuries, one might say even  now, there is great confusion about the Christian future, which in no case is defined or depicted as thoroughly as we might like.  It is not that we know too little but that we know too much.  The third century saw an important controversy between Dionysius of Alexandria  who believed that the Christian future would be ‘spiritual’ and an obscure presbyter named Nepos who believed the Christian future would be ‘real.’   One might suggest that both Dionysius and Nepos had missed the truth that the supernatural is the realm of glory that manifests itself to us in the resurrection of Christ and perhaps occasionally elsewhere.   The supernatural is more real than the real world.   It is perhaps to be regretted that the Creeds and the Councils do not tell us much about the life of the world to come, just “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.  However that may be, the great Irenaeus undertook to supply the deficiency in the last chapters of the last book of his great Adversus Heresies.  Remember that he had spent much of his distinguished career as bishop in Lyons combatting Gnosticism, one of the principles of which is the certainty that the created order has no future, indeed perhaps no substance, being as it is an illusion, destined for destruction.  Irenaeus was an Asian who had migrated to Gaul.

The Adversus heresies is a long book, written in Greek but known to us mostly in a Latin translation that was never lost during the centuries when transmission of texts was difficult.  Valentinus is perhaps the obvious target, but there are also chapters against Marcion, and other Gnostics. 

In the last chapter of Against Heresies Irenaeus turns to consider the last things.   The principle of his treatment of the topic is this:

Since there are real men, so must there be a real establishment, that they vanish  not away among non-existent things but progress among those things that have an actual existence.  For neither is the substance nor the essence of the creation annihilated (for faithful and true is he who established it.) but the fashion of the world passes away, that is those things among which transgression has occurred, since man has grown old in them.  Therefore he made this present fashion temporary . . . . When this present fashion passes away and man has been renewed  and flourishes in an incorruptible state so as to preclude the possibility of growing old,  then there shall be a new heaven and a new earth, in which man shall remain, always holding fresh converse with God.

The point of Irenaeus theology of the new creation is the belief that just as the human person has a teleology, passing from finite sinfulness into eternal glory, so to must all creation have a teleology, which, as in the case of man, involves not destruction but purification and renewal,    This is the burden of the highly suggestive text in Romans 5:  “Creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected  it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.” 

On the grounds of natural insight one might reasonably ask, especially as we know more about the history of nature itself, if it is likely that this vast drama of creation, proceeding from chaos to order,  from the age of the flying serpents to the zoo, a world of animals that man can and does dominate, in which the seasons are stable; if it is likely that, assuming the providence of God, this should come to nothing.    Looking at man and the world always as something being born rather than seeing it as destined for destruction undergirds a whole worldview that is distinctively Christian and which dominated imagination until the fifteenth century.   One of the most significant shifts in Chrisian imagination is the abandonment of the image of Christ returning to the new creation in favor of the crucifix, the image of Christ suffering that echoes in Christian life.   This in a sense represents the abandonment of future hope in favor of present experience, and it is the original de-eschatologicalization, not of course denying that Christ will return but refocusing thought and imagination on the present.  

People fall for the rapture theology because they want to believe that their lives come to something.  Part of that theology is the belief that true Christians will be spared the hard times called the tribulation.   But there is nothing in Scripture or tradition that suggests that believers are spared the troubles of the last days that are history between Christ’s first coming and his return.  But amidst these troubles it is reasonable and faithful to believe that the world and man in it is coming to something glorious.

Backwardism and Progress

It is remarkable that an Argentinian from Italy can think of a neologism that is translated “Backwardism,” proposed evidently as an antonym to progress, which is what the pope endorses and encourages. 

The dynamic of Backwardism versus Progressivism manages to obscure several important and highly relevant topics.   One is the doctrine of the Development of Doctrine, which proposes to unpack the original revelation given in Scripture and Tradition to create a body of intelligible and interrelated truths.  Christian doctrine has been developing from the original sketch through the mill of popular piety into careful consideration and promulgation by wisdom, the theological schools, and authority, the Church.  It is the specific claim of the Church that in the process nothing has changed in the sense that the end was implied by the beginning.   If this is progress it is progress of a particular and narrowly-based kind.  Examples of this process abound.  The teaching of the Apostle Peter intended to relieve the pressure of fervent expectation of the Lord’s return with the teaching that God of his mercy might delay winding up history for a long time is a fine early example of development.   The development of the doctrine or dogma of the Trinity is the classic example.   Belief in God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit required resolution in a doctrine which acknowledged the equality of the three while recognizing the Father as the origin of all.  Development is not progress as post-modernity understands it.

The concept of progress was implied if not invented by the secularizing movements of the eighteenth century, with the enlightenment claiming to bring civilization out of the dark past into the clear light of secularism and science, to leave behind the regimen of priests and kings, and to establish perfect liberty.  “The term “dark ages” was widely used by 19th-century historians as  in The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy by Jacob Burckhardt in 1860.    “Progress was assumed in early-19th-century social theories, especially social evolution as described by Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer.”  It was present in Enlightenment’s philosophies of history, as, for example, in  Gibbon’s Decline and Fall. As a goal, social progress has been advocated by varying realms of political ideologies with different theories on how it is to be achieved.   The Whig theory of history as progressive has become a common trope.   

It remained for the nineteenth century to make progress in the presupposition of thought and life.   The general conviction that the world was moving from inhuman conditions into a better world,  fostered by John Ruskin and Frederick Denison Maurice and Charles Dickens, was caught up in the more systematic Hegelian myth and in the popular myth of  “March of Mind,”  which saw such things as the settling of the American West, undoubtedly an acquisition of land and an extension of power, as progress.   In the United Kingdom the reforms that enlarged the franchise were assumed to be progressive.   In politics in the United States progress blossomed as the Progressive Era (1896–1917),  “a period of widespread social activism and political reform across the United States focused on defeating corruption, monopoly, waste, and inefficiency.”  Begun in the United Kingdom, and derived ultimately from Robert Owen and from the Rochdale group, “the cooperative movement, based on mutual assistance rather than competitive individualism, proposed a  ‘New Moral World’ whose superiority, once established through the working of communities in which labor was the unit of currency, would drive out the irrationality of capitalism.” The First World War was a speed bump in the progressive movement, in its various manifestations but its advocates might have lived to see the era of Roosevelt progressivism.  But political change is no better than Francis Bacon as an interpreter of the moral meaning of human experience. 

Viewed as the fruition of Francis Bacon’s project for the utilization of nature, progressivism has been a stellar success.   If 1830 is taken as the base line, everything subject to the ingenuity of humanity has improved.   Average life expectancy was then 37; now it is in the eighties.  It took Andrew Jackson three weeks to travel from the Hermitage near Nashville to Washington in 1824. By 1860 the trip might have been made in a day.  After 1849, with the invention of the telegraph, information traveled at the speed of an electron moving along a copper wire. By 1880 slums were considered an urban embarrassment and the attempt to build better has been begun, often with the imposition of building codes. By 1940 life in the United States was not perfect. But the ‘ ‘standard of living” had reached a height heretofore unknown.   The history of the next century is the story of Baconian science triumphant, with belief that nature could be mined and controlled, which had characterized the world before 1940 incorporated in a much larger project involving ambitious goals:  fusion and fission, population control by state fiat and propaganda, Chemical sterility for the majority, scientific-medical determination of gender, universal instantaneous communication, imitation humans who are better than the  original, and finally control of the climate.  To the degree that the goal has remained the control of nature, who could deny that the Baconian project has been a great success.   In Baconian terms the world is much improved, even if more dangerous.

The difficulty with the scene of improvement I have set before you lies in the fact that the inheritors of the Baconian project have not themselves made progress, being the same creatures who started a war over a woman at Troy in the eighth century BC; the same creatures who will wreck the system as Brutus did when their opponent, Julius Caesar,  seems triumphant; the same creatures who will in England in 1520 destroy the religion of a people through pusillanimity and  fear and sycophancy; the same people who will not happily consent to the reduction of Social Security  benefits or an increase in taxation to save the system, which absent such measures will surely go bankrupt; the same people who stubbornly refuse to understand that the collapse of private morality will be reflected in the failure of public morality and vice versa.    

The tradition of the wise men, Confucius and Cicero, with Epictetus, to say nothing of the tradition of the Hebrews,  in one form or another provide  a kind of theoretical check on the folly of fallen mankind, with what Christians call “the fall” being a doctrine accepted across the world in one form or another; the Greeks knew all about hybris, which threatened all human projects from the smallest to the greatest.  The greatest moralists in the classical world, Aristotle and Epictetus, gave good advice, sometimes followed, but the wise men of the ancient world did not propose to renovate human nature.  There have been modern attempts.  Rousseau and Voltaire believed that there had been a kind of cosmic misunderstanding, which they proposed to clear away.  The belief in God, the moral tradition they had inherited, the regime of kings and priests, had imposed a morality of guilt and obedience that had warped human nature, which, once freed from this destructive past, would blossom.   A century later Sigmund Freud proposed another revision:  we had been mistaken in believing that conscious life defined personality. The disciples of Rousseau have their modern disciples aplenty Whether these proposed revisions in fact advanced knowledge of human nature is contentious, a matter of argument.   That they changed it is even more in doubt.   

That was reserved for Christianity, which came not only with laws and counsel but with power, the power to open the soul toward God and to fill it with the divine life itself through the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist. We are, says the Apostle Peter, called to participate in the divine nature, given the Holy Spirit as a living presence in Christian life.  

The reign of grace does not change human nature; it heals and elevates, producing the only condition that looks like progress, but is in fact restoration.  The difficulty with religious progressives is their tendency to draw an analogy between the success of the Baconian project and the illusion that human nature in itself has improved.   This in turn reinforces the progressive moral illusion that there could be such a thing as progress that would render some part of the moral canon moot.   For example, in moral theology this might mean that the two-thousand year old prohibition denying access to the Eucharist to those in mortal sin has been a mistake, or, alternatively, that the understanding of what constitutes mortal sin is a mistake.

Pope Francis obviously considers this, to mention only one of the proposed moral revisions, to be progress and progress, improvement, silently construed on the Baconian model,  to be self-evidently good.  Doctrine on this model does not so much develop, it progresses, so that it is possible that actions uniformly considered wrong can be right,

The word “backwardism” aimed at American Catholics could equally well be aimed at conservative American protestants.  Perhaps is has to do with the existence of a preference for the traditional Latin mass among some American Catholics.  But this is a small group; perhaps the Pope thinks the troublesome Bishop of Tyler represents American Catholics.   Would that this were true.   In any event, the progressive model has been progressively destructive, removing, among other things in the name of progress (and kindness, the only progressive virtue) the legal structure that supported marriage and piety. The only salvation lies in supporting and defending backwardism.  The Baconian model, in none of its forms,  is suitable for understanding the moral universe.    If Backwardism means fighting to preserve the great moral and moral-theological tradition, long may it live.

Can Faith Survive Socialism?

The obvious answer is no.   But first, what is socialism?  At the heart of socialism as a political movement from the beginning was distrust of individualism and a complementary conviction that the conceiving of culture as a collective whole organized for efficient production by the state, whose objectivity would enable it to overcome the inefficiencies and inequities of capitalism.  Elements of this political theory were adopted by the Labor Party in England and, with qualifications,  by the Democratic Party in the United States.  For both the traditional goals of politics, the administration of justice and the defense of the realm were obscured by an increasing willingness to see their role as the protectors of the poor and the middle class against the unreliability of market forces.  These working people were not so much interested in the theory or theories of Socialism.   In 1945 the British Labour Party took as their reward for supporting Churchill’s wartime government a national health service, the which to touch means political suicide.    

Socialism as a religion has no moment of transcendence; being as it is a systematic materialism.    Jesus had taught his followers not to be anxious about tomorrow, what they would eat, what they would wear;  our Father in heaven knows we need these things.   Socialism teaches the necessity of fighting to the end for a fair share of the social wealth, which means that, justly or unjustly, it wants someone else’s property.  Somewhere along the way the Christian vision of a world whose vision was fixed on the future, when Jesus would return in glory, succumbed to the essentially utopian vision of a world administered to give the poor (and the middle class) a fair share of the national wealth and in the end to blunt the consequence of the fall (disease, poverty) with universal health care and social insurance. 

  The evidence is that to the degree that this goal has been accomplished Christianity has vacated the field.    The Scandinavian countries are effectually post-Christian, while boasting programs that cushion the risk of living, not by outlawing capitalism but by taxing it to provide relief from the most-feared dangers of life:  unemployment and disease, a penurious old age, offering thereby a kind of salvation.  They are the bellwether followed by most western states, whose leaders have found ways to link free-market capitalism to domestic socialism.  

            Socialism slipped its nose under the Christin tent first by providing an alternative to Christian orthodoxy as that orthodoxy suffered blow after blow and then by co-opting the second great commandment.    Does not love of neighbor, mean desiring the best for everyone?   Does not care for the poor mean providing them as a minimum   a guaranteed income and health insurance?   And is not the government the best agent for securing these good outcomes?  And what can a religion shorn of a doctrine of creation (Darwinism) and without an eschatology (Schweitzer and Weiss) be but some version of moralistic therapeutic deism, seeking brotherhood among all, laboring to limit climate change, welcoming all, especially those whom traditional morality marginalizes, its vision firmly focused on this world.   In this new world Christianity is an outlier, with its belief in the Creator, its love of a divine-human person, its emphasis on the conversion of the heart, and its acceptance of suffering, and its contempt for “the world” in its character as “the kingdoms of this world” firmly in the domain of the Adversary (Mt 4:8–9).

 ‘Christian; Socialism was the trojan horse, attempting to combine the fundamental aims of socialism with the religious and ethical convictions of Christianity, promoting cooperation over competition as a means of helping the poor. The term was coined in Britain in 1848 after the failure of the reform movement known as Chartism. It is organized around a desire to meliorate the living and working conditions of the urban poor.  Perhaps it was John Ruskin who first excited interest in the condition of those living in dirty, vermin-infested tenements.  Typically they had moved to town to work in the factories or to enter domestic service.   They were poorly paid and ignorant.   Ruskin’s scheme was to move them back to the country, in aid of which he bought farmland, divided it into small plots, and proposed that the urban poor return to farming.  This was ineffectual but typical of the age of good intentions that was the middle decades of the nineteenth century.  F. D. Maurice attacked ignorance with the workingmen’s colleges.  There was the famous incident in which Newman entered into controversy with Sir Robert Peel over the Tamworth Reading Room.

            Before Socialism could become the religion of nations the old faith must be  Peal.  In the background during the last half of the nineteenth century was the question of the reliability of the Biblical text.  The ‘higher’ criticism challenged many widely held facts about the Old Testament, and Darwin’s account of the genesis of creatures could not be reconciled with the Biblical view.  But it was not until popular Christian belief suffered two damaging blows in the last half of the century that Christian Socialism invaded the churches of the Anglosphere.  First Darwinism then the Konsequent eschatologic movement delivered a one-two punch to popular Christianity;  no creator had created and established an ordered universe, Jesus was a failed prophet whose message that he would come again had proved false.   These opinions provided an opening for what came to be called Modernism, which proposed that  the betterment of the human condition was a goal that could replace the traditional Gospel, which had  been proved false by history:  no creator, no second coming.     

It was a perfect storm.  Just then, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century historicism, a philosophy built around Hegel’s Philosophy of History (E. T. !888), became academically reputable and in some circles dominant.   [Whatever subtleties Hegel may have intended the message was:  history is a self-justifying process that had no need of the transcendent God of Christianity.]  The great ecclesiastical establishments saw what was at stake,   Leo XIII wrote Lamentabili and Pascendi condemning  Modernism in   1907.   Presbyterian Fundamentalism, a work of 1910,   was a deliberate attempt to contradict the  Modernist theses.  

            These movements in theology and philosophy matured in the age of McKinley and Roosevelt while a parallel movement in politics that did not need the qualifier Christian was becoming important.   The word  socialism was used by Pierre Leroux, in the Parisian journal Le Globe in 1832.  Leroux was a follower of Henri de Saint-Simon, one of the founders of what would later be labeled utopian socialism. Socialism rejected the liberal doctrine of individualism that emphasized the importance of the moral agency of every person in favor of the collection of the state. The original utopian socialists condemned this doctrine of individualism for failing to address social concerns, including poverty, oppression, and vast wealth inequality during the Industrial Revolution. They viewed capitalism as harming community life by basing the economy on competition. They presented socialism as an alternative to liberal individualism based on the shared ownership of resources. Saint-Simon proposed economic planning, scientific administration and the application of scientific understanding to the organization of society. By contrast, Robert Owen proposed to organize production and ownership via cooperatives; in  Britain it was  Owen who became one of the fathers of the cooperative movement.

            Much time could be spent on another day in examining the relation between the acceptance in part of the socialist program with its relentless materialism and the general debasing of culture in the pursuit of pleasure. 

            To return to the original question:  can faith survive socialism? If we mean Christianity as dominant in the culture, the answer is that to date it hasn’t been done.  As active Church membership has slipped below fifty percent in the United States transfer payments have reached record levels.   It was Sir William Harcourt, sometime Chancellor of the Exchequer who in the 1880s coined the phrase:  “We are all Socialists now.”   It is to be remembered that Socialism means different things to political scientists and ordinary folk.   To the political scientists it is a theory in political economy with many interesting variations.   To ordinary people it means, whether called by that name or not, a system providing some confidence in the future.    Of course a Christian would reply that the future Socialism guarantees is short and secular, ultimately debasing.   But the evidence is that this, while true, doesn’t matter. 

            In fairness, urbanism means socialism as defined above, for the poor and middle classes will not, or cannot, be trusted to save for old age, and lacking a collective safety net would fall into chaos.   

The Working Class and Others

One definition is: those who have nothing to sell but their labor.  But this immediately degenerates into an unmanageable ambiguity.    This is not simply the lineman and plumber; it may include the computer programmer and the bank clerk and the teacher.    It describes a condition of property lessness, characteristic of many who came to live in industrial cities in the nineteenth century, the poor in the age of Jackson and Grant, of Victoria, often depicted by Dickens.  

It is a tribute to capitalism and socialism in the West that this class has largely disappeared, property lessness being ameliorated by social security and other safety networks, and by a generally rising market economy.  It is difficult to find persons without social security;  64% of Americans own their homes and 32% have a 401K, while private pension plans are numerous.  This is not to say that there are no more propertyless persons.

Often the working class is not imagined economically but according to slippery defining characteristics.   Working with one’s hands, laboring manually, should define a member of the working class, but this definition catches piano tuners, the folk who hold the “Slow” sign at the site of street repairs, the cable tv repairman who can climb the pole as well as figure out just which of the little wires is disconnected, the HVAC installer, the bricklayer, the finish carpenter and hundred of other hands-on projects, and a vast range of ‘tech’ workers.   Interestingly, tech people who now inhabit offices by the thousands are not considered working class, although they are now often the landless peasants of post-modernity. Among some of these, especially in the building trades, craftsmanship survives. Then there is the popular image of the working man, who used to drink Bud Light, drives an F150, who finished High School but did not go to college, who usually thinks religion is a good thing whether he does much of it or not, and whose moral education is various.   A good number of these folks are technically racist; they sometimes compete with African-Americans.  These are the folks from among whom come a disproportionate number of the soldiers and sailors that make the projection of American power possible.  They are to be found mostly in the South and Midwest.   They are usually decent.  They do the dry-wall,  bring the mail, manage the McDonald’s,  man the Seven Eleven, mow the lawn.  At its upper edge is the Rotary Club and the Knights of Columbus, where working men culture overlaps with the bourgeoisie.   They read People.  Only at the very top edge of this ‘class’ will anyone listen to PBS; they are glued to Fox or Newsmax.  

 If “working class” cannot be defined functionally, there are other characteristics.  They are united against a class the dimensions of which they probably discern but dimly.   It is a class whose members feel responsible for rearranging society  to amend social ills, especially inequality; they are theoretically socialists although they are often haut bourgeois rentiers, living off the capital somebody in Oklahoma bequeathed to them. They graduated from a northeastern college; they read the Atlantic,  Washington Post, and New York Times.  They are located disproportionately in the Northeast.  They know wine.  They know opera.  They listen to PBS. They are generally untroubled by religion.   Sometimes they are refugees from the midwest.   Their careers are in law, finance, academia, government, and the nonprofit world.  Their charities are not libraries and schools but projects working men do not understand and, when they do understand them, view with apathy or hostility;  more birth control in Kenya, equality projects in Louisiana, climate melioration in Morocco.   . 

The realities that bind the elites to working men, making them citizens of one country,  are the tax system, national elections, and Delta Airlines.   How did the separation between the elite and workingmen develop?   National organisms and organizations that had been national became regional or sectional.   The national religions, Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholicism have to some degree become regional, with conservative Protestants, often in rebellion from the national church, located disproportionately in the South and Midwest.  The political parties that have always been sectional to some degree have become decidedly more so.   It is difficult for a democrat to gain state office south of the Potomac, and impossible  for a Republican to be elected in a blue city.   National elections will depend upon the outcome in fours states—we pretty well know how the other forty seven will vote.  All universities are to some degree woke, but red state universities are generally less woke.  It would be interesting to have someone do a study of the differences in student culture between Texas A & M and the University of Massachusetts, the differences if not dramatic might still be significant.  Working men country is still marginally closer to mother earth than the elite northeast.  Not only is the farm likely to still be in the family, but if you are rich in Dallas as well as a townhouse in 75205 you have a ranch.   Elite folks ski in Colorado or Switzerland, where they may own a chalet.  They listen to PBS and CNN.  

To seal the differences between these two cultures, the high priestess of elitism, running hard to be the first woman elected president, called working men deplorable.    That crystallized the differences between working men’s culture (and their allies in the bourgeois middle class) and the elite.  [Incidentally, someone with a sympathetic eye should study the American bourgeoisie middle class, which thrives on a mixture of capitalism and socialism.]  The ‘deplorables’ remark, which had force because it represented the contempt of not just one woman but of elite, left working men with a permanent sense of resentment, not least because as Massachusetts has always done, the elite proceeded to activate, passive aggressively, the southern racial minority against the majority.     But a more substantive difference was on the question of access.   The elite controlled the national capital and its culture, the means of communication,  existential access to power, to senators, to the national press.   

But the working men found a populist champion, a champion who could not be defunded because he had enough money,  and who understood the resentment, who now represents the interests of working men,  the degree to which this alliance is cynical on his part being left to individual insight,   [Another study needs to be made of just why the elites hate the populist champion.  It is true that he dislikes the bureaucracy and might try to dismantle it, but the contempt is visceral and runs deeper. Why?]   There are analogies to his political success.   One thinks of the liberal party’s victory in 1906, which ended Tory dominance for a generation, but a more apt analogy may be the rise of Benito Mussolini in 1921  It is important to understand the very personal connection that working men feel with their hero,  who repeatedly says, they are coming after you, I’m just standing in the way.     This resonates because it is true, “they,” understood to be the elite bureaucracy, are coming after your truck—they want you to buy an electric car, which is intuitively understood to be an attack on freedom—they want  your natural gas heaters, and most importantly they want you children; they want you son to consider seriously the possibility that he may be a girl, and they want your children to start thinking about sex when they are six.    On top of this the elite intuitively despise your religion as a matrix for racism and resistance to wokeism.  

This is the situation, and it is unlikely that anyone from the right can achieve political power without earning the loyalty of the working men and women who flock to his rallies.   A kind of moral sense exists among them as well as a sense of independence, and   because they are often not quite propertyless, there exists a fierce defense of what they have.

Wrong Order

Last week it was suggested that everything matters because everything is properly an expression of the order of God’s own glory, with glory identified as the transcendent ground not only of ideas but of every event, action, and object, its highest term being Christ Glorified, with the art of living being the summary expression of glory with holiness in this life the anticipation of eternal glory. 

Glory promotes in this life an order which it imposes in eternity, the order of glory.   That this is not recognized as such by many is not disqualifying; our history began in rebellion against God’s order.   What the left-minded call Fascism, to the confusion of those ignorant of Woke political philosophy, is order gone wrong, or order they see as illegitimately proposed and inauthentically imposed, order that is superficial, not rooted in broad consent, Thus to argue that there are two genders or to defend the family or to disapprove of deviant sexual behavior is for the Woke on its face the imposition of an alien and unjust order.   Parents who want their children taught to use the pronouns of Tennyson or Shakespeare, like traditional Catholics, who are suspected of doubting that the state is the ultimate authority, are a shame and a scandal, to be suppressed.      

The twentieth century offers several examples of attempts to impose a cultural-political order by violence.  The number of Russians who really wanted Marxism will always be unknown, but there is enough evidence that the system in the beginning was not a majority movement but was imposed by the revolutionary zeal of  bourgeois theoreticians.   Similarly, long before the 1939 start of World War II, Adolf Hitler proclaimed a ‘European New Order’ publicly on 30 January 1941: “The year 1941 will be, I am convinced, the historical year of a great European New Order!.”  Peronism in Argentina and Bolivarian Populism in Venezuela are examples of order imposed nationally having the consent of part of the population.  All of these imposed orders are inimical to human flourishing; some, National Socialism, Marxism, Wokeism are demonic.   

All are substitutes for the Christian order that prevailed before 1789, the principal character of this order being the inculturation of Christianity by way of God-approved Kingship, with religion rooted in a near-universally practiced liturgy which reflected a common morality, a situation now unimaginable.  The old order was hierarchical, which endured for about a thousand years, reflected the fact that creation and every classical political order is hierarchical, including contemporary egalitarian, democratic political orders, in which hierarchies of wealth and power are carefully disguised, while the real hierarchy of morality and beauty is suppressed.  

The splintering of Christendom, with its complex causes, followed by the Peace of Westphalia, with its cuius regio eius religio (whose the  regime, his the religion)  doomed that order, and since that time there has been a struggle, sometimes violent as in Spain in the thirties, sometimes contained within a political system, between the remnant of the old Christian order and various attempts to stabilized government and culture on a popular basis such as the consent of the governed, with the old Christian order dying (politically), slowly, under the assault of rationalism packaged as science, presenting itself as a better alternative to the older un-scientific order.   What is now taking place is the last act of this drama, with Progressivism (now Woke) challenging the cultural space occupied as recently as the 1950s by the ghost of the old order.

The difficulty at the heart of cultural unrest is the existential fact that no cultural-political order is effective, or even legitimate, unless it is rooted in the heart of the people it proposes to represent and, in a sense, govern, which is more than the consent of the governed.  This dissonance occurs when an older order is failing because it has become inorganic, dissociated from the heart of the culture.   It happened in the late eighteenth century when the feudal order collapsed.  It happened in the twentieth century, becoming obvious in the 1960s and institutionally dominant by 2000, as what we might call the bourgeoise order, with its notes of responsibility, property, and religion gradually collapsed.   In both of these examples the old organic order was unable to defend itself culturally.  Not that it lacked adherents, but in the contest the best lacked zeal and the worst displayed demonic energy.   Resistance was scattered and was itself divisive.  The zip had gone out of the old culture.  In a sense the payoff for Deism was the French Revolution.   The payoff for the abandonment of revelation in the early twentieth century is wokeness.  

Be it remembered that the sixties  were the days of the ‘Death of God’ theology;  In 1961, Gabriel Vahanian’s The Death of God was published, arguing that modern secular culture had lost all sense of the sacred, concluding that for the modern mind “God is dead.”   An Emory religion professor Thomas J. J. Altizer offered a radical theology of the death of God that drew upon William Blake, Hegelian thought and Nietzschean ideas. He conceived of theology as a form of poetry; however, he no longer accepted the possibility of affirming belief in a transcendent God.  The October 1965 and April 1966 issues of Time featured the theology of Thomas J. J. Altizer. The April issue, published at Easter time, put the question on its cover in bold red letters on a plain black background: “Is God Dead?”   And not to forget Paul van Buren and William Hamilton.  Somehow Dietrich Bonhoeffer got caught up in this movement.   Had it not struck a nerve It would never have achieved currency in the theological communities; probably it never really penetrated popular Christianity.  Certainly not the Roman Church.    But you could feel the starch leaching out of the professional academic class and their book-reading colleagues in the broader population.   

It occurred to everyone all at once that God really might be dead as far as American and Western European culture was concerned. The movie “The Graduate” told the story.    What the civilization for which hundreds of thousands had died in two world wars was a career in plastics and a tryst with one’s fiancé’s mother.  The seeds of hatred of western civilization, now a university commonplace, was planted by books such as The Making of a Counterculture and Paul Goodman and Herbert Marcuse.  Reason, as represented by Aristotle, was now under attack.   I recall that friendly author remarking that he was a bit ashamed of his book, which I had asked him to sign, because rational defenses of Christianity, which his work offered, were now impossible.    

The difficulty was that the Death of God theology, perceptive as it was in a gently cynical sense, left the remnants of Christian civilization naked in the public square.   The sixties saw the de-criminalization of homosexual behavior with Illinois in 1961, no fault divorce began in California in 1969.  The birth prevention pill became universally available in 1963, the year of Kennedy’s assassination in November. The Vietnam War festered, hated by the communicating class, ambiguously supported in the general population, finally, by 1969, requiring 500,000 US troops, only to lose to the rag-tag North Vietnamese Communists amid a repudiation of the cause by prominent Christians:  William Sloan Coffin and the Berrigans.   Contributing significantly to the unsettling of American religion was the Second Council of the Vatican.  Whatever the intention of the Council was, it succeeded in showing that there was nothing permanent; the Church, in Tolkien’s words, ceased being a refuge and became a trap.  Catholics, having been told for 400 years that the mass of Pius V was sacrosanct were confronted with change that occurred in a day, replacing the august Latin of perhaps seventeen centuries with a liturgy not so much wrong as ordinary and marginally patient of the banal.   In 1967 the Episcopal Church replaced the 1928 Book of Common Prayer with the Green Book, thereby destroying on of the props of the English language   In the same year in a resolution supporting changes in abortion laws, the General Convention expressed its “unequivocal opposition to any legislation on the part of the national or state governments which would abridge or deny the right of individuals to reach informed decisions in this matter and to act upon them.”  

When the hope of glory goes, what remains is corruption and decay.  There was no will to resist these rebellions and innovations.  The unraveling of the mainline protestant denominations begun intellectually in the sixties worked its way through church culture until in 2022 there were two varieties of Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Methodists, the issue being the behavior for which God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, now defended by the Mainlines.  And not to suggest that this and related moral issues have not put the Roman Church under great stress. 

The response to this catastrophic decay has all too often been an attempt to restore Christian culture or Christian civilization.  Restoration is noble and foredoomed because the arena in which the war must be pursued is only secondarily and marginally civilization.  The battle is fought in two arenas not accessible to politics, the heavens, the realm of glory, where the battle goes on until the end, and the human heart, and while the first of these must be left to the powers and authorities, the second presupposes the mystery of conversion, which is the work of the Holy Spirit wrought upon witness.  On the years before Constantine, when Hellenistic culture was certainly debased and the leadership often depraved,  the fathers took little notice; generally,  they wrote about the truth and prayed.

Democracy and Danger

Mr. Eden in the house the other day expressed pain at the occurrences in Greece, ‘the home of democracy.’  Is he ignorant or insincere?  ‘Democracy’ was not in Greek a word of approval but was nearly equivalent to ‘mob-rule.’                                           

J. R. R. Tolkien, 1944

          The United States as a polity has survived for 247 years because it was not and still is not a democracy.   Our government as it happened was envisioned as a constitutional republic, in a world of monarchies, variously absolutist (Austria-Hungary, Prussia) or constitutional (United Kingdom) .  The term republic, res publica, is from Cicero, the public thing or public arrangement.   There was an ancient Roman  republic pre-Augustus, admired by no less than St. Augustine, that had, as Aristotle might have predicted, devolved into a euphemistically presented autocracy.   Attempts to revive the republican model in its native terrain had been ephemeral.    But there were certain characteristics that belonged  (at least in theory) toe republican government:  a constitution, written or unwritten, a ruling oligarchy,  a numerous and successful m middle class, broad consent of the governed, and a restricted or qualified franchise, limiting electoral power to property owners or others thought foresightful.  Founded as a republic, the United States has become more and more a democracy:  abolition of any property qualifications, direct election of senators, proposed abolition of the electoral college (which represents states not populations}, expansion of suffrage so that in some cases citizenship is not required.   

           Above and beyond these considerations there was and remains the question of authority.   For the Hellenistic world in which Aristotle wrote his Politics, authority came from the gods, and government was instituted with prayer and sacrifices.  In Rome the Capital was associated with the worship of Jupiter, the Father of all. In the Christin monarchies that followed, the prince was installed at a coronation assumed to represent the blessing of God with whose authority the prince then ruled. 

          In the anglosphere what remained of the theory of the divine right of kings was stringently qualified after 1689 by the theory that authority came from the consent of the govern med., a doctrine formalized by John Locke in the Second treatise      Republican government was largely an invention of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.  It took different forms:  the quasi-constitutionalism of 1689 in England, the revolutionary republic of France after 1789.  Authority no longer descended from God, giving the king or prince rule by divine right.   This was essentially settled when the axe fell on Charles I in 1648.   

          In the late eighteenth century there were books and authorities; the world was full of theories: Hobbes,  John Locke, Montesquieu, the Cromwellian experiment, and above all in the background Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics..  And there was Aquinas.    “In his later years, in the Summa Theologica, Aquinas proposed a hybrid of the three. The best form of government, he argued, would be one where a monarch would be kept in check by a group of elected aristocrats who were put into power by a polity of the masses.”  It is difficult to know whether  Thomas Jefferson and James Madison ever read Aquinas, but they were influenced by these ideas five hundred years later as they wrote the founding documents of America.  They resemble Aristotle’s prescription for the best government.  

          If authority is not divine, the prince is the people.     Authority in the American republic was to have two sources;  the consent of the governed framed by certain truths held to be self-evident:  that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which rights were to be rendered specific by the Constitution.  Whether these truths are in fact self-evident, as well as the definition  of ‘equal,’ have become increasingly vexed over two centuries,  In American jurisprudence it is toxic to make reference to something as harmlessly transcendent as natural law.   This leaves democracies with the appeal to themselves.   First Things quotes Oliver O’Donovan The Desire of the Nations:

 The doctrine that we set up political authority, as a device to secure our own essentially private , local, and un-political purposes, has left the Western democracies in a state of pervasive, moral debilitation, which from time to time inevitably throws up idolatrous and authoritarian reactions

          Lacking any transcendent ground for their authority, democracies are not especially stable because they are subject to the political passions of the electorate,   an electorate that inevitably increases from the limited numbers of those fulfilling certain qualifications as the founding of a republic to an expanded franchise that does not sometimes include non-citizens.  Masculine republics (valuing justice and truth) give away to feminine democracies (responding to electoral priorities), and feminine democracies give way to tyranny.  “Republics decline into democracies and democracies degenerate into despotisms.”  “In a democracy the poor will have more power than the rich, because there are more of them, and the will of the majority is supreme. Democracy is when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers.”  Thus Aristotle.  

In democracies the masses, that is you and I, are notoriously subject to short term interests, passions, and resentments, and more than a little subject to the influence of demagogues, political leaders who seek support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of the electorate rather than to justice.  And causes do not always mean a leader; they simply need a cause.   The hard times of the thirties and forties were laid on by the failure of liberal democracy: in Italy in 1921, in Germany in 1933, in Spain in  1936.   In two of these the idea of a political savior who would set things right and avenge past wrongs  [ It could be argued that democracy was weakened in the United states by the economic measures of Franklin Roosevelt, who, had he lived until 1948 might well have been elected again. ]  In the case of Italy, Germany and Spain, the precondition for the collapse of democracy was a bitterly divided people. 

          Who should have stopped the slide of these governments into self-destruction?    Aristotle and Aquinas would have answered that it is the business of the wise men, the aristocrats or ‘ ‘the best ” to have put a halt to the descent of societies into chaos.   Where are the wise men unmoved by political passions and dedicated to the political peace and good of the country?    Such men are, alas, the products of a culture and of an education.    

The salvation of contemporary democracy lies in keeping the attention of the population carefully focused on their economic blight, ministering to that successfully and avoiding deeper questions, but those questions will arise.

Oppression and Its Victims in a Perfect World

Presented at Text & Talk with Dr Patrick – Saturday, 17 June 2023

Oppression and its victims are not to my knowledge topics heavily canvassed in Hebrew culture, classical or medieval culture.   It is remarkable that in the Old Testament God is the defender of the poor and the judge of usurers and oppressors, the poor, we would say economically disadvantaged, the vast majority of the population, were not conceived to be victims.  In the New Testament, not only the poor in spirit, the humble, but the poor generally were considered blessed, and the entire moral apparatus of the Gospel of Matthew is directed toward the ultimate reward of those who feed the hungry and clothe the naked.     Wealth, on the other hand, is seen as a stumbling block, a frustrum, capable of keeping souls out of the kingdom if they became attached to it and confident in its safety.    As far as I know, neither the slaves who threatened Rome with servile rebellion nor the peasants who revolted in the fourteenth century were considered victims of an oppressive system.

The absence of the categories victim and oppressor is due in part to a deep seated belief ensconced in a hierarchical society that the order of things in the world, down to and particularly including every man and woman, was the result of God’s providential will.   

The makers of Upstairs, Downstairs depicted the butler Hudson offering evening grace in the servants hall of Eaton Place recognizing that God is to be thanked for putting them in the place they occupy as servants of the Bellamys.   That represented, about 1900, the end of something.  The undermining of these ideas had deeper roots.    There was that contemporary of the Bellamys  Hudson, one Karl Marx, who thought that “oppression largely involved the consciousness of being forced into living an undesirable life.” By which standard most of the world was oppressed.

For Lenin, “the key was for the Great Russian working class and the revolutionary party to make clear their unequivocal opposition to every manifestation of Great Russian oppression, privilege and racism. The party had to be the leader in fighting for equality of language rights, equality of education and of cultural rights.”  One wonders how many of the millions who died at the hands of Russian Marxism shared these concerns.

But something happened along the way to the twenty-first century.     And what happened was rationalism, the popularity of the conviction that the knowledge could be gained and the condition of mankind ameliorated by reason alone.  Rationalism and revolution are twins. The philosophers of the eighteenth century, determined to philosophize without God, wrote as though a perfect world, hitherto fore obscured by the fraudulent claims of the Church, was now within reach.   Voltaire so despised the Christian dogma of the Original Sin that he actually wrote one long treatise dedicated to this, which he titled Pache Originel.  

This doctrine, according to Voltaire, is an insult to God.  [Here one might remember the revolutionary attempts to make a religion out of worship of the goddess Reason.]   Rousseau was not quite so vehement, but the Christian doctrine of original sin could not survive in the context of Rousseau’s theory of original goodness.   

But this doctrine, far from being a mere ecclesiastical footnote, is the lynchpin of Christian thought and practice, the first presupposition of a system that requires a Savior for a race caught inescapably in a condition that as it justifies the necessity for punishment of the great rebellion explains the conditions of partial achievement and partial  discomfort and dissatisfaction in which ordinary people live.    It is the doctrine of original sin that explains what is to contemporary Christians a scandal:  Saint Paul’s letter to Philemon, in which Paul advised a beloved servant to be a good slave to the glory of God.  What undergirded this view was the belief that slavery was emblematic of the condition of every man, with slavery to sin seen as worse than bondage.   

Without recognition of the fact of original sin philosophy enthusiastically opens upon a utopian world and it follows that the often unsatisfactory conditions of human life must be the result of human failure, although since that failure cannot be personal it must be political, and if it is political it ought to be set right through reason itself.   What followed was the abolition of feudalism, the remnant of the dying system of promises and obligations that had provided social stability for about a thousand years, with its own set of securities and injustices,  in favor of  the new industrial system that Marx so much hated.  [In this forum we have often pondered: why did so many leave the gentle hills of the Cotswolds or the lush terrain of the Midlands for Leeds or Manchester?]

Chronologically, the first opportunity to test the new theory of the perfectibility of everything came just as the marriage between rationalism and revolution was consummated.   Slavery, which had all but disappeared in Europe, made a dramatic comeback when the plantations of the British and Spanish empires needed cheap labor, slavery being the least expensive.  The system, the evils of which will not be cataloged here, offered an ideal opportunity to test the theory that all men should be free in the modern sense.    Thus for about a century, until 1865, those parts of Europe that were involved in the settlement of the new world fought a war against the oppression of slavery.    Who was the British critic; was it Samuel Johnson, who pointed out the irony of the eighteenth century American defense of freedom in a social context that tolerated slavery?   It had to go.   What went with it were many very bad things, but also something good:  the acceptance of the truth that in a fallen world there will for most of mankind always be bondage of some kind.   

Naturally, in a new world that did not labor under the disabilities previously attributed to original sin, in which no one was responsible for the vast cavalcade of human follies that characterized human society, in which the world if it could be perfected should be,  other victims of oppression were identified.   Patriarchy had been considered normal and inescapable, established by divine revelation in the third chapter of Genesis, which had pronounced as Eve’s punishment difficulty in childbearing and this:  your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.   [The same text condemned the descendants of Adam to labor against a resistant nature, and punished the entire race with death.]  Although Christianity transformed Genesis 3 with Ephesians 5, the ideal of mutual obedience, patriarchy survived and flourished.   

In 1793 William Godwin published Political Justice,  arguing that “humanity will inevitably progress: it argues for human perfectibility and enlightenment”  Political Justice is … first and foremost a critique of political institutions. Its vision of human perfectibility is anarchist in so far as it sees government and related social practices such as property monopoly, marriage and monarchy as restraining the progress of mankind. “Godwin proposes a society in which human beings use their reason to decide the best course of action.”   From Political Justice to John Stuart Mill’s 1861 “The Subjugation of Women,”  through  the novels of Thomas Hardy to Betty Friedan is a straight line arguing that women have been victims for millennia and must now be freed.  

It is part of  the perfect world theory that progress requires the dismantling of every law, form, tradition, manners and custom, and finally of nature itself, which in giving form to human life is seen as oppressive.   Having done away with acknowledging the imperfect form of human life as of divine decree, it is now loudly proclaimed that oppression is simultaneously everybody’s’ and nobodies’ fault .  It is built into the system and until consciousness is reformed to see oppression for what it is, there will be near-universal victimhood.   

This is an aspect of oppression that is largely missed in popular culture when we consider whether we or others are being oppressed. Indeed, when living day to day in concert with the constraints of a given cultural milieu, we seldom consider whether we are actually being oppressed. Instead, we tend to think that one who wants to live according to the constraints of her culture is making a free choice.

Here is a different concept of oppression in contrast to the Marxian one, that of “willing” rather than “forced” slavery. Indeed, a significant number of women living in the United States today (those who have what social workers call a “victim mentality”) still believe they are lucky to be under the control of men who treat them abusively or like possessions. (Wikipedia)

An African who is reasonably content with his or her situation is, under this paradigm obviously oppressed, a victim of systematic fascism which is no one’s fault but is pervasive.    Obviously these oppressed victims must be liberated.   So must those enslaved by heteronormativity, by the belief that anything is normal, or tending to reflect the norm or rule.  

Since the pervasive oppression that threatens universally is nobodies’ fault, the fault must lie in the political system, which must be seen as itself oppressive and against which on a certain day violence of any kind is justified.   The failure of the cultural ability to accept the brokenness of nature and human nature, the project to remand all evil, even all discomfort, to the faults of political society has created at center the culture of grievance and disappointment and at the margins  the culture of the enraged. 

From the Archives: George Orwell, Democratic Socialism, and 1984

Originally Presented at Text & Talk, August 15, 2020

George Orwell, Democratic Socialism, and 1984

Eric Arthur Blair, who later became George Orwell,  was born in 1903 in MotihariBiharBritish IndiaHis great-grandfather, Charles Blair, was a wealthy country gentleman in Dorset who married Lady Mary Fane, daughter of the Earl of Westmorland, and had income as an absentee landlord of plantations in Jamaica. His grandfather, Thomas Richard Arthur Blair, was a clergyman. Eric Blair described his family as “lower-upper-middle class.”     His father was in the opium department of the British imperial civil service.  His mother was the daughter of a French entrepreneur with interests in French Indochina.  

            The family, without their father, whom they would not see again until 1912, returned to England in  1904, and Eric began his school career at Wellington, which he hated, and Eton, which he admired.  When his classmates were at Oxford and Cambridge, Eric was in the Burmese police, perhaps the first notice of his interest in justice and fairness, a disposition his sister claimed was characteristic even of the boy.   In  his late twenties he made the investigation of the poor and of poverty a principal project, visiting the East End and similar scenes in Paris. 

           These experiences gave Orwell the material for Down and Out in Paris and London; the book’s publication in 1933 earned him some initial literary recognition. One critic catalogs Orwell’s early novels thus: “Orwell’s first novel, Burmese Days (1934), established the pattern of his subsequent fiction in its portrayal of a sensitive, conscientious, and emotionally isolated individual who is at odds with an oppressive or dishonest social environment. The main character of Burmese Days is a minor administrator who seeks to escape from the narrow-minded chauvinism of his fellow British colonialists in Burma. His sympathies for the Burmese, however, end in an unforeseen personal tragedy. The protagonist of Orwell’s next novel, A Clergyman’s Daughter (1935), is an unhappy spinster who achieves a brief and accidental liberation in her experiences among some agricultural labourers. Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936) is about a literarily inclined bookseller’s assistant who despises the empty commercialism and materialism of middle-class life but who in the end is reconciled to bourgeois prosperity by his forced marriage to the girl he loves.”

       Orwell’s first socialist book, The Road to Wiggan Pier, published by Gollancz in 1937 was a two-part work, the first describing the lives of a Sheffield family who lived at the top of the category called “the poor.”   The second was a defense of what he later called Democratic Socialism, and which he would persist all his life.  The boy born into the imperial civil service was moving away from that culture and into a life-long defense of the poor and of the system he believed would bring them relief.   It was a complex mission, for although Orwell had the acuity to see that although oppression may begin, as he, in common with about a million upper middle-class Englishmen saw it,  with poverty, there was a deeper darkness afoot.   

       1984 is not a critique of any particular regime, although one can see in it references to elements of the Marxist terror and to the rise of Fascism in Hungary, Italy, Romania, and Spain.  It is a futuristic dystopia built of demonic uses of communications technology to provide universal surveillance; appropriation of all property and all means of production by the party; the systematic destruction of the past so that memory cannot challenge the present, partly through the direct ‘correction’ of history, more significantly through the conversion of English (and presumably every other language) into Newspeak so that Oldspeak and the ideas it carried with it are simply unavailable—recall that Winston’s friend Ampleforth had been sent to Room 101 for using in desperation, there being so few rhymes for ‘rod,’ the word ‘God;’ the sewing of distrust and fear among the population so that no one quite knows who has betrayed whom; the use of what we would recognize as deconstruction so that there is no objective reality that might challenge the party;  political control through a single ideology supported by a single party; dark uses of psychology, and above all the use of terror, all justified by the endless pursuit of unwinnable wars the purposes of which have been forgotten.  Who would like to argue that these policies and ideas are not represented somewhere in the political temper of the West today?  Perhaps triumphant in the various Marxist regimes (China, Venezuela, North Korea), perhaps as a shadow on the horizon in most western democracies. If Orwell was wrong about anything, it was his assumption that sexual pleasure would wither away.   It has its uses; in directing desire toward this pleasure as destructive of Oldspeak. 

       If the above is even in part an apt analysis, it is difficult to see why Orwell so consistently supported Democratic Socialism.  Understand first that there are a dozen well-represented Socialisms.  Social Democracy (Norway and some other European states) is not Democratic Socialism.   In the former the state does not own the means of production; in Democratic Socialism the state may and often does.   The 1945 government of Clement Atlee exemplified Democratic Socialism, with the government owning mines, railroads, airlines, and gas and electrical services.  Presumably, George Orwell approved of this.  But the controversy centers around the fact that socialism is always a threat to property, and while it does not always exert its power to the fullest extent, it may at any moment do so.  And property. As Richard Weaver wrote, is essential to personality.   Orwell knew this: “Everywhere, always, the eyes watching you, he voice enveloping you . . . .  Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters inside your head” (Winston,  BNW, 26).

       Was Orwell correct in seeing capitalism as the cause of poverty?  One may wonder if there is any other society on earth in which home ownership stands at 64%? 

        Of course there are other problems.  One is the inability of African-Americans to move above 42% home ownership since 1994, while Asian ownership in the same time-period has increased almost 10%, and this in a period when black applications were seldom turned down.  Another is the inability to control the monopolistic drift that characterizes capitalism.  There have been many federal anti-trust laws, but there is a tendency not to use them.  And never to be forgotten is the cash nexus between politicians and donors.  A swing senate race may cost a cool million, or more.  And donors consider themselves worthy of a little respect.  

             Even if one considers Orwell’s politics as contrary to his broader goals, his political insight is a permanent treasure. Consider:

  • “Television will tell them what to believe and they will believe it.”
  • “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people something they do not want to hear.”   
  • “Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.”
  • “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”
  • “In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” 
  • “War is peace.  Freedom is slavery.  Ignorance is strength.”
  • “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
  • “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.”
  • “We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness.”

       This last quote is an opportunity, obliquely,  to consider Orwell and  religion, specifically  Christianity.  Of course he disliked Roman Catholicism.  Sometimes he called Christianity the lesser of evils.  When he died, he surprised his executors by commanding that he be buried according to the rites of the Church of England, that he not be cremated but buried in the church yard.  In the hospital he befriended Waugh and Muggeridge, who was asked to write Orwell’s biography but failed.  This is, like almost everything Orwellian, complicated.  Let me add as a subscript that I understand  only superficially the pleasures of power for its own sake. Perhaps others can shed some light.

Fasting, Feasting, and Festivity

Presented at Text & Talk with Dr Patrick – Saturday, 18 December 2021

Fasting is about disciplining our appetites, and especially about offering such discipline as a sacrifice to God, an action that at the same time purifies the heart and expresses our sorrow for our sins.   It is not directly about repentance from sin but about foregoing some good or some good pleasure.  It makes us ready to know God more deeply. Moses fasted for forty days in the presence of God when he wrote down the Ten Commandments.   And again Moses lay prostrate in prayer for the Lord’s mercy after his people worshiped the golden calf (Deuteronomy 9:18); he neither ate bread nor drank water. 

        The vow Paul took in Acts 18:18 was a Nazarite vow; cutting off his hair, was a sign of pious humility.  It probably required that he abstain from wine.  Paul was always in a fight, sometimes doing the thing he really did not want to do, in which battle the best defense was the discipline of his ‘bodily’ desires, inclinations to lust and gluttony.  “Therefore I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight like I am beating the air. No, I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”  We are not told that Paul observed or recommended certain fast days, but in Acts 13:2 fasting is associated with worship, presumably the Eucharist.   But not long after Paul’s death in 60 AD the Didache, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, recommended:  8.1. “Let not your fasts be with the hypocrites, for they fast on Mondays and Thursdays, but do you fast on Wednesdays and Fridays” (8.1).  There is some thought that the hypocrites were the Pharisaic party, but in any event the advice of the authors has been carried out for 2000 years and the Friday fast is  still required in the Roman Church, while I think it is true that the Orthodox still fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.   Often fasting consists of giving up something that is good in itself, a favorite food, as a small sacrificial recognition of the times we may have given our senses too free rein.   

       Saint Thomas says fasting has a threefold purpose:  killing lust, setting the mind on heavenly things, and encouraging sorrow for sins.  Fasting survives in the Latin Church in the rule that every Friday is a fast day. The Friday fast is done in commemoration of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Good Friday.  As such, all Fridays of the year have been historically kept as a day of strict fasting and abstinence from meat.   Even the most nugatory of fasts is capable of giving great spiritual power. 

       All this is papist practice, but while Protestants generally had no schedule of appointed fasts, the practice was not foreign to the American religious psyche.  Lincoln could decree in 1863 that the last Thursday in September would be “a day of humiliation, prayer, and fasting for all the people of the nation. And I do earnestly recommend to all the people, and especially to all ministers and teachers of religion of all denominations and to all heads of families, to observe and keep that day according to their several creeds and modes of worship in all humility and with all religious solemnity, to the end that the united prayer of the nation may ascend to the Throne of Grace and bring down plentiful blessings upon our country.” There is still a national day of prayer, but humiliation and fasting is not mentioned.     But Lent, I think, has bled over into Protestant Churches in what seems a beneficent way.    

       Feasting is endemic to Sacred Scripture, in both present and future aspects..  Prophesying the coming reign of peace Isaiah wrote, “On this mountain the Lord of Hosts will prepare a banquet for all the peoples, a feast of choice meat of finely aged wine. On this mountain He will swallow up the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations.  He will swallow up death forever and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces (25:6). And Matthew: “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west and  sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (8: 11). Eating has been at the heart of Christianity since Jesus took bread and distributed it, and in the beginning the Eucharist was celebrated as part of the Christian love feast, a grand church supper that had to be abandoned because it was abused (Jude 12; I Corinthians 11:20-22).

       One may well wonder how the calendar of feasts was constructed.  Start with the fact that Easter, 14 Nisan in the Jewish calendar, was a known date, and Pentecost was fifty days later.   One can imagine that after the resurrection of Jesus research into his origins intensified.  The Church settled on March 25 as the Annunciation, so the birth of Jesus was nine months later, on  December 25th.  Or perhaps December 25th was chosen because it was the winter solstice, and Christmas effectively replaced the Saturnalia, the Roman feast of celebration and gift-giving that commemorated the Solstice.  Certainly the Lupercalia, a vulgar Roman feast that took place in early February was supplanted by the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin.   All of these represent what is called “sacred times,” whose religious purpose is to keep the faithful mindful throughout the year of the cardinal mysteries and of the heroes of the Christian faith.  The old Church has a calendar full of days on which the canonical saints, those believed to be in the presence of God, are to be remembered and their intercession sought.  To follow them carefully would be an education in itself.   Some are popular, some obscure, such as Saint Just de Bretenieres, whose feast day is September 20th, was beheaded in Korea in 1866.  Under torture he kept repeating, “I came to Korea to save your souls; I will happily die for God.”   Or Saint Casimir of Poland, remembered on March 4th, who was a heroic peace-maker.  Each saint, as being in God’s presence, intercedes for those who ask his aid.    

       In the old Church the communion of saints means that the barrier between those who died in grace and those living  is very thin or non-existent.    It is probably impossible to explain just why one would believe that, say, Saint Cyril of Alexandria, would add his intercession to my prayers.  Perhaps one could think of Saint Cyril as a senior and conclusively successful member of the family.  I think it would be right to say that in Protestant Christianity that wall is thicker, so that the saints, being perhaps in principle unknown and unknowable and in any event accessible have no purpose other than, perhaps, as examples.  After 1520 the calendar of fasts and feasts pretty much disappeared from northern European Christianity, although Easter and Christmas survived in even the lowest of low Church Anglicanism.  The United States had no Church Year save that found in the Book of Common Prayer.  So Virginia celebrated Christmas.  According to a 1631 account by John Taylor, the festival of Christmas Day began with church attendance. Following that, “some went to cards, some sang Carrols, many merry songs, some to waste the long night would tell Winter-tales …. Then came maids with Wassell, jolly Wassell, cakes, white loafe and cheese, mince pies & other meat. These being gone, the jolly youths and plain dealing Plow swaines being weary of cards fell to dancing to show me some Gambols, some ventured the breaking of their shins to make me sport – some the scalding of their lippes to catch at apples tied at the end of a stick having a lighted candle”      

       All this Puritans disapproved.  Christmas was made illegal in England in 1662, Massachusetts having done so in 1659.  There was no Biblical warrant for a Christmas celebration, and, as Virginia demonstrated, the behavior it elicited was not always pious.  The Massachusetts holiday was Thanksgiving.   Although a plausible case can be made that Thanksgiving was first celebrated in Virginia, the national narrative attributes the origins of the Thanksgiving feast to the Puritans.   It remains one of two national feast days.  The other being the glorious fourth, the celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776.  Christmas cannot be  separated from Christianity and has become mildly controversial.  It was not always so.  From the 1870s, when New York merchants took up Christmas as a sales event, to the 1950s, Christmas was like Thanksgiving a national holiday, with the lighting of the White House Christmas tree a national event.  

       It is such events that make a nation, or in an analogous and deeper way, the Church.  They represent the rhythm of life.   There ought to be times of national happiness, and Christmas is such, a gift from the Church to the culture, encouraging generosity and gentling our ways here at the winter solstice.