“Marks of the Good Writer” — Nietzsche

What does Nietzsche have against Plato? #straussian

Biblioklept

Friedrich Nietzsche. From Mixed Opinions and Maxims:

(138) Marks of the good writer.— Good writers have two things in common; they prefer to be understood rather than admired; and they do not write for knowing and over-acute readers.

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Our Open Marriage

Image: Painting "The Marriage of the Virgin" by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1670

Murillo, “The Marriage of the Virgin” (1670)

My wife and I have an open marriage. Before any friends have a heart attack or misunderstand, let me say that I am misusing this stupid term provocatively to make a point. Nevertheless, the type of relationship we have is the most authentic and open relationship to be found on earth. I will explain.

But first I must apologize for being the latest in a long string of recently-married Millennials who feel compelled to pontificate about marriage. The only reason I justify doing this is that it seems my generation is almost entirely confused about marriage, and youth and inexperience are not necessarily exclusive of true understanding.

A year and a half ago, my wife and I were united in holy matrimony, which is a covenant not only between two people, but between them both and God. What this means is that our relationship is not defined as a closed-off, limited agreement between two contracting parties, but instantiates our complete giving of ourselves to each other, and our openness to God’s presence and guidance. This openness is important because it means God is involved in our marriage and is interested in whether we are continuing faithfully in it.

Openness to God in our marriage is key, because God is the ground and source of our being, and it is to him that we ultimately refer when attempting to understand the mystery of marriage. We learn from his Son that marriage is built into the nature of human beings; that it is God’s design for a man to “leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” We also learn that this mystery itself is a symbol of the Son’s relationship to his people. He is the Bridegroom, he says, and his bride is everyone who he has redeemed from the curse of sin that entered the world through disobedience. In marriage, then, we create an image of the unconditional love God offers to mankind.

Holy matrimony, as a living image, an instantiating symbol of God, is a way of opening ourselves to ultimate reality by establishing a special, sacramental connection to the ground of our being.

This openness manifests itself in other ways. Just as God welcomes anyone into his family, holy matrimony means having a welcoming and generous attitude toward the gift of children, and a commitment to bring those children up to know the love of God. Hospitality and charity too, being ready to welcome and meet the needs of others, are important aspects of the marriage vocation.

What marriage is “closed” to is anything that disrupts the union between one another and God. This is why the church prohibits sexual activity outside of the marriage union. (Law and custom also have powerful reasons to discourage adultery, but those aren’t the subject of this essay.) The marriage union acts out the relationship of desire and affection that draws us to one another and to God. I take the view that our love for God is erotic in the Socratic sense. We are drawn to him with desire in a dynamic, directional movement. Marriage is thus a form of noetic exaltation. Non-marital sex, by contrast, breaks the noetic chain between us and God. It is to some degree an opposite movement away from divine love, receding back into the disorder of primordial chaos from whence we emerged.

The sexual chaos of the modern world is one of the clearest signs of its overall disorientation to the divine ground of being. Not just “gay marriage” and the divorce rate, but especially the direct and indirect sexual exploitation of women and children reveals our age as one of the most severely blind, heartless, and gnostic epochs in history.

“No one is obliged to take part in the spiritual crisis of a society” wrote Eric Voegelin; “on the contrary, everyone is obliged to avoid this crisis and live his life in order” (Science, Politics, and Gnosticism). With this watchword, we reject sexual alienation and instead embrace holy matrimony as an expression of redeeming grace for our time and for all time.

10 Ways to be a Hipster Conservative Mom

by Kate Petruchionis

1. Shop at a Thrift Store. This may seem obvious, but thrift stores not only supply great vintage finds for you and your hipster-man, but they are also a great way to clothe your little mini-hipsters. My husband and I have purchased four articles of clothing brand new for our two daughters combined in the two years since they were born. All the rest of their many, many clothes have either been hand-me-downs or thrifted.

2. Stay at Home. This is a great way to embrace both your hipsterism and your conservatism. Staying at home provides so many opportunities for developing independence and creativity; and it’s certainly a sturdy bit of conservative tradition. But for the hipster generation, staying at home with the kids is definitely not mainstream. All the women our age are going to work and waiting for kids.

3. Ditch the contact lenses. As a stay-at-home mom, you really don’t have time for contact lenses anyway. Go ahead and wear those big glasses proudly. And if you’re like me, you can’t drive without your glasses, so you never can wear sunglasses. But it’s okay; think of all the money you save not having to buy name-brand sunglasses! Contact lenses are not nearly as traditional as REAL glasses and they’re definitely too mainstream to be worn by a real hipster.

4. Let your kids listen to your music. Nobody really likes “kids” music anyway; I remember being a kid and not liking it. Just give them the good stuff. My two-year-old’s favorite song right now is “Ho-Hey” from the Lumineers. This might be because I pick her up and swing her back and forth when we hear it, so maybe it’s just the swinging that she likes. But I like to think it’s her great taste in music. Traditional music—folk and classical—is a great way to give that conservative change-resisting bent to your kids. They can listen to the same music their grandparents listened to while looking askance at “radio music”.

5. Read them real books. You like being well-read; read them classic children’s literature too! Trust me, the good ones have stuck around because they can stand being read over and over and over and over. Some of the others we hide away in the closet because my husband and I can’t handle reading them one more time, for a few weeks, at any rate. Hilaire Belloc wrote some great pieces of sarcastically witty children’s literature. And reading Belloc to your kids will set them up for reading The Servile State when they’re more independent readers; a great bit of intellectual conservatism that is too neglected in our mainstream capitalist society.

6. Embrace the mom-hair. If you’re staying at home, you’re probably looking for ways to trim your budget anyway. Learn how to do haircuts and styling at home. I’ve had one “store-bought” haircut in the last three years. It is possible to layer your own hair, especially if you style in the messy waves department; slight unevenness only adds to the careless look. Better yet, give capitalism the wave-off and barter for your haircuts. Know another stay-at-home mom who is better at cutting hair than you? Trade for something you’re good at. Chances are she would like to have something you can do, too.

7. Give your kids non-mainstream gadgets too. Baby gear is a total racket. The one piece of baby gear you absolutely must have: something to wear your baby. My two-year old still likes being worn (and she’s over three-feet tall, so if you have big kids, make sure it’s comfortable) and my four-month-old has enjoyed it nearly her whole life. You can make your own, buy an organic one, or buy one from the many Etsy moms who make them at home. Most of the mainstream baby things are a waste of money, take up too much space in the house, and fuel the radical consumerism that has taken over American culture. Besides, what could be more traditionally conservative than baby-wearing and wooden toys and rag dolls?

8. Wear layers and prints. Again, this is perfect for moms who are hipsters; the first outfit you put on in the day will probably get jelly stains, spit-up puddles, or craft project paint from that old thrift store furniture you’re refinishing. So go ahead and wear something that you can mix and match (or mismatch) by the end of the day. You’ll save a lot of time by not having to change your entire outfit. This applies to the mini-hipsters as well. They do not limit their messes to mom’s shoulders; their own clothes fall prey as well.

9. Wear scarves. It’s like a bib, only for the fashion-conscious. Better yet, make scarves for the whole family. And this “bib” will enable you to keep wearing your favorite thrift-store finds a little longer by covering up all those stains. (This is equally applicable to the hipster-mom as well as the mini-hipster.)

10. Wear skinny jeans. Whatever you do, don’t wear mom jeans! If you do, don’t worry; you can use the denim to make some cool Pinterest projects. And moms still want Pinterest even if it has gone mainstream. If you can’t do the skinny jeans, just find some that don’t give you the mom-jeans look. They might be a little less than conservative, but you wouldn’t be a hipster without them!

A New Taxonomy of “Conservative” Christians

Young evangelical Christians are at the center of a sea change in opinion and practice in the church. The rhetorical tropes and divisions of a previous generation (Spiritual vs. religious? Reformed vs. fundamentalist? Liberal vs. conservative?) are beginning to fade in people’s perceptions, and new categories are taking their place.

With 20th-century theological liberalism faltering, along with the cultural “Christian” consensus, abandoning the faith of your parents no longer means social marginalization. Consequently, those who remain in church are more likely to be those who actually maintain a sincere and heart-felt belief in a real experience of God. This does not mean that all will think alike. We can feel new generations of young adult Christians dividing along new lines.

This shift has occasioned a good deal of confusion. Older liberal Christians have assumed that a younger generation of evangelical Christians, who are clearly more liberal politically than their generally Republican parents, will join them on the theologically liberal, desacralizing side of the church. What is actually happening, though, may be more complicated than this. Younger evangelicals who keep the faith are often dissatisfied with elements of their parents’ churches, but they seem to be shifting in a more ’catholic’ direction, toward a more liturgical, roots-oriented Christianity. While their politics may not be those of the Christian Coalition, their religion may actually be more ‘conservative.’

This movement is not unique among evangelicals. David Bonagura writes that within the ascendent ‘conservative’ camp of the Roman Catholic Church there begin to be seen important distinctions between what he calls the “new orthodoxy,” concerned with maintaining and restoring authentic Catholic teaching, “outspoken opponents of abortion [and] same-sex marriage” whose “theological standard is the Catechism of the Catholic Church”; and what he calls the “Benedictines” after Pope Benedict XVI, whose ultimate goal is the restoration of a more reverent, traditional liturgy. These two groups within the rising ‘conservative’ Catholic movement may find themselves opposed in certain ways even as they are in agreement on the major theological and moral doctrines of the church. The newly-chosen Pope Francis seems to belong, as it were, to the “new orthodoxy,” and under his rule it would not be a surprise to hear of discontent among the “Benedictines.”

Significantly, there seems to be a generational dynamic to these divisions. The “new orthodox” tend to be in their “late forties and fifties,” according to Mr. Bonagura, while the “Benedictines” are somewhat younger.

Rising generations of evangelicals exhibit, I think, a similar division. We begin to see, especially among Gen-Xers, what I would term “evangelical” conservatives, who are primarily concerned with maintaining authentic Christian doctrine; while Millennials tend to be “liturgical” conservatives, concerned with a more authentic way of worshiping than what they experienced growing up.

Both of these are, in a sense, “reactionary” movements. Evangelical conservatives react against a lukewarm, rote “traditional” religion they remember from growing up, or else against a sloppy, undemanding, cheap-grace form of baby-boomer evangelicalism. Liturgical conservatives react against a church that has forgotten the importance of form and beauty in worshiping God, that tries to be relevant by eliminating any and all distinctions between itself and the world, whose deracinated warehouse Starbucks aesthetic has rejected altogether the beauty of historical Christianity.

If evangelical Protestantism has a future, it needs to bring the two together. Theological conservatives must learn to appreciate how the beauty of liturgy and tradition does not distract from authentic Christian belief but rather deepens and confirms it. Similarly, aesthetically-sensible liturgical conservatives need to understand how the beauty they rightly love grows from the same root as traditional Christian theology and ethics. We need young Christians who are both liturgically and theologically conservative.

Much of the division, sin, and confusion in Protestant Christianity today stems, I believe, from a fundamental disconnectedness in the evangelical mind between the order and beauty of the soul and religious belief, and the order and beauty of externals. Each of these ought to promote and confirm the other. Instead, suburban evangelicals tend to deny the influence of externals, and are surprised when their children rebel, sleep around, and abandon the faith.

Beauty strengthens faith. No less, then, does true faith preserve beauty. The order and coherence of traditional Christian liturgy and art depends for its strength on the conviction that what it centers on is true; that God is true, that the Bible is his word, and the church manifests his kingdom in the world. Without these convictions beauty has no reference point and liturgy is a series of empty observances done for the sake of doing. The reason liturgy is attractive to sensitive people is that it actually reflects what is true, and speaks to the listening soul of what is closest to the ground of its being. This is why the mainline churches are in decline. To practice a received liturgy and at the same time deny received Christian truth is eventually a self-defeating occupation.

This article was originally published on Juicy Ecumenism, the blog of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

The Glorious Counter-Revolutionary Les Mis

les-miserables-glorious-cou

My grandmother was raised Roman Catholic in the 1930s. One of the first things she did when she married my grandfather, an Episcopalian, was to read, for the first time, Victor Hugo’s great love-letter to Paris, Les Misérables. During her childhood it had been on the list of books good Catholics were supposed to avoid. Today it is hard to imagine what the Catholic Church found so wrong in Hugo’s expansive novel of social injustice. The movie version of the musical has reminded us again of this great story, and it is the movie musical which I refer to in this essay. A number of insightful critics (cf. hereherehere, and here) have referred to the figure of Javert, the police inspector, as representing along with the protagonist Jean Valjean the contrast and conflict between Law and Grace. Law pursues with punishment; Grace redeems and forgives. Javert—rather like Mrs. Clennam in Dickens’ Little Dorrit—is driven by his idea of what is right, what is properly speaking legal, in conformity with the code. Everyone is defined in his mind by their relation to this law. People do not change. There are good people and lawbreakers; there can be no forgiveness, no reconciliation, no rehabilitation. Indeed, this seems at first to be the case with Jean Valjean, who at the beginning of the movie is a sullen convict, wishing to escape further punishment but without any real opportunity to become a better man.

Image of Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean in Les Misérables

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean in Les Misérables

After this, of course, Valjean experiences a transformative act of grace when instead of turning him in as a thief, the hospitable Bishop gives him the means to establish a new identity as Monsieur Madeleine. (Madeleine is a form of Magdalene, the name of the woman from whom Jesus cast out seven devils.) As the story plays out, Javert, as Law, continues to perversely pursue the redeemed Valjean, almost thwarting his efforts to bring grace to others. Ultimately, grace wins and spreads to others through Valjean’s acts of personal sacrifice, and Javert is driven to suicide by his own obsession with the law. That is a wonderful theological point to bring out of Les Miserables, but while watching the movie I realized that there is an idea that is even more fully embraced by this story, and in particular by Tom Hooper’s cinematic staging of the musical. It is the idea of hope, which is best explained with referring to Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 encyclical letter Spe Salvi, which is based on Romans 8:24, “For we are saved by hope.”

Hope in Spe Salvi

Hope is one of the three great Christian virtues: Faith (fides), Hope (spes), and Love (caritas). Benedict immediately moves to understand what differentiates Hope from Faith, when Paul writes that “we are saved by hope.” It is also said that faith saves us, so what is the difference between faith and hope? In many contexts, hope is identified with faith; i.e., it is through faith in Christ that we have hope. Hope is entered into by entering into faith in Christ, as Paul exhorts the Colossians to  “…continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel…” (Col. 1:23). Faith and hope are not the same thing. Faith is an act, a disposition, an entering in, a taking hold of. Through faith, we enter into hope. Hope is something outside of a person that is in some way both anticipated in the future and taken hold of now. “Here too we see as a distinguishing mark of Christians the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness. Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well” (Spe Salvi §2). An extremely important characteristic of this hope is that it is not merely a belief in future happiness which in some way allows us to change our outlook on life. It is more real than that. Benedict explains this with reference to Hebrews 11 (the “By faith…” chapter) in which faith is associated with the hope of the saints. The key verse for Benedict is verse 1:

In the eleventh chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews (v. 1) we find a kind of definition of faith which closely links this virtue with hope. Ever since the Reformation there has been a dispute among exegetes over the central word of this phrase, but today a way towards a common interpretation seems to be opening up once more. For the time being I shall leave this central word untranslated. The sentence therefore reads as follows: “Faith is the hypostasis of things hoped for; the proof of things not seen”. For the Fathers and for the theologians of the Middle Ages, it was clear that the Greek word hypostasis was to be rendered in Latin with the term substantia. (§7)

This sense is lost in many modern translations but is preserved in the KJV, which for some reason is always the translation of this verse that has stuck in my mind: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Other renderings of this verse significantly alter the sense, as in the NIV—”. . . being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”—or the ESV—”. . . the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” These modern translations subjectify hypostasis so that it becomes only a conviction of the individual. Benedict argues that faith is more than mere belief, because hope (what faith is the substance of) is more than a confident expectation. So what is it? Benedict expands by way of Thomas Aquinas:

[F]aith is a habitus, that is, a stable disposition of the spirit, through which eternal life takes root in us and reason is led to consent to what it does not see. The concept of “substance” is therefore modified in the sense that through faith, in a tentative way, or as we might say “in embryo”—and thus according to the “substance”—there are already present in us the things that are hoped for: the whole, true life. And precisely because the thing itself is already present, this presence of what is to come also creates certainty: this “thing” which must come is not yet visible in the external world (it does not “appear”), but because of the fact that, as an initial and dynamic reality, we carry it within us, a certain perception of it has even now come into existence. (§7)

In other words, we not only look forward to the coming of the kingdom of God, the seed of it is already planted in our hearts through faith. This seed is hope, and it grows and bears fruit in us.

Hope in Les Mis

The characters in Hooper’s Les Mis can be divided into two groups: Those who have hope, and those who reject the gift of hope. In the first number, “Look Down,” we see Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert. Neither of them have hope, or are even aware that there is such a thing. Javert in fact seeks self-salvation through the law, which is a false hope. Valjean and his fellow convicts wish, vainly, for compassion from society.

After his release, however, Valjean is arrested by hope through the kindness of the Bishop. With this hope living in his heart, he takes a new name—a baptismal name, if you will—and begins to live a new life marked by the reality of this hope. We next see him as the mayor of M— sur M—, where he offers hope to the women of his town in the form of honest work. In the movie, however, these women benefit from his benevolence but are not transformed, as in the sequence when, on learning that their co-worker Fantine has a child, they chase her out of the factory.

The lecherous overseer also plays a part in Fantine’s humiliation, driving her out into the street. Sin, in this way, pursues and catches hold of Fantine through the exploitation and hatred of those who are “without hope and without God in the world” (1 Thess. 2:12). In despair (lack of hope) she sells herself on the streets to support her daughter and is dying of pneumonia. In “I Dreamed a Dream” Fantine laments the loss of her hope of a happy life. As she is about to be arrested for prostitution, Valjean appears, takes her to a hospital, and promises to bring her daughter. Fantine dies, but her despair has been replaced by the hope of seeing her daughter in heaven, activated by Valjean’s promise. When Javert discovers his new identity, Valjean is forced to flee, but he is able to locate Fantine’s daughter, Cosette, who is living with the fraudster Thenardiers. They extort a large sum for her supposed keep, but Valjean manages to get away with Cosette, with Javert on his heels. The two seek refuge in a convent.

Throughout the movie, we see two recurring images: The hardness and mercilessness of society at every level, and the literally liberating and healing character of the Church. Valjean is rescued from the clutch of the law by a Bishop. When Fantine is dying, nuns care for her. Nuns, again, welcome Valjean and Cosette into their convent, as a place of refuge which even the strength of the law cannot violate. The Church is thus shown to be, almost universally, the source of true hope and redemption.

There seems to be an exception to this tendency, however, in the group of young revolutionaries we meet in the next act. Mostly from prosperous homes, they are humanitarians appalled by the destitution of the poor and the callousness of the rich and powerful. They also believe that by sparking a new French Revolution they can usher in a more just society. Marius, one of the young revolutionaries, has renounced his wealthy but cold-hearted grandfather to make common cause with the revolutionaries. Cosette, now a young woman, passes Marius in the street and they instantly fall in love. This is another instance of the mysterious advent of hope in the world, but the revolutionaries see love as a threat to their serious humanitarian endeavor, and fear it will distract Marius from his single-minded commitment to their plan. The revolutionary leader Enjolras invokes their “higher call” against which “our little lives don’t count at all.” This platitude contrasts strikingly with the nature of the story itself, which is driven by characters, not mass movements or even ideas. Each little life is a dynamic universe; each soul has a towering significance.

The Revolutionary Society

The Revolutionary Society

Valjean, on hearing of Marius and Cosette’s love, is torn between his desire for Cosette’s happiness and his fear of danger and change. However, he remains true to hope, and ventures out at personal risk to find Marius. The new French Revolution fails. In the end, the little band of revolutionaries is never reinforced by the hordes of sympathetic Parisians they hoped would join them, and they are slaughtered by the regulars. Marius alone escapes, rescued by Valjean just as Javert and the army are closing in.

Marius and Cosette marry, and Marius is reconciled to his grandfather, who is also transformed by hope when he sees their love. Valjean, however, unaware that Javert has committed suicide, fears exposure and flees once again to the convent, where at the point of death he is consoled by the shade of Fantine. As the distinction between Heaven and earth becomes blurry, Valjean takes leave of Marius and Cosette and, greeted once again by the Bishop, enters paradise.

In the finale, we see a kind of typological double-exposure. Paris, the city of lights, has become the City of God, and the larger-than-life barricade evokes the Mountain of God—both images referring to the New Jerusalem. Atop the great barricade we see once again the revolutionaries, who failed to change the political order. But with them we see also a huge crowd representing all the people of Paris who did not come to the revolutionaries’ aid, and even perhaps the soldiers with whom they fought. This is an image, not of the triumph of the revolution, but the true kingdom of triumphant hope—the kingdom of God. With this in mind, it is instructive to consider who fails to appear on the final barricade. It is all those who rejected or defiled hope on earth. The Thénardiers (except for their daughter Éponine, who is with the revolutionaries), the textile workers, the pimps and prostitutes, and Javert do not appear. The closing song describes, not a post-revolutionary state, but the eternal blessedness of the children of hope.

They will live again in freedom in the garden of the Lord
They will walk behind the ploughshare
They will put away the sword

Revolution does not beget peace and justice, but perpetuates the cycle of violence. Valjean’s story, though, shows how grace, mercy, and sacrifice can lift people up in a way that revolutionary violence cannot. The Bishop, then, who opens and closes the story of Valjean’s redemption, is the true revolutionary. His church is the permanent revolution, always opposed to the spirit of the age, whether that be Javert’s cold tyrannical legalism or the sanguine revolutionary spirit. This is why I call Hooper’s Les Misérables a “counter-revolutionary” film. It is a story of despair and hopelessness conquered by the one true hope through one man’s life.

FEBRUARY 2013 ISSUE

Vol. 1, No. 8: February 2013

This is the much-delayed issue which we intended to publish at the beginning of December. Responsibilities outside of the Internet have interfered with our hobby. See the note at the end of the introduction. —Eds.

Introductory Essay — Holgrave

ESSAYS

The King and the Madman: Political Implications of the Incarnation and the ‘Death of God’ — Holgrave

Incarnation and Eating — Guest contribution from Hännah of Wine and Marble

CRITICISM

The Incarnation in Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins — Victorinus

Straight Blows with Crooked Sticks: Flannery O’Connor and the Incarnation in Literature
— Guest contribution from Colin Cutler, author of The Ward of Heaven and the Wyrm in the Sea

DESULTORY RAVINGS

Why I Am a Reactionary, pt. 3: Conservative vs. Reactionary — Bede Adulescens

Concerning My Fountain Pen — Guest contribution from Tom Ward of Commonplace Philosophy

LAST THOUGHTS

On the Incarnation — excerpts from St. Athanasius the Great of Alexandria

Introductory Essay

Fra Angelico - The Visitation - 1434

Getting political

The Hipster Conservative is a very political sort of publication, because  the things we are interested in writing and talking about here are often political in nature. We did not, however, discuss the recent U.S. elections. We could attribute this to our hipsterish apathy and the scorn we show toward things that are popular and “mainstream.” The true reason, however, is that the present political culture offers only a narrow and bleak idea of politics. Here, we like to speak of “politics” in a more Aristotelian sense: of things having to with life in common with other people, especially where they have to do with creating the conditions necessary to live a virtuous and happy life. The drama acted out as “politics” on the national stage would be rated a farce in bad taste by any sensitive critic and holds at best a questionable connection to the ends of living a good life.

So much for being hipsters. As conservatives, we cannot absolutely ignore the continued predations of our natural adversary, the all-powerful State, with its lackeys and profiteers. In our public lives we fight the Minotaur in various ways. Here, we are more concerned with strengthening the intellectual foundation of the good life, while, we hope, undermining the already cracked and crazy stilts modern absolutism rests upon. Continue reading

Political Implications of the Incarnation and the ‘Death of God’

Introduction

Recently someone observed that there are hardly any professed “atheists” in political office. This is remarkable not because atheists represent a large portion of the population, but because atheism is hardly even controversial in present-day society. If someone tells you that he does not believe in God, you are not shocked. You may think he is mistaken, but you are not offended by his unbelief, nor do you think he is a bad person simply because he is not convinced of God’s existence. So it is odd that there are so few professed atheists in elected office. Whether or not a person believes in God doesn’t seem to have much to do with how he or she would fulfill the duties of the public trust.

If it is nevertheless true that the public doesn’t trust atheistsas voting patterns suggest, perhaps it is because they see atheists perpetually engaged in the comic but macabre project of beating the corpse of a medieval idea, or tilting at ruined 15th-century windmills. Atheists have liberated themselves from belief, but it stings them to be reminded of what they have left by others’ faith. They seem to be crusaders for positive unbelief in the public square. This attitude, perhaps, annoys the public, who are for the most part uncomfortable with True Believers of any strain, and happy with their customary distinction between private belief (“church”) and public action (“state”).

Yet perhaps both the raging atheists and the comfortable bourgeois secularists are wrong. If God does not exist, a society of liberal Western institutions needs to reconsider its first principles, including the value of personal liberty and human rights, to see whether there is still any support for them. Can the influence of Christianity in promoting human rights be written off as insignificant? Is there a post-religious path to individual liberty? On the other hand, if God is a real omnipotent being, how is it even possible to partition him away from the public sphere?

Few seem willing to face the implications of God being either absent or present. Western liberalism, with modern roots in the Enlightenment and subsequent intellectual developments, builds upon an understanding of human equality which developed, albeit imperfectly, during the period when Christianity shaped European culture. Yet the influence of religious beliefs and institutions in the development of these liberal tenets, individual liberty and human rights, is less recognized.

I would like to discuss three connected ideas in this essay, by means of a few concepts. The first is the “death of God” as encountered in modern philosophy. The second is the “kingdom of God,” which, if it exists, must necessarily have political implications. The third is the crucial distinction between Christ and Antichrist. These three ideas are necessary for an adequate understanding of Western history and culture. For good or ill Christianity has influenced the direction of historical development toward what we see at present. If God is missing in modern Western political culture, the absence is distinctly Christ-shaped, as attempts to replace Christianity inescapably show. But if Jesus Christ is in fact reigning over the world as king, what does this mean? In closing I will suggest an interpretation of Western history in which the reign of Christ and the pretensions of various forms and manifestations of “antichrist” have continued through the epochs in a dialectical conflict which frustrates the efforts of historians and philosophers to attach the label of “Christian” to any particular nation or political order. Continue reading

Incarnation and Eating

The Hipster Conservative is honored to feature this guest post from Hännah of Wine and Marble.

October 2012

Loving your food

I love to eat what I eat. My pleasure at the stove and table are sincere and coherent.

— “Learning How to Eat Like Julia Child” by Tamar Adler, New Yorker

I think about this a lot—what food means to us, what it should mean to us, how we use it, how we taste it, how we feel about it, what it means to relate to food as a human being.

It’s frustrating to see people using food, instead of relating to it. “Eating is a chore,” says a friend, and it’s not the first time I’ve heard someone say those words. This utilitarian, eat-because-I-have-to relationship with food is unhealthy at best, and is perhaps a reflection of more serious issues: displacement, non-identification with one’s physical self (is there a word for this?), and a lack of ability to savor life outside of the manufactured world of technology, efficiency, and production.

I would argue, even, that it is anti-Christian to have a merely utilitarian relationship to one’s food. I’ll write more about this later, but if God Incarnate as the man Jesus made such a point of instituting the sacrament of communion and said that the bread was his body and the wine his blood, food can never again be just something we put in our bodies (“fuel” says that horrible industrialist metaphor) to provide energy for our day. God has eaten with us and made the very act of eating together something that he not only identified with, but made a vital part of how we relate to him and each other. Continue reading