Tuesday 12 November 2019

What future: New Culture, Benedict Option, or Final Participation

Not many people believe (as I do) in the evolutionary-development of human consciousness. If this is true, our current situation is unique and unprecedented, and we can only move forward to something fundamentally new (i.e. Final Participation).

I would like to contrast this with two other alternatives being put forward: New Culture and Benedict Option.

New Culture is a term I am coining here to describe an archetypal 'American' kind of positive thinking, can-do, we-will-win attitude; which is that we need to tackle the evils of Establishment Leftism by building a new culture, politics, economy...

This involves detaching ourselves from the mainstream (so as to cease supporting them with our money and life efforts) and instead to build a new Western Christian culture. This involves creating and expanding alternative mass media, re-booting the arts and sciences, distinctive financial institutions, new political parties and alliances, new forms of employment and community...

Rebuilding the Whole Thing on a new basis.

What is distinctive is that that this is a positive and creative programme - and that it intends to be a money-making, powerful culture: more profitable, more technologically capable, more militarily formidable etc.

What are the problems? The first is practical.

Since New Culture is a head-on attack on the Establishment, and since the Establishment is much more powerful at present - it is hard to believe that the Establishment would not be able to nip it in the bud - by expansion of what is already happening: media censorship and propaganda, lawfare and bureaucratic harassment, economic attacks from deplatforming, blocking the use of finance and software, deniable/ official physical attacks on persons and destruction of property etc. Just more of what we already have.

But these may be overcome - especially as the Mainstream is incrementally destroying its own efficiency and capability, and this suicide is not easily reversible.

The bigger problem is that the New Culture is a materialist plan of reform and reconstruction; it is positivism, reductionism, scientism - it is just another version of this-worldly utilitarianism; whose appeal is primarily a promise to enhance the health and happiness of the population, to minimise suffering and misery.

New Culture is essentially a type of Modernity - one that claims to be more sustainable because more efficient and effective. New Culture requires the vast apparatus of division of labour, specialisation and coordination of function; it requires the way of thinking that goes with such a world view: it entails a preservation of the global trade, managerialism and bureaucracy which go with the industrial society.

The Benedict Option came from the traditionalist Roman Catholic philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre (After Virtue, 1981) and from an idea in the sci-fi novel A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller (1959) - and is based on an analogy between the current situation and that prevailing in the collapsing Western Roman Empire from the early 400s AD.

The argument is that Western Civilisation was preserved mainly in remote, cut-off monasteries and among hermits. The intention is that traditional forms of Christianity might cut themselves off from modern, Western culture - in small scale, minority societies - and survive until such a time that they can prove seedbeds for a re-birth of Western civilisation at some point in the future.

Thus, while the New Culture is positive, constructive and creative in intent; the Benedict Option is negative, preservative and defensive in intent. The idea is that there is an irreplaceable body of culture (based mainly on a fixed corpus of divine revelation) that must be kept intact and pure; and from which future societies may draw.

There are, again, practical difficulties - in that modern Leftism is demonically motivated in a way that post-Roman paganism was not; so that Leftism seeks-out and destroys its enemies. It would be presumed that no monastery, no hermit, would be allowed to exists in defiance of the Mainstream Establishment - but would be (one way or another) subverted, destroyed or inverted by the dominant power and propaganda structures.

But assuming these problems could be overcome; even as an ideal, there are problems with the Benedict Option. One is that the desirability of a reversion to traditionalist religion is not generally acknowledged.

Another is that it may prove impossible. The Benedict Option is based on a cyclical model of history; but if history is linear (as I believe) then there is no reason to believe that we can ever revert to an earlier stage.

If the modern post-industrial-revolution growth-orientated societies really are something new and unprecedented; if the problems of modernity (i.e. endemic and growing suicidal self-hatred; manifested by chosen anti-natalism and sub-fertility, and an active, subsidised program of native/ white/ Western population self-replacement) - then our main problems are likewise unprecedented, and there is no reason to suppose that what worked 1600 years ago will work again now.

So, I find myself left with the third alternative of Final Participation by means of Romantic Christianity - which is a positive and creative programme (like New Culture) - but a minority and social-transforming intention like the Benedict Option.

And unlike both: it is non-abstract and instead personal, being based on love; which I take to be a phenomenon that is real and strong mainly in families and marriages.

Romantic Christianity implies a bottom-up, family-clan basis for social organisation - such as I believe is the situation in Heaven. That is why it is called 'Final' Participation - it is the mortal, temporary, partial, corruptible attempt to live on earth the the same loving and creative participation with God that Christians hope to live in Heaven.

At any rate, FP requires that we set-aside generalised plans, programmes and blueprints for the future.

We need to start with a person-by-person Christian awakening, work on developing our own faith and consciousness; and... well... see what emerges from that on a small scale (at a personal, loving and familial level).

I think if we can develop anything Good, as 'raw material'; then we can rely upon God to ensure that this is amplified and disseminated as widely as necessary. After all, word of mouth is potentially an exponentially accelerating process of amplification (one person tells two, who tell four etc.).

Therefore we do not need the mass media and propaganda systems of the modern state; nor do we need the formal, hierarchical, sub-specialised institutions of tradition. We do not need a New Culture or the defence and preservation of Monastic preserves.

We just need each other - God Within and the Holy Ghost.


PhilR said...

Just wondering if you (or any readers) have come across Mark Vernon's book: A Secret History of Christianity: Jesus, the Last Inkling, and the Evolution of Consciousness. Drawing specifically on Barfield's Saving the Appearances (though curiously with no mention of Steiner) it maps out some interesting background to some of your ideas. Probably doesn't go far enough though!

John Fitzgerald said...

The Benedict Option, as I see it, is more about 'keeping the fire burning' than cutting ourselves off and adopting defensive postures. It's about building strong bonds and a strong sense of mission and shared identity between believers. This is how Rod Dheher, author of the famous book 'The Benedict Option' frames things. Obviously, given the times we live in and the nature of our adversary, we have to devise a sound defensive strategy, but I don't believe that defence per se - 'hanging in there' - is what the BO is ultimately concerned with. It's more about conservation than preservation - sowing seeds of renewal and keeping an eye to the long term future. 'Suave qui peut' as the French say. Let's save what we can from the deluge, and what we save and conserve will bloom forth in due course as a revived and restored Christian civilisation. That's the theory!

Dreher has recently been visiting Russia and other ex-Soviet countries, gathering material for a new book about Christianity's struggle to survive under an aggressively atheist regime. He has carried out a number of interviews with Christian dissidents from that era, and his idea is that their witness and the clandestine activity they engaged in can help us (though he acknowledges the differences between the USSR and today's West) survive what he calls 'the coming soft totalitarianism.'

In recent times I've come more to appreciate the value of tradition. I'm not sure we either can or should give up on 2000 years of Christian praxis just because elements of the current leadership cadres are showing signs of corruption and even apostasy. The Church is deeper than her leaders. The Church was ordained by Christ and is witnessed to in the lives of the Saints and Church Fathers and in all holy men and women who continue to exist even in our time. It's our role, I believe, to confirm ourselves to tradition and experience it from the inside and thereby join in the fight for the preservation and revival of authentic tradition rather than cutting ourselves off from it and starting something new independent of what's been handed down to us. We thereby run the risk of being mere 'innovators' and disturbing even further the equilibrium we are endeavouring to restore.

And this, as I see it, is the big challenge for Romantic Christianity. It needs a lineage, a tradition, and a bit of historical ballast. Because when the going gets tough that's what people will want and need and will turn to. Still waters run deep. It's not easy to start our own religion.

But the Holy Spirit is the ultimate arbiter in these things. If a change in spiritual consciousness comes about it will be through the Holy Spirit, and our job will be to discern when and how that change is coming and to act accordingly. 'Veni Sanctus Spiritus', etc.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Phil R - Yes I know of this, and my penfriend Keri Ford has reviewed it - you can see my comments there


Unfortunately, Mark Vernon is exactly the kind of 'Liberal-' (i.e. fake-) Christian, Establishment-supporting Leftist that I regard as among the most harmful people in the West generally, and England specifically.

Vernon operates (whether purposively or as a dupe, I don't know - nor much care since wilful blindness to evil is not much of an excuse!) as a fifth columnist among Christians; and (so far as I can tell from his journalistic output) he supports All the most insidious anti-Christian and pro-global-totalitarian ideas and policies that are currently fashionable among our Godless intellectual class (eg the latest incarnations of sexual revolution, socialism, feminism, antiracism, climate-change-environmentalism, globalism [UN, EU etc]... you name it, MV advocates it!).

If I say that MV left the Church of England because he regarded it as too *Right* wing (not a misprint), you will get the idea...

If MV isn't already a speaker at the Davos/ Bilderberg (-type) Group meetings, I'm sure he is eagerly hoping for an invite!

It is a matter for regret that he has decided to associate himself with Owen Barfield; since this is likely to dilute, distort and taint Barfield's true meanings.

Still, this species of manipulation and disinformation (emanating, ultimately, from the satanic dark brotherhoods to which Steiner referred and Barfield endorsed) is *exactly* the kind of thing that the Establishment have been doing to those who threaten their power for more than 100 years - as I have just today been reading about in Barfield's unpublished novel English People - from 1929:


Bruce Charlton said...

@John - Well, I knew of, and had discussed in some detail, the Benedict Option for a couple of decades before Dreher began to use the term - so I don't regard him as owning the concept!

And in characterising it, I am trying to make coherent something that is too vague. complex and over-inclusive to be of any practical value. By my analysis, Dreher includes incompatible concepts, and shifts his ground - he is, after all, primarily a journalist.

I firmly believe that *effective* politics, and social movements, must be very simple - or esle they get very simplified in practice and before they can take effect. Any organised tradition based Christian revival will need to be simple enough to be explicable in a feew sentences to an inattentive and unintelligent person.
I am not talking about leaving behind 2000 years - and I would not want it. But I am saying that most of 2000 years will be left behind, one way or another. What we will get will not be a reversion but something new. If that is the Benedict Option as it has become, then it will not suit traditionalists!

Bruce Charlton said...

@John - A further aspect is that MacIntyre was concerned with having a coherent philosophy. He regarded the only coherent philosophy as Thomism.

I think Thomism is indeed the most coherent of classical and Christian (monotheistic, with a deity that is an omnipotent and omniscient spirit) philosophies.

But I now regard there being other Christian possibilities that are equally coherent, but which drop the classical requirements of monotheism, spirit and omni-properties (which seem to have been introduced to Christianity in approx the 100s-200s AD).

But for traditionalist Christianities there is the problem - or complication - of multiple and traditionally exclusive-hostile churches and denominations. A benedict Option that is Eastern Orthodox, or Roman Catholic, or Conservative Evangelical, or Mormon is one theing... But what happens to the idea of the BO when there are several or many such traditions?

One can imagine a nation such as the US in which there are isolated small communities of these, and other (Amish, Hutterite...), types dotted around in a sea (or swamp) of hostile materialistic secular leftism. If the majority sink into disorder and incoherence, leaving the many distinct Christian communities - what then?

Each will have a different and (almost certainly) incompatible set of principles that have enabled each to survive. The answer would need to be a breakup into multiple small nations.

For me, that would not be a terrible outcome by any means! But in saying this, I am adopting a very different idea of Christianity than any of these survivors would have.

However, again, I return to the deepest problem from my perspective - which is the universal corruption of institutions. This has been going on for decades, incrementally and with no reversal.

"The Church was ordained by Christ and is witnessed to in the lives of the Saints and Church Fathers and in all holy men and women who continue to exist even in our time"

- but is this really true? What is *The* Church ordained by Christ, and did he really ordain a church at all? Not in the Fourth Gospel, he didn't.

And if true that there are *holy* men and women even in our time (I don't know of any - not by the standards of the past), are they merely an aged remnant who have not been able to transmit their holiness? DO we not - rather - have a very small number of individuals of significant but very partial holiness, and are they not scattered thinly acros the churches and denominations? Are they not likely to be obscure, powerless; even disdained, oppressed and vilified?

How can they be a basis for the Benedict Option?

To my mind this means that there is no basis from which the BO can operate. There is no uncorrupted unit from which to grow. We are too late for that - or else the end of institutions was inevitable and part of the divine plan (as I think).

Rather than seeking a holy person or institution - or seeking a group to form the basis for a new society; I think the best rule would probably be to start from exactly where we find ourselves. Try to begin with ourselves, keep a look-out for holy and Christian people in the immediate personal environment, and take it from there.

Cererean said...

All three of these share one major aspect. They *all* involve the development of societies that are separated and sheltered from the main world system, they just differ in the scale they expect to achieve.

The people looking for a New Christian Century expect to eventually displace the current system, and are focused on building institutions that can do that. I'm not as pessimistic as you about their chances. A head on attack, meeting power with power... that would be crushed. But a horizontal 'institution', with no head, is a different beast.

The Benedict Option, unfortunately, seems to be much the same but more pessimistic about their chances - reading Rod Dreher, I get the impression that it's about holding on so they can continue fighting the Culture War later, which is what got Christians into this mess in the first place. He doesn't want to destroy the ring, but to wield it as a weapon. He hasn't grasped that the state answers to Satan alone; it has no other master. His focus however isn't on institutions, but on communities, which gives it a better chance of success.

Your final option also requires societies, but benefits from the fact that they are far smaller than even the Benedict Option. As I understand it, they would be more like the community at St Annes in That Hideous Strength, focused on helping each other grow and resist the world the flesh and the devil.

I feel you've gone too far into Denethorism, Bruce. As Faramir said, "The reason of my waking mind tells me that great evil has befallen and we stand at the end of days. But my heart says nay; and all my limbs are light, and a hope and joy are come to me that no reason can deny." As the King James Version puts it, "And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." I do not believe our enemy can understand enough to be effective at suppressing the light.

Bruce Charlton said...

@C - Rod Dreher is one of these people I talked about recently (why do they nearly-all have beards?)


He is terribly concerned with presenting himself as a reasonable person... he does not realise how deep the problem goes.

"Your final option also requires societies" - no. It relies on families, primarily; and beyond that on friendships that are as close and solid as families.

My understanding is that we are up against The System, and the thing about The System is that it is a system... It is system that is The One Ring.

The only group entity that is outwith system is loving family-type groups (including marriage) - exactly as Jesus succeeded in building among his disciples in the Fourth Gospel (many of whom were indeed family, as I read it) - and this was what the early church did Not do - but instead went-in for System.

Whether that choice of an institutional (rather than familial) church was necessary and good at that time, it is no longer possible (nor is it net-good, because all systems now are corrupt and inevitably getting more so).

Of course we can't just drop all systems instantly, but systems are not primary and they are not the future; so we need to stand outside of them in an ultimate sense, so we can evaluate them and get what is good from them, but reject what is evil-motivated.

The situation now is qualitatively different from the War of the Ring/ the defence of Gondor - history is not cyclical - not least, Jesus came between us and Gondor.

To use Gondor as a comparison to our current situation - we would need (among other changes) for Denethor to be Saruman (in league with the devil; and the majority of the population of Minas Tirith to be fifth comumnists, quislings, collaborators, drunks and debauchers. The gates of the city would be thrown open, the orcs transported from Mordor en masse by Gondorian wagons at public expense and as a humanitarian project; besiegers invited in, fed and housed at the city's expense, and encouraged to rob and kill the native Men - and the Nazgul given high status and special privileges by the city leaders. And so on.

Cererean said...


What do you have against Elves of Colour? You need to put down the conspiracy rags and pick up the Daily Gondor to find out what's going on. The reason for the high crime rates in Hobbiton is because the poor Mordorian immigrants are oppressed by Hobbitness; once it is a majority-minority town, those problems will disappear.

By 'societies', I'm not talking large scale, but I think a couple on their own is not enough (and what about those of us who are not called, or suited, to the institution of marriage?). I'm talking about something far more akin to the old band-tribe structure. A small group, maybe 20 strong, comprising of couples, their children, attached singles etc, which may or may not be anchored by a Fisher King. The thing with Anglos is, we're not inclined towards clannish extended family groups, and whatever route we pursue has to work with that.

I also think there's still room for developing resources that can help these groups. After all, your website is still up, so we're not at the stage yet where you can't publish stories and essays anywhere. Starting new schools and universities is out, but providing syllabuses for homeschooling and facilitating reading groups for discussion is not. Horizontal UN-versities, not vertical universities.

Bruce Charlton said...

@C -

" I'm talking about something far more akin to the old band-tribe structure. A small group, maybe 20 strong, comprising of couples, their children, attached singles etc, which may or may not be anchored by a Fisher King. "

The thing is, such things have been *advocated* since That Hideous Strength, especially since the 1960s. It 'makes sense' but it just doesn't happen. Somehow these groups either don't get started, or are weak and collapse - within group forces of cohesion are less effective than in the past.

I mean that such groups as you envisage should (to be valuable and something new) be much more than friendships of mutual expedience; they would need to be capable of evoking the same mutuality of self-sacrifice as quite routinely happens in families - such moving house, moving region (or even country) to be near to grandchildren and help look after them; giving up work to help an invalid; giving up vacations to stay with a sick person; spending a high proportion of income on the others (eg. paying someone else's college fees over several years, as happens for one's children) etc.

It seems that people have changed. Many things that are 'theoretically possible' are actually not possible - or, at any rate they don't happen; and keep on not happening. Non-relations are not treated as relations - except where there is some kind of encapsulated traditional religion - monasteries, or Amish type communities); but these have always been available and have been (are being) rejected by the masses, and indeed by theoretical traditionalists. Again, it 'could' happen - but doesn't - probably it can't happen, not really.