Saturday 18 August 2012

Christianity OR Western Civilization


If we could have both, that would be the best, that would be great. 

But from where we are, or from where we are heading - our choice, I fear, will be: one or t'other.


Right wing bloggers use support for Western Civilization as a platform to try and unite the Christian and secular Right - but the two movements are pulling in opposite directions on this issue.

At bottom, the secular Right think Christianity is nonsense - useful nonsense, perhaps; but nonsense is clearly not their priority: they support Civilization over nonsense.


The Christian Right mostly love Western Civilization; but, after all, Civilizations come and Civilizations go - they are finite: they always come to an end.

Civilizations never last very long.

Not compared with an immortal soul.



Jonathan C said...

Ah, but I so love Beethoven and Liszt and Mozart (am listening to the Requiem as I write this). And Titian and Shaw and Orwell and even Nietzsche and Dali. But there have been none like them for 60 years, so I suppose my lingering desire to keep Western Civilization around is already an anachronism.

I can only trust that Heaven has art even greater.

Anonymous said...

Broadly, what is considered "Western" civilization is the political and cultural structure created to serve the interests of the English commercial class starting in the 1600's. It's Christian to the extent these people were/are Christian- to some extent long ago, not at all now.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JC - This is one of my CSL rip-off posts. By his account, Civilization is a 'second thing'. And in The Great Divorce there are various characters who prefer Hell because of the culture.

@dl - actually, my own concept of Western Civilization goes back to the Ancient Greeks, through the Romans (including the Byzantines) and in England the Venerable Bede.

Anonymous said...

I do not believe we must pick one or the other. For to have one is to create the other. If we return to Christianity, Western civilization will follow. Without fighting for Christendom we will be conceding all that our forefathers shed their blood for. Gandhi said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world". He was right, if we wish to see Western civilization return we must make it with our hands held together in prayer.

"The faith is Europe and Europe is the faith." - Hilaire Belloc.

dearieme said...

Oh, Bruce, in England surely Gildas is your man?

(Unless you think he lived in what became Wales or Scotland.)

Bruce Charlton said...

@anon (please do NOT comment anonymously) - but you have just made my point again? Christianity must come first (then we shall see...).

@d - Gildas is just a name to me, whereas Bede was the greatest intellectual in Western Europe for 250 years either side of his life (according to RW Chambers).

dearieme said...

Or, come to think of it, what about Patrick's autobiographical effort?

(Again, unless you think he haled from what became Wales or Scotland).

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - I'm talking about England, not Britain. Bede invented England - and he was both Christian and highly civilized, despite being part of a semi-savage society (as was all of Western Europe at that time, compared with the Byzantines)...

dearieme said...

Oh, come on Bruce: it was the Normans who effectively founded England.

Paul Jaminet said...

Gildas wrote from France, did he not? We may have a lot of Gildas's over the next century, migrants bemoaning the collapse of their civilization.

Bruce Charlton said...

THAT'S IT! No swearing allowed here, ladies present. Out you go son - you're barred.

Wurmbrand said...

So this post and the discussion prompted me to invite some students to form a Venerable Bede reading group. We would read the Ecclesiastical History during the new academic year. I said I must receive expressions of intent to participate from at least five students. I bought Wright's Bede Companion.

We'll see what comes of this!

dearieme said...

"Gildas wrote from France, did he not?" Some think he wrote from Brittany.

P.S. Which of us will tell Bruce that chunks of Bede's history came straight from Gildas?

JRRT Reader said...

I have commented on this in a sort of way before in a reply another post wherein I express my concerns that adopting Eastern Orthodoxy might naturally lead one to reject much of the cultural inheritance of the post-Schism West. I'm not sure that choosing the Orthodox path would necessarily mean that, but if it were necessary, I suppose I could do it.

I really doubt that many on the right even understand Western Civilization. More particularly, here in the States, the right still maintains overtones of anti-Europeanism, though the view toward Britain is somewhat more favorable. I can't speak for the rest of the world, but I would argue that in the US, so-called conservatism consists mainly of the worst elements of 19th century liberalism combined with an awful tendency to support any and all wars, as well as a fundamental misunderstanding of concepts such as freedom and virtue.

What I find most striking about American conservatives is that they support a worldview and a system which doesn't usually benefit them in any real sense. Joe Sobran wrote that he expected to find the Reagan years interesting, only to discover they consisted mainly in uninteresting blathering about supply-side economics. Even today, the average conservative on the street probably thinks that Western Civilization has something to do with freedom as manifested by tax cuts for the wealthy and virtue as expressed by purchasing chicken sandwiches as somehow supporting the family

Bruce Charlton said...

@JRRTR - yes, I agree. It was trying to get back behind these paradoxes and contradictions that led me eventually to the Great Schism as the start of modernity.

But the easiest way to understand is that is the CSL point that Civilization was not planned - it was a 'second thing' which emerged from other priorities. There is zero evidence that a civilization (or indeed a culture) can be had by aiming directly at it.

We should, of course, fight to preserve those particular things which we believe are good, beautiful, true etc - but aside from that perhaps ought not to aim at a particular culture/ civilization