Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Last Katechon

I am pleased and surprised at the response my previous post has generated, and wish to thank all who wrote in to comment. Evidently, the topic of the Islamic faith is an important topic, on the minds of many. Thanks, Andrew, for your cogent point that perhaps the Pope “intended to provoke a response from peaceful and reasonable Muslims…” This may have been so. And yet I will have to say that his example, taken from a Byzantine emperor under siege over a thousand years ago, is almost ludicrous, given the scale of devastation in Iraq, the cluster-and-carpet bombing of Lebanon, and the ongoing threats against Iran, Syria, and other Middle Eastern or Arabic nations. To discuss Muslim violence amidst these US-Israeli sponsored wars of annihilation and cultural nihilism directed against Muslims is a grave sin against the Holy Spirit – the one sin the Bible assures us cannot be forgiven. For the Holy Spirit is above all the spirit of truth, and the love of truth is the sole foundation for a life of reason.

One can only mourn the passing of the love of the spirit of truth when reading material that now forms the tsunami of propagandistic hate directed at Muslims by neoconservatives and their allies. One of these, Rebecca Bynum, writes in the October issue of the New English Review:“Consider the phrase, ‘truth and falsehood cannot coexist.’ This is a central concept in Islamic thought – that everything ‘false’ must be destroyed. Therefore, all other cultures, when having come under Islamic domination are eventually annihilated by Islam, including their art, music, books, cultural artifacts of any kind, and of course, history, all have been obliterated because these things are un-Islamic and are thus deemed worthless.”

Unfortunately, Miss Bynum has yet to have her mind enlightened by a study of something as inconvenient as historical facts. Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in tolerable amity for nearly five hundred years on the Iberian peninsula, from about 900-1500 AD. I invite Miss Bynum to google the words “toleration and Ottoman Empire,” where she will be treated to many Google entries on the subject, the second one reading: “One of the most noteworthy attributes of Ottoman Turkish rule was the Ottoman toleration of different religious beliefs.” This 4-page article on “Turkish toleration” notes that “The Turks of the Ottoman Empire were Muslims, but they did not force their religions on others.” And it ends with this: “The success of Ottoman tolerance can most easily been seen in the fact that large Christian and Jewish communities existed in the Ottoman lands until the end of the Empire. Then it was European intervention and European-style nationalism, not internal failure of the system, that destroyed the centuries-long peace between religions that had characterized the Ottoman system.”

Miss Bynum ends her venomistic screed that extols the forked tongue with these words: “Those who think Islam provides some sort of comfort or consolation to its billion or so adherents should think again.” I dropped a message in Miss Bynum’s inbox to the effect that perhaps she should marry Ann Coulter. Those two feminist priestesses of war blood can then stimulate each other into an eternity of mutual Muslim-hatred. They should join the Israeli schoolgirls who scribbled messages on Israeli bombs intended for Lebanese children, who, I’m sure, they with dismembered legs and blown-off heads, would be only too glad to read them.

Enough of these neocon harpies. The issue I brought forward is Pope Benedict’s speech about reason. I believe I understand why the Pope issued his appeal to “Hellenic reason” in Germany. This is an important element in Christianity, in Catholicism especially, but I don’t think it will suffice to win the minds of European secularists. We forget how long and how painful is the story of reason. “Reason” is something engaged in among equals, or near-equals. Those who are powerful have no need for it, as Thucydides put it and as the modern West is demonstrating.

Western history is in many ways the story of various clashes of power, and reason as an ideal was to the mutual advantage of all. This ideal of reason also fitted in very well with the nature of Western society, in which people cohered less according to tribe and ethnicity than through the mutual forging of alliances, churches, intellectual allegiances, and the like.

Reason in this sense is the fruit of a process of de-tribalization – a thought powerfully reinforced by Christianity, in which the concept of ethnicity also is alien. The ideal of reason formed for many centuries a kind a tribal substitute for Western peoples. This process has now been carried to its ultimate, in the sense that even the fragile tribal coherence of the West is breaking down. The first breakdown of the West was the devaluation of the Christian religion, and the second is happening in our time, with the devaluation of reason. The point is, the West no longer possesses the cultural integrity that forms the basis for reason. Culture has been displaced by the economy, and in this new dispensation reason no longer provides a motivating aspiration for Western people. Western leadership reveals this fact. Western leaders no longer really represent their “people,” which has become a multicultural mob, atomized and harassed by a political correctness that continually undermines and degrades the heritage of Western people while preaching the advantages of uncontrolled immigration. This doctrine emanates from the Western elites, which have increasingly pulled away from identification with their nations and people, and which enjoys life in the stratospheric circles of international finance and business. Western leaders like Tony Blair and George Bush have become mouthpieces for these powerful economic interests.

Along with this, the Western mainstream media has abandoned investigative journalism, and especially in the United States, has virtually collapsed. A recent poll taken of the world press ranked the US as one of the least free and most conformist in the world. Thus the Pope’s appeal was understandable but, given the seriously unbalanced nature of Western life, it seems too little and too late. The West has degenerated past appeal to reason. Serious attention needs to be given to the matter of cultural (and personal) integrity, ecological sustainability of our economies, the need for the sense of limits, and respect for truth. Related issues concern the status of international law and sovereignty of nations – the U.S. and Israel (and perhaps China) being today the only de facto sovereign nations – as judged by their behavior and what they get away with.

Without these foundations, an appeal to reason is nothing but an endorsement of the status quo: neither new to those who know the philosophical history of Catholicism, and not convincing to those who give no priority to reason.

The problem of reason has long outgrown its medieval reason-faith synthesis. Today the problem is reason (intellect) in relation to life itself – or perhaps, more truly, the “Afterlife.” Men need a strong incentive to be reasonable, just as they need a strong motivation to act rightly and think justly, and if there is no judgment in this life or in the next, reason will degenerate into ideology and rule by the strong. The position of the Catholic Church, so admirable and firm when it comes to condemning the “Culture of Death” that results from a merely intellectualized and reductionist view of life, seems helpless to take the next step and take the bull by the horns, so to speak: grappling with the very intellect whose time, locus and symbol, Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, strikes at the very heart of its faith.

For Western man has abandoned or outgrown the old teachings of Heaven and Hell and the afterlife and judgment. But we have no new teaching – such as reincarnation – to take its place. It is for this reason that the life of reason in the West is in Limbo. It is perhaps timely or ironic that this Pope “declassified” Limbo from the realm of theological purgatory. That is because Limbo has incarnated. We are already in it. Limbo is our now.

(To be continued...)

Last Katechon - Part Two

...I don’t know much about Islam, but my natural inclination is to side with the underdog. “God is beautiful and loves beauty,” says one of the verses from the Prophet, and even a superficial acquaintance with Islamic art would suffice to convince one of the high level of esthetic attainment in Islamic cultures.

I think in its esthetic reach Catholicism (and Orthodox Christianity) are closer to Islam than either the Protestant or Judaic sensibility. Even Dostoevsky admitted that “beauty will save the world,” and he was no esthete, but a deeply ethical man, deeply anguished by the human cruelties in the world. It was characteristic of a Protestant culture that caused a division to arise between the ethical and the esthetic, so well delineated in Kierkegaard’s Either/Or.

The love of beauty assists the development of the higher mind and the practice of good. It is not a guarantee of it, but neither is virtue guaranteed when beauty is torn from religion. Sometimes, though, the radical simplifiers believe so, and there are radical simplifiers in Islam as in Christianity. Rules and austerity replace the “joyous simplicity,” and the somber-minded take over.

I think that Christianity stands in the intermediate or mediating position between Judaism and Islam, and that in order for it to remain balanced it needs both the gravitas of the Old Testament – the Judaic side – as well as the esthetic and transcendent “Islamic” side. The Fathers of the Church were very aware of the gravitational influence of the Old Testament, and they repelled the efforts of the gnostics in the early Christian centuries to drop the Old Testament from the canon. Islam, of course, was not yet then in existence. It is for our time that the recognition of Islam – many would say the reckoning with it – has come. I believe this is the historic task that confronts us today. There are a few other things to note in the triumvirate Judaism-Christianity-Islam:

  1. The Holy Day of Islam is Friday, the day of Venus (vendredi) – goddess of love, and the day on which the Son of God, the manifestation of God’s love for humanity, was crucified. Thus both Christians and Muslims honor Friday as a day of love.
  2. The Jewish Holy Day is Saturday, the day of Saturn, who is Chronos in the Greek tradition, and a fierce and limiting cosmic Being in all sacred tradition. Without Saturn we would, figuratively speaking, have no bones. We would be dissolved, merely fluid and spineless beings. It is thanks to the very rigidity of Saturn that we can walk upright. And thanks to “Saturn,” too, that we age. The Judaic tradition exemplifies this “saturnine” quality and possesses its tendency to intellectual rigidity or materialism in thinking.

I have written before of the intellectual materialism that was developing in Western culture from the end of the medieval period and beginnings of the Age of Science. Western man was already embarked on this path when he encountered, with the emancipation of the Jews in the 19th century, another great wave of cognitive materialism. The contribution of the Jews to the intellectual culture of the West is astounding and prolific, but at the same time it was a further development of what was already unfolding, not the initiation of a new direction.

It was not the Catholic, mystical, esoteric or poetic stream that was revivified from the encounter with the Jews, but (primarily) the anti-philosophical and unesthetic impulse of Protestantism, commerce, and scientific reductionism already in motion. Alas, the West today is so thoroughly imbued with this way of thinking that the Islamic tradition does indeed appear even more distant and alien than it was already, with the embroidered fancies of the Arabian nights and magic carpets thrown in for good measure. Oil, of course, has changed the equation, if “equation” is the right word, and it is one of the mysteries of Divine Providence that the Arabian and Muslim nations occupy the lands sitting guard upon these treasures.

This is not the place, nor do I have the learning, to embark on a discussion of Anglo-American policy with respect to Arabian oil. One would suppose that a purely self-interested regard for obtaining the black gold would lead Western policy makers to exercise a prudent diplomacy with respect to the Arab world. Perhaps, with many reservations, one may say this was the case up until 1950 or so. The emergence of Israel created an enormous counterweight to the practice of diplomatic prudence. “If Britain had limited herself, as she had promised, to ‘viewing with favour’ the Jewish home, instead of supporting it by force of arms, she might have retained that traditional friendship with the Arab and Muslim world which is so essential to her interests,” wrote Lieutenant-General Sir John Bagot Glubb in his 1957 book, A Soldier with the Arabs. The key words here seem to me “as she had promised.”

It would be revealing for Westerners to review the history of Anglo-American Arab relations in the light of broken promises, perfidious betrayal, and duplicity, practices deeply antithetical to the true spiritual inheritance of the West as well as to traditional Arab notions about honor. The Israeli counterweight has arisen not only out of the character of the Israeli state but because of the character of Western societies, which have been deeply penetrated by Jewish intellect, finance, and publicity (i.e., overwhelming Jewish dominance in the media and entertainment industries). To be modern is in some sense to be Jewish – as Yuri Slezkine declared in his book, The Jewish Century. The reader is invited to pursue on his own the many works detailing Jewish influence, many of them written by Jews. A short list would include Douglas Reed, The Controversy of Zion; Kevin MacDonald, The Culture of Critique; Norman Finkelstein, Beyond Chutzpah: The Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History; Michael Neumann, The Case Against Israel; and the new book by James Petras, The Power of Israel in the United States.

This is but a small sample, and I have not read the last three mentioned. But I will have to say that it is not possible to be educated without a thorough grounding in Jewish history, and that it is highly imperative for Americans in particular to study this literature.

As for myself, my 2000 book, Consecrated Venom: The Serpent and the Tree of Knowledge, was an admiring look of the Creation story in the Old Testament, which I have always regarded as perhaps the most sublime document in the history of the world. Yet, as I have since learned, the relationship of these Old Testament patriarchs, the Israelites, to modern Jews, is very problematic. The Creation story teaches of the Fall of Man, yet the translation of this concept into the doctrine of original sin was effected by Christians, not by Jewish theologians. I am uncertain as to whether Jews believe that they are affected by original sin or the Fall. The teaching on this point, as far as I can gather, is hazy. As one writer put it, the idea of a “Chosen People” is one thing in a nomadic and pastoral world of several millennia ago. It is quite another in context of a modern State armed with 600 nuclear warheads.

Indeed, the persistence of Old Testament themes of chosen-ness, land ownership and conquest into the modern era is alarming, especially given the advocacy of Jewish lobbying groups against similar persistence of religious traditions in other peoples. Israel Shamir, the Russian Jewish convert to Christianity and author, believes that“ The ‘liberal democracy and human rights’ doctrine carried by US marines even across Tigris and Oxus is a crypto-religion, an extreme heretical form of Judaized Christianity… In my view, this new religion can be called Neo-Judaism: its adepts imitate classic Jewish attitudes; Jews often act as priests of the new faith and they are considered sacred by its adepts… Everybody can become one of the ‘Chosen’ of the new faith—the choice is yours: the Newest Covenant admits both Gentiles and Jews; worship Mammon, disregard Nature, Spirit, Beauty, Love; feel you’re belonging to a race apart, prove it by some this-worldly success – and you can enter it. On the other hand, every Jew can opt out of it; there is no biological guilt or virtue."

And again:“Neo-Judaism is the unofficial faith of the American Empire, and the war in the Middle East is indeed the Neo-Judaic Jihad. It is intuited by millions: Tom Friedman of the NY Times wrote that the Iraqis call the American invaders ‘Jews.’ Neo-Judaism is the cult of globalism, neo-liberalism, destruction of the family and nature, anti-spiritual and anti-Christian.”

Shamir believes that Islam is to be viewed as a branch of Christianity: “… the Orthodox stress Christ Resurrected, the Catholics concentrate on Christ Crucified, and the Muslims follow the Holy Spirit… In my view…’Christianity’ includes Islam and the great Apostolic Churches of East and West.”

Thus: “…. Islam is the last great reservoir of spirit, tradition and solidarity; and the Neo-Jews fight it with all the firepower at their disposal… [It] is the last katechon, in terms of St. Paul’s Second Letter to Thessalonians, the last defense of our sacral heritage…” [Italics mine]From his essay, “The Trefoil and the Cross,” on his website.

Finally, there is Mark Glenn, a conservative Catholic who authors the Crescent and Cross website, an attempt to resist the demonization of Islam. He writes in one of his essays that “…what exists in the Middle East, or in The Old World, as some would call it, is a culture that is still devoted to principles concerning basic moral values, values that have not yet surrendered to the corrupting influence of Western media or Western money. Within the last 50 years, every culture has fallen before this corrupting power that seeks to enslave all men in such a way that the individual is reduced to the value of what he produces and what he consumes, and in pursuit of that method, the individuals behind this program have quietly but decisively removed every obstacle in their way, be it religion, culture, morals, tradition, or world view, through the methods of media, academia, and finance; that is, except the culture encapsulated in the Arabic/Islamic World..."

And continuing: "... By the description “Arabic/Islamic,” it should not be understood as solely a “Muslim” thing. The culture existing in the Arab world is held by both Christian and Muslim alike. Indeed, there are millions of Christians in the Middle East, who have in essence the same culture with their Muslim counterparts in much the same way as most Americans, regardless of religion, have the same culture. It is those Christians and Muslims alike who reject these “modern” notions such as abortion, birth control, sodomy, pornography, usury banking, and “market value” of services and resources. They still view the family, the traditional family, with all its traditional roles, as the most important building block of their society, and they take very seriously anything that threatens it. They recognize the value of their children, as well as how dangerous the moral relativism of the West has become, and whose ideology threatens the stability of society directly. They recognize that if their children and society as a whole are subjected to ideas that promote moral decay for an extended period of time, what will eventually and unavoidably be produced is national decay.”

From: See Crescent and Cross site for essays by Mark and several other writers alarmed by the neoconservative campaign against Islam. This is not a joke. Recently, on the Berkeley college campus, one Yaron Brook, Executive Director of the Ayn Rand Foundation, called for the "elimination" of "several hundred thousand Muslims." Islam is violent? One is not likely to encounter a defense of Islam in the Western press, which is more and more bent toward the promulgation of “Neo-Judaism,” as Shamir puts it. But we desperately need to balance our views of Islam and its societies before embarking upon any discussion about the nature of Islamic religion. The West used to be known for having esteem for impartiality and justice, and this esteem was the best fruit of its Christian (and classical) traditions. But the modern West appears to be jettisoning both of these traditions, and its new game of deadly self-righteousness is anything but appealing.

(Two essays reposted as one; slightly edited)


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