Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Godlessness: Opiate of the Tenured

I don't yet have an overarching grasp of The Theological Origins of Modernity -- at this point, it's still grasping me -- so perhaps if I just go through it chapter by chapter, a higher vision will emerge. At times the book is a little repetitive, and it's also somewhat non-linear -- almost like a collection of independent chapters. Plus, being a scholar and all, Gillespie seems reluctant to just come out and express rash and reckless conclusions in the manner I would.

That's the good thing about blogging. You can just come right out and say it, without all the scholarly apparatus. This is not to criticize Gillespie. This is to explain why I couldn't last five minutes in academia.

The amazon product description says that Gillespie exposes "the religious roots of our ostensibly godless age," and reveals "that modernity is much less secular than conventional wisdom suggests. Taking as his starting point the collapse of the medieval world, Gillespie argues that from the very beginning moderns sought not to eliminate religion but to support a new view of religion and its place in human life. He goes on to explore the ideas of such figures as William of Ockham, Petrarch, Erasmus, Luther, Descartes, and Hobbes, showing that modernity is best understood as a series of attempts to formulate a new and coherent metaphysics or theology."

I suppose that, for self-evident reasons, this would be considered a controversial assertion in academia -- that so-called secular intellectuals are implicitly religious (or, to be more precise, steeped in myth), but just in denial about it. It would be analogous to attending a Catholic seminary and writing a dissertation arguing that Christianity is actually the collective displacement of a massive Freudian father complex. Probably wouldn't go down too well with the faculty.

Gilliespie writes that "modernity in the broadest sense was a series of attempts to answer the fundamental questions that arose out of the nominalist revolution." This metaphysical revolution -- which we will describe forthwith -- is really what cracked the cosmic egg half a millennium ago and overturned the order of the world, sinny side up. As a matter of fact, this is precisely the argument Richard Weaver made in his classic Ideas Have Consequences, first published over fifty years ago.

If Gillespie is correct, we are still dealing with the reverberations of this metaphysical revolution today. Again, nothing has been resolved since Humpty Dumpty fell from the medieval wall. Rather, it's as if every thinker picks up a small piece of the shell and tries to reconstruct a whole egg out of it.

But it cannot be accomplished with any secular philosophy. For reasons that will be obvious once we get into them, such a project is foredoomed. Some thinkers responded to the crisis by assembling a new overarching metaphysic that did not exclude Spirit -- most notably, Hegel -- but which crumbled as a result of their own in-built contractions.

Marx, of course, tried to resurrect Hegel by turning him upside down and banishing Spirit. This gave birth to the illiberal psychospiritual left that persists to this day. Crockroaches that they are, they are nearly impossible to eradicate, since they have learned to live in darkness and can survive by eating virtually anything, even such toxic food as Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, or Paul Krugman -- things that would kill an otherwise healthy person who hadn't built up the antibodies over the decades.

Perhaps I should say up front that I think the process is a bit more complicated and multidimensional than how Gillespie (or Weaver) describes it. This is one of the problems with being a mere intellectual; that is, one is susceptible to giving far more weight to ideas than they warrant. But the psychoanalyst in me tends to see ideas as mere "cover stories" for much deeper processes. These processes are largely irrational.

However, I must immediately emphasize that they are irrational in both a positive and negative sense. Perhaps a better way of saying it is that they can be "irrational" or "a-rational," meaning that they can fail to ascend to reason, or that they can transcend it from above. The realm of spirit, for example, is arational, in that it obviously descends from a transrational plane. To try to capture it with mere reason is to severely maim it, and to have no earthly idea of the legitimate bounds of reason. For example, the idea of "homosexual marriage" is not only irrational, which would be bad enough; more importantly, it is anti-transrational.

So, exactly what was this "nominalist revolution"? To make a very long story short, it simply has to do with the question of the reality of transcendentals, or universals. (BTW, there is an excellent overview of the controversy -- and how to resolve it -- in Letter IX of MOTT, The Hermit.) For the medieval scholastics, culminating in Aquinas, universals were ultimately real, while for the nominalist insurgency, they were considered mere names (immediately you see the seeds of deconstruction, which attacks universals -- and therefore Truth -- with a neo-barbaric vengeance).

Seems like a mundane enough academic squabble, doesn't it? Well, no. This is the wedge that plunges right down the center of Christendom, and cleaves Western man to this day (of note, Eastern Christendom bypassed -- or rather, transcended -- this problem, as they never developed a rational theology, only a mystical theology).

Now, the God of the scholastics could be approached with reason. That being the case, the divine realm was ordered, hierarchical, and subject to man's comprehension (up to a point). But the nominalists swept this entire order aside, which had the perhaps unintended consequence of radically changing the character of God.

For one of the implications of nominalism is that God cannot be constrained by reason, which is to compromise his divine omnipotence. God can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, to such an extent that he actually becomes far more distant and fearsome -- an object of pure awe instead of understanding (here we see an ironic similarity between the Protestant and Islamic God, more on which tomorrow). Indeed, to pretend to understand God becomes a kind of blasphemy in the nominalist view. (Here again, notice how this anti-intellectual stance persists to this day, hence, the deep distrust of the Way of the Raccoon, from both left and right.)

I need to wrap it up here, as I have to get ready for work. But let me just lay out a preluminary schematic that I think summarizes the problem. Medieval man lived in a purely vertical world, or a "sacred space," so to speak, in which the most mundane activities resonated with eternity. Among other things, the nominalist revolution exiled man from this space, and plunged him into horizontal time.

Now, time can be progressive and evolutionary, or it can be regressive and decadent. For awhile, it seemed as if the nominalists had the upper hand, as modernity appeared to be "progressing" in a virtually limitless way in the 19th century. It truly appeared as if science and reason had liberated man from his own pathologies.

But then came the calamities of World Wars I and II, the Holocaust, and all the other modern nightmares of the 20th century, so that the very assumptions of modernity came into question. This then split the stream in two ways, one way leading back to tradition, the other way "forward" into postmodernism. Again, one of the things we will be discussing is the possibility of a third way to heal the wounds of history -- the Raccoon way of improvisational orthoparadoxical bohemian classical liberal neo-traditionalism.


Warren said...

>> attending a Catholic seminary and writing a dissertation arguing that Christianity is actually the collective displacement of a massive Freudian father complex. Probably wouldn't go down too well with the faculty.

You might be surprised. If it was a Jesuit seminary, you'd pass with flying colors - except the teacher would ask why you didn't bring out all the Marxist implications of the Gospels, etc.

Jack said...

So much for Reality. It seems that there is a rash of post-avatar depression going around. Oh boy. Reminds me of Dennis Miller's line that "virtual reality is going to make crack cocaine look like sanka".


Northern Bandit said...

the Raccoon way of improvisational orthoparadoxical bohemian classical liberal neo-traditionalism

Or, the IOBCLNT Way. Fits better on a T-shirt.

Warren said...

>> for the nominalist insurgency, they were considered mere names (immediately you see the seeds of deconstruction, which attacks universals -- and therefore Truth -- with a neo-barbaric vengeance)

Yes. The most up-to-date, cutting-edge, postmodern academic philosopher of today has actually not advanced an inch past the position of William of Ockham. Pretty funny.

Petey said...

Up here we call it "Ockham's blunt instrument."

Warren said...

>> an ironic similarity between the Protestant and Islamic God

It's not really ironic at all. Islam and Protestantism (at least the Calvinist variety) are actually the same heresy, only dressed up in different cultural and linguistic clothes.

Ricky Raccoon said...

“But it cannot be accomplished with any secular philosophy.”

The Pieper book, End of Time, begins here. In fact, I think one looking for a complete philosophy, making their way from a secular perspective (what else is philosophy for, but “completeness”) should find eventually that “theology” maybe it’s what you thought it was, or rather, is what you thought it wasn’t.

Ricky Raccoon said...

“Now, the God of the scholastics could be approached with reason.”

I think it’s worth noting that, everything Jesus said was waiting for these people to arrive. Miracles for the Jews, etc. Those looking for reason should not have been disappointed, if that’s what they became.

Ricky Raccoon said...

Can’t make out that CNN link about Avatar.. the link is chopped off..

Ricky Raccoon said...

Let me try that again...typos..

“But it cannot be accomplished with any secular philosophy.”

The Pieper book, End of Time, begins here. In fact, I think one looking for a complete philosophy making their way from secular philosophy (what else is philosophy for, but “completeness”) should find eventually that “theology” maybe isn’t what you thought it was, or rather, it actually is what you thought it wasn’t.

julie said...

Jack - just wow. I guess that's what happens when you have a generation of kids raised online, many of whom spent so much time fantasizing in various ways about their favorite cartoon characters (and sharing these fantasies with like-minded kids) that they actually believed their "real selves" were fargin' Pikachu or Sailor Moon.

To the post, I like the metaphor of the egg, which in a way is a three-dimensional version of an arch. That is, the oppositional forces between one side and another - the apparent paradoxes, for instance "works vs. grace," "exoteric vs. esoteric," "wave vs. particle" or "Trinity vs. Absolute" - are actually what lend the whole structure its strength. Take away one side and all you have is a crunchy scrambled egg.

Jack said...

I *used* to know a smattering of html...or I would hyperlink that.


Hopefully that works!

Anonymous said...

I feel we are on the verge of getting a summary of the Coonifesto, by the maker of the Coonifesto, at last. The Racoon Way. I do look forward to it.

This will be Stalingrad for this troll. If I can breach the succint statement of Coonism, then there is the possibility of triumph.

If I fail to breach it, then my forces will be pushed back to Berlin and annhilated, along with my credo.

At last, some culmination of the campaign is at hand.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, modernity sucks in many ways. Most of your quarrel with "the left" is really a quarrel with the modern world in all of its terrible glory, splendor, murderousness, and rootlessness. You could define "the left" (which in your vocabulary includes people who range from from Mussolini to Noam Chomsky) as those who try to engage with modernity, find a way to deal with it, while the right stuffs its fingers in its ears and yearns to return to some better time, whether it's 1950 or 1250. If the current civilization manages to destroy itself, you'll get your wish, but you won't like it.

Figuring out a different way of thinking that re-integrates some of the things that modernity left behind sounds like a very worthwhile project. See if you can do it without the gratuitous insults, it doesn't really help your cause.

Jack said...


I think you are absolutely right. Certain types of media allows a infinite deferral of facing the rigors of creating a true self. Especially, alas, amongst young males.

Perhaps a deadly combination of mythical archetypes and narrative shallowness is just too much for the male brain. What used to be confined to nerdy SUBcultures e.g. Fantasy, Science Fiction, Heavy Metal, comic books is now been flooding the culture at large.

Coupled with "permissive" parenting it seems we are raising generation after generation of idiot manchildren who can quote pop culture as if were a holy text, but glaze over if required to actually think.

Maybe I'm being alarmist or elitist, but it seems to me that human depth and individuality is a daunting proposition at best and certainly one that takes everything we've got. This further denial of Reality just seems like a bad trend.

Warren said...

>> improvisational orthoparadoxical bohemian classical liberal neo-traditionalism

With a little creative re-arrangement, and maybe one or two terms changed, I'm betting that this could be made into a memorable acronym.

Warren said...

>> If I fail to breach it, then my forces will be pushed back to Berlin and annhilated, along with my credo.

Now our trolls are comparing themselves to Nazis. What's left for us to do?

chokey smurf said...

Is that what this is about for you? All the whining has been about winning??

My god, the stupidity is breathtaking. All this time you're trying to bite off the pointer finger, missing the entire cosmos in the process. Pretending for a second that you could succeed, given that the finger is only in your imagination anyway, what then? The cosmos will still be there, and you still won't see it.

wv says you don't play chesses very well.

chokey smurf said...

In case it wasn't clear, I was referring to anumbskull @ 9:48, though it probably applies to the next one as well.

Ricky Raccoon said...

Darn. Still busted, Jack.
That's ok. I gotta get back to work anyway. I'll find it later..

julie said...

Ricky - for later, the link is here.

Anonymous said...

There's been a schism 500 years ago.

Nominalism was introduced.

We had a bloody 20th century.

Humanity now numbers in the multi-billions.

Democracy is ascendant among the majority of nations.

Citizens of this country are well fed, educated, and recieve medical care.

In the arts, we push forward into the virtual world. The movie "Avatar" is an indicator of our crossing into this frontier.

Machine intelligence is within reach.

Space travel is about to be privatized.

The internet brings unlimited information and entertainment to the people at the push of a button.

The exploration of the genome raises the possiblity of an enhanced, extended life-span.

People have unlimited opportunity to worship, believe, enrich themselves on the accumulated wisdom of the ages, as they would.


Question: What is it exactly about these explosive, colorful, rich, vibrant times that you want to change with your rap about God?

That is the question you have been circling warily around for 5 years on this blog.

You've couched it in the negative; what you don't want. Liberals. Liztards. Moonbats. Undesirable people, made so by their undesirable ideas. Eliminate them, and one question remains.

What do you want?

Couch it differently. What is it you want, that we don't have now?

You have everything. Why do you want to change the world?

Warren said...

Aninny reminds me of a rich little kid sitting in a play room filled with every kind of wonderful toy imaginable.

"Gwow up? Why would anybody want to do dat??? Wook at all my STUFF! I can pway forever!

"You go 'way now, bad man, and wet me pway...."

son of a preacher man said...

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

Northern Bandit said...


Are you reading the same blog as the rest of us? Are you from the same planet? You have NO idea what this blog is about whatsoever. Until you become less arrogant (we were once like you, many of us) you'll get absolutely nowhere and your silly observations will continue to appear facile and slightly bizarre.

Job said...

I hope he isn't referring to the Reformation or Protestantism, ie,
The Freeing of mankind to go directly to God and setting the wheels in motion for something no other religion on earth (including Catholicism) could bring about; the writing of the US Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, both based on the freedoms found in Romans, Galatians and Ephesians, that the only way to God, is through believing on Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth and the life... NO MAN cometh unto the Father but through the Son...Not through the Pope, not through the Priests, only through that simple belief...foolishness to the Greeks (intellectuals and anninnymoose) and a stumbling block to the Romans (who thought they controlled the world).....
but, then again, I'm probably not smart enought to discern what he is really talking about

Ricky Raccoon said...

Thanks, Julie, Jack,
That’s some article. I love the last paragraph with advice from other sufferers: play more Avatar video games. AKA best cure for a hangover is…

Btw, I saw the movie again Saturday – this time in IMAX 3D. Definitely a more immersive experience than the old 3D. Anyway, brought the boy and 3 of his friends. My son seemed more excited than last time after it…in a positive way.

(Spoiler Alert)
I have to say I liked the story better the second time. I think every type of character gets pretty even treatment in the movie. A bit over-the-top stereo-typing. The main character, who plays an ex-Marine is the most appealing character in it. The most normal one in the bunch. All of the tree-huggin scientists are pretty rude and repellant, if you ask me. As far as the peace-lovin Na-vi, they’re pretty all for the war bit in the end. In fact, their reasons to fight, are, as stated in the script, “to protect their land” from invaders. They sound just like the American Conservatives I know. I like ‘em.

Susannah said...

I don't get it with the depressives re: Avatar. I've always been pretty happy with the Earth as it is. Maybe it's just where we've lived. I see beauty every single day. I also can't fathom wanting to give up on a life blessed with family, friends... But then, there's no joy to be had without gratitude, and there's no expressing gratitude without knowing Whom to thank. Talk about your vast-y spiritual emptiness.

Gagdad Bob said...


The Founders came as close as anyone to enunciating in practical terms the "third way" we will be discussing -- one that gives priority to the vertical while not denying the horizontal at all. They were specifically attempting to avoid the European extremes.

Susannah said...

I'm w/ Job, by the way. Though not "Reformed" as the term is used now, I reap the blessings of the Reformation every single day.

maineman said...

So the last 500 years have been a kind of rocky adolescence? Is that it?

Anonymous said...

I have read all of Bob's material.

I understand it quite well. I could prove it so by taking any kind of quiz you or Bob could devise. Feel free.

Bob is a capable philosopher and historian, a bright mind, at genius level in his ability to analyze the writing of various thinkers, and at an artisan level in his ability to use metaphor in both linking and separating complex blocks of thought.

I would call him a prodigy; he is valuable as a teacher. That's one level.

The other level is: he makes jihad on a segment of the populace. Surely you have noticed? Look at the title of this post, at all posts.

Facile and bizarre I may be; asleep I am not. The juxtoposition of the genius teacher with the disatisified politician is the salient point.

This juxtoposition should not be; it is a "glitch in the matrix." It is like a place where gravity is found to be no longer operant. It has to be studied.

You will find that all religious thinkers, at a certain point, become globally compassionate and relaxed.

Bob as ascended quite high on the vertical axis, yet no global compassion. He has not relaxed. This is odd, and it gets my attention.

Hence the questions.

Ricky Raccoon said...

You sound like a robot.

Susannah said...

What does "globally compassionate and relaxed" mean? Ya mean like Rev. Wright? Actually, Bob strikes me as pretty relaxed and good-natured...as are most folks who possess a sense of humor.

Uh, me said...

I'm with Job.

Dang those pesky scriptures! The Catholic church has never been the same since common folk started thinking they could just read 'em for themselves.

Shoot, folk dealin' directly with the Living God without the help of them's who studied up on it? What has the world come to?

And dang all those scriptures referrin' to predestination, chosen, called, the sovereignty of God and what not. Its like a theme or sumthin runnin' through the whole book. Ain't I got no free will? Oh, well I guess so since I'm writin' this.

I say we make an entirely new, modern Bible that's more fittin' with the times. More accomodatin', more horizontal (if ya know wut ah mean). Shouldn't it be a "living document", after all? Or, we could just make sure folks feel free to cross-out whatever don't suit 'em.

There's the ticket.

B. Marley said...


What's whit all de questions mon?
'ave some compassion for da mon.
Dee wurld is not just as you might tink it.
Ehhh relax mon.

Joan of Argghh! said...

Drive-by comment, forgive me, but Ray Charles singing with Van Morrison is a wholesome distraction.

by-the-book said...


Mind giving us a detailed outline describing the steps involved in spiritual development leading to enlightenment?
I want to make sure I'm doing it correctly [not to mention the secret desire to become as fly (or would a better term be groovy?)as you].

w.v. myonaral


julie said...

Off topic, but this is interesting. Particularly the comments:


the word has been around forever. leave it dems to wrap themselves in the word, while simultaneously inventing a newer way to turn it into a synonym for failure. I'll never hear/use the word again without thinking about the miserable failures of obama.

I'm glad I'm not paying taxes in Washington (as far as I know).

Sal said...

Just a note- this is going to be a year of hermitage, so if anyone has any prayer requests, send them on, to the blog comments at my place or e-mail: sbb19@hotmail.com.

You're all covered in a general way, but I can be specific.

This was the plan last year, but I got a little side-tracked... now it's serious.

wv: trials. really.

Van said...

"This is one of the problems with being a mere intellectual; that is, one is susceptible to giving far more weight to ideas than they warrant. But the psychoanalyst in me tends to see ideas as mere "cover stories" for much deeper processes."

Agreed... with the option of substituting ... something else for 'psychoanalyst', as the case may be. But here,

"These processes are largely irrational."

, seems... like entering the closet of the room we're still outside of... 'pre-rational' maybe?

Van said...

"Perhaps a better way of saying it is that they can be "irrational" or "a-rational," meaning that they can fail to ascend to reason, or that they can transcend it from above."


Ok, sorry, putting the fingers away until I finish the post.

Gagdad Bob said...

Search of the day:

Doofus or doofi anonymous 12 steps

anonymous doofi said...

Ya mean there's an actual program for me?

Warren said...

Job, Susannah, et al,

Glad to see some of the Coon-Prots (Prot-Coons?) speaking up! You folks have been somewhat under-represented in these discussions, unfortunately.

I know I've probably made one or two comments here that have given offense to Protestants, without my intending it - yet none of you has ever jumped my case about it. I just want you to know how much I appreciate your courtesy, and that I will always do my best to reciprocate.

Really, the differences between Protestants and Catholics that once loomed so large, seem insignificant in the face of a hostile pagan culture that hates us all equally. We're really on the same team these days. At least that's how I see it.

Susannah said...

That's how I see it too, Warren. :) When I think "the Church," it is always in terms of the universal body of Christ. The charismatic renewal (back in my parents' day) cut across denominational and Catholic/Protestant lines and I was born of that era...

Van said...

aninnymouse said
-"I have read all of Bob's material. I understand it quite well."
-"The other level is: he makes jihad on a segment of the populace. Surely you have noticed?"

One of these things doesn't go with the other.

Have you considered the possibility that since both lines produce much laughter here, especially together, perhaps the fact that you're not getting the joke indicates that you not only don't understand the material 'quite well', but are in real danger of becoming the joke?

I'd explain it further, but... you know... if you're not laughing to begin with, explaining it isn't likely to help.

But thanks all the same.

mushroom said...

What this brings to mind is Paul's near-chant in 1 Corinthians 1:22-24,
For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; (i.e., reason) but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Colin said...

Protestants and Authority

phil g said...

"improvisational orthoparadoxical bohemian classical liberal neo-traditionalism"

Easy for you to say.

Ricky Raccoon said...

That's the one, Mushroom.

Anonymous said...

Here's a thought: what if OC could be a 12-step for doofi?

...although a 12-step where everyone gets ridiculed for asking may not get much overt traffic...

..and a 12-step where no one at the table has achieved that which is sought after...

yeah, never mind.
Bob doesn't want to be a spiritual leader anyway.

Anonymous said...

Bob's too busy poking sticks at the left to be a spiritual leader.

That's his version of living la vida meditacion y devocion.

And leader or not, he has followers. They just don't gno it.

Ricky Raccoon said...

Do you ever (gulp) get the feeling you're being followed?

Gradus said...


"Question: What is it exactly about these explosive, colorful, rich, vibrant times that you want to change with your rap about God? ... You have everything. Why do you want to change the world?"

Cf. Matthew 4:1-11

{8} Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. {9} "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." {10} Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'" {11} Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Anonymous, you are wandering in the desert, far from the kingdom of God.

Warren said...

>> a 12-step where everyone gets ridiculed for asking

Ho! You should be grateful for Bob-Roshi's grandmotherly kindness.

Job said...

Wasn't meaning to hyperventilate or anythin...or ruin a good thought..
But while I applaud and condone the "third way" attempt, man, I just gotta say it's sorta like tap dancing through a minefield.... blindfolded......
You are a whole lot smarter than me but I don't know if it is enough to keep the old wounds from reopening. Gotta stay on the Author and Finisher of the Faith. Only way through.........pretty much ever'thin else is draperies and paint......
But hey, go for it!!! It will be entertaining...

wv: persksm

the split between those using leather purses and those using man-made fibers

Job said...

I'm with anyone who can name the Name. And that is the best of the "third way".........

Now, back to my hole........