Monthly Archives: March 2014

Something Nice About Christianity

In this bizarro world of Pharisees and false prophets, you can spend all day with the dread of progressive Christianity. And it’s a terrible world indeed, when you go looking for God and find some smug, soft, self-righteous asshole telling you you’re not welcome.

It’s a world of death, as I have seen myself way too close. But in a world of death, Jesus is life. Jesus is the power that overcomes all death, the worst things that have happened or can happen to you or anybody. This power is not conditional and not limited by any condition whatsoever, not by your failure to make the altar call when you went to that creepy guy’s church against your better judgment, not by accepting Jesus Christ as your Personal Lord and Savior, not by being a nice person who the people at the office and school like, not by the approval of the deputy assistant pastor for biblical living at the mega church, not by the approval of some modern, forward-thinking graduate of the most prestigious School of Theology.

No, it’s only limited by Jesus’s own desire to give life to you, whether you ever heard of the guy or not.

My personal feeling about Revelations is that it’s not about stuff that already happened, is happening, or will happen, but all three at the same time. The story will come to a good end. We must wait, and it may seem like an awful long time, but we will not wait forever.

Revelation 22 20-21-

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

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What Religion Is Good For

Atheism has gotten more attention recently, with books by Richard Dawson and Christopher Hitchens. Atheism has a very long history though, and quiet atheism has probably been the belief of a lot of people through time.

The original atheist maybe was Epicurus. The word “epicurean” means enjoyment of fine pleasures, but that wasn’t what he believed in. Epicurus was interested in what could be considered the good life. The Greeks began to think self-consciously about 2500 years ago or so, and mostly philosophized about nature and human civilization. The hedonists- hedon being Greek for pleasure- came to the quick logical conclusion that maximizing pleasure was the goal.

This can be true for most people, because the sources of pleasure- food, sex, rest or leisure- are the components of simple physical survival. Some people, however, can obtain these things in excess, to their destruction.

The idea of having too much food, or too much sex, or too much rest, would have been amusing to a typical farmer or craftsman in old times. A small portion of the wealthiest people would however been able to obtain these in excess, the kind of people with enough free time to think about these things. In addition to this, people would have seen that very rich people with access to these excesses who did overindulge were behaving badly, and offending the gods.

Epicurus had an answer for both of these problems. First, one should maximize pleasure but avoid pain, and overindulgence caused pain. Second, the gods had no interest in humans, and did not punish them or award them. There is no afterlife and death was not to be feared because it was simply the end of existence, without pain or punishment.

So you can see- or at least it seems to me- that this sort of materialist atheism is a very functional philosophy for a person with a good life. Someone who has material plenty, social status and security. Such a person has a good level of enjoyment and little pain. The world he can see, touch and feel is good to him and seems sufficient. This is just the way our elites live- they enjoy food, but rather than eating a lot, they eat small to moderate quantities of expensive food. Rather than drinking a lot, they enjoy small to moderate amounts of expensive alcohol. They will have multiple sexual partners over a lifetime, but usually one at a time, and rather than the super sexy type of person you see in pornography, they will be moderately attractive, healthy and intelligent people of their own social class.

What if you don’t have this level of status and affluence? What if your life is, like most people’s, a struggle? I think paganism, not of the lesbian witches type, but of the Norse or Greek type, is pretty functional. The ancients had a more sophisticated understanding of things than they are generally credited for. They believed life was controlled by fate, the totality of one’s circumstances and the caprices of the gods. A person had no control over these things, only how he responded to them. The only way to cope with bad circumstances was to face them bravely. Courage was their primary, and maybe only real virtue. This moves the center of power from outside circumstances to inside the person. You can work hard if you must, face circumstances calmly, steel yourself against adversity, and fight to control fear, panic and despair. The Spartans were the exemplaries of this model of behavior- their country was called Laconia, so a person who was always calm and unemotional despite the circumstances came to be called “laconic”. In urban circles where hedonism or epicureanism are the rule, a person with a laconic personality will be thought of as dull but in more traditional or rural circles this type of behavior has more status and respect.

What if your life is not bearably, manageably grim, but unbearably grim? What if you don’t have the bravery and fortitude to make a decent go of it? I think in that case, Christianity is the best answer. A God who loves and cares for the weak is a comfort to people crushed under the burden of life.

Frankly, I think most traditional Christianity, whether it is Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant tends toward the pagan view of things. The believer is supposed to use his internal resources of behavior or belief to respond to the circumstances of life. How exactly he is to do this is the matter of a great deal of debate, but to me it amounts to the same thing.

I don’t think this is the case because Jesus helped many people of marginal belief, but in the most important case, the man with the legion of demons, one with no belief, no ability to respond to Jesus or ask for help. Catholics have a concept of “anonymous Christianity” that a person can decide and respond appropriately to God without actual Christian instruction, but for Protestants you have to believe or you’re damned. Neither of these ideas is helpful to a large portion of the population that is beyond the reach of any kind of normal Christianity.

I’m not a universalist but I believe many people with no experience of Christianity will be saved.

My primary point here is just sociological, or anthropological- affluent people are likely to be epicureans, people of modest circumstances functionally pagan, and people of difficult circumstances functionally Christian.

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The Existential Hero

I made a comment over at Jim’s Blog on the topic of working-class consciousness, how whites needed to see themselves as workers as well. Jim responded pretty strongly to this, to the original comment and to the extent of making a post directly on the topic, Working class consciousness, dismissing the idea comprehensively as leading to Nazism or communism.

It turns out Jim isn’t a “neo-reactionary” at all but just a very familiar figure, a Randian capitalist libertarian. According to Jim, people don’t make things, joint-stock corporations make things.

I don’t like to put my own links in comments, but the comment I made on quasi-black nationalist/comic book nerd/Howard University dropout Ta-Nehisi Coates is strangely enough appropriate for Jim. My comment on Coates was that black people don’t make things, white people make things; my comment to Jim, with only a few side comments needing changes, is that joint-stock corporations don’t make things, white people make things.

Ayn Rand is regarded pretty snidely by the good people- a crazy woman a few nerds like in high school, and some black-hearted libertarians and Republicans. And yet the Randian hero- a capitalist who strives against all odds, opposition, and even the law to build his empire- is at least as much a hero of progressives as of neoconservatives. Who is more the Randian hero than Steve Jobs? More the progressive ideal? Less heroic, but still in the mold, are Mark Zuckerberg, the Google guys, and various other tech capitalists. (The more socially conventional engineers who made it all possible with the actual technology are conveniently forgotten- after all they are just white guys making stuff in their garages like my uncle.) Unrestrained capitalism of the right sort is deeply admired by progressives. Blacks, latinos, women, and gays have rights, but workers are just losers, whatever their skill level.

The existential hero- a more modern version of the German Romantic hero- is the individual who defies fate and the conventional order to create his own destiny, to remake the world in his own image. Ayn Rand saw the mass-manufacturing capitalists of the late 19th century as her ultimate models, and yet the communist terrorists of the same era fit the bill at least as well. The existential hero shapes the colorless and dull mass of humanity to his ideal.

So both the idealized market economy and the two basic kinds of leftism- the cultural kind, progressivism, and the economic kind, communism- place great importance on the figure of the existential hero. Here’s the thing, though- there is no existential hero. Every human being is at the mercy of, a product of and hostage to forces far greater than he and far outside his power and control. The ostensible existential hero is only one, more visible member of a greater human community, and above that creation itself.

Pride is said to be the ultimate sin, but I’m not completely sure about that. Pride is an ambiguous thing that has positive uses. What you might call the bad forms of pride, selfishness and arrogance, definitely are.

Because humans exist in a greater community and in creation they must humble themselves to God’s law. Everybody has rights and everybody has responsibilities. No person or group of people can take an excessive amount for themselves, or abuse others. The scriptures warn against this repeatedly.

(Cross-posted with substantially overlapping content on my politics blog here.)

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