Conservative Swede, the West, and me; followed by Nietzsche, the West, and the possibility of a healthy Christianity

(Note: After dealing with CS, this entry moves into a discussion of Christianity and Western civilization.)

A psychologist must turn his eyes from himself to eye anything at all.
— Nietzsche, The Twilight of the Idols

Conservative Swede has made it official: he does “not care” anymore about Western civilization. And in the same blog entry—indeed just two sentences preceding his announcement that he doesn’t care about the West—he declares that, based on “the actions of Lawrence Auster … The View from the Right blog has lost much of my respect.” He gives no particulars. To say that my actions have cost me his respect, and not explain what actions he is referring to, is the mark of a person operating under irrational emotions he does not understand. Remember, this is the fellow who just one week before he turned against me this past June, told me that I was one of only two writers he knows about who are “sound on all key points,” the other being Winston Churchill.

Swede’s loss of respect for me is even stranger when we remember that in his previous blog entry, posted August 7, he wrote:

Even Lawrence Auster writes nicely about me, he’s even trying to be helpful in finding me a new moniker. He doesn’t go nuts as the last time. And this in spite of me presenting much stronger and more devastating criticism of him than last time, and directed exclusively at him and not at Jim Kalb. And now Paul Belien. Gee guys, can’t you leave me alone! :-)

So, a week ago he was praising me for my charitable and “nice” response to his attacks on me, and he went so far as to use the smiley emoticon; but now, without mentioning any additional facts about me, he says that my “actions” have lost me his respect.

As odd as this all is, an answer can be found. The apparent reason for Swede’s loss of respect for me is that he associates me in his mind with the West. First, as pointed out above, in the same blog entry, even in the same breath, in which he declares that he no longer respects me, he declares that he no longer cares about Western civilization. Second, he wrote in his blog entry, “I’m an island,” posted August 6:

As a Christian, Lawrence Auster adheres to the Jewish god like so many others. But to him the Jewish god is not the foreign, alien god as he is to all the other Westerners, thereby weakening them and their self-esteem. To Lawrence it’s his old nationalistic god, a situation which provides Lawrence with substantially more self-confidence than any other Westerner, when speaking as a mouthpiece for Christianity.

In an inflation of me similar to his “sound as Churchill” compliment, he sees me as the most confident representative of Western Christian civilization. I and the West are thus intimately linked in his mind. What this means is that his loss of respect for me is a symptom of his loss of allegiance to the West. In turning away from the West, he had to turn away from me, too. That’s the explanation for his otherwise unexplained loss of respect for me.

- end of initial entry -

Paul K. writes:

I don’t know if I can explain what is going on with Conservative Swede, and, before that, Undercover Black Man, but I think it reveals an odd truth about human psychology: that is, that our admiration for a person may engender hostility toward him as well. Along with the adoration, there is a desire to wound, to get an emotional reaction, to show our ability to affect that person in some way, to perhaps bring him down to our level. Thus we have expressions of tremendous respect followed shortly by vituperation.

I used to work for a famous cartoonist who told me that when he attended comic book conventions the fans would shamelessly effuse over how wonderful he was, but then, invariably, throw in a little dig such as, “By the way, your old stuff was better.”

I’m not sure I’m making myself clear, but I know that the fan’s attitude toward the object of his admiration is very much a love-hate thing, a need for a sort of validation that the admired person cannot possibly bestow.

LA replies:

Thanks, I think that makes sense. And this love-hate syndrome is all the more so, when the admired person deals with ideas having to do with a civilization in mortal crisis, bringing out the deepest reactions.

LA writes:

Here’s another thing. In recent months, Conservative Swede had said to me on a few occasions that reading VFR was like “watching a car wreck,” from which one cannot turn one’s eyes. When I said that didn’t sound very nice for VFR, he said he didn’t mean that VFR itself was the car wreck, but that the things it was talking about, Western civilization, was the car wreck. But now it turns out that the car wreck in progress that Swede was watching with such fascination was—himself.

M. Mason writes:

It is clear that his current “problem” with you—and indeed, with Western Civilization—is just a symptom of the real malady. The moment that CS implacably set his will against Christianity and the God of the Bible, the downward spiral of ideological disintegration began, the effects of which have now intensified to this sorry state. Unless he somehow is able to recover, I’m afraid he’s destined to live out his days as a disillusioned, alienated, intellectual vagabond, his only palliative the soma of modern nihilistic popular culture.

LA replies:

That is extremely well put. What you say about his fleeing into pop culture was probably triggered by what he says at the start of the entry:

I think I might have found myself a new career in the entertainment business (and while I’m at it I’d like to affirm my recognition to black culture for their wonderful and essential contributions to music and dancing)…

Entertainment? Recognition of black culture and dancing? Isn’t this the guy who just the other day was expressing his total disillusionment with American conservative Christians because they lack the steel to send the nonwhite hordes packing? Intellectual vagabond indeed.

Also, to echo what Mr. Mason said about the rejection of Christianity being at the root of it all, see what I said in a previous post, “Conservative Swede bids us all an unfond farewell,” in the paragraph beginning, “One thing is fairly clear to me, however. The true reason for Nietzschean of the North’s decision to decamp from the West…”

In his earlier entry I was commenting on there, he seemed to be saying that he was giving up on the West out of despair. But in his more recent entry, he has gone further, saying he doesn’t care about the West any more. He adds that he still believes in Europe (which means what? The EU? Eurabia? The re-paganized whites of post-Christian Europe?) , he just doesn’t believe in the West, by which be basically means America and Christianity.

Rhona writes:

As you know, you and I differ greatly about Nietzsche, even though you quote him quite a bit.

Nietzsche’s predictions have been correct, although his critique of Christianity is excessive. What he also lacks is a full appreciation of civilized man’s need for God as an essential ingredient in his life. This mistake has been harmful to his understanding and importance.

But we need N. He is essential to our understanding of our decline and of finding another path to achieving a stronger, higher, wiser, and more intelligent human being who has reverence for himself and the future of mankind. Surely, you cannot deny that almost all of the clery in the West are aiding in our suicide. The worst are those who have inverted the world through their snobbery and hatred of Western masses. Their narcissism, their belief in their moral superiority have elevated the “low” and the “other” to a superior stature. This is the heart of the problem. And where did they get that from? (Re-read genealogy of morals essay (1).

Conservative Swede is just throwing in the towel. He has nothing to do with N’s philosophy.

LA replies:

“Conservative Swede is just throwing in the towel. He has nothing to do with N’s philosophy.”

Hmm. Yes and no. Swede is obviously very much influenced by Nietzsche—how can you deny that? The question rather is how much does Nietzsche have to do with Swede’s towel throwing? I would say this: His Nietzscheanism has a lot to do with his rejection of the Christian/Jewish God, and his rejection of the Christian-Jewish God has a lot to do with his rejection of the West. So there does seem to be a connection there, don’t you think?

LA writes:

Also, I didn’t reply to Rhona’s substantive point about Nietzsche and Europe. Yes, as I’ve said myself, the hyper liberal, decadent, suicidal clergy of today are right out of Nietzsche’s writings—even more extreme than he described. But N.’s great mistake was to think that this decadence and anti-life quality expressed the essence of Christianity; it does not. It is expressing Christianity in a liberal form. Remember, Christianity does not by itself supply a form of social and political existence; that has to come from outside of Christianity. If Christians get their form of society from liberalism, they will become liberals. But very different forms of society, and of Christianity, are possible as well.

Here’s the truth. Jesus Christ exists. Jesus Christ is real. He is present and eternally accessible to everyone who turns toward him. Christ’s call to us, and our response to him, and his response to us, that is the core of Christianity.

But that is not the totality of existence. We are created beings who live within a particular society. We do not live as “universal men,” at least not in the present stage of human development. And there is nothing about what I just said that is out of keeping with Christian understandings. Just as man lives in the “in-between”—between God and his own ordinary life, mediating between these two “pulls,” in the same way man lives between God and his own particular society, mediating between these two “pulls.” God is above us; our society and culture are around us. There is no contradiction in this; it is the very structure of human existence. “God and world, man and society, form a primordial community of being.”

But modern people have split these dimensions of existence off from each other, so that they think that if you follow God, you can’t be with the world and society, and if you’re with the world and society, you can’t believe in God. And that catastrophic spiritual failure, that loss of truth, is what is leading to the suicide of the West.

Regarding my above statements about Christ, a reader wrote:
I am curious what evidence you have for these assertions. You declare it with great certainty. Have you personally met or seen Jesus Christ?

I am not being sarcastic here—did you have some sort of mystical experience in which you believe you actually met or saw him? How do you know he exists, is real, and is present and eternally accessible? Are you simply using the statements in the Bible as evidence? If you are, how is this different from Muslims using the Quran as evidence that Mohammed was God’s prophet?

In a follow-up the reader wrote:

Your statement about Christ was very declarative: “Here is the truth. Jesus Christ is real. Jesus Christ exists.” You didn’t say “I believe Jesus Christ is real. I believe he exists as a matter of personal faith, based on my own personal mystical experience, though of course I can’t prove this to anyone.” You stated it as a fact, as though it was indisputable. But for someone else like myself listening to you, this sounds no different than a Mohammedan asserting that in fact, Mohammed IS the prophet of God, etc.

So I asked what evidence you can offer to someone like me that what you assert is true.

He continued:

Of course I know that there is no evidence in the scientific sense that you can offer that your assertions are true. But I think that to be credible you need to qualify your assertions about Jesus Christ since you can’t offer any objective evidence.

My reply:

I had an experience of the reality and presence of Christ.

To go beyond that in words, would mean going into personal and specific details about the experience that would not be necessary or appropriate to share.

And you’re right, I didn’t say, as you would prefer that I would say, “I believe he exists as a matter of personal faith, based on my own personal mystical experience, though of course I can’t prove this to anyone.” I didn’t say it that way because that’s not my experience. If I had said it the way you want me to say it, it wouldn’t have been true. The experience that made me a Christian believer was an experience of the reality and eternal presence of Jesus Christ. The way that experience is expressed in words is: “Jesus Christ is real. Jesus Christ exists.” The fact that you were disconcerted by the positive manner of the assertion indicates that you regard Christianity as, at best, a mere subjective state of “faith,” not as something that is or can be objectively true. The underlying assumption of your questions to me is that Christianity cannot be objectively true.

You said:

“Of course I know that there is no evidence in the scientific sense that you can offer that your assertions are true. But I think that to be credible you need to qualify your assertions about Jesus Christ since you can’t offer any objective evidence.”

You say you understand that there is no scientific type evidence to back up the positive declaration that Jesus Christ exists, meaning that you are acknowledging that there was no way that I could provide you with the evidence you were demanding. Which means that your intent here was not to get at the truth of my experience; your intent was to get me to drop my positive assertion of the existence of Jesus Christ and adopt your wishy-washy preferred language instead.

Instead of respecting or at least accepting my expression of my religious belief as my expression of my religious belief and going on from there, you were demanding that I alter it into a subjective statement. You weren’t interested in eliciting further information from me about my experiences or knowledge. You were trying to get me to drop my statement of belief.

The reader replies:

You’re right. And I realize now that that was my intention—to say, in effect, “whoa Auster—you can’t claim that Christianity is provable, objective FACT—only that it is your experience that it is true.”

Rhona writes:

The essence of N’s philosophy is that the only real thing we know is what is on this earth. I would think that that would make a follower of N. less likely to abandon Western Civilization. I also remind you that N. was anti-Christian, not anti-Western. [LA replies: But Western civilization is inseparable from Christianity. The western Roman world came to an end in the fifth and sixth centuries: chaos, barbarism. Then a new civilization slowly took shape during the course of what we call the Dark Ages. That civilization was Christendom. The nations of Europe as we know them were formed in the act of being converted to Christianity. To say that there can be Western civilization without Christianity is a contradiction in terms. If some non-Christian civilization ultimately comes into existence in the former lands of the West; it won’t be Western civilization, it will be something else.]

All theological-based philosophy tends to devalue life. [LA replies: There is just rehashed Nietzsche and Rand. It is a reaction against mediocre Christianity that we see around us. Such statements can only be made in ignorance of the Bible and Christianity: “For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself.” (John 5:26.)] It sets up a structure that makes life transitory. [LA: But each of our individual lives is transitory.Christ says there is an eternal life, which he lives, and which we can share with him.] It is an interesting argument if a secular philosophy would tend to make humans less courageous, given the fact that there would not be a belief in the afterlife. I know it makes people more suicidal.

With regard to the clergy: Who is supposed to better know what the essence of Christianity is. They cannot be dismissed. They are supposed to be our guides and teachers. Are the clergy’s interpretations outrageous, or do they really reflect truths about Christianity at its core. [LA replies: Which clergy are we talking about? Paul, Augustine, and Bernard of Clairvaux? Or JPII, Robinson, and Spong?]

A strong healthy philosophy is the foundation of any civilization. Nihilism can be a reflection of a philosophy that was unhealthy at its core or a philosophy that is spent or not credible anymore. The realistic position, I assume, is that all civilizations are stuck with what they have and know. Any philosophy that will substitute for Christianity is hundreds of years away, involving a lot of pain and destruction.

In your view, Christianity is the only vehicle to save Western Civilization. It is all we have, so people are trying to reinterpret it—to make it fit their own wants and needs.

In any event, N is your friend. He enlightens people. He makes them stronger. He understands the essence of nihilism. He should be treated with the reverence he deserves. He is our ally. We need a big umbrella. [LA: this is the first time, at least since my student days, that I’ve seen anyone actually treat Nietzsche, not as a brilliant and inspiring but deeply flawed thinker to be read selectively, but as a teacher to be followed.]

David G. writes:

What did Nietzsche miss in your estimation? What did he not see? What era of Christianity is the exemplar of a healthy (non-weak) Christianity that did not give rise to, or aid and abet, liberalism?

LA replies:

Throughout the history of Christianity we find examples of this, but mainly in the Middle Ages. We can’t experience this in America. If you visit Ireland, and see the remnants of the Christian buildings from the Dark Ages, or the stone crosses and Romanesque churches from the high middle ages, or look at the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells (illuminated manuscripts from the ninth century) you will experience through them a living Christian truth, a consummate state of being. If you visit medieval churches in England, you will experience the same. Or if you read The Stripping of the Altars, about the actual Christian practice (such as Corpus Christi processionals and Holy Week observances) that were followed by ordinary people in the communities and the guilds of 15th century England, you well get a glimpse of a complete order of life based around Christianity.

This is not to make the Middle Ages a model of society; they had terrible problems. but they had a high civilization formed around Christianity. We might not have wanted to live in the 13th century, but the civilization that created Westminster Abbey was far higher than our own.

And of course the healthy (non-weak) Christianity is in the Gospels themselves, the highest and most life-giving work on earth.

N. knew nothing about Christianity but the negatives—and even that was a caricature. He was a bigot against Christianity. He was brilliant as a psychologist, but his judgment on religious and historical topics is disastrously off.

Gintas writes:

Your question, “Are culture and Christianity opposed?” reminds me of what Russell Kirk said, how culture is based on a religion—the cult. And when we talk of a culture war, I think what we see is that the traditional culture here, derived from Western Christianity, is at war with another culture, derived from “X.” That “X is a branch off the original Western religion, a perverse derivation. It is Liberalism, Christianity without God and Christ, and attacks Christianity. It has become an Anti-Religion, or at least something Anti-Christ, thus the war. We now have two cultures at work here in the same geographic area. When the left talks about “multiculturalism” it is a purely Orwellian term for “Anti-Christ Monoculture,” or an “Anything But Christ Monoculture.” Or, we could call it “X-Christianity.”

So to answer your question, yes, Christianity and “???” (Liberalism) are opposed, and thus the cultures derived from them (or built on them) are opposed.

Rhona replies:

LA replies: But Western civilization is inseparable from Christianity.

Christianity was essential in creating Western Civilization, but that was in the past. There is no contradition if Western Civilization outgrows Christianity or if Christianity mutates into a hybrid or a more adequate philosophy for the future.

LA: But each of our individual lives is transitory.Christ says there is an eternal life, which he lives, and which we can share with him.

Theology devalues life by definition. That life is transitory and the after life is eternal.

LA replies: Which clergy are we talking about? Paul, Augustine, and Bernard of Clairvaux? Or JPII, Robinson, and Spong?

The current clergy is supposed to be reading the great works of the past. Why do they discard these teachings and come up with a Christian philosophy that is so antithetical to your personal beliefs? Are they totally dishonest or myopic or perhaps that’s the core of what Christianity is today and you cannot accept it. I would say the N. has more insight than the pope.

LA: this is the first time, at least since my student days, that I’ve seen anyone actually treat Nietzsche, not as a brilliant and inspiring but deeply flawed thinker to be read selectively, but as a teacher to be followed.

Why wouldn’t people who follow N. be able to critique him when they feel he is wrong. That is what he sought of people who read him. Not to be followers, but to be leaders and capture his insights and be stronger. Do you know any philospher who has captured all truth and not written in error?

Why couldn’t a rational person conclude that given the current state of Christianity and the teachings of a preponderance of the clergy, that it is spent and has gone into a suicidal mode. I say, again, it’s a big umbrella and that we need many people to fight the fight. N. belongs here in any fight. He saw the slavery of higher man to the poor and to the low and the actual destruction of higher man. That is the essence of what most of us are trying to fight about.

LA replies:

Rhona says: “Theology devalues life by definition.”

This is almost in Christopher Hitchens country, where “Religion poisons everything.” In reality it is the non-believers who devalue life, people like Dawkins and Derbyshire, by reducing life, consciousness, everything to matter.

Consider this statement; “And God created man. In his own image and likeness he created him. Male and female created he them.”

Do you think that the statement that man is created in the image of God devalues life? It is a revelatory insight into what man really is. It gives the greatest meaning to the human.

By contrast with the theistic understanding of life, what does the Nietzschean vision have to offer? The will to power! In a universe devoid of coherence and meaning! In which the only way to overcome the despair of cosmic meaningless is to say “Yes” to all meaninglessness, and keep saying it for eternity, in the eternal recurrence, and the man who keep saying Yes to this cosmic void becomes the Superman. And this is what Rhona offers as a vision for society?

Nietzsche speaks to solitary sensitive souls. He has no useful vision of social order.

Rhona says: “Why is your authority greater than theirs [modern liberal Christians] in defining Christianity?”

Well, I guess we just have to stop talking about Christianity altogether, including liberal Christianity. According to Rhona, the very question of a true Christianity versus a false Christianity is a non-question. Since Bishop Spong exists, and since Spong is a Christian, therefore what Spong says defines Christianity. That is called Nominalism, the idea that things do not have an objective and independent essence but are defined by their name. So, Islam is whatever Muslims (Pipe’s moderate Muslims) say Islam is, and Christianity is whatever Christians (liberal Christians) say Christianity is.

Since non-believers deny the objective existence of God, they end up denying the objective existence of all essences. There’s just man, willing his meaning into things. Again, this may be an experience that an experimental individual can have on his own. It cannot be the basis of any society or culture. Does Rhona really believe that a society can be formed around Nietzschean nihilism (meaning the denial of objective moral truth)?

Jason P. writes [this is greatly abridged]:

From your brief statement on liberal Christianity and what you see as the essence of Christianity, it is not clear how religion aids society (as opposed to individual salvation.) You say “Christianity does not by itself supply a form of social and political existence” which must come from other sources and these can be liberal or conservative. I agree with you that Christianity is indeed so flexible. But what role, if any, do you give Christianity in supporting a civil order that respects the liberties that are at the core of the American tradition? After all, it can co-exist with monarchy and socialism as well.

You divide existence into God above and “society and culture” around us. You say there “is no contradiction” but that hardly tells us about the interaction between the two….

… your emphasis suggests it is Christ that is indispensable as a foundation for what is best in our culture’s traditions. Yet you suggest that social norms come from other sources….

LA replies:

I can see how my brief formulation doesn’t work out the interaction of the different dimensions. But for years, in developing the idea of traditionalism, I’ve said it means the belief in a transcendent reality, as incarnated and expressed through a particular tradition. I’ve also written about the Middle Ages as the fullest expession of a Christian society. So obviously I’m not one who is saying that Christianity is about pure individual transcendence that has nothing to with the external society and that does not inform the society. If you read me as saying that social norms come exclusively from other sources than Christianity, that is not what I meant. Social and moral norms come from religion. The extra-Christian sources I was referring to are mainly institutional, since Christianity does not supply the structural framework of society.

LA continues:
Let’s just consider some of the forms of society in the West since Christianity became the official religion of Rome in the 4th century.

Christianity has been the religion of the Roman empire; the Frankish kingdom; the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms; The Carolingean empire; the Holy Roman empire; the feudal societies of the High Middle Ages; the Crusader kingdom of the 12th century; the Russian empire; the Spanish and Hapsburgh empires; the despotic and divine-right monarchies of the 16th and 17th centuries; the parliamentary squirarchy of 18th century England (though that’s not a good example because Britain was very secular during this period), the largely self-governing British colonies of North America; the states of the United States of America. Radically different forms of social organization; yet in all of them, in their different ways, it was Christianity that formed the spiritual and moral substance that held them together and gave them their life.

* * *

Replying to what I’ve written here about the European Middle Ages in the paragraph beginning, “Throughout the history of Christianity,” Kidist Paulos Asrat, a graphic and textile artist, identifies another culture in which a comprehensive Christian way of life existed: Ethiopia. She writes at her website, Camera Lucida:

I would add also that the only other non-Western country in whom this pure, enveloping and life-giving Christianity existed would be the Ethiopian Christianity, starting in the late 12th century after a long hiatus from the early conversion of the Axumite Kings around 300 AD. That was when a fortified people came back with full confidence in their religion as exemplified by the great underground and rock-hewn churches that were built. This confident and healthy Christianity survived the Muslim devastation of the 1500s, and continued probably as late as the mid-20th century.

Then modernism in many guises started to take root, dismantling this structure.

There is a chance for a revival. Since nothing better has replaced the faith but nihilistic communism and capitalist atheism, the core of the people continue, albeit less sure-footed, with their ancient religion.

On a related topic, Camille Paglia, the art critic and professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, had an article at Arion, an online journal, discussing the importance of Christianity in art. She made the error comparing all African Christianity as coming from the same source.

I sent her a letter (since Arion couldn’t pass my online comment to her) to describe to her the uniqueness of Ethiopian Christianity.

Miss Asrat also presents some beautiful photos of medieval Ethiopian Christian artifacts.

* * *

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 13, 2007 10:56 PM | Send

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