The more I think about my subject matter of yesterday (it was Rev. Clatworthy who got in my cross hairs, but I’m tackling the ideas and not the suspected inner intentions of persons), the more I find myself with various notions whirling around. I would like to dig out my old post on Stages of Spiritual Life. I am reminded of the crude and basic imperatives of the God of the Old Testament, the narratives of jealousy and anger, his vengeance against the “baddies” who were swallowed up by the earth and presumably went to hell or non-existence. Is this the same God Jesus called Father? The Gnostics thought not, and that the Demiurge was some being other than God, not all evil like our notion of the Devil, but childish and showing defects of personality. The Father is presented to us by Christ as unknowable except though him, and entirely without sin and only loving. Such a state of things would be a noble attempt at explaining the mystery of evil. Perhaps, to some extent, orthodox Christianity fills in the gaps and cognitive dissonance with the narrative of angels who sinned and became evil. The narrative has its parallels in just about every religion in the world, monotheist and polytheist.
I am particularly concerned with learning about some of these ancient Gnostic themes and the way they are expressed in more modern narratives. I wrote these four postings where this theme is uppermost.
What is it? I am not claiming to be better or superior to anyone else, but expressing an old notion of St Paul:
For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” (Galatians ii. 19-21)
I see the parallel between the Pauline notion of sanctifying grace and the old notion of γνῶσις, which is a spiritual knowledge and aristocracy. Culture predisposes persons to receive this knowledge, because we have to be open and transparent, not hide-bound by ignorance, prejudice and bigotry. Just today, I came across The Age of Hooper which begins with an extract of Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited: “Hooper was no romantic…” I read the extract and the rest of the article. We have a very fine and subtle analysis of different stages of growth, both in faith and philosophy, and in human life in general.
Our artists chase after every faddish movement, but few contemplate much less venerate the depths of our iconographic tradition. Lovers of the old Roman Rite too frequently possess an irrational hatred of oriental rites. Devout laymen glory in thoughtless repetition of things written in books meant for the formation of children.
We can say the same of liberal and conservative Anglicans in their conflicts over the “hot-button” issues. How many of us have troubled to research into the history of feminism, Jung’s analysis of the hermaphrodite basis in each of us preceding the definition given to our bodies by the X and Y chromosomes during our foetal development? Things are not clearly cut, neither from the point of view of someone with “gender dysphoria” nor from that of those who would sentence such people to four dozen lashes with the whip. There are clearly conditions in which more subtle thinking is possible. All the issues brought up by liberalism, these concerning human rights and the dignity of the person, and also the future of our planet being exploited and irremediably polluted to make money for the few. Like William Blake, I easily understand the evils of uncontrolled capitalism and oligarchy, and the problem has only changed in its external appearance from the 1780’s to our own days. The most powerful message of the Romantics lifted its voice against children being exploited in factories and chimneys of houses, but not only. They sought beauty and transcendence in nature and human art. It is the same today as we turn our backs to the hubbub and superficial activism.
What is the alternative to all these evils? Socialism has been tried, and killed more people in its fanaticism than religion ever did. So had Robespierre’s system been tried and the curse is with us ever since. The answer is elsewhere.
The way of spiritual nobility is the work of a lifetime, and is often experienced only for brief moments outside the humdrum of our middle-class lives. Being an Ubermensch is not something we are born with, nor from belonging to this or that race of humans or social class. It is transcending our human condition and its evils and conflicts. It is becoming a person as opposed to an individual or part of a herd of conformity and peer pressure. It is the condition of true freedom of ourselves and others.
Socialism has been tried, and killed more people in its fanaticism than religion ever did.
Gosh! We have to be careful about such statements. That is impossible to know. What are you including in “socialism”? How many centuries of religious persecution and warfare are you taking into account?
No need to answer, because we all have our beliefs – but they can be challenged and may not be able to be proved.
As mentioned before, I define “socialism” as a political system that subjects the individual person to the corporate, whether it is the State in the case of Fascism or the political ideology or the Party in the Marxist-inspired systems.
Of course there are definitions on an economic level. If it means a living wage and safe working conditions for ordinary people, what is there to object to unless you are an exploiting capitalist? But it goes further from a mismanaged Welfare State to full-blown multicuturalism and massive Islamic immigration.
My definition of socialism went above the mere state ownership of industry and capital, the ownership of human beings, which is different. I am favourable to ideas like Distributism also called Guild Socialism which is an application of monastic ideas of voluntary sharing of resources for greater social justice and asceticism. It is when the voluntary aspect disappears and Orwell’s pigs become more equal than all other equals. We arrive in a world where there is no language because one form of tyranny is replaced by another. Who was preferable – Louis XVI or Robespierre?
As with Christianity, the same words have different meanings for different people, so only strength of the will matters and we are right back to 1933 in Nuremberg! The meanest and baddest criminals are right until they get defeated by worse who prove to have bigger guns and bombs.
One might include attention to self-description as ‘socialist’ – and comparison of the bases and content of that self-description, e.g,, why did those in charge respectively, speak of ‘Soviet Socialist Republics’ and ‘National Socialist Workers’ Party’, and, who used ‘Christian Socialist’ self-descriptively, and how? (I’ve just been rereading-around in Kathy Triggs’ excellent little biography of George MacDonald, The Stars and the Stillness (1986), where, e.g., she talks about F.D. Maurice having “been actively involved in the Christian Socialist Movement since its inception in 1848” (p. 55) – I’d like to know more about that!)
Something distinct but considerably overlapping is the characterization and study of ‘democide’, about which see:
As to religion, I have seen stupendous estimates of the numbers of people killed over the past 1400 years by self-described Muslims, but know next to nothing as to how such estimates are reached.
I just ran into a not irrelevant post by someone who is, among other things, director of a university honors program in political economy:
The characterization here of ‘Real Socialism’ by ‘World Socialists’ reminded me of a post by Brenton Dickieson on William Morris’s News from Nowhere (1889):
This seems to be an example of no one liking what they find when they dig too deeply. William Morris and Arts & Crafts could never have any practical application because the philosophical basis presumes a human nature that is free of sin and mortality. I often wonder if the injustice of capitalist America or “socialist” Europe is “normal” and that the reality is Darwinian and Hitlerian! I return to Nietzsche and the utter despair on observing the behaviour of humanity as a whole under the influence of the minority of truly evil individuals. The realisation of Utopia and the improvement of this world involves mass genocide, something none of us as human beings can accept or condone. This has to be evidence of the existence of life after death and happiness beyond this world. The problem of evil is the greatest obstacle to faith and the Christian message: situating the effect of the Redemption, because it is not apparent in this “material” world. If we go too far down this road, it is the idea of Total Depravity in Calvinism and Jansenism. The Redemption only concerned a tiny elite. Was there even a tiny elite? We Anglicans are a little more optimistic than that!
The Land of Cockaigne (probably giving the name to the alkaloid drug cocaine) is something we all need, a little like those who take drugs to escape the unhappy reality of their lives – and make their lives even worse. We have books, cinema, art, music and the best of good humanity. When we possibly can, it is best to get out of cities and live in the country, doing the kind of work that makes us as independent as possible from “The Pit” as some dotty English “Romantic” ladies called modern life. Life has always “sucked” (as the Americans say), and our faith is a part of our Cockaigne. The “realists” and atheists make exactly that criticism of Romantics and Christians, but does that make them any happier? More nihilistic?
As Oscar Wilde said that he was free even though he was in prison, we have to transcend this world even if our dreams remain only dreams. If nothing remains after death, it won’t matter. Pascal’s Wager is relevant – and gives us something to live for…