Today we post under Pages (listed at the top of our margin), essay number 13 in Part Two of the series titled The Darkness of This World, by Jillian Becker.
It continues the discussion of French writers whose works are concerned with Evil, praise it, and argue passionately that it should be done.
The title of this essay is The French Pandemonium (Three). Its subjects are the twentieth century writers Michel Foucault and – to a lesser extent – Jean Genet.
Here is part of the essay:
When the Second World War was over in Europe in 1945, and the enormities perpetrated by the Nazis had been fully revealed à tout le monde, Evil did not lose any of its popularity among the anti-bourgeois intelligentsia of France. If those who had survived war and occupation, deprivation and terror, and in some cases confinement, had a sense of being supped full with horrors, it seems to have been short-lived. Their appetite for blood, for torture, and even for mass murder, soon revived.
Most of the novels and plays of Jean Genet – works in which he “explored the potentialities of evil” – were published or performed after the war. He wrote fascinatingly about criminals. His play Haute Surveillance, first performed in 1949, is about a prisoner who, sentenced for committing only small crimes, murders a fellow convict in order to be recognized as someone capable of doing far worse. The bourgeois audiences found it shocking, but not the intellectual elite. In 1952 Jean-Paul Sartre published an essay about him titled Saint Genet. What made Genet a saint in Sartre’s eyes was his criminality. He was a saint because he was a thief. And – even more glamorously romantic – he was a homosexual prostitute in the days when that too could land a man in jail.
All convicted prisoners were victims of the bourgeois and his civilization, in the opinion of Michel Foucault, another of our demons. He declared: “Delinquency, solidified by a penal system centered upon the prison, thus represents a diversion of illegality for the illicit circuits of profit and power of the dominant class.” …
Foucault, the French demon par excellence, was a disciple of Georges Bataille. Their tastes were the same. Foucault endorsed the master’s praise for “erotic transgression”, rhapsodized over “the joy of torture”, and longed to assist his hero in carrying out human sacrifice as a holy act and a thrilling work of art. Together they schemed – but did not institute – a “theatre of cruelty” (as had the clinically mad Antonin Artaud before them), in which actual murder would be performed for an audience. They saw a profound moral value in murder – if the murderer gets a buzz out of it.
Some ideas emerge from Foucault’s writings distinctly enough to be examined. Among them, that the law-abiding bourgeois should be punished with violent oppression; mass reprisals are preferable to individual trials; and cruelty should be a normal way of life. Yet he is praised for being “always ready to protest the fate of the wretched and powerless”.
Even if some of his works can be interpreted as “protesting the fate” of the criminal, the lunatic and the sadist, “always” is going much too far. The mass of his oeuvres proclaims his enthusiasm for rendering anybody and everybody wretched and powerless, preferably maimed, and best of all dead.
He did not except himself. To “redeem existence” from “unbearable banality”, he hankered to be caught up in what he called “limit experiences” of pain, terror, madness, and fatal illness: “the overwhelming, the unspeakable, the creepy, the stupefying, the ecstatic”, embracing “a pure violence, a wordless gesture”. All this he sought for himself, and – though an intensely self-obsessed man – generously desired for others too; and if others did not want it, well, they should be forced to endure it. And even if the victims could not raise their consciousness so as to be overjoyed, the inflictions would not be wasted, because Foucault could wring for himself from their suffering, the last drop of excruciating pleasure.
And this pleasure should not – he fantasized – be only an occasional treat. A demon such as he should not have to perform acts of torture and life-endangerment only for a rare thrill, but such experience should be continually on tap. He believed, like Bataille, that cruelty should be a way of life – the only way of life, a constant part of everybody’s everyday life. “We can and must,” he wrote, “make of man a negative experience, lived in the form of hate and aggression.” …
Foucault sought pleasure in the pain of both body and mind. He mutilated his body and terrified his mind. As nothing was more terrible than death, he desired it most passionately. “Complete, total pleasure,” he declared, “is related to death.” He contemplated suicide, thought of it often through the greater part of his life, and claimed to have “attempted” it many times. He expected and intended that suicide would be the way he’d die. He made “lifelong preparation for it”. It would be “a simple pleasure”, a “suffering pleasure”. It would be a way of “exploring experience in its negativity”.
To take his death into his own hands would not only hasten that crowning moment of “complete, total pleasure”, it might also bring about, at last, the release of his other Self. The “other” Michel Foucault would be emancipated in his own death-throes, to experience “a moment of free existence in suicide”.
He fantasized about participating in a “suicide orgy”, and eventually, in full consistency, that was the way he chose. He went, equipped with instruments – or “toys” – of torture, to orgies of sex, drugs, pain, cruelty, and terror, knowing that they were a way to his death, and intending that that’s what they should be. He endured and wallowed in them in the bathhouses of San Francisco where homosexual men congregated, many of them infected with the HIV virus. And when he knew he had AIDS – incurable at that time – he returned to the bathhouses deliberately to infect as many other men as he could. It was slow suicide and slow murder; according to his philosophy, the transcendent “limit experience”. How much he really enjoyed the prolonged period of slow physical disintegration to which he condemned himself no one of course can know. But he did not try to cut it short by some swifter means to death in order to achieve that moment of exquisite agony in which he expected to feel himself – or his hidden Self – liberated by death. …
Absurdly hyperbolic praise has been heaped upon him. Paul Veyne, professor of History at Vincennes, said of Foucault that he was “the most important event in the thought of this [20th] century”. Yet far from contributing to the advancement of mankind, his example was atavistic: to live by the dictates of the instincts, the appetites, and the emotions – in other words to be savage. …
The immense popularity of Bataille and Foucault, the rapturous reception accorded their demonic works, could only mean that France itself was turning away – continuing to turn away – from reason and civilized values.
On the European battlefields of literature, philosophy, and politics, Romanticism has won an overwhelming victory. The “horrible workers” predicted by Rimbaud, have been elevated by public (bourgeois!) taste into the intellectual giants of contemporary thought. And they have influenced taste everywhere in the pan-European world. Now, in the early twenty-first century, in most of the faculties of the humanities, in most of the academies of the West, the French cult of Evil is virtually an orthodoxy – even in America.
You can find all of it here.
The weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo laughed at all religions. It mocked religion as such, mercilessly. It dared to mock the nastiest religion of them all, Islam, defying its vengefulness. It was doing a great job for civilization.
Because of the killing of the journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo yesterday in Paris, we repeat part of our post, Religion and the crippling of the mind – an existential threat (January 2, 2013):
Human survival depends on progress, and progress depends on the criticism of ideas.
Religions are the most dangerous sets of ideas because they are the most dogmatic. Dogma chains and cripples the mind. It denies knowledge and prevents discovery and innovation. The only possible form of argument between opposing dogmas is violence. Religions must be questioned.
Any idea that requires a law to protect it from criticism is ipso facto a bad idea.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation [formerly the Organization of the Islamic Conference], the United Nations, and the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are actively engaged in trying to silence criticism of Islam. If their campaign succeeds it will greatly advance Islam’s jihad, its war to impose universal Islamic rule.
The victory of Islam would put humanity under a death sentence.
And this is also a good time to repeat an even earlier post, The need to knock Islam (September 3, 2011):
The greatness of the West began with doubting. The idea that every belief, every assumption, should be critically examined started the might of Europe. When those old Greek thinkers who founded our civilization learnt and taught that no one has a monopoly of truth or ever will have, they launched the intellectual adventure that has carried the human race – not without a long interval in the doldrums – literally to the skies.
Socrates taught the utility of suspicion. He is reputed to have said, “The highest form of human excellence is to question oneself and others.” He was not, however, the first to use doubt for discovery. Thales of Miletos, who was born 155 years before Socrates, dared to doubt that religion’s explanatory tales about how the world came to be as it is were to be trusted, and he began exploring natural phenomena in a way that we recognize as scientific. He is often called the Father of Science. With him and his contemporary, Anaximander, who argued with him by advancing alternative ideas, came the notion – for the first time as far as we know – that reason could fathom and describe how the universe worked.
Science is one of the main achievements of the West, but it is not the only product of constructive doubt that made for its greatness. Doubt as a habit of mind or tradition of thinking meant that new, foreign, even counter-intuitive ideas were not dismissed. Europe, before and after it stagnated in the doldrums of the long Catholic Christian night (and even to some extent during those dark centuries), was hospitable to ideas wherever they came from.
Totally opposed to this intellectual openness were the churches with their dogma. Those who claim that the achievements of our civilization are to be credited to Christianity (or in the currently fashionable phrase to “the Judeo-Christian tradition”) have a hard case to make. It was the rediscovery of the Greek legacy in the Renaissance in the teeth of Christian dogmatism, and the new freedom from religious persecution exploited by the philosophers of the Enlightenment that re-launched the West on its intellectual progress, to become the world’s nursery of innovation and its chief factory of ideas.
Our civilization cannot survive without this openness. Critical examination is the breath that keeps it alive. But it is in danger of suffocation. It is more threatened now than it has been for the last four hundred years by dogmatisms: Marxism, environmentalism, religion – above all Islam which absolutely forbids criticism.
The Founding Fathers of the United States perfectly understood the necessity for an open market of ideas. Every citizen of the republic, they laid down, must be free to declare his beliefs, to argue his case, to speak his mind, to examine ideas as publicly as he chose without fear of being silenced.
Islam is now the major threat to the West. Its ideas are the very opposite of those on which the USA was founded. It is an ideology of intolerance and cruelty. It forbids the free expression of thought. By its very nature, even if it were not now on a mission of world conquest (which it is), it is the enemy of the West.
The best way to defeat it is by criticizing it, constantly and persistently, in speech and writing, on the big screen and the small screen, in the schools and academies, in all the media of information and comment, in national and international assemblies.
If the weapon of words is forbidden, the only alternative will be guns.
Today we post under Pages (listed at the top of our margin), essay number 12 in Part Two of the series titled The Darkness of This World, by Jillian Becker.
It continues the discussion of French writers whose works are concerned with Evil, praise it, and argue passionately that it should be done.
The title of this essay is The French Pandemonium (Two). Its subjects are the twentieth century writers Georges Bataille, and – to a lesser extent – André Breton.
Here is part of the essay:
Of all the cultivators of Evil in twentieth century France, none was so devout, so persistent, or plunged so deep into moral and material muck as Georges Bataille. He hungered and lusted for Evil. He was a coprophiliac, and a necrophiliac – committing, by his own confession or boast, an incestuous sexual act, in a state of “arousal to the limit”, upon his mother’s corpse in the moments after her death.
Bataille wrote that human beings, as a species, should move towards “an ever more shameless awareness of the erotic bond that links them to death, to cadavers, and to horrible physical pain.”
He was fascinated by the filthy, the stinking; by secretions, excretions, exudations; by things discarded, damaged, abandoned. “Bataille,” wrote one of his appreciators, “displayed a quasi-religious veneration toward objects and acts that, according to the mores of bourgeois convention, were targets of opprobrium … During the ‘30s, Bataille’s ‘literary’ activities centered on developing a theory of ‘base matter’, items and effluvia that remained impervious to assimilation by the all-consuming maw of bourgeois cultural respectability: feces, menstrual blood, cadavers, the baboon’s brightly colored anus, and so forth.”
But Bataille’s veneration of the disgusting was not just “quasi-religious” – it was intensely religious. It was Gnostic . This the admiring writer goes on to demonstrate, though without referring to the Gnostic precedent. He writes: “Herein lie the affinities between Bataille’s world view and the discourse of ‘negative theology’ or redemption through sin. … The duality between the ‘sacred’ and the ‘profane’ obsessed him, but the habitual signs were reversed. He elevated acts of profanation or desecration to epiphanies: singular mystical moments of Oneness with the All. … For Bataille … the act of willfully violating taboos offered privileged access to the holy.”
Raised in a non-believing family, young Georges converted to Catholicism when he was seventeen, and even spent a year in a seminary studying to be a priest. When he became a priest of blasphemy, or holy sinner, he retained all the self-flagellating passion, all the pious devotion and aura of sanctity of the Catholic ecclesiastic. He remained throughout his adult life shut mentally in the box of religion with its atmosphere of incense and sulfur, its fixation on blood, pain, death and sin.
He contended that what was missing in ordinary modern life, what society lacked for full satisfaction, was the “expression of savage needs” that “subsist only at the limits of horror”. And what were the “limits of horror” in Bataille’s dream? Nothing less than ritual human sacrifice. The combination of agony, death, and religious rite was very much to his taste. He wrote: “Human sacrifice is loftier than any other – not in the sense that it is crueler than any other, but because it is close to the only sacrifice without trickery, which can only be the ecstatic loss of oneself.”
His best of all horrors was “ecstatic loss of the self” by choice: voluntary human sacrifice. He wrote: “The movement that pushes a man to give himself (in other words, to destroy himself) completely, so that a bloody death ensues, can only be compared, in its irresistible and hideous nature, to the blinding flashes of lightning that transform the most withering storm into transports of joy.” Oh, the intense joy of dying in excruciating pain! He and others in his circle formed a secret society which was to launch itself with a beheading. Every member was willing to be the sacrificial victim and have his head sawn off – but none would consent to be the executioner.
The external movement that he would have push him to transports of joy was Communism. …
You can find all of it here.
Today we post under Pages (listed at the top of our margin) the next essay in the series by Jillian Becker titled The Darkness of This World (Part Two).
The title of the new essay is The French Pandemonium (One).
It continues a discussion of the Romantic movement which – the series argues – arises from the same need in the human psyche that requires religion. In France, the most influential poets, novelists, essayists and philosophers have been those who have cultivated rebellion against what they call “bourgeois society”. Some of the most eminent of them bluntly declare that their rebellion is a choice of Evil.
Of course not all the French writers of the post-Enlightenment centuries have been Romantics or conscious advocates of Evil. But those who “chose Evil” stoked the fires of destructive rebellion in generations of European intellectuals and have had by far the greater effect on history. In the twentieth century they became so popular and powerful that they helped create the New Left; incited seasons of violent protest demonstrations on city streets throughout Europe and even on other continents; inspired the formation of European terrorist gangs; and implanted their anti-civilization ideology as a new dogma in schools and academies throughout the Western world, including America. As the series continues it will explain how the anti-Americanism of the Left, even in America itself, springs from the European intellectual movement against our civilization.
Here is the first part of the essay:
A pandemonium is a gathering of all the demons or devils. Devils are expected to be noisy, so the word has come to mean a deafening cacophony of shrieking voices.
What the voices of this pandemonium clamor for, is “Evil”. It is not an insult to call them demons; it is an acknowledgment of their choice. They choose Evil, they call for Evil, they acclaim Evil, they are for Evil.
And what are they against? They are against What Is. They are against our civilization. They are against the bourgeois, whom they hold responsible for everything that’s wrong with our civilization: free enterprise industrialization; liberal democracy; parliamentarianism; conservatism.
It was in France that the clamor was loudest among certain poets and novelists and philosophers to épater le bourgeois – shock the bourgeois – in the nineteenth century, reaching a crescendo between the world wars of the twentieth century, rising again after the end of the second. A racket of foaming hate; a literary hue and cry after the middle-class citizen.
As you may have noticed, the bourgeoisie is, in fact, the all-achieving class. Almost everything of value since the Enlightenment, including the Enlightenment itself, has issued from the middle-class; every invention, every discovery, every advance, with so few exceptions they can be counted on a few of your fingers. But to the demons of poetry and philosophy and revolution, the bourgeois was everything that was wrong with Life: the bourgeois with his politesse, his prudence, his order and cleanliness, his comfortable house, his good-quality clothes, his well-stocked larder, his prosperity, his faithfulness to duty, his thrifty habits … “No, no,” the scornful voices yell, interrupting me. “Its not just that, it’s … it’s … it’s his complacency, his bad taste, his narrow-mindedness, his privilege, his exploitation of underdogs, his obsession with material things – and his stupid sexual inhibition. Those, don’t you see, are the unbearable traits that make him a worthy target of our artistic fury. He does not, cannot feel as we do. Down with him! Grind him into the dust! ”
But it is the againstness itself that characterizes the demons. If every one of those despicable things about the bourgeois were overcome or destroyed (as every one of them was in Communist Russia), and civilization wholly laid to waste, the urge would rage on, its hunger unappeased, hunting its everlasting prey: What Is. To them, as to the Gnostics of old, everything that is here is bad; the good lies beyond.
Whatever words have been used to describe the Paris fashions in scorn – modernism, post-modernism, structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction – they are all expressions of rebellion. To be a rebel is to be heroic. Despised and rejected by the bourgeois herd, the rebel is a martyr to his deep passion for art, his higher vision of a better world.
To protest against the bourgeois idea of what is good, the demons advocated doing whatever the bourgeois considered evil. They placed themselves in a French counter-tradition, a line that runs from Rousseau with his belief in the primacy of feeling and sentiment, through Robespierre with his Terror, the Marquis de Sade with his penchant for sexual torture, the nineteenth century poets Charles Baudelaire with his Flowers of Evil and Arthur Rimbaud with his Season in Hell, and on through the intellectual trend-setters – whom we will come to – of twentieth century French literature and their continuing effects. There are still reigning French demons in the twenty-first century. It is a dynasty of the defiant. …
You can find all of it here.
The Right has regained considerable power. The cheers die down. The champagne has been drunk. The recovery of America is only just beginning.
Continuing to explore ideas about what will follow now, we quote an excellent article – or a rallying cry – by J. E. Dyer, posted yesterday at Liberty Unyielding:
There’s a division of sentiment among conservatives, the day after a big electoral victory for Republicans.
There are plenty of conservatives who were glad to be able to vote for candidates they admire and believe in. That distinguishes them from other conservatives who had to either withhold their votes in certain races, or vote for GOP candidates they didn’t particularly like.
But even many conservatives who had attractive candidates to vote for share something important with less fortunate conservative voters. They share a sense that America has already experienced a break with the political consensus of the past that can’t be repaired with this election.
This isn’t only because Congress will remain divided from the president across policy lines for the next two years. That is important – and not mainly because it will theoretically result in gridlock. (Some gridlock would actually be pretty darn healthy at this point.) It’s important because the president has executive power, and Congress doesn’t.
Realistically, we can expect Congress to be slow and timid in any attempts to block executive unilateralism by the Obama administration. The American people, the targets of weaponized government, won’t get any meaningful relief.
But it’s even more than that. Something bigger than American partisan politics is going on in the world, and what the voters accomplished on Tuesday will do little to position America better to face it. That’s the sense of settled foreboding I see in many conservatives.
It won’t all be up to the United States government, in any case. The world is going to hand us problems created by others – diseases, foreign despots who churn out refugees; Islamists, Russia, China, Iran, some damn fool thing in the hot-spot of your choice – that could very well impinge as much on the daily lives of Americans as anything Obama does before 2017. They could impinge more, whether they involve geopolitical disruption or economic shocks.
Too much is unsettled now. Getting from where we are to where we need to be will require stopping at a waypoint we haven’t reached yet. The election on Tuesday is not that waypoint.
Indeed, to revive the American spirit of liberty, the waypoint will almost certainly have to have the same weight and import as our constitutional convention of 1787-89. It’s not clear yet what combination of circumstances might make it possible to identify such a waypoint, and take advantage of it.
For the time being, those with a coherent idea of liberty and limited government expect little gratification from today’s partisan politics. They see what those who voted for Republicans as a status-quo alternative to Democrats don’t: that the status quo itself can’t continue. Creeping bureaucratic despotism – what we live under now – is unsustainable. It’s not the future. … People have nothing to live for under its lash; ultimately, as limitations and pessimism drive out opportunity and hope, it must destroy itself.
That’s a statement of enormous optimism. What can bring bureaucratic despotism to an end?
Even this clear-eyed writer cannot answer that vital question.
But what the outlines of the future will look like, and what factors might give events a push, no one can foresee from here. …
But Commander Dyer is sure there are better times ahead – because America is the embodiment of an idea: the idea of liberty, and it is an idea that cannot die.
The truth is that deadlines keep passing, for everyone who predicts one certain doom or another. America has not been loaded into a garbage truck from which the only exit is in the landfill. This country still has a lot of living to do.
Liberty has always been an idea, and as an idea, it can’t be killed. It stills burns in the hearts of millions of Americans.
Only some of them know what liberty really is, but there are still millions of those people. And here’s what I perceive about them. Although they remain committed to the political process – they think it’s important not to give up on it – their investment in it is on the wane right now.
The reason? The political process is not making the difference between liberty and overweening government anymore. Electing Republicans doesn’t bring relief from overregulation, collectivist statism, and the growth of public bureaucracies that are easily taken over by fanatical ideologues.
This is why the 2014 midterm election isn’t an end-state, nor … a model for the future. It isn’t good enough to elect Republicans to take over the same business the U.S. federal government has been doing for 100 years now. It’s the business that has to change.
Seeing this clearly is going to keep liberty-minded conservatives in tension with old-consensus Republicans between now and 2016. But having a vision for something better always does that. …
So, though it is good that the Democrats – the ideologists of serfdom – have been defeated, she does not believe that the Republican Party will bring us the liberty we crave.
It’s actually exciting, and a source of optimism, to realize that our future doesn’t have to be charted within the confines of the patterns of the past. Yes, the GOP leadership in Congress is still an old-consensus leadership. But it’s not discouraging to recognize that the Republicans we’ve just handed a congressional majority aren’t going to change much for us. It’s liberating to stop expecting them to.
The task now is for the sons and daughters of liberty to educate themselves on liberty itself, and man the ramparts as watchmen on the walls. … The watchmen on the walls have to be on the lookout for opportunity: knowledgeable about how liberty has been established in the past, and ready to interpret circumstances and openings when they arise.
I think those circumstances and openings are going to arise, although I can’t tell you today what they will be. I do know that the day has come when it is more important to fan the flames of liberty than to damp them down, through the political process, in search of consensus. Putting too much into consensus only teaches us to believe lies about freedom, and we’ve been doing that for too long. …
I look to the future. Join me if you can. History gives us every reason to be optimistic about a future with liberty, because liberty is healing. Liberty is the empire of hope. So get up on those walls, troops. We’ve got some watching to do.
His only existence was in the superstitions of human beings.
Now even that dim identity is fading away.
We have watched the religious retreating until their backs are to the wall.
Once firm beliefs – in the name of which believers would put disbelievers to torture and death – have quietly been abandoned within the stretch of living memory.
It’s not long since Christians believed in a physical Heaven and Hell. After all, a bodily resurrected Jesus Christ has to have a physical dwelling place. The Virgin Mother of Jesus Christ was physically hauled up into Heaven – the hauling job by angels is called her Assumption – so there had to be some solid ground to put her on once they got her up there. And if sinners were to suffer in hell, they needed nerves and a brain to suffer pain from being burnt with actual fire.
What theologians speak of that now – or of the Trinity? Only simpletons do. Many among the laity do go on believing in an old bearded man named God, somewhere in the sky, dressed in a kind of nightshirt, with his son, a pretty young man – golden curly hair, blue eyes, also in nightwear – seated beside him on something-or-other, among billowing clouds in a rosy dawn. But that’s all for the commonalty in this twenty-first century since the chosen birthdate of the putative Savior Christ; not the great thinkers.
Science has done what it was bound to do: show up religious accounts of how the universe came into being, and how mankind arose, to be nonsense. Highly imaginative nonsense. In some aspects, highly ingenious nonsense. But nonsense all the same.
Theological defense of the existence of “God” has steadily dwindled. It came all the way down to the dogma of “intelligent design”. And that’s also manifest nonsense. Whom does it deceive (not counting the gulls and simpletons)? Our universe is so obviously not designed. A design is for a purpose, and the propounders of the idea can point to no purpose. And where is the evidence of intelligence, when life forms fail, hideous deformities occur, animal survives by devouring animal …. the list of natural events that are easily explained by evolution but not by the idea of intelligent design could be very long.
Proponents of “intelligent design” at least had the sense to drop the notion that the supernatural Designer was benevolent. It must finally come home to even a dull mind that the Designer, or god, who made (for example) Ebola, is not a source of unqualified benefit to humankind.
The defense is worn down to the wire. The result is utter confusion.
The Catholic Church cannot allow the “intelligent designer” to take God’s place; cannot have God reduced to an architect who could shout “Hey presto!” at his drawing board and have his design spring into existence. Or don a robe decorated with moons and stars and meteors, and a tall pointed hat, and take a wand in his hand, and wave it about in some medium of ultra-space and so fill an infinite void with galaxies – and prepare Jesus Christ to be born from the womb of a virgin on the little planet Earth.
But how then can it cope with the challenge of science?
To see its best effort, witness this crap, this stew of anachronistic notions thrown into the pot with gobs of scientific truth. It shows how Roman Catholicism does not know what to say, and can only dither vague denials and assertions that add up to nothing – like these, gabbled just the other day by Pope Francis, head of that once powerful and terrible, tyrannical and cruel institution, the Catholic Church (a relic of the darkest centuries of human history):
Delivering an address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope Francis continued his habit of making provocative, seemingly progressive statements. The pontiff appeared to endorse the theory of the Big Bang and told the gathering at the Vatican that there was no contradiction between believing in God as well as the prevailing scientific theories regarding the expansion of our universe.
When we read about creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so. He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment.
The pope avoids gesturing at the thorny issue (at least for some Christians) of whether humans descended from apes. Atheists argue, moreover, that understanding the Big Bang and what emerged from that cosmic moment obviates a need to believe in a deity. On that count, Francis obviously disagrees. He repeated the idea of God not being a “magician,” an entity that conjured all into being.
“God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life,” Francis said. “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”
In other words … God is more a clockmaker than a conjurer of miracles.
Could anything be less like a clock designed to work in a fixed unchanging manner for a particular purpose than this universe of ever-changing matter?*
Such thinking is not new for the Catholic Church, which for six decades — since the reforms of Pope Pius XII — has espoused belief in theistic evolution. That hinges, of course, on the fundamental acceptance of a higher power.
A 2006 article in the Vatican’s main newspaper also distanced the Catholic Church from the idea of “intelligent design,” which it said should not be taught in schools as science. …
What the church does insist upon is that the emergence of the human supposes a willful act of God, and that man cannot be seen as only the product of evolutionary processes, it said. The spiritual element of man is not something that could have developed from natural selection but required an “ontological leap”.
Francis’s more conservative predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, espoused this view and found the American debate between creationists and those who backed evolution “absurd’. He asked in 2007 why “those who believe in the Creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God”. And then went on:
This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favor of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man? I believe this is of the utmost importance.
Skeptics and atheists, though, may agree with the importance of those questions. But they’re still looking for very different answers.
We sure are, bro!
The intellectually beleaguered theologians of the Catholic Church saw that some interpretation, some clarification of this garbage was needed. So they’ve come up with this, from the Catholic News Service, by John Thavis:
Intelligent design not science, says Vatican newspaper article
Intelligent design is not science and should not be taught as a scientific theory in schools alongside Darwinian evolution, an article in the Vatican newspaper said.
The article said that in pushing intelligent design some groups were improperly seeking miraculous explanations in a way that creates confusion between religious and scientific fields.
At the same time, scientists should recognize that evolutionary theory does not exclude an overall purpose in creation – a “superior design” that may be realized through secondary causes like natural selection, it said.
What overall purpose?
The article, published in the Jan. 17 edition of L’Osservatore Romano, was written by Fiorenzo Facchini, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Bologna in Italy.
The article noted that the debate over intelligent design – the idea that certain features of life and the universe are best explained by an intelligent designer rather than adaptive evolution – has spread from the United States to Europe.
The problem with intelligent design is that it turns to a “superior cause” – understood though not necessarily named as God – to explain supposed shortcomings of evolutionary science. But that’s not how science should work, the article said.
If the model proposed by Darwin is held to be inadequate, one should look for another model. But it is not correct methodology to stray from the field of science pretending to do science.
The article said a Pennsylvania judge had acted properly when he ruled in December that intelligent design could not be taught as science in schools. [The judge said:]
Intelligent design does not belong to science and there is no justification for the pretext that it be taught as a scientific theory alongside the Darwinian explanation.
From the church’s point of view, Catholic teaching says God created all things from nothing, but doesn’t say how, the article said. That leaves open the possibilities of evolutionary mechanisms like random mutation and natural selection.
God’s project of creation can be carried out through secondary causes in the natural course of events, without having to think of miraculous interventions that point in this or that direction.
What the church does insist upon is that the emergence of the human supposes a willful act of God, and that man cannot be seen as only the product of evolutionary processes .. The spiritual element of man is not something that could have developed from natural selection but required an “ontological leap’ …
The article said that, unfortunately, what has helped fuel the intelligent design debate is a tendency among some Darwinian scientists to view evolution in absolute and ideological terms, as if everything — including first causes — can be attributed to chance.
Science as such, with its methods, can neither demonstrate nor exclude that a superior design has been carried out.
From a religious viewpoint, it said, there is no doubt that the human story “has a sense and a direction that is marked by a superior design”.
What direction? Going where? Why?
So if God may not be boiled down to an “intelligent designer”, then what is he? What is this new orthodoxy of the Catholic Church? He’s still “the creator of all things from nothing”. But he didn’t create things exactly as we know them at this passing moment. He launched evolution. By a special “willful” act he had humankind “emerge”. (Whether from earlier ape-like Hominoidea or not is left an open question.) Man’s unique “spiritual element” could not have developed through evolution. So it must have been put in him by God. Man’s spiritual element, it may be inferred, proves the existence of God.
God is a launcher of evolution, into which process he uniquely intervened to create humankind, to which he gave something new in the universe, a “spiritual element”.
This new Catholic God is not very different from the old Catholic God, but he seems to have shed his son and the Holy Ghost. At least neither the Professor of evolutionary biology nor the befuddled Pope says what’s happened to them.
So even the “intelligent designer” fades out. The old Creator is glimpsed as the launcher of a process through billions of years which finally did not result in the creation of humankind. That was a special new creation. For what purpose is still not said.
He is very frail, that being. Very thin, transparent, ghost-like. Going, going … almost gone.
* We do, however, accept Karl Popper’s splendidly explicated thesis that “all clouds are clocks and all clocks are clouds” in his lecture “Of Clouds and Clocks”. In his sense only, having nothing to do with theological “intelligent design”, organic things may be said to be clock-like. You can find the lecture here, or in the collection of Popper’s essays titled Objective Knowledge.
We dearly love an article we can enjoy examining critically. Best of all we like an opinion that we partly agree with and partly do not.
This article is by Star Parker, whose columns at Townhall on political issues we generally like. And here again we have no quarrel with her political views. It is her conviction that religion is necessary and good that sparks our opposition.
A new Pew Research Center survey of opinion about the importance of religion in American life shows an interesting picture.
Over the last 12 years, the percentage of Americans that think religion is losing influence in American life has increased dramatically. In 2002, 52 percent of those surveyed said religion is losing influence. In 2014, 72 percent of Americans said religion is losing influence.
To us, of course, that’s good news.
However, while increasing numbers of Americans feel religion is losing influence, most feel this is a bad thing.
Fifty-six percent say that the waning influence of religion is a bad thing compared to 12 percent that say it is a good thing.
In a survey done by Pew in 2012, 58 percent of Americans said religion is “very important” and only 18 percent said it is not “too important” or “not important at all”.
This raises some interesting questions.
One clear one is why, when Americans think religion is very important, has the percentage of Americans who think religion is losing influence in American life increased almost 40 percent over the last 14 years?
Another one is what are the political implications? Certainly, in the Republican Party, there is an increasingly vocal libertarian leaning faction that sees religion as costly political baggage.
Yes – and that is one of the libertarian views with which we are in strong sympathy.
I attribute why almost three fourths of Americans feel that religion is losing influence in American life, while most feel this is a bad thing, to the law of unintended consequences.
She goes on to describe the disaster of welfare policies. We too think they have been – and continue to be – disastrous.
Many Americans have been unwittingly supporting policies for more than a half-century that they thought were good ideas and consistent with their values which have been neither. Now more Americans are beginning to appreciate the damage that has been done and how far the nation has strayed from their own sense of right and wrong.
Take the example of welfare.
When Aid to Families with Dependent Children program was dramatically expanded in the 1960s, it seemed morally correct for government to get more aggressive in the lives of the poor, particularly poor black women. … Massive increases of government in the lives of low-income black families were accompanied by a tripling of single parent households and out-of wedlock births, laying the groundwork for intergenerational poverty.
Right. Those have been and are the causes of “intergenerational poverty”.
But we omitted a sentence. It was this:
Who appreciated that the program would undermine the very religious, traditional values that keep families intact, essential for the work ethic that leads people out poverty?
It may well have been the case that Church-taught values contributed to a belief that children should be born to married parents. Many held that belief also because it is plainly best for children to be raised by a mother and a father. The principle is good whether endorsed or not by a religion.
We contend that it is because the state took over the responsibility of providing for children that men could so easily opt out of the traditional role of bread-winner to their families. It was government incursion into private life that did the damage to believers and non-believers alike. Their religion or lack of it had nothing to do with the “unintended consequences” of welfarism.
Now it’s happening in the whole country. As we’ve gotten more government telling Americans how to save for retirement, how to deal with their health care, how to educate their children – American families have been damaged and out-of-wedlock births have increased six-fold from 1960 to 42 percent today. Government has displaced family.
Some say today we have competing views about the role of government.
Conservatives and progressives do have different views about the role of government. That is not a matter of opinion, but a fact.
I would say we have competing views about what life is about.
Yes. We think life can be “about” anything that free individuals want to make it. Star Parker thinks that life was created, and the creator had a purpose, and that purpose, though impossible to define, is somehow helped along by this or that set of religious doctrines. About which set of doctrines in particular, there are “competing views” among the multitude of religions, each of which claims to teach “the truth”.
One view – a decidedly secular, materialistic view – sees no mystery in life.
We have a decidedly secular view – materialistic too in that we see the need to sustain our physical existence as well and as pleasantly as we possibly can. But we do not think there is no mystery. On the contrary, we are aware that humankind knows very little. To learn more, to explore what we do not know about our universe and ourselves is the most exciting adventure of our conscious lives, and discovery is the engine of all progress.
Pretending to know that there is a purpose to life known only to a supernatural being who created it but chooses to keep his purpose secret, is to opt out of the great adventure.
The left wing version, which dominates the Democratic Party, says government can solve all of life’s problems.
Or most of them. And it’s a wrong and dangerous belief.
The hard-core libertarian version, found among some Republicans — says just leave everybody alone — you don’t bother me and I won’t bother you — and everything will work out for the best.
That is an absurd encapsulation of the libertarian view. No intelligent libertarian thinks that if people are left to make their own choices, if they are self-reliant, “everything will work out for the best”. Every individual will make his own successes and failures – and take responsibility for them. He knows that government cannot solve “all life’s problems” – and, what’s more, does a pretty poor job of solving the one problem it exists to solve: how best to protect liberty.
The other view maintains that you can’t have a free society that is not also a virtuous society.
A free society starts off with the virtue of being a free society. Freedom needs to be protected by law, and, if it is, crime will be punished, foreign enemies will be kept away, and the people can prosper. How good they are in their private lives remains forever dependent on individual character and choice.
It was what George Washington meant when he said in his farewell address that “of all the dispensations and habits that lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports”.
We are sorry we can only partially agree with George Washington on this. Morality, yes. Religion? What religion has a history that can withstand moral criticism? Some – Christianity and Islam in particular – have a history of carnage and cruelty. That Christianity preaches against both make its actual record all the worse.
It is my sense that more Americans are beginning to wake up to the unintended, damaging consequences of the often well-intended government policies they have been supporting for many years.
More Americans are beginning to appreciate that we can’t separate our fiscal and economic problems from our moral problems and that if we want to recapture our freedom and prosperity, we must recapture our virtue.
Certainly. But we won’t do that by returning into the mental darkness of religion. We can do it by limiting the powers of government and recovering the idea of liberty as the highest value. That is political and moral virtue.
This video is one of a series – a pleasure to watch in its entirety – in which Charles R. Kesler of the Claremont Institute interviews Heather Mac Donald. She thinks clearly and speaks plainly. Her ideas are genuinely profound.
Very rare, that. Most intellectuals are not very intelligent, and seem to hold to the precept: “I cannot be profound so I’ll be unintelligible – and trust that few who hear me can tell the difference.”
Heather Mac Donald is an atheist and a conservative. We expect most of our readers will be in agreement with what she says here:
The Golden Rule: Treat others as you want them to treat you.
Or (better): Don’t treat others as you’d hate to be treated yourself.
It is worth noting that belief in the Golden Rule is not common to all religions. Not even to all the “moral religions”. There is nothing in the teaching of Islam that approximates to it, even with the most liberal interpretation of Muhammad’s less offensive doctrines.
The Golden Rule is, however, reasonable. Sensible human beings don’t need a message from a mystical sphere to see that it makes good sense.
From time to time visitors to this website or our Facebook page query the idea – even the possibility – of there being such a thing as atheist conservatism. They are – almost always, as far as we can make out – Americans whose understanding is that the word “conservative” denotes Christian conservatism. To them, therefore, to speak of “atheist conservatism” is to commit a contradiction in terms. Some have called it an oxymoron.
In Europe too, conservatism has a Christian coloration. Conservative political parties usually declare themselves to be Christian – for example, the Christian Democratic Party (CDU) of Germany. But their support does not come only from Christians. And in Britain the established Church of England has been called “the Conservative Party at prayer”, but the party does not exclude members of other Christian denominations or other religions, or the non-religious.
Yet it is an American conservatism that we embrace. It is faithfulness to the Constitution, to the essential idea that the United States was intended to embody as a nation: the idea of individual liberty protected by the rule of law.
The shortest answer we give to those who accuse us of being self-contradictory is to tell them what our prime principles are:
- individual freedom
- a free market economy
- small government
- low taxes
- strong defense
And we point out that those are core principles of American conservatism. The Constitution – southern state critics please be reminded – does not require citizens to be Christian, or religious at all.
Just as often, perhaps even more often, we are told that we cannot be both conservative and libertarian: that the two traditions are separate and even inimical to each other, to the point of being mutually exclusive. Even if that were true (and we don’t think it is), we consider it unnecessary to take tradition into account. The issue needs to be looked at philosophically, not historically. Our conservatism, holding the firmly conservative principles we have listed, is manifestly a conservatism of liberty.
And we think it is now, more than ever before, that the libertarian view should direct the political agenda of conservatism. A heavy counterweight is needed to bring America back from its tipping over into collectivism by the Left. Individual freedom urgently needs to be saved.
What is stopping conservatives from accepting libertarianism as its future? The libertarians themselves. Frequently, their public statements reveal them to be inexcusably ignorant of world affairs. They often advocate naive isolationism. They seem to lack a sense of what matters. The legalization of drugs could be wise and necessary, but it is not worth making a hullabaloo about when jihad is being waged against us. A person should arguably be able to marry any other person or persons – or things – that they choose, but it is much more important that America should remain the world’s sole superpower.
John Hinderaker also thinks that this should be “the libertarian moment”. And he too reproaches libertarians with an underdeveloped sense of what matters to the existence, liberty, safety, and prosperity of the nation.
He writes at PowerLine:
Every major strand of American conservatism includes a strong libertarian streak, because the value of liberty is fundamental to just about all conservative thought. But today, especially, is said to be the libertarians’ moment. What once was a fringe movement, politically speaking, has moved front and center in our political life.
And yet, in my view, libertarians of both the capital L and small l varieties punch below their weight. They have not contributed as much as they should to the conservative movement. This is partly because libertarians tend to founder on foreign policy, where many are merely modern-day isolationists. But it is also because they have tended to focus on secondary, or tertiary, issues of domestic policy.
A couple of years ago I was invited to a gathering on behalf of Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico who then was a libertarian candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. I was well disposed toward him, but when he started talking, his first subject was legalization of drugs. Now he is the CEO of a marijuana company. Rand Paul is probably the leading libertarian at the moment; he purports to take seriously the threat that someone drinking coffee in an American cafe will be struck by a drone-fired missile.
American liberty is indeed under attack, and a libertarian movement is needed more than ever. But the threat to freedom is not drug laws or drone attacks.
The principal threat is the administrative state, which increasingly hems in everything we do and depends hardly at all on the will of voters. …
Calvin Coolidge, who knew the Progressives well and understood how antithetical their vision of government is to America’s founding principles [said]:
It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning cannot be applied to this great charter [the Constitution]. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.
Today we labor under an administrative state that has metastasized far beyond anything Coolidge could have imagined. It constrains our freedoms, it lays waste to our economy, it has largely rendered Congress irrelevant, and it threatens to make just about anyone a criminal, since no one can possibly keep track of all of the myriad regulations with which we are encumbered. And let’s not forget that the administrative state is run by liberals, for liberals.
Despite the fact that it is antithetical to the Constitution and to American traditions, there is little opposition to the administrative state as such. Conventional politicians suggest that regulations can be made less irrational and less burdensome – a good idea, certainly – but hardly anyone questions the fundamental concept of Congress delegating its powers to unelected and mostly unaccountable agencies that are charged with managing just about every aspect of our lives. Nearly everyone considers the administrative state, as such, to be inevitable. …
Why don’t libertarians stake out a “radical” position on domestic policy? Why not argue, not just for a moderation in the inevitable drift toward a more and more powerful administrative state, but for a return to the Constitution’s central principle – the very first words of Article I – that “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States…”, a Congress that is accountable to the people.
A battle is being fought for the liberties of the American people and, frankly, it isn’t going well. The fight has little or nothing to do with drugs and drones. If libertarians are serious about preserving and expanding liberty, they should join the fight that matters. A libertarian movement that focuses on a rollback of the administrative state would be “radical,” but it also would put libertarians in the vanguard, not on the fringe, of American conservatism.
The Left is intensely immoral, as unabashedly unscrupulous as a wild beast. It will shamelessly blacken the name of anybody it perceives as a danger to it with baseless lies. Example: Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, publicly announced that the Republican candidate for the presidency in 2008, Mitt Romney, had not paid his taxes.
The Left will sacrifice any number of people, destroy their hopes, their health, their lives, if in their calculation doing so might give them an advantage. Example: Far-left President Obama is drawing tens of thousands of children over the Mexican border – to become, he hopes, future voters for his Party – by announcing that children who are in the US as illegal aliens will not be deported. All the children suffer. Many are ill. Some die.
The Left will deprive a law-abiding citizen, with armed force, of everything he has striven for in the name of some new oppressive regulation it has suddenly launched with a dim ideological end in view such as “environmental protection”. Example: A man who made a pond is being fined $75,000 a day by the EPA for doing just that, on the absurd grounds that the little stretch of water on his property is contaminating a river miles away.
These are just three examples, picked at random from the top of our composite editorial head, of present-day Leftist immorality in America. (How to choose from among the misdemeanors of the Clintons? An embarrasment of riches!) ) The theme of the Left’s iniquity is so vast that volumes could be written about it, and have been. In other countries, Leftist powers have committed mass-murder on an unimaginable scale by poison-gas, firing-squad, torture, overwork, and deliberate starvation.
And what compounds the evil and swells the monstrousness of it all is that they do it in the name of compassion. Their aim, they claim, is to better the lot of the the underdog. They will make the poor richer by taking riches from the rich and giving them to the poor until all are materially and socially equal. They do not want the only form of equality that is just – equality before the law. It offends them, they say (even the richest among them, and most of them are rich) to see inequality between the richest and the poorest.
With them, equality is not a moral principle but an aesthetic one.
They call the ideal of it “social justice“.
Justice has always been understood in our tradition as justice for the individual, qua individual. When a person goes to court, either in a criminal or a civil case, our system strives to provide him with a result that is fair given what he has done or failed to do. This is what we understand justice to be. Thus, when we say that justice should be blind, we mean that it should be rendered without regard to a person’s social status and without regard to the demands of this or that social agenda.
If justice is an individual-centric concept, then there is no room for the concept of social justice. The pursuit of social justice may lead to action that is consistent with justice, for example a non-discrimination statute. But the concept of “social justice” isn’t required to justify such a law; nor is it invoked to do so, since arguments for simple justice are always more persuasive (for example, the sponsors of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 took pains to assure the nation, probably disingenuously in some cases, that the law would preclude racial preferences).
The pursuit of social justice may also lead to action that is inconsistent with justice, such as granting racial preferences or expropriating someone’s property for “the greater good”. Such action is not justice, but rather justice’s antithesis. Thus, we should object when it is marketed as “social justice”.
In sum, the concept of social justice has no value. In the first scenario, it is superfluous; in the second, it is false advertising.
[Peter] Wehner argues that “any society that fails to dispense some measure of sympathy and solicitude to others, particularly those living in the shadows and who are most vulnerable to injustice, cannot really be a good society”. I agree. But vulnerability to injustice can be countered by the rigorous pursuit of simple justice. And sympathy and solicitude can be dispensed under these labels, rather than as a form of justice.
Wehner recognizes this when he concludes: “Whether this effort travels under the banner of social justice or some other name, to do justice and to love mercy is what is required of us, as individuals and as a society”. But the banner under which the charitable project travels matters.
When it travels under the banner of social justice, it gains extra moral authority that it does not deserve. The genuine tension between our desire to do justice (as commonly understood) and to be merciful is elided because justice is subsumed under mercy.
The result will be confusion and mischief, such as the aforementioned racial preferences and expropriation of property for “the greater good”. If rationalized as “social justice”, such components of the redistributionist project become entitlements, not favors to be granted, if at all, in small doses and under limited circumstances.
As [Friedrich] Hayek, who (as Wehner notes) deplored the concept of social justice, understood, therein lies the road to serfdom.
Besides, we cannot believe that devotees of the Left (once grown out of the ignorant idealism of adolescence) give a fig for “sympathy”, “solicitude”, or “mercy”. If they did they would take pains to find out what economic system really does better the lot of the poor (namely, the free market); and they wouldn’t repeat as they do that “the end justifies the means” – their excuse for sacrificing any number of their fellow human beings.
In fact many of them have dropped even the pretense of sympathizing with human beings. The victims of their “compassion” were first the proletarians. Then, as the proletarians in the Western world became too prosperous (because they had a degree of freedom) to qualify as pretexts for vast destruction, they focused on the lumpenproletariat. That class also became too well-off to care about. So then they moaned about the lot of “women” – by which they meant feminists – and people of unconventional sexual preferences. Many of them moved on to animals. But their ever-restless avant-garde did not stop there. They are now working to sacrifice more people than ever before on the grounds that it will be good for the wilderness, for rocks and stones, and even the vast, spinning, molten-cored planet - the ultimate victim of “social injustice”. (See our post, Fresh wild raw uninhabited world, January 2, 2012.)
It would be enormously laughable as a theory, if it wasn’t colossally tragic as historical and contemporary reality.