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January 20, 2006

The Futures of Conservatism & Religion

After Jeffrey Hart says this:

Religion is an integral part of the distinctive identity of Western civilization. But this recognition is only manifest in traditional forms of religion--repeat, traditional, or intellectually and institutionally developed, not dependent upon spasms of emotion. This meant religion in its magisterial forms.

What the time calls for is a recovery of the great structure of metaphysics, with the Resurrection as its fulcrum, established as history, and interpreted through Greek philosophy. The representation of this metaphysics through language and ritual took 10 centuries to perfect. The dome of the sacred, however, has been shattered. The act of reconstruction will require a large effort of intellect, which is never populist and certainly not grounded on emotion, an unreliable guide. Religion not based on a structure of thought always exhibits wild inspired swings and fades in a generation or two.

It's hard to know what to say. That is perhaps because I have already spoken about my concern about gay activists' secular effect on the clargy and spasms of emotion seems to have been the subtext. I must have absorbed those sentences elsewhere in some other context. And I am in agreement.

Yet his idea of a completely rebuilt metaphysics. Yikes. Is that the revolution of Conservative thought given by the fellow over at Body Parts? Hard to reckon. And what of this Ressurection? Is that the Ressurection of Christ? Must the empire be Holy?

The Conservative Mind, it seems to me must have some understanding and recognition of change and improvement and the hard slog back up when chaos rules. What will it cost to reform what we know can be broken so easily? More specifically, what is it that draws us to the East, and how is it that films like 'Hero' so completely outshine films like 'Munich'. We have lost our spiritual Long Now and our sense of eternal beauty, nothing quite speaks to that as our failures in Architecture and our slavery to fashion. Our appropriation of the 'timeless' is a semiotic farce. It's a Ralph Lauren sticker, a Martha Stewart band-aid. And it's destroying the Hamptons, by the way. Those who know, know what I mean.

I think there is certainly within me a powerful sense of dimunitive status when confronted with the austere simplicy of certain Asian aesthetics and philologies. I am embarrassed by the West's need for Feminism in its evolution. I am struck by the high-falutin' mumbo jumbo of psychoanalysis. We have mastered so much externally, and yet the Western soul is restless. It is restless because it hasn't yet crafted a home appropriate to its accomplishment. Are we just starting to understand the clues and truly integrating what we lack, or will it be a reduction?

Those who call themselves conservative, namely Social Conservatives, are having nothing to do with a proper multiculturalism, which is actually a middling step towards global-ready diplomacy. And I think Hart nails it when he speaks of hard utopias. That is what Social Conservatives want.

I think that Religion needs to be Catholic in the best sense of that word. There needs to be a new Cathedral built that evolves ever so slightly the wisdom of centuries - that recognizes the usefulness of wide open doors at the front and precise narrow passages at the back. I am hoping for an evolution of thought in the West, although I suspect it may have already taken place in rare places I have yet to find. What I hope to find is a disciplined rationality that does away with silly dichotomies and recognizes an ecology of thought. We should be able to see in Religion a true essence of the timeless and the transcendant, and we should build upon that wisdom of ages while we continue to reach for the stars...

OK, do I sound more like Deepak Chopra or Carl Sagan? Enough.

Posted by mbowen at January 20, 2006 04:27 AM

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As I see things, spirituality conflicts with organized religion/faith writ large as they're driven by mutually exclusive agendas; enlightenment for the former versus control for the latter. In the sense that the desire for order is natural, religion represents structure and direction. The modern nation-state itself is a religious ('parareligious'?) construct, and so it's at least consistent for social conservatives to value doctrine over exploration.

Posted by: Anonymous at January 20, 2006 11:24 AM

As I see things, spirituality conflicts with organized religion/faith writ large as they're driven by mutually exclusive agendas; enlightenment for the former versus control for the latter. In the sense that the desire for order is natural, religion represents structure and direction. The modern nation-state itself is a religious ('parareligious'?) construct, and so it's at least consistent for social conservatives to value doctrine over exploration.

Posted by: MIB at January 20, 2006 11:24 AM

You know I'm probably a bad person to ask because I was not indoctrinated to the point of finding myself unable to distinguish between the social and spiritual nature of religious services. At a relatively young age I was able to get along in several different faiths and retain respect for the idea of one God.

So I don't see that religion controls as strictly as does the State, and I went to Catholic School. I think that conceptually, the idea of an all-seeing all-knowing God is more compelling and capable of greater motivating (or controlling) force, but practically speaking, the cops and the IRS are a great deal more efficient than nuns with rulers and ministers with wagging fingers.

Social conservatives may be overplaying their political hand but I think they are truly being defensive. Considering the naivete of American life before the depression, and the desire of folks to recreate that after WW2, I believe that there was some real innocence and sense of community lost that people are trying to protect and recreate. Their enemies, let's call them Hollywood bohemians, are very powerful. There is a different kind of cultural struggle going on here and social conservatives are not all wrong. It has to do with the nature of people exploiting the future and their condescending attitude towards homefolks.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 20, 2006 12:32 PM

Cobb...that is indeed utopian

Posted by: Dell Gines [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 20, 2006 05:30 PM

In response to mbowen's post...the answer to your last question is no and no. Your vocabulary seems to outweigh your common sense and you contradict yourself by some of your statements. You are overanalyzing as well as underestimating. If you actually live in the Hampton's and still consider yourself conservative, my guess is that you still have no clue about small town middle America. The backbone of this country.

Your views on religion seem to be convenient,as most peoples are. Whatever works for you...right?
Catholisism...is the ultimate justification. It seems too easy for me. No sacrifice and no change in lifestyle. Do what you want, confess and be forgiven,even if you know beforehand what you're doing is wrong.

Organized religion is a tricky thing. We are all hypocrites in some form. But you have to believe in something greater than yourself. I believe we all have a soul that outlives the body. No one knows what happens next.

Posted by: Anonymous at January 21, 2006 11:56 PM

I expect my vocabulary to outweigh my common sense, because the entire purpose of writing at all on the subject is to go beyond common sense. It is not enough simply to read, or to listen, but to engage in a socratic dialog in public.

What works for me is the point, because I believe that we are endowed with the same capacity for understanding good and evil as God. Given that, criticisms man makes about religion may very well be God's own criticism. So what I am about at this point in my life is amateur theology.

What I have discovered in my brief reading on the subject is that the Dalai Lama made quick work of the dichotomy between science and religion. Basically in about three chapters. I find that remarkable, especially given how many years Americans have struggled with the issue and the recent resurgence of creationism. So I am interested to know, not for the selfish convenience of my own personal salvation, how to reconcile certain contradictions we live with in dealing with morality. I suppose the most fair assessment of a goal in this regard, aside from satisfying an endless curiosity, is to create a clearer path for my own children.

You see I think it's rather facile to dismiss the awesome rift between the ability of America to have a strong capital C culture and the principles of what Cornel West called the 'Emersonian Theocidy'. There are certain things that make the US exceptional with regards to first principles as compared to Europe and when I first read 'The American Evasion of Philosophy' all of those principles made perfect sense to me. In fact, I think they must ultimately make perfect sense to everyone who calls themselves American. So my question is how is it that American Christianity was singularly unable to bring about the moral defeat of slavery without war? Is that a failing of Christianity itself, or of our version of it, or of human social capacity?

The subject brings up an enormous number of questions I suspect I'll be asking for the next few years. And until such time as I am able to use some of the theological and philosphical tools with a greater facility, I imagine that I will contradict myself any number of times. That is an embarrassment I am willing to suffer.

No I don't live in the Hamptons. Can anyone be certain that those who do are worthy of our respect? If not, why shouldn't we burn them to the ground? What is it about American upper class life that holds our attention if it is indeed so totally divorced from moral authority? What will it take to restore that (if it ever was)?

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 22, 2006 12:22 AM

"I believe that we are endowed with the same capacity for understanding good and evil as God."

Do you really? I sure don't. I think we have to do the best we can, but I think we all have flawed and limited consciences. That's totally separate, of course, from whether we do the right things we know we should; as Paul says, none of us do.

This is a side-topic, but: "how is it that American Christianity was singularly unable to bring about the moral defeat of slavery without war?" The abolitionist movement started in England, IIRC. It took a very long time to get anywhere, but ultimately England abolished slavery in all its colonies, which we weren't by then, of course. I think eventually slavery would have been abolished here. I suspect that a lot of the reason for the rebellion of the southern states was that they saw that handwriting on the wall and they wanted to head it off if they could. But of course it was taking too long; it was right for slavery to end when it did, although the war was devastating.

Posted by: Laura(southernxyl) at January 22, 2006 11:18 AM

If we all do not have the innate capacity for recognizing good vs evil, it goes to the heart of Protestantism. If we need clergy to intercede and interpret the will and word of God on our behalf, then it could be said that only men of the cloth have free will. For the rest of us there is only obedience. Obedience to the Word as handed down by superior men.

If our souls are not equal in the eyes of God, then what is the point of free will? If free will is simply a test, a ruse, then God is a joker.

On the other hand, if free will is a natural consequence of the level of intelligence required of recognizing the Divine, then everything becomes spiritual. The entire natural world becomes spiritual and everything to the extent to which it is conscious is capable of responding to and expressing the Divine. This is the essence of what the Gospel of Thomas is all about to me, and it is the link between Christianity and Buddhism, which makes it transcendent of sect. I am trying to understand the consequences of this perception, if it is indeed correct. And I am trying to reconcile my life to it.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 22, 2006 11:39 AM

OK, I guess I misunderstood what you meant when you wrote that we have the same UNDERSTANDING of good v. evil. I sure don't believe that we have to have the clergy interpret that for us; that goes back to my upbringing in the Baptist church, and the concept of "soul competence".

I'm thinking of Isaiah 55:8,9

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."

Posted by: Laura(southernxyl) at January 22, 2006 02:21 PM

As to your question about the civil war, the simple answer is that economics outweighed morality(as is commonly the case in the history of man)as well as the fact that they were taught for generations that slavery was acceptable behaviour. Old traditions die hard, even if they are wrong.

In your studies, I suggest you go straight to the source of Christianity. The Bible. Specifically, the King James Version(red-letter edition). You probably have already done this but alot of the answers you seek are readily available there. Good luck on your quest.

Posted by: Anonymous at January 23, 2006 08:29 AM

I'm going to buy a new King James for myself this month. I can't tell you how much other versions tick me off. The Revised Standard is OK but sometimes I hear Bible verses and I don't know what the heck people are saying.

I'm going to get in trouble too. That's for sure. Because I'm going to interpret the Bible my way, and I'm going to bring in real life philosophy as I always do. I'm going to be more Christian than the average Joe, as I was as a teenager. Lucifer Jones.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 23, 2006 08:50 AM

Two bits of unasked-for advice. Disregard as desired.

1 - KJV isn't necessarily best. It's a translation of translations, not taking into account more original texts found since then. Plus, the English language has changed since 1611. You can find websites that compare different versions, verse-by-verse. For a blend of careful scholarship and readability, the New International Version isn't bad.

2 - Don't approach the Bible with an agenda. It may not be saying what you expect or want it to. Let yourself be surprised, even dismayed at what you find. That's the only way you can hear what God really has to say.

The reason I say this is that one of our young ministers said that he learned in seminary to approach the Bible to see what it has to say about the poor and oppressed. This was not said in a venue where I had an opportunity to talk to him about it, but I hope he unlearns that mighty fast. Because he was applying it to the parable of the workers in the vineyard, and trying to say that the workers who worked all day and got paid the same were oppressed. But if you back up to the beginning of the parable, Jesus says that the kingdom of Heaven is like the man who owned the vineyard. In other words, some things will happen that seem unfair to us, but that's just how it is. (Not always, but in this instance.)

Posted by: Laura(southernxyl) at January 23, 2006 10:26 AM

Hi Cobb,
Thanks, once again, for a thought-provoking post. I began the Alpha Course last night at my local Church of England parish and you have touched upon some of the stuff running through my own head, but for which I could not begin to express so eloquently as yourself. It would be fair to describe myself as an agnostic who wants to believe; I cannot have faith without an intellectual foundation (no matter how much my Southern Baptist and "non-denominational" background tells me otherwise), and I found in the past that C.S. Lewis helps to bridge the gap, but doesn't quite go all the way. Do you know of any contemporary writers who are attempting to do the same thing Lewis attempted?

By the way, I miss hearing the KJV in church myself; the language of the NIV just doesn't ring as well. I have found though, that the New Jerusalem Bible is an excellent scholarly Bible which deals with the facts of early church history quite well. The translations for all of the passages are taken directly from the oldest known extant copies of the different manuscripts. It provided loads of ammunition for me in my early 20s whenever I wanted to go head to head with Jehovah's Witnesses and the like.

Posted by: James G at January 24, 2006 04:37 AM