Sunday, 31 July 2011

We wanted peace and prosperity, we got it - what did we do with it?

*

For many centuries, humanity had wanted peace and prosperity.

We got it, in the West, for a couple of generations.

What did we do with it?

*

Did we use it in pursuit of higher things?

To attain spiritual heights? No, we discarded that stuff.

What about science? - no, we converted that to spin, bureaucracy and careerism.

What about beauty - we had leisure and resources to do more than ever before? No. We created no great works of beauty - actually we weren't even trying.

We made artworks, music, and (especially) architecture of unparalleled vileness: and deliberately so. This was supposed to be good for us.

But what about good, in the sense of virtue. Without and reason to be evil surely we attained more in that sphere? Actually not - we merely rewrote morality so we could do what we wanted.

*

Did prosperity and peace free natural genius  from its trammels, allowing it to soar?

No, there aren't any geniuses any more

(we prefer managed teams with clear aims and roles).

What about education? Disinterested study? The love of truth?

...

*

What about the (good) socialist dream of a world where (near as dammit) poverty was abolished?

Yeah, we did that too. Poverty was utterly abolished by world historical standards, the socialist dream was achieved.

But we pretended we didn't do it, pretended things were unbearably bad and getting worse; so as to provide permanent careers for politicians of envy and bureaucrats of compassion.

All the good socialists became bad socialists. 

*

We did not use peace and prosperity - we were peaceful and prosperous but did not know what to do with it.

Did our society become a wonder of the world like Byzantium: dazzling craftsmanship, heavenly habitations, arenas and gardens; permeated with aspiration and devoutness?

?...

We had it but didn't know what to do with it, so pretended we didn't have it, or needed ever more of it...

We did anything except use peace and prosperity as a means to a higher end, as a stepping stone to better things - because for us there were no higher or better things; there was just more and more lower things.

Until in self-disgust at their own complete and utter failure, our rulers have decided actively to destroy peace and prosperity on our behalf - but without even the residual honesty to admit that they are destroying it.


*

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Retrospective prayer - I get it!

*

In Charles Williams' novel Descent into Hell the climactic scene is when Pauline Anstruther offers herself (in what Williams refers to as 'exchange') to suffer - by 'substitution' of herself - the fear and pain of an ancestor who is being burned at the stake for (Protestant) heresy.

I always regarded this idea of prayer working backwards in time as at best incomprehensible and at worst insane (and leading to intractable confusions).

But yesterday I (at last) 'got it' - as an example of the difference between living in (human) time and living in (divine) eternity - out of time; that is, an example of argument of Boethius in Consolation of Philosophy.

It is illustrative that it has taken me considerably more than a year to make this link-up, more than a year since studying and thinking about this classic book.

So, it is clear that although I thought I understood the point made by Boethius (and explained elsewhere - e.g. by CS Lewis in Mere Christianity) - I didn't really understand it.

It is very important, because understanding this point clarifies why it is reasonable (i.e. in accordance with reason) to pray for the dead, to pray concerning things that have already happened - indeed to pray about anything and everything. What seems backwards in time or in reverse of causality to us; is not so for God.

(Of course (fortunately!) it is not necessary to understand these things in order to do them; nonetheless lack of understanding can be a stumbling block.)

I think I do understand it now - but I would still find it very difficult to explain both briefly and comprehensibly

*

From C.S Lewis: Mere Christianity:

Everyone who believes in God at all believes that He knows what you and I are going to do tomorrow. But if He knows I am going to do so-and-so, how can I be free to do otherwise? 

Well, here once again, the difficulty comes from thinking that God is progressing along the Time-line like us: the only difference being that He can see ahead and we cannot. 

Well, if that were true, if God foresaw our acts, it would be very hard to understand how we could be free not to do them. 

But suppose God is outside and above the Time-line. In that case, what we call "tomorrow" is visible to Him in just the same way as what we call "today." All the days are "Now" for Him. He does not remember you doing things yesterday; He simply sees you doing them, because, though you have lost yesterday. He has not. 

He does not "foresee" you doing things tomorrow; He simply sees you doing them: because, though tomorrow is not yet there for you, it is for Him. 

You never supposed that your actions at this moment were any less free because God knows what you are doing. Well, He knows your tomorrow's actions in just the same way-because He is already in tomorrow and can simply watch you. 

In a sense, He does not know your action till you have done it: but then the moment at which you have done it is already "Now" for Him."

*


Stratford Caldecott on Tolkien's theology

*

When I recently summarized Tolkien's theology of the fall and resurrection -

http://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2011/02/jrr-tolkiens-theology-of-fall-and.html

- I had forgotten that I had already read about this in Stratford Caldecott's book Secret Fire: the spiritual vision of JRR Tolkien - which I re-read recently.

This is an edited version of what Caldecott says pp 104-5:

*

[Finrod concludes] that the gift of death, which involves the separation of soul from body, was not intended to take this tragic form. 

Melkor's greatest success has been to turn it into an unnatural suffering, but in death before the Fall, rather than leaving it behind to rot, the soul of Man was to have taken the human body with it out of the whole realm of Arda, into etermity. 

This would have meant nothing less than a kind of assumption into heaven

The body would have been released from the limitations of time and space, and healed from all the damage Melkor has wrought since the beginning in the substances of Arda. 

Tolkien's speculation has a long history behind it. The theologians of the Catholic Church have all agreed that the separation of body and soul in Man is an 'unnatural' state; that in some way the two components of human personality cannot be separated, and that they need each other. 

Since the most 'natural' human state is (by theological definition) that which existed before the Fall, some have asked themselves whether Adam and Eve would have died at all, if they had not eaten the forbidden fruit. The Book Of Genesis tells us that after the original sin, God expels man from the garden lest he 'reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever'. 

This seems to imply that a tree of life had been placed in the garden for man to eat when the time was right, but that sin removed it beyond his reach. 

In other words, there was to have been a moment when death came to Man, but in that moment he would have eaten by God's permission from the tree of life. 

In the original plan, therefore, death would have occurred, but it would have taken a different form. 

*

Science, the world - and the leap of faith between them

*

One of the fascinating things about doing science actively is that there are always big assumptions which cannot be avoided - the basic way in which the world is carved-up and causally explained. And sometimes it is obvious that all the rest is just measuring and fiddling, in comparison.

But the presumption is that these big assumptions will, sooner or later, get dealt-with, and placed on a secure footing. But it almost never happens - yet science goes-on.

So biology never really sorts-out what is a gene, an organism, a species - but uses rough and ready definitions and explains 'about' these things.

Karl Popper noticed this many years ago - that at the heart of an active science are vague definitions - and that strict and precise definitions will kill science.

It is possible that this is intrinsic to real science, but also one of the major factors that makes science into something which is not formally interpretable or applicable.

There is always a huge leap of faith in using science in the rest of the world; as there is in applying mathematics to concrete objects. And no formal mechanism of finding out whether science necessarily will work, is working, or has worked.

*

NOTE ADDED: What this implies is that science is not independent of the striving for truth - but always needs to be conducted in a spirit of the love of truth; a truth that goes beyond any specific science, beyond science as a whole, beyond philosophy and is indeed transcendant.

The products of science need to be tested in accordance with Truth.

When science worked it was indeed conducted in such as spirit - since this spirit has been disappearing, so science has dwindled into bureaucracy and careerism.

*

Friday, 29 July 2011

What should we not do?

*

Number one: (when we have a choice) we should not assist enemies; we should not assist people in doing that which we regard as evil (morally wrong, creating ugliness and destroying beauty, propagating un-truths).
*

The world is being incrementally paved-over by evil; with the active assistance of those who purport to oppose it, but who actually (in a multitude of small ways) assist evil - for all sorts of reasons of expediency.

*

To win we need to support The Good (when we discern it) and oppose that which attacks the Good.

And when (as so often) we can find no 'Good cause' to support, we still must resist that which attacks the Good.

*

It sounds very little, feeble and negative; yet for reasons of expediency we often do voluntarily assist our enemies in the performance of works we regard as wrong.

The many bad things afflicting the world could very seldom have happened, could not have achieved near universality, without the assistance (or at least acquiescence) of large numbers of people who recognized them as bad - but did not in any way, shape or form oppose them.

The mass of decent, friendly, hard-working folk who did not even drag their feet as they marched towards destruction; but politely, smartly, and efficiently did a 'good job' at doing a bad thing. 

*

In a world where subversion of The Good  (virtue, truth, beauty - unity) is regarded as the highest value, actively pursued; then simply not supporting evil by your active efforts becomes increasingly important, and increasingly difficult.

*

If you are forced to do something you regard as tending to the bad, for example at work, then helping enemies may be unavoidable - in the sense that only Saints are utterly immune to punishments, and you aren't a Saint.

But make sure that you really have been forced to do it; resist, and resist as long as you can. Drag your feet, at least.

If you must work at implementing evil, model yourself on the Good Soldier Svejk: if you are forced to fake eagerness and zeal for wickedness, then be inefficient and incompetent about it...

*

Make them make you do it.

Otherwise don't.

*

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Creation, Natural Forms, Natural Selection? Which one?

*

Question: How to explain the diversity of living things on earth?

Answer: Assumptions are (almost) everything.

*

One explanation is that they were created different.

A second explanation is that there are different forms.

A third explanation is evolution by natural selection.

*

The first and third explanations are well known - the second idea (that things are different due to having different intrinsic forms) is a very old one, as still going, but not well known as such.

Well-known exponents of the idea that things differ due to there being different underlying forms include Aristotle, Aquinas, Goethe, D'Arcy Thomson, Conrad Waddington, Steven J Gould (sort of), Stuart Kauffman, Brian Goodwin and Rupert Sheldrake.

In general, these theoreticians tend towards a mathematical - often geometric - understanding of form. This is, indeed, the dominant stream in British theoretical biology (as exemplified by the elite Cambridge-based Theoretical Biology Club).

*

How to decide between Creation, Forms and Natural Selection as the cause of the multiplicity of 'species'?

All these can explain enough, in principle 'everything' - so how to choose?

Well, there is really no way of choosing except on the basis of assumptions. Each body of work makes different assumptions.

Creation assumes things like that species were intentionally created with some kind of plan and purpose - however general this plan and purpose might be.

Forms assume that underlying reality is structured, and our job is to discover the identity and nature of these formal structures, and perhaps the mechanisms of how they impose form, or how appearances relate to underlying form.

Natural selection assumes that all significant and lasting variation can be explained by selection processes. In other words, it seeks to explain significant variation using selection processes: undirected variation with replication and competition leading to differential replication.

All three types of explanation find what they look for - and only what they look for.



So why has Natural Selection carried the day in professional biology? - when results are determined by assumptions, and these assumptions cannot in principle be proven to be more (nor less) true than the rival assumptions?

*

The answer is essentially because NS is currently, has led to, and so far proved more amenable to, professional success: to the business of being a professional scientist - getting jobs and funding, researching, teaching and the rest of it.

Professional success may be related to pragmatic or rhetorical usefulness, or it may have nothing to do with such things - after all, ideas of form have considerable prestigious elite influence - for example among mathematicians and computer scientists working in chaos and complexity theory (which are modern variants of ideas of form); and ideas of creation have massive support among religious people.

*

And, of course, in general culture the implications of Natural Selection - especially as applied to humans - are accepted and promoted or ignored and suppressed purely according to their political or religious convenience - entirely regardless of reason or evidence.

But within biology as a professional activity there is much more scope deriving from the assumptions of Natural Selection - and that is why it carries the day.

That is the only reason why it carries the day.

*


[Note: my main job title is Reader in Evolutionary Psychiatry and I have been reading, publishing and teaching about natural selection for more than 15 years.]

*

Animism, power and modernity

*

Secular modernity justifies itself in terms of power.

Secular materialism is proved by power.

(Modernity considered as a cause was validated by the effect of power.)

*

Animism - the universe alive, purposive, relevant and in-relation - was never refuted, merely discarded because we don't 'need' it - materially we were better without it (for a while).

In sum, discarding animism yielded power. Discarding animism means that the universe is defined by human use, human gratification.

Modernity gave us what we wanted; nobody and nothing could stop us (for a while).

*

Yet, power - which seems to justify modernity - now refutes modernity: modernity is dwindling in size, in power.

Look at the world: what is growing in power? Not modernity.

Who is growing in power? Not materialists.

Therefore by its own criteria of validity secular modernity is false: if modernity was proved by expanding power (for a while) then modernity is now refuted by the collapse of this power.

*

The decline of modernity, the rise of supernaturalism; these do not validate animism of course; but they prove that if the reasons for discarding animism were indeed related to enhancement of human power, then these reasons were mistaken.

*

Western man created a dead, meaningless universe - a void, to dwell in. He dissolved all into nihilism.

It seemed necessary, in order to gain the power to get the comfort and distractions he craved above all.

But...

It turns out we do not value comfort and distraction enough to raise a finger to keep them.

It turns out we do not want power - but want to give it away to almost anybody.

It turns out Western man took the living universe and drained it of all significance for nothing.

*

So - Why does Western man cling to nothing with such tenacity?

*

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

What is Liberal Christianity? - from Kristor

*

As for Liberal Christianity, it isn't really Christianity at all.

It's just liberalism, dressed up in the comfortable old trappings of Christian rituals for show, and retaining the economic assets of Christian institutions for sustenance.

Performance of the former justifies retention of the latter, which is important primarily because the resources the Churches have amassed over the centuries, both cultural and economic, are useful in the propagation of the liberal social agenda.

*

Liberal Christianity has lost its metaphysical cojones; it is afraid to assert the supernaturalism of God. Thus it is afraid of death; therefore also of war.

It starts from a category error: it searches about in the universe for God as if He were a mere item thereof, like a car or a star, and, not finding Him, gives up on the idea.

Liberal Christians don't really believe in the supernatural, so they can't honestly encompass belief in God. They believe in ... something or other. The Force, or the Tao, or something.

Because God is not a wholly credible concept to them, neither can they see that there is really any objective moral standard of value.

Their morals wander from one unprincipled exception to another because they have no basis for trust in objective moral principles. They are moral nominalists.

All they have left, in the way of a moral guide, is the morality built into their genes and nervous systems: so liberalism is about feeling good.

*

Since they don't believe in the supernatural, neither can they credit the Virgin Birth, the miracles, or the Resurrection. In the Liberal mythos, these are mere myths.

The most important "myth" they discard is the Incarnation. This makes them Arians.

To them, Jesus was a Really Nice Guy who encouraged us to be nice to each other. Nothing more. That's as far as they can take it.

So, in Liberal parishes, there is no longer any mysticism, no longer any sense of the transcendent; nothing hair-raising or spooky ever happens.

*

Also, precisely because the loss of the transcendent aspect of the Faith renders it moot in the face of death, there is determined avoidance of the blood and guts, the pain, destruction and tragedy, that inhere in life and are liberally sprinkled over both Old and New Testaments, like the blood on the altar at the Day of Atonement.

In such parishes, it's all about Community, and feeling good together. Because they have missed the transcendent God, have misunderstood the very idea of God, they have disembowelled their faith.

This dooms it; and this is why the liberal mainline Protestant denominations are dwindling.

 They are no longer religiously efficacious, because they are not really religions at all, anymore.

*

As to the crisis of the West, then, our civilization and its core religion are under assault, not from Christianity run amok, but by Liberalism.

Liberalism eviscerates Christianity just as much as the West more generally.

This it does by negating the transcendent objective principles--moral, spiritual, metaphysical--that justify and inform the West and its peoples at every turn of their daily lives.

Liberalism declares these principles illegitimate. It leaves its adherents lost.

This accounts for much of the confusion, ennui, anxiety and depression now epidemic among us.

*

The crisis of the West is due then, not to a surfeit of Christianity, but to a deficit thereof. The metaphysical weakness of modern liberal Christianity just is the moral weakness of the West.


http://www.amnation.com/vfr/archives/008683.html#kristor

*

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The necessity of angels

*

Having recently read Peter Kreeft's excellent book on Angels and Demons


http://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2011/03/angels-and-demons-and-good-society.html

And amplified by a comment of Kristor from last week+, I am becoming convinced that angels - traditionally understood - are probably the conceptual and imaginative key to re-animating the world.

*

(Tolkien may be of some help in recovering this ancient perspective of ranks of angels and fallen-angels (i.e. demons); since the Valar including Morgoth are gods/ creative senior angels below the One God; and there are ranks of lesser angels including Sauron, Saruman and Gandalf.)

*

As CS Lewis proved on many occasions, all language is metaphorical - never wholly literal (this also applies to science); and angels are the way that early Christians were able to comprehend the organization of the universe; since an un-mediated God is apparently too abstract for human comprehension.

*

Aside from general ignorance of the correct (pre-modern) understanding of the nature of angels; the only thing that stands in the path of such recovery of the living universe by means of angels is not reason, nor logic, nor history, nor theology, nor philosophy - and certainly not science - but the encultured and ingrained snigger of the ruling elites, that I know so well myself - an 'argument' which is apparently more powerful than all of the above.

*

+ Excerpt from Kristor's comment:

Christianity and Judaism do not say that there are no gods, but that, despite their great power, we should not worship them, because they are not God.

Only God is God; as the Nicene Creed has it, He is the God [of the] gods. Only the God of the gods is properly worshipped.

To make this clear, Christianity calls the gods “angels.”

The angels run the world as God’s ambassadors and agents. There are uncounted billions of them, one (at least) for each created thing: each spring, each tree, each man has a guardian angel.

Our native sense that the world is alive is then the sense that it is full of angels, and that the natural things about us are somehow thoroughly alive to the influence of the angels.

*

Monday, 25 July 2011

We *must* reconnect with myth, therefore step-back from current affairs

*

Something of general interest, perhaps, on my Notion Club Papers blog:

Summary: The core Inklings project, and my project, is the recovery of history as myth; this project extends to modern politics, to our current interpretation and understanding of what has happened, and what is happening. We *must* get away from (i.e. subordinate to secondary status) the usual secular explanation, prediction and agenda for what happened to our culture (political, economic, scientific/ technological, socio-psycho-logical etc). These must be embedded-in, over-arched by, a 'mythic' (and True) understanding. We *must* take a step back from the noise and lies of 'current affairs', alliances and interventions, to focus on the task of recovery and reconnection, and to 'work' at an altogether different level and in an altogether different mode  - different because it has altogether different objectives.

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.com/2011/07/if-history-is-myth-then-modern-socio.html

*

Closing the feedback loop

*

What doomed secular hedonism was the point when it closed the loop (a point which secularism was, intrinsically, bound to reach) - so that it became legitimate to influence feedback, so that it became acceptable to shape outputs as well as - and at the same time as - inputs.

*

So long as human nature was accepted as a given - then secular hedonism was limited to giving people what they wanted. But when human nature became regarded as a product of culture, it (apparently) became legitimate to change what people wanted, or change people so that they wanted what they already had - or what you were offering them.

Then is madness - a system that is simultaneously gratifying wants, creating wants, obliterating wants and amplifying wants.

How could this kind of system possibly be evaluated? It is merely an elaborate and obfuscated process of self-justification.

*

Democracy worked reasonably well when it was a matter of recording voters preferences; but when it became possible to change voters preferences and choices, and to change the composition of the voters - then it became insane.

Science worked reasonably well when scientists tried to provide obviously useful breakthroughs; but when it became possible to persuade non-scientists that 'whatever scientists have done' constitutes a breakthrough, and when success in science was to be judged by evaluation systems conducted by successful scientists (viz. peer review) - then we are in the realms of insanity.

*

When the feedback loop has been closed, then we are in the realms of insanity; with outputs and inputs, claims and counter-claims, whirling and spraying-out centrifugally; with no baseline for evaluation of success or failure.

Temporary states of rest coming only from the coercive imposition of an 'official line' on what has happened, is happening.

Just an endless propaganda war trying to convince people of this or that - with nothing deeper or permanent than whether people - here and now, contingently, irrationally, apparently - acquiesce.

*

Sunday, 24 July 2011

What is music, what is song, what is poetry? Tones

*

If music came first (as many say) - then music is not what we think.

Not melody, nor harmony - certainly not rhythm.

But tones - or even just one tone.

*

If the psalms of the King James Bible are song - yet are not metrical, nor do they rhyme - nor are they alliterative.

Then song is a mode of vocal production - in tones rather than speech.

*

If poetry was originally a mode of performance, a presentation - yet it was not specific words (was memorized, was a paraphrase); then - minimally - it was words vocally produced in tones.

*

What is characteristic of these forms is that the unit is the breath length.

*

What is a tone? Hard to define, easy to detect.

At our railway station (which is a national hub) - around a decade ago and for several months, maybe a year or two - there used to be a female announcer that provided information on the public address system.

And she sang everything: that is to say she spoke everything in tones - not with a tune of any specific kind, but vocally produced on a note, various notes.

This is, indeed, the easiest, most natural method of vocal projection  - as a way of making yourself heard over distance.

(A mother calling her son's name for him to return home - she sings it on two descending notes roughly a minor third apart Jon - ny...  Jon - ny... )

*

Therefore chant - that is to say (merely) speaking words using tones (and absent any specified sequence of tones) - is perhaps the spontaneous way of addressing a group; and of addressing divinity; and therefore (perhaps) chant is behind music, song, and poetry.

Chant-based music, song and poetry would necessarily be characterized by breath-length units - some words would be given extra individual importance or stress, and the specific identity of these stressed words would then be important (and un-paraphrase-able) as part of their meaning - and we have arrived at poetry.

*

Strange that the primary form of public vocal production should nowadays be known only in its elaborated and professionalized versions of composed songs - except for the glimpse provided that female station announcer on the public address system, who spontaneously used tones as the natural and appropriate method of addressing the public.

*

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Who was Dionysius? A lost comment of Kristor

*

Ace Christian Right blog-commenter Kristor has re-sent me a remark/ mini-essay intended for:

http://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2011/07/applying-modern-scholarship-to.html

but lost somehow. So, belatedly, here 'tis...

*

Re the Areopagite, I have always reacted to such questions by remembering Schliemann’s discovery of Troy. All the experts had been saying for a few centuries that Troy was just a myth. Schliemann – not a scholar, but a businessman – just went out and found it.

And this keeps happening with stuff in the Bible that, we had all been assured for decades, was merely mythical. The Latest Findings in the last decade or so have often and often overturned the conventional, consensus opinion that the traditions are myths. This is happening right now in respect to Noah’s Flood, with Titanic discoverer Robert Ballard’s research into the intact villages at the bottom of the Black Sea, which apparently flooded quite suddenly at the end of the last Ice Age, triggering a great diaspora of the agricultural people who had settled there.

Again and again, these myths are shown to have something real at the back of them. Same thing happens over and over again with old wives’ tales and stupid superstitious witch doctor therapies like aspirin.

*

The way I figure it, the tradition that Dionysius met Paul at Mars Hill got started – no matter when it did get its start – among men who were a lot closer to St. Paul and the Areopagus than any of the scholars who have debunked Dionysius. Ditto for, e.g., the boy Jesus’ sojourn in Britain with his uncle of Arimathea, or, say, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Empress Helena was in a much better position than any later scholar: she could quiz much better informed scholars with much better libraries of texts from the Patristic and Apostolic eras, and for that matter she could interview folks whose families had lived in the neighbourhood for 500 years and just knew where the tomb was.

It is nuts to think we have access to more, or better, texts than did Helena and her consultants; and it is doubly nuts to suppose ourselves more careful, or rational, or educated, or knowledgeable than they.

*

The conventional wisdom is that Dionysius was a Syrian monk of the 5th century or so, precisely because he is not cited before then, and because his work seems to show the influence of the last few Neo-Platonists.

But it is perfectly possible that this last has it backwards. Perhaps it is Proclus and Plotinus who show the influence of Dionysius, rather than the other way round. By the time of Plotinus, Neo-Platonists had been mostly Christian for quite some time; and, presumably, all the Platonist philosophers to whom Paul praught at Athens were at least proto-neo-Platonists. If one of them were converted, he would have been one of the first Christian Neo-Platonists (albeit not necessarily the very first; for, indeed, Paul himself may have been that, or perhaps St. John Evangelist).

Plotinus has a (gorgeous) doctrine of the Trinity. Is it possible he was influenced in this by his Christian interlocutors? How not? There is, in fact, another one of those traditions-that-everyone-knows-is-just-a-myth, that says Plato was not the first Platonist, but got his Platonism, as Pythagoras before him got his Pythagoreanism, from studying in a Temple school in Syria.

It’s a stupid idea, right? Except for the fact that the Biblical type/archetype relation predates the Platonic Forms by 1500 years or so; and for the fact that Judah was an easy few days’ sail from Athens, along heavily traded routes.

*

Why was Dionysius not cited before the 5th century or so? Well, why were the Dead Sea Scrolls not cited before the 20th century or so? His books might have lain unread in some monastic library in Greece or Arabia for hundreds of years, until some monk with the learning to understand their significance stumbled upon them, ran to his abbot, and said, “This is amazing. We have got to publish this.” Same thing happened with the book of Deuteronomy. “Oh, they just made up that story to bolster their political agenda.” Riiiiight.

Let’s face it, scholarship since the Enlightenment is quite a different thing than it was before. Scholars of the Enlightenment said, “Never mind those old Scholars, everything they said was bogus, and all that stuff they handed down from their forefathers is nothing but tendentious myths. We are the first who have seen the light of reason, we the first to have grasped the truth.” Riiiight.

*

Animistic thinking about Ireland among Inklings - Tolkien and 'Warnie' Lewis

*

Once [Tolkien] spoke to me of Ireland after he had spent part of a summer vacation working there as an examiner:

'It is as if the earth there is cursed. It exudes an evil that is held in check only by Christian practice and the power of prayer.'

[For Tolkien,] Even the soil, the earth, played a part in the cosmic struggle between forces of good and evil.

George Sayer - from Recollections of JRR Tolkien, in Tolkien: a celebration (ed Joseph Pearce), 1999.

*

Wednesday 11th June 1947:

...I am off on my Irish adventure...


Monday 30th June 1947:

I have been in very deep waters since [June 12th].

It all began with the feng shui of the cottage, which was more and more immediately wrong than that of almost any place I have ever struck in these latitudes, and though I told myself it was all nonsense, great waves of depression began to overwhelm me from the very first: added to which the practical difficulties were almost insuperable - an inefficient oil stove, and water had to be fetched from a farm well over a mile away.

But it was the eerie greyness that killed me, or rather drove me to the drink that did in fact very nearly [kill] me: for the artless Irishman spins out his exiguous supply of gin by mixing it with methylated spirit, and it was to this I turned unwittingly for consolation.

Brothers and Friends: the diaries of Major Warren Hamilton Lewis [C.S Lewis's elder brother, 1982

*

Friday, 22 July 2011

Pork-Pie Peril in movies

*

From a history of the Gilbert and Sullivan Savoy Operas.

The Mikado" had, of course, a very long original run. This engendered, eventually, a somewhat irresponsible attitude on the part of certain members of the cast.

Gilbert had made it his business to check up - and George Grossmith was not exempt from censure over his antics with Jessie Bond, who was playing Pitti-Sing. Gilbert had heard that in their scene with the Mikado, when kneeling before him, Jessie Bond had given Grossmith a push, and he had rolled right over.

Gilbert taxed the actor with this.

But I got a big laugh", protested Grossmith.

So you would if you sat on a pork pie", retorted the author.

http://pinafore.www3.50megs.com/g-grossmith.html

*

"Pork Pie" laughs are laughs for the sake of laughs: laughs which - and this is why Gilbert opposed them - detract from the work as a whole.

*

Modern movies have an analogous problem with Pork Pie Peril - needless injections of arbitrary and artificial suspense and shocks.

For example, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, the three heroes are attacked by Death Eater villains during the course of a wedding celebration and just manage to escape by 'disapparating' (teleporting) into central London.

Then comes the Pork Pie Peril - the three heroes happen re-appear right in front of an on-coming double decker bus, and only just manage to get out of the way before being run-over.

*

These stupid injections are presumably taught in film school nowadays, since they are in almost every movie; including some of the best.

Directors must realize that Pork Pie Peril works like cheap laughs: they make movies worse, not better.

*

Modern Christianity = Ancient Christianity - Animism

*

What proved important (and that slowly) about the new astronomy was not the mere alteration in our map of space but the methodological revolution which verified it.

This is not sufficiently described as a change from dogmatism to empiricism. Mere empiricists like Telesius or Bacon achieved nothing. What was fruitful in the thought of the new scientists was the bold use of mathematics in the construction of hypotheses, tested not by observation simply but by controlled observation of phenomena that could be precisely measured.

On the practical side it was this that delivered Nature into our hands. And on our thoughts and emotions (which concern a literary historian more) it was destined to have profound effects.

By reducing Nature to her mathematical elements, it substituted a mechanical for a genial or animistic conception of the universe.

The world was emptied, first of her indwelling spirits, then of her occult sympathies and antipathies, finally of her colours, smells, and tastes. (...)

The result was dualism rather than materialism. The mind, on whose ideal constructions the whole method depended, stood over against its object in ever sharper dissimilarity.

Man with his new powers became rich like Midas but all that he touched had gone dead and cold.

This process, slowly working, ensured during the next century the loss of the old mythical imagination: the conceit, and later the personified abstraction, takes its place.


From CS Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, 1953. pp 3-4 

*

Historically:

Animism/ paganism (cosmology of animate universe ) ->

Christianity (cosmology of animate universe plus) ->

Dualism (mind and matter) ->

Materialism (matter) ->

Nihilism (nothing matters)

*

A slippery slope!

Deny animism (reality as 'spiritual': animate, intentional and in relation) and then you get dualism, with spirit restricted to the mind in the context of a dead, insensible, mechanical, atomic universe. But then the spirit seems insubstantial and implausible so the mind is explained as just material; and then there comes nihilism - because dead, insensible, mechanical matter cannot reason, understand or explain itself: cannot know reality. So then (i.e. now) there is nihilism - denial of all knowledge, denial of reality, reality as mere delusion.

*

Modern Christianity equals Ancient Christianity minus Animism.

Christianity was added-to animism: that is how it was for 1500 years: the fullness of Christianity includes animism.

From the end of the Middle Ages animism was progressively, relentlessly subtracted from life; and from Christianity: the impulse was secular, Christianity merely went along with it.

*

Christianity remains after the subtraction of living-ness from the universe; Christianity remains in a lifeless and mechanical universe; but what remains is indeed remains. Incomplete, ruined.

Christianity without its animistic fullness remains fully effectual but becomes purely salvific.

Without the animistic universe this worldly life becomes merely a preparation for the next: A life in a dead universe awaiting death.

*

I'm sorry: we simply have-to recover the pre-modern cosmology of an animated, a genial universe.

The falsity of alternatives is demonstrated by reductio ad absurdum. The truth of the animistic universe is attested by its naturalness, spontaneity and universality.

There comes a point when failure must be admitted, when we must humbly cease from imposing senseless error upon ourselves and our culture, and return to the consensus of humanity and what we all of us knew as children.

*

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Harry Potter movies reviewed in one paragraph:

*

The first two movies (PS and CoS) were light but charming children's films (7/10), the third (PoA) showed real promise of a proper approach and was the high point (8/10), the fourth (GoF) was a big step back into a distorting dependence on special effects and 'needless peril' (the low point) (4/10); and these same flaws affected the fifth (OotP; 6/10) and sixth (HBP; 5/10) (the latter also felt incomplete and unexplained). But there was a pleasing recovery for the last two-part movie (DH1&2) - despite a disappointingly unsatisfying final half hour (7/10 overall - but a section of about 15-20 minutes from Snape's death scene up to Harry's self sacrific was superb - 9/10). Overall rating of the eight movie series is 7/10 - greater than the sum of its parts due to the pleasure of seeing delightful young actors grow and mature, the brilliant mise en scene, some scattered hints and moods, and Alan Rickman's Snape.

*

To be bouyed-up with conceit

*

I have met quite a few famous and eminent people, and my impression of many - indeed most - is of people buoyed-up with conceit - cheerfully and aggressively bobbing-about on the surface of the world; unsinkable; self-righting; indifferent to the vicissitudes of wind and weather - if pressed down, only to pop-up again somewhere else wearing the same fixed grin or grimace.

*

It is, perhaps, not exactly pride that they exude; but something lesser: an air of being enormously pleased and excited by themselves - of life as a series of opportunities for showing-off to themselves.

This is a disconcerting recognition when I have, for example, admired a book by that person - have perhaps even sought-out the meeting.

Disconcerting, and indeed dismaying; since there is not only an absence of human contact or of engagement but - apparently - no possibility of it.

Which is real-est, the book or the person? Going back to the book holding the key of the personality can also be a dismaying experience- because it often seems clear that the book was primarily motivated by the same conceit, and that I had been fooled into reading-into it, something what was not really there.

Perhaps I am sensitized to this matter - to the possibility that someone may have self-conceit as their modus operandi, dominating over decades, presumably unto death - since I have myself experienced it for short periods: a heady delight at my own wonderfulness such that little else seems to matter but that the rest of the world be allowed to share in it.

At any rate, my impression formed  over many years is that the Western intellectual elite - up to the most elevated level - consists mostly of people of this general type: irrepressible, smug, and fiendishly energetic.

*

The nature of death - from Psalm 49

*

I will incline mine ear to a parable:
I will open my dark saying upon the harp.

Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil,
when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about?
They that trust in their wealth,
and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches;
None of them can by any means redeem his brother,
nor give to God a ransom for him: (...)
That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption.

For he seeth that wise men die,
likewise the fool and the brutish person perish,
and leave their wealth to others.
Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever,
and their dwelling places to all generations;
they call their lands after their own names.

Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not:
he is like the beasts that perish.

This their way is their folly:
yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah.

Like sheep they are laid in the grave;
death shall feed on them;
and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning;
and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling.

But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave:
for he shall receive me. Selah.

Be not thou afraid when one is made rich,
when the glory of his house is increased;
For when he dieth he shall carry nothing away:
his glory shall not descend after him.
Though while he lived he blessed his soul:
and men will praise thee, when thou doest well to thyself.
He shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light.

Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.

***

Comment:

A psalm containing some of the most moving lines of poetry in the language. Some of the simplest and deepest of human understanding of the 'natural' human condition in this world, without Christ; and the sense of yearning this understanding evokes.

*

But what is the nature of death and eternal life for a Christian?

This took me some considerable time to sort-out, even approximately - since there are different ideas in different denominations. 

As I understand, very briefly:

When we die from this world, our souls become separated from our bodies and continue. At, or just after, death there is a 'choice' given to these souls about what condition they will dwell in, in the immediate future (first judgment). What determines that choice is Pride versus Love: the Prideful soul ultimately gets what it wants - itself; the Loving soul gets that which it Loves. At the second judgment, a new world is made and the Loving soul is resurrected (soul reunited with its, perfected, body) and dwells with its Love.

*

[Note: The above paragraph may seem redundant, or too brief or too abstract to be of much value, but I include it because until I became a Christian I didn't understand Christianity to have these beliefs. On the off-chance that other non-Christian readers have similar misconceptions as my former-self, I thought it work putting in this brief statement.]

*

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Mysticism: Pagan versus Christian

*
Methods are nearly identical.
Objectives are very different.

*

Meditation v Prayer

Immersion in nature v communication with God

Impersonal loss of conscious awareness v Personal communication with God

No extrinsic aim, good in itself v Aiming at communion with God (theosis)

Loss of subjective ego v Becoming true self

Loss of sense of location v Experience of self in divine presence

A particular subjective experience v Conformity with objectivity

Oneness v Duality

Unity in the world v Unity only in the next world

Timelessness v Plan

Becoming undifferentiated v Becoming unique

Indifference to death v Death as transition

Nature as sovereign, eternal v Nature as time-limited, to be remade

Submission, self-sufficiency v Humility, asking for help

We are nothing v We are (potentially) Sons of God

*

Science versus Technology; Religion versus Magic

*

There is something that unites magic and applied science (technology) while separating both from the "wisdom" of earlier ages.

For the ancients, the cardinal problem of human life had been how to conform the human soul to objective reality; and the means were knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue.

For magic and applied science alike the cardinal problem is how to conform reality to the wishes of the soul; and the solution is a technique.

In other words, truth is now a prostitute, bought and sold for the money of power over nature.

Peter Kreeft -
 
http://www.scribd.com/doc/17274436/Peter-Kreeft-Essays-on-Apologetics-Part-2

*

Actually, things are worse than that!

That describes the situation a couple of generations ago; now we have the situation above minus the power over nature.

We now have 'science' that (obviously!) is not even trying to conform the human soul to objective reality; usurped and utterly displaced by a technology or applied science that fails to conform reality to the wishes of the soul.

Instead, the cardinal problem of modern human life is how to use applied science to conform desire to the products of technology.

*

It is not just that we live in a morally bankrupt age; a hypocritical age; a cowardly age; an age of careerism and self-indulgence - that is normal.

The difference is that we are not even trying - and that is very unusual

*

And we are not even trying because we are socialized into such deep-dyed nihilists that we cannot even recognize our own nihilism.

We cannot even see that individualism and subjectivism are nihilism; changing standards of morality, truth and beauty is nihilism; fashion and media are nihilism.

We are such nihilists that we accept, we insist upon, careerist expediency as the sole and sufficient basis for technology and applied science (as we do for everything else) and do not notice or unconcerned by the fact that this means that our civilization has given-up the Faustian quest to conquer nature.

*

But we have not repented and given-up the desire to dominate the world and shape it to our wishes; we have merely lost the ability to do so.

But we will not acknowledge the fact of our failure because we lack Faust's virtues - such as honesty, courage and intellectual rigour. 

So we have embraced the despicably sub-Faustian quest to pretend that we have conquered nature.

*

This is not applied science nor technology: it is quackery and illusion.

We are not any more wizards, nor even magicians - merely conjourers.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Christianity and the re-enchantment of the world

*

The modern world, the world of modernity, is dis-enchanted - which is that it lacks unity, depth, meaning and purpose; we have no relationship with it: we are alienated.

I regard alienation as the primary self-perceived psychopathology of modernity (modern people are unaware of sin).

*

And Christianity re-enchants the world.

Indeed only Christianity truly (hence robustly) re-enchants the modern world.

But for Christianity to re-enchant the world entails the fullness of Christianity.

*

Much of Christianity is indeed dis-enchanted because much of Christianity is legalistic rule-following and is almost purely virtue-based.

For much of Christianity, pursuit of The Good is all-but equated-with and limited-to the Morally-Good - Virtue conceptualized as moral laws - and only somewhat underpinned by a belief in the objectivity of Truth; and hardly-at-all concerned by Beauty or hostile to it.

*

Even more narrowly, much of Christianity perceives Virtue in legal terms; a Virtue in which the Laws, the rules, are primary and comprehensive.

Christianity, then, merely as Virtue: Christian Virtue conceptualized as primarily rule-knowing and rule-following...

Such a Christianity will not re-enchant the world.

*

But this is a partial and incomplete vision of The Good (the Christian Good); and insufficient for human needs. Such a Christianity may be salvific - hence of infinite value yet alienating. 

Such a Christianity will not (in this world) heal those afflicted by alienation, except in so far as it displaces that pathology.

People may do it, it may be enough; but it does not attract, it does not inspire.

The human spirit finds abstract purely-moral legalism repulsive, even when it is correct.

*

The fullness of Christianity ought (surely?) to conceptualize The Good as a unity - aspects of which are (non-comprehensively) summarized by the Virtuous, the True and the Beautiful.

In The Good, VT&B cannot be dissociated nor opposed.

*

The fullness of Christianity perceives the world as alive, purposive, where all has meaning (if we could but discern it, which we mostly cannot), and where reality is an unimaginably intricate web of relations and influences.

We move-through this hidden world of meanings - observing, understanding, choosing, doing or not-doing; pursuing our path as best we can.

This is a world of mingled virtue and vice, truth and lies, beauty and ugliness, horror and wonder - a world (in these respects) like the best and most convincing depictions of fairyland.

*

To attain this perspective and experience the world in this way is a recovery . It is a recovery from the shallow and ill-considered, nihilistic and intrinsically-alienating world view of modernity.

*

It is a world, therefore, where free will and true reason and accurate experience are all possible; and where benign forces of Good are active and available;

but also a world in which - as well as errors and incompleteness - there are powerful, deliberate evil manipulations, influences on emotions, pernicious images - influencing us, influencing other people, animals, plants, landscape and things.

*

A world where we need to discern between virtue and vice, also truth and dishonesty, also beauty and and ugliness - and (above these) between unity and fragmentation.

*

It is in many respects a terrifying world. But whatever else this re-enchanted world is, it is not a world where real alienation is the nature of things. Existence is significant in all and every respect: a heavy and dense world to which we are attached, and in which we are rooted, and through which our branches ramify.

*

Revised 20 July 2011.

*

Monday, 18 July 2011

The moral message of the movie - Harry Potter Deathly Hallows part 2

*

I have been to see the newly released Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2.

I can pronounce it an excellent movie - in particular the middle section from the death of Snape, which packed as powerful an emotional punch as any movie I have seen.

At any rate I was reduced to a blubbing wreck by it for a continuous period of some 20 minutes; which hasn't happened to me with many films, and none before quite so much as this one.

*

As I had predicted, this last part of the series continued to delete almost all of the the deepest moral and spiritual theme of the books - which, as I discussed recently, are concerned with the soul:

http://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2011/07/soul-in-harry-potter-and-deathly.html

*

However, this leaves open the question of what is the deepest moral message of the movie, and by implication of the whole series of movies. What was it that moved me so?

The deepest theme of the movies, in my opinion, is the validity and importance of steadfast, unrequited, disinterested, sacrificial Love.

*

This theme gets a double emphasis from the stories of two major characters of Harry and Snape.

Harry is motivated explicitly and throughout by love for his dead parents, who died when he was a small baby, and of whom he has (initially) no memories. Ultimately, this love leads him to allow himself to be killed by Voldemort. He allows himself to be sacrificed for love.

Snape, we discover towards the end of the last book, was motivated covertly and throughout by love for Harry's dead mother Lily; a love which was unrequited (except, partially, during their childhood) - and for which he endures much fear, horror, hazard and suffering until he is finally killed by Voldemort. His whole life, since the death of Lily, has indeed been a sacrifice, a martyrdom, for love.

*

Harry and Snape's greatest love is for the dead, indeed the focus of their love overlaps; and this love is not actively reciprocal.

Since Harry's parents are dead and 'therefore', so far as he is aware until near the end, the love is unilateral; Snape's love was explicitly unilateral since Lily repudiated him. Yet both Harry and Snape both voluntarily acquiesce to death for this love.

What can this mean?

*

In a modern, worldly secular morality, unrequited love, love for the dead, suffering unto death, martyrdom are all behaviours generally regarded either pathetic, stupid or pathological.

Harry and Snape would therefore be regarded (from a modern and this-wordly perspective) as losers, creeps or nutters.

Yet, clearly this is not the case in the world of the movies (and even less so for the books): which implies that Harry and Snape's love is not worldly, but transcendental.

The implicit validity of Harry and Snape's love is implicitly pointing-offstage at some transcendental, presumably divine, source of validation - whereby disinterested and sacrificial love is worthy and admirable.

*

Also, implicitly, is lurking the idea that Harry's and Snape's whole lives are made not just purposeful but also meaningful (that is to say their lives are redeemed) by their love (this unrequited love); and therefore that the love of specific persons can be a proxy for the love of God (since how else could their love be a saving love?).

The redemptive nature of sacrificial love is particularly obvious in the case of Snape who is a mostly-wicked man redeemed by only two virtues - Courage in pursuit of Love: but these virtues are enough.

*

So, even the Harry Potter movies - which have substantially deleted the deepest (and Christian) stratum of the Harry Potter books - are predicated on a vision of human life and behaviour in terms of unconditional love -- a perspective that is (to say the least) unfashionable; and would indeed be regarded by mainstream modern morality as at best incomprehensible, more likely pitiful, and at worst frankly deluded.

*

Note: In the movies especially, the workings of disinterested sacrificial love are much more obvious and focused for Snape than for Harry (Harry has several other motives for his self-sacrifice, many of them straightforward and mainstream; such as helping his friends, appeasing Voldemort, trying to prevent suffering etc.) - and I suspect that this clarity and singleness of motivation accounts for much of the widespread fascination with the character of Snape.

*

Secular v Christian Right: Saving the world for worldliness, or until repentance?

*

Why try to save the world from collapse?

Although they have a similar perception of causes, the reason to save the world is almost opposite on the Secular Right and the Christian Right.

*

The Secular Right (libertarians, nationalists, mainstream Conservatives and Republicans) want to prevent collapse and save the world so that it can be more fully and coherently worldly.

The Secular Right hates political correctness because it is crazily throwing-away peace and prosperity for its socialist delusions of equality, multiculturalism, pacifism etc; the Secular Right want to prevent collapse and save the world to ensure continued peace and prosperity.

*

The Christian Right, in almost complete contrast, want the world to repent and reform; to recognize that the primary pursuit of peace and prosperity is wicked: the Christian Right wants the modern world to repent the pursuit of peace and prosperity: to cease to pursue peace and prosperity.

*

The Secular Right sees the decline in peace and prosperity as the causal-outcome of errors on the Left - errors such as false understanding of causality, faulty political and economic systems, bad laws and regulations, distortions by interest groups, having the wrong people in charge etc.

The Christian Right sees the decline in peace and prosperity as the punishment due to sin - that peace and prosperity are in reality and practice - at a personal level - worldly comfort and worldly distraction: and that it is wicked to live for such base goals.

*

The Secular Right and the Left therefore want the same thing - P&P, comfort and distraction - but differ about how to achieve them.

The Christian Right regards the primacy of P&P as an evil delusion - and wants a society based on something else altogether.

*

The Secular Right wants to prevent collapse because collapse reduces P&P, and leads to widespread misery and death.

The Christian Right wants to prevent collapse to allow more time for repentance (to save more souls).

*

The Secular Right warns about the nature and consequences of impending collapse because it wants to shock people into realizing that they are in danger of throwing-away what they hold most dear; to shock them into adopting a more efficient and effective system of making society more focused on maintaining expanding peace and prosperity.

The Christian Right warns about the nature and consequences of collapse because it wants to shock people into realizing that they are advanced in sin, that living primarily for peace and prosperity is the problem - not a solution.

*

At a personal level, the Secular Right aims to produce an enlightenment, a recognition that Leftist methods are false and failures.

The Secular Right aims to replace egalitarianism with enlightened self-interest.

*

At a personal level, the Christian Right aims to produce an enlightenment, a recognition that Leftist (and Secular Right) goals are false and evil.

The Christian Right aims to replace the pursuit of self-interest with the pursuit of salvation, the pursuit of holiness, of Goodness - a life aimed-at spiritual advancement.

*

Therefore the Secular Right and the Christian Right - despite the coincidence of anti-Leftism - want quite different, almost opposite, things from society; want quite different, almost opposite, things for themselves; and are pointing in quite different, almost opposite, directions. 

*

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Worldly-neglect by the worldly: prophecy, disaster and repentance

*

We live in a wholly worldly public sphere; and what the modern world shows is that worldliness does not, apparently cannot, defend the world.

A focus on 'this world' by those who believe only in this world, is leading to the utter loss of this world.

*

Throughout the decades of atheist adult life, I used to worry that belief in other-worldly religions (especially among political leaders) would lead to neglect of this world.

That 'crazy Christians' would lead us into terminal wars over imagined spiritual conflicts, would lead to mass poverty in pursuit of delusional spiritual goals, would destroy this actual planet and most of the people on it because their attention was focused on an imaginary afterlife.

*

I feared that a concentration on the salvation of souls would lead to a neglect of bodies and minds.

I feared that seeking happiness in heaven would lead to the neglect of preventible misery on earth. 

*

However, it turns out that the worldly neglect by the worldly is far, far worse than the unworldly religious have ever attained: blinder, more perverse, more lacking in worldly wisdom.

And for this there is neither reason nor excuse.

*

The reckless, futile squandering of this-life by people who supposedly believe there is only this-life.

The utter lack of common sense by those whose religion is common sense.

*

It seems that to believe there is only this world and only this life is in practice to render everything futile; to encourage recklessness by the absence of any conceivable strategic good.

*

What a paradox! That the irreligious for whom the world is everything yet accept and actively assist in the destruction of this world; and that the religious - who are trying to focus on the next world - are among few who perceive that this world is on the verge of destruction.

The paradox is not new - the Old Testament has examples of prophets who fortell  the destruction of cities of corruption; who simultaneously approve this destruction as merited by sin, yet also try to prevent it.

The worldly cannot see this approaching collapse - it is only the spiritual prophets who realize the incipient reality of physical destruction and its physical terribleness.

So holy and spiritual prophets seek to terrify worldly sinners with prophecies of wordly consequences - how could it be otherwise?

*

The paradox is thus apparent, not real; the prophets seek not to save the world for more worldliness; but to bring the wicked to repentance using the only language which the wicked understand.

And if there is repentance then destruction is delayed.

*

Saturday, 16 July 2011

What is the bottom line level of social organization?

*

When genetic relatedness is reduced to small nuclear families (no tribes); when there is no effective cohesive ideology (e.g. religion, nationalism).

The predatory teenage male gang spontaneously forms and dominates, by sheer force.

(This situation prevails in some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.) 

When all else is stripped away the teenage male gang may dominate society.

*

The next step-up is organized crime - endemic gangsterism, piracy, robbery, extortion, blackmail etc.

Lacking extended families, tribes, clans - and lacking a cohesive ideology - this is the highest level of social organization that can be reached - the Big Man, mobster state.

My concern is that when the West collapses, this will be the level of society which will be dropped-down-to among the politically-correct, post-Christian indigenes - since Leftism has systematically subverted or destroyed all higher levels of social organization.

*

The soul in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

*

I had missed a key scene in my earlier readings of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, coming in the early Chapter entitled The Ghoul in Pyjamas:

'And the more I've read about [Horcruxes]', said Hermione, 'the more horrible they seem, and the less I can believe that he actually made six. It warns in this book how unstable you make the rest of your soul by ripping it, and that's just by making one Horcrux!'

Harry remembered what Dumbledore had said, about Voldemort moving beyond 'usual evil'. 

Isn't there any way of putting yourself back together?' Ron asked. 

'Yes' said Herminone, with a hollow smile, 'but it would be excruciatingly painful.'

'Why? How do you do it?' asked Harry. 

'Remorse', said Herminone. 'You've got to really feel what you've done. There's a footnote. Apparently the pain of it can destroy you. I can't see Voldemort attempting it, somehow, can you?'

*

Then, from the penultimate Chapter - in the final confrontation:

Harry: 'Before you try to kill me, I'd advise you to think about what you've done... think, and try for some remorse, Riddle...

'What is this?'

Of all the things Harry had said to him, beyond any revelation or taunt, nothing had shocked Voldemort like this. (...)

'It's your one last chance', said Harry, 'it's all you've got left... I've seen what you'll be otherwise... be a man... try... try for some remorse...'

*

In JK Rowling's covert Christian supposal, 'remorse' = 'repentance'. And, as with The Good Thief, she is saying that Voldemort's soul really could be saved, even at the last moment, if Voldemort was sincerely to recognize what he had done and repent.

But of course he does not; and in the King's Cross Chapter (in a Limbo between life and death) Harry has seen what Voldemort's ripped, unrepentant and un-saved soul has become:

It had the form of a small, naked child, curled on the ground, its skin raw and rough, flayed-looking, and it lay shuddering under a seat where it had been left, unwanted, stuffed out of sight, struggling for breath. (...)

He ought to comfort it, but it repulsed him.

'You cannot help' [, said Dumbledore].


*

Friday, 15 July 2011

Curiosity is only vanity - Pascal Pensee No. 77

*

Curiosity is only vanity. We usually only want to know something so that we can talk about it; in other words, we would never travel by sea if it meant never talking about it, and for the sheer pleasure of seeing things we could never hope to describe to others.

Blaise Pascal - Pensees - Number 77. Translated by AJ Krailsheimer, Penguin edition of 1966.


*

I recognized the truth of this specific point early in life, in relation to travel and holidays - that these were apparently, usually, planned and conducted primarily so as to be talked-about afterwards.

But then so much else is also done for that reason and none other.

As a thought experiment, it is worth considering what arduous and time-consuming things we would bother to do if we were forbidden ever to mention the experience.

*

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Reasons for doing nothing about social problems with simple answers

*

1. There is no problem: the problem is the people who say there is is problem.

2. There is no problem.

3. There is no problem: here are some fake statistics to prove it - the rest is just spiteful anecdote.

4. There is a small problem - but nothing needs to be done.

5. There is a small problem but the real problem is preventing backlash: so we will make some irritating and ineffective - indeed counterproductive - change 'in response'.

6. Okay there is a problem, but we are all on the same side, ultimately - so is it really such a problem? Let's talk about what we all have in common.

7. Okay, there is a big problem but it is very very complex; and what would need to be done about it is unimaginably complex; blah, blah, blah - zzzzz.

8. Okay, there is a big problem, and it could be solved - but the scale of the solution is too great to contemplate at the moment.

9. Okay, there is a big problem, and it could be solved, and we could do it tomorrow - but we cannot afford the necessary scale of the solution - it would kill us.

10. Okay, there is a big problem, and there is a simple solution, and we could afford it and have to do it, and we could do it tomorrow; but we would never be 'allowed' to do it.

11.Okay, there is a big problem, and there is a simple solution, and we have to do it immediately; but the solution seems like it is morally abhorrent - so we can't.

12. Okay, there is a big problem, and there is a simple solution, and we have to do it, and the solution is reasonable; and we could have done it - but it is too late now...

*
 

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

What are the forces for cohesion in England in the face of chaos or coup?

*

Darned if I know...

When things start to collapse - either due to a rising tide of disorder or a focused attempt at takeover of the state or a part of England - what forces for cohesion exist?

(The only thing preventing chaos or coup is that nobody seems to have recognized how easy it would be. Let's hope they don't read this...)

All the old traditional English virtues (such as those celebrated by Orwell) are by now thoroughly dismantled.

*

(The class system is wholly destroyed and has not been replaced - the main activity of the English upper class is organizing and disseminating propaganda against themselves.)

*

Instead there is placid laziness alternating with gross sensation-seeking, reinforced by the rainy climate (which make rioting risky - who wants to riot in the rain? Yet also encouraging intoxication) - but all that domestication will act against the English if society becomes disordered and resistance is required.

It really is hard to exaggerate the weakness of England; at the public level a morass of careerism, hedonism, self-advertisement, self-hatred. All resilient virtues secretly operative only between atomic individuals and hidden within families.

*

So where might English cohesion arise?

Tribalism? What tribes? - No

Families? Which families? - No

So nationalism? No chance.

Trades unions? Not now - they are concerned only with PC and short-termist grabs.

The military? Physically capable - but psychologically neutered. No.

Religion? No - except for one.

The problem is that each and every English institution (the Church, Law, Medicine, Education and so on) has long-since been filleted and assimilated to self-hating political correctness.

*

Quite honestly I am at a loss. When the tide of chaos rises and/or when some determined and cohesive group decides to take-over by force (and I can think of one, but only one) - who will stop them?
More to the point who would even try to stop them? Who would draw a line? Who would meet force with (overwhelming) force?

(Such is the level of endemic dishonesty in public disourse, the actuality and significance of chaos and coup would simply be denied.)

Clearly the country would multiply fragment - but into what? What foci of order?

Beats me.

*

Suggestions on the back of a postage stamp, please...

*

NOTE ADDED: I neglected to state the obvious default level of cohesion: organized crime. This has been and remains very powerful in Northern Ireland. But a non-ideological type would, if nothing intervened, be the default cohesion in England, too - presumably.

*

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Science, truth and revelation

*

Published in an edited version as Scientists need to rediscover Truth - in the Church Times Issue 7631 - 19 June, 2009
Bruce G Charlton

*

This was the first article written after I began attending church, and reflecting on the process that led to my conversion. It is NOT an up to date view of my current beliefs - but it may have 'historical' interest for readers.

***

I was an atheist from the age of six and a scientist by deepest conviction from a few years afterwards. However, science has recently led me to belief in God. This step was a logical necessity, based on a long-standing belief in the reality of truth and the requirement for a scientist to be devoted primarily to the pursuit of truth. I become convinced that, while science and religion are often in conflict over specific truths; at the deepest level of analysis science depends on revelation for its foundational value of truth as true.

I also made a further and more specific step from a belief in divine revelation to become specifically a Christian. This specific step has historical, sociological and personal arguments to support it; however it was not as rationally-compelled as the necessity to believe in revelation.

There are some bitter and sustained controversies between science and religion, and none more bitter and sustained than in my own academic speciality of the evolution of human psychology. Such conflicts lead to the common narrative that modern science and religion are engaged in a fundamental and centuries-long contest over the authority to control objective knowledge. This view sees science as gradually liberating itself from religious influences and growing in strength as a consequence. The story fits the usual pattern in Western societies of the concurrent expansion of science along with increase in secularism.

Yet this narrative is flawed in two major respects. The first is that by far the greatest world scientific nation is also the most religious of modernizing societies: namely the United States. This implies that there cannot be a fundamental social conflict between science and religion. The second flaw is that as European societies have indeed become more secular their science has declined in quality. Admittedly, European science has expanded vastly in terms of volume (funding, manpower and published output) – yet at the highest level of quality such as may attract Nobel Prizes or a similar honour, European science has fallen further and further behind American science both in relative and absolute terms.

But the problem of modern science is even worse than this would suggest, because the very fabric of world scientific communication is rotten with dishonesty. Science is now almost wholly detached from religion and this was supposed to liberate science from oppression. Yet the resulting science is neither independent nor devoted to truth-seeking. Instead modern science has been thoroughly infiltrated by politics and corrupted by careerism.

A scientific career now depends on raising large amounts of grant income. Consequently, scientists no longer seek funds for the research they want to do, instead scientists do whatever research gets the most funding. And to get research grants it is normal to exaggerate, select and distort right up to the limit of plausibility and just short of outright fabrication. And in the UK, the government’s Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) has for more than two decades promoted fashion above significance, and institutionalized and enforced self-promotion and hype. In such an environment, scientists who are scrupulously honest and who pursue important but risky goals are merely regarded as selfish.

What has gone wrong? The root of the problem is, I believe, that modern scientists have progressively abandoned their belief in the reality of truth and the conviction that the life of a scientist must be characterized by truthfulness in all things great and small. Nowadays, scientists are embarrassed to talk or write about truth: indeed modern scientists regard ‘truth talk’ as na├»ve, amateurish, hypocritical and probably manipulative.

Yet until about fifty years ago, scientists were raised and lived in a culture so permeated with religious understandings and transcendental values that direct personal derivation from Church teachings was hardly necessary. Even when they became atheists, scientists remained religious about truth. However, the combination of atheism with belief in the reality and importance of truth seems to have been unstable and unsustainable and is now rare.

And the great scientists talked and wrote about the truth pretty much all the time – Einstein fully recognized the profoundly serious implications of the kind of routine, day-to-day petty dishonesties which characterize modern professional science when he said that ‘anyone who doesn't take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either.’ Jacob Bronowski insisted that science entails the ‘habit of truth’ because scientific work is ‘of a piece, in the large and in detail; so that if we silence one scruple about our means, we infect ourselves and our ends together.’

The growth of corruption and dishonesty strongly suggests that modern science cannot do without the concept of transcendental truth. Yet the reality of truth was not something science discovered as an observation or a fact; truth was not waiting to be found under a microscope. Rather, the existence and importance of truth came prior to the emergence of science, revealed to humans of the past - to great theologians, philosophers and scientists. We moderns are recipients of their revelations, transmitted to us across the centuries.

Revelation implies a supernatural God, purposefully communicating with humankind. This leads to the need for a belief in revelation, but logic doesn’t stop there. If revelations are to be distinguishable from subjective delusion or deception; then revealed knowledge must be gathered, analyzed, harmonized, preserved and passed-on, and this necessity implies the further need for a Church. A Church is also needed to support and sustain scientists (and everyone else) in their basic ethic of truthfulness in the face of many relentless temptations and pressures towards the easy path of expedient dishonesty.

It seems that belief in the reality of truth plus the rigorous application of logic leads inexorably to the need for scientists to embrace a Church based upon revelation. The job of science should be to understand specific truths, and religion should not be concerned with such specifics. But revelation is necessary to anchor and frame science because it is revelation that underpins the vital institutional belief in the reality of truth, and supports the conviction that scientists must seek truth and tell the truth.

The accumulating evidence of the past decades suggests that science works better when it is underpinned by a transcendental belief in the reality and importance of truth; indeed when this belief is lost, science soon stops being science. Once this is accepted there are two possible inferences: either that the belief in truth is a convenient delusion that, by chance or luck, happens to work better than the reality; or else that truth really is true, in which case we need to accept revelation as the basis for this knowledge.

I know from personal experience any implication of the reality of truth being a supernatural revelation is exceedingly hard to swallow for many scientists, who much prefer the idea of truth as a useful delusion. However, to do its work in science and in the lives of scientists, the concept of truth cannot merely be an insipid and vague conjecture based on a pragmatic lie. Instead truth must be a fundamental belief to be lived-by, a conviction for which it is worth paying costs and making sacrifices, as with scientists of the past such as the Russian geneticist Nikolai Vavilov who died in prison for criticising the absurd theories of Trofim Lysenko at a time when belief in ‘Lysenkoism’ was enforced by the Stalinist regime.

So, uncomfortable or not, I think that real scientists who feel compelled to speak the truth and seek the truth will increasingly find themselves also compelled to accept the reality of divine revelation.


***

Monday, 11 July 2011

Intelligence as a barrier to understanding Christian Truth

*

Intelligence - the abstracting, systematizing ability and preference - is a barrier to understanding Christianity (to understanding The Truth).

Intelligence is also a disposition to heresy and apostasy.

As an elite of intellectuals have become leaders of The West - so they have imposed abstract modes of thinking on society, and made simple apprehension of Christian Truth less and less possible.

(And made it low in status; such that those who achieve real understanding are seen as simplistic, ignorant and child-ish rather than admirably child-like.)

*

I believe that abstracting, systematizing intelligence is useful in many situations, especially in gaining power over other people and over nature (which may be used as a force for Good, or Evil); but intelligence is a barrier to understanding Christian Truth.

*

Intelligence plus pride in that intelligence often proves to be an insuperable barrier to understanding Christian truth - perhaps it is the hardest barrier of all to overcome.

Modern Western society (ruled by intellectual elites) is precisely characterized by these attributes: intelligence (ie. abstract systematic understanding) plus invincible pride in this intelligence.

Since these elites fill the minds of most of the populace most of the time via public administration, educational institutions, and the mass media; and since the social institutions (law, health services, the military etc) are structured internally and in their communications by abstract systems - then it is unsurprising that The West is the least religious society ever to exist.

*

Used as a ruling principle, intelligence is a psychological illness and a social pathology: evidence for which is the loss of basic biological imperatives such as reproduction and self-defence.

Intelligence ought to be a tool, not a ruling principle.

*

Sunday, 10 July 2011

The error of Christian Socialism

*

Many Liberal Christians nowadays take it for granted that Christianity (as they understand it) entails socialism; entails a powerful redistributive state.

Entails, more specifically, a state based on 'compassionate' values - contrasted with a state based on capitalism.

For Liberal Christian Socialists, the primary role of the state should be alleviation of misery by equalization of goods - from those that have too much from those that do not have enough.

*

This error seems to have arisen around the time of the Reformation, and to have become noticeable in England mid-seventeenth century, during the Civil War with proto-Communist groups like the Diggers and Levellers.

But socialism, and Christian socialism, only became a major force after the Industrial Revolution was underway, and during the 19th Century.

So, the timing was all wrong for any genuinely Christian link between Christianity and socialism; socialism was nearly two thousand years late, and arose during an era of rapid secularization, modernization, and economic growth.

*

The (genuine) impulse for socialism seems itself to have been based on a factual error: the false (but common) belief that the Industrial Revolution led to increased poverty and inequality. 

Yet the industrial revolution benefited the poor more than the rich, as can be seen from the undeniable fact of rapid and sustained population growth, driven by the tremendously reduced mortality rates among the poorest.

Presumably the early Christians who adopted socialism mistook the new obviousness of poverty (on public display in new cities) for an increase in the prevalence of poverty. Their ignorance of rural poverty was taken as evidence for its absence.

(So we see the Dickensian idea that the new industrial cities had created poverty on a massive scale - when the net reality was the opposite.)

*

There are two strands inspiring socialism:

1. relief of poverty (and misery in general) and

2. egalitarianism.

*

1. Relief of poverty has a genuine Christian link, in the sense that Christian individuals are expected to be compassionate, and voluntarily to give alms to 'the poor'.

(The duty of almsgiving is not at all distinctive to Christianity, being the case for Islam, and some other religions.)

The emotion of compassion and the act of almsgiving are therefore intrinsically individual spiritual acts.

For the impersonal state to usurp compassion and almsgiving, to coercively confiscate resources from one group of people and (keeping some for the state) to allocate these resources to other people is very obviously not equivalent to voluntary almsgiving by act of choice.

*

2. The egalitarianism of socialism is refuted by Christianity, at least as Christianity was understood everywhere for 1500 years plus.

Traditional Christianity was always about hierarchy; hierarchy in heaven and on earth. 

Therefore to derive egalitarianism from Christianity entails re-writing Christianity to suit modern secular aspirations - which has, of course, been done, wholesale.

*


But commonly socialism has conflated 1. and 2.; conflated Almsgiving and Egalitarianism: to regard equalization as the primary method of abolishing poverty.

To hold this error in the face of experience requires a further conflation, that of inequality with poverty.

So that for modern Christian Socialists (as for Leftists in general) 'the poor' are redefined as 'the poorest'.

Material poverty, having in fact been eradicated in The West as a consequence of the industrial revolution (there have been essentially no poor in The West, as poverty was understood in ancient times, for many decades); 'poverty' has long since been redefined from "not having enough of X" to "having less X than/ poorer quality X than."

*

But the persistence of Christian socialism is not completely irrational: it survives because in a secular political system (i.e. in the secular system created by Leftism) there is no perceived spiritual alternative.

The perception is that socialism is somewhat moral as a political system - it has some values; whereas the secular right wing parties are perceived as being amoral, value-free: focused purely on economic growth ("capitalism"), military power, individualism and competition.

Individual Rightists may be religious or will have positive values as individuals, but positive values are not intrinsic to mainstream secular Right politics.


***


So, how could such a situation arise? 
The Good is the highest goal in life; but The Good as a unitary entity is hard to understand and to think about - and most people usually focus on three component transcendental Goods of Truth, Beauty and Virtue (T, B and V).
However, there is a problem in splitting up the Good - which is that people begin to evaluate the world using separate modalities of thought.
Truth becomes the province of first philosophy, then later science. Beauty becomes the province of art.
*
And Virtue? Virtue becomes religion - the whole thing!
Virtue – or ‘morality’ - can become the whole of a religion - such that people cannot see that religion has anything to do with either Truth or Beauty.

*
Morality becomes the whole thing – the sole legitimate aim of human endeavor.
In which circumstance religion becomes legalistic, inevitably.
Virtue is then a matter of following a set of rules, of Laws.
Virtue is reduced merely to obedience. 
*
Having broken the Good into T, B and V; and made religion purely a matter of V; we then observe that ‘morals’ and ‘ethics’ seem to be autonomous from religion – forming an apparently independent realm of discourse.
And this free-floating, continually-changing secular morality is then turned-around and used to judge and evaluate the Virtuousness of those systems of religion from which it originated, which provided its original foundations – and secular morality finds religion deficient.
*
But once religion is reduced to the pursuit of Virtue, and once Virtue is conceptualized in terms of Laws, and obedience to these Laws - then secular morality can dispense with religion, or take-over and use religion for its own purposes.
Secular socialism (liberalism, political correctness) is the destruction of Christianity take-over of Christianity by socialism...
That is the only difference between them.
 *