Thursday, October 28, 2010

Revolting!

Yes, as Ben the Wise has reminded us in a comment, all I said was "one provocative way of looking at it."

In other words, it's not like I was trying to be provocative or anything. Besides, it's Borella who is doing the provoking (with his idea that Protestantism leads inevitably to secular extremism), although I must admit that I do find his argument persuasive (especially in concert with some other more recent scholarship about the religious wars and the Reformation).

I might add that it's somewhat useless to enlist history as a defense of Protestant theology, not just because history cannot justify theology, but because history -- better yet, the past -- keeps changing. In other words, the meaning of the past is largely determined by the present -- which is why each generation must engage the past anew. (You know the crack by that Chinese premier -- Kissinger or somebody asked him what he thought of the French Revolution: "To soon to tell.")

Consider, for example, what the ascendency of Obama meant two years ago, versus what it means today. Which is why no one should get too excited about the coming Republican tsunami, since it will undoubtedly mean something (disappointingly) different two years hence. It is in the nature of waves to begin their withdrawal precisely at high tide.

History is also full of irony -- of good things leading to bad and bad to good, or felix catastrophes. For example, it might be argued that the two most important events in history were the Incarnation and the creation of America. But would the latter have been possible absent the Reformation?

In fact, if I'm not mistaken, at the time, the Vatican still regarded monarchy as the most natural and superior form of government. And of course they had a point, if one compares the latter to the French Revolution, which was and remains the template for most subsequent revolutions, which is to say, the rule of the mob, AKA democracy (which was once a pejorative).

So is a little secularism -- a human sphere independent of religion -- a good thing? Yes, obviously. But can it go too far? Yes, obviously.

Which is something that secularists cannot see and do not recognize -- which is precisely why they are extremists. They imagine that their extreme position is the center, when it is clearly at the periphery, not just politically, but ontologically. Thus their utter failure to understand American conservatism, which is intrinsically balanced between secular and religious, or terrestrial and celestial, concerns.

And "balance" is probably not the most apt word, since it is much more of a dynamic and evolving (because dynamic) reciprocity or complementarity. It is a complementarity between freedom and restraint, rights and responsibilities, individual and collective, the anabolic preservation of tradition and the catabolic destruction of the free market, etc.

Anyway, back to Borella's thesis. Again, his concern is that Protestantism, by rendering the world both irrelevant and unintelligible, eventually opens the way for scientism to fill the breach left open by the complete absence of any integral theology, a la Thomas. Rather, it literally tosses aside some 1500 years of sublime meditation on the Nature of Things, and reverts to the theological barbarism of blind faith, which eventually becomes the sole feeble defense against modernity. But it didn't work and it won't work.

One reason it won't work is that it presents no coherently unified front against the comparatively integral worldview of scientism. Rather, it's not just that the Reformation fractured the Christian world in two, but into hundreds, thousands, millions, and maybe even billions of pieces, so long as we take literally the idea that "every man is his own priest." If this is the case, then there is no authoritative dogma and really no objective Truth to be had.

Indeed, this is one of Borella's points, that the Reformation inevitably leads to subjectivism, relativism and therefore skepticism, for if truth is in the eye of the individual believer, then there is really no truth at all.

Yes, thanks to the Reformation, everyone could now interpret the Bible for himself, but so what? How often do you meet someone who can quote you chapter and verse, but really has no idea what he's talking about?

I would say that this is the rule, not the exception. Few people have an integral understanding of the totality of scripture, in both its vertical and horizontal dimensions. Once the Bible means anything to everyone, the door is open to the religious demagogues and hustlers who plague us to this day, with no central authority to shame them into silence.

It would never even occur to me to try to do this myself, starting from scratch, in a single lifetime. What breathtaking presumption! Again, SPEAKING ONLY FOR MYSELF, I can't imagine life without the stream of commentary, from the early Fathers to Denys to Maximus Confessor to Thomas Aquinas to Meister Eckhart, et al (not to mention the Jewish sages).

It seems criminal -- or criminally irresponsible -- to toss all of this aside as irrelevant so long as one simply has "faith." If it works for you, that's perfectly fine, but my concern is getting more people on board the cosmic bus, especially the secularists who might embrace the Message if it were presented in a way that doesn't strike them as stupid and/or insane. Most people need keys to unlock the Mystery. Just consider yourself particularly gifted if you are able to jump start your divine vehicle without them. I certainly couldn't.

Was the Church less than perfect in Luther's time? It was and always will be (and remember, I'm not speaking as a Catholic, just some guy). But one must balance this against the unholy hell that was unleashed with the Reformation, which, in my opinion, was much more about ethnicity and tribal hatred than it was theology.

I mean, really. People might say they're trying to brutalize each other over some subtle point of theology, but the psychologist in me regards this as pure pretext for the unleashing of the most barbarously savage impulses that the Church had miraculously kept in check up to that point. Many more people died in a year or two -- I don't have time to look up the exact figures, but probably even a good week -- of the religious wars than in the entire Inquisition.

But Luther insisted that there was no way to settle this dispute with words, only "by the sword": "to attack in arms these masters of perdition, these cardinals, these popes, and all this sink of the Roman Sodom" and to "wash our hands in their blood." But... wasn't Christ's blood sufficient?

And while science continued to develop from its Catholic roots in Protestant countries, this is no thanks to Luther, who "was an avowed enemy of reason" who "repudiated the tradition of natural law" -- not to mention the philosophy of Aristotle, whom he regarded as a "heathen and plague." If this intemperate man speaks for Jesus, how could such extremism not give a temperate man the Jesus Willies?

But as I said, this is not about me and especially not you, only about Borella and his ideas. But unfortunately, I'm now out of time, having blathered on for too long. In any event, I hope it goes without saying that no one is obligated to agree with me, and that contrary views are most welcome.

32 Comments:

Blogger mushroom said...

And "balance" is probably not the most apt word, since it is much more of a dynamic and evolving (because dynamic) reciprocity or complementarity. It is a complementarity between freedom and restraint, rights and responsibilities, individual and collective, the anabolic preservation of tradition and the catabolic destruction of the free market, etc

Gyroscopically balanced -- like a spinning top or a rolling Harley.

10/28/2010 08:57:00 AM  
Blogger black hole said...

Well, you post was anything but revolting. It was eminently sensible.

One key point is that religion must be a collective, not an individual, undertaking.

The individual, while important, is not enough to complete the project.

What project?

Here's a clue:

"my concern is getting more people on board the cosmic bus, especially the secularists who might embrace the Message if it were presented in a way that doesn't strike them as stupid and/or insane. "

The cosmic bus is to be loaded, and then said bus must arrive at a certain destination.

Does anyone know where this is?

10/28/2010 08:58:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Bensonhurst.

10/28/2010 09:04:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Since this discussion has to do with other people's arguments, I'm going to lob an extra cocktail with a bit of Schmemann's perspective. He blames the Catholics for the advent of secularism:

The uniqueness of secularism, its difference from the great heresies of the patristic age, is that the latter were provoked by the encounter of Christianity with Hellenism, whereas the former is the result of a "breakdown" within Christianity itself, of its own deep metamorphosis. The lack of time prevents me from dealing with this point in detail [a common problem, it seems - j]. I shall limit myself to one "symbolic" example directly related to our theme. At the end of the twelfth century a Latin theologian, Berengarius of Tours, was condemned for his teaching on the Eucharist. He maintained that because the presence of Christ in the eucharistic elements is "mystical" or "symbolic," it is not real. The Lateran Council which condemned him - and here is for me the crux of the matter - simply reversed the formula. It proclaimed that since Christ's presence in the Eucharist is real, it is not "mystical." What is truly decisive here is precisely the disconnection and the opposition of the two terms verum and mystice, the acceptance, on both sides, that they are mutually exclusive. Western theology thus declared that that which is "mystical" or "symbolic" is not real, whereas that which is "real" is not symbolic.

If Schmemann is correct - and he certainly seems to have a point - then the seeds for the reformation were sown quite a bit earlier. Once the symbolic is rendered essentially meaningless, what is one left with but a blind "faith" and a literalistic, horizontal understanding of the written Word?

10/28/2010 09:13:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Schuon also blames Catholicism, especially its lurch toward humanism with the Renaissance.

10/28/2010 09:21:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

I guess I don't understand the point. I am perfectly willing to back the Pope as the Vicar of Christ against the insanity of scientism or secular fascism or Islam fascism or whatever. I am an admirer of JP II and Pope Benedict. We're all on the same side. How is that we are fractured?

Plus, of course, we have you, the B'ob, to lead us.

I agree that our understanding of history changes -- heck, the understanding of my own life to this point changes as I look back from today versus this time last week.

The Church had veered off course prior to the Reformation. It would have likely stayed off course apart from the rebellion and extremism of Luther, Calvin, et al.

So we splintered that we might reunite.

As far as getting on the bus, I'm too much of a George MacDonald acolyte to think that everybody's not already on the bus. It's just a matter of getting them to realize it.

10/28/2010 09:24:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

I'd say it's all of a piece. The reformation didn't spring forth out of nothing, there had to have been an internal breakdown - or maybe a dessication is more like it - that rendered the Mystery within the Church inaccessible to a large chunk of its members, such that instead of feeling liberated by adhering to the inherent truth, they felt constrained by a lie. I don't think they handled it very well, though.

Mushroom - As far as getting on the bus, I'm too much of a George MacDonald acolyte to think that everybody's not already on the bus.

Indeed. A couple weeks back I came across a guy who had listed his first principles. Among them was the idea that God's chosen are numbered, and if you're in you're in and if you're out you're just screwed. Not phrased that way, but it was the gist. I get where he gets it, but I don't think he quite gets it, if you catch my drift.

10/28/2010 09:32:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I guess I just blame Man. The adjectives we apply to him can be misleading.

10/28/2010 09:35:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Yes, that's really what it comes down to.

***

Back to Schmemann, this is a bit of a tangent but too lovely not to share (emphasis mine):

Lack of time compels me to limit myself to one example to show that the "dichotomies" mentioned above, which without any doubt have determined the deep metamorphosis of our liturgical piety, not only do not "connect" and relate one to another God, man, and the world, uniting them in one consistent world view, but on the contrary, abolish all "communications" and "correspondences" between them.

Thus, for example, to bless water, making it "holy water," may have two entirely different meanings. It may mean, on the one hand, the transformation of something
profane, and thus religiously void or neutral, into something sacred, in which case the meaning of "holy water" is precisely that it is no longer "mere" water, and is in fact opposed to it - as the sacred is to the profane. Here the act of blessing reveals nothing about water, and thus about matter or world, but on the contrary makes them irrelevant to the new function of water as "holy water." The sacred posits the profane as precisely profane, i.e. religiously meaningless.

On the other hand, the same act of blessing may mean the revelation of the true "nature" and "destiny" of water, and thus of the world - it may be the epiphany and the fulfillment of their "sacramentality." By being restored through the blessing to its proper function, the "holy water" is revealed as the true, full, adequate water, and matter becomes again means of communion with and knowledge of God.

10/28/2010 09:44:00 AM  
Blogger Kurt said...

It seems that our spiritual growth occurs within the triple field of:

Tradition: what others have experienced of God

Freedom: what I have experienced of God, and

Grace: what God has shared with me of Himself

I would suggest that the Protestant Revolution began as an attempt to rebalance this triad, away from Tradition and towards Grace and Freedom. Where things ended up after that is a story of triumph and tragedy, light and shadow.

As for myself, I thank God for tradition as exemplified by the Catholic Church which has been a testimony to His Love for over 2000 years. I thank God for freedom where I see His Love in my own life. And I thank God most of all for Grace, without which I would still be the walking dead man I was for so many years.

And thank you, Bob, for making this space where we can all seek that amazing Grace together.

Kurt

10/28/2010 09:50:00 AM  
Blogger black hole said...

Any collective enterprise is hard to maintain; even a nuclear family.

That Christianity had only one major fracture is a testament to its durability.

It is difficult, even, for an individual to keep an enterprise together, due to the warring factions within. Intellect clashes with emotions, which are not on the same page as the intuition, which is unable to harness the will, which is driven by subconscious motives not apparent to the other members of the being.

Then the body chimes in that it is tired. Then the passions chime in and say they want excitement. And so on, and so forth.

The government of the self by the soul is the ideal but the soul's voice is hard to hear sometimes over the stridence of the others.

Multiply all of this in a group enterprise and you can see how daunting a task we have before us.

Not to be pessimistic. It constantly gets more unified as we go. Slow and steady wins this race.

10/28/2010 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

In a certain way,

Tradition: Father
Freedom: Son
Grace: HS

10/28/2010 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"And while science continued to develop from its Catholic roots in Protestant countries, this is no thanks to Luther, who "was an avowed enemy of reason" who "repudiated the tradition of natural law" -- not to mention the philosophy of Aristotle, whom he regarded as a "heathen and plague." If this intemperate man speaks for Jesus, how could such extremism not give a temperate man the Jesus Willies?"

... Speaking as even more of "just a guy" than you, er, Yep.

10/28/2010 10:47:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Gagdad said "Schuon also blames Catholicism, especially its lurch toward humanism with the Renaissance."

That's some blame I'm all too happy to appreciate.

10/28/2010 10:51:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, we recently discussed how the Church might have dealt with the rebellion by embracing the Christian humanism of an Erasmus, but in a way overreacted in the other direction in order to accommodate the decidedly unworldly attitude of Protestants. I recently read that this contributed to the Galileo thingy, as the Church didn't want to appear too theologically liberal, thereby confirming the accusations of the Protestants.

10/28/2010 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

BTW, no post for a few days. I have to attend a couple of all-day continuing re-education seminars.

Then again, perhaps I should live blog the seminars in order to cope with the tedium....

10/28/2010 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Heh - and here I was thinking I'd have to miss out the next few days while a new grandpa meets his first biological grandchild.

Of course, live-blogging the seminars would be entertaining for those playing along at home; I bet there'll be a metric load of fiskable material...

10/28/2010 11:17:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Seminartime already?

10/28/2010 02:22:00 PM  
Blogger black hole said...

I'd like to hear a story of some kind. Some kind of conflict, surprise, betrayal, some taboo broken, some promise violated, some crime committed, some great deed accomplished, some love expressed, some delight experienced, some journey taken.

And all in three paragraphs or less, and touching on some theme of this post.

ASAP.

10/28/2010 03:53:00 PM  
Blogger Kurt said...

Black Hole, I was going to attempt to respond to your request but then I attempted to click on your blogger profile - no luck. One of the things that makes OC a safe place for me is transparency. We know who Bob is and where he is coming from. Many of the others here have taken the chance of showing something about themselves to the rest of us via their blogger profiles. I think it shows some level of trust to do so. As it is, while you have been a frequent poster here I have no idea who you are or where you are coming from. Take a chance. Open up a bit. I believe that this is a safe place to do so.

Kurt

10/28/2010 04:18:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Here you go, BH. Not sure it fits all or any of your criteria, but it's free. :)

10/28/2010 04:18:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I actually do demand transparency from Black Hole. That's why he's always such a transparent schmendrick.

10/28/2010 04:24:00 PM  
Blogger black hole said...

Kurt: they hate me. I cannot give them ammunition to use against me. I don't feel safe here. However, I love it anyway.

To Whit:

Ben siezed Bernadette's slender white arm as she attempted to turn away. "You're going to do this."

"No, I can't Ben, this is wrong. If my father found out..."

"Hah. YOUR father. Look at what I found in YOUR father's study." He held up the round wafer.

Bernadette gasped. No, no, it couldn't be! But then where DID father and mother go each Sunday? And what of the small room they forbade her to enter? And the wine she found one day, so sweet...

"Today we follow them secretly to whence they go. And when we know the truth..."

"Ben! You mustn't tell anyone! I beg you!"

"I'll not tell, but you'll do my bidding. ALL of my bidding."

"Oh Ben, no, think of my honor. It is all I have."

"It is not YOUR honor you should be thinking about."

Muffled voice from stage Right: "Halt there, sirrah, what business have you with my daughter?"

Ben froze, crafty eyes darting from side to side...

10/28/2010 04:46:00 PM  
Blogger black hole said...

And thank you mushroom. I'll read that story after work. BH

10/28/2010 04:48:00 PM  
Blogger Kurt said...

Well, OK then, brother Black Hole. But you'll never know where you stand until you put your feet down. This is as good a place as any to do so. And the added benefit of having your feet on the ground is that you can start walking...

Kurt

10/28/2010 05:28:00 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

I came across this William Blake quote recently:

"I must create my own system, or be enslaved by another man's
I will not reason and compare, my business is to create".

I am both greatly moved and horrified by this statement. It seems to be, at once, a beautiful declaration of creative freedom and also the death knell of Truth.

Maybe I am not reading correctly. But it seems a natural outgrowth of Protestantism...

10/28/2010 07:07:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Jack,
By their fruits you shall know them..

And I think related to yours I ran across this today..
From Luke 9
"John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.”

10/28/2010 07:19:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

Jack I dunno the period/context but yr WB reads like an Artist-over-Businessman type distinction too:
He pioneeringly did it all out on a limb by hisself

Crowley called him Uncle...

--+ was Irish "O'Neill" Blake's forebears' name? ---Aye According to Yeats---
my Dad's clan was Neill

corna= wv
-copious

10/29/2010 04:11:00 AM  
Blogger Jack said...

I guess what gives me pause on the quote is not necessarily Blake himself, but seeing the use many would put such a sentiment later in our cultural history. That it can be used to justify pretty much anything...especially if one decides that somehow creation is wholly opposed to reason.

It seems like it means something a bit different looking at it with 200 years of history between us and Blake...

10/29/2010 05:47:00 AM  
Blogger Jack said...

...of course Freedom is often a dangerous thing, which is probably why so many are ambivalent about it. Which is why I like the quote.

10/29/2010 05:49:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

Jack says:

""I must create my own system, or be enslaved by another man's
I will not reason and compare, my business is to create".

I am both greatly moved and horrified by this statement. It seems to be, at once, a beautiful declaration of creative freedom and also the death knell of Truth."

It's not the death knell of Truth.

To me, a simple fact is that I must necessarily be able to create my own system (e.g. actualize my personality, perform my karmic duty, [insert similar statement here]) within the overarching constraints of the Good, the Beautiful, and the True. These are the contstraints without which true freedom would be impossible.

The problem arises when you create systems that interfere with other people's absolute right to be themselves.

It is these (closed) systems that can and must be destroyed. See the Soviet Union and North Korea for further details.

Now the flip side of this is that you have to be able to tell what is a "mind parasite" an what is the actual underlying personality.

10/29/2010 07:36:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Well, I don't like to toot my horn...especially since I lost my chops, but I have been called a wise guy before (and from fellow three stooges fans, no less).

Although, by no one named guido or vinny. Then again, I don't know anyone named guido or vinny so perhap[s that's why.

10/29/2010 11:53:00 PM  

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