Thoughts on Israel and Revelation

An Important Book:  Israel and History by Eric Voegelin

Eric Voegelin, philosopher and historian,is not considered a religious thinker; as a result he may receive less attention from religious students than he merits.

The basic argument of Eric Voegelin’s entire Order and History series, of which this volume was the first, is simply stated elsewhere by him:

““The life of people in a political community cannot be defined as a profane realm, in which we are concerned only with legal questions and the organization of power.  A community is also a realm of religious order.” (“The Political Religions)

He identifies Israel as the first civilization to develop a conscious sense of its existence in relation to both time and a God acting through time.   This was a breakthrough, a “leap in being” for a world with generally cosmological perspectives: eternal earth and sky, universe and kingdoms, all revolving around a central sun or king-god, with time moving (if at all) in great cycles.

EV has a reputation as a difficult read, and there is something in that.  He uses terms that I have to look up, and certain terms that he uses in a unique way.  Best known of these is “immanentizing the eschaton,” by which he means hurrying up the arrival of the Kingdom of God and the apocalyptic transformation of the world.  Most insightful for me is his use of “gnosticism” to describe modern political ideologies, especially Marxism.

His great summation of the modern/modernist crisis is contained in The New Science of Politics:

“The death of the spirit is the price of progress.  Nietzsche revealed this mystery of the Western apocalypse when he announced that God was dead and that He had been murdered.  This Gnostic [ideological] murder is constantly committed by the men who sacrifice God to civilization.  The more fervently all human energies are thrown into the great enterprise of salvation through world-immanent action, the farther the human beings who engage in this enterprise move away from the life of the spirit.  And since the life of the spirit is the source of order in man and society, the very success of a Gnostic civilization is the cause of its decline…Totalitarianism, defined as the existential rule of gnostic activists, is the end form of progressive civilization”

In Israel and Revelation he sees the Hebrew Exodus from cosmological Egypt as the beginning of the discovery of history.

“When the spirit bloweth, society in cosmological form becomes Sheol, the realm of death; but when we undertake the Exodus and wander into the world, we discover the world as the Desert. The flight leads nowhere, until we stop in order to find our bearings beyond the world. When the world has become Desert, man is at last in the solitude in which he can hear thunderingly the voice of the spirit that with its urgent whispering has already driven and rescued him from Sheol.”

Thus Israel began its journey with God, a journey that would reach its anticlimax in the Prophets:

“On its pragmatic wandering through the centuries Israel did not escape the realm of the dead.  In a symbolic countermovement to the Exodus under the leadership of Moses, the last defenders of Jerusalem, carrying Jeremiah with them against his will, returned to the Sheol of Egypt to die.  The promised land can be reached only by moving through history, but it cannot be conquered within history.  The Kingdom of God lives in men who live in the world, but it is not of this world.”

“And the climax of the Exodus, the actual establishment of the new dispensation through the Berith [covenant], is not at all a happy ending but the very beginning of the perpetual rhythm of defection from, and return to, the order of human existence in the present under God.”

He goes on to analyze Israel’s schizophrenia over the issue of monarchy.  “The relationship between the life of the spirit and life in the world is the problem that lies unresolved at the bottom of the Israelite difficulties.” (And our own difficulties as well.)

He compares the Israelite difficulty with the Christian inverse problem.

“In Christianity the logia [words, teachings]of Jesus, and especially the Sermon on the Mount, had effectively disengaged the meaning of faith, as well as the life of the spirit, from the conditions of a particular civilizational order. The separation was so effective indeed that the loss of understanding for the importance of civilizational order was a serious danger to many Christians.  While the Prophets had to struggle for an understanding of Yahwism [Judaism] in opposition to the concrete social order of Israel, a long series of Christian statesmen, from St. Paul to St. Augustine, had to struggle for an understanding of the exigencies of world-immanent social and political order…The Prophets had to explain that social success was not a proof of righteousness before God; the Christian thinkers had to explain that the Gospel was no social gospel, redemption no social remedy, and Christianity in general no insurance for individual or collective prosperity.”

EV’s consideration of the 10 Commandments was for me an eye-opener.

“The author of the Decalogue has discerned the human desire to create a manageable God,” and yet the Decalogue is “animated by the insight that right order will somehow grow in a community when the attunement to the hidden divine being is not disturbed by human self-assertion.  Since it does not issue positive rules, either cultic or moral, the field remains wide open, in both respects, for civilizational growth.  Nevertheless, the Decalogue restrains and directs the growth by its injunctions against rebellious existence.”

My review of this book was sparked by a recent reading on crisismagazine.com, a great source of inspiration.  On Feb. 1 they re-printed an essay by Dennis Praeger first published 25 years ago in Crisis magazine.  (Link here.)“Why Judaism (and then Christianity) Rejected Homosexuality” got me thinking about the revolutionary uniqueness of Israel’s contribution to human thinking and history.  And that reminded me of Voegelin.

 

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When I Consider thy Heavens: APOD and the Psalms

ngc1398_eso_3416I want to alert everyone to an amazing website that should be visited every day.  I turn to it each morning before or after my morning prayer (from the monthly magazine Magnificat, which I heartily endorse).

It is “Astronomy Picture of the Day“, a NASA production featuring astonishing photos of stars, galaxies, planets, nebulas, and other celestial phenomena.  Find it at apod.nasa.gov.  Bookmark it in your Favorites or wherever. It has photos from telescopes around the world and in orbit, from Hubble and other satellites, and from simple earthbound cameras.  Not only distant galaxies but beautiful auroras and eclipses, and everything in between.  There is an archive arrow-button on the left side at the bottom, so you can click through a nearly endless gallery of their past pictures.

I cannot imagine how APOD would fail to trigger a spiritual sense of awe at some level; at least a tingle.

Arp243_Hubble_3978

This is two galaxies colliding and merging, 250 million light years away from us. The top photo shows a galaxy 65 million light years away.  When the light from these galaxies began the trip to us, dinosaurs walked the earth!

 

Some time ago I was corresponding with a friend and confided that I was beginning to think about God.  His response was that he thought the universe was too big, too grand to include something as small and local as a deity, especially a man-centered one.  I didn’t know how to respond.

I thought of Psalm 8, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;  What is man, that thou art mindful of him?

It cut no ice;  my friend thought the grandeur of the stars was wholly natural and self-explaining, and way too big for a tribal bronze-age god.

I wish I had thought to point out that the entire universe, unimaginably immense, was once so small that we could hold it in our hands; that the proto-Big Bang creation moment is completely inexplicable to science; that the universe is only comprehensible as part of an expansion process that stretches outward from the infinitesimal.

And I should have pointed out the mysterious human ability to appreciate the beauty of the skies; no evolutionary theory explains our sense of awe when we gaze at the night sky.

And I wish I had known about APOD back then.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”

In saner times, Psalm 19:1 would be the motto of NASA.

 

My Sin of Snobbery

As you may know, I winter in Montana and summer in Florida.  (“To winter” and “to summer” are used as verbs among a certain set.)  Florida’s southwest gulf coast is beautiful, warm, and old.  Very old.  At 70, I am somewhere around the median age in my neighborhood, whereas in Montana I am the oldest man I know.

I am pleased to see that the churches here in Florida, at least the Catholic ones, are full on Sundays.  During the season (“the season” refers to only one of the four seasons), there are four Sunday masses, packed full.  With old people.  A general absence of crying babies.

Something else is noticeably absent: crucifixes.  I have been to four of this diocese’s churches, and the only ones I have seen are the small ones carried atop a pole in the entry procession.  I went snooping around the cathedral one day after mass, and found a beautiful crucifix sculpture, hidden in a small alcove between chapels, invisible to the congregation.  The ciborium of the host was also not visible, being kept “off-stage” in the wings.

The entire feeling of the services in these churches could only be described as, well… protestant.  Mainline protestant.  The Methodist church of my youth.   Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But when I compare my Florida experience with that of my Helena home, I cannot help but focus on what is missing.

Helena is blessed with one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen, let alone prayed in.  Its beauty may have spoiled me for other, more modern church architecture.  But that is not the main thing

And it isn’t the crucifix.  One of St. Helena’s few flaws is that the gold crucifix is subsumed (consumed?) by the dazzling gold grillwork reredos behind it.

When I come to church, I am seeking an encounter with holiness, sanctity.  I find it every time I enter St. Helena Cathedral.  But I have not found it once, at least not to any similar extent, in the churches of Florida.

I know how precious the mass has been throughout history and around the world.  I have read of masses celebrated secretly in miserable prisons, in hidden closets and secret forest clearings.  I know that holiness can be found anywhere it is earnestly sought.

In perspective, my quibbles and complaints sound very much like first-world problems, indeed pure snobbery. I come to church with the mind-set of a theater critic. I want every church to meet the standards of my magnificent home cathedral.  I want every priest to have a good voice (or at least a good sound system).  I want a good cantor and good music selections.   (And I wish the bible readings were in better translation.)

Some of this is, as I realize, pure snobbery.  I need to get over it, and to recognize the blessing of having churches to attend and eucharists to receive. 

But some of it may matter a great deal.  In the present war for the soul of the church (and thereby the world), many things must matter.  Crucifixes are not simply a decorator’s choice.

I’m back…

I must apologize to you, faithful reader, for my long absence.  I have been busy with a big change in my life.

I have joined the Catholic Church.   Finally.

You, faithful reader, are probably not surprised.  If you have followed my “spiritual progress reports” on this site, you must have seen it coming.  Strangely, I did not.

My reasons are easily summarized.  The gratitude problem: having no proper way to say “Thank You” for so many inexplicable blessings.  My need for moral guidance and support in battling my pride, my selfishness, my sloth, and my many other sins.

My need to make sense of existence.  My need for awareness of sanctity.  My need to learn to love better.

And, perhaps above all, my need for Hope in the face of despair.  Seeing this beautiful western world falling apart, seeing evil triumph on every side, seeing madness replace sanity.  If we are not in God’s hands, then all is lost.

“But what about the Pope?””, I hear you ask.  This bizarre modernist clown of a pope?  Join him?

For decades I have been growing closer to the Church precisely because of its popes.  Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI were the world’s clearest voices for reason, reality, and love.  JPII on communism, BXVI on Islam, and both on Western modernism, were lighthouses in a darkening world.  They showed the way.

I have written elsewhere on the shabby, secular, relativist, liberation-theologist, enemy of all that his predecessors built.  His presence was the final hurdle I had to get over before I could seal the deal.

But I was reassured by several thoughts.

First, I was asked by a counselor: “Who is the Head of the Church?”  I am old enough to spot a trick question when I hear one, so I caught the point.  Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church.  Not the Pope.

Second, I was reminded that the Catholic Church has survived intact, with doctrine essentially unchanged, for twenty centuries of  turmoil, often led by bad, weak or foolish popes and filled with cynical, power-hungry, licentious agnostic priests.  The only word for such vigorous survival is “miraculous”. No other human institution even comes close.

Third, I see daily demonstration that my concerns about the present pope are shared by many, many others in the Church.  I want to join and support them in their brave, often lonely defense of truth.

So, on September 21, I became a Catholic.  A dissident Catholic, but Catholic nonetheless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It starts and ends with Nietzsche

I just read Maureen Mullarkey’s post “The Toxic Legacy of Rachel Carson” on First Things. Well-written and thought-provoking, as always. I will pursue the Rachel Carson references further. But it reinforces my beliefs about the ugly transformation of science in our time.

At least consciously, it starts with Nietzsche, who said what clever individuals have always believed: Truth may be awkward, annoying, and inconvenient; but what really matters is power. We say “What is Truth?”, when we would rather talk about what we want to do.   Truth is subjective illusion; power is real. You can tell because the powerful individual can silence the truthful individual.

Science, like religion, can easily find power more attractive than truth.

Once science served capitalism (e.g., Social Darwinism). Now it serves the New Elites (government bureaucracy, news and entertainment media, schools). Once the Comtian positivist invention “social science” was the leading edge of the science of power. Now it has expanded into any science that can be used to “save the world” (i.e., strengthen the New Elites), particularly the environmental sciences. As Francis Bacon observed long ago, “Knowledge (i.e. Truth) is Power.” But the knowledge/truth produced (on demand) by today’s “sciences” have several things in common. These sciences are highly speculative, often resulting from computer models extrapolating uncertain data into uncertain futures (global warming). Or they may be based on highly subjective “data” collected and massaged by agenda-pushing “scientists” (transgendering, i.e. genital self-amputation, is not a sign of mental illness). Either way, they are inherently untestable.

The distortions that result from such “science” can be seen in the now-discredited but very influential classics Coming of Age in Samoa (Margaret Mead), Silent Spring (Rachel Carson), or Population Bomb (Paul Ehrlich). Or the timely and convenient findings that same-sex marriage is just fine for children. Wise judges such as Vaughn Walker, ruling that the voters of California have no right to decide so important a question, wrote:

“The gender of a child’s parent is not a factor in a child’s adjustment… The research supporting this conclusion is accepted beyond serious debate in the field of developmental psychology…Children do not need to be raised by a male parent and a female parent to be well-adjusted, and having both a male and a female parent does not increase the likelihood that a child will be well-adjusted.”

The worst effect that such empowerment of science is that once the New Elites close ranks around a satisfactory finding that confirms their ideology, the likelihood of contrary findings diminishes to the vanishing point. Vaughn Walker and Al Gore agree: once the science is settled beyond serious debate, so…Shut Up!   Imagine that you are a university researcher and your studies demonstrate that children need both mothers and fathers, or that CO2 plays a minimal role in global warming, or that homosexuality is not genetically but behaviorally caused. How eager will you be to publish, knowing that you will be blasted as a liar, a “science denier”, and a bigot; and knowing that funding for your next research grant will be limited to what you collect selling pencils on a street corner?  So the conclusions of “science” are not only untestable, but also irrefutable.

Originally truth was primarily moral: “the things we cannot not know”. As Aristotle demonstrated, science only added to this base of knowledge what we clearly see around us. We always knew right from wrong, evil from good, sense from nonsense. Of course there were also always those who knew the value of being able to muddle our sense of truth: men like the Greek Sophists (lawyers, activist judges, politicians, community organizers) whom Socrates/Plato fought against.

Now our only source of truth is “science”. (It earned its quotation marks when universities accepted “social science” as legitimate.) And science is only of real value when it disproves what we think we know (like children need mothers and fathers).

With all human institutions, what starts as pursuit of truth and freedom suffers a sea change when its initial triumphs carry it to power. As soon as that happens, the battle begins for the institution’s soul. Continue to pursue truth and freedom, or use the power to “improve the world” (i.e., strengthen the New Elites).

The battle for the soul of the institution can be brutal or it can be swift and painless. For in many minds, truth is less attractive than power (for power is never inconvenient to the powerful). And for many, truth is of value primarily as a means of achieving power. The illusion of Truth is just a means; Power is the end.

Which brings us right back to Nietzsche.

Sophists and Therapists and Politicians, Oh My…God!

The always thought-provoking First Things website has an interesting article, “Managers, Therapists, and Saving Democracy”, by Dale Coulter.  Addressing the question of whether Western society can survive its present moral collapse, he begins with the origins, observing that:

the scientific method translated into the burgeoning role of the social sciences, particularly psychology, and thus gave rise to the therapist. Human flourishing was stripped of a moral center and replaced with psychological well-being. To achieve such well-being, the mantra of “be true to yourself” reinforced the consistent claims of social scientists that non-conformity was the path to self-realization.”

Coulter offers an excellent perspective, especially about the essential sophistry of the politically-created, agenda-driven “social sciences”.  I recommend that you read it. He references several thinkers who have contributed useful analyses. George Marsden, Cristopher Lasch, Reinhold Niebuhr, George Weigel, and the much-missed former-pope Benedict XVI.  I would add two others who have done much to make the current collapse understandable: Eric Voegelin and Philip Rieff.

Voegelin wrote (In The New Science of Politics):   [In contrast to] “the classic and Christian science of man”, [Max Weber assumes] “a social relation between scientist and politician, activated in the institution of a university, where the scientist as teacher will inform his students, the prospective homines politici, about the structure of political reality.”

And in his Plato and Aristotle, “Philosophy thus, has its origin in the resistance of the soul to its destruction by society…The Sophist proclaims his disease (of the soul) as the measure of human and social order.

Another interesting perceptive is presented by Philip Rieff in The Triumph of the Therapeutic:

“Freud taught lessons which Americans, prepared by their own national experience, learn easily: survive, resign yourself to living within your moral means, suffer no gratuitous failures in a futile search for ethical heights that no longer exist – if they ever did….The death of a culture begins when its normative institutions fail to communicate ideals in ways that remain inwardly compelling, first of all to the cultural elites themselves.

“We believe that we know something our predecessors did not: that we can live freely at last, enjoying all our senses – except the sense of the past – as unremembering, honest, and friendly barbarians all, in a technological Eden.”

Voegelin also noted the inherent dishonesty in all this: “When Weber built the great edifice of his ‘sociology’ (i.e., the positivistic escape from the science of order), he did not seriously consider ‘all values’ as equal…In the absence of a reasoned principle of theoretization he let himself be guided not by ‘values’ but by the auctoritas maiorum.”

The difficulty is that philosophy, “the classic and Christian science of man” with “its origin in the resistance of the soul to its destruction by society,” seems powerless against the present disease of the soul in either its political or its sophistic-scientistic forms. The battle must be waged on moral, religious grounds as well. Plato and Aristotle must once again lock arms with St. Thomas Aquinas.  The Catholic Church under John Paul II and Benedict XVI was putting up a good fight; but now we seem to have a Pope who is all too often “guided by the auctoritas maiorum“.

Pope Francis’ Eminence Grise ?

[UPDATE:  I wrote this at the start of the current pope’s incumbency.  Today I see that his buddy Cardinal Maradiaga is all over the news in regard to what looks like misuse of funds. I am not surprised.] 

 

I have found that Maureen Mullarkey often says what many others are thinking. A blogger on the excellent First Things website, she has recently published a searing criticism of what appears to be Pope Francis’ strong predilection for left-wing politics expressed in religious garb.  Read it here: “Francis and Political Illusion”. It is appropriate to give a new voice of the church a chance to define himself before we react.   But so far Joseph has done little to reassure, and much to worry those who see the Church as the prime bulwark against a world losing all sense of order, morality and purpose. As I have said in the past (on my blog benfiniti.com), for me the first alarm was raised by his relationship with Cardinal Maradiaga of Honduras, a classic Latin American Marxist “liberation theologian” (and anti-Semite, but that’s a post for another day) as well as Pope Francis’ close confidant (appointed to head his Vatican Reform Commission).

Maradiaga’s thoughts are clear (and familiar): He rails against “the neoliberal dictatorships that rule democracies” and advises that “to change the system, it would be necessary to destroy the power of the new feudal lords.Continue reading

Criticism, Self-Criticism and Antisemitism

A common thread of modern leftist anti-Israel anti-Semitism is the claim that Israel has only itself to blame for Jew-hatred. If only they had been “nicer” to the Arab armies and terrorists committed to their annihilation! A preposterous but familiar excuse for leftist racism.

But in another sense, anti-Semitism does indeed have roots in Jewish history. For Israel, in addition to discovering monotheism and the concept of a meaningful history, also invented self-criticism. The first references to Jews as a stiff-necked, materialistic, ungrateful people may be found in the words of the Prophets of ancient Israel, quoted in the Jewish (and Christian) bible.

In a PBS series on Jewish history, host Simon Schama (a respected historian) cited as proof of St. Paul’s anti-semitism his claim that the Jews had often slain their own prophets. Schama seemed unaware that Paul was quoting Jesus, and Jesus was quoting the Prophets Nehemiah and Elijah, criticizing Hebrew ingratitude:

“They were disobedient and rebelled against Thee, and cast thy laws behind their backs, and slew thy prophets which testified against them to turn them to thee, and they wrought great provocations.” (Nehemiah 9:26)

“They children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword.” (1 Kings 19:10, quoting Elijah)

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Why “Mother’s” Day? Why not Parent #1 Day?

[As usual, my friend Hans Moleman (at mistermoleman.com) has made a good and timely point: in an age when the benefits of motherhood have been scientifically and legally debunked, refuted, and declared non-existent, why do we still celebrate “Mother’s” Day?]

It is time to put an end to this outrage.  “Mother’s” Day is an abhorrent, anachronistic vestige of heterosexist oppression.  In barely concealed homophobic code, it implies that a child needs and/or benefits from having a mother, and that motherhood is something other than an outdated social construct.

Sure, motherhood may have been revered in the Dark Ages.  But as Enlightenment has spread across the land in recent years, social scientists and learned judges have patiently explained to us that “mothers” are now quite redundant.

Wise judges such as Vaughn Walker, ruling that the voters of California have no right to decide so important a question, wrote:

“The gender of a child’s parent is not a factor in a child’s adjustment… The research supporting this conclusion is accepted beyond serious debate in the field of developmental psychology…Children do not need to be raised by a male parent and a female parent to be well-adjusted, and having both a male and a female parent does not increase the likelihood that a child will be well-adjusted.”

See?  It is “accepted beyond serious debate”.  As Al Gore likes to say, the debate is over, we know all we need to know.

The judge did admit that things were different in the Dark Ages: “When California became a state in 1850, marriage was understood to require a husband and a wife.”  But, as they say in California, that was then and this is now.  (On retiring soon after ruling against Prop 8, Judge Walker said ““I have done my part.”  Indeed he has.)

The Iowa Supreme Court was equally patient in dismissing the folly of mother-fixation.

“The research appears to strongly support the conclusion that same-sex couples foster the same wholesome environment as opposite-sex couples and suggests that the traditional notion that children need a mother and father to be raised into healthy, well-adjusted adults is based more on stereotype than anything else.

There you have it.  This whole motherhood thing is just a stereotype.

And think of the emotional pain inflicted.  Every “M-word” Day is a gross offense to the self-esteem of gay male couples who are thinking about raising children.

It reminds one of a heart-breaking episode from Monty Python’s Life of Brian.  Stan, a young rebel with gender issues, announces that he wants to have a baby:

Stan (also known as Loretta): It’s every man’s right to have babies if he wants them.

Reg:  But you can’t have babies.

Stan:  Don’t you oppress me.

Reg: Where’s the fetus going to gestate? You going to keep it in a box?

Well, Reg, modern science has finally come up with effective gestation boxes, so Stan’s dream (actually Loretta’s dream) can now come true. And the courts have said that gay adoption is OK, because all that a child needs is “parents”.

So we can leave this motherhood fetish back in ancient Judea where it belongs.

The obvious thing to do is to rename the holiday.  Federal and state governments are quickly replacing the anachronistic “Mother” and “Father” lines on government forms and birth certificates with the more sensitive “Parent #1” and “Parent #2”.

The calendar can and should do the same thing.  May 11 is Parent #1 Day, with Parent #2 to be celebrated later.  (Don’t get me started on the whole “Fatherhood” outrage.  That can wait until P2 Day.)

Boycott Hallmark until they correct this archaic macro-aggression against the differently gendered parent!

Reminder: Did you call your Parent #1 today?

“Blind, pitiless indifference”

As I have written below, I have spent many years trying to find God.  I have found much Judeo-Christian theology coherent, consistent with reality, and therefore highly plausible.

But I still cannot convince myself that the other coherent, consistent worldview, atheistic materialism, is not also plausible.

Many authors have helped me along; I will list and discuss them sometime.  But nothing so far has been quite so compelling as this quote from atheist guru Richard Dawkins:

“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”

This chilling statement, offered in support of Dawkins’ atheism, is from his book Rivers of Eden, which I found quoted in Francis Collins’ The Language of God.  (I recommend Collins’ book highly.  He was the director of the Human Genome Project as well as a Christian.)

Dawkins is wrong, of course.  He omits the fact that the observable universe includes humanity, and humanity is somehow endowed with every property he enumerates as absent from the universe.  But the importance of his statement is that, as an atheist, he is comfortable with this as his “Truth”!