February 11, 2012

Strakon Lights Up

Answering Fred Reed’s question

Why they hate religion — or Christianity, at least

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"I find myself wondering why the ruling classes of America are so grindingly antagonistic to religion. I understand having no interest in religion. I do not understand the animosity." That's how Fred Reed opens his essay of February 11, "Chaotic Reflections on Heresy," posted at the Lew Rockwell site.

Reed's premise applies most urgently, I think, to the faction of democratic totalitarianism to which the older, established, but deracinated ruling class has delegated control of culture, media, minority affairs, and education — that is, Left-totalitarianism. In the Strakon vocabulary, these are the Red Guards: old New Leftists transformed in the 1970s from outsiders to insiders, as well as their ideological children, including Barack Obama, the famous brother-keeping Christian, and Kathleen Sebelius, his ministress of welfare.

Reed writes: "I suspect that the decline of religion stems less from the advance of scientific knowledge than from the difficulty of discerning the transcendent in a parking lot." Nathaniel Branden, an atheist, long ago made a similar point in one of his lectures, proposing that it's just more difficult to take supernatural entities and instrumentalities seriously in a world of refrigerators and jet planes.

But Reed realizes that this does not answer the question he has raised: Why do we see, from the power and culture elite, not an amused tolerance for quaint beliefs, but "an aggressive hostility to religion, a desire to extirpate it and, though no one quite says this, to punish its practitioners"?

He concludes his essay still asking it:

Few educated Romans actually believed in Jupiter the Lightning Chucker. There have been Cathars and Wiccans and Manicheans and innumerable agnostics. Yet, so far as I know, only communism and Americanism (is that the word, perhaps?) have tried to eradicate religion.

Mexico has separation of church and state, and yet a bus driver can display a crucifix without upsetting anyone. I do not know how many Thais are believing Buddhists. Certainly Buddhist symbols are visible everywhere, and it doesn't seem to have engendered disaster. Why the angry rejection in the U.S.? I will get email telling me that it is a Jewish plot, like everything else, but in fact it is the default attitude of the educated. Why? Who cares?

In fact, few Red Guards do seem to worry about people of faith who aren't Christian. Toward non-Christian believers — always a small minority in America — the Guards usually practice amused tolerance at worst. Some members of their Hollywood-goof division have even become Buddhists or Scientologists, earning the happy interest and approval of those around them, especially if the new believers have abandoned a Christian heritage. Likewise, few of the Guards get too exercised over pious Jews, unless a Jew's religious conservatism threatens to become disruptive. In any case, the Guards themselves are an important force in destroying those who criticize Jews. Anent Mohammedans and their beliefs, we hear from the Guards only on "women's issues" or in those cases when they have no choice but to impersonate National-Security Warriors. (After all, the Guards do work for that senior faction, the people whom I call the Dark Suits.)

We should face it: Christianity and Christian believers are The Main Enemy.

I am a nonbeliever, but I understand that civilizations exist on particular foundations and work in particular ways. So it is with the civilization I love, the West — once known as Western Christendom, as anachronistic as that name may now be. Though not a Christian, much less a Catholic, I am easy with the dictum of Hilaire Belloc, a Catholic, that "the Faith is Europe and Europe is the Faith."

When I relaxed my own cultural Bolshevism, twenty-five years ago or so, and began looking closer at the West and the achievements of Western Christendom, I was struck most powerfully by the success of Western Christianity in desacralizing the state. Two giants are always credited with laying the foundation for that pillar of the West-to-come: St. Ambrose, who defied Theodosius the Great and, for his unrepented crimes, denied the emperor entry to the Cathedral at Milan; and St. Augustine (baptized by Ambrose), who distinguished between the City of God and the City of Man. Under the classic Roman religious-political ideology, there was only one City, to which ran not only all roads but also all devotion and allegiances.

The desacralization of the state and the recognition of a separate City of God — if I may quote an observation of mine from 2010 — "set up a moral authority in competition with statist presumptions: an authority, indeed, that insisted it was much superior to that of the state as well as fundamentally distinct from it." In combination with the geography of northern and mountain Europe, and some of the Germanic and Celtic cultural legacies, political desacralization at the hands of Christians blocked the growth of a successor super-state in the post-Roman era and sowed the seeds for peculiarly Western ideas of individual freedom and restrictions on state power.

In Mediæval Europe, ironically enough, new roads led to Rome, after the shattering of unitary political power; and the more ambitious of the political rulers were not happy about that. Desacralization always had its enemies. As nation states began to coalesce, emerging national rulers strove to derive their authority from their own myths, subverting and subordinating the authority of the Church.

What we see in our own age of full-blossomed totalitarianism is nothing less than the resacralization of the state. To our totalitarians, the idea that there is a moral authority — the precepts of religion, and in particular those of Christianity — standing radically independent of the state is not a matter for amused tolerance. It is a matter for acid contempt and energetic assault. Have most religious leaders and organizations disgraced themselves in bending the knee to the state (in return, often, for bribes extracted from taxpayers)? Not enough by half, in totalitarian eyes. There must be only one authority, call it Democracy, Progressivism, Nationalism, or what you will. Reed thinks an appropriate name for it, in this country now, may be Americanism.

If they enjoyed absolute power, including the immunity to resistance that absolute power affords, the totalitarians would surely do whatever they had to do to stamp out religion altogether, and they would be quite direct about it. (That's a power that not even Stalin had, quite.) For the time being, the masters of culture have to rely mostly on the machinations, seductions, and miseducations of Polite Totalitarianism. But that is likely to take them quite far. In fact, it may take them all the way, so that they never have to resort to the impoliteness of Nero, Marcus Aurelius, or Diocletian. Ω

February 11, 2012

Published 2012 by WTM Enterprises.

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