The Universality Inherent In Christianity

It has long been fashionable to regard Christianity as myth, no different in substance than many other ancient myths. Sometimes this is done to glibly dismiss Christ’s message; sometimes it is done in sorrow, viewing, as C. S. Lewis did before his conversion, Christianity as one of many lies, even if was “breathed through silver.” René Girard entirely rejects this idea, offering an anthropological, rather than spiritual, argument for Christianity being a true myth, and for the complete uniqueness of Christianity, as well for as its centrality to the human story. Girard’s appeal is that his framework explains the core of all human societies, and thus explains, at any moment, the present. Therefore, though he died in 2015, Girard says much about America in 2021.

Girard was a devout Roman Catholic, a Frenchman who spent much of his academic career in the United States. (He has gotten some extra attention from the fact that he taught Peter Thiel, who became a big admirer of Girard and who gave a eulogy at his funeral). Girard first published his theory of mimetic contagion in 1978, in Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World. I was going to read that book, but was encouraged to start with the more recent, and much shorter, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning. So here I started, although I glanced at Things Hidden from time to time, as well as at several other books Girard wrote. This edition of I See Satan Fall contains an excellent Foreword by James G. Williams, summarizing the basics of Girard’s thought on mimetic contagion, making it a good place for a novice to start.

Girard begins by announcing his intent to explore and highlight, rather than minimize as most devout people do, the similarities and parallels between the Gospel and pagan myths, and for good measure his intention to dismantle Friedrich Nietzsche. He then outlines his theory of mimetic contagion, using as his frame the Tenth Commandment, “You shall not covet. . . .” “Covet” for Girard means not an untoward desire, but simply any desire for what others have. He identifies this not as God’s mere prohibition on greed, but rather, far more fundamentally, as a unique early attack on the internal cycle of violence that is the basis of all human societies.

One of Girard’s purposes has nothing to do with religion, and that is to explain how human societies began, namely in violence, a specific kind of violence with a specific kind of purpose. But as can be seen from his dissection of the Decalogue, his other purpose is to prove that Christianity (and to a lesser extent, Judaism) is unique among all human religions, able to release mankind from the prison into which the forms of violence the underpin all human societies have placed us. Christ’s death on the Cross was fully as meaningful as Christians would have it—even if Christ was not, in fact, as he claimed, the Son of God, his sacrifice upended the entire anthropological order of the world. He showed a path of redemption, both secular and divine (reflecting the hypostatic union) previously unknown to mankind.

Violence in human societies arises because we desire what our neighbor has, because our neighbor desiring it makes it desirable in our eyes. “Our neighbor is the model for our desires. This is what I call mimetic desire.” That is to say, despite our own perception that our desires are internally generated, in most instances they arise by imitation; we desire what others desire, not what we independently want. (A related principle is well-known in the context of how wealthy people feel about their wealth, but Girard’s vision is far broader).

My neighbor, however, by his possession of what I desire, thwarts my desire, at the same time my desire, in a reflection of my own actions, perceived by my neighbor, intensifies my neighbor’s desire for what he already has. Girard calls this “double desire,” and the rivals are “mimetic doubles,” very similar to each other but perceiving unreal huge differences. (This insight is part of why Thiel admires Girard; it has obvious applications in many human realms, including business.) We perceive ourselves as autonomous, when in fact we are “enslaved to our mimetic models.”

This spiral of rivalry and its consequences Girard calls “scandal,” and he says this process inevitably engulfs entire societies through a process of “violent contagion,” citing Matthew 18:7, “Scandals . . . must come.” The original rivalries are often forgotten entirely as new ones arise with blinding speed, eventually converging on one society-wide scandal. This violent contagion convulses a society; it will tear itself apart in mass violence unless something is done.

That something is to identify a single innocent on whom the concentrated fury of the accumulated rivalries can be directed, through the killing of the innocent by the society acting as a whole. This killing produces a superbly cathartic effect on the society, and peace is restored, for a time, as everyone in society congratulates himself on a job well done—even though this killing is invariably, in reality, utterly unjust. (Girard focuses on a “single victim,” but elsewhere suggests that the victim can be more than one individual, and just as easily a large identifiable group).

Girard thus sees social conflict as normal, not accidental. It is inevitable in the nature of man. Not for Girard fantasies of peaceful societies of the distant past; he would not be surprised at the evisceration of such silliness by Lawrence Keeley in War Before Civilization, and he would no doubt agree with Carl Schmitt’s thoughts on the friend-enemy distinction. But it is not any violence that is Girard’s focus, but this very specific kind of violence. At the same time, he sees mimetic desire, because it allows us to choose what we desire, as what makes us human, rather than animals driven purely by instinct, and therefore of itself intrinsically good. “Our unending discords are the ransom of our freedom.”

Girard then turns to the Passion of Christ, demonstrating that the behavior of the men surrounding Christ’s death, from Saint Peter to Pontius Pilate, and even the Jews who had so lately cheered Jesus, are examples of mimetic contagion, where the players are driven to give in to the rising violence even when that is not their intention, and in fact wholly contrary to their declared and actual intention. Neither Peter nor Pilate wants Christ crucified, yet they are swept up in the contagion. In this the death of Christ is entirely unexceptional, and it echoes a long list of similar episodes in the Bible, both of the persecution of various Old Testament prophets (and of the prefiguring Suffering Servant of Second Isaiah), and of, more recently in Biblical time, the death of John the Baptist.

From whence comes mimetic contagion? It comes from Satan. Now, it is never precisely clear, at least in this book, if Girard sees Satan as an individual and entity. It does, in fact, appear not; at one point, Girard refers to the Devil as “totally mimetic, which amounts to saying nonexistent as an individual self” (italics in original). Yet as a devout Roman Catholic he probably did (my guess is this is addressed elsewhere, perhaps in the several books of interviews of Girard that have been published recently). Maybe this apparent confusion results from Girard’s stated intention to make his book wholly scientific, rather than theological, in focus.

Regardless, Girard heaps contempt on modern attempts to write Satan out of the Bible and Christianity; in his view, Satan is the hinge around which our temporal world turns. Satan is responsible for mimetic crisis, by showing us what we desire and then blocking our acquisition of what we desire, thereby creating scandal. Girard cites the episode in Matthew 16, where Peter “invites Jesus, in short, to take Peter himself as the model of his desire,” and Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan, for you are a scandal to me.” Jesus instead demands we, like him, avoid mimetic rivalry by focusing our desire on the desires of the Father.

But, in the words of Mark 3:23, Satan can cast out Satan. He initiates the cycle of mimetic violence, and also, through the catharsis that follows the killing of the scapegoat, restores order and harmony to society, a feeling of having been purified. This is the key to his being the prince of this world, for if he merely brought chaos and anarchy, he would have no power. Yet he continuously plays both sides of the game, thereby maintaining his power.

The Crucifixion is an exemplar of this process; “[w]hat makes the mimetic cycle of Jesus’s suffering unique is, not the violence, but the fact that the victim is the Son of God.” His sacrifice ended the rule of Satan—because it broke the cycle of mimetic violence that was the formation of all human societies prior to Christianity, founding an entirely new anthropology. Jesus is wholly different, because he invited his disciples to desire what he desired, however that desire was not a mimetic rivalry, but the desire to imitate the Father in all things. If accepted, this protects us from mimetic rivalries entirely, and is thus an upgrade to the Tenth Commandment.

After outlining this cycle, Girard proceeds to contrast myth and Christianity, what he calls a study in comparative religion. He does this by analyzing the hagiographical Life of Apollonius by Philostratus, a militant pagan. (Apollonius was a wonderworking guru of the first century A.D., a great favorite of shallow-thinking New Atheists, such as Matthew Ridley in his execrable The Evolution of Everything, who think that the parallels to Christ in the supposed life of Apollonius disprove the existence of Christ).

Girard discusses at length how Apollonius ended a plague in Ephesus by egging on the pagan Ephesians to stone to death a crippled beggar, overcoming their hesitation by enticing them to throw the first stone, whereupon the dead beggar was revealed to have been a demon, and the plague ended, with the intervention of the god Heracles. Girard believes this was a real episode, though certainly no demon was revealed and no god intervened, but the plague, one not of disease but scandal resulting from mimetic rivalries engulfing the city, was still by this blood sacrifice cured. Moreover, contrasting Christ’s defusing of the proposed stoning of the woman caught in adultery (John 8), Girard notes that even the process of killing itself is the result of mimetic contagion—it is difficult to get the stoning started, but once it begins, it becomes unstoppable.

From this jumping-off place Girard moves backward, to earlier myths, such as those of Oedipus and those surrounding the cult of Dionysus. Girard interprets various founding myths that involve a murder followed by the divinization of the object of the murder, often in a form of resurrection, as evidence of the universal pattern of mimetic contagion resulting in a crisis existentially tearing at the social fabric and its cure through the single victim mechanism. (His book The Scapegoat analyzes many more examples).

Through this mechanism false gods are often created, because it seems divine how the victim can bring society together, and these new gods underpin the creation of human societies. This is the “founding murder”; the story of Cain and Abel is one, as is that of Romulus and Remus. Girard takes these myths as representative of multiple cycles of mimetic violence surrounding the formation of societies and ensuring their stability. Religion forms the core of every social system; it is essential to humanity, not a parasite upon the real mechanisms of societal formation. Girard has no truck with theories of social contract, and no doubt thinks equally little of other theories of societal formation, such as Francis Fukuyama’s.

Turning back to Christianity, Girard analyzes passages from the New Testament that suggest the Gospel writers recognized, for the first time in human history, the “powers and principalities,” that is, Satan, as complicit in this process of societal formation. A key point of Girard is that Gospel passages that seem opaque or obvious are often nothing of the sort, but rather encapsulate enormous insights we typically miss. His book is filled with passages from both the Old and New Testaments that could be seen as banal but into which Girard breathes life. The passages Girard cites are often read as superstitious or magical thinking, but he rather interprets them as deeply insightful into human nature and conduct, and what is more, aware of how Jesus, true man and true god, upended this age-old human mechanism.

It is to this last point that Girard devotes the final third of his book. He directly attacks the view that the Gospels are just another myth. Anti-Christian apologists have long tried to show that the Gospels differ only in the particulars of myth; the broad themes are just the same as all other myths. In a jujitsu move, however, Girard entirely agrees with these critics—the Gospels are substantially identical in their form to other myths, because both the myths and the Gospel are part of a larger, essential truth, that of the cycle of mimetic violence. The difference of the Gospels is that that Christ completely inverts, and thereby utterly destroys, the universal pattern that existed before his sacrifice.

To demonstrate this, Girard steps back to the story of Joseph, comparing it to the story of Oedipus. There are a great many broad similarities—but the crucial difference, in which the ancient Jews prefigured Christ, is that Oedipus was guilty of the crimes for which he was punished, and Joseph innocent. In the Bible, the guilty are the accusers—that is, Satan; in the Greek myth, the righteous are the accusers. In other words, the Bible, both Old and New Testament, is unique, because it, even before Christ, attacks the standard mythic narrative. “The story of Joseph is a refusal of the religious illusions of paganism.” Similarly, the Psalms “are the first [texts] in human history to allow those who would simply become silent victims in the world of myth to voice their complaint as hysterical crowds besiege them.” And Job “not only resists totalitarian contagion but wrests the deity out of the process of persecution to envision him as the God of victims, not of persecutorsNo one and no tradition before the Bible were capable of calling into question the guilt of victims whom their communities unanimously condemned.” Judaism was the first religion to reject the mimetic contagion and the divinization of victims.

So what then of Christianity, which does indeed divinize the victim? It merely appears to follow the form of myth; but in fact is a complete inversion of myth. Girard here explicitly rejects Marcionism, the ancient heresy that the God of the Old Testament is a mere demiurge and entirely distinct from the God of the New Testament. Rather, the Old and New Testaments are not in any way in contradiction. Not only is Christ innocent, as Joseph was, but there is no violent unanimity in the community as to his death (though due to the process of mimetic contagion, unanimity is near complete at the moment of the Passion), and thus Christ’s death does not bring harmony—it brings not peace, but a sword.

The Gospel therefore reveals truths hidden since the foundation of the world, a crucial anthropological reality. “The Gospels reveal everything that human beings need to understand their moral responsibility with regard to the whole spectrum of violence in human history and to all the false religions.” In fact, Christ himself repeatedly cites passages from the Psalms revealing this reality, further showing the continuity of the Old and New Testaments. By the Cross, mankind escapes Satan, and thus the Eastern Orthodox view (largely disappeared in the West) that Christ by his sacrifice on the Cross duped Satan to his irretrievable detriment contains great insight and truth (although, Girard notes, it is perhaps less trick than simply “the inability of the prince of this world to understand the divine love”). Christ thereby subverts mimetic contagion, releases us from its hold, and redeems mankind.

Not that mankind often takes the opportunity to accept the redemption that Christ offers. Yes, Christianity has spread widely, and mimetic contagion is no longer the core of societies, or at least of Christian societies (though the entire world is influenced to a greater or lesser degree by the Cross). We still scapegoat, but we are ashamed of it, and try to hide our participation in any mimetic contagion in which we become involved. We accuse others of scapegoating in order to criticize them, in particular to stigmatize perceived discrimination.

This leads to the modern phenomenon of victimology. “Our society is the most preoccupied with victims of any that ever was.” Yet we often tell ourselves that we are inadequately compassionate and we must do more. What is this? Merely another instance of mimetic contagion. “The victims most interesting to us are always those who allow us to condemn our neighbors. And our neighbors do the same. They always think first about victims for whom they hold us responsible.” Nonetheless, Girard ascribes the modern concern with human rights “to a formerly unthinkable effort to control uncontrollable processes of mimetic snowballing.” This is the result of Christianity, of course, even though moderns frequently, in a bizarre error, scapegoat Christianity as the cause of victimization.

Finally, and crucially, Girard examines modern trends of thought that reject Christianity’s view of the victim as innocent, and attempt to reintroduce the pagan view of the victim as the justified target of mimetic violence—justified both by his supposed actual crime, and by the benefit to society that results, both cathartically and instrumentally, from his death. He ascribes to Nietzsche the rediscovery that pagan violent unanimity was an identical process to that taking place in the Passion. But Nietzsche falsely concluded from this insight that the pagan view was superior, and, famously, Christianity a “slave religion,” born of resentment, that hampers human flourishing by excessive concern for the victim, when in fact Christianity is “heroic resistance to violent contagion.” Nietzsche exalts Dionysus over Christ; this is a regression, not an advance.

Here, and really only here in the book, Girard enters choppy waters. He makes several claims that either make little sense or have been disproved. In the first category, he ascribes to the concern for victims “colonial conquests, abuses of power, the murderous wars of the twentieth century, the pillage of the planet, etc.” It is unclear how such a causal mechanism would work and he does not explain. In the second category, he denies that the West is decadent or (spiritually) aging; rather, it “seems to have extraordinary longevity, due to renewal and perpetual enhancement of its leadership and institutions.” No comment is necessary, although this book was published in 1999, so Girard’s apparent optimism is more understandable.

Regardless, Girard did foresee the logical consequence of excessive focus on victimization. “The current process of spiritual demagoguery and rhetorical overkill has transformed the concern for victims into a totalitarian command and a permanent inquisition… The fact that our world has become solidly anti-Christian, at least among its elites, does not prevent the concern for victims from flourishing—just the opposite… We are living through a caricatural ‘ultra-Christianity’ that tries to escape from the Judeo-Christian orbit by ‘radicalizing’ the concern for victims in an anti-Christian manner.” Yet at the same time Nietzschean influence grows, in part because Christianity is made the common scapegoat. Those on the Right can see the Nietzschean strain rising in reaction to the Left’s advances, most notably recently in the work of Bronze Age Pervert. Girard would not be a BAP fan.

But this rising Nietzschean influence is not the real threat; those ideologies that reject the concern for victims, especially National Socialism, never got much traction. The real threat, “the most powerful anti-Christian movement… is the one that takes over and ‘radicalizes’ the concern for victims in order to paganize it,” which “presents itself as the liberator of humanity . . . in place of Christ,” but is actually a mimetic rival of Christ. This ideology has brought back Satan, because it both creates mimetic contagion by “borrow[ing] the language of victims” and offers the age-old solution to contagion, violence against the innocent who are seen to oppose social justice. In other words, the modern Left (though Girard does not use that term, or identify this tendency by name) is literally Satan, the prince of this world, the accuser of the innocent, the tempter from the beginning, Antichrist.

Yet Antichrist is not an entity but something “banal and prosaic,” by which Girard means not inefficacious at creating evil, but something existing since the foundation of the world. “The Antichrist boasts of bringing to human beings the peace and tolerance that Christianity promised but has failed to deliver. Actually, what the radicalization of contemporary victimology produces is a return to all sorts of pagan practices: abortion, euthanasia, sexual undifferentiation, Roman circus games galore but without real victims, etc. . . . . Neo-paganism locates happiness in the unlimited satisfaction of desires, which means the suppression of all prohibitions.” This is not surprising. Christ did not imprison Satan when he defeated him; he fell like lightning, and he fell to earth, “where he will not remain inactive.”

Yes, Christ showed us how to resist Satan, but we have, more often than not, failed. The katechon, the power that holds back the Antichrist that Saint Paul mentions in Second Thessalonians (and a key focus of Carl Schmitt), only holds back Satan in part. Christianity can redeem the whole history of man, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete (whose name in Greek, parakletos, means “defender of the accused”). But we must choose; for God gave us free will. And our record is not good.

Girard does not say what must be done, but it is obvious. We must break this renewed cycle of mimetic violence brought to us by modern neopagan philosophies, by our restoring the fruits of Christ’s sacrifice, refusing to participate in mimetic scapegoating and rejecting concern for false victims.

This is easy enough to apply to 2021 America. To take only one example (there are many), Girard would see clearly that George Floyd was no victim; he is just a tool in a massive ongoing scheme of mimetic scapegoating by the Left/Satan. The real victims, the focus of the violent unanimity of Burn-Loot-Murder joined with a constellation of other powerful groups, are white people as a group, especially those who refuse to deny their supposed “whiteness” and join their persecutors, and most of all devout Christian white people. They are demonized by the Left as it inflates a Girardian scandal.

You only have to glance at the vocabulary of critical race theory with its core ideology of demanding the violent elimination of white people to see the truth of this. As I have been saying for some time, the result is likely to be violence when a leader arises to defend, and to focus the mimetic rivalry of, whites.

This social situation is, shall we say, extremely unfortunate, but Girard would not be surprised—white people are simply today’s Ephesian beggar, but with a lot more guns. This will not end well, but it will be their fault, not ours. Girard would ask, with Rodney King, that we all “just get along,” yet he would know that against this type of action of Satan, such a plea is unlikely to work—unless a society adopts the true vision of Christ, thereby breaking the mimetic rivalry.

I’m not hopeful that’s about to happen, because as Girard says, the Left is an ideology, a satanic one, and ideologies can only be broken by force. Maybe after that’s finished, we can try again to master the cycle.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The featured image shows, “The Last Judgment” by Jan Mandyn, painted ca. 1550.

Christianity and Immigration: Christianity Versus The Religion Of Humanity

A sort of shortcut, or short-circuit, has pervaded public opinion for many years, especially the Christian opinion, between the “Christian message” and “welcoming migrants.” As if welcoming migrants summed up the demands and urgency of today’s Christian message. As if “being a Christian today” found its touchstone in the welcome, if not unconditional, at least as broad as possible, of migrants. I would like to question the merits of this perspective.

I will first make a few very quick comments on migration. The dominant opinion, that which governs the rulers, maintains that it is fundamentally, if not exclusively, a moral problem, that the reception of migrants is a categorical imperative, perhaps tempered by the limited possibilities of the “host” countries. According to this view, we know what is good work, or a good deed; and the debate can legitimately only be about the appreciation of the circumstances. Yet this emphatically moral perspective rests on a political assumption that is rarely questioned, namely that migration is the major phenomenon of the times, the most significant phenomenon, and against which all others should be considered. This is the argument behind the Marrakesh Pact.

Moral Evidence Or Political Postulate?

However, migrants constitute a small percentage of the world’s population, which continues to live mainly in constituted states. Whatever the specific needs and wishes of migrants, no substantial reason has yet been given to subordinate them in principle to the needs and wishes of non-migrant populations, who are not necessarily less needy. By urging states to do everything in their power to facilitate migratory movements, we immediately deprive political bodies of this essential part of their legitimacy, which consists in freely determining the conditions of access to their territory and to their citizenship. Even urging them to monitor how their citizens talk about migration arrogates the right to regulate public conversation in every country in the world. Thus, in the name of a moral evidence, which is only an arbitrary political postulate, we weaken the legitimacy and therefore the stability of the constituted states, in particular of those which are most sensitive to this argument, namely, the democratic countries, which now host a large number of migrants, and who are by far the most active when it comes to bringing them assistance.

Our democracies provide a life of peace, freedom and even conviviality, which remains enviable for large populations, whose social condition, education, religion, opinions and lifestyles are extremely varied. This associative capacity, the fruit of great efforts over a long history, is not unlimited. No one knows how far a body politic can accept growing heterogeneity without breaking up. It is not only a question of “preserving” oneself, of defending what is one’s own, however legitimate this concern may be—it is a question of preserving and, if possible, improving the conditions of “the good life,” primarily from a common education.

Primacy Of Citizenship

Migrants themselves are no exception to this primacy of citizenship. They were active citizens of the country they left. They most often retain the rights of citizenship or nationality. They received a more or less complete education there, a human formation; in short, a form of life. It is therefore a very superficial view to look at migration exclusively from a humanitarian perspective, and migrants simply as “alike.” Undoubtedly, migrants are our fellow human beings and we are required, if they are in danger, to come to their aid according to our means. But they are also citizens who have been instilled with social or religious rules, which can sometimes be directly contrary to our principles of justice. The duty to help here and now the migrant who is in danger in no way includes a duty to facilitate his migration, let alone that of making him a fellow citizen. All this depends on very varied considerations and ultimately on a judgment that is not moral but political; or rather an ethical judgment in the old sense of the term, that is to say a prudential judgment in which the common good of the community of citizens is the main, although not exclusive, criterion.

What “Christian Message?”

I come to the second point. What exactly do we mean, or what do we mean seriously, when we speak of the “Christian message?” The answer is all the more difficult because over the course of a long history, the Christian proposal has found very diverse expressions, depending on the evolutions of the Church—of those of the world and of the interactions of the Church and the world. In particular, it appears that the modalities of the Christian proposal are very different depending on whether the Church is in a position of command or of authority, as she was during much of European history; or in a position of marginality or subordination, as she is today. I’ll proceed from there.

We constantly meet with traces, remnants or signs of the once central and commanding position of the Church. But, if we look at things as they are, it appears that the Church is increasingly rejected and lies at the margins of European society, including French society. The ecclesial institution, and Catholics in general, have long become accustomed to this diminished condition; but at the cost of increasing difficulty in carrying out the Christian proposal. How can the breadth and gravity of her appeal to humanity be heard without departing from the modesty to which her present situation obliges her? This proposal is addressed to all men, it concerns the whole of man, and the mission of Christians is to carry this call.

However, if the Church, through her liturgy and her sacraments, continues to fulfill this mission in the direction of her active members, she no longer really knows in what terms to formulate it in the public space. Indeed, the sovereign state has gradually imposed its point of view on all participants in common life, including the Church. From the point of view of the state, the Christian faith is one opinion among others, the freedom of which it guarantees, but which does not deserve any special consideration, as it hastens to let her know as soon as she intervenes in the public space. However, even though the Church today does not demand any special consideration, she cannot renounce her raison d’être. How to address humanity, and first of all the members of the civic body, when an increasingly rigorous interpretation of secularism leads the state to exercise increasingly precarious surveillance over any public expression that can be linked to religion?

It is therefore a great temptation in the Church to seek the ear of the public and to preserve its audience, by linking the proclamation, which is specific to her, to the prevailing opinion today, by confusing the Christian proclamation with this “religion of humanity,” which envelops Europe and the Americas, reducing charity to that “sentiment of similarity,” in which Tocqueville already saw the deepest and most powerful psychic spring of modern democracy. It’s a temptation, because like all temptations, it’s an ease, and it’s a lie. Indeed, the religion of humanity proclaims a human family, virtually united and healed. It invites us to perceive, under the still virulent separations, a humanity in which the similarity of men under their differences would be immediately visible and perceptible. One understands the attraction of a prospect that promises the unification of humanity through the contagion of pleasant feeling. We must also point out the cost. Once rooted, this point of view implies a relaxation of all our ambitions; a renunciation in principle of all our common actions, since there can be no ambition or common action without an effort to distinguish oneself from those who do not share this ambition, or have no part in this common action. A humanity which claims to unite by the contagion of the feeling of the similar, is a humanity which has given up acting, since, as soon as we act, as Rousseau explains, we must “take into account the differences that we find in the continual use we have to make of each other.”

The Religion Of Humanity

In the eyes of the Christian, in particular, the religion of humanity is superficial because it does not understand the depth of what separates men and where their enmity is rooted: how to imagine that men will find the healing of their divisions in that feeling of sympathy which, reduced to itself, has little strength and constancy? Moreover, it is because the human capacity for sympathy is naturally limited that compassion is prolonged, spreads and is distorted in political projects, which introduce new divisions by seeking new enemies. How can we fail to see the political and ideological passion behind the project of a world “without borders,” which presents itself as the necessary conclusion of the awareness of human similarity?

The humanitarian proposal is difficult to refuse because it postulates that it is enough for everyone to be aware of the evidence of human resemblance to enter into justice. The Christian proposal is difficult to accept because it affirms that all human beings are prisoners of an injustice from which they cannot escape by their own strength, and that in order to come out of it they must accept the mediation of Christ both man and God, mediation of which the Church in turn is the mediator. It is indeed a lot of mediation— when the religion of humanity offers the immediate feeling of human likeness; but it opens up an incomparably more instructive and demanding path of improvement, since its end is God himself, of whom every human being is the image.

It would be unfair to underestimate the virtues and the happy effects of humanitarian compassion. In fact, the gestures of charity are in part the same as those of compassion. But in the face of the fabulous powers bestowed on compassion, in the face of precisely this religion of compassion which has established its authority among us, it is important to underline its limits. Christians would lose the sense and intention of their faith if they could no longer distinguish between compassion and charity.

Fascination With The “Migrant”

Thus, after sketching a political perspective on migration, I have just emphasized the specificity of the Christian message. The two approaches, by various paths, aim to deliver us from a vertigo that sweeps away many of us, Christians or not. From a giddiness to a fascination, the fascination of the “migrant,” a figure which sums up humanity because he is the loss of the human as Marx said more or less of the proletarian, a Christ-like figure who tends to substitute for Christ as the object of the intention if not of the faith of Christians. However, the attraction, the bewitchment by the figure of the migrant in one part of public opinion inevitably finds its counterpart in another part of public opinion; in the form of a more or less vehement rejection of migrants, so that the reception or refusal of migrants tends to constitute in our countries the most powerful motive for political and moral divisions. I have tried to suggest that migration does not force us to change the character of our political system, or the meaning and standards of the Christian religion. Yet, if migration does not fundamentally change the political condition of men, it exerts pressure on our countries which, in fact, deeply affects both our political system and, if I may say so, our religious regime. This pressure is both the cause and the effect of the surprisingly rapid progress of this “religion of humanity” which is profoundly transforming the conditions of our common life.

This new political religion has delegitimized our representative republic by imposing the idea that there is something radically unjust in a community of citizens who govern themselves, because in doing so they separate themselves from the rest of men, and at the same time exclude all those who are not part of it. As democratic as it wants to be, our community of citizens is considered radically unfair since the rights it grants to its members are not granted to all the men who ask for or claim them. The only fair rule is that which applies to men in general. It is according to the same logic that the religion of humanity has tended to delegitimize the Christian religion which, a community sharing objects of faith, criteria of judgment and a form of life which are specific to it, separates itself from the rest of humanity. In fact, any community of action or education, in short just about all that humanity has been able to produce, is delegitimized by the religion of humanity which only wants to see similar people, where men have created great different things.

The difficulty, one is tempted to say, the perversity of our situation, is concentrated in the relationship between migration and the religion of humanity. This commands us to open up to migrants, without asking for anything in return—and certainly not to open up to our form of life. Yet are we not “the others” for them? In truth, there is no question here of equality or human resemblance. The meeting to which we are invited is that of a presumed innocent and a presumed culprit; it is ordered by a moral inequality of principle. It is that the religion of mankind was not produced by united mankind, but by old Christendom tired of itself, or in revolt against itself. Humanitarianism is not only a weakening of Christianity. Rather, there is, at the root of the religion of humanity, which has taken possession of Europe, an enmity and resentment, specifically directed against the Christian religion. This state of affairs concerns non-Christians as well as Christians if not in the same way; since, while Christianity seems to be withdrawing from European life, another religion has taken hold of consciences to deprive Europeans of any right to govern themselves and to preserve a form of life of their own. While Europe persists in erasing the last traces of Christendom, nothing can stop it from disappearing into a humanity without form or vocation.

Pierre Manent is a political philosopher at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Centre de recherches politiques Raymond Aron, and Boston College. His many books are widely translated into English, including, Metamorphoses of the City: On the Western Dynamic, A World beyond Politics?: A Defense of the Nation State, and Modern Liberty and its Discontents.

This article appears courtesy of La Nef. Translated from the French by N. Dass.

The featured image shows, “De bruiloft te Kana (Marriage at Cana),” by Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen, painted 1530-1532.

The Necessity Of Virtue

In this long, dark winter in the first year of the illegitimate reign of Joseph the Senile, we are confronted simultaneously with an acute culture war, a destructive cancel culture, and a degree of foolish political “wokism” unlike anything in modern history.

Politics is done by edict, troops surround the Capitol, and the dissenters are dismissed and deplatformed in what neo-Marxist Herbert Marcuse referred to as “repressive tolerance.”

At the core of this pretend politics is a strict and absolute adherence to the “correctness” of the new slogans, untruths, and blatant virtue-signaling the Democrats use to advertise their own moral positioning for the purpose of self-promotion and domination.

Yet recall the major virtues of the Western tradition—the pagan virtues of courage, justice, temperance, and prudence and the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity) so unlike the Left’s current fake smoke signals.

Nothing could be more different from virtue than virtue-signaling.

Remember as well, four plus three equals the Seven Virtues, a combination most thoroughly analyzed by St. Thomas Aquinas [largely in Questiones disputatae de veritate, Summa contra gentiles, Quæstiones Disputatæ: de veritate, and Quæstiones Disputatæ: de malo; et de virtutibus.]: the four virtues of the polis and the three virtues of the monastery.

It is not absurd to connect the four pagan virtues with Socrates and the three theological virtues with Jesus—the two great models upon which, until recently, we based our tradition of moral excellence. Socrates epitomized the philosophy of Athens and Jesus the theology of Jerusalem.

Charismatic figures, both men were masters who left no written teachings and founded no schools but who simply set an example.

In the efforts of their disciples and the passionate narratives inspired by their deaths, we see the beginnings of the inward vocabulary which, until recently at least, was the encoded recognition of our entire moral, philosophical, and theological idiom.

Discipleship of these two great and historic examples became a bulwark, fundamental to the entirety of Western morality.

All that is being swept away, as if it never existed. Gone . . .

The classicist George Steiner offers us in his many books—most notably, Lessons of the Masters—a sustained reflection on the infinitely complex and subtle interplay of power, trust, and passions in the most profound sorts of pedagogy.

Steiner considers a diverse array of traditions and disciples, returning throughout to three underlying themes—the master’s power to exploit his student’s dependence and vulnerability, the complementary threat of subversion and betrayal of the mentor by his pupil; and, the reciprocal exchange of trust and love, and of learning and instruction, between teacher and disciple.

Can we relearn what has been lost or forgotten? Can we possibly rediscover true virtue in a period of dangerous tumult and pure hatred? Are we adrift in a sea of moral relativism or worse, complete nihilism?

Virtue and the moral life must be founded on something. They are always grounded. They are not relative or subjective, as we have come to think of most preferences in the last two centuries.

For thousands of years and in many different religious and philosophical traditions, some concept of transcendence has been the fulcrum for the development of virtues that in these past eras sustained human flourishing.

Can it be so again? Or are we being deprogrammed to exclude any notion of dialogue, logic, and reason? Have we entered a new totalitarian era, a great “reset” as the Davosians refer to it, where only one line of thinking is acceptable?

If you visit the great cathedrals in Europe (perhaps frowned upon these days), you would be convinced of a higher purpose as you stared at the arches leaping into the heavens and took in the liturgies and artwork of faith. I have been to many of these places and in almost all have seen some profound visual depiction of virtue.

It is decidedly not part of the ruling Biden ideology or the CNN mindset.

Instead, these depictions typically follow an iconographic program inspired by the once prevailing scholastic thought, with reliefs representing the human activities related to the virtues of necessitas (civil life, supreme sciences, intellectual speculation); the mythical inventions of the arts (painting, sculpture, and architecture); liberal arts, grammar, dialectic, rhetoric, and arithmetic, medicine, geometry, and astronomy; the divine virtues (faith, hope, and charity); and the cardinal virtues (wisdom, justice, temperance, and courage).

Today all these are getting wiped away—forgotten or worse, castigated to the waste bin of history and cursed as racist or fascistic.

We urgently need to reestablish a discussion of all these modes of thought and modern virtues to recover what has been lost and to shine a light that could actually illumine our future. “Truth dies in darkness,” as the aphorism goes.

Tradition emphasized character over rules or consequences as the key element or driver of ethical thinking. In the West, virtue ethics was the prevailing approach to ethical thinking in the ancient and medieval periods. The tradition suffered a complete eclipse during the early modern period as Aristotelianism fell out of favor.

Virtue ethics returned to some prominence in philosophical thought during the mid-20th century, and is one of three dominant approaches to normative ethics,

the other two being deontology (the study of obligation and duty) and consequentialism (the theory that moral thinking is entirely about the costs and benefits of our actions).

Although concern for virtue appears in several different philosophical traditions, from the Chinese Confucian to other Eastern examples, in the West the roots of the tradition lie in the works of Plato and Aristotle. The tradition’s key concepts derive from ancient Greek philosophy.

These concepts include arête (excellence), phronesis (practical or moral wisdom), and eudaimonia (flourishing, sometimes translated as happiness). Can we revive them?

The term itself, “virtue ethics,” is actually of fairly recent vintage. It has come to be something of an umbrella term that encompasses a number of different theories. Initially, virtue ethics was characterized as a movement focusing on the central role of character imbued by virtue (which means “moral excellence” in Latin) in moral philosophy.

In the darkest hours, sometimes the human will can bend back to its best frame of reference—to that which has carried it down the centuries and sustained all human flourishing. This is such a time and more than ever we need a pause and a turn, a complete about-face, so as to rediscover and practice the original and best virtues.

Theodore Roosevelt Malloch, scholar-diplomat-strategist, is CEO of the thought leadership firm The Roosevelt Group. He is the author of 18 books, including The Plot to Destroy Trump and appears regularly in the media, as a keynote speaker, and on television around the world.

The featured image shows, “The Seven Virtues,” by Francesco Pesellino and his workshop, painted ca. 1450.

The Nature Of Good And Evil

In a world in which the action of choosing is exalted above all else, it is not surprising to hear that “evil is necessary in order to have the good.” I have seen this conversation, cast in a number of ways. It is stock-in-trade for some quasi-religious systems. I have seen it in spades in Jungian and Depth Psychology circles. No doubt, some bring this set of ideas along with them into the Orthodox faith. It is, however, a profound error.

Before looking at the nature of good and evil, it is worth seeing the problem involved when choice is inserted into the conversation. What happens in that approach is that we are no longer speaking about the nature of good and evil, indeed, both are relativized in importance. Everything quickly revolves back to the nature of choosing, and makes the actions of our will the center of the good. Thus, there is no true good or evil, only good choices and evil choices. It is a narcissistic ontology – a system of thought in which we ourselves become the center of attention.

This is where, for me, some very fundamental matters of Orthodox thought are helpful. The “Good” is a term that ultimately applies to God. God is good and the source of all goodness. Indeed, goodness has a place in the “philosophical trinity.” That trinity is truth, goodness, and beauty. These are the three properties of being. God alone has true being. Everything that exists does so because God gives it being. Creation thus has relative being. The purpose (telos) of all created things is to move from relative being towards greater likeness and union with God in the truth of His being. In theological terms, we speak of this as “eternal life.”

It is in the context of these understandings that the Fathers speak of evil. Evil is not a “thing,” nor something that has any existence or being at all. To think about evil, it is necessary to understand that all of creation (ourselves included) is in motion (kenesis). Everything moves and changes (in terms of being). The proper movement for all things is towards its end in God (its telos). This is a movement towards greater truth, beauty, and goodness. Evil, on the other hand, is a movement away from proper being, a movement away from truth, beauty, and goodness. However, it is crucial to note that this is a movement, and not a thing.

Our movement towards God (which is what is described as doing good or being good) does not in any way require a movement away from God. Indeed, it would be absurd to suggest that non-being is required in order for being to exist.

In systems such as Depth Psychology, “wholeness” is often used to describe the proper goal of life. Its notion of wholeness is a reconciliation of good and evil. Carl Jung, in his language of mythic archetypes, dubbed this figure, “Abraxas.” It puts me in mind of a Star Trek episode (original series). Captain Kirk suffers from an accident in the transporter system where his “good” side has been separated from his “evil” side. The two caricatures (we cannot call them characters) fight it out for control of the Enterprise with rather predictable results. The goal of the episode is to put him back together. The subtext of the program is that we cannot function without our evil selves, even if they must be tempered. This is a far cry from Orthodox theosis.

It is entirely understandable that people cast about for answers in the problem of good and evil. We wonder, “Does evil serve a purpose?” The mistakes we have made, or even the terrible tragedies and catastrophes across our history would seem somehow more acceptable if we could see them playing a role in some later, greater good. Our faith does not reconcile evil with good. Rather, it tells us that good overcomes evil and moves towards its end in a manner that, while not abolishing evil from the story of things, makes the story to be what evil sought to prevent.

The story of Joseph in Egypt is a primary example. His brothers’ evil action in selling him as a slave to the Egyptians is “undone” or “overcome” after a fashion. He says to them, “You meant it to me for evil, but the Lord meant it to me for good.” Of course, the Cross is the greatest of such examples. The powers of this world meant it for one thing, but the Lord meant it for His own great goodness – the redemption of all things.

As we tend to center our world (and ourselves) in the question of our choices, we are constantly tempted to justify those we feel were wrong. By the same token, we bring an anxiety about the choices that are yet to come. The power of goodness is not within our choice. We do not create the good – it is given to us. The impossible reality that surrounds our choices is seen when we examine the limits of our existence. We cannot see the consequences of our actions (beyond the most immediate circumstances) nor can we control the myriad of other events that will interact with any choice we might make. We are simply insufficient of ourselves to create good through our choices.

This does not negate the place that choice has in our lives. However, like everything about a contingent being, it is relativized. God alone is the source of the good, and whatever participation our lives have in goodness is His gift to us. We cannot weigh or consider the good in a manner apart from God. There is no such thing as a “secular” good.

The course of our existence is a movement. That movement is impelled towards the good through our desire for God (sometimes manifest simply as a longing for beauty, truth, and goodness). We make choices within the course of that movement, but only God can direct and make of our choices the good He intends. What we know of our choices are limited, often complex, and filled with uncertainty. It is God, to whom we commend ourselves, one another, and all our lives, who gathers our choices into His own goodness, truth, and beauty, making of them what we could never do of our own selves.

In none of this, however, is evil necessary. It has no being. It is only misdirection. It is a parasite. The Scriptures say this: “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have communion with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have communion with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:5–7)

The communion we have with one another is rooted in our communion in Christ. He is the Good, and it is our participation (communion) in Him that is our good as well. It is this communion that “cleanses” all of our choices – the relative good and the relative evil – and sets them on the path of union with God.

Learning to live as contingent creatures, someone whose existence is always only relative, is best described and encompassed as the life of thanksgiving. The Scriptures say that, “In Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). In this, we give thanks, and commend the whole of our life to Him.

Father Stephen Freeman is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.

The featured image shows, “St Michael Vanquishing the Devil,” by PBonifazio Veronese, painted circa 1530.

Youth Subculture In Russia: A Historian’s View

Life, especially in the West, is gradually moving towards the fact that the diverse minorities, taken together, will become a solid and constantly growing majority. But Russia is no exception here. Perhaps this will be the ultimate embodiment of democracy.

In this regard, I recall an advertising slogan from the Moscow metro with a reference to Aristotle: “The city is the unity of the dissimilar.” However, questions immediately arise: where is the measure of this dissimilarity? Or is it immeasurable? And, perhaps, the most important question – is such dissimilarity an end in itself? Is it possible here to recall the “blossoming complexity” of Konstantin Leontiev and rejoice? How blooming is it? Aroma is not yet a sign of a blooming state.

Subculture is not a hobby club or a circle of young pioneers. The fundamental difference is that the values of a subculture are basic for its adherent, more important than all those that are shared by the rest of the surrounding world. A subculture can form naturally – on ethnic, geographic or traditional, religious grounds. However, this is not always the case: a subculture can arise artificially – by way of certain age, carnal, intellectual or “spiritual” interests. These, in fact, have nothing to do with subcultures of the first type; their nature is different, and they arise by the free will and choice of the person himself. This is how sects, gay communities, “hangouts,” and youth subcultures arise. And a person does not come here for an hour – you need to connect your life with the subculture, live by its interests and rules, soak yourself in its spirit. You will have to look at the outside world and at yourself through the eyes of the subculture.

The subculture does not seek to expand its ranks too actively, despite the oft-proclaimed formal slogans to the contrary. It is always characterized by the idea of its own exclusivity, sometimes elitism.

Youth subcultures for Russia are a recent phenomenon. In traditional society, they were none, because there was no “youth” in our understanding. A child – a boy or a girl – immediately grew into an adult with all his duties and behaviors. Usually this was associated with marriage, the time for which in Russia, as in other traditional societies, came with puberty. A woman a little over 30 years old was often already a grandmother and nursed her grandchildren, and her husband (or father-in-law) was in charge of a large family, consisting of several generations of relatives. A 15-year-old boy was getting ready for military service – this is how childhood ended.

Such a society, with its values of conservatism, was extremely mobile – each of its members played an important social role. Moreover, there was no need for some deliberately invented “state ideology” or “national idea” – a sense of responsibility was instilled from the cradle, and it almost always guaranteed against unpatriotic or selfish behavior. “Take care of honor from a young age,” an old Russian proverb said.

Released in 1762 from compulsory service, the nobles, quickly imbued with a sense of their own exclusiveness, nevertheless, did not form subcultures. The estate system generally excluded subcultures: it was built on the subordination of all groups of the population. In Russia, this was also coupled with a pronounced state paternalism.

In addition, the subculture is a predominantly urban phenomenon, while Russia as a whole remained an agrarian society. The farmers were quite divided among themselves. The urban noble society was too much tied to state interests. The public opinion of the nobility was based on ideas embedded in an all-Russian metric – the fate of the country, according to their own ideas, was in their hands and was directly decided by the “first nobleman” – the autocrat.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the young nobility adopted English dandyism, but this can hardly be called a subculture; there were only a few young dandies in the capitals. Pyotr Chaadayev, who became the embodiment of this phenomenon, was an exceptional and unique person. The hero of Pushkin’s novel, Eugene Onegin, is only “dressed like a dandy in London.” There was only the imitation of the Western model.

The disintegration of traditional social relations always gives rise to informal associations. They often have an age-related feature. In Russia, perhaps, the student community could be called the first “youth subculture.” Its final guise took place in the second half of the 19th century. It was not a clearly defined class; the authorities were not able to regulate its life by law; the values of the students were informal.

For these students, it was necessary to be different from everything around – which was deemed “gray and dull.” And the acquired scientific knowledge suggested that the way out lay in a new social reality, in the kingdom of total justice. Radical ideological features were combined with external differences. A real student even in that uniformed era was noticeable by external signs – an emphasized and deliberately provocative neglect of appearance. The student’s uniform, introduced in the 1880s, did not change the attitude of the student: the top buttons were not buttoned, the cap was always worn on one side, and an unkempt lock of hair emerged from under it. Real adherents of the student subculture turned into “eternal students,” their age ceased to matter.

The common people did not like “scubents” and treated them with suspicion. The student “going to the people” ended in complete failure. For example, in 1878, a no less famous and very revealing event took place, typical of that time: students of the Moscow University were beaten by meat merchants for revolutionary propaganda. A rumor spread that the young “gentlemen” had decided to call on the people to restore serfdom – and the butchers would not stand for it. It did not even occur to these butchers that agitation against the monarchy, which liberated the peasants, could have any other grounds, and that the “white collars” could oppose the wealthy strata of society.

Subculture always runs the risk of being misunderstood from the outside. The student subculture disintegrated at the beginning of the 20th century, as its values became widely spread in society. Against this background, the student lost his brightness and originality. And as the dream of social justice began to be actively realized, there were only few of the dreamers who did not drown in the bloody floods accompanying this embodiment.

The basis of any subculture is always utopia – the idea of the possibilities of a certain group of people to unite and jointly turn the world around. It can be a world revolution and a world commune, a technocratic future, or the victory of the national team in the world championship. The question is only in the scale of consciousness; and, as is obvious, that can be expanded in various ways. This is an extremely important task for subcultures.

Students of the 19th century read the latest books, prepared notes and discussed them in meetings, with the aim of immediately introducing the ideas they had read into their daily life. Propaganda or bomb – all a matter of taste and available skills. A century later, it became customary to compose acute social poems or philosophical parables and put them to music. In-between this noble occupation was the taking of certain drugs to stimulate creativity. Sometimes these drugs turned out to be too strong. What was the end result? Charm always ends in disappointment. It is good if, having entered a dead end, a person has the opportunity to get out of it. But what if there is no more time left?

As the horizons become smaller, the goals of subcultures also become smaller. Relaxation gradually becomes the main reference point. But it is dangerous for consciousness to exist in a state of “eternal relaxation” – this leads to its submission and destruction. If you don’t make an effort on yourself, there will always be someone else to do it for you; and he will make the choice for you. Maybe this is not bad? Over time, when a person ceases to be aware of himself, he will express just such a question. And this means that he has already lost himself and everyone who needs his help – along with the opportunity to receive it, such as, the country and its citizen.

And you can spend years or, if you are particularly lucky, decades in self-indulgence – exquisite and not very, “kind and naïve” or aggressive and misanthropic, highly ideal or “pop.” The world will not turn upside down because of all this – only the person himself will turn upside down. His personality will gradually wear out, burn out. An illusory unity with like-minded people will collapse. Others will lose interest; loneliness will be the result. Worst of all, it will acquire a universal character. Who should I call? “My soul, my soul, arise, why do you slumber?…

Adolescence protracted to old age cannot evoke any other feeling than regret for the missed opportunities of the person himself and his neighbors. It is difficult now to judge what the future holds for Russia. Predictions in this matter are a completely ungrateful thing. One thing is clear – with the dictates of subcultures, there will be no such future at all.

Fedor Gaida is Associate Professor in the Faculty of History, Lomonosov Moscow State University. His research interests include, the political history of Russia at the beginning of the 20th century; Russian liberalism; power and society in a revolutionary era; Church and Revolution.

The Russian version of this article appeared in Provoslavie.

The featured image shows, “Student Nihilist,” by Ilya Repin, painted in 1883.

Mathematics And Morality

Nothing could be more distinctive of the age in which we live than the overpowering prominence of mathematics. All through the Catholic centuries, arithmetic and geometry constituted all the mathematics that an educated Christian was asked to learn. Even these two subjects were treated from a more contemplative point of view, which made them far more harmonious with other liberal studies. Arithmetic consisted in the study of the properties of numbers; geometry in the study of shapes and figures. When not overdone, and when counterbalanced by the proper correctives from the other types of knowledge, geometry and arithmetic, as they used to be taught, cultivated a few desirable virtues of the mind like clarity and precision, and sharpened the mind for the perception of harmony, rhythm, and pattern in the study of nature and of Holy Scripture. But even then, many saints and sages warned against the excessive preoccupation with such studies, and especially against the seductive clarity of mathematics; for it is not enough for the mind to be accurate and clear; we are bound to ask “accurate and clear about what?” Since in mathematics accuracy and clarity are achieved at the price of the reality and the goodness of the object, it is a danger of the mathematical mind to continue to sacrifice reality and goodness for the sake of clarity in every other field in which man must seek and find the truth.

But in our time, education is overwhelmed by mathematics and on more than one score. For, while a contemplative interest in the properties of shapes and numbers is almost completely extinct, an illiberal and utterly inhuman form of mathematics dominates the years of learning of our boys and girls, almost completely from the very first year of the primary school to the very last year of college. In place of arithmetic and geometry, whose relation to reality is definite and understandable, there is now an indefinite confusion of branches which go by the name of mathematics, the nature of whose objects nobody understands! Such topics as topology, non-Eudidean geometry, Boolean algebra, transfinite numbers, projective geometry; not to speak of other more recognizable subjects like algebra, trigonometry, integral calculus, vector analysis and the theory of equations. These new subjects are not only more confusing but much more difficult to acquire, and therefore much less likely to leave the mind at leisure for other liberal studies. But the predominance of mathematics today is not restricted to those courses which go by its name, because mathematics, in some form or other, in matter or in method, has crept into every other corner of the curriculum. According to the modern positivistic conception, mathematics and not wisdom is considered as the prototype of science. In subjects ranging from physics to education, covering every field of human learning, there is an evident tendency to assimilate all knowledge to mathematical knowledge and to resolve all realities into mathematical formulas. This trend reaches its apex in the development of symbolic logic, in which guise mathematics invades even the field of philosophy, to distort all the basic conceptions of the mind, and to deflect all the activities of thought from attaining their fulfillment in true wisdom which consists in knowledge about God, by keeping them whirling endlessly around the nihilistic circle of sheer mathematical emptiness.

Now in an attempt to determine the influence of mathematics on the mind of a Christian, it would be folly to ignore the fact that after twenty centuries of Christian living, it is impossible to name one single patron saint for mathematics. There are Catholics indeed who occupied themselves considerably with mathematics and as far as we know kept the faith; but I know of no mathematician whose faith burned so brilliantly as to earn him a place among the stars of sanctity. Nor is this a mere coincidence, for any one of us can look into his own mind to find that there is no other kind of human knowledge or human experience which offers less in terms of value for the Christian message than mathematics. Almost all that one needs in the way of mathematics in order to learn all of Holy Scripture and all the Doctors of the Church, does not exceed the ability to count up to a thousand and to distinguish between a vertical and a horizontal line. Whatever it is you talk about in mathematics, it is never anything you can carry over to your meditations, or employ in your prayers; it gives you no courage in your moments of despair, and no consolation in your loneliness.

In the field of philosophy, mathematics has always been fertile grounds for sophistry. There is hardly any other intellectual interest which has contributed more to confuse men about fundamental truths regarding God, man, and the universe, than mathematics. Just to mention the names of Thales, Pythagoras, Plato, Descartes, Spinoza, Whitehead and Russell, would suffice to convince one even slightly acquainted with the history of thought about the great number of minds that were deceived by the mirage of mathematics, and misled to accept fraudulent substitutes for the saving truth. I believe that an unprejudiced consideration of the nature of mathematics and of the nature of its objects would reveal clearly that all these charges leveled against the mathematical mind are rooted in the very nature and essence of things.

But what kind of a science is mathematics? Is it a practical science which envisages the achievement of a good, or a speculative science which envisages the attainment of truth? A practical science, like medicine or ethics, would be eliminated by the elimination of the corresponding good. For example, if men were indifferent to health and its opposite there would be no criterion for distinguishing between a right prescription and a wrong one, and consequently, medicine would cease to be a science. In a similar way, if men per absurdum were suddenly to become neutral to the attainment of happiness or its opposite, that would be the end of ethics. But what good, if ceasing, would determine the end of mathematics? None whatever, for the simple reason that mathematics prescinds from all good and all value. Mathematics talks the language of a speculative science. It utters propositions which must be either true or false. Now a proposition is true or false depending on whether it is or is not in conformity with reality. Just as a practical science envisages a good to be achieved, which good functions as the criterion for right and wrong precepts in that science, so a speculative science considers some part or aspect of reality, which stands as the measure of truth and falsehood in that science. If there were no stars there would be no astronomy; and theology would be sheer nonsense if God did not exist. But what part of reality would destroy mathematics by being eliminated? What does the mathematician talk about? Is the object of mathematics a creature or a creator? Is it a substance or an accident? Is it something actual or merely potential? Is it changing or changeless? Temporal or eternal? Material or spiritual? Tangible or intangible? If one were to compose an inventory of all the subsisting realities of the whole universe, including God, the angels, men, animals, plants and minerals, would the objects of mathematics be on this list?

Am I asking too many questions? Well, here are a few answers whose reasons will either be supplied later, or be left to the reader to discover for himself. Mathematics is a speculative science whose value can only be in the practical order. It has no speculative value, because it does not convey any essential knowledge about any subsisting reality. It is not contemplative knowledge and therefore not essentially good for man, because it occupies the intellect with objects which the will cannot love. It is knowledge which does not proceed from understanding nor does it resolve in wisdom. It does not proceed from understanding, because the mathematical expression of any reality, never conveys any understanding of it. It may however convey the means for the control of that reality. You are not one inch closer to the penetration of the mystery of light and color when you know the number of Angstroms in each of the colors of the spectrum; nor about the nature, cause, or purpose of gravity when you resolve its laws into mathematical formulas. And it does not resolve in wisdom, because neither is mathematics concerned with the First Cause, nor does it lead to the First Cause. The manner by which mathematics deals with its objects abstracts completely from any dependence upon God, and as a matter of fact, attributes to these objects a species of eternity and turns them into quasi divinities completely independent in themselves. This explains the autonomous nature of mathematics, according to which, left to itself, it never leads to anything non-mathematical. A mathematician might be led to think about God by an accidental non-mathematical reason, but never from the very needs of mathematics.

As for the object of mathematics, it is not a physical entity but a mental entity; it is not real but ideal. There is nowhere in the world, outside of the mind of a mathematician, a point without dimensions, a line without width or thickness, or a square root of minus one. But these fictions of the mind are founded on reality, and their foundation consists of the accident of quantity and its properties and relations. Arithmetic is founded on discontinuous quantities or multitudes; geometry on continuous quantities or magnitudes; while algebra is founded on abstract quantity considered generically, prescinding from whether it is number or magnitude and therefore potentially capable both of an arithmetical as well as of a geometrical interpretation. Other mathematical objects, more distantly removed from this real foundation of mathematics, are rooted in these simpler elements and in the relations which hold among them. Having experienced the three dimensions of bodies in space and having represented these three dimensions by the three variables of an algebraical equation, nothing prevents the mind from creating the fiction of a space corresponding to an algebraical equation of four variables – hence four-dimensional space.

But what do we know about this accident of quantity, on which is founded, proximately or remotely every object of mathematics? We learn from philosophy that quantity is an accident of material substances, and that in contrast with the accident of quality, quantity manifests the material and not the formal aspect of these substances. Therefore the real foundation of mathematics is found in the material aspect of material things. Further, an accident when conceived as an accident always brings you back to its substance; but in mathematics the accident of quantity is conceived as if it were a substance. Further, a material substance concretely considered, has a nature through which this substance moves to the attainment of an end, but the mathematician considers quantity as a substantialized material accident devoid of any principle of change and abstracted from any movement to attain an end. The concrete material substance manifests itself through its sensible qualities by means of which it is known, but the object of mathematics, without being a spiritual substance like an angel, prescinds from all sensible qualities and can be known only by the intellect and not by the senses. Hence we have the apparent paradox that while the only foundation for the mathematical object is the material aspect of material things, still mathematics represents its object such as matter could neither be nor be known. For matter is nothing but a principle of change, while mathematics prescinds from change; and matter can only be known through the senses while mathematics prescinds from sensibility.

The object of mathematics is therefore an accident parading as a substance, a material reality pretending to be immaterial, an ideal entity which poses for something real. At the basis of all these antinomies is the fact that mathematics arises only when an intellectual mind, directs the light of its spiritual intelligence, not for the purpose of contemplating being, but for the purpose of controlling potency. The mathematical object is the shadow that matter casts on spirit. For when spirit knows spirit, there is not even the foundation for mathematics; when material cognition (sensation) knows material things, the objects of mathematics cannot arise; even when a spiritual being knows matter contemplatively it understands a material substance through its form and its qualities. It is only when a spiritual being concerns itself with matter and for the purpose of sheer control that mathematics finally finds its grounds.

But how about the truth in mathematics? If the objects of mathematics are mental entities (entia rationis) what is it that determines the truth or falsehood of a mathematical proposition? What reality stands as the measure to the judgment of the mind? In the classical branches, arithmetic and geometry, the foundation in reality was close enough to preclude any statements that are not justified by the real properties of multitudes and magnitudes. But as mathematics branches out and develops into newer mathematics, and higher mathematics, and purer mathematics, that control becomes less and less until finally the mind remains its own measure. Consistency and not conformity becomes the touchstone of validity.

Apart from mathematics, there used to be three other distinct types of knowledge: physical, logical, and ethical. All three led ultimately to God – the physical sciences under the aspect of Ultimate Cause; the logical sciences by way of the Prime Truth; and the ethical sciences by way of the Supreme Good. But in mathematics, the mind reigns supreme, lord of all it surveys. The mind finds in itself a sufficient cause for the kind of being the mathematical entity enjoys. It is the only ultimate measure for the truth of its judgments. It prescinds completely from the aspect of goodness. Of all the intellectual pursuits, mathematics alone does not lead to God.

It is like the web of a spider, it proceeds from the very substance of the spider and ends up being its own jail. It gets more involved and more intricate the more it is extended, and finally, when the web is intricate enough, the new threads do not have to measure up to any real independent distances of walls or furniture, for when the new-thrown thread fails to meet a point of support, it sticks on another thread of the same fabric.

From the spider of mathematics, may God deliver us.

Brother Francis Maluf was born in Lebanon in 1913 and held a PhD in philosophy. Along with Father Leonard Feeney, he was a founding, in 1949, of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a religious Order. Brother Francis went to his heavenly reward in 2009. This article appears courtesy of

The featured image shows a “Portrait of Luca Pacioli,” attributed to Jacopo de’ Barbari, painted before 1516.

Watch Your Language!

We are in an intellectual war with the leftists, liberals, progressives, socialists, fascists and other enemies of a civilized order. In this battle, language is important. Those of us who favor private property rights, economic liberty, limited government, have given in, linguistically, on all too many battlegrounds.

Why do we have to call them progressives? They are, more accurately, regressives. Their ideal is the economics of Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea and the old USSR. What is progressive about that?

Why must we use the appellation “Ms.”, which is in effect, if not by intention, although it may be that too, an attempt to undermine the institution of marriage? How so? Well, Mrs. should be an honorific, at least in a society that values this arrangement. Ms. blurs the distinction between the married and unmarried.

The counterargument is that what is sauce for the goose ought to be sauce for the gander too. If we are to distinguish women by marital status, so, too, ought we to do so for men. It might sound antiquated, but, in former decades precisely this was practiced: “mister” was for married men, “master” for bachelors. Of course, the latter word is now fraught with danger, given the rampant political correctness of the regressives. For them, “master” harkens back to the days of the “curious institution” as does pretty much everything else they dislike under the sun. Presumably, unless we fight to retain what is still left of the English language, the Masters degree will soon end. No longer will there be chess masters and grandmasters.

Then, there is the issue that their own linguistic choices of but a few years ago have now become forbidden. Broken field runners in football have nothing on these people. For example Kyle Cornell a 26 year old radio host was fired from his job for characterizing Kamala Harris as a colored person, rather than a person of color. His subsequent apologies garnered him nothing.

Colored person? Person of color? To the uninitiated, apart from the word order, it sounds just about the same. It is difficult in the extreme to see why the former is despicable, while the latter is acceptable. This is even more baffling, given that the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) is still in operation, and no one, not even the most fervent cultural Marxist, would characterize that organization as racist.

The word “Negro” was a perfectly acceptable appellation several decades ago. But woe betide any white person from using it nowadays. Racism, here we come. However, what are we to make of the United Negro College Fund Inc? Could they be racist? Heaven forfend. James Baldwin famously stated that “urban renewal means Negro removal.” Should we now cancel him?
Then, there is the “N” word, which I dare not spell out, even though rap “musicians” seemingly employ it every third sentence. Sometimes, this word is even employed in the very title of a rap group: NWA.

The regressives (less pejoratively, leftists, which is equally accurate) are moving us back toward, socialism, toward fascism, toward feudalism. There, privilege, political pull, are the order of the day. Privilege does not mean wealthy. It means being given an unfair advantage, as for example when teachers unions ride roughshod over private, charter and home schooling; hotels attack AirBnB; taxi companies undermine Lyft and Uber; beauticians make it all but impossible for hair braiders to operate. It is only laissez faire capitalism that is truly progressive. It allows for new ways of satisfying customers, not stultifying entrepreneurs with new ideas.

Affirmative action should be called negative action, insofar as its hurts its supposed beneficiaries. Even some black people are loath to visit African-American doctors. They don’t know if they passed all their exams under their own steam, or were “affirmatively” licensed. When college students are placed in the same class with those with 400 points higher on their SAT scores, the results are not positive. Ask Amy Wax about that. These “beneficiaries” do so badly in competition with their fellow students that requirements are not relaxed; they are pretty much jettisoned entirely.

The English Department of Rutgers University has gone so far as to practically embrace Ebonics. It is now widely bruited about that 2+2=4 is based on white supremacism, as is the advice to work hard, be aware of the future and promote intact families. Linguistics are not solely responsible for this de-civilization, but they play a part.

Further, not all poor countries are “developing.” Some are. Some are stagnant. Others are retrogressing. Why not call them all “underdeveloped.” And “rent seeking” must go. Those crony capitalists are not seeking rent, like landlords, car rental agencies. They are seeking booty.

This besmirching of language must stop. Equity is not equality. It is fairness, not egalitarianism. Social justice is unjust. War is not peace. Freedom is not slavery. Ignorance is not strength. One more pet peeve: why are “blue states” leftish, and “red states” rightish? Surely, we should reverse this on the ground that our friends the regressives are much closer to communist red than are conservatives and libertarians.

Why is all this worth mentioning? No, I take that back; why is it of the utmost importance that we resist the left’s continual attempt to alter linguistics?

For one thing, language mirrors thought. If certain words, expressions, are verboten, then it is more difficult, maybe impossible in the extreme, to think in certain ways. If we all use “Ms.” then it is far more challenging and demanding to extol the virtues of intact families. If we all characterize these socialists as “progressives” their nostrums become easier to swallow. Those advocates are progressive! How bad can their vision be?

For another, there are only two ways to fight for our freedom; physically and verbally. All men of good will (not people of good will; “men” includes both male and female) vastly prefer the latter. But in accepting the linguistics of those on the left, we debate them in effect with one hand tied behind our backs. Let them for a change utilize our way of speaking.
Easier said than done, of course.

Those of us who refuse to use “Ms,” who do not honor them by calling them “progressives,” who see nothing wrong with the name of the NAACP will face stiff opposition. We will be labeled racists, sexists, fascists, etc. But if we all do it… In unity there is strength. We should hang together, or we will hang separately. Oh, wait, I don’t think it is politically correct for a white person to mention that word. Mea culpa. A thousand pardons.

I don’t say we will win the hearts and minds of the populace if we stick to our guns (so to speak! So to speak!) and try to regain the language. I only say that if we do not, we will continue to be fighting with one hand behind our backs.

Walter E. Block is Harold E. Wirth Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics, College of Business, Loyola University New Orleans, and senior fellow at the Mises Institute. He earned his PhD in economics at Columbia University in 1972. He has taught at Rutgers, SUNY Stony Brook, Baruch CUNY, Holy Cross and the University of Central Arkansas. He is the author of more than 600 refereed articles in professional journals, two dozen books, and thousands of op eds (including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and numerous others). He lectures widely on college campuses, delivers seminars around the world and appears regularly on television and radio shows. He is the Schlarbaum Laureate, Mises Institute, 2011; and has won the Loyola University Research Award (2005, 2008) and the Mises Institute’s Rothbard Medal of Freedom, 2005; and the Dux Academicus award, Loyola University, 2007. Prof. Block counts among his friends Ron Paul and Murray Rothbard.

The image shows, “Bill of Rights,” by Howard Chandler Christy, painted in 1942.

Secularism: Blind To Holy Beauty

Father Alexander Schmemann described “secularism” as the greatest heresy of our time. He didn’t describe it as a political movement, nor a threat from the world outside Christianity. Rather, he described it as a “heresy,” that is, a false teaching from within the Christian faith. What is secularism?

Secularism is the belief that the world exists independent of God, that its meaning and use are defined by human beings. Things are merely things. The world is no more wonderful than its surface. To this is contrasted Christian orthodoxy – that all things “live, and move, and have their being,” in God. God sustains the world and directs it providentially towards its end: union with Him. More than this, all that exists does so with depths and layers. The universe has a sacramental or iconic structure, such that everything is a point of communion with God.

In our time, the notions of secularism have been in the ascendancy for well over 200 years. They have found their way into the bedrock understanding of most Christians, and chipped away at the faith of the Orthodox and Catholics as well. It is a largely unrecognized heresy in that it appears to be a “non-religious” point of view, being outside the realm of theology. For modern people, it is simply thought to be “the way things are.”

Over the course of the years, a continuing theme of my writing has been to point readers towards what is not seen. It is at the heart of my use of the image of a “one-storey universe,” as well as how I have sought to present the Scriptures. It is even woven into the problem of shame, though I have not yet fully explicated that aspect of the problem. The answer to secularism, however, is not to be found in attacking it. Rather, it is best seen by presenting what is true and real – the shape of the world that is denied by the secular dogma. In this, St. Paul offers a profoundly helpful declaration: “Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16–18).

It has seemed to me that the habits of our modern lives run counter to this theme. We are captivated by the “surface” of things, failing to see what lies beneath. It causes us to be anxious and driven by things of insignificance. If there is a constant temptation for us in our present time, it is to lose confidence that there is anything unseen or eternal, at least in the sense that such things impinge on our daily existence. Our disenchanted, secular world is a siren song that promises the power of control while robbing us of the reality of communion. We “manage” the world when we should be in love with it.

The supreme example of the eternal, unseen, reality among us is found in the Eucharist, where we profess that “this is truly Thine own most pure Body, and truly Thine own most precious blood.” This example is not an exception, a strange instance in which such a thing is said but once, while surrounded by the flatness and emptiness of a secularized landscape.

This point is at the very heart of Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s writing: “The liturgy of the Eucharist is best understood as a journey or procession. It is the journey of the Church into the dimension of the Kingdom. We use the word ‘dimension’ because it seems the best way to indicate the manner of our sacramental entrance into the risen life of Christ. Color transparencies ‘come alive’ when viewed in three dimensions instead of two. The presence of the added dimension allows us to see much better the actual reality of what has been photographed. In very much the same way, though of course any analogy is condemned to fail, our entrance into the presence of Christ is an entrance into a fourth dimension which allows us to see the ultimate reality of life. It is not an escape from the world, rather it is the arrival at a vantage point from which we can see more deeply into the reality of the world” (For the Life of the World).

One way to begin the journey out of secularism is to follow the path of beauty. We have been trapped in the syllogism that says, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” something as patently untrue as it is opposed to beauty itself. When beauty is reduced to subjectivity, its meaning is lost, as well as its ability to save us. Dostoevsky famously wrote, “The world will be saved by Beauty.” The mystery of this thought is lost within a secular mind.

The perception of beauty is as essential to the soul as the perception of heat and cold, up and down, right and wrong. The subjectivization of beauty is a war of the secular against its only possible opponent. At stake is the soul of human beings. Secularism would ultimately deny the existence of the soul, unless there is some form of “survival” after death. That there is an unseen dimension of each human life, transcending emotions and thought, is unacknowledged in a world that is increasingly materialistic. The soul, as a truly existing reality, is as easily denied as the Body and Blood of Christ. Contemporary polling suggests that as many as 60-70 percent of US Catholics no longer believe in the doctrine of real presence. They very likely deny their souls as well.

This is far more than an indication of unfaithfulness to classical teaching. It points to a shift in worldview in which the possibility of an inner reality is denied. All that remains of the inner life is that area we now describe as “psychological” (which has now become a misnomer, in that its name means “the study of the soul”).

Early secularism speaks in the nineteenth-century character of Ebenezer Scrooge, Dickens’ Christmas creation. When he confronts the ghost of his old partner, Jacob Marley, he says: “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”
We bring the same skeptical nonsense to our own perception of beauty. We are more likely to credit our cultural experience than bad gravy, but we are certain that the beauty we perceive should have no more claim on us than our preference for Coke over Pepsi. “I don’t know, I just think [feel] it’s pretty!”

The Fathers of the Church were deeply certain of beauty, so much so that they grouped it together with truth, goodness, and being as a foundational, essential aspect of reality itself. For Christians, the transcendent reality of beauty is grounded in Christ as Logos, the One through whom all things were created, and by whom all things exist. The denial of beauty as transcendent is a denial of the goodness of creation as well.

“Noetic perception” is a phrase that describes the ability of the human heart to perceive that which is Divine. As such, it is our capacity for communion with God and the whole of creation. Primarily, what we noetically perceive of creation is its “logicity,” its reflection of the Logos. Without such a perception, we do not see the truth of things. By the same token, without such a perception, we cannot know the truth of our own selves. Of course, goodness and truth are as endangered in the secular world as beauty. A world that cannot see goodness and truth is a world in which distortions and even lies are raised to a place of prominence. In a secular world, money and violence become the primary energies of governance and change.

Human beings are created in beauty and we crave its communion. The same is true of goodness and truth. There is a disconnect within us when our cultural language tells us that the deepest instincts of our existence are merely subjective impressions. It is a shaming thought that seeks to discount the very truth of who we are. It creates a loneliness and alienation that searches for answers in a world we are told is mute.

There are rational arguments that are exercises in the absurd. For example, to engage in an argument over whether you exist is silliness. The argument which says that all experience is purely subjective (it’s all in your head – you are only a mind) is another. To a similar extent, arguments that seek to deny a proper existence to truth, beauty, and goodness carry us to the absurd. Saying such a thing often provokes others to argue about truth, beauty, and goodness (witness, Pontius Pilate’s “What is truth?”). Such arguments, I think, imagine that you are seeking to impose truth, beauty, and goodness.

This is one of the fundamental problems of secularism. As truth, beauty, and goodness are denied any hidden, eternal existence, what is left is the version of pseudo-truth-beauty-goodness that are created through violence and money. It reduces life to the political – the struggle for power. Those who, in this election season, proclaim that the “soul of the nation is at stake” (both sides say it one way or another), mean only that their side might lose in the game for power. It is the battle for power, and our faith in secularism that endanger the soul. If truth, beauty, and goodness are eternal verities, then they defy legislation. They are to be discerned and perceived in order that we might enter into communion with them, becoming the kind of people who manifest them in our lives. As St. Paul opined, “Against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:23).

What is not seen are those things that matter most. Fifteen thousand years ago, in the back of a cave somewhere in Spain, a human being, utterly removed from us in experience, language, and culture, drew pictures of bison on the walls. We have no idea of his intention or purpose. However, we are able to say, without hesitation, that his drawings were (and are) beautiful. Without words, and beyond words, he said this thing to us. His drawings were true and good as well. It tells us that he perceived eternal things and left us this witness. God forgive us if we refuse to listen.

Father Stephen Freeman is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.

The image shows, “The Parable of the Blind Leading the Blind,” by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, painted in 1568.

The Last Apple

Immediately after Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the garden, God said to Adam: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it, all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you.” God wasn’t joking when he said that; as many can testify.

Fighting the weeds is a perennial problem. I was reading recently where a charity worker and his wife moved out of their one bed flat in London in search of more space. They dreamt of having a garden to explore, digging up worms and generally getting their hands dirty. No harm in that. This couple had found a terraced house in a nearby leafy suburb with a small garden. But there was a major problem.

It had a major bindweed (Convolvulus) infestation. For the non-gardeners bindweed is the Terminator of the weed world. It mercilessly smothers other plants twisting itself around their stems with a vice like grip. It has a pretty little trumpet shaped white flower but that is just to deceive you. Its roots can penetrate up to 5 meters into the ground and if even a few centimetres of the root system is left in the soil it will thrive and grow. With the roots being so long it is practically impossible to dig all the root system out and practically impossible to destroy. Anyway, this couple decided to dig the whole garden up with the intention of removing the dreaded bindweed.

After a month of toil, the couple were eventually able to sow a lawn, plant fragrant flowers, roses, and apple trees. The garden was now like what it should have been. After this major dig the husband said that it was the first time in his life he had ever got his hands dirty. His experience is not a one off, for we live in the most sanitised civilization in history, making sure we don’t get our hands dirty. However, we tend to forget that God was the first person to get his hands dirty by forming the first human being out of dirt. “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

We are all familiar, I’m sure, with how God created the heavens and the earth. In Genesis we are told that on the first day God spoke, he said, “Let there be light, and there was light.” On the second day God spoke, he said, “Let there be sky above the earth and it was so.” On the third day God spoke, he said, “Let dry land appear and it happened, and so on; until the sixth day. On the sixth day God spoke, and said, Let the land produce living creatures and wild animals.”

Also, on the sixth day God spoke, and said, “Let us make man in our image, so God created man in his own image.” God simply spoke and everything appeared. But with human kind, you and me, it was different. God created man. He didn’t just speak and it happened as with the other days of creation. When he created man, God got his hands dirty.

Nothing else in all of creation required God to get his hands dirty, except man. Nothing else in all of creation called for that degree of fine-tuning and attention to detail, that depth of involvement and artistry by God. Man was the only created being on earth that was formed by God. Man was the only created being made in the image of God. Animals, or plants or fish or birds or insects were not made in the image of God.

Evolutionists teach in our schools and colleges that there is no divine in man, just dirt. They tell us that man gradually evolved from some primeval form millions of years ago. That we are a random collection of cells and flesh. What utter nonsense. There is no scientific evidence to support such a claim. Only giant leaps and bounds of scientific imaginations. How on earth can a blue whale come from a fish? Where is the biological evidence

Because you and I are made in the image of God, each person has intrinsic value, worth, and purpose. Each person is not a random evolved collection of cells and flesh. Each person has intrinsic value and a living soul. The secular liberal universities in the English speaking West deny this. Their teaching revolves around group identification based on colour, race, gender, and socio-economics. It is divisive, demeaning and godless. It is the group that wields power and pits one grouping against the other. For them the individual is irrelevant and hapless. Incapable of coherent logic.

Have you ever wondered why we are made in the image of God and why did God bother in the first place, putting us on this planet? Sometimes we may feel like the man who said; “I’ve got a clock that tells me when to get up; but sometimes I need one to tell me, why I need to get up.”

If people think that all there is in this life is the material world, they will give themselves over to it and in the end all you have is yourself. It was the author G.K. Chesterton who said; “When you abandon belief in the creator God, people do not begin to believe in nothing, they begin to believe in anything.”

The Bible says there is more to life than just you or us. In fact, we are the product of a very creative and loving God. In short, we are to reflect God’s image. That is the why bit. Why am I here? I am created by God to reflect His image. Humanity alone is made in the image of God. We are made for intimacy with Him. We are to be His mind, His attitude, His hands, His heart, His feet.

Amazingly we can communicate with the God of this universe, and God can communicate with us. This is why God cares more about who you are, and what you are becoming, than you do. To be made in the image of God means that we possess some of the features and qualities of the God who made us. Like kindness, love, forgiveness, peace, joy and goodness. Yet because we are all like pools of muddy water because of our sin, instead of naturally reflecting these qualities and relating to God and loving him for who he is, and loving others, we relate much better to possessions, power and the material world around us. We tend to love things and use people, instead of loving people and using things. We have a tendency to find meaning in every created thing instead of the Creator. We become what we love. We reflect what we love and serve. Throughout the Old Testament we read consistently where Israel abandoned their faith for various idols.

God in His wisdom has made us constantly restless, in order that we can find Him and reflect Him to the world; which is why we are here in the first place. We can know what it means to be made in the Image of God; the responsibility and privilege that it carries. There is no greater accolade than to be known by God and to serve Him. Yet, of the many downsides in the world we see today concerns that of Self Image. Self-Image is huge; whether its connected with advertising, or celebrities, reality TV programmes or social media; its ultimately all about self; the persona of “Me.”

Sin in its many forms has deformed the image of God in each person. Instead of being clean, pure, unpolluted water, we are more like a muddy pool where the sediment settles and then it’s kicked up once more. Sin has deformed the image of God in each person so that we either sinfully think too highly of ourselves, or, we think too lowly of ourselves, which is also a sin. The power is always in the balance. We are both depraved and possess dignity at the same time.

On the one hand, if you think highly of yourself and value yourself above others in pride, you do not love your neighbour as you should, since you don’t think they are worth loving. On the other hand, if you have a low self-image, you also will not love your neighbour, since you feel like you have nothing to give. We can elevate our dignity in sinful pride, or elevate our depravity also in sinful pride. Both are in the end; forms of pride and sin which deforms the image of God in us. And all of this is connected to self-image; who we think we are.

Some of you may have seen a bird attack its own reflection against a window pane. Time and time again the bird throws itself against the glass as if it dosn’t like the image it sees. And then discovers too late, that all it was seeing was itself.

These are some of the comments taken from a female website where women can anonymously share how they feel about their bodies: “I hate everything about my body.” “I constantly compare myself to other women.” “I eat when I’m depressed and then I get more depressed.” “Sometimes when I see a woman fatter than me, I’m glad. She’s making me feel better.” “I don’t know how to feel comfortable in my own skin.” (Incidentally, men say the same thing). Tragically these sentiments are widespread within our Western societies, driven by mainstream media and the result of a self-loathing secular idealogy.

What do you see when you look in the mirror? The image of God in each person is marred. Thankfully it is marred but not destroyed. However, the Gospel made known to us through Jesus Christ allows us to be humble and confident at the same time. On the one hand, the Gospel tells us we are sinful, and the sins we know about ourselves are just the tip of the iceberg. This humbles us, which is good. At the same time, the Gospel message informs us, we are loved and the love we know of Christ is just the tip of the iceberg. Which is very good.

Not only did God hand make us from the dirt of the ground, but he paid the price to redeem us on the cross at Calvary when we decided to live for ourselves instead of Him. To know we are accepted, loved, and his love is what makes us beautiful again, gives us hope and confidence in Christ and within ourselves. When that collision between the recognition of my sin and the understanding of how Jesus has dealt with my sin on the cross occurs, a new beginning happens. We can begin to properly reflect and grow in practising the image of God which we were always designed to do.

Thanksgiving is a time of giving thanks to God for his material blessings, for the harvest, the crops, the fruit, the vegetables and so much more and for the farmers and others who make the harvest possible. Despite modern agricultural advances and inventions, we are still wholly dependant on God to provide the weather and the conditions for the seed to germinate and grow and be fruitful.

We are also thankful to God for his spiritual blessings which at times we can easily forget about. There is no greater supernatural blessing than the way in which He can transform a lost life. To know God’s peace, His wisdom, and the hope of eternal life are blessings this world, including the atheist academics, can never deliver. God in His mercy reached down from heaven and got His hands dirty with us. He knew exactly what He was doing, but He wanted more than anything else to talk to us, to invest in us, and have a relationship with us.

The bindweed in the garden is a picture of the damage sin does in our lives, both on the surface, and with the roots that go deep inside. But God got His hands dirty by pulling that bindweed out of our lives and by replanting the goodness of His love and mercy in us. God is saying that your self-image matters to me. You are of great worth, and you are highly valued.

An old lady was very poor. She had absolutely nothing. No shelter, no food, no nothing. She prayed to God and God gave her 10 apples. This was wonderful. Now I can get the things I need she said. She was so hungry of course that she ate the first 3 apples. The next 3 apples she traded to rent a small shelter so she could keep dry when it rained. She exchanged the next 3 apples for some new clothes, so she was no longer cold at night. But then she discovered she had only one apple left over. “Why did you give me one apple more than I needed,” she asked God? God replied; “So you can have something with which to thank me for.” All of us have a lot more than one apple left. We thank God for His provision.

Alan Wilson is a retired Presbyterian minister, who lives in Northern Ireland.

The image shows, “Midday Prayer During Harvest,” by Theodor Christoph Schüz, painted in 1861.

Notes From The End Of Philosophy

Rémi Brague, in Anchors in Heaven: The Metaphysical Infrastructure of Human Life, is concerned with what has become a central question in prosperous Western societies: Should we have children? If the human species should go on existing (which is taken for granted in the book), what assumptions are required for us to keep it going?

This question becomes all the more urgent as we witness what Aron called the demographic suicide of Europe. Implicit in the latter concern is the suicide of European culture as opposed to Islamic families in Europe for whom this is apparently not an issue. This seems, as we shall see, to be a special problem for Western intellectuals.

One can offer many causes for this demographic suicide, but Brague is not interested in causes but in reasons. That is, he is interested in the philosophical rationales for not procreating that have appeared throughout the history of philosophy but which have intensified since the 19th-century vogue for nihilism.

Brague seeks to understand how philosophy could have evolved into this morass. In his short book, he launches into an impressive philosophical tour-de-force that will make quite a few demands on the reader. The subtitle of the book is “The Metaphysical Infrastructure of Human Life.” As I understand his account, metaphysics evolved into the central issue of “being,” or a concern with the fundamental truths.

While “Being” in classical and medieval thought was originally focused on the world as a whole, modern philosophy (Descartes onwards) changed the focus to how we come to know being, the “truth” about being, or a shift to epistemology. This evolved even further with Kant into a concern for the “human being” or knower. In the 19th-century, it became even more clear that the knower actually projects meaning or truth onto the world and this projection has both a history and many varieties. This led in turn to the question of whether what we project is “good?” Unfortunately, we no longer had any reference point for answering this question. It was a short step from this to the conclusion that there is no way of anchoring the “good.”

Philosophically, “life” had lost its meaning. Further elucidation did not help. While we might no longer fear death, we might fear the losing of our life. But even this fear does not amount to an argument for “giving” life in the act of procreation or “sacrificing” one’s life for someone else’s life. We might love (enjoy) living but this does not entail that we should love giving life. In fact, armed with a little bit of philosophical nihilism we might justify wallowing in what Nietzsche described as the life of the “last man,” focused only on personal pleasure.

What is required is a new kind of reason to give life. Once more returning to the philosophical tradition, Brague references those thinkers like Mirandola who saw that free will (not reason) is what was unique to humanity. Brague maintains that this makes preserving freedom an end-in-itself; and that, given our personal finitude, giving life to others (or sacrificing for others) through procreation is or should be our highest aspiration. In this, he claims to have established “The Anchors in the Heavens.”

Brague’s scholarship is impeccable and wide-ranging. One cannot but agree with his identification and formulation of the issue. In addition, I would subscribe personally and whole-heartedly to his conclusion that what distinguishes us is our free-will, that freedom is an end in itself, and we should give life to others. In what follows I want to arrive at the same conclusions by a slightly different route. I note with approval Brague’s referencing literary figures and others outside of the narrow field of philosophy.

What follows might seem like a lengthy digression, but the capacity of intellectuals to muddy the waters (this does not apply to Brague) seems to be without limits. The field of philosophy itself contributes to the problem.

The Troubles With Philosophy

I maintain that professional philosophy is an obstacle to understanding. I shall offer three arguments. The first is that a careful study of the history of so-called “philosophy” will show that philosophy has defined itself out of existence. Second, one major strand of contemporary philosophy, analytic philosophy, appeals to science in such a way that to do so is to allow science to engage in the assisted suicide of philosophy. Finally, the other major strand of contemporary philosophy, Continental philosophy, has reduced philosophy to mindless advocacy.

One of Brague’s earliest, and to me, most important points is terminological. “Metaphysics,” which is supposed to be the most fundamental part of philosophy, was originally, in classical Greek, ta meta ta physika, the title of one particular book or collection of Aristotle’s lectures. It is not a term from Plato or any earlier thinker. The expression might mean “after” or “before” the book entitled “physics.” It is not clear whether this was a name given by a librarian to identify the position of a “book” on a shelf, or perhaps meant to be read before the “physics” and therefore somehow more fundamental. A version of the expression appears in the third century Greek and in Arabic in the ninth century. The expression becomes a noun “metaphysics” in a twelfth-century translation into Latin, and its history continues thereafter.

I think a similar account can be given of the term “philosophy” itself. Is it a kind of book, a noun, an adjective, or a discipline? There is no continuous and unambiguous history of the discipline of “philosophy.” You would look in vain for an entry on “philosophy” in a contemporary dictionary of philosophy, or an encyclopedia of philosophy. To be sure, there is an Academic discipline called “philosophy,” but you would be hard-pressed to distinguish among “philosophers,” “teachers” of philosophy or “historians” of philosophy. Likewise, there are people called astrologers, books on astrology, etc., people who are paid to cast horoscopes as well as offer advice and make predictions. But, unfortunately, there is no connection between the positions of heavenly bodies and human destiny.

What does the History of “Philosophy” show us? In the beginning, no distinction was made among intellectual disciplines. One popular formulation of the differences (Frankfort) has been among three things:

Mythopoeic thought > Hebrew monotheism > Greek Philosophy (world explains itself).

Among the latter, Plato and Aristotle (responsible for two perennial but alternative modes of thought) have been the most influential, down to the present. Aristotle offered a history leading up to him; such teleological accounts keep reappearing depending upon who the historian is. This makes the history of philosophy and philosophy itself all about “me.” An important feature of this kind of history is the assumption that the same principles explain both the non-human and the human world.

An important transition occurred with the advent of modernity (Descartes to Kant), the recognition that meaning is something human beings project onto the world. Copernicanism upends the whole tradition – knowledge = how human beings understand the world. How we understand ourselves is fundamental; how we understand the non-human world is derivative.

Within the foregoing framework, the seventeenth-century introduced the distinction between natural philosophy (non-human world) and moral philosophy (human world). In the eighteenth-century, the human world became more complicated, as it was recognized that how we understand ourselves obviously has an historical dimension. This raises the current ongoing issue of relativism.

Hegel was, officially, the last philosopher to put it all together, specifically by making the knower and the known identical and by recognizing the historical nature of the whole. Hegel also recognized that the arts, religion, and philosophy were all different ways of expressing the same truth. It was now not clear what philosophy could be hereafter except a limited canon with some pretentious terminology. Some writers (Fukuyama on Kojeve) have interpreted Hegel so that liberal societies are the end of all history. Apparently, nobody has informed the Chinese about this.

Philosophy came to an end with Hegel. This is not meant either to praise or bury Hegel but to call attention to a discipline now without a role. It is my hope that this will also shed some light on the waste in the contemporary intellectual landscape. Nor is this meant to delegitimize everything done by people now associated with this “passé” discipline. Anybody in any discipline, who attempts to clarify concepts, identify basic presuppositions, and discuss the origin, history and evolution of our conceptual framework can be said to be doing philosophy.

Moral philosophy has subsequently evolved into myriad disciplines, known as the so-called “social sciences.” Here, the dance begins to repeat itself. Some understand the model of all science to be mathematics or physics; others prefer biological models; still others insist that the “social” sciences are not really sciences but either sui generis or ideologies masquerading as science.

Psychology, for example, claims to be the science of how we understand ourselves; but psychologists are split among those who think such a “science” is either “mechanical” (physics is the model), “organic” (biology is the model), or sui generis. If psychology is some kind of hard science, as analytic philosophers maintain, then philosophy has just defined itself out of existence. Philosophy can be no more than an account of the methodology and history of science, something done in other disciplines. What does philosophy mean now that it is not a separate discipline or subject matter?

Those who understand that the human/social world is sui generis, for example, Hayek, point out that both Hume and Kant saw that science rests upon values that cannot be scientifically certified. Some other kind of understanding is necessary. The best example of someone who makes this case today is Wayne Cristaudo in his recent (2020) book Idolizing the Idea. Philosophy is not about eternal truths. The proper role of philosophy is not to answer questions which require all sorts of extra-philosophical knowledge, but to question the questions that lead our inquiries about ourselves. In order to do this adequately requires a hermeneutical, dialogical, and anthropological approach.

The contemporary alternative to analytic philosophy is Continental philosophy (structuralism, deconstruction, postmodernism, etc.) They are all philosophies of anti-domination and limitless freedom. These too suffer from the failure to understand how the world came to be the way it is and why it is the way it is. Both major movements have become a major source of social ill, folly, and division.

Nicholas Capaldi, a Legendre-Soule Distinguished professor at Loyola University, New Orleans, USA, is the author of two books on David Hume, The Enlightenment Project in Analytic Conversation, biography of John Stuart Mill, Liberty and Equality in Political Economy: From Locke versus Rosseau to the Present, and, most recently, The Anglo-American Conception of the Rule of Law.

The image shows Frenzied Woman by Odd Nerdrum, painted 2005-2007.