Secularism and Religion

Many here are aware that the basis of western civilization is in our Judeo-Christian heritage. Often we merely assert this, since we have known it all our lives, but it can be examined fruitfully.

I admire Melanie Phillips greatly because not only is she a very good writer and speaker, she is fully capable of thinking through things. And she does so here. Yes, this is a long read, but I think you’ll find it valuable to read the whole thing.

It has become the orthodoxy in the West that freedom, human rights and reason all derive from secularism and that the greatest threat to all these good things is religion.

I want to suggest that the opposite is true. In the service of this orthodoxy, the West is undermining and destroying the very values which it holds most dear as the defining characteristics of a civilised society.

In truth, in the United States, we don’t hear it explicitly very often, but in Britain, it is quite common in my experience. Not to mention very strident, not only from the secularists, but from Randians, and other assorted libertine groups.

Some of this hostility is being driven by the perceived threat from Islamic terrorism and the Islamisation of Western culture. However, this animus against religion has far deeper roots and can be traced back to what is considered the birthplace of Western reason, the 18th-century Enlightenment.

Actually, it goes back specifically to the French Enlightenment. In England and Scotland, the Enlightenment developed reason and political liberty within the framework of Biblical belief. In France, by contrast, anti-clericalism morphed into fundamental hostility to Christianity and to religion itself.

“Ecrasez l’infame,” said Voltaire (crush infamy) — the infamy to which he referred being not just the Church but Christianity, which he wanted to replace with the religion of reason, virtue and liberty, “drawn from the bosom of nature”.

[…] Instead of God producing heaven on earth, it would be mankind which would bring that about. Reason would create the perfect society and “progress” was the process by which utopia would be attained.

Far from utopia, however, this thinking resulted in something more akin to hell on earth. For the worship of man through reason led straight to totalitarianism. It was reason that would redeem religious superstition and bring about the kingdom of Man on earth. And just like medieval apocalyptic Christian belief, this secular doctrine would also be unchallengeable and heretics would be punished. This kind of fanaticism infused the three great tyrannical movements that were spun out of Enlightenment thinking: the French Revolution, Communism and Fascism. […]

In the Sixties, the baby-boomer generation bought heavily into the idea propounded by Herbert Marcuse and other Marxist radicals that the way to transform the West lay not through the seizure of political or economic control but through the transformation of the culture. This has been achieved over the past half century through what has been called a “long march through the institutions”, the infiltration into all the institutions of the culture — the universities, media, professions, politics, civil service, churches — of ideas that would then become the orthodoxy.

From multiculturalism to environmentalism, from post-nationalism to “human rights” doctrine, Western progressives have fixated upon universalising ideas which reject values anchored in the particulars of religion or culture. All that matters is a theoretical future in which war, want and prejudice will be abolished: the return of fallen humanity to a lost Eden. And like all utopian projects, which are by definition impossible and unattainable, these dogmas are enforced through coercion: bullying, intimidation, character assassination, professional and social exclusion.

The core doctrine is equality. Not the Biblical doctrine that every human being is owed equal respect because they are formed in the image of God: equality has been redefined as identicality, the insistence that there can be no hierarchy of values of lifestyles or cultures. There can no longer be different outcomes depending on different circumstances or how people behave. To differentiate at all is to be bigoted and on a fast track back to fascism and war.

So the married family was kicked off its perch. Sexual restraint was abolished. The formerly transgressive became normative. Education could no longer transmit a culture down through the generations but had to teach that the Western nation was innately racist and exploitative.

Subjective trumped objective. There was no longer any absolute truth. Everyone could arbitrate their own truth. That way bigotry and prejudice would be excised from the human heart, the oppressed of the developing world would be freed from their Western oppressors and instead of the Western nation there would be the brotherhood of man.

All this was done in name of freedom, reason and enlightenment and in opposition to religion, the supposed source of oppression, irrationality and obscurantism.

At the heart of it was an onslaught against the moral codes of Christianity. Those moral codes are actually the Mosaic laws of the Hebrew Bible.

[…] What they [Western “progressives” and the Islamists] also have in common is hostility to Judaism, Israel or the Jewish people. The genocidal hatred of Israel and the Jews that drives the Islamic jihad against the West is not acknowledged or countered by the West because its most high-minded citizens share at least some of that prejudice. Both Western liberals and Islamists believe in utopias to which the Jews are an obstacle. The State of Israel is an obstacle to both the rule of Islam over the earth and a world where there are no divisions based on religion or creed. The Jews are an obstacle to the unconstrained individualism of Western libertines and to the onslaught against individual human dignity and freedom by the Islamists. Both the liberal utopias of a world without prejudice, divisions or war and the Islamist utopia of a world without unbelievers are universalist ideologies. The people who are always in the way of universalising utopias are the Jews.

Do read it all, and there is a deal more than I have given you. The full title is: Secularism and religion: the onslaught against the West’s moral codes. It is simply a superb examination of where our basic morality came from, and how it has allowed us to exceed former civilizations by orders of magnitude, and how it has come to be endangered.

Crossposted from All along the Watchtower.

Something New, for Pagans, from C.S. Lewis

CS Lewis, is there anyone better in the twentieth century? How about a Christmas sermon from him? How about a newly discovered one? Yeah, me too. From Gene Veith.

In an article for Christianity Today entitled Christmas and Cricket: Rediscovering Two Lost C. S. Lewis Articles After 70 Yearsshe summarizes the two articles that were published in The Strand in the late 1940s.  Because that magazine was not indexed until 1983, which was after the standard Lewis bibliographies had been compiled, they were not included in bibliographies or collections of his works.

Dr. Derrick says of the Christmas essay that the editor of The Strand gave Lewis the topic of preaching about Christmas to modern “pagans.”  But Lewis, as he does elsewhere, pointed out the difference between modern day secularists and actual pagans.

Lewis proceeded to use his Christmas “sermon” as an occasion to draw distinctions between the true Pagans or Heathens of old—“the backward people in the remote districts who had not yet been converted, who were still pre-Christian”—and modern people in Britain who have ceased to be Christians, who are sometimes referred to as “pagans.” To confuse these categories, Lewis says, is “like thinking … a street where the houses have been knocked down is the same as a field where no house has yet been built. … Rubble, dust, broken bottles, old bedsteads and stray cats are very different from grass, thyme, clover, buttercups and a lark singing overhead.”

Real Pagans differ from post-Christians, Lewis continued, firstly in that they were actually religious: “To [the Pagan] the earth was holy, the woods and waters were alive.” Secondly, they “believed in what we now call an ‘Objective’ Right or Wrong,” that is, that “the distinction between pious and impious acts was something which existed independently of human opinions.” Finally, Pagans, unlike “post-Christian man,” had “deep sadness” because of their knowledge that they did not obey the moral code perfectly. To compensate for this shortcoming, the Pagan developed a wealth of ceremonies to “take away guilt.”

Harris talks about the difference between the enchanted worldview of pagans and “universe of colorless electrons.” Yeah, I find the world of Thor, Odin, Freya, and Loki (never forget Loki!) a far more natural belief set than what modern secularists believe. How anyone can believe everything came from nothing is beyond me. It requires too much stupidity for me to get there. From the conclusion:

It looks to me, neighbours, as though we shall have to set about becoming true Pagans if only as a preliminary to becoming Christians. … For (in a sense) all that Christianity adds to Paganism is the cure. It confirms the old belief that in this universe we are up against Living Power: that there is a real Right and that we have failed to obey it: that existence is beautiful and terrifying. It adds a wonder of which Paganism had not distinctly heard—that the Mighty One has come down to help us, to remove our guilt, to reconcile us.

Indeed, a remedy has been provided for the “deep sadness” brought onto the world by sin. The very Pagan thing we do on December 25 of “singing and feasting because a God has been born” just may be, Lewis suggests, our “way back not only to Heaven, but to Earth too.”

This essay, “A Christmas Sermon for Pagans,” which had also been discovered by Christopher Marsh in 2015, will be published in its entirety in VII: Journal of the Marion E. Wade Center in January 2018.

Indeed it does, and even to rationality, which has been so lacking in our societies the last few years. What could be better this Christmas week, than some new C.S. Lewis to challenge and delight us?

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Well, I have to get on a jet plane in a few hours. It was unplanned, which is always unpleasant, perhaps we’ll talk about it when I get back, we’ll see. In the meantime, I’ve selected several articles for you from the top twenty all time read articles here (from the several thousand we have written. I’ll only have my phone but will try to check in periodically. Uffda! In the meantime, from my friend, Oyia Brown…

An 85-year-old man was requested by his doctor for a sperm count as part of his physical exam. The doctor gave the man a jar and said, “Take this jar home and bring back a semen sample tomorrow.”The next day the 85-year-old man reappeared at the doctor’s office and gave him the jar, which was as clean and empty as on the previous day. The doctor asked, what happened and the man explained.

“Well, doc, it’s like this–first I tried with my right hand, but nothing. Then I tried with my left hand, but still nothing. Then I asked my wife for help. She tried with her right hand, then with her left, still nothing. She tried with her mouth, first with the teeth in, then with her teeth out, still nothing.

We even called up Arleen, the lady next door, and she tried too. First with both hands, then an armpit, and she even tried squeezin’ it between her knees, but still nothing.”

Continued at: If You Don’t At First Succeed…

See you soon.

Literally: The Bible

And here is that question we’ve all had asked us, “Do you believe the Earth was created 6000 years ago?” Give or take for whatever smug resource our questioner is using. And the question is always a gotcha question, no matter what you say, the one asking it will ridicule you. Not that that matters, we should expect little else from unbelievers, although we should engage them, always trying to help them to see. But Glenn T. Stanton, in yesterday’s Federalist, went through the whole thing, and very well too.

[…]

Why? It’s quite simple: Literally no one takes the Bible literally. NO ONE. But otherwise intelligent pollsters and journalists continue to ask the question as a gauge for who really takes the Bible seriously—or too seriously. And Christians continue to play along.

Here, here and here are just a few examples of this. It all shows an embarrassing ignorance of how billions of Christians and Jews approach this important and world-changing book hermeneutically. This is unacceptable.

I’ll Prove It in Ten Seconds

All one need do is open a Bible to any random page. I’ve just slipped my thumb into my closed Bible as I write this and aimlessly opened to Ecclesiastes 10:2, where we read: “The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.”

If I say I take Scripture literally, then I must believe my heart—this four-chambered, muscular organ beating in my chest—physically inclines to the left part of my chest cavity because I’m a fool. If I were ever to become wise, it will physically shift toward the right side. My cardiologist would be amazed.

However, if I take these words as true, authoritative, and reliable, rather than literally, they mean my internal self—who I really am—is inclined in a direction exactly opposite of one who is wise. Scripture’s lesson for me? Being wise or a fool has dramatic and polar opposite consequences and affects us internally and externally, right down to our deepest depths.

Let’s do it again for confirmation. I randomly flip over a few books and find myself in Psalm 62. I read here, in verse two, that God is my rock, my salvation, and my fortress. This is good news indeed.

Taken literally, it raises the question as to what kind of rock God is: igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic? God says he’s my fortress. Is he stone, wooden, or steel? How tall are his walls? What’s his configuration? Am I being disrespectful with such questions?  It seems like it, and that’s the point. If anyone actually took the Bible literally, these would be perfectly reasonable questions for any serious student.

What People Really Mean by the Question

Of course, when we answer “Do you take the Bible literally?” we are simply taking it as short-hand for “Do you take the Bible as truth?” But the faithful student should have long ago dispelled such misinformed assumptions, correcting the questioner with, “You don’t really understand much about Christianity or the Bible, do you?” The serious student of Dante or Shakespeare wouldn’t tolerate such ignorance of their beloved texts. We shouldn’t either.

And that is the right answer, as it always has been. And one thing you’ll usually find is that the question wasn’t asked in good faith, anyway. That is sad, but it is.

St. Teresa of Calcutta

And so the Catholic Church last Sunday recognized St. Teresa of Calcutta as a saint. It was pretty obvious even during her lifetime here on earth, but even in the church bureaucrats gotta bureaucrat. It’s always been so, in fact, that how organizations stay on track, so I’m mostly kidding here.

But she wasn’t. Working with and for the poorest of one the world’s poorest cities, she accomplished miracles, showing their plight to the rich and the powerful.

But her work for the powerless went well beyond the precincts of Calcutta. Her most powerless client was always the unborn, who she worked incessantly to save.

How remarkable it was to hear this small woman at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1994

By abortion, the mother does not learn to love, but kills even her own child to solve her problems. And, by abortion, that father is told that he does not have to take any responsibility at all for the child he has brought into the world. The father is likely to put other women into the same trouble. So abortion just leads to more abortion. Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.

The entire address can be read here. It is interesting to note that then-President Clinton and his wife, Hillary, sat stunned through the five-minute standing ovation that answered her address. You, like me, know what side of that controversy we want to be on.

And controversy it has been and continues to be. Here’s a bit from Breitbart about why the left hates her so.

So the questions again present themselves: Why so much hatred? Why so much deep-seated anger against this woman?

Sifting through the literature dedicated to smearing the legacy of Mother Teresa, one discovers that all the arguments against her really boil down to two, which the Left can never forgive: her vocal and intransigent opposition to abortion and her overtly Christian spirituality that moved her to pour herself out for her fellow man.

All the other reasons given—that she provided inferior health care, that she was occasionally irritable with coworkers, that she accepted donations from morally ambiguous characters—are really just a cover for the two that irked the Left to the point of hysteria.

And hysteria it has been.

In a noteworthy 1986 essay published by the international abortion giant Planned Parenthood, titled “Mother Teresa, the Woman of My Nightmares,” one gets a taste of the profound odium stirred up by this simple religious sister.

“This very successful old and withered person, who doesn’t look in the least like a woman, especially when she raises her clenched fists in prayer, and who, for us, is a very suspect holder of the Nobel Prize,” Planned Parenthood wrote in its official publication Sexualpedagogik, “has become for us the symbol of all that is bad in motherhood and womanhood, an image with which we do not wish to be associated.”

“You, you nightmare of women! You unliberated, enslaved wives, mothers, nuns and aunts, what do you want from us, who have finally decided that we are going to take control of our bodies, our children, and our destiny into our own hands?” it ran.

Abortion, in fact, formed the centerpiece of Mother Teresa’s definition of poverty and all that is wrong with the world. The three most public speeches of her career—her acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, her Harvard Commencement address, and her words at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.—all focused on abortion as the greatest social injustice in the world today.

via Why the Left Hates Mother Teresa of Calcutta

I have no trouble at all telling between them “Who is on the Lord’s side”. Nor do I have any trouble knowing where I should (and do) stand.

 

Troublesome Priest

Becket-inside

I don’t know if you’ve seen the film, ‘Becket’, but it was one of my father’s favourites, and we used to watch it at Christmas on video (yikes, remember that? I mentioned it to a pupil the other week and she looked at me as though I was someone from the Dark Ages!). I was never sure Peter O’Toole (who I thought gorgeous) was a convincing Henry II – he got the arrogance and impatience, but I never thought he seemed the sort of man who could have commanded men in battle, as Henry did. I did, however, when I had finished swooning, think Richard Burton a great Thomas Becket. As a Welsh woman, I always loved that deep brown voice with its Welsh cadences; I think I could have listened to him reading the telephone directory (another piece of forgotten technology) and been happy as a sand-girl. Today, being the feast of Thomas Becket, brought all of that to mind.

The story has an interesting history because there are two version from vested interests. Until the Reformation in England in the 1530s, the story was a straight-forward one of the Church defending its rights against an encroaching Henry; as another Henry did more than just encroach at that time, the story as it was told thereafter changed somewhat. English historians used it as an example of how bad rule from Rome was. They linked it to Henry’s son, John (ruled 1199-1216) who was excommunicated by the Pope, and who, when he was fighting the barons of Magna Carta, regained the support of the Pope by making England a papal fief. Rome was thus cast as the ‘other’, as the enemy of national independence, the source of clerical rule and the opponent of national aspirations. Historians such as Lord Macaulay linked that to the reign of Elizabeth and the Spanish Armada (blessed by the Pope), through to the struggles of Cromwell and Marlborough against the French under Louis XIV. Becket, who had been treated as a hero – his shrine at Canterbury was one of the biggest in Europe before it was wrecked in the Reformation – was rather dropped by English historians. It was true that in more modern times the Roman Catholic, Belloc, tried to make the argument for him, but it was seen by all non-RCs as special pleading – and not that convincing either.

For the English, independence from Rome took on something of the iconic significance that the American War of Independence has for Americans – it was the crucible in which a nation was forged. You have Washington, Jefferson and Franklin, we have Henry VIII, Cranmer and Elizabeth I. Foundation myths are important in establishing a national identity, but they do tend to major on aspects of disruption and neglect what you might (if you used that sort of language, as you might if you were that way inclined) call the hermeneutic of continuity (h/t to Benedict XVI). Yes, things were different, but not everything was. England kept many aspects of Catholicism, as American did of Englishness. Across time and development, the elements of continuity became more dilute, but they have left their mark on our countries.

The film, interestingly enough, bears some of these marks, as does ‘A Man of all Seasons’, but they both bear another mark – one of our common heritage – that of the Cold War. In both films we see men of conscience stand out against the tyranny of power, emphasising the importance of the individual as against the pretensions of the State. In that protest of the individual conscience, we see a Protestantism which has shaped both our nations. It does not deny a Catholic heritage, but it insists upon the right of the individual to be a troublesome to authority as he or she likes! Long may it be so.

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