Books

The myth of White Christian Nationalism

I guess calling everyone who disagreed with you a Nazi isn't working out, so the new hotness is "Christian Nationalism," or even "White Christian Nationalism."

Yes, it's all about politics, which bores me to death, but I am interested in the theological aspect of this - which is to say, the multiple contradictions in the label.

The first is the business about being "white."  I suppose there may be some isolated corners of Christendom that still appeal to the old heresy about non-white people being the Children of Cain or eternally cursed, but they are on the outer edge of the most distant fringe of the faith.

The only large-scale denomination I know of that adhered to this was the Church of Latter Day Saints, aka the Mormons.  I believe there were some American Baptist sects that did in the 19th Century, but American Protestantism has long been a confusing swirl of various denominations that splinter, recombine, and then split again, and it's hard to keep track.

In any rate, it's an archetypal straw man, a scandalous libel that is easily dismissed by serious people, but since its purpose is to reassure the wavering Yard Sign Calvinists, it won't go away anytime soon.

If there was a kernel of truth in the white smear, there's no substance whatsoever in the concept of a Christian Nationalism.   This should be blindingly obvious to anyone who has ever even glanced at the ecumenical movement.

Even within the various denominations there is spirited disagreement.  How can one form a monolithic Christian state when even the Catholic Church is absorbed with internal doctrinal debates?  The same is true in Protestant circles, with major denominations roiled by controversy over how much sexual deviancy is acceptable and female ordination.

There can be no Christian Nationalism because there is no "Christian Nation."

This is the sort of hysteria that moves people to dress like characters from The Handmaid's Tale, folks who are likely blissfully unaware that the dystopian world of the novel (and TV show) is already here, courtesy of the Democrats, who even now are pushing hard to further normalize the buying and selling of human infants.   I guess mothers for hire (or human incubators) are super-bad when there's a religious element, but compassionate and necessary when used to farm out babies to gay couples.

It is possible that Christian Nationalism is supposed to indicate a fear that there might be Christians who also love their country, though - based on military recruiting numbers - this group seems to be getting smaller by the day.

Is Nationalism a Biblical virtue?  Absolutely.  It is rooted in the Ten Commandments: "Honor thy father and thy mother."  This not only covers respecting them while they are alive but also retaining their customs and culture after they are gone.  

When one mocks one's ancestors, denounces their language, heritage, and casts down their monuments, this commandment is being broken. 

The Bible is the story of a people that becomes a nation, and nowhere in Christian theology is there an admonition to cast aside one's culture and worship commerce, or innovation.

It is a mark of the strange state of the world where loving one's country is now considered subversive and sinister, where honoring one's ancestors is bigoted and reprehensible.

But there we are.

Upon reflection, this isn't that new.  G.K. Chesterton was commenting on it a century ago.  It's just yet another recycled heresy.

If we want to go even deeper, the same situation rose in Republican Spain, where churches were attacked and clergy lynched (even their graves were desecrated) and of course Communist China unleashed the Cultural Revolution that went much farther.  The Killing Fields of Cambodia is the ultimate embodiment of this nihilist belief.

The label is clearly a smear, but also partly cover for people who actually want to erase both Christianity and the nations.  As to what will replace them, I don't think even they know. Remember, Yard Sign Calvinism is never about results.  The pose is the point.

Still, it is interesting to note that the Chinese Communist Party is now ardently promoting nationalism.  I won't hold my breath for columns warning of Marxist Nationalism, but it's both more real and more lethal than White Christian Nationalism.

And yes, I am aware that there are people who are saying "Yes, it exists and it's a good thing!"  This is of a piece with my previous posts about people defending the Confederacy.  There will always be people trying to profit from a hot take on something.

As a practical matter, however, the term exists to discredit what used to be healthy, normal attitudes towards one faith and country.  Pretending it is some sort of radical new thing is nonsense.

 

 

 

 


Justification by rage alone

I've written quite a bit how certain groups of people now believe anything is permissible if their cause is just.  War crimes cease to be illicit when used against "orcs" or Nazis. 

It's often associated with Yard Sign Calvinism, but it exists independently of it.  People who would never fall into that category can succumb to it.

I suppose this is a consequence of fading religious sentiment and the secularization of morality.  When you remove God from the equation, it becomes much easier to find loopholes for whatever behavior you desire.

"The cause" is now what matters most, and this is why you see nominally well-educated people excuse deliberate war crimes on the grounds that if the victim doesn't like it, they can just surrender.

I'm calling it "justification by rage alone" because there seems to be a sense that if one's outrage is raised to an extreme level, any resulting violence (or rhetorical excess) is excused.  It's like the famous scene in Forrest Gump where the abusive boyfriend explains that he didn't mean to hit Robin Wright Penn's character, it's "just this war and that bastard Johnson." 

At the time, this was understood to be a lame attempt at deflecting responsibility, but it's now treated as a credible position, particularly within the ruling class.

Combine this with their increasing insularity from both accountability and the plight of those affected by their decisions, and it's hard not to be pessimistic about the future of the country.

 


The truth about Lilith

I saw the other day that Amazon has a new cartoon that does the typical inversion of the Bible's creation narrative, making Satan the good guy, God and His angels meanies, etc.

All boring old stuff, and it includes the very 90s twist of making Lilith Adam's estranged first wife.  This trope is supposedly why there are two creation narratives in Genesis, and it's based on the usual "bible scholar" conceit that the Jews were too stupid to edit books they copied over and over again.

One sees this quite a bit, usually just in time for Christmas or (especially) Easter.   When they are pushing fantastically heretical texts of comically dubious provenance, they fall back on trying to tease out contradictions and then declare that these are the results of "loose ends" created by earlier edits.  They then pronounce the "true" version, which of course they made up.

Anyway, it seemed like a good idea to revisit some of the good moments of the Lord of Spirits podcast, which for the record I left in sadness rather than anger.  Going back and looking at their take on Lilith and other monsters warmed my heart, because the podcast really was great during its first couple of years. 

There was a hint of anti-Catholic animus, but it was easy to overlook because of their fun, 1990s pop culture nerd references and sick burns of Calvinists.  Their problem was that they were running out of material and the podcast suffered as a result.

Anyhow, Lilith was not a nice person and had a very nasty reputation throughout Near Eastern cultures.  The Greeks and then Romans incorporated her into their pantheon as Lamia, who was likewise a woman done wrong with an endless thirst for revenge.

Like all angry pagan goddesses, she like killing kids.  A lot.  Between that and her fondness for having sex with lonely, isolated men and then killing them, she wasn't so much worshiped as paid off.  A lot of pagan gods were like that - assumed to be angry and vengeful and the best one could hope for was to convince them to ruin someone else's day.

The feminist recasting of her as a justifiably angry first wife is (like all neo-paganism) utter nonsense, but I'm very much open to the idea of that particular spirit trimming her sails to the times.  The pagan gods were real, and people flirt with them at their great peril.  Yes, the packaging is slicker, but demons are still demons.  Fallen angels are not the good guys, folks!

Indeed, it's interesting to note that within the Catholic calendar of saints, there are lots of strong, empowered and virtuous women.  Weird that feminists reject that and celebrate a desert-based sex/death cult.

As for Hazbin Hotel, it looks like a trite piece of trash.  It did, however, inspire me to dig deeper into Lilith, so it's not a total loss.

 


Hammering it home: G.K. Chesterton's St. Francis of Assisi

I find G.K. Chesterton somewhat frustrating.  He's a great writer, full of inventive turns of phrases and his social and religious commentary is spot-on, but he has a tendency to go on and on, hammering the point to an extent that it becomes tedious.

I'm reminded of Mel Brooks, who can be very funny, but he also has a tendency to milk a gag too much, so that the laughter fades and you look at your watch, waiting for the scene to end.

That being said, St. Francis of Assisi has its going points, and it is not so much a biography as a portrait and an explanation, an attempt to bring an earlier, more vivid view of the world into a jaded, secular materialist frame.

Chesterton's point is that modern audiences simply can't relate to many historical figures because we've been blinded to the supernatural and have a reflexive need to discredit remarkable things.  Even after my conversion, I remained in this mode of thinking, looking for a "rational explanation" for things.

But what if spiritual warfare is the rational explanation?  It's been documented for thousands of years in every culture.  Are they all wrong and we're the Anointed Few who finally get it?  If so, what are the fruits of our knowledge?  What blessings are we finding due to this discovery?

Well, for starters our birth rates are plummeting, our young people are mutilating themselves and committing suicide, societal cohesion is collapsing and by every measure people are finding less happiness and fulfillment than their grandparents did while living on the oppression of religious teaching.

Chesterton picked up on this trend a century ago, and his vindication is complete.  I think that's why his works have such relevance. 

An additional element that makes this book in particular a timely read is the stark contrast between St. Francis (blunt, plain-speaking without a hint of guile) and the pope who has taken his name.  Pope Francis buries his writings in contradictions and ambiguity, leaving even his supporters wondering what they are supposed to be defending.  The recent fiasco surrounding blessing "irregular relationships" is but one of many examples.

St. Francis of Assisi could quiet flocks of birds with a kind word, and fearlessly approached mighty leaders, even trying to convert one of the caliphs.  Quite the contrast.

 


Sickness teaches us to appreciate being healthy

I woke last night with a low-grade fever and growing body ache.  I rarely fall ill, so this was something of a surprise.

However, as I sit in a comfy chair, sipping tea and struggling to type, it occurred to me that when I get better, I'll feel much happier about it than I did yesterday.

Since the Exile from Eden, people have always taken things for granted, and in reading the life of St. Francis of Assisi, G.K. Chesterton stresses how the saint always kept a sense of wonder and joy around him.  That's one reason why modern people have a hard time understanding him or even accepting his existence.

We're to the point where we regard bitter, ungrateful and cynical people to be normal, while people who approach life with a child-like expression of joy are assumed to be mentally ill.

I don't know that there's ever a good time to get sick, but this certainly meshes well with my current reading.


A lot of bother about blessings

For reasons known only to themselves and God, Pope Francis and his allies decided to issue a new doctrinal letter just before Christmas declaring that blessing "irregular" (read: sinful) relationships was okay so long as it was spontaneous and done in a casual setting.

This was in direct contradiction with an earlier directive from 2021, which stated very clearly that one cannot bless sinful things - to do so is blasphemous.

Because the clergy was wholly absorbed in the celebrating the Nativity of Our Lord, reaction was uneven, but with the festivities largely concluded, a great many Church leaders are making their opinions known.

They are not happy.

One of the weird elements of the letter was its insistence that this policy was universal and that bishops could not intervene.  I don't know who thought that was smart to put down in writing, but it was guaranteed to provoke a negative response.  Thus we have various bishops, archbishops, cardinals and even entire conferences of bishops forbidding these blessings within their territories.

Because the Catholic Church incorporates various rites, these groups have also stated that they will not comply.  The Eastern Orthodox Catholics, for example, do not do "non-liturgical" blessings, so it was a non-starter for them.

Things got so bad, that a second letter was released, walking back much of the first letter while also doubling down on the concept.  For example, the first letter said the prayers should be spontaneous and not use a set formula; the second letter contains a recommended formula.

The larger lesson from this is that - contra much secular and Protestant propaganda - the Pope is not an absolute dictator of the Catholic Church and "Papal Infallibility" was created to limit rather than extend Papal directives.

Another lesson is that the heart of the Church is to be found in parishes, not the Vatican.  Liberal Catholicism is dying, and the fleeting triumph of Francis' elevation is about to fade away.  The young men coming out of seminary today are fiercely devoted to tradition, and feeble attempts to denounce the Latin Mass or smear American Catholics as reactionary are only strengthening their faith.

While many commentators are upset by this whole affair, I find it helpful insofar as it is very clarifying.  It's important to know where people stand, particularly when those people hold positions of authority in the Church.  We now know exactly which bishops and priests want to endorse sexual perversion and promiscuity.  That will prove very helpful going forward. 

For years, the laity has been monitoring the clergy, and 'vigilante' groups troll hookup apps, hunting down priests and reporting them.  I'm sure similar lists are being prepared for those performing these blasphemous blessings.

This episode also illustrates why "nice" Christianity is a dead end.  You cannot encourage people to reform by telling them that sin is okay.  What this does is reinforce sinful behavior and increase resistance to the necessary repentance.

Indeed, by reinforcing the sin, "affirming" clergy like Father James Martin, S.J. is actually putting the souls of sinners at greater risk.  Such people will have much to answer for at the time of judgement.

What makes the whole episode so laughable is that we've already seen the "embrace the sinner" model in action for decades with the Church of England.  Changing doctrine has brought schism and emptied the pews. 

Indeed, G.K. Chesterton wrote about this a century ago, which is why one cannot help but think the stated goal, isn't the actual goal.  Yes, people can remain remarkably stubborn in their ignorance, but they also use ignorance as a shield for something more sinister.  At this late date, it's a distinction without a difference.  Hiding behind good intentions in for Yard Sign Calvinists, not Orthodox Catholics.

 


Natural Law and Priest-Kings: The Faith of Lord of the Rings

Yesterday I finally concluded my spiritual re-reading of Lord of the Rings.  I started this project in early October and initially was keeping notes.  However, as I got deeper into the story, I found myself once more captivated by it, reading late into the night even though I know it so well.

I think that's the true proof of Tolkien's excellent writing - one can read through it again and again, and still be entranced.

While I've read this book dozens of times, it was only recently that I came to truly understand Catholic theology and the spirit world.  As an irreligious teenager, this almost totally escaped me.  As an adult, I began to recognize Christian themes, but not their deeper meanings.  Even after my conversion, I was essentially skimming the surface.  I'm sure scholarly dissertations have already been written on the topic, but two things stood out to me: the use of natural law and priest-kings.

Natural Law

There are several expressions of this concept, but the one I am using is that even people with no exposure to God's revealed word have an understanding of basic morality.  Just like gravity, it doesn't have to be explained for people to understand that it exists.

The natural law in Lord of the Rings begins in The Shire, which is something of an English garden of Eden.  While far from perfect, hobbits live their lines relatively free of sin.  They gossip, engage in petty theft (mushrooms and spoons come to mind), and love to eat, but crimes of lust and wrath (like rape and murder) are unknown to them. 

Why this is the case the books never come out and say, and at several points "the wise" openly ponder how they an be so untainted by sin.  The answer seems to be a special kind of grace that leaves them with little ambition beyond a comfortable life and the joy of family and friends.

This grace is of course absent in Smeagol/Gollum, who is irredeemably evil.  He is guilty of treachery, greed, murder and perhaps cannibalism (which he certainly was willing to attempt in The Hobbit).

Gollum's fall is not without resistance, and (as with so many other lives) he might have been redeemed if circumstances permitted it.  I think of addicts who clean up but go back to their old haunts and lifestyle and thereby get hooked yet again.

When the hobbits move into the larger world, they see a more formalized system of religion, more open displays of it, and this is a reference to the formalization of God's covenant with Israel. 

Being close to living in an Edenic state, the hobbits have essentially the faith of the antediluvian patriarchs, honoring their creator, honoring their parents, and refraining from mortal sins.

The realms of elves, men and dwarves, however, are fallen, and thus must practice a faith as a means of redemption.  This results in the creation not of a church, but the ancient concept of the priest-king.

The Priest-Kings of Numenor (and Rohan)

It is noteworthy that on almost every occasion when the hobbits meet and leave the various royalty they encounter, that a blessing is bestowed upon them.  This frequently involves the laying on of hands, but other times they simple told to go with the blessing, as at the conclusion of Mass.

This hearkens back to the customs of the Near East in ancient times, when kings also served as high priest, often due to (claimed) divine descent.  The king blessed the crops, blessed the first fruits and in all ways served as the representative of the patron deity on earth.

The same was true in Numenor, where the kings had certain religious duties.  On the Holy Mountain, only the king could speak aloud.

The "downfall" of Numenor was spiritual before it became physical.  Sauron famously allowed himself to be captured and turned the ruling class towards the worship of Melkor.  This in turn led to a declaration of war against the Valar and the destruction of the realm, with only a handful of survivors escaping the disaster.

The line of priest-kings was spared, however, through Elendil and his sons.  The destruction of Arnor and the extinction of the royal line in Gondor left the men of Westernesse spritually crippled, and facilitated a crisis of faith that almost wiped out the line of the Ruling Stewards.

It is worth noting the many powers Aragorn exercises in his capacity as king.  First and foremost, he is a healer - very much a priestly function and a way to demonstrate the justness of his claim.  It is telling that miraculous healing rather than military conquest are what make a Numenorean king.

These Numenorean concepts are reflected in Rohan as well, and the funeral customs may be consciously borrowed from the Anglo-Saxons, but they nevertheless reflect Christian elements, especially the sharing of wine among the celebrants.

I'm sure a few readers might be thinking "Yes, but lots of pagan societies also shared food and drink with guests, it's not just a Judeo-Christian thing!"  This is true, but from the Catholic/Orthodox spirit realm perspective, that is because these societies were led by fallen angels, who preserved the same customs, albeit often in debased ways.

This also goes back to natural law and the notion that sharing food and drink with someone draws you closer - which it absolutely does.  There's a reason why even in our debauched, post-religious secular materialist world, "dinner and a movie" is still regarded as a way to gain intimacy.  I would argue that the eclipse of dinner parties by social media is one of the driving factors in our ongoing societal strife.

The pandemic crushed much of this social activity and "public health experts" continue to undermine it by exaggerating the dangers of disease while ignoring the greater threat of social isolation and despair, especially among young, otherwise healthy people who now struggle to form in-person relationships.

Tolkien understood the importance of this activity in holding societies together, and that is no doubt why he emphasized taverns and inns as the primary social gathering space and in lieu of priest-kings, the hobbits had a mayor (who presided at banquets) and a Thain (of the Took line) and the Master of Buckland.  It is no accident to the narrative that the heirs to these 'royal' seats (Pippin and Merry) are part of the quest and that they return with a deeper understanding of spirituality to lead their people.

All of this is to say that Lord of the Rings is truly a masterpiece, a multi-layered work of true genius. 

I've remarked on this before, but it's been fascinating to see how Tolkien's work has gone from being regarded as a fringe-fantasy epic for teenagers to a deep and meaningful book about Christian faith.  It is not uncommon for priests to reference it during homilies and even bishops now cite its examples.

Clearly, Tolkien builded better than he knew.

 

 


Looking back on 2023: The Year of Tidying Up

Yesterday we hosted a modest gathering by historical standards, but it was a welcome change from the lingering isolation of the pandemic.

In addition to the benefit of companionship, I like having people over because it acts as a spur to clean up the place.  It's easy to get complacent about the state of one's home.  So long as the kitchen sink is clear and the toilets aren't covered in grime, it's all good, right?

No.  I think the accumulation of dust and disorderliness can be felt, even if it isn't consciously seen.  So much stuff get set down here or there and then forgotten and finally buried.  It's nice to clear all that out and replace year-old papers with a plate of snacks.

That's somewhat my feeling about 2023 - it wasn't so much about starting new things as much as clearing out old ones.  While my retirement date was set at the end of 2022, it was not until mid-April that the wrangling with the Air Force was completed.  Only then did I receive my packet, certificates and formal notification.

Similarly, June saw the end of two decades of having kids in school.  I'm finally off the district email list.

Of course, Walls of Men published earlier this year, and due to the current domestic situation, I haven't been able to start anything new.  Walls of Men was something of a commercial disappointment to me.  I figured China's military history was a much more compelling topic than the Spanish Civil War, but I was wrong.

With books being out of reach, I've cranked out quite a few columns for Bleeding Fool, and these are getting more engagement, no doubt a function of their frequency and topics.

While I try to be hopeful and optimistic, I look forward to the coming year with a certain sense of dread.  Politics hold no interest for me, and our electoral system is breaking down.  I've little confidence that it will hold up to the strain.

That being said, God is the prime mover in all of this, and I will continue to work in deepening my prayer life and giving all of my trust over to Him.


The weird world of collectibles/antiques

Classical economics teaches us that the price of an item is based on the conjunction of supply and demand.  Of course, in the real world other factors come into play, such as the cost of production, which is in turn influenced by scarcity of materials and effort/skill needed to make the thing.

Thus: the reason why aged wines are so expensive is in part because it takes so much time and effort to produce them.

That being said, the demand for the given item is usually the decisive element in price discovery.

One thing I've learns in collecting antiques (including firearms) is that in a lot of cases, supply is irrelevant in determining price; demand is what matters.

Perhaps the most obvious example of this can be found in the prices for M1 Garand rifles and M1911 pistols.  These things were made by the millions, yet demand for them remains strong enough to make them far more expensive than much more rare (and therefore collectible) firearms.  I can think of a couple of firearms whose production total was a full digit less than either of these, some maybe two digits less (that is tens of thousands vs millions), but since no one knows, no one cares. 

It's like vintage cars.  More than a decade ago I saw an AMC Pacer in perfect condition driving to a summer auto show.  It was the first one I'd seen since the 1970s, and I bet that if it were possible to do an actual tally, Corvettes or Firebirds form the same period would absolutely outnumber the surviving Pacers.

The thing is, who wants a Pacer?  Demand matters more than supply.

The same is certainly true of sports card, books and anything else one wants to collect.  The comic book bubble is a great example of what happens when demand suddenly collapses.

The lesson to the discerning collector is to buy based on what you want, not on what you think someone else will want later.


Through the eyes of a child

One of the blessings our family is enjoying this year is the age of the grandchildren.  They are two and three, so the elder remembers something of Christmas and is looking forward to it.  The younger doesn't, but is thrilled by the elder's inspiration.

This is as it should be.  We live in a world that has been largely stripped of its wonder.  Everything is broken down into either "science" or a moral hierarchy based on Yard Sign Calvinism, which has no room for childish joy and delight.

There is no whimsy in "woke," nor can there be sentimentality or nostalgia, because the present must always sit in judgement on the past.

The Spirit of the Age demands that the past be rejected, and that children be forced into adult decisions such as birth control or sexual preference before they have any conception of what these things are.

But here at Chateau Lloyd, we can shut all of that out.  Safe from social media and even the internet, the grandchildren can live as the generations before them lived - in a world they can touch, see, smell, taste and hear.  The wood burning in the fireplace is something unknown to them, and they experience the same mysterious fascination that our ancestors know as they watch the flames wax and wane, and the logs slowly turn to ash.

The Christmas tree is a thing new and mesmerizing, full of light, color and - as they are told - memory.  Is that really Mommy in that little picture?  Do you mean Grandpa was a little boy once?

Part of the power of holidays is how we pass them on to the next generations, creating the same sense of awe that we knew when we were young.  As we grow older, many of us are tempted to cut corners, and in some ways this is as it should be.  Christmas is about the birth of our Redeemer, not getting presents at deep, deep, discounts.

But there need be no conflict in economizing and preserving the spectacle and sensation of Christmas.  Lighting the Advent candles, preparing the Nativity - all of these create a sense of something special beyond the mere exchange of gifts.  The older I get, the more I focus on these, rather than the presents, and my chief happiness is seen in the eyes of the children.