Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What's Wrong With The World? Conservatism To The Exclusion Of Liberalism

File:Anonymous - Prise de la Bastille.jpg
Storming the Bastille
July 14, 1789

Dear Fred,

Thanks for your email.

Sage McLaughlin writes well and addresses a fundamental issue - the loss of traditional meaning and the simultaneous devaluation of traditional forms.

Again, I recommend "Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety"  by classicist E.R. Dodds.

It is a revelatory work that explores the interface of Antiquity and Modernity. 

However, "Age of Anxiety" also illuminates the epochal shift now taking place, not only across Europe and the Middle East (as happened in the early centuries A.D.) but throughout the world. 

"Things take time..." especially epochal shifts. 

Sadly, panicky impatience embedded in the right-wing psyche has no tolerance for change, even less for changes that take time. 

See "Conservatives Scare More Easily Than Liberals"

The transition between "anxious antiquity" and "self-confident modernity" lasted the better part of a millennium, beginning with "the birth of Yeshua" and culminating (arguably) with the construction of the great cathedrals, the collective expression of a psyche in which Christianity had finally taken root. (Notably, Europe fell into centuries of Dark Age at the very moment Christianity became Europe's "official religion." It is food for thought that Europe collapsed in economic and social disarray at the moment of Christian "victory.")

As a template for the world's current "anxiety," Dodds describes our extremity. 

Somewhere around 1000 A.D., "Christian monarchy" finally crystallized Europe's pagan principalities, giving Europe a meaningful framework. 

But The Official Story of millennial Europe is, unavoidably, a tale told by "the literate" about "the literate."

Until Gutenberg and consequent dissemination of the bible, those who could read comprised a single digit percentage of the overall population.

Having lived among unmechanized, unelectrified peasants in the late 1960s I understand their marginalization and their invisibility to "literate overlords" who recorded (almost exclusively) their own self-importance.  

Until the 19th century -- perhaps into the 20th -- peasants comprised 90-95% of humankind. 

If ever there were a silent majority, it was comprised of these dirt poor people scratching their living from hardscrabble. 

To this day -- and as I said to peasant-born Pedro Munoz just last hour -- I hold peasants in higher esteem than most urban dwellers, certainly the "job creators" who are now dedicated to The Seven Deadly Sins of prurient consumerism, simultaneously "vacuuming" ever more resource to the top of The Pyramid.

"Reagan Budget Director, David Stockman: The top 5% have gained more wealth since 1985 than the sum total of all prior wealth generated by humankind previously."

"The Seven Deadly Sins"

Despite my lofty esteem for peasant life, I also understand the downside of ignorance, superstition, gossip, "shame culture" and consumption of large quantities of alcohol resulting in frequent episodes of random violence. 

62 year old friend, Ismael Balderas Serrano grew up a shoeless shepherd in Mexico's (sometimes snowy) Sierra Gorda. Ismael recalls weekend dances that were seldom "complete" without machete fights, loss of limb or loss of life.  

In peasant culture, a strong sense of belonging arose was an intrinsic benefit of complex interrelationships needed for survival. 

Everyone knew their "place." Everyone had definable meaning. And everyone accepted -- pre-consciously -- the existential need to harmonize with the prescribed "scheme of things."

Although this unbroken web of meaningful relationship is a glorious thing, behind it all was a tenuous life characterized by great physical suffering and untimely death, starting in infancy. 

With no access to scientific medicine (nor rudimentary dental work to relieve the toothache that afflicted most people for half their lives... the peasantry relied on religious ritual to propitiate Diety in resigned hope that God would bestow miraculous healing.

Then, in the 19th century, humans came to depend on reliable scientific cures (and other industrial benefits) so that the "miraculous structure" of traditional religion was soon eclipsed. (Behind the First Vatican Council's ramrodding of Infallibility was the perceived "threat" of Science's dependable ability to achieve what formerly required religious ritual... and even then remained "a crap shoot." Confronting this "menace," Pope Pius IX declared that the Church could provide the "same" certainty Science did. That's another story...)

The fact remains that half of humankind no longer dies by age 8 and women almost always survive childbirth - a very "iffy" proposition until a hundred years ago. (Gregory Bateson rightly observed: "Natural History is the antidote for piety."

Our current anxiety is due to humankind's ongoing transition to a scientific foundation for life's practicalities. Admittedly, this transition is marred by widespread presumption, arrogance and irreverence. (Ortega y Gassett's "Revolt of the Masses" -- a book Bob Dylan lauds -- is a masterful treatment of modern "cockiness."

Sedevacantists may moan at modernity (and modern medicine with it) but "there is no going back" unless the apocalyptic intervention McLaughlin mentions -- and which conservative "apocalypticists" passionately desire -- purges the Earth with "fire next time."

Yes, conflagrational Apocalypse is possible... although I see Revelation in another light.

Still, if a fiery Apocalypse takes place, it will occur because religious conservatives evoke self-fulfilling prophecy.

Vatican II -- powerfully resisted by Catholic conservatives who have ruled the roost in recent decades -- was, and is, "just what the doctor ordered." 

If the changes recommended by Vatican II are to be implemented, we must stop thinking of Rome's most recent council as "a call to modernization" and see it instead as a return to the original spirit of Christianity and the simplicity of Christian culture much nearer communism than the rugged individualism which grew directly from The Reformation.

The current edition of Maryknoll Magazine offers an excellent summary of the last council penned by Jesuit historian John W. O'Malley, S.J. "The Spirit of Vatican II" can be read at

Here is the gist: 

"The expression often used is Vatican II was "to modernize the Catholic Church." That's a horrible expression. Vatican II was, if anything, going back into the tradition to bring up things that could help the Church deal with the present. If you want a phrase about the spirit of Vatican II, I would say "peace on earth, good will to all...   To give you the kind of spiritual shift Vatican II tried to effect, here's how it goes: from threats to persuasion, from adversary to partner, from hostility to friendship, from exclusion to inclusion, from monologue to dialogue, from fault finding to common ground, from laws to ideals, from coercion to conscience, from behavior modification to conversion of heart."

To understand Christianity prior to the very first ecumenical council -- at Nicaea in 325 A.D. -- I recommend the Frontline documentary, "From Jesus to The Christ."


What follows is my analytical collage probing the reality of early Christianity, contrasting it with latter-day institutional Christianity's erosion of its foundational Spirit.

Fundamentally, post-Constantinian Christians were seduced by The Destination of Heaven and thereby lost their primary focus on The Way

In effect they took their eye off the ball to focus on the reward, and by doing so, religious pragmatism was born with "the right hand knowing what the left hand was doing." 

We moderns commonly use the  expression: "It is not the destination but the journey." 

Remarkably, early Christians did not even think of themselves as "Christians" but as followers of "The Way." 

In the beginning Christianity was centered on the reality of life and assumed that the joy of serving community -- dare I say the joy of "community development" -- constituted the dependable process by which "wayfarers" experienced the "love feast" on earth, knowing (with very little dogma, doctrine or "trappings") that the incarnation -- the enfleshment -- of a good life "here" lead to the prolongation and amplification of that same goodness after death. 

Life well lived was the vestibule of heaven, and proper care of the vestibule gave entry to the mansion itself.

During the first 300 years -- when, presumably, agape was at peak -- Christianity was a remarkably existential religion, valuing the immediacy of experience more than the verbose institutional complexities that came much later.

As formulary orthodoxy became ever more important in the post-Constantinian period, Christians - especially Christian clerics - came to focus on "uniformity." 

Seldom observed but fundamental to the discussion of religion (especially the Abrahamic religions), is that any value system works well so long as all subscribers believe the same thing. 

For example... Although Joseph Smith was a sexual predator, Mormonism "works" because everyone "buys into" the incandescent importance of Family (whether polygamous of monogamous).  

David Karesh, Jim Jones and Charles Manson all headed cults that -- within the cult -- were remarkably coherent and satisfying.

It is in the nature of things that absolute insistence on any set of criteria whose purpose is to define "us" as "singularly central and singularly important" requires derogation of The Other

A bedrock purpose of Vatican II was to bring this foundational arrogance -- this cosmic self-centeredness -- to an end.

To do so, Catholic Christianity can no longer rely on the supercilious sense of singular superiority which has long imparted powerful solidarity to Catholicism - but at the expense of scape-goating "The Other." 

Indeed, we have scapegoated every other religion on earth, including other Christian sects, and judging by the behavior of sedevacantists, some intransigent Catholics scapegoat the popes themselves (starting with John XXIII who spent ten years in Islamic Turkey).


"I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said "Stop! Don't do it!" "Why shouldn't I?" he said. "Well, there's so much to live for!" "Like what?" "Well... are you religious?" He said yes. I said, "Me too! Are you Christian or Buddhist?" "Christian." "Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant ? "Protestant." "Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?" "Baptist" "Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?" "Baptist Church of God!" "Me too! Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you reformed Baptist Church of God?" "Reformed Baptist Church of God!" "Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?" He said, "Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!" I said, "Die, heretic scum", and pushed him off."  
Emo Philips

In addition to "Christian" contempt for other Christians, there is an entire zoo of scapegoats.

Christians have scapegoated blacks.

Christians have scapegoated gays and lesbians. 

Christians have scapegoated liberals. (Catholic Christians are particularly intent on scapegoating liberals following the papacy of Pius IX. See ""Liberalism: Satanic Rebellion Against God" by The Thinking Housewife

We have scapegoated "uppity" women, long ignoring the devastation of domestic violence by which Christian perfectionists can prolong their pollyannish presumptions about "domestic tranquility."

Currently, we have turned our attention to scapegoating latinos, ironically resurrecting Know-Nothing politics, at bottom a Protestant, anti-Catholic movement.

The apparent idyll (and idol) of pre-60s America overlooks the central importance of "kicking the dog." 

As long as designated whipping boys (and girls) keep to their "stations," white Anglo-Saxon protestants (and increasing numbers of white Catholics who affiliate with them) enjoy access to ubiquitous escape valves to discharge anxiety and reinforce self-righteousness through "deserved punishment."

It is not coincidental that America's white supremacist South was (and, in rural places, still is) a mean-spirited, spiteful, profoundly xenophobic place, so habituated to venomous views of Reality that very few people outside the South were (or are) welcomed by communities so saturated with bigotry that their foul negativity was (and, in rural places, still is) palpable. 

It also needs to be said that America's white supremacist heartland is coterminous with The Bible Belt, where putative "Followers of The Way" cling to guns and bad religion. 

"Love Your Enemies. Do Good To Those Who Hate You"

"Gun Cartoons and Gun Violence Bibliography"


Finally, it begs mention that Sage McLaughlin's website, "What's Wrong With The World," takes its name from G.K. Chesterton's best known collection of essays.

Throughout adulthood I have admired Chesterton and continually marvel that he is considered a conservative when, in fact, he is a revolutionary. 

Not only is he a revolutionary, he is deeply enamored of The French Revolutionthe bloodiest, most anti-clerical, most working class, most radical revolution that ever evolved into a functioning democracy. 

To this day, conservative Christians hate these "Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys" -

Chesterton may be a conservative insofar as a certain amount of conservation is necessary if we are to enjoy sufficient "cultural capital" with which to be liberal. (Five hundred years before Christ, Chinese sage Lao Tzu noted: "Only those who are conservative can afford to be liberal.")

But we ought not forget that Chesterton lived for liberality and considered conservatism a means to that end. 

In fact, "Chesterton Viewed The Rich As "Oppressive" "Scum" And "Failures""

It is true that Chesterton criticized what had "become" of "liberalism," but he also emphasized that he himself was, at bottom, a true liberal and that liberalism had deserted him; not he it.


Here is the Statement of Purpose attached to "What's Wrong With The World."

"What's Wrong With The World"

Statement of Purpose

What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: The Jihad and Liberalism.

We are happy warriors, for our defense is motivated primarily by gratitude for what our ancestors bequeathed to us. We are hardly what the world calls “optimists,” for our sense of the crisis of our age is robust indeed; but despair is among the more fashionable sins today, and our hostility to it, too, is implacable. We put not our trust in princes, but stand on the Solid Rock, against which neither the tyranny of the Crescent nor the blank negations of Liberalism shall prevail.

Jihad is the Islamic doctrine of aggressive war waged with the purpose of subjugating all non-Islamic peoples to the political and legal authority of Islam. It covers virtually all manner of crime with the shield of piety by blessing massacre, plunder, enslavement and treachery if these are judged necessary in the cause of Allah. There is nothing like it in Christian civilization. Its roots lie in the very antiquity of Islamic civilization, and though it is surely true that not all Muslims have committed themselves to Jihad, it is also true that the doctrine is at least latent in all Islamic societies. As such, it stands as an inevitable threat.

Liberalism is a more obscure doctrine to define. Its grounding, we believe, lies in the assertion of Man’s sovereignty over his own nature and destiny, his brazen defiance of God. (Alan: This is the sort of summary statement often made by conservatives which is an ideological predicate, not a documented demonstration.) In political philosophy its mark is the reduction of all things to some strictly materialist standard, whether openly atheistic or more subtly economic. It collapses the mystery of Man’s dualistic nature. Christianity has taught us, in the common maxim, that man is in the world but not of it. 

Alan: There is a religious point of view that recommends immersion in the world to come out "the other end," more richly religious because one then understands life "inside out" rather than "dogma down." Conservatives however lack sufficient breadth and depth to appreciate that full immersion in the Incarnation - that place "God so loved, he gave his only child" to it -- is a bona fide way to inspire awe, wonder and reverence for what is Here, Now. "I am who am" are the most existential words ever spoken. Nor does immersion in Here, Now, preclude other forms of religiosity. In my experience, I have found disproportionate numbers of heartless, soulless Pharisees in "the conservative camp" - people whose purported "God" is not a God I would worship, a "God" of whom I would be profoundly suspicious. Jesuit priest Bill O'Malley summarized it thus: "As a priest for more than 40 years, I have yet to encounter the God who counsels, with certitude, pre-emptive slaughter in the name of peace. If President Bush's God is the real God, I'm not sure I want to go where God is." 

File:Women's March on Versailles01.jpg
Women's March on Versailles
October 5, 1789

Liberalism posits that he is emphatically of it; and by its logic even the worth of human life is made subject to the whims and calculations of worldly interest. The reductionism also issues in a deep antipathy for natural distinctions of any kind; Liberalism in the end renders men incapable of judgment.

All the world is darkened by these terrible falsifications of the nature of Man and the duty he owes his Creator. For solace we look not to the morbid optimism of the world, but to a hope which was ably captured in a statement of the man from whose short book we shamelessly take our own title, who by his great “metaphysical intuition of being” penetrated to the heart of these falsifications. His words were these: “The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.”

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On Tue, Oct 29, 2013 at 11:50 AM, Fred Owens <> wrote:

Laura has links to some really good places.
Here's one that seems decent.
as you said, they are not political in the least

I like their cheerful rejection of everything that happened after 1914  -- it's a freedom I have been feeling myself and the notion that popped into my head which is "we can go forward or backward in time, whatever we choose" -- or a combination of both  -- on horseback or on supersonic transport.
Laura's traditionalist friends seem to ignore technology in their condemnation of modernity..... Are smart phones evil?


Fred Owens
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