Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lucia Despair as a foundation of modern society

Four years ago I wrote a post a post on the Neo-Pagans, which spawned the most amazing comment thread. Here it is, in the web-archive. Given that primitive religions are also making a comeback, I think it's worth reproducing that post here.



More than 70 years ago, Hilaire Belloc predicted the rise of Secularism in the West, except he called the secularists, Neo-Pagans. He described Paganism as ".. natural religion acting upon man uncorrected by revelation." And Neo-Pagans are those who come from a failing Christian civilisation. For those of you who would like more detail, here is a fuller description.
Man has a conscience; he knows the difference between right and wrong. He also is necessarily aware of certain great problems upon his nature, end, and destiny which he may not be able to solve, but the solution of which, if it could be reached, must be far more important for him than anything else. Does he only mature, grow old and die, or is that process but part of a larger destiny? Have his actions permanent or only ephemeral consequences to himself? Are awful unseen powers to which he devotes gratitude, worship and fear, imaginations of his or real? Are his dead no longer in being? Is he responsible to a final Judge?

He may decide that as there is no evidence no conclusion is possible, that the search for it is a waste of effort and any apparent discovery thereof an illusion. But he cannot deny that on what the answer is—did he but know it—all conduct and all values turn.

He has a sense of beauty which is, in the average man, strongly founded, and consonant to the great Catholic doctrine that the Creation is good. He is necessarily informed by a sense of justice, and feels that some degree of conformity to it is necessary to the very existence of civil society. He recognizes (does the natural man inspired by natural religion) the folly and danger of excessive pride, of excessive appetite, anger, and the rest: for he has humor to keep him sane.

It might seem at first sight that man thus turned loose and sufficient unto himself would fall into a vague but contented philosophy under which we would live well balanced, as the animals live normally to their instincts, and that the Pagan would be the least troubled of men.

That man would so live if he were left free from the trammels of what calls itself "revelation" is the fundamental doctrine of all that movement which has been leading us back towards Paganism. There is already present among us the conception that Paganism, once re-established, will result in a decently happy world, at any rate a world happier than that world of Christendom which was formed throughout the centuries under the spell of the Faith.

But it is not so. There appears one eccentric point of supreme moment, most revealing, bidding us all pause. It is this: Paganism despairs. Man turned loose finds himself an exile. He grows desperate, and his desperation breeds monstrous things.

Each kind of Paganism came to suffer from horrid gods of its own at last, and these give to each Paganism its particular savor. But the mark of the New Paganism is that it has not reached these last stages by a long process of debasement. It is not entering a period of fresh life. Its gods are already the vile gods of complexity and weakness. The New Paganism is born precocious and diseased.

We conceive of the Pagan, when first we hear of his advent, as a normal man. We all sympathize with him in our hearts; we all understand him: many of us have been at one time or another (mostly in youth) of his company. What quarrel, we then asked, has revealed religion with him? Wherein lies his weakness? We know now. It lies in his rejection of a central spiritual truth, to wit, that man is permanently degraded in his own eyes—without escape: that he has in him the memory of things lost: that he is of heavenly stuff, condemned and broken. It is the doctrine which we Catholics call the Fall of Man.

We cannot use that doctrine as an argument against the Pagan, because if we do so we are, in the eyes of the Pagan, begging the question. But what will appeal to him and to any observer from without, is this: that Paganism, the natural man, acting without revelation, does not conform to his own nature: he is not in equilibrium and repose. It looks as though he ought to be, but in fact he is not. Before the advent of the Faith, even despair could struggle to be noble. But since the medicine for despair has been known, those who refuse the remedy turn base. Europe expecting it knew not what, was one thing. Europe baptized and apostatizing is quite another. Its material has changed.

The New Pagan, of course, laughs at the strict doctrine of the Fall; but he cannot laugh at the actual fact that man, when he acts as though he were sufficient to himself, not only permanently, necessarily and regularly does a myriad things of which he is himself ashamed, not only lacks the power to establish his imaginary healthy normal condition, but increasingly, as his Pagan society progresses, falls into worse and worse evils.

That is patently true. It is not a theory of what should happen when men cease to accept the truth upon man's nature: it is a statement of what does actually happen, witnessed to by all contemporary history and by the experience of individual characters. The old pre-Catholic Paganism did evil but admitted it to be evil. One of the greatest, and, I think, the most tragic lines in Latin verse is that famous phrase:

"Video meliora, proboque: deteriora sequor."

It is a very epitome of the human story: of one man and of all.

But the New Paganism works in an attempted denial of good and evil which degrades all it touches.

Well, then, we say "Pagan society ends in despair." But despair is not normal to men; despair is not the healthy mental state of the healthy natural creature. To say that it is so would be a contradiction in terms. Therefore do we find the old Paganism of the classics accompanied by a perpetual attempt to cheat despair by the opiates of beauty or of stoic courage.

But the New Paganism lives in despair as an atmosphere to be breathed, lives on it as a food by which to be nourished.

The New Paganism then, which is just raising its head, has this quality distinguishing it from the old: that it is beginning where the old left off.

If all Paganisms end in despair, ours is accepting it as a foundation. That is the special mark we have been seeking to distinguish this New Arrival. Hence the lack of reason which is intellectual despair, the hideous architecture and painting and writing which are aesthetic despair, the dissolution of morals which is ethical despair.

If Neo-Paganism accepts despair as a foundation, it is no wonder that they do not have children. It is no wonder that they believe also that man is responsible for global warming and take a man like Al Gore as their prophet. And it is also no wonder that this type of civilisation breeds those who will not defend it - what would be the point?

15 comment(s):

muerk said...

Let's be fair to climate change - we do produce a lot of pollutants, including CO2. IMO the question of whether or not our physical actions effect the climate is a scientific question, not a pagan (ie. spiritual/metaphysical) question.

I would point out the neo-paganism of individuality. Christianity is a corporate belief system - the Church and the family are foundation stones. For more information about this I suggest the wonderful work of Henri de Lubac "Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man". It's foreward is written by then Cardinal Ratzinger.

Neo-paganism is despairing because it asks us to succeed alone. The individual is held above the family, to the detriment of the family and ironically to the detriment of the individual. We are remaking marriage because it offends individuals who wish to appropriate the benefits of marriage without the physical possibility of the marital act. And without it's fruit.

"...the New Paganism works in an attempted denial of good and evil which degrades all it touches."

We accept evil and call it good - lust and avarice are celebrated as positive goods! Rather than stop shameful behavior our society tries to claim that they aren't shameful at all, but must be celebrated and accepted.

We call the Fall a happy fault because Christ came, neo-pagans deny the Fall completely and thus reject Christ because his ministry was, in their eyes, never necessary. Christ told us this in the Beatitudes, which were prophetic - poverty, meekness, hunger and thirst for righteousness, purity of heart, peacemaking, persecution, mourning and mercy - are these the ideals of people today?

leftrightout said...

Lucia, why do you conflate secularism with anything not christian? It seems to be a common error amongst many xians, some wilfully ignorant, some trying to shore up a weak argument, and some, well I don't know why you do it.

To be secualr is not to be pagan. At its heart, to be secualr is simply to believe that religion has no place in government and public institutions, and they, in turn, have no place in religion. Separation of church and state, to put it in its simplest terms.

It is eminently possible to be both a secularist AND a xian, even a Roman Catholic. :-0

Now, as a secularist, a humanist and a rationalist, I can say that I do not deny the existence of good and evil, I just prefer the knowledge that they come from humanity, not imposed on us by outside sprites as if we were mere marionettes.

muerk said...

LRO - in thise case I am a secularist to some extent. I don't think that any religion should be given preferential treatment. Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Catholics, Baha'i, Buddhists etc., all should be treated equally under state law. And I believe that church and state should be separated.

However, I do think that the faith of people has a role in government and public institutions. The prayer before Parliament for example (although I would be happy if it was non-specific about the nature of God so that all people could worship as they see fit in their hearts). I believe our national anthem is fine.

The rubber hits the road when you claim to be a humanist - and here is where I think neo-paganism lies. The faith in human progress, the ability of man to solve the world's problems through human thinking, the denegration of non-humanists, eg. the trope that religion is irrational. You would push faith in God into the purely private sphere because of your own beliefs. That isn't secularism - that's humanism.

leftrightout said...

muerk, I can agree with your first para, that is exactly what secularism is, and it has nothing to do with paganism, atheism or deism.

I cannot agrre with your second para, as you still seem to think everyone must worship some god, well a lot of us don't, and see a paayer before parliament as violating the separation between church and state.

Your third para doesn't really make a lot of sense. You fail to prove a connection between humanism and neo paganism, yet carry on as if there is one. You then end up accusing me of being a humanist, as if that is a major failing, and when I have already stated I AM a humanist.

If ever there was need for proof of the irrationailty of the religious ...

leftrightout said...

As for despair, are there any more desperate words than these?

Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?

muerk said...

LRO - I truly don't want to force you to believe or worship anything you don't. If God wanted to force you to believe, then He could do that far more completely than I or any other limited human ever could - and if He doesn't, then no one else should either. I think it would be objectively evil to do so.

But that doesn't mean people of faith can not express their religious beliefs publically. New Zealand has a Christian and Maori spritual history that should not be expunged from our national consciousness because a group of people don't believe it. There's a tension here between allowing religious and non-religious expression publically and making sure people aren't coerced or belittled on either side.

As for neo-paganism, I think it definitely depends on the definitions we are using. I don't know enough of Hilaire Belloc's thought to define it as he saw it. For me, neo-paganism is a rejection of traditional religion, eg. Christianity, where instead a human focused philosophy comes to the fore instead. The goal becomes a self-actualised or self-fulfilled human individual rather than one who dies to self and lives in Christ (from my Christian perspective).

This can be overt - I was once a wiccan - I controlled my life with spells for example, I sought my future with tarot cards. I was self-focused rather than God-focused. This was a continuation of my previous to that, atheism, where I was also self-focused. Going from athesism to wicca was a very short step and it required very little of me.

Becoming Catholic required an enourmous change in my world view. It took years, it's still a work in progress :) Atheism and wicca had the human person as it's goal, Christianity has Christ. This is NOT to say atheists and wiccans are more selfish than Christians, they aren't. But te focus of their worldview is different and that leads to different conclusions.

And you are right, Christ on the Cross suffered total despair, his sufferings were total, mind, body and spirit. Yet we have Easter Sunday, the greatest day in the Church's Liturgical Calendar where death is overcome, not just for Christ, but for all of us. Christianity is based on the resurrection, which can only come about through the Cross. Even in total despair there is hope, not through our human strength, but through God's limitless mercy and love.

Even the thief could say, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." and receive hope when Christ said "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

leftrightout said...

If God wanted to force you to believe, then He could do that far more completely ...

Why do you think god doesn't want me to believe? If belief is so important to him, why doesn't he reveal himself in comprehensible ways, rather than through burning bushes, babbling morons and burnt toast?

But that doesn't mean people of faith can not express their religious beliefs publically.

Why do you need to express your beliefs publicly? Why can't they be kept private? Can I have sex in public as an expression of my beliefs?

Going from athesism to wicca was a very short step and it required very little of me.

Actually, I think it would have been quite a big step, or you were not truly an atheist. I see as much appeal in wicca as I do in any other myth and faith based schema.

Even in total despair there is hope, not through our human strength, but through God's limitless mercy and love.

All around me I see humans showing love and mercy. I hear about god's love, but I don't see it.

I also see a lot of horror around me; a baby born with no arms, a mother who dies in childbirth, the old man lying in hospice, screaming in pain, not able to control his bodily functions. And in all this, I see humans trying to help alleviate the sufferring, doctors and scientists trying to prevent birth defects, death in childbirth and all the other terrible afflictions Man must bear. I don't see god helping out with the study.

And don't get me started on the red of tooth and claw that feeds so many living creatures. Is that another example of a loving god?

muerk said...

LRO - you have asked some great questions :) I have to go out, so I'll answer them fully when I get back tonight.

One thing I would like to say is that, God wants you to believe, but He will not force you because then you lose the dignity of your free will. He will give us signs and even His Son, but he isn't going to give us conclusive evidence until time has ended.

You _have_ to believe in gravity, even if we don't understand it very well, we can't avoid it. We aren't free to disbelieve it. God could make every one of us know Him, He could make us love Him - but it wouldn't be done freely. This means you are free to reject Him and He won't stop you, even though it grieves Him.

Satan tempted Jesus to use His power to be a King on earth, to force people to bend their knee. Jesus refused and in the end he died an ignominious death, Jesus didn't force anyone to believe either. He could have, but it would have been wrong.

muerk said...

"Why do you need to express your beliefs publicly?"

Because it is essential to my inmost being. Asking me to not express my beliefs, is the same as asking me to be quiet completely. However my religious expression may not be verbal, it may be as simple as me wearing my cross or sitting in a park silently praying my rosary. It is me here calling for respect of the dignity of human life from conception to natural death or arguing that children shouldn't be brought up in poverty that we can alleviate. Likewise you must be free to express your lack of belief publicly because it is who you are. To require silence of people's faith or lack of faith is to ignore their dignity as free human beings and to force them to follow along with the will of those in power, who ever it may be. It's wrong.

"All around me I see humans showing love and mercy. I hear about god's love, but I don't see it."

I'm not sure I can answer this one to your satisfaction. I can say that God works through people, but that isn't going to help you is it :) Perhaps the most concrete sign of God's love for us is his constant reaching out towards us, culminating in the gift of Jesus Christ.

"And don't get me started on the red of tooth and claw that feeds so many living creatures. Is that another example of a loving god?"

In Catholic theology God made all creatures vegetarian, indeed the Psalms speak of the lion eating hay like the ox in the future. The lion lay with the lamb originally. However the Fall placed Creation into travail, with sin came death and Eden's gate was closed. This poetic Scripture speaks to us about the injustice and suffering we see around us, and it tells us that God didn't want this for Creation. We believe that eventually there will be a new Heaven and a new Earth and the lion will lie down with the lamb again.

You are asking the same question that humanity asked thousands of years ago. I doubt my Judeo-Christian explanation will satisfy you and I respect your choice. But it is a question that our theology addresses. Clearly I can't go deeply into it here in comments, but if you were really interested I could point you to some books that deal with it far better than I could.

ZenTiger said...

It seems to me the atheists conception of God requires that earth become heaven, and that free will become non existent.

Well tough, this is not heaven. Get over it.

It also seems the atheist's conception of God is that the Universe must fail to operate in the way we can see it operating.

When it comes down to it, if you believe God created the Universe to operate the way it does, or instead you believe that the Universe operates the way it does because it does, then both believer and non-believer are left standing in the same Universe.

Except that the believer trusts that there is something more than this that we cannot see or fathom, and the non-believer demands the Universe must act differently if such a claim is made. Wrong again.

muerk said...

Zen - I think we have to shoulder the responsibility for not communicating the Gospel well enough with atheists. When I was an atheist most Christian content I came across was pretty poor and certainly not robust when put against philosophy. It was only when I was doing religious studies papers at university that I realised there was a wealth of quality theology but that it was in the Catholic Church and not the usual Baptist preachers I had been exposed to.

Until I could see the excellence of academic thought, there was no way that my pride would accept God. Indeed before I moved towards Catholicism I went towards wicca because I wanted to connect with the divine, but on my own terms and within my own set of values, like sex before marriage, binge drinking, contraception (not abortion), homosexuality etc.

The other problem is that often the Church is perceived as as promoting a set of "noes" rather than a set of "yeses". It's not easy explaining freedom from sin giving you this incredible lightness of being and joy and wonder. Try explaining to people that celibacy and chastity are joyful, when they can't see the reward, but only the censure.

If we became more Christ-like, more humble, more loving, more courageous, more prayerful we could reach more people.

ZenTiger said...

Meurk, a completely valid point, but in the context of this conversation I disagree.

It doesn't matter how well we explain our position, people like Dawkins think they fully understand the arguments and have declared complete opposition to them.

If we became more Christ-like, more humble, more loving, more courageous, more prayerful we could reach more people.

Well sure, and if Dawkins and Hitchens abided by whatever moral and ethical code they say humanists could also follow, they wouldn't come across as condescending arseholes.

It becomes a bit of a mythconception of atheists I think, as we simply state publicly the kind of people we strive to be (which I think is a first major step in any attempt to improve oneself) but the reality is that we are all fallen in nature.

I have to laugh at Dawkins being outraged that we might teach our children this idea to explain why bad people are bad, and why good people can also act badly. It's actually fairly accurate though.

Whilst Dawkins quickly criticises the concept of a fallen man, a sin prone person who must struggle to rise above sin, he offers no credible alternative to the view. Does Dawkins think he is a saint because he has the capability to reason? The closest atheists get to being without blame themselves is to abandon moral standards that they might be held accountable to, which is a very neat way out of escaping one of their headline sins: Hypocrisy. Often , it's seen as worse to fail at ones ethical and moral standards than actually having any.

Sorry, not a well constructed comment, but time is not my friend today.

leftrightout said...

Zen, you apear utterly and totally confused.

It seems to me the atheists conception of God requires that earth become heaven, and that free will become non existent.

Which atheists would they be? Not me, for sure. Although I do acknowledge that if anyone needs to believe in Heaven, then this is it because there isn't anything after this. And what posesses you to think atheists want to give up free will? It was the struggle to assert free will that has led to the decline in priestly power over Man.

It also seems the atheist's conception of God is that the Universe must fail to operate in the way we can see it operating.

Again, that is not my experience of the way atheists see it. The universe operates in the way it does because that is how it operates. It is the god believer who expects it to operate in ways other than those we see. It is the believer who posits a god that juggles all the balls. Who believes that god exists outside time and space. Not the atheist. IF there is a god, then that god must be part of the universe we know.

Whilst Dawkins quickly criticises the concept of a fallen man, a sin prone person who must struggle to rise above sin, he offers no credible alternative to the view.

Actually, he does. It is quite possible to accept the existence of evil without needing to rely on fairytales to create "original sin".

Does Dawkins think he is a saint because he has the capability to reason?

I don't think he has ever made that claim, but prove me wrong if you can. Meanwhile, we have the hilarity of a woman who died 100 years ago being raised to sainthood because she apparently answered 2 prayers. 2. Out of how many prayers made? And some people think that this foolishness adds to the sum of human existence.

The closest atheists get to being without blame themselves is to abandon moral standards that they might be held accountable to...


Again, not true, at least in my case. I live a morally good life becuase it is the right thing to do, because it feels good to be good with other people. Unlike the god believer who does good out of fear of punishment, rather than the desire to BE good.

It is easy to abandon moral standards when you can blame you lapse of being fallen. Its a cop out, a lack of spine and integrity.

ZenTiger said...

LRO, you misunderstand what I am saying. I will try again.

And what possesses you to think atheists want to give up free will?

I didn't say that at all. The assertion by many atheists is made "how can a loving God make this world with bad things etc".

As a Christian, I also believe in the concept of free will. If you think this through, you would not need to assert that God is evil simply because he allows free will and its consequences.

With your comments around babies born with no arms, and seeing people, not God, trying to help them etc it is logical to assume that you are somehow expecting that if there were a loving God, he would not allow such things to happen.

That is exactly why I say "you expect this place to be heaven, get over it."

Perhaps God wants this place to be a place of learning, not a place where there is no evil and no suffering. Again, it seems the atheist's argument that God would simply create Heaven if God existed. Maybe he has, but it's not here. Get over it.

Do you get my point now?

The universe operates in the way it does because that is how it operates. [for atheists]

That's exactly what I said too. So you do not need to suppose I said otherwise.

It is the god believer who expects it to operate in ways other than those we see.

Now I disagree. I am a God believer, and yet I am stating I believe the Universe operates the way it does.

The fact that I also believe that God might move in mysterious ways is besides the point that the Universe operates the way it does, and I accept that.

There are many unseen things that can change the rules as we know them. Marie Curie discovered radium. Invisible, unseen rays. It took science some time to understand how these invisible rays worked and what they were capable of. Marie Curie assumed they were good, even healthy, and they ultimately killed her. There is still much to learn.

It is the believer who posits a god that juggles all the balls. Who believes that god exists outside time and space. Not the atheist.

Yes, so what? Man exits on land, but doesn't stop a fish living in the ocean. I can believe the universe operates the way it does, AND that God exists.

IF there is a god, then that god must be part of the universe we know.

Why can't something also be external to the Universe we know? And part of the Universe we know 500 years ago? 100 years ago? Today? In 500 years hence?

I said: Does Dawkins think he is a saint because he has the capability to reason?

You replied: I don't think he has ever made that claim, but prove me wrong if you can.

I was being sarcastic and rhetorical. Let me try again.

Dawkins does not like the concept of the fallen nature of man. He doesn't like teaching children that concept and what it means.

But yet the message he would teach would ultimately be the same, I suspect.

The reality is we see that every-one is not only capable of sin, but that they do sin.

Does Dawkins want to assert that everyone is perfect? Doubtful.

ZenTiger said...

LRO, I made a point about morals you disagreed with. I said:

The closest atheists get to being without blame themselves is to abandon moral standards that they might be held accountable to...

and you replied:

Again, not true, at least in my case. I live a morally good life because it is the right thing to do, because it feels good to be good with other people. Unlike the god believer who does good out of fear of punishment, rather than the desire to BE good.

I agree that you may strive to live a morally good life because you believe it is the right thing to do.

The thing is, so do I. You think that a believer is only doing it out of fear of punishment, but this is not the case (at least for me).

I think it is a mistake to assign so much weight to this one factor. It's a bit like saying people will not drink too much alcohol because their parents said it will lead to liver damage. You might take that into account, but it does not convince you to be a tee-teetotaler.

It is easy to abandon moral standards when you can blame you lapse of being fallen. Its a cop out, a lack of spine and integrity.

One moment you imply it is not easy to abandon moral standards because the fear of suffering an eternity in hell, then you say its easy. It's obviously more complicated than that.

On that basis, what I said of atheists is equally simplistic, and I concede the point - what I said was overly simplistic. It is something though I would like to thrash out in a more in depth argument, so I'll do a post some time in the future, all going well.

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