Monday, June 23, 2014

What cannot be reconciled

Jim Kalb has written a very good piece for a Catholic magazine (the points he makes should be of interest to non-Catholics as well).

It is about the fundamental opposition between the world view of Catholics and secular liberals:
That opposition leads to views of morality and justice in which drastically different claims and authorities carry weight. The Church values conscience, and accepts “this is right”—in general, this expresses the moral nature of a world that after all is God’s creation—as a claim that normally overrides other considerations. Today’s secular world values individual autonomy instead, and prefers the authority of claims such as “I want this” or “this is part of my identity as I define it.”

Furthermore, the "separate spheres" understanding of the authority of church and state has broken down, as the liberal state is now claiming authority in both spheres:
At one time it was possible to reconcile the two by saying that they dealt with different matters, the Church hierarchy with fundamental spiritual and moral principles and the state with worldly practicalities and standards of conduct generally accepted as a matter of vernacular natural law (otherwise known as common sense).

That view no longer works because of growing state absolutism resulting from the decline of transcendent religion and the sense of a natural moral order. All social institutions, including the family, are now viewed as state creations, so that determining what they should be in light of ultimate values such as equality and personal autonomy is considered a basic function of government. On such an understanding there is no room for the moral authority of the Church.

Modern liberalism sees the traditional Christian view as not only wrong but gravely so:
Secular society of course views things differently. From its standpoint the Church’s claims are not merely weak but outrageous. “This is right,” where “right” is presented as obligatory without regard to desires, chosen identities, or the needs of a public order that makes freedom and equality its supreme goods, is seen as an attempt to make the speaker’s outlook and preferences trump other people’s...Against that background secular society is coming decisively to view religion as a matter of private lifestyle and symbolism

What Kalb says next is very significant. He writes that unless Catholics are willing to acknowledge the fundamental differences, their point of view will either not make sense to a secular audience or else will be comprehended within the secular outlook:
Otherwise what we say will either be treated as incomprehensible or absorbed into the current secular outlook. A call for mutual love, for example, will be understood as a call for affirming and supporting the desires and self-defined identities of all people just as they are, subject only to the principle of mutual tolerance.

That was a very good example to give, because it is becoming so rife within the various churches. It is common now to hear Christians argue that the commitment to love one another means accepting whatever choices people make, i.e. accepting them however they wish to be as a gesture of inclusiveness, even if these choices run counter to scripture or longstanding church tradition. It is dissolving of the notion of moral good, apart, that is, from the good of unconditional acceptance and inclusion.

Kalb finishes by giving some suggestions for what Catholics might do at the present time. One of them is to live well:
it remains true that in a time of moral confusion living well is the best offense. People know that the current order of things doesn’t help them lead good lives, and if they see someone who has something better many of them will eventually want to know more about it. We should live in a way that makes that the natural turn for their thoughts to take.

I think that's good advice for traditionalists in general (though not the complete answer). If we become known as the portion of Westerners who best display the masculine virtues; who make good husbands and fathers; who are positive and courageous in their attitudes; who are magnanimous in the sense of rising above pettiness - then that helps to prepare the ground for converting young people in the future to our cause.


  1. And this is how it should be. The church should have never become so closely aligned with the state. At most/best rulers of the state should be members of the church.

    About your last paragraph:
    I know many here will disagree, but the whole separatist/nationalist/"white heritage" thing that you have going on here will only resonate with some and alienate others. Not necessarily with in the ones you should really want. Its quite frankly anti-christ-ian.

    1. Anon, it's interesting. I thought Jim Kalb explained very clearly what the problem for the Church is with the current situation. But when I read the comments threads following his pieces, many in his audience just don't seem to understand - there's a kind of mental block there.

      Let me spell it out clearly: we are not headed for a situation in which Christians will be left alone by the state to be Christians. Secular principles will be held to trump Christian ones. A public expression of Christianity, not just a state one, will not be permitted - not in any serious form, anyway (a formal symbolic expression yes, any living through of a Christian morality no).

      The most likely result will be, as Jim Kalb puts it, that the Christian view will be absorbed into the liberal one. That's happening already. I notice that the American Presbyterians have fallen to this; at the Catholic parish level here in Melbourne much the same is true.

      As for upholding love of country, that was a part of a Christian culture for centuries - it was a core element of Christian chivalry. People who don't feel this are, unfortunately, either deprived of the conditions of life which should inspire it, or else lacking one aspect of the human soul ("Be there a man with soul so dead...")

      If Christianity is to oppose itself to what are profound human goods, then it will have to accept its own marginalisation within human societies.

      What's next? Will Christians, following the lead of the liberal society, suddenly declare that support for the traditional family is anti-Christian? Or that an acknowledgement of distinctions between men and women is anti-Christian?

      Will Christianity become a belief that there is just one abstract love to be felt equally and indiscriminately, with little else of relevance in the way that humans are constituted, and with humans only having one general, abstract duty towards humanity as a whole? Is that really to be it?

      Anon, if that's the new understanding of Christianity (it certainly isn't the traditional Catholic one) then not only am I going to alienate some visitors to this site, I'm going to actively challenge them to think through why this position is false and contrary to scripture, to church tradition and to natural law. I am going to challenge them to see that there is a more compelling alternative.

  2. "we are not headed for a situation in which Christians will be left alone by the state to be Christians."

    The only way that would happen is if the secular world completely abandon their own principles, such as freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. In that case we are all screwed. Yes it will be harder to be a Christian going forward, but that is how it should have always been. In Germany, Christian can't home school, so Christian mothers and father must spend much more quality time with their children to counteract what they were taught in secular school. How beautiful. The power of ruler-ship that Christians gained over the centuries corrupted the religion and made us lazy. We can no longer force feed our beliefs, we must now spoon feed them.

    Speaking of power corruption:
    "As for upholding love of country, that was a part of a Christian culture for centuries - it was a core element of Christian chivalry."

    That core element of Christian chivalry was the least of the many anti-christian things to have been birthed in the middle ages with word Christian as its qualifer. Christians were never meant to unite around a country, we unite ONLY around Christ.

    "There is neither Jew nor Gentile......"

    1. Anon, that's not going to work. Let's take just the last part of your comment. You claim that Christians can't identify with their own country because of Paul's statement that "There is neither Jew nor Gentile". What you left out is that Paul goes on to say "nor is there male and female".

      So what are we supposed to conclude? That it is wrong to identify as a man and a woman? That the radical liberals were right after all, and we should just think of ourselves as neutered beings because Christ abolished manhood and womanhood? That we should suppress the rest of scripture and the natural law because of this comment by Paul?

      It is not internally consistent to read Paul's epistle this way. After all, Paul goes on to make critical distinctions between men and women, for instance, in the holding of authority within the churches.

      Perhaps what Paul means is that when it comes to the relationship between the soul and God that there is no advantage or disadvantage in being one or the other; or perhaps he means that there is an aspect of unity in our relationship to Christ, regardless of the distinctions that exist between male and female or Jew and Greek. Or perhaps he is urging us to see that when a woman prays to Christ, or a slave, or a Greek that this is not to be held as less than if a man or a free man or a Jew does so -- Christ does not refuse or privilege on this basis.

    2. Or maybe he is reflecting Christ's own sentiment that, "Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me" (and dare I add country and heritage).

      The point isn't about losing one's own identity, or even about abolishing manhood and womanhood, but rather realizing that old things which divided us, segregated us, stratified us no longer matter. We still have roles to play as men, women, servants, master, jews, gentiles but in Christ there is new kinship and we are one. A lot of what is written about here seeks to divide christian around a concept (nationality, heritage) that has nothing to do with Christ but more importantly it is not being done for Christ. It is being done for your own comfort.

      Which glorifies Christ more and is a greater witness to the world: Christians leaving apart because they can't tolerate each others differences or Christians with differences living together while learning to love and respect each others differences as an expression of what God ordered.

    3. Anon,

      You're not helping your own case in saying this. Do parental relationships "no longer matter" for Christians? Are these relationships divisive, segregating and stratifying? Should we forget about being fathers and mothers and just go around holding hands with random people because "there is a new kinship and we are one".

      Christianity is dying in the West, in part, because too many Christians choose to live in a bubble. There is a lack of courage in experiencing life outside of an inherited phraseology; of defending the things that matter; of articulating a life of the spirit.

      You cannot make of Christianity a dead letter and expect it to be received as meaningful by the average person. It's a funny thing: the strategy of nearly all of the churches is to cling to a pallid, empty phraseology, and then when the pews empty, to seek relevance by pandering to the youth culture and bringing in guitars and drums.

      It doesn't work.

      Christianity was strong when human life was ordered within a Christian framework; there is still a framework, only the human life is missing from it. It needs to be put back in.

    4. Anon,

      One further thought. It seems to me that there are some Christians who see themselves as being apart from society, in the sense that they don't have a love for their own larger civilizational tradition and don't see the good in it, rather they see Christianity as something exclusive to itself.

      This means that Christianity becomes something of a side show - there is a process of self-marginalisation.

      It means too that Christians do what so many other groups do - Christians start to assume, in a similar way, for instance, to feminists, that the holding up of society is something that can be left to some other force in society. Just as feminists think that they can pursue the logic of feminism, and no matter how dissolving this logic is, that some other force will keep the good things of society going; there are also Christians who think along similar lines, that they can pursue a dissolving set of beliefs and that it won't matter because some other force will continue to uphold a framework of society.

      But in a modern society there are no such forces. Business leaders aren't interested in civilizational values. The secular intelligentsia isn't interested. The mainstream churches aren't interested.

      Everyone in a modern society wants to play the role of dissenting outsider, or else pursue sectional interests. There is no-one with any resources to hold the centre together.

      A man who is a traditionalist and a Christian cannot follow this same path. We cannot pursue a dissolving, self-marginalising Christianity.

    5. Mr. Richardson

      "Everyone in a modern society wants to play the role of dissenting outsider, or else pursue sectional interests. There is no-one with any resources to hold the centre together."

      How true this is!

      Mark Moncrieff
      Upon Hope Blog - A Traditional Conservative Future

  3. Here's the impasse: traditionalists and leftists both conflate moral and natural law.

    To answer your question to Anon, No. We should not forget about being mothers and fathers. We should forget about the notion that being a good mother or father is going to get us into Heaven. We shouldn't forget about being good men. We should forget about the idea that only manly/brave/Valhalla men get into Heaven, etc.

    Think of a childhood game, say baseball. Some boys are good at it; some are not. Now imagine the "naturals" make fun of the clutzes, telling them they're losers and they can't get anything right. Now say a teacher comes along and explains to the boys that this is just a game. The Golden Rule--and its derivatives such as fair play, etc.--are much more important values to take away than a good score. As soon as he leaves, the clutzes turn the tables and start making fun of the "naturals", taking the opportunity to tell them the game is a stupid game anyway and who cares if they're good at hitting a ball with a stick, etc. Some of the "naturals" get angry, because after all it's not a stupid game, it's a great game, and those soreheads are just mad because they're no good at it. So, the naturals start telling the bad players they're losers again, etc. and they're all right back where they started.

    The "naturals" are traditionalists. The "clutzes" are leftists. The teacher was Jesus. And after 2,000 years, apparently, his debate with the Sadducees and Pharisees still rages on. New robes. Same dispute.

  4. "You're not helping your own case in saying this."
    I didn't say THIS, Christ did. Your argument is with him.

    "It needs to be put back in."
    It needs to be chosen. Yes there are fewer people claiming to be Christians today but doesn't mean Christianity is dying. It just means that people are no longer being forced to pretend to accept a framework that they do not want. Now they can freely choose or refuse the framework. Unfortunately for them, many choose to refuse.

    "they don't have a love for their own larger civilizational tradition and don't see the good in it"
    Only God is good.

    "there is a process of self-marginalisation.
    That kind of the whole point of Christianity. Our reward is in heaven.

    "there are also Christians who think along similar lines, that they can pursue a dissolving set of beliefs and that it won't matter because some other force will continue to uphold a framework of society."

    This framework of society, these civilizational traditions that you are so afraid dissolving is the real side-show. We are the created. There is a creator in whom we find true reality.

    Please excuse what I am about to write because I don't know your heart. But reading the words from your mind leads me to wonder if you truly believe in all tenets of Christianity. You seem more concerned about this world than the next and Christianity is just a way to live/order your life. Christianity is more than a work out program. Christianity is the truth, the whole truth.

    1. Anon,

      I would hope that this exchange has made clear for my readers why I believe that there has to be an argument about what a Christian culture is. The way you understand Christianity is worse than liberalism when it comes to holding together a society or tradition, as you freely admit that you desire to be marginal and, worse, as you deny that there are goods to be found in this world.

      I'll leave it to Paul to defend the idea of a good in this world:

      "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

    2. The good in this world comes from God, not men. You seem to be trying to separate men who are good of their own account from men who are bad from their own account. But there are no good men of their own account, no good societies of their own account, no good traditions of their own account. All goodness comes from God. So why should we divide God's own. Those who have accepted Christ are a new family. If more reject Christ than those who accept him, than heaven itself is a marginal place.

    3. Anon, you are theologising yourself into contortions here. God doesn't arbitrarily say "Well, I'll just happen to make this particular thing good and this one bad, and then later on I'll swap them around." There are, rather, qualities that come from God which are good and which it is possible for humans to discern are good, whether through scripture, conscience, natural law. Humans can therefore orient themselves to the good, and to what fulfils God's purposes, or they can alienate themselves from these things. If we see particular traditions as representing a facet of the good, then we should be oriented to upholding them.

      Anon, once again, I find it really interesting where your theology leads you. You say something very universalistic, e.g. "So why should we divide God's own" - which has the most negative consequences imaginable. It means not only that we cannot have distinct nations, but that we cannot have distinct families. It makes secular liberalism look tame in its breaking apart of people. Then you write "Those who have accepted Christ are a new family" - which I could accept if it was intended to mean "a certain kind of family over and above the significant families we are born into" but I'm afraid you mean it in a more dissolving way as "replacing the significant families we are born into".

      Anonymous, I'm not surprised that you're happy to accept Christians as being marginal, because in a sense that's the only way your theology could possibly function. If Christians do not recognise a good to uphold, then they are going to leave the heavy lifting of keeping a society going to others, so they need most people not to be Christians. The conceit is the idea that in taking this attitude that they, rather than the heavy lifters, are the ones doing the right thing by God.

    4. "If we see particular traditions as representing a facet of the good, then we should be oriented to upholding them. "

      Agreed. However, no one tradition has a exclusive perception of any facet of God's good. All can perceive God's good, its just a question of who accepts it. If all can perceive and all can accept then the line of inclusion for Christians is simply those who accept.

      "I could accept if it was intended to mean "a certain kind of family over and above the significant families we are born into"

      Yes, if the significant families we are born into accepts God's good.

      "I'm afraid you mean it in a more dissolving way as "replacing the significant families we are born into"."

      Yes, if the significant families we are born into rejects God's good. The same line of inclusion applies to all.

      Christians do recognize a good to uphold, its called Christianity. The society that you and the heavy lifters are so concerned about will NOT keep going no matter what you do. God said so himself. Its called the book of revelations.

      My point is simply that if first we are Christians, and true Christians to each other, then the society God wants will simply follow. If we are not Christians first, and Christians to each other, then the society that follows will and should be destroyed by God. Being Christian comes first, not family, not tradition, not nation, not society. All those can exist and they can be distinct but first they must be Christian. Christianity is the primary test of inclusion.

  5. So, am I saying that natural law isn't important; that it's worthless to be manly, to uphold your civilization, etc.? Of course not! No more than the teacher in story above is telling the boys that baseball is a stupid game (this is what leftists do say, however; and that is their error). Yes, natural law is important! It just isn't morality.

    To cite just one example we have finally figured out (I think): You know the old Jewish laws about hand-washing? It turns out that, from a natural law point of view, washing your hands is a really good idea: gets ride of physical germs. It doesn't mean you're going to hell if you forget once (which is what the Pharisees were teaching), because hand-washing does precisely nothing for your soul.

    Now, if we could just apply that logic to the rest of natural law, I think these disputes between trads. and leftists might finally be resolved...

    1. Manly, worthy civilization, good, morals are all subjective from a human perspective. Your particular version of it means nothing without Christ.

    2. Bartholomew, I understand you are trying to build bridges, but I can't accept the terms. I don't accept that being manly or upholding civilisation or being a good father or mother has no moral component to it.

    3. Manly, worthy civilization, good, morals are all subjective from a human perspective. Your particular version of it means nothing without Christ.

      Anon, the fascinating thing is that this is also an assumption of secular liberalism. Their view is either that there is no objective good, or else that we cannot know it, so that therefore there is only the good that we subjectively define for ourselves, so the point of morality is to allow people to define their own good without interference.

      I presume in your case that you are setting out some variant of Protestant theology. I'm not familiar with the intricacies of Protestant theology, so I don't know how well you have represented it, nor what branches of Protestantism might uphold it. I do know that there are Protestant traditionalists who don't sound anything like you.

    4. I wasn't clear. The moral component comes from Christ, not any one tradition (not even yours). Any one tradition can subjectively uphold certain parts of those qualities as being good. But God objectively defines what is good and has made it available to all through Christ.