More on neoreaction as the outsider’s perspective

As I’ve said before, I think the key difference between reaction and neoreaction is the latter’s adoption of the outsider (functionalist) perspective on the social order they wish to preserve.  Nyan Sandwich at More Right agrees with me.

NRx is the analytic rightward synthesis of the Ethno-nationalist, Techno-commercialist, and Traditionalist insight. It takes elements of each, and synthesizes them into something that actually ends up being to the right of each. Further, “analytic” means that NRx takes the sacredness structures of those components seriously, but studies and justifies them from the outside, rather than buying into them from the inside.

Traditionalism as such is often all about the sacredness of traditional social technology; the value of kneeling before your God and king, the glory of serving him, the spiritual importance of living out a virtuous life in a rooted, patriarchal, religious community. That said, some trads approach it in a much more rationalistic manner.

Unfortunately, traditional social technologies have been disrupted by the massive social effects of our recent material wealth, and have not yet had a chance to adapt to the realities of capitalism or the post-malthusian selection environment. Traditionalists are often naive about economics, and sometimes neglectful of the importance of biology and identity. Further, by taking their sacredness structures so seriously, trads have a hard time reevaluating and redesigning them as necessary.

I think this states things fairly.  (I wouldn’t have classified “techno-commercialists” as being on the Right at all, but the author was right to use peoples’ self-descriptions for the purpose of general exposition.)  Neoreaction means taking the sociologist/anthropologist’s viewpoint.  What’s wrong with this?  Nothing–it’s always legitimate to abstract certain features of a system and analyze the structure of those particular features.  However, a form of analysis that does this, that studies social function from a position of agnosticism on questions of metaphysical truth and ethical principle, must necessarily be a subordinate form of analysis.  The only valid criteria for deciding when to reevaluate and redesign “sacredness structures” have been excluded from the beginning.

The original reactionary tradition traces back to Cicero and is almost defined by its concern for the insider perspective, for highlighting the distinct value of the political community’s consensus on justice.  An insider can study how his social system was built up and works without breaking the spell–see how well Cicero does it!–but starting out with the outsider’s perspective one rarely works one’s way inside.  Although the sociologist’s perspective is an abstraction, it feels like reality, especially when the sociologist sneaks in an implicit normative structure based on maximizing stability, wealth, or the like.

41 Responses

  1. I wouldn’t have classified “techno-commercialists” as being on the Right at all

    My favorite monarchic regime is from Restoration of Charles the Second (the restoration) to the Regency of Prince George. Charles the second instituted modern capitalism, by letting joint stock corporations loose from the state. Among other things, he granted the East India Company the power to make peace and war, and turned a blind eye to the miscellaneous pirates and bandits that were the beginning of the British empire. Charles the second made science and the scientific method high status, and thus we got the positive feedback cycle predicted long ago by the thirteenth century Roger Bacon, where science and industry promotes technology, technology promotes science and industry, and in due course the industrial revolution and all that.

    Right wing enough for you?

    The only valid criteria for deciding when to reevaluate and redesign “sacredness structures” have been excluded from the beginning.

    You will notice that your sacredness structures are different from those of the Judges period Hebrews, Christianity and talmudic Judaism being equally heretical offshoots. And your Christianity different from early Christianity. The puritans claimed to return Christianity to its pure roots, but they deceived themselves, instead committing a multitude of heresies that Paul had warned against, and in particular and especially, the Pharisaical holier than thou religion that Jesus warned against.

    So, given the overly large supply of credible sacredness structures, you really have to ask “what does this sacredness do?”

    Which is exactly the question that the neoreaction discusses. See for example http://blog.jim.com/culture/memes-and-reproduction/

    For example: One of the greatest Puritan errors was desecrating marriage, de sacralizing marriage. The Puritans argued, correctly, that in the early Christian Church, marriage was not a sacrament, overlooking the fact that Old and New Testaments agree that marriage is sacred. Thus, in making marriage civil, they emulated the superficial form of the early church while destroying the substance.

    This fallacy would have been avoided if, like neoreactionaries, people had asked “why is marriage sacred, what does the sacredness of marriage do?” And then endeavored to set up institutions that did that.

  2. I’m not sure I will be able to express this, but I think neoreaction suffers from its metaphysical grounding in Newtonian enlightenment principles. Objects, including Human beings rather than having intrinsic causal powers are intrinsically passive but acted upon by outside forces (I think Edward Feser does a good job of showing why this in error in “Scholastic Metaphysics). The inevitable result is some new theory of technocracy. The neoraction admits different kinds of particles than liberal technocracy, but the underlying principle is the same. Moldbug expressly states that society is an engineering project. This kind of thinking can’t account for the existence of final causality of anything other than society (considered as whatever group they happen to regard include, perhaps race or fellow citizens) as whole (and it can’t even give a coherent account of that). Nor can neoreaction give any account of Logos or proper order inasmuch as it doesn’t directly correspond to some kind of technocratic social welfare function.

  3. “in the early Christian Church, marriage was not a sacrament”

    Is this true? If so, I assume the Catholic & Orthodox belief is that marriage as a sacrament developed as part of the organic, guided-by-the-Holy-Spirit journey of the Church.

  4. Right wing enough for you?

    Right as Robespierre.

    This fallacy would have been avoided if, like neoreactionaries, people had asked “why is marriage sacred, what does the sacredness of marriage do?” And then endeavored to set up institutions that did that.

    And if Lenin had had around some neoreactionaries to explain to him that capitalism was actually a good idea . . .

  5. james127,

    Charles II’s policies, as you describe them, sound like a mix of good and bad. (I disapprove of piracy and lawless companies myself.) None of them sound distinctly “Right” or “Left”.

  6. I assume the Catholic & Orthodox belief is that marriage as a sacrament developed as part of the organic, guided-by-the-Holy-Spirit journey of the Church.

    The way the wind blows, the Church, or at least its American and European branches, is going to determine that gay sex is sacred, while cisnormative sex (or whatever the latest PC term is, I have probably missed a “phobic” or two) is oppression, exploitation, and rape.

    At which point you are probably going to decide that that decision was not guided by the holy spirit.

    But, in order to draw such conclusions, that one change is valid, and the other heresy, you will have to examine the intent, purpose, and effect of making marriage a sacrament – you will have to engage in neoreactionary analysis, neo reactionary critique, or be drawn ever leftwards as the church moves ever leftwards, eventually disappearing, in the same way as puritans became unitarians, and unitarians became Harvard militant atheists.

  7. > But, in order to draw such conclusions [of heresy], that one change is valid, and the other heresy, you will have to examine the intent, purpose, and effect of making marriage a sacrament – you will have to engage in neoreactionary analysis

    There are certainly other resources to draw upon, from straightforward Biblical exegesis to natural law ethics. The latter certainly does consider the purpose and effect of marriage, but from a much different perspective than neoreaction (i.e. more focused on the virtue of the participants than the overall functioning of society). This is what I mean by complaining that the neoreactionaries think they’re the only game in town.

  8. I wonder if secular and Christian conservatives could or should use certain Buddhist ideas as a common language to communicate with each other? It is useful because it is – in this way I propose it at least – very Ockhamite, it does not multiply entities, it rather reduces them.

    Basically this: kneeling before a king and similar stuff are good not simply because it maintains a useful social order, gets you a reward from the king, or from God, or because it validates a sacred order and thus the ordered structure of reality itself. These all are multiplied entitites that assume something outside the act and the person doing the act.

    It is possible to valide this without moving outside the person: we can say is useful because it reduces your own ego and this in itself, without even the reference to anything beyond yourself, is good. It makes you happier because it is more like the built-in tyrant screaming in your own brain (“Bring me pleasure! Bring me glory! Now!”) becomes less loud. We know or at least should know, that satisfying a desire is pleasurable only because it makes the inner tyrant shut up for a while. Therefore, any other way to make it shut up or yell less loud – such as practicing humility – is similarly pleasurable as satisfying desires. Then, it is useful because it makes you more agreeable to other people, more open to friendship and community life, basically less of an a-hole. This, in turn makes your life better. Then, it is useful because it lets you function more rationally and more in the long term. The voice of the inner tyrant becoming softer means passions are less _compulsive_ it is easier to say “No, I don’t really want to do this, this would be cool now but in 20 years this brings nothing good, only bad.” Then it makes you the kind of guy who can use authority and power well, without abusing it. It may improve your artistic skills, it makes you understand art is not about expressing yourself but about trying to let beauty flow through you and express itself. Etc. etc.

    Could this be useful? It is not even necessary to mention B. much, one may as well as call it “non-egocentric psychology” or something.

  9. Bonald,

    “There are certainly other resources to draw upon, from straightforward Biblical exegesis…”

    Isn’t this the real elephant in the room? Christians have historically disagreed on a great many issues of biblical exegesis, but until relatively recent times there was a general consensus that Christianity meant (among other things) the belief that the Bible presented a generally straightforward and literal account of the history of humanity and the world since its creation. However, now that this position has been made untenable by various scientific and historical findings in the last 150-200 years, what is “straightforward biblical exegesis” even supposed to mean?

    On the one hand, unwavering insistence on Biblical literalism, as some (mainly among American Protestants) still maintain, is an internally consistent position, but one that nowadays flies in the face of so much evidence that it stretches all credibility. On the other hand, as soon as you’ve permitted creative and metaphorical reinterpretations of any part of the Bible and given up on a straightforward literal reading, who gets to say where this creativity should stop since from there on (but not before!) heresy begins?

    I’ve never seen any satisfactory answer to this question, although it seems like an essential prerequisite for formulating any coherent traditional religious reactionary position in the 21st century.

  10. Now is the time for MPS to quote Bl. John Henry Newman on fidelity to the Roman Pontiff as the only workable test of orthodoxy.

  11. Vladimir:

    until relatively recent times there was a general consensus that Christianity meant (among other things) the belief that the Bible presented a generally straightforward and literal account of the history of humanity and the world since its creation

    Here is St. Augustine:

    If, then, you have any human feeling—if you have any regard for your own welfare—you should rather examine with diligence and piety the meaning of these passages of Scripture. You should examine, unhappy beings that you are; for we condemn with no less severity and copiousness any faith which attributes to God what is unbecoming Him, and in those by whom these passages are literally understood we correct the mistake of ignorance, and look upon persistence in it as absurd.

    (Emphasis mine)

  12. Vladimir:

    unwavering insistence on Biblical literalism, as some (mainly among American Protestants) still maintain, is an internally consistent position

    I don’t think so – certainly not to the extent that sola scriptura becomes concomitant to literalism.

    I think you are basically observing that there is no doctrinal anchor without the authority of the Church.

  13. Now is the time for MPS to quote Bl. John Henry Newman on fidelity to the Roman Pontiff as the only workable test of orthodoxy.

    If fidelity to the Roman Pontiff is the only workable test of orthodoxy, you have problems.

    You need a better test, and you are not going to have it without doing the things that neoreaction does.

  14. You need a better test, and you are not going to have it without doing the things that neoreaction does.

    It could be that it’s not a sufficient test, but for what it’s worth, knowing that I’m no match for you intellectually, I’ve only ever found your talking about the recent popes as characterized by overstatement and exaggeration, always finding it difficult to get around the obstacle that what you say of what the popes believe or hold to be true, it would not be likely that you could know, or even not possible that you could.

  15. You need a better test, and you are not going to have it without doing the things that neoreaction does.

    Indeed traditional Catholics should just step aside in favor of, oh I don’t know perhaps a tyranny quoting Hans Herman Hoppe.

  16. No test will seem sufficient to a technocrat lacking the gift of faith. In the end, all your fruitless rationalizations will fail you. Nobody ever makes the big sacrifices for utilitarian reasons.

  17. The Catholic Church is like abiogenesis: one-off and non-repeatable. Either join her, believe what she professes, and work to preserve her integrity; or die in hopelessness.

    Those are your real world options. Take the red pill.

  18. The Catholic Church is like abiogenesis: one-off and non-repeatable. Either join her, believe what she professes, and work to preserve her integrity; or die in hopelessness.

    Which Catholic Church? This year’s, last year’s, last decade’s, or the nineteenth century one?

    If this year’s Church is true, last year’s must be false.

  19. No James, no. You are a funny little bundle of incomprehension. We’ve seen all this before, in the “history rhymes” sense. Just ask St Athanasius.

  20. Which neoreaction should we support, the one that celebrates transsexuals or the one that doesn’t? The leftward drift of NRx no less pronounced than the culture at large. And where are the NRx martyrs, people willing to die for their faith?

  21. Which neoreaction should we support, the one that celebrates transsexuals or the one that doesn’t?

    There is no neoreaction that celebrates transexuals. You refer to a debate on whether a man who claimed to be a woman should be considered to be part of the neoreaction. The question was “should we tolerate people whose personal lives are discrepant with our ideas?” not “should we celebrate them?”

    Meanwhile, there seems no doubt at all that men who claim to be women are treated as good catholics, with much publicity about the church’s “compassion”. in such cases. If the transexuals are not celebrated, the church’s inclusiveness most certainly is.

  22. James:
    None of it matters. The Catholic Church is a one-off. If you can’t put your hope there, you have no hope. You can’t design a ‘functional’ Christianity as ‘social technology’: you might as well try designing a unicorn in the lab.

  23. Vladimir, I would suggest you check your premises. Assume Darwinian evolution and Darwinianism becomes true. On the contrary, if you read the Bible on its own terms you may experience Christ, which will then enable you believe that what the Bible says is true. We are promised if you truly seek, you will find. For myself, making sense of Adam and Eve was the clincher. How did it happen? It’s right there in Genesis. Here is Fr. Seraphim Rose surveying the Holy Fathers on the Creation in his Genesis, Creation, and Early Man — The Orthodox Christian Vision pp. 119-123 (Fr. Rose deals with the ‘science’ of it all later in the book. Hopefully I get the formatting right below).

    Our key to understanding Genesis is: how did the Holy Father understand this question, specifically with regard to separate passages, and generally, with regard to the book as a whole?

    Let us take some examples:

    1. St. Macarius the Great of Egypt, a Saint of the most exalted mystical life and whom one certainly cannot suspect of overly literal views of Scripture, writes on Genesis 3:24: “That Paradise was closed and that a Cherubim was commanded to prevent man from entering it by a flaming sword: of this we believe that in visible fashion it was indeed just as it is written, and at the same time we find that this occurs mystically in every soul.” This is a passage which many of us might have expected to have only a mystical meaning, but this great seer of Divine things assure us that it is also true “just as it is written”– for those capable of seeing it.

  24. 2. St. Gregory the Theologian, noted for his profound mystical interpretations of Scripture, says of the tree of knowledge of good and evil: “This tree was, according to my view, Contemplation, upon which it is only safe for those who have reached maturity of habit to enter.” Does this mean that he regarded this tree as only a symbol, and not also a literal tree? In his own writings he apparently does not give an answer to this question, but another great Holy Father does (for when they are teaching Orthodox doctrine and not just giving private opinions, all the great Fathers agree with each other and even help to interpret each other). St. Gregory Palamas, the fourteenth century hesychast Father, comments on this passage:

    Gregory the Theologian has called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil “contemplation”… but it does not follow that what is involved is an illusion or a symbol without existence of its own. For the divine Maximus [the Confessor] also makes Moses the symbol of judgement, and Elijah the symbol of foresight! Are they too then supposed not to have really existed, but not have been invented “symbolically”?

  25. 3. These are specific interpretations. As for general approaches to the “literal” or “symbolical” nature of the text of Genesis, let us look at the words of several other Holy Fathers who have written commentaries on Genesis. St. Basil the Great in his Hexameron writes:

    Those who do not admit the common meaning of the Scriptures say that water is not water, but some other nature, and they explain a plant and a fish according to their opinion… [But] when I hear “grass,” I think of grass, and in the same manner I understand everything as it is said, a plant, a fish, a wild animal, and an ox. Indeed, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel” (Rom, 1:16)… [Some] have attempted by false arguments and allegorical interpretations to bestow on Scripture a dignity of their own imagining But theirs is the attitude of one who considers himself wiser than the revelations of the Spirit and introduces his own ideas in pretense of an explanation. Therefore, let it be understood as it has been written. (1)

    (1)In other places of his Hexameron, St. Basil again refuse attempts to reduce elements of the Genesis narrative to mere symbols. As against the notion that the “darkness” mentioned in Genesis 1:2-5 is not “a place deprived of light” but rather “an evil power, or evil itself,” he wrote: “Let us accept the concept of darkness simply without curiosity, following the meaning of Scripture” (Hexameron 2,4-5, FC 46, pp. 26-29). Later, rejecting the idea that the “waters which were above the firmament” are good angels while the “waters which were under the firmament” (Genesis 1:7) are the fallen angels, the Saint affirms: “Dismissing such explanations as dream interpretations and old women’s tales, let us consider water as water, and let us receive the separation that was made beneath the firmament according to the reason given us” (ibid. 3.9, p. 52).

  26. 4. St. Ephraim the Syrian tells us similarly in the Commentary on Genesis:

    No one should think that the Creation of Six Days is an allegory; it is likewise impermissible to say that what seems, according to the account, to have been created in the course of six days, was created in a single instant, and likewise that certain names presented in this account either signify nothing, or signify something else. On the contrary, one must know that just as the heaven and the earth which were created in the beginning are actually the heaven and the earth and not something else understood under the names heaven and earth, so also everything else that is spoken of as being created and brought into order after the creation of heaven and earth is not empty names, but the very essence of the created natures corresponds to the force of these names.

  27. 5. St. John Chrysostom, speaking specifically of the rivers of Paradise, writes:

    Perhaps those who love to speak from their own wisdom here also will not allow that the rivers are actually rivers, nor that the waters are precisely waters, but will instill, in those who decide to listen to them, the idea that they (under the names of rivers and waters) represented something else. But I entreat you, let us not pay heed to these people, let us stop up our hearing against them, and let us believe the Diving Scripture, and following what is written in it, let us strive to preserve in our souls sound dogmas.

    This shows that the Holy Fathers were facing this question in their day, in the fourth century. There were many people who were interpreting the text of Genesis as an allegory, running wild with symbolical interpretations and denying that it has any literal meaning at all—especially the first three chapters we will be studying. Therefore, the Holy Fathers made a specific point of saying it has a literal meaning and we must understand exactly what that meaning is.
    This should be enough to show us that the Holy Fathers who wrote on Genesis were in general quite “literal” in their interpretation of the text, even while, in many cases, allowing also a symbolic or mystical meaning (2). There are, of course, in Scripture as in every kind of literature, obvious metaphors which no one in his right mind would think of taking “literally.” For example, in Psalm 103 it says, “The sun knoweth his going down.” With full respect for the text, we do not need to believe that the sun has a consciousness and literally “knows” when it is to set; this is simply a normal device of poetic language and should cause trouble to no one.
    ( (2) The approach that the Holy Fathers took to Genesis—regarding it as a Divinely inspired text that tells of actual, historical event and people, while at the same time drawing out spiritual meanings from it—was the same approach they took when interpreting other books of Scripture. Expressing the mind of the Church in his hermeneutics, St. John Chrysostom stated that events recored in Scripture must be understood to have actually happened although they might also be given a spiritual or typological meaning. Regarding Christ’s words “As Moses lifted up the serpent” (John 3:14, cf. Num 21:9), for example, he wrote: “We must accept that this happened—it did happen, in fact—and what meaning comes from it, namely, a type of Christ” (St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Psalms 9, trans. Robert C. Hill, col. 1, p. 185).
    Likewise, Blessed Theodoret of Cyrus commenting on the Apostle Paul’s words that Hagar and Sarah were “allegorized” types of the Old and the New Covenants (Gal. 4:24), explained that the Apostle “wrote this, not to reject the historical facts, but to relate the type to the reality” (Questions on Joshua 1, LEC 2, p. 261).
    St. Cyril of Alexandria wrote that one cannot “apprehend rightly” the Scriptures if one attempts to contemplate their spiritual meaning without representing the historical meaning: “Those who reject the historical meaning in the God-inspired Scriptures as something obsolete are avoiding the ability to apprehend rightly, according to the proper manner, the things written in them. For indeed spiritual contemplation is both good and profitable; and, in enlightening the eye of reason especially well, it reveals the wiser things. But whenever some historical events are present to us by the Holy Scriptures, then in that instance, a useful search into the historical meaning is appropriate in order that the God-inspired Scripture be revealed as salvific and beneficial to us in every way” (St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Prophet Isaiah 1.4, PG 70. 192AB).
    St. Nilus of Sinai, a disciple of St. John Chrysostom, also stated emphatically that the historical meaning of Scripture must be maintained whenever a spiritual interpretation is given: “If something has been recorded in the Old or New Testament to have happened historically and this or that deed was manifestly accomplished, and we interpret it for our own purposes, using ideas and thoughts for our own spiritual edification, do not suppose that we have disregarded the letter or rejected the history. By no means! We neither condemn nor reject the perceptible event that has been committed to history. Since, however, we are [in] the world, we benefit today by interpreting everything that happened yesterday for our own purposes” (St. Nilus of Sinai, Letter 2.223, PG 79.316BC, quoted in Paul M. Bowers, Exegesis and Spiritual Pedagogy in Maximus the Confessor: An Investigation of the Quaestiones ad Thalassium, p. 115).

    End

  28. Whatever one may think of each side of the literalism argument, the notion that literalism was the unanimous hermeneutic of Christianity until recently is falsified by the examples of Augustine, Origen, etc.

  29. Reactionary means preferring some past state to the present. There are as many potential forms of reactionary thought as there are past cultures. This blog is Catholic reactionary, hardly the only kind. The neoreactionaries don’t even really qualify as reactionary, they are just academic babblers who express some sympathy to reactionary ideas. Hardcore Islam is another real form of reactionary. I personally dislike Catholicism, Islam, and academic babble, but I still consider myself reactionary because I admire the Puritans, Orthodox Christianity, and the Old Testament.

  30. Actually, I don’t think a Christian reactionary does have to have a rule in place for knowing which parts of scripture must only be taken in their nonliteral senses. Even without a rule, one might have reasons to say that some things fall in the literally-true category and other things don’t.

    Some ways around the biblical interpretation issue:

    1) literalism, as noted: presume that what seems the natural reading of scripture is infallible

    2) first receivers: the range of acceptable interpretations is limited by the range of opinions held by early Christians (say, the Church Fathers up to the fall of Rome) who more-or-less shared the privileged cultural context of the “fullness of time” and who were uncontaminated by modernism. This is what I default to.

    3) Church authority: acceptable readings are those not formally anathemetized (and, presumably, that have something in their favor).

    4) overall-message based: say that the point of the Bible is to teach us X, so anything not relevant to X needn’t be accepted. I don’t like this because it means reducing the Bible to some idea already in one’s head, which precludes the possibility of continuing to learn from it. It’s very popular, though, for dismissing parts of the Old Testament that Christians find embarrassing or boring.

  31. In his homily on Genesis, Origen states that the allegorical meanings of the Bible should never be used to deny the literal meaning of the passages, but that both are the true meaning at the same time.

  32. Skeggy Thorson:

    Which homily of Origen’s? A Rufinus ‘translation’, which is acknowledged to be sometimes a paraphrase and sometimes Rufinus’ own work?

    I’d have to understand what you are specifically referencing in order to give an opinion. Origen’s commentary on Genesis has been lost, and in many cases his homilies are only present in fragments.

    In any case I would make two points:

    1) I don’t know anyone who thinks that no Biblical passages should be interpreted in a literal sense in addition to other senses; and

    2) “Literal sense” refers to a tendency in interpretation, not the denotation of a singular interpretation. (This is manifestly obvious from the fact that there is as much intramural warfare among self-styled literalists as there is extramural between literalist and non-literalists).

    This is particularly true of ancient texts where we can’t have a Q&A session with the author to clarify meaning. With contemporary authors we can: for example, JK Rowling wrote the character Dumbledore as a gay man in the Harry Potter series. Thus the correct interpretation – the interpretation which aligns with the intended meaning of the author – of Dumbledore is as a homosexual. We know that because we can interact with the author in Q&A fashion.

    When it comes to Scripture we cannot interact with the original sacred authors. We can, however, interact with the Church. And that is how ongoing clarification of the correct meaning(s) is possible.

  33. Zippy:

    My source seems to indicate that in addition to Rufinus’s translation many Greek codices were found that could be used as a corrective. Rufinus did add to some and he seems to have forged the entirety of the 17th homily on Genesis, but the first two (the ones I am using) are supposed to be authentic.

    In his first homily on Genesis section 11 he state about the creation of animals ” There is no question about the literal meaning. For they are clearly said to have been created by God, whether animals or four-footed creatures or beasts or serpents upon the earth. But it is not unprofitable to relate these words to those which we above explained in a spiritual sense.” This seems to intimate that the literal sense of these passages is obvious and correct but that he thinks the allegorical sense is also edifying.

    Section 14 of the same homily is also about trying to literally explain the supposed discrepancy in the time frame of the creation of man and woman. Were they at the same time or one after another. It is only after he deals with this that he goes on to the allegorical meaning of it.

    In his second homily on Genesis Origen begins by explaining the dimensions of the ark and how it must have been constructed. He then goes on to reference people who try to argue that it is impossible for it to be literally true: “But although all these things were composed with great skill, some people present questions, and especially Apelles, who was a disciple of Marcion, but was the inventor of another heresy greater than that one which he took up from his teacher.” Apelles then argues that it is mathematically impossible to fit that many animals on one ship and thus the story must be an invention and not from God. Origen’s refutation of this claim is not that Apelles is not considering the story’s allegorical meaning, though Origen certainly thinks that it has one, but that ancient Egyptian geometry had shown that it was in fact possible, which suggests he took the story to be literal and that accepting and defending its literal interpretation was important.

    It should also be remembered that Origen took the passage about some being born castrated and some castrating themselves for Christ so literally that he did that very act to himself.

    As to your other points: Just because people dispute over the solution to a problem does not mean that there is no right answer or that the answer is not obvious. In the case of textual interpretation, one can generally go a long way just by knowing what the words mean and the grammar of the language being read. It is true that no record of any kind can ever exhaustively give every detail that one could ever want to know about an event or story but that does not mean that we can never know anything about an event or story without having been there ourselves or having around some godlike authority to answer all questions we could ever have about it. If it were otherwise history would be impossible and reading ancient literature would be an exercise in futility.

    Sorry about the late reply, I had to borrow the book in question, and the wordiness of my response.

  34. Skeggy Thorson:

    Thanks for the reply.

    It seems to me that showing that Origen sometimes interpreted in a literal sense just shows that he sometimes interpreted in a literal sense. (I don’t know anyone who doesn’t.) It doesn’t provide support for a comprehensively ‘literalist’ hermeneutic which insists that there is a singular perspicuous literal interpretation which is always true and correct.

    Experience demonstrates conclusively that when different people witness the same event, they remember it differently in material ways and in the details. That is when they are all eyewitnesses to an event, not when they are reading a collection of ancient texts in different genres over a course of millennia written by people separated from us by thousands of years of time, culture, and language.

    It should also be remembered that Origen took the passage about some being born castrated and some castrating themselves for Christ so literally that he did that very act to himself.

    Scholars dispute whether this is actually true, was a slander by Origen’s critics, or was an apocryphal accretion. Personally I find it dubious, since a significant part of why Origen had enemies was because of his rejection of literalism, and the story is a bit too convenient in terms of painting him as a self contradictory nutbar. Certainly it would have the effect of discouraging young men from exploring Origen’s views.

  35. Of course Christians do believe that the Holy Spirit guards us from making grave errors in interpretation which would endanger our salvation. But the central issue is whether this guarantee resides in “one man alone with his bible” or in the Church. (There might be other views as well, but in practice those are the possibilities that matter). In my view the implausibility of the former is proven conclusively by experience and observation. So faith in Christ and the Scriptures entails faith in the Church.

  36. Zippy:

    I seem to have misunderstood what was at issue, since I thought the debate was specifically about the interpretations of those passages from genesis against Darwin. Obviously some passages such as parables and visions are not to be taken literally.

    However, basing interpretation of the Bible solely on the Church, although it should be noted that what constitutes the Church is debatable, seems to be circular. The authority of the Church is derived from a specific interpretation of the Bible, but that interpretation is valid only because it was given on the authority of the Church, which is only valid because of that interpretation of the Bible etc.

    Even if determining what happened at a particular point of time or the meaning of a specific text is difficult, it is not impossible. If it were you could have no evidence from experience about discrepancies in eyewitness accounts as someone could have a experience and there would be no way to tell if one was right or the other. The same holds true for texts. Outside of the straight forward information that can be gathered about the text just from knowing what it says, one can compare to other similar texts from the period, variants of the same text, and commentaries about it from people closer in time to the text and so on.

  37. The second sentence of the third paragraph should read “as someone could have a different experience and…”. Sorry for the typo.

  38. Skeggy Thorson:

    The authority of the Church is derived from a specific interpretation of the Bible, …

    That isn’t my understanding. As an RC I understand the Canon as something received from the Church: it is the Church’s history and authority that tells us which texts form the Canon.

    In any case, thanks again for the discussion.

  39. “So faith in Christ and the Scriptures entails faith in the Church.”

    That would be the church that recently put on a big funeral to celebrate the life and death of a transvestite homosexual prostitute who committed suicide.

  40. I have defined NeoReaction as only a denotation of the recent upsurge in interest in right wing philosophy outside the typical ‘conservative’ paradigm, so it is more about temporal location than content, although it does have its own distinctive characteristics. I do think however, that it contains a vast number of different and competing views.

    The commentary is fascinating however. Adding to my blogroll.

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