Individuals are not enough: the battle for culture

Alan Roebuck has published an important essay on the subject of what will, and what won’t, work for conservative Christians wanting to retake the culture.  His essay is prompted by arguments over the Manhattan Declaration among the conservative Protestant intelligensia.  A number of conservative Christians object to the Declaration because they say that political organization and culture war battling is a waste of time.  The only thing that matters is to convert individual souls; therefore, Christians should ignore culture and power structures and spend all their energies on evangelization.

As Roebuck points out, this view is, sociologically speaking, extremely naive.  It ignores the extent to which individuals are shaped by the surrounding laws, customs, and culture.  This culture is not determined by majority belief; it is (necessarily) imposed by an elite.

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Shia Islam endorses prostitution

I just saw this on First Things.  Assuming it’s accurate, I take back many of the positive things I’ve said about Islam over the years.  Anyone who accepts the idea of a fixed-term marriage (for terms as short as five hours!) has no idea what marriage means.

Shi’ite Muslims believe that “sigheh,” a fixed-term marriage that is automatically dissolved upon completion of its term, is an institution established by Allah through Muhammad in the Qur’an. So to aid pious pilgrims who are looking for a little short-term matrimony, the Iran has sanctioned brothels marriage chapels at Imam Reza’s shrine in Mash’had. Here are the details outlined in a document obtained by

In order to elevate the spiritual atmosphere, create proper psychological conditions and tranquility of mind, the Province of the Quds’eh-Razavi of Khorassan has created centers for temporary marriage (just next door to the shrine) for those brothers who are on pilgrimage to the shrine of our eighth Imam, Imam Reza, and who are far away from their spouses.

To that end, we call on all our sisters who are virgins, who are between the ages of 12 and 35 to cooperate with us. Each of our sisters who signs up will be bound by a two-year contract with the province of the Quds’eh-Razavi of Khorassan and will be required to spend at least 25 days of each month temporarily married to those brothers who are on pilgrimage. The period of the contract will be considered as a part of the employment experience of the applicant. The period of each temporary marriage can be anywhere between 5 hours to 10 days. The prices are as follows:

· 5 hour temporary marriage — 50,000 Tomans ($50 US)

· One day temporary marriage — 75,000 Tomans ($75 US)

· Two day temporary marriage — 100,000 Tomans ($100 US)

· Three day temporary marriage — 150,000 Tomans ($150 US)

· Between 4 and 10 day temporary marriage — 300,000 Tomans ($300 US)

Our sisters who are virgins will receive a bonus of 100,000 Tomans ($100 US) for the removal of their hymen.

A bad argument for freedom of religion

S. M. Hutchens makes important criticisms of the Manhattan Declaration (a supposed declaration of principles for conservative Christians) here.  He points out that the Declaration conflates necessary Christian beliefs (e.g. opposition to legal abortion) with secular Enlightenment beliefs (e.g. democracy and freedom of religion) about which Christians traditionally have and legitimately continue to have varying opinions.

Over at First Things, Michael Liccione defends the Declaration, and in particular the capitulation of traditional Christianity to Liberalism on the issue of religious freedom.  Mr. Liccione is by no means a mindless defender of classical liberalism; he acknowledges that Christianity has nothing to do with democracy, for example.   He does think that Christianity, rightly understood, demands freedom of religion.  His reason offered seems to me deeply flawed:

Surely, though, Christians of most stripes have learned from history that they cannot reasonably claim religious freedom for people who share their theology while denying it to those who don’t, or who have no theology at all.

Let’s see how well this reasoning holds up for another case:

I cannot reasonably claim a right to tell children that it’s good to eat their vegetables if I don’t endorse the right of somebody else to tell children that it’s good to eat poison.

But yes I can!!!  Here’s one difference that it’s reasonable to note:  the one belief is true and beneficial while the other belief is false and harmless.  When I allow one to advocate the former belief but not the latter, I’m not giving myself an unfair break over the other guy.  The judgement has nothing to do with me versus him; it has to do with one belief versus another.  We are certainly not obliged to judge all beliefs to be equal.  Not only may be discriminate between beliefs, it is impossible in practice not to.  If there’s anything unreasonable about using state power to promote some religious beliefs and discourage others, Mr. Liccone has yet to show it.  (I’m assuming, for the moment, that he’s defending the American conception of religious freedom.)

Great atheism parody on Taki’s Mag

Just when I thought that Taki’s Magazine had completely gone to hell, they give us this dead-on parody of the arrogant but clueless atheist.

I got worried by the first paragraph’s “I wish the rest of the world was like me.”  It seemed like the satirist was laying it on a bit too thick.  Most real atheists aren’t that obvious about their self-adulation.  He really hit his stride in the second paragraph, though, in which he describes his great childhood triumph of discovering that Santa Claus doesn’t really exist.  He perfectly captures the importance Santa Claus (or something equivalent) holds for the cruder type of atheist.  In the minds of such simpletons, this harmless bit of childhood foolishness is the great template on which all culture is explained.  Their entire adult intellectual lives are an attempt to recapture this, their greatest triumph:  the realization that Christmas presents come from your parents, not Santa Claus.

Next, he goes on–like many a real atheist would–to equating Christianity to belief in Santa Claus, because thinking men should notice contradictions in the Bible.  He gives the example “no infallible God would establish an “eternal” covenant, only to change His mind, revoke it later, and then suddenly pull a New Covenant out of his ass.”  Now, the satirist must have known that this would be just about the worst possible example for a real atheist to give, since the fulfillment of the Old Covanent in the New is perhaps the most impressive case of God’s consistency–how He fulfilled His promises in a more spectacular way than could have been imagined, not only inspite of the unfathfulness of the Jews, but actually by means of their unfaithfulness.  For example, by having Christ belong to David’s line, God did better than just make sure that descendents of David would control some piece of land perpetually; He made one descendent the eternal king of the universe (even, remarkably enough, before David himself was born).

Finally, the author excoriates liberals for refusing to alter their worldview to accomodate “facts”.  He then lists a number of “factual statements” that liberals should accept.  Like a real atheist, he seems not to distinguish empirical, ontological, and moral facts–“women commit domestic violence” vs “collective guilt isn’t real” vs “ends don’t justify means”–and speaks as if they can all be verified in the same way.  I’ve seen this in real atheists; for admirers of David Hume, they stumble a lot over that is/ought distinction.  (How many times have you heard that democracy or sexual equality are “scientific”?)  This part was done with just the right amount of subtlety.

Maybe there is more than just celebrity gossip on Taki’s now.

Wait, this was a satire, right?

Searching for the pure thing

In my last post, I said that the patriot needs to be able to identify and cling to some aspect of their nation that is good and pure.  He can certainly acknowledge faults in his country, past and present.  Still, he can’t imagine that he himself and his generation are the source of the nation’s goodness.  There must be something entitled to judge them rather than they it, something to which they must aspire to be worthy.  For example, suppose God Almighty came down from Heaven and charged the founders of nation X with doing Y.  Suppose every generation of X has culpably failed to do Y, but they did at least carry on the memory that Y is what they’re supposed to be doing.  This would be enough; a divine charge and an active tradition of remembering it would be a pure thing on which patriotism might grow.

A people will fight hard to not have this, their North Star, taken away from them.  Sometimes it does happen.  Many Americans have come to accept the Civil Rights critique.  They see our past as utterly shameful, and they see injustice as the very essence of pre-Obama American society.  What can they do?  First, they may renounce patriotism altogether, become cosmopolitan liberals, and try to eradicate their despised homeland through mass immigration.  Those desperate for an alternative become neoconservatives.  These claim to admire the one pure thing from our past not in America’s actual, historical communities, but in a set of abstract propositions:  freedom of speech, limited government, checks and balances, the free market, etc.  This, of course, is really no alternative at all.  The neoconservatives are really liberal cosmopolitans of another sort; they also have traded a real community for abstractions.  In this sense, the neoconservatives’ Zionism is actually their most attractive feature, because at least they admit that somewhere in the world there’s a nation that is not “propositional”, but represents an actual people.

What about abortion, America’s other candidate for greatest crime?  In a comment here, rkirk argues that this is a guilt from which we Americans may actually be able to extricate ourselves.  After all, feticide is not a distinctly American practice.  Nor have we always accepted it.  Surely one could plausibly (and even truly) lay the blame for this massacre on liberalism, an ideological parasite that has attached itself to the American host but could theoretically be separated.

I think rkirk is right.  Liberalism, though, goes very deep in the American psyche.  It has been our ruling ideology from the beginning.  The task of American conservatives is to convince their countrymen that their community is good, but its legitimating ideology is dangerous and false.  This will be tremendously difficult, because America and liberalism (“freedom”) are so tightly connected in most Americans’ minds–a result of long years of childhood indoctrination.

I’ve addressed this issue more fully here.

A second dose of original sin

Piety demands that a man honor his father and his country.  What is one to do, though, if one’s father or country is demonstrably bad?  I don’t mean just having normal human failings–piety looks past these things.  I mean, suppose one’s father is a serial killer, or that conquering and enslaving foreigners is an integral part of the national life?

To admit one’s own failings is practically painful, but theoretically straightforward.  We know we are sinners, and we know better than to “believe in ourselves”.  When the sin belongs to our ancestors, things are more tricky.  Reverence for them is not just a matter of justice; it’s part of the perfection of being a man.  Feeling that one has noble ancestors of whom one must strive to be worthy is part of the good life.  Parents and countries are icons of God that, if tarnished, cannot be replaced.  A man who lacks these objects of reverence, perhaps through no fault of his own and despite how saintly he might otherwise become, will be spiritually scarred all his life.  Such a person has been dealt a double dose of original sin.

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Why, for the pro-life movement, to rest is to die

Whenever elections come around, Republicans always start pleading for a “truce” on social issues.  This truce is, of course, entirely one-sided.  It’s not like they’ve made an agreement with the ACLU or the gay activists for an end to agitation on the other side.  That itself should tip us off that the truce in question is actually an unconditional surrender.  In any event, social conservatives, and the pro-life movement (or as I like to call it, the “fetal-rights movement”) can never lay down its arms for a second.  If it did, it could never pick them up again.

Let me start out by stating a fact that everyone knows but no one at any point on the political spectrum will say, because it’s in no one’s interest to say it:  abortion will never be restricted in the United States in any serious way.  Never.  Not in a million years.  Americans would legalize cannibalism before they would restrict abortion.  They would elect Darth Vader president before they would restrict abortion.  They would turn over the country to foreign conquerers before they would allow any woman to be denied the right or opportunity (including, if necessary, the funds) to murder her prenatal child.  The stated purpose of the pro-life movement–to illegalize abortion–is utterly hopeless.

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The Right remembers

Some good history posts from our end of the ideological spectrum:

Paul Cella remembers the Turkish invasion of Cyprus.

John Rao remembers the crime of the nineteenth century–the Risorgimento–and tells the story of the brave Catholics who volunteered to defend the Papal States.

Jerry Sayler on how the Leftist bigots in England wanted the July 20 plot against Hitler to fail.

Buddhism: the good, the bad, and the dangerous

Despisers of Christianity, i.e. the “spiritual but not religious” crowd, will often cite Buddhism as their ideal of what religion should be:  private, nondogmatic, and nonmoralistic.  This has no doubt prejudiced me severely (and probably unfairly) against Buddhism, both because I’m a Christian and because I’m a communitarian moralistic dogmatist (and proud of it).  As a conservative, one of my chief concerns is to maintain the sacred aura surrounding family and community.  These are things I don’t want the Buddhist ethos of detatchment to touch.

Fortunately, our reader Daniel has posted some fascinating comments on the positive and negative aspects of Buddhism.  Daniel has studied this religion extensively and even spent some time as a member, so his opinions carry far more weight than mine.  Our exchange can be read here.  Below is a crucial part of his analysis.

[Buddhism] is indeed a religion of renunciation and, especially, detachment. The goal of the good Buddhist is to sever all ego-attachments, up to and including the attachment to enlightenment. The very excellent side of this detachment philosophy hinges on the doctrine of EGO detachment. One is meant to differentiate between one’s ego, which is temporal, and one’s true nature (or Buddha-nature) which is eternal, and therefore is the property of Brahman, or God. One studiously renounces the immanent self in favor of the numinous Self.This is actually excellent practice, I still believe.

The problem with Buddhism is something I think you hit on very squarely in your original post. It assumes that the immanent is somehow different in kind from the numinous self. I have come in my own life to reconfirm that the sacred and the profane meet together in the human soul in a way that is inextricable. That is, what makes us fallible is the very same stuff that makes us the brothers of angels. Selfishness and ego-centrism, to be sure, are still to be avoided. But extinction of the “small” self is not desirable or even possible, because it is the “small self” that one should desire to make large. Not large like a rival of God (that is Satan’s way), but open and peaceful and strong, like Christ. But still one’s SELF… not just some released flame. Christ and God save individual souls, not abstractions.

I’m not sure who said it first, but I heard it first from a fellow Anglican with Buddhist training (or Buddhist with Anglican training), Alan Watts, “Buddhism is Hinduism stripped for export.” That is, it takes the metaphysics of the classical Indian world and strips them of all particularity, leaving pure philosophy behind.

Of all the major world religions, Buddhism is the one of which I’m most suspicious, not necessarily because it’s the most intrinsically destructive, but because it’s the one that is least incompatible with the liberal system.  The liberals will have much less trouble crushing our historical religion if they can offer a people a more pliable spiritual outlet.  I can imagine the widespread adoption of a new religion:  hedonistic Buddhism.  (Yes, I know, it’s oxymoronic, but just you wait.)

Stephen puts a former altar boy in his place

I found this post on the Guild Review immensely gratifying.  Stephen is responding to an attack on the Catholic Church by someone who presumes to be an expert on the subject because–you guessed it–he used to be an altar boy.

…please–please–do not begin our discussion with “I used to be an altar boy.” If you start out that way, I will stop listening.


Because it shows me that what you’re really trying to do is to forestall any criticism of your opinions. You’re trying to impress me with your credentials, rather than engaging in an honest dialog. You’re setting youself up as some kind of an authority, when you never got past a child’s understanding of the Church.

Do you realize, by the way, just how ridiculous you sound when you claim to speak authoritatively about the Church just because you were an altar boy twenty years ago? That’s like claiming you’re an expert on the theory of relativity because you won first prize in a science fair in grade school.

For some reason, everybody imagines that he or she is an expert on the Roman Catholic Church.  I’ve never met someone who didn’t think he could pontificate on this one subject without even bothering to read up on what the church actually teaches and why.  (I know, I know.  I do a lot of pontificating on Catholicism myself.  Fortunately, I’ve got my erudite readership to tell me when I get too far out of line.  I can console myself with the knowledge that I really am an expert on the theory of relativity, though.)

The Guild Review is well worth your time, by the way.  You can get to it from my list of links to the right.