Category Archive 'Christianity'
19 Sep 2022
Paul Kingsnorth wrote a very intelligent post reflecting on the symbolism and significance of Queen Elizabeth’s funeral.
What happened today was a rolling, dense mat of symbolism, replete with historical meaning, anchored in a very particular nation and time period. What did it symbolise? Above all, I think, it symbolised something that our culture has long stopped believing in, and as such can’t really process effectively, or even perhaps quite comprehend. This was brought home to me by one particular moment in the ceremony.
You can see that moment in the photograph above. It’s a view from the height of the tower of Westminster Abbey, looking down onto the Queen’s coffin below. The Abbey is, of course, laid out in the shape of the cross, and the coffin was set down at the meeting point of the nave and the transept, where the two arms of the cross meet. At one point in the proceedings, the camera showed us this view, and then focused in on the scene, and the impression was that of some energy flowing down from above and into the coffin, then out across the marble floor and into the gathered crowd.
It struck me then that this was an accurate visual image of the world which this Queen’s death marks the final end of, and it struck me too that this must be one of the reasons why her passing has had such a huge impact – one way beyond the person she actually was. What we were seeing as the camera panned down was a manifestation, through technological trickery, of the ancient notion of sacral kingship.
This notion was the rock which the political structure of all medieval societies was built, and in theory at least it is still the architecture which supports the matter of Britain, whose bishops still sit in parliament with the power to amend laws, and whose monarch’s crown is adorned with a cross. Authority, in this model of society, flows downward, from God, and into the monarch, who then faces outward with that given power and serves – and rules – his or her people.
Forget for a moment whether you’re a Christian, or a monarchist, or indeed whether you just think this is so much humbug designed to disguise the raw exercise of power. I’m not trying to make a case here: I am trying to understand something that I think at least partly explains how we have got here.
The point of the model of sacral kingship is that all true power resides in and emerges from the great, mysterious, unknowable, creative power at the heart of the universe – the power which we call, for want of a better word, ‘God.’ Any power that the monarch may exercise in this temporal realm is not ultimately his or hers. At the end of the funeral today, the orb and the sceptre, symbolising the Queen’s spiritual and temporal authority, were removed from the top of her coffin, along with the crown, and given over to the care of the church. At that point, Elizabeth became symbolically what she had always been in reality, and we all are – small, ordinary people, naked before God.
This notion – that any power exercised by a human ruler ultimately derives from the spiritual plane – is neither British nor European. It is universal. Pharaonic Egypt recognised it, and so did Native America. The Anglo-Saxons believed it and so did the Japanese Emperors. Cultures large and small, imperial and tribal, on all continents over many millennia, have shared some version of this understanding of what the world is. Power, it tells us – politics, it insists – is no mere human confection, because the world is no mere human confection. There is something – someone – else beyond it, and if we are silent, in these cathedrals or in these forests, we can hear it still. Those who take power in this world will answer to it at the end. It is best that they know this now.
What is meaningful about this royal death is that the late Queen really believed this. So, I think, does her son, the new King. But the society around him very much does not. The understanding now is that authority flows upward from below, from ‘the people’ and into the government, which supposedly governs on our behalf. In this model there is no sacred centre, and there is no higher authority to whom we answer. There is no heavenly grant of temporary office which will one day be returned, and a tally made. There is only raw power, rooted in materiality, which in itself has no meaning beyond what we ascribe to it. There is only efficiency. There is only management. There are only humans.
12 Nov 2019
David Noonan, in Scientific American, surprisingly enough, has positive things to say about the influence of Christianity and the Church of Rome on Western Civilization.
Perhaps even more surprisingly, this article treats Individualism as a positive and implicitly acknowledges the inferiority of other cultures.
In what may come as a surprise to freethinkers and nonconformists happily defying social conventions these days in New York City, Paris, Sydney and other centers of Western culture, a new study traces the origins of contemporary individualism to the powerful influence of the Catholic Church in Europe more than 1,000 years ago, during the Middle Ages.
According to the researchers, strict church policies on marriage and family structure completely upended existing social norms and led to what they call â€œglobal psychological variation,â€ major changes in behavior and thinking that transformed the very nature of the European populations.
The study, published this week in Science, combines anthropology, psychology and history to track the evolution of the West, as we know it, from its roots in â€œkin-basedâ€ societies. The antecedents consisted of clans, derived from networks of tightly interconnected ties, that cultivated conformity, obedience and in-group loyaltyâ€”while displaying less trust and fairness with strangers and discouraging independence and analytic thinking.
The engine of that evolution, the authors propose, was the churchâ€™s obsession with incest and its determination to wipe out the marriages between cousins that those societies were built on. The result, the paper says, was the rise of â€œsmall, nuclear households, weak family ties, and residential mobility,â€ along with less conformity, more individuality, and, ultimately, a set of values and a psychological outlook that characterize the Western world. The impact of this change was clear: the longer a societyâ€™s exposure to the church, the greater the effect.
Around A.D. 500, explains Joseph Henrich, chair of Harvard Universityâ€™s department of human evolutionary biology and senior author of the study, â€œthe Western church, unlike other brands of Christianity and other religions, begins to implement this marriage and family program, which systematically breaks down these clans and kindreds of Europe into monogamous nuclear families. And we make the case that this then results in these psychological differences.â€
In their comparison of kin-based and church-influenced populations, Henrich and his colleagues identified significant differences in everything from the frequency of blood donations to the use of checks (instead of cash) and the results of classic psychology testsâ€”such as the passengerâ€™s dilemma scenario, which elicits attitudes about telling a lie to help a friend. They even looked at the number of unpaid parking tickets accumulated by delegates to the United Nations.
â€œWe really wanted to combine the kinds of measures that psychologists use, that give you some control in the lab, with real-world measures,â€ Henrich says. â€œWe really like the parking tickets. We get the U.N. diplomats from around the world all in New York City and see how they behave.â€
The policy has since changed, but for years diplomats who parked illegally were not required to pay the tickets the police wrote. In their analysis of those tickets, the researchers found that over the course of one year, diplomats from countries with higher levels of â€œkinship intensityâ€â€”the prevalence of clans and very tight families in a societyâ€”had many more unpaid parking tickets than those from countries without such history. Diplomats from Sweden and Canada, for example, had no outstanding tickets in the period studied, while unpaid parking tickets per diplomat were about 249 for Kuwait, 141 for Egypt and 126 for Chad. Henrich attributes this phenomenon to the insular mind-set that is characteristic of intense kinship.
While it builds a close and very cooperative group, that sense of cooperation does not carry beyond the group. â€œThe idea is that you are less concerned about strangers, people you donâ€™t know, outsiders,â€ he says.
The West itself is not uniform in kinship intensity. Working with cousin-marriage data from 92 provinces in Italy (derived from church records of requests for dispensations to allow the marriages), the researchers write, they found that â€œItalians from provinces with higher rates of cousin marriage take more loans from family and friends (instead of from banks), use fewer checks (preferring cash), and keep more of their wealth in cash instead of in banks, stocks, or other financial assets.â€ They were also observed to make fewer voluntary, unpaid blood donations.
In the course of their research, Henrich and his colleagues created a database and calculated â€œthe duration of exposureâ€ to the Western church for every country in the world, as well as 440 â€œsubnational European regions.â€ They then tested their predictions about the influence of the church at three levels: globally, at the national scale; regionally, within European countries; and among the adult children of immigrants in Europe from countries with varying degrees of exposure to the church.
The thesis of this study, unfortunately, is a classic case of mechanistic scientism. It would make much more sense to point out that Christianity fosters Individualism through ideas, that recognition of the value of the human individual is rooted in Christianity’s teaching that everyone has a soul and consequently possesses human dignity, and that each individual needs to pursue his soul’s salvation.
10 May 2019
The Guardian reports on new information on findings from the Essex grave of a 6th Century Anglo-Saxon prince.
Archaeologists on Thursday will reveal the results of years of research into the burial site of a rich, powerful Anglo-Saxon man found at Prittlewell in Southend-on-Sea, Essex.
When it was first discovered in 2003, jaws dropped at how intact the chamber was. But it is only now, after years of painstaking investigation by more than 40 specialists, that a fuller picture of the extraordinary nature of the find is emerging.
Sophie Jackson, director of research at Museum of London Archaeology (Mola), said it could be seen as a British equivalent to Tutankhamunâ€™s tomb, although different in a number of ways.
For one thing it is in free-draining soil, meaning everything organic has decayed. â€œIt was essentially a sandpit with stains,â€ she said. But what a sandpit. â€œIt was one of the most significant archaeological discoveries weâ€™ve made in this country in the last 50 to 60 years.â€
The research reveals previously concealed objects, paints a picture of how the chamber was constructed and offers new evidence of how Anglo-Saxon Essex was at the forefront of culture, religion and exchange with other countries across the North Sea.
It also throws up a possible name for the powerful Anglo-Saxon figure for whom the grave was built.
Previously, the favourite suggestion was a king of the East Saxons, Saebert, son of Sledd. But he died about 616 and scientific dating now suggests the burial was in the late-6th century, about 580.
That means it could be Saebertâ€™s younger brother Seaxa although, since the body has dissolved and only tiny fragments of his tooth enamel remain, it is impossible to know for certain.
Gold foil crosses were found in the grave which indicate he was a Christian, a fact which has also surprised historians.
Sue Hirst, Molaâ€™s Anglo-Saxon burial expert, said that date was remarkably early for the adoption of Christianity in England, coming before Augustineâ€™s mission to convert the country from paganism.
But it could be explained because Seaxaâ€™s mother Ricula was sister to king Ethelbert of Kent who was married to a Frankish Christian princess called Bertha. â€œRicula would have brought close knowledge of Christianity from her sister-in-law.â€
Recreating the design of the burial chamber has been difficult because the original timbers decayed leaving only stains and impressions of the structure in the soil.
But it has been possible. The Mola team estimates it would have taken 20 to 25 men working five or six days in different groups to build the chamber and would have involved felling 13 oak trees.
â€œIt was a significant communal effort,â€ said Jackson. â€œYouâ€™ve got to see this burial chamber as a piece of theatre. It is sending out a very strong message to the people who come and look at it and the stories they take away from it. It says â€˜we are very important people and we are burying one of our most important peopleâ€™.â€
Objects identified in the grave include a wooden lyre â€“ the ancient worldâ€™s most important stringed instrument â€“ which had almost entirely decayed apart from fragments of wood and metal fittings preserved in a soil stain.
Micro-excavation in the lab has revealed it was made from maple, with ash tuning pegs, and had garnets in two of the lyre fittings which are almandines, most likely from the Indian subcontinent or Sri Lanka. It had also been broken in two at some point and put back together.
The burial chamber was discovered only because of a proposal to widen the adjacent road. It was fully excavated and the research has been undertaken by experts in a range of subjects including Anglo-Saxon art, ancient woodworking, soil science and engineering.
The new Mola findings are published on Thursday ahead of a long-awaited new permanent display of Prittlewell princely burial objects at Southend Central Museum. It opens on Saturday and will include objects such as a gold belt buckle, a Byzantine flagon, coloured glass vessels, an ornate drinking horn and a decorative hanging bowl. People will also be able to explore the burial chamber online at www.prittlewellprincelyburial.org.
Essex has sometimes been seen as something of an Anglo-Saxon backwater but the Prittlewell burial chamber suggests otherwise.
â€œWhat it really tells us,â€ said Hirst, â€œis that the people in Essex, in the kingdom of the East Saxons at this time, are really at the forefront of the political and religious changes that are going on.â€
National Geographic article
23 Mar 2019
This kind of building would produce that kind of decision.
The Home Office has refused asylum to a Christian convert by quoting Bible passages which it says prove Christianity is not a peaceful religion.
The Iranian national, who claimed asylum in 2016, was told passages in the Bible were â€œinconsistentâ€ with his claim to have converted to Christianity after discovering it was a â€œpeacefulâ€ faith.
The refusal letter from the department states the book of Revelations â€“ the final book of the Bible â€“ is â€œfilled with imagery of revenge, destruction, death and violenceâ€, and cites six excerpts from it.
It then states: â€œThese examples are inconsistent with your claim that you converted to Christianity after discovering it is a â€˜peacefulâ€™ religion, as opposed to Islam which contains violence, rage and revenge.â€
When contacted by The Independent, the Home Office said the letter was â€œnot in accordanceâ€ with its policy approach to claims based on religious persecution, and said it was working to improve the training provided to decision-makers on religious conversion.
28 Jun 2013
Detail, Thomas Couture, Les Romains de la dÃ©cadence [Romans in the Period of Decadence], 1847, MusÃ©e dâ€™Orsay, Paris
Ron Dreher, back in April, explained the battle over Same Sex Marriage cuts very deeply into the culture, about as deeply as its possible to go.
What makes our own era different from the past, says [Philip] Rieff [in The Triumph of the Therapeutic (1966)], is that we have ceased to believe in the Christian cultural framework, yet we have made it impossible to believe in any other that does what culture must do: restrain individual passions and channel them creatively toward communal purposes.
Rather, in the modern era, we have inverted the role of culture. Instead of teaching us what we must deprive ourselves of to be civilized, we have a society that tells us we find meaning and purpose in releasing ourselves from the old prohibitions.
How this came to be is a complicated story involving the rise of humanism, the advent of the Enlightenment, and the coming of modernity. As philosopher Charles Taylor writes in his magisterial religious and cultural history A Secular Age, â€œThe entire ethical stance of moderns supposes and follows on from the death of God (and of course, of the meaningful cosmos).â€ To be modern is to believe in oneâ€™s individual desires as the locus of authority and self-definition.
Gradually the West lost the sense that Christianity had much to do with civilizational order, Taylor writes. In the 20th century, casting off restrictive Christian ideals about sexuality became increasingly identified with health. By the 1960s, the conviction that sexual expression was healthy and goodâ€”the more of it, the betterâ€”and that sexual desire was intrinsic to oneâ€™s personal identity culminated in the sexual revolution, the animating spirit of which held that freedom and authenticity were to be found not in sexual withholding (the Christian view) but in sexual expression and assertion. That is how the modern American claims his freedom.
To Rieff, ours is a particular kind of â€œrevolutionary epochâ€ because the revolution cannot by its nature be institutionalized. Because it denies the possibility of communal knowledge of binding truths transcending the individual, the revolution cannot establish a stable social order. As Rieff characterizes it, â€œThe answer to all questions of â€˜what forâ€™ is â€˜moreâ€™.â€
Our post-Christian culture, then, is an â€œanti-culture.â€ We are compelled by the logic of modernity and the myth of individual freedom to continue tearing away the last vestiges of the old order, convinced that true happiness and harmony will be ours once all limits have been nullified.
Gay marriage signifies the final triumph of the Sexual Revolution and the dethroning of Christianity because it denies the core concept of Christian anthropology. In classical Christian teaching, the divinely sanctioned union of male and female is an icon of the relationship of Christ to His church and ultimately of God to His creation. This is why gay marriage negates Christian cosmology, from which we derive our modern concept of human rights and other fundamental goods of modernity. Whether we can keep them in the post-Christian epoch remains to be seen.
A must read.
18 Jun 2013
We are just in the throes of a great revolt against marriage, a passionate revolt against its ties and restrictions. …
[E]verybody, pretty well, takes it for granted that as soon as we can find a possible way out of it, marriage will be abolished. The Soviet abolishes marriage: or did. If new ‘modern’ states spring up, they will certainly follow suit. They will try to find some social substitute for marriage, and abolish the hated bond of conjugality. State support of motherhood, state support of children, and independence of women. It is on the programme of every great scheme of reform. And it means, of course, the abolition of marriage. …
[T]he first element of union is the Christian world is the marriage-tie. The marriage-tie, the marriage bond, take it which way you like, is the fundamental connecting link in Christian society. Break it, and you will have to go back to the overwhelming dominance of the State which existed before the Christian era. …
Perhaps the greatest contribution to the social life of man made by Christianity is — marriage. Christianity brought marriage into the world: marriage as we know it. Christianity established the little economy of the family within the greater rule of the State. Christianity made marriage in some respects inviolate, not to be violated by the State. It is marriage, perhaps, which has given man the best of his freedom, given him his little kingdom of his own within the big kingdom of the State, given him his foothold of independence on which to stand and resist the unjust State. Man and wife, a king and queen with one or two subjects, and a few square yards of territory of their own: this, really, is marriage. It is a true freedom because it is a true fulfillment, for man, woman, and children.
Do we want to break marriage? If we do break it, it means we all fall to a far greater extent under the direct sway of the State. Do we want to fall under the direct sway of the State, any State? For my part, I don’t.
—Apropos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, 1931.
14 Jan 2010
Rev. Thomas Crowder of St. Columba’s, Warrenton, VA, blessing the Ashland Bassets at their opening meet last October
Personally, I tend to find the survival here in Virginia of the traditional blessing of the hounds at the commencement of the season sufficiently quaint.
In England, one clergyman, at least, has updated the antique practice of blessing the agricultural tools on Plough Monday into the blessing of his parishioners electronic gadgets. I doubt it did anything to improve Vista though.
Reverend Canon David Parrott, of the St Lawrence Jewry Church in London, blesses his parishioners’ gadgets
04 Jan 2010
Clodion, Montesquieu, MusÃ©e du Louvre, Paris
Paul Rahe, who has written a book on Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La BrÃ¨de et de Montesquieu, posts on Montesquieu’s valuable observations on the changes marking the transition into Modernity in politics, religion, and war.
Montesquieu was the first to recognize that, at the end of the seventeenth century, a profound and arguably permanent transformation had taken place in European politics. He saw that commerce had replaced war as the force dominant in international relations; that a well-ordered Carthage could now defeat Rome on the field of the sword; and that, in the wake of the Glorious Revolution, Great Britain â€“ with its separation of powers, its policy of religious toleration, its devotion to industry and trade, and its empire over the sea â€“ had come to occupy a pre-eminence that no existing continental power could hope to challenge. That European monarchy â€“ with its hereditary aristocracy, its ethos of honor, its suspicion of trade, and its appetite for conquest, empire, and glory â€“ could not be sustained in an age in which money had become the sinews of war: this he also knew.
In Montesquieuâ€™s opinion, two successive revolutions, neither likely to be reversed, provided this transformation in politics with its underpinning. The first of these took place in the sphere of religion. Montesquieu was persuaded that Machiavelli was correct in supposing that, when Christianity supplanted paganism, it made classical republicanism obsolete.
When the virtue of the ancients was â€œin full force,â€ Montesquieu writes in The Spirit of Laws, â€œthey did things that we no longer see & which astonish our little souls.â€ If his contemporaries are unable to rise to the same level, it is, he suggests, because the â€œeducationâ€ given the ancients â€œnever suffered contradictionâ€ while â€œwe receive three educations differentâ€ from and even â€œcontraryâ€ to one another: â€œthat of our fathers, that of our schoolmasters, that of the world. What we are told in the last overthrows the ideas imparted by the first two.â€ In short, there is now â€œa contrast between the engagementsâ€ which arise â€œfrom religionâ€ and â€œthoseâ€ which arise â€œfrom the worldâ€ that â€œthe ancients knew nothing of.â€ This is why the moderns possess such â€œlittle souls.â€
Read the whole thing.
27 Sep 2006
Lee Harris, in the Weekly Standard, interprets the Pope’s recent speech (which so thoroughly upset the Saracens) as a message to the modern rationalist secular community of the West.
To the modern atheist, both (the Christian and the Islamic) Gods are equally figments of the imagination, in which case it would be ludicrous to discuss their relative merits. The proponent of modern reason, therefore, could not possibly think of participating in a dialogue on whether Christianity or Islam is the more reasonable religion, since, for him, the very notion of a “reasonable religion” is a contradiction in terms.
Ratzinger wishes to challenge this notion, not from the point of view of a committed Christian, but from the point of view of modern reason itself. He does this by calling his educated listeners’ attention to a “dialogue–carried on–perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara–by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both.” In particular, Ratzinger focuses on a passage in the dialogue where the emperor “addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness” on the “central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: ‘Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.'”
Ratzinger’s daring use of this provocative quotation was not designed to inflame Muslims. He was using the emperor’s question in order to offer a profound challenge to modern reason from within. Can modern reason really stand on the sidelines of a clash between a religion that commands jihad and a religion that forbids violent conversion? Can a committed atheist avoid taking the side of Manuel II Paleologus when he says: “God is not pleased by blood–and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature. . . . Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats. . . . To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death.”
Modern science cannot tell us that the emperor is right in his controversy with the learned Persian over what is or is not contrary to God’s nature. Modern reason proclaims such questions unanswerable by science–and it is right to do so. But can modern reason hope to survive as reason at all if it insists on reducing the domain of reasonable inquiry to the sphere of scientific inquiry? If modern reason cannot take the side of the emperor in this debate, if it cannot see that his religion is more reasonable than the religion of those who preach and practice jihad, if it cannot condemn as unreasonable a religion that forces atheists and unbelievers to make a choice between their intellectual integrity and death, then modern reason may be modern, but it has ceased to be reason.
Hat tip to Frank Dobbs.
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