Who is “Boswell”?

Michael Paterson-Seymour shares with us Ronald Knox’s brilliant satire of biblical scholarship:  “Materials for a Boswellian Problem”.  My first impression is to be amazed at the care that seems to have gone into this work of mock-scholarship.

The Jews that it’s okay to bully

The Orthodox, of course.  You’re not supposed to give the New York Times/Hollywood/ACLU bunch so much as a sideways glance, or heaven help you, but you can criminalize those who want to follow Mosaic law, and that’s a perfectly progressive thing to do.  What’s going on?

Another example of the same thing:  When orthodox Christians are accused of antisemitism, they often respond by saying how much they admire Orthodox Jews or how much they support Israel, and this never works.  Nobody ever says “oh, well you’re okay then”.  It just means you’re one of those Fiddler-on-the-Roof-watching-pretend-friends-of-Jews who’s just waiting for the moment to show your true colors and strike.

Actually, I suspect that for our elite the Orthodox are only Jews for body-count purposes.  (If we only counted Hitler’s Western secular Jewish victims, the number wouldn’t be nearly so impressive.)  When they demand that Christians accept and approve the Jews, they mean the secular, liberal, degenerate Jews.  Saying you approve of one of the more pious branches of Judaism doesn’t buy you anything.  Nor does saying you support Israel, no matter how uncritically.  They suspect (and perhaps there is some truth to it) that Gentiles think of the State of Israel as a giant ghetto for the world’s Jews, and what we fear about an Arab victory is having to take those Jews back.

If disapproving and disliking liberal Jews makes one an antisemite, then of course conservatives will always be judged guilty of antisemitism.  On the other hand, let’s look at who is the attacker and who the defender here.  Christians don’t like liberal Jews because the latter are attacking their culture.  It’s self-defense.  On the other hand, with these bans on circumcision and kosher slaughter, it’s clearly the secular Leftists who have thrown the first punch at observant Jews who were just minding their own business.

This shouldn’t surprise us.  The Left is progressive, and progress is always aggressive, although that’s often only clear to those who are being “progressed” into.

Does historical-critical scholarship on the Bible have anything to offer the believer?

No, it doesn’t.

Yes, I know you won’t hear a blunt answer like that even from Pope Benedict, who praises Bible criticism in Jesus of Nazareth while pleading the ridiculously humble case that other ways of studying the bible might have some value too.  Even the supreme pontiff, the vicar of Christ, must cringe before bible scholars.

That’s why I find skepticism like that expressed by Bruce here and by C. S. Lewis here so refreshing.  For some reason, laymen don’t seem to be as intimidated by self-assured scholars as clerics tend to be.  As both links point out, the critics’ “disproofs” of Christianity (or Judaism) rely on circular reasoning–take a methodology that assumes miracles and revelation don’t happen and then use them to prove that miracles and revelation don’t happen.  Bruce emphasizes the danger of having our understanding of the meaning of scripture depend on the consensus of unbelieving scholars rather than saints and tradition.  Lewis questions the scholars’ reckless confidence in teasing out “true” meanings of ancient texts that have supposedly eluded believers for centuries.

All theology of the liberal type involves at some point – and often involves throughout – the claim that the real behaviour and purpose and teaching of Christ came very rapidly to be misunderstood and misrepresented by his followers, and has been recovered or exhumed only by modern scholars… The idea that any… writer should be opaque to those who lived in the same culture, spoke the same language, shared the same habitual imagery and unconscious assumptions, and yet be transparent to those who have none of these advantages, is in my opinion preposterous. There is an a priori improbability in it which almost no argument and no evidence could counterbalance….

Reviewers [of my own books, and of books by friends whose real history I knew] both friendly and hostile… will tell you what public events had directed the author’s mind to this or that, what other authors influenced him, what his over-all intention was, what sort of audience he principally addressed, why – and when – he did everything… My impression is that in the whole of my experience not one of these guesses has on any one point been right; the method shows a record of 100 per cent failure.

The ‘assured results of modern scholarship’, as to the way in which an old book was written, are ‘assured’, we may conclude, only because those who knew the facts are dead and can’t blow the gaff… The Biblical critics, whatever reconstructions they devise, can never be crudely proved wrong. St. Mark is dead. When they meet St. Peter there will be more pressing matters to discuss.

As for the Old Testament biblical criticism, my religion doesn’t require me to believe that the Torah came direct and complete from the mouth of Moses.  If the documentary hypothesis, “deutero-Isaiah” and the rest turn out to be true, it wouldn’t bother me.  Still, I’m skeptical.  How has this ability to extract authors been tested?  Have they ever had a half dozen authors each write their own version of the same story, had a redactor combine the stories into one, then had the final product presented to a bunch of biblical scholars to see if they could successfully disentangle which passages belong together and how each of the component stories differ?  One shouldn’t trust any measurement technique that hasn’t been tested against problems with known answers.  The only case that I would expect such extraction to be reliably achievable would be if the authors had entirely different grammatical styles, e.g. if someone glued together passages from Shakespeare and Hemingway.  But if it’s that obvious, how could the Israelites have never noticed?  How could “Isaiah” change his writing style abruptly by centuries-worth of changes and nobody notice?  What the bible scholars say may in some cases be true, but if so, if will be as a lucky guess, not a warranted conclusion.

Regardless, Bruce is right to insist that this sort of secular scholarship should not affect how we read the Bible.  Christians believe that God is the ultimate author of the text, so what the human writer may have intended is not important.  All we care about is what God wants us to get out of it, and that we learn only through Christ as the fulfillment of scripture, and through the traditions and teaching authority of the Church.

As for New Testament criticism, the Christian must reject it wholesale.  It’s all argument of the “under the assumption that it can’t be true, we prove that it can’t be true” type.  We have nothing to learn from this.  We just have to make sure we allocate a few apologists to refuting it, while the rest of us go our way and focus on more important things.

John Locke frees God

Peter Lawler has written an interesting essay on the way American self-understanding is shaped by Lockean individualism and a sort of Augustinian Christian alienation from the world.  He makes the strongest case that can be made (which still isn’t very strong) that Locke and Christianity are in practical harmony, but sometimes he tries too hard:

The most noble Lockean interpretation of the Constitution of 1787′s silence on God is that it’s anti-civil theological. It can be criticized for not placing our country “under God,” or for liberating political will from divine limits—for turning man into God. Or it can be praised for limiting the realm of political will, for freeing creatures and Creator from political domination for being who they truly are.

The Founders are even more wonderful than we had been told.  Not only did they bring freedom to a world languishing in tyranny–they’ve freed God Almighty Himself!  I wonder what our Lord will do now that He’s been freed of the shackles of having a public cult devoted to Him.

Even putting aside this literalistic reading, the claim Lawler makes is rather perverse.  Christians feel alienated from the world because of the Fall; therefore we must cultivate this alienation by having the State refuse to recognize God’s authority.  And by refusing to recognize the truth of Christianity, the State recognizes the truth of Christianity, because the truth of Christianity is alienation, and the more alienated Christians feel from the political order, the more Christian it must be!

There are other things to object to in the essay–the way it characterizes civic republicanism as reducing individuals to fodder for the State is unfair–but there are also things to agree with in it.  In particular, Lawler deserves credit for acknowledging that a restructuring of the public order in a purely Lockean direction would be a very bad thing.

Blogging midlife crisis

The end of the modern world, etc has ended.  The Western Confucian has announced that he’ll be retiring soon.  Don Colacho’s Aphorisms has completed itself.  Several other of my blogroll links (Off the RecordZippy CatholicCosmos, Liturgy, Sex) have long since gone silent or disappeared entirely.  Witnessing the end of blogs, it hits me:  this isn’t a young blog anymore.  I’m often still in the mindset that I’m “establishing myself” on the internet, but really, this site is over two years old.  That’s about the lifetime for many blogs.  This is a middle-aged blog, not a blog on the rise.  I’ve got up to around 500 hits per day, and that’s probably as high as I’m going (or even want to go):  I’ve saturated the audience for a blog like this.  Like a man confronting his mortality upon the death of friends, I ask myself:  What do I want to do with this blog long-term?  And how long do I want to keep it going?

Short-term the answer is simple:  coast.  I spent a lot of time ironing out the philosophy on which this blog is based and putting it down in my longer essays.  Now I can just let current events roll in and apply my philosophy to them.  Actually, this “easier” stuff has done better at bringing in readers than my more involved essay and book review efforts.  My last really big essay, “Aristotle and Evolution”, just about killed my readership, because for a month I posted nothing but one long-running philosophical argument.  To be honest, if it were some other blogger doing something like this, I probably wouldn’t read it.  Why did I expect other people to?

The thing about the essays, though, is that they’re more for me than for anyone else.  They force me to do a lot of research and hard thinking.  Long-term, that’s the only thing that gets me excited.  Ironically, I have a very progressive mindset.  Just standing still and turning over the same ideas doesn’t seem worthwhile as my sole recreation (which is what this blog is).  What’s more, I feel the need to produce something, even with my leisure.  There’s no reason that I shouldn’t spend my free time contemplating the mystery of the Trinity, say, but it only really seems worthwhile to me if I end up publishing some conclusions.  Maybe it’s the “YOU MUST PUBLISH” mindset I’ve picked up in academia.  It may not be healthy, but it’s there.

I’m nowhere near calling it quits.  (Sorry Dan.)  From all the dead blogs I’ve come across, there several reasons people quit.

  1. The burn out.  They get tired of spending all their time bitching about the liberals, the feminists, or whatever.  They decide to put all that aside and concentrate on family, friends, and other more pleasant (and more important) things.
  2. They had something limited and definite to say, and they’ve said it.
  3. They get too busy to continue.

I’ve never heard of someone quitting because they lost their audience, but then I wouldn’t hear about those cases, would I?

In my case though, I’ve got a lot more material in my head.  (The challenge is making time to write posts.)  Writing essays and posts makes the time I spend thinking about religion and politics seem more worthwhile and more serious.  And there’s the fact that I’ve got this audience now, and when I lose it, it’s not coming back.  If I’ve got anything to say, I’d better say it now.

Long-term, I’ve got some new projects in mind.  I’ve been wanting to do

  1. An essay on climate modeling–what we can and can’t trust.  It seems like reactionaries might appreciate having someone with my training and their sympathies going over the science.  Also, I’m teaching a class in radiation hydrodynamics in the fall, so maybe I could mine this material for examples and homework problems.
  2. An commentary on the first chapter of Genesis.  Since I read the last two books of Augustine’s Confessions, I’ve been fired up about this.  I’ve got a feeling this one might never happen though, because I’ll never take the time to read enough of the commentary literature already out there.
  3. An essay on the Trinity–a culmination of my religion essays with an actual defense of Christianity.  I’ve got major pieces of the argument in place, but I want to read through what the Church Fathers had to say on this subject before I start mouthing off.
  4. A non-physicist’s introduction to quantum field theory, so that non-scientists will be ready to rebut claims that virtual particles invalidate the cosmological argument and stuff like that.  Also to give an idea how cool this stuff is.
  5. Some posts fleshing out neofeudalism.  I’ll probably make some efforts in this direction, but, really, if economics is what you’re interested in, you should be reading Collapse:  The Blog.  Proph has more-or-less similar sympathies as this blog, and he’s done his homework.

Of course, given my schedule, it may take years to get to these things.  Who knows if anyone will still be reading this blog by then?  Blogs don’t last forever.

On implicit racism

LIBERAL (a bit of a straw-man perhaps, but representative):  White people are all racists.  And they control everything and use their privilege to keep the black man down.  Republicans are the racist party who defend white privilege.

ME: But Republicans say they believe in racial equality and abhor discrimination.

LIBERAL: They’re lying.

ME:  How do you know?

LIBERAL:  They send coded racist messages to their followers.  They say they’re talking about “crime” or “immigration” or “multiculturalism”, but we know what they mean.

ME:  Suppose that’s true.  Suppose people vote for Republicans because they like the (implicitly) racist message.  Why be so subtle about it?  Why not openly advertise that they’re the racist party?  After all, whites are the majority, and you’ve said they’re all racist.  You’d think open racism would be a real vote-getter.

LIBERAL:  Whites are racists, but they’re afraid to admit it openly.  That’s why Republicans don’t openly espouse racism, and voters don’t openly vote for them for this reason.

ME:  Then I have two questions for you.  First, if whites control everything and manipulate everything to promote racism, what are racist whites afraid of?  If it’s a racist establishment, why should they expect anything bad to happen to them for being open racists?  Second, aren’t you bothered that, by your own admission, the majority of the electorate feels intimidated and terrorized so that it can’t openly express its true beliefs?  How do you square that with your belief in free exchange of ideas and with democracy?  We’re not even talking about just a few people feeling they can’t freely say what they believe.  If you’re right that most whites are closet racists, it’s the majority of the citizenry that feels that way.  Which brings me back to my first question.  If the establishment is racist, and you liberals are daring rebels, what force is it that’s holding the white majority in fear?

Rules of public debate

Some of the ones that really irritate me:

  1. One is allowed to oppose gay “marriage”, but one is not allowed to give a reason for why one opposes it.  In particular, one must disavow any belief in normative gender roles.  Having conceded that the sexes are interchangeable, one is reduced to saying “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman” as a matter of arbitrary definition.  If pressed on this point, the speaker will stress his support for civil unions (because, after all, we are reasonable, and we believe sodomy should receive some encouragement from the State) and fall into embarrassed silence.  In other words, the rules of the debate is that only one side gets to argue, and that side gets to keep arguing until the public gives in.
  2. Any non-utilitarian reasoning is “religious” and therefore unreasonable, and therefore excluded.  I really cannot find anything religious, in the normal sense of the word, in arguments against abortion, embryo-destructive research, gay “marriage”, euthanasia, and immigration.  Opposition isn’t based on Benthamite pleasure vs. pain calculations. and that seems to be enough to make it “religious”.
  3. Non-liberals are categorized by their presumed feelings rather than their actual beliefs.  A “racist” isn’t someone who believes proposition X but a person who allegedly has negative feelings about group Y.  An argument is presumed invalid if the one presenting it does so with racist/anti-semitic/intolerant motives, and the onus is on the non-liberal to prove he doesn’t have such motives.
  4. Non-liberals are also presumed to have psychological problems.  One must prove that one doesn’t have an irrational fear of Muslims or the normalization of sodomy.  Arguing that fear of these things is rational will be taken as proof that one does, in fact, harbor such neuroses.
  5. To be respectable, one must “come to terms” with the shameful past of our people.  The only past there is to come to terms with consists exclusively of the Holocaust, slavery, mistreatment of Native Americans, and the Crusades (but not the centuries of provocation that caused them).  Coming to terms is not a one-time thing.  It requires a lifetime of groveling and impious denigration of one’s ancestors.  Disagreeing with Jewish or Negro-representing groups on any issue is a sign that one has not sufficiently “come to terms”.
  6. Contesting past liberal victories makes one a kook.  An issue is only settled when it’s settled to a liberal’s satisfaction.  So, for example, someone who wants to undo the New Deal is an extremist, but FDR was not an extremist to have introduced the New Deal, even though we’re talking about the same change, but in reverse.  Mainstream conservatives who reject gay marriage but accept easy divorce are lambasted as hypocrites, but traditional conservatives who reject both are monstrous radicals.  Restricting divorce would turn us into a “theocracy”, but the liberals never told us when they were introducing easy divorce that they were overthrowing and replacing the nation’s constitution.  Yet if divorce law is the difference between democracy and theocracy, this must have been what they did.

Mystical Christian reactionaries: another type of conservative

My esteemed fellow reactionary blogger Bruce Charlton has read my taxonomy of conservatism and failed to find a category that adequately describes his own position.  That would seem to indicate that my taxonomy is incomplete, and he proposes another type of conservative, the mystical Christian reactionary.  If I may summarize his position (hopefully Dr. Charlton will correct me if I misrepresent him), the mystical Christian reactionary asserts

  1. Social thought should base itself explicitly on Christian truth.  Christian practice should permeate all aspects of life.
  2. The primary way to make things better is prayer, liturgy, and the cultivation of sanctity.  What the world needs is not better laws but conversion to the gospel, soul by soul.
  3. The world is fallen; the telos of man (individually and corporately) is elsewhere–union with God effected by God.

I’d like to focus on this

Another aspect is that MCRs are – in a loose sense – more Platonic than Aristotelian. What I mean is that there is a kind of Platonism about the basic idea that human history as we observe it is the noisy, muddied and superficial appearance of the Unseen Warfare between Good and Evil which is its underlying reality.

This does seem to be a real difference among religious conservatives.  Not, I should emphasize, that the “Platonists” and “Aristotelians” disagree with each other on some point of principle, but that our emphases are definitely different.  The “Aristotelian” like myself emphasizes how spiritual realities can be embodied and made manifest given the right social structures and rituals.  The “Platonist” remembers that even in the best arrangements, alienation is a feature of the human condition.  Indeed it is a special glory, since it indicates that man was made for beatitude and will settle for nothing less.

The Platonist would find himself contradicted by the secular right-Hegelian, for whom alienation is always bad, and any transcendent horizon is a source of alienation.  The social conservative might be able to come to agreement with the Platonist, because for him social structures point beyond this life, authority coming from God and all that.  Still, we do have a temptation to speak as though the right social structures will make man completely at home in the world.

This brings us back to some of the objections that were raised by Christians–I believe it was Stephen in particular–when I first presented my taxonomy.  I suspect Stephen would agree that he’s a mystical Christian reactionary (or at least a mystical Christian) and less likely to paper over the effects of original sin, indeed the effects of simply not possessing the beatific vision in this life, than I am.

Mystical Christian reactionaries share some traits with a couple of my conservative types, although I agree that none of my original types describes them completely.  Like the cultural conservatives, their emphasis is on culture rather than politics.  Like the romantics, they emphasize humility in our social action, i.e. not imagining we can fix all the world’s problems with laws and advocacy.  But their humility has a different basis.  The romantic’s humility is epistemic; he claims to lack the vast knowledge needed to perfect the world.  The Christian reactionary’s humility is more radical; it’s based on the knowledge that only God can bring us to our ultimate end.

Much of Charlton’s description is at the pre-political level.  I hope he will expand it to explain how mystical Christian reactionaries understand their resistance to liberalism and their defense of reactionary institutions like the patriarchal family,  (I assume that, being reactionaries, they do do this.)  It will be interesting to see if they have a different “take” on these things than other reactionaries.

What is America’s unwritten constitution?

From my essay “Can there be an American conservatism?

Freedom is not, and cannot be, the principle that orgainizes our common life.  Nor is the proposition that “all men are created equal.”  No, the reality of American common life is not freedom, but authority.

People in other nations may be as free as we are, but an American is someone who is subject to a particular set of authorities.  The first of these is the government, whose sovereignty is divided into its federal, state, and city incarnations.  Americans use Lockean theories to justify their subjection to their State, but this is just sophistry.  Americans are morally bound to obey their federal, state, and local governments not because they have consented to it, even implicitly–for to withhold consent would be an immoral act–but because they recognize these authorities as legitimate.  This acknowledgment of legitimacy is what makes an American an American, and it is a primary goal of conservatives to establish this sense of legitimacy on its true basis.

It’s these sort of unspoken, unchosen, compulsary “givens” that American conservatives try to identify and defend.  So, for example, another taken-for-granted fact is citizenship:  some people are Americans, and other people aren’t.  A foreigner can only become an American if the state chooses to grant him citizenship.  Americans vocally espouse the principle of treating all people equally, but our unwritten constitution endorses the principle of particular loyalty.  Another given is the judiciary.  America’s laws don’t just reflect the will of the current legislature, but reflect a legal tradition developed over centuries.  Through precedent, this tradition is another legitimate authority to Americans.  A final accepted authority is that of parents over their children.  This is so taken for granted that we never mention it in discussing America’s constitution.  Yet, when a child runs away from home, the police will forcibly return the child to his parents, and nobody asks how to reconcile this with our creed of “freedom” and “equality”.  Wisdom makes us hypocrites, because if we were to take freedom and equality seriously–as the liberals wish us to do–it would destroy our society

A father’s duty to fatherhood

The traditional duties of a father are to provide, to protect, and to rule.

On a day-to-day basis, only the provider role comes into play at first.  Since Julie was born, I’ve been getting to work earlier and working harder–spending less time as “Bonald” for example.  If I can get tenure, my provider role will be pretty secure.  When I come home, I’m “daddy”.  Daddies have a special magic; they do things differently than mommies.  They toss babies, give them shoulder rides, and do more outrageous stunts to get giggles.  For their toddlers, daddies are better at chasing and roughhousing games, and they make better ponies (that is, our knees will take more punishment).  Let’s face it:  mommies may be better comforters, but we’re more fun.  Who wouldn’t want to be a daddy?  It’s the best job in the world.

As they grow older and approach the age of reason, other sides of the role come to prominence–“daddy” gives way to “father”.  A father realizes that he has a tremendous power over his child’s soul, for good or for evil.  He is the high priest of the family, whether he wants to be or not.  In his child’s eyes, he stands as a representative of God and the moral order.  If he will not speak for the moral order, his children will presume this order has nothing to say to them.  He must judge, and they must know he will judge them.  My father gave me all the affection I could have wanted, but he also let me know in no uncertain terms when I had done something wrong, and today I’m a much better man for it.  Many men don’t want this role.  They’d rather just be their child’s friend, an equal.  But the role is ours whether we would have it or not.  If we truly love our children, we will let them know what God expects of them.

The father has another role, more daunting than this.  As father, his children must revere him as piety demands; the father in turn must be a fit object to receive filial piety.  The import of our sins is magnified by the scandal they cause.  I saw this recently in Touchstone Magazine:

A friend of mine mentioned the disappointment he felt as a teenager when he saw out of the corner of his eye his father “check out” a woman walking by on the street. I never saw my dad do that, and can’t even imagine it.
My God, this frightened me.  It’s true that I never saw or imagined my father checking out women, but it requires no great effort to imagine me checking out women (consulting my recent memory will suffice).  I always considered myself a decent chap, not a saint by any means but the sort of person one wouldn’t mind having as a friend.  That’s not good enough anymore.  To be a father, to meet the bare minimum of not marring one’s children’s souls, one must be holy.  Suddenly the rigors of Christian morality make sense–I really am going to have to be Christ in the world.  I wish I had thought of this during my “scorched-ass Catholic” days, when my prayer was “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet!”  I should have always been saying to myself, “will you be able to explain this to your children someday?”  The past, unfortunately, is fixed, but at least I have some time now while Julie is a baby to rectify my soul.
Fathers understandably fear the grandeur of our office.  How much easier it would be to cast off any claims to our children’s reverance.  We know our hearts, and we know we really don’t deserve their piety.  Our tendency towards self-deprecating humor, of not taking ourselves seriously, encourages us in this temptation.  Nevertheless, it must be resisted for our children’s sake.  They need fathers, men on whom they can bestow piety, more than they need mere older friends.  We are the representatives of order now.  However much hell we raised in our youths, the revolutionaries have their guns set on us now; they and we are mortal enemies.  And not only outright revolutionaries are our enemies, but any entertainers, comedians, or children’s books authors who denigrate fatherhood, who make it the butt of their jokes, who portray fathers as foolish, selfish, or ineffectual.  If it were only our own egos, we might laugh off The Berenstain Bears (where Papa Bear always comes off as the fool) or The Simpsons.  But it is not ourselves that we need to defend, but the institution of fatherhood.  And we defend fatherhood not only (or even primarily) for our sake, but for our children, for our own fathers, and above all for our Father in heaven.  Therefore, we must be humorless when fathers are made the subject of jokes.  We must see the ridicule of fathers that pervades the world today as the Satanic movement that it is.  We must demand that fatherhood be restored to its rightful place of honor in the church, in the schools, in children’s literature, and on the television.
After decades of uncontested denigration of fathers in our culture, both popular and elite, there is beginning to arise a men’s rights movement on the internet.  Many of their goals are worthy, but I doubt men will ever demean themselves to become yet another self-seeking interest group.  Some clarification of language is in order.  What we want is not men’s rights but fathers’ authority, not rights for individuals but due recognition of a sacred office.  The demand is justice itself; God Himself set fathers over their families, to provide, to protect, and to rule.