Drawing Swords Against the Deluge
A reader calls me to task for my Christian pessimism about the world, or, to call it by a poetic name, the Vale of Tears. Let me reprint his whole note, and answer, hat in hand, as best I may.
You are definitely an interesting one, Mr. Wright. I sometimes find my worldview seriously reconsidered after reading your work, and sometimes I decide you are a complete moron. Frequently you inspire both in the same article.
May I say you actually convinced me to choose chastity until marriage from one of your series of articles, convinced me into informed atheism from one of your books, and have so far gotten about halfway into getting me into some kind of religion from the rest of your blog.
I say this because I am seriously troubled by one point you make here:
“The Christian world view (or, to use the technical term, the Truth) is that this world is doomed in the same way that the antediluvian world was doomed. The Christian man is not in the position of Hercules, able to slay the Hydra-headed and Nemean-lion-hided and brass-winged birds of postmodern post-rational neo-barbarism and able to clean out the Augean stables of modern culture.
The Christian man is in the position of Noah. Our mission is to warn you, dear reader, to leave off making mud pies in the filth of the Augean stables of Modern Life and to get on the boat before the waters rise. Noah’s heroism was not in worldly Herculean strength, but was instead in otherworldly fidelity to an incredible and unbelievable message he heard from heaven: Noah had the strength of character to believe something his reason told him he ought to believe, even if his neighbors mocked, and the skies showed not a single cloud of evidence to support him.
So, no Christians do not need to be in the shoes of Caesar or Pontius Pilot to save the world. That salvation was done by one whose feet were pierced by nails: as far as the world could see, a crackpot agitator who died a traitor’s grisly death. This is because the world sees things backward. The cross the world sees as an instrument of torture, humiliation, and death we Christians see as exalted, and we take it as our labarum of comfort, glory, and victory.
So again I say no, Christians do not need our hands on the levers of worldly power to accomplish our otherworldly goals. Prayers are more powerful than votes.”
This strikes me as a rather deep weakness.
No, more than that. It seems contrary to one of your strongest arguments in this article and ones like it.
To me this seems if anything ungrateful, cowardly, and in a state of absolute despair that Christian hope should have destroyed based on nearly everything else you have ever written.
Maybe this is because this is from one of my least favorite parts of the Bible, but the metaphor of Noah starts out troubling. Noah comes off as strange and cruel in the Bible that I have read and heard examined. Compared to similar Deluge stories (ignoring that he actually existed for a moment) he comes off badly. Similar figures did things such as gather together a real civilization, collecting artists and other great men and women to be saved. Noah simply took his family and the minimum required for survival.
Not saying he should have valued art or culture (assuming you are right and our culture is literally crafted by Satan it should all be destroyed) but even if there is a Flood coming, simply building an ark strikes me as deeply unsatisfying. If your race of men is truly in the right, a band knowing the Truth of the world in the face of lies and the Prince of Darkness, than you should be striving to save as much of it as possible. Let open the doors and call in as many as you can who are not infested with darkness. You mentioned yourself that you would be honored to have Flamingphonebook in your foxhole against the House of Dagon. Even with the worst assessment of our current world, saving as much as possible is a duty. It is simply so large that this is clear.
The second part I find troubling is the idea that you cannot save the world. That is the part I find ungrateful.
You live in an age where mortals wield powers greater than any prior age. The world is all connected now. You are part of a faction with numbers, courage, and strength. The Enemy of modern culture is a divided shrill mob, meaningless and disorganized. Your God let you be born in an age of power and glory. Do you truly believe your side to be so weak that they cannot do battle with this horde of cowards who offer pittances to the House of Submission and beg not to be harmed?
To me this seems like an insult to your God. You have might and power and courage and will. Your enemies are weak, cowards, and don’t even believe they have will. Surely you can fight back these hordes?
Or is it the Prince of Darkness you fear? Will the Devil rise up and oppose some great cultural crusade to save the world from this abyss?
Let me answer these points one at a time: One, the assessment of me as a moron is the correct and accurate one. Keep that in mind as we read what follows.
Two, what I said was “pray, for our battle is not with flesh and blood, but with powers and principalities.” This is unambiguous Christian doctrine that all denominations confirm. At no point do I say, “pray and do nothing else to save the world” which is how you are reading me.
I admit that in the English language, whenever one says, “It is raining in the North” it SOUNDS like one is saying “It is not raining in the South” — but that is just an illusion caused by the language. If I say to my fellow Christians “pray, brothers!” that is not the same as me saying “Stop doing everything else besides praying.”
A Templar is as much as Christian as a Franciscan hermit. A Templar prays and fights; a hermit prays and retires to his cell.
If the Deluge of Noah seems too cruel a metaphor, let me use another: we are prisoners on death row. Anything of value which is here in the prison we will no doubt be allowed to keep if we get pardoned by the Governor. But the things that form our chains and bars and instruments of torture we will not need or want. Again, we are all patients dying in the terminal ward of the hospital. If the miracle cure revives us, and we are well and healthy again, then, no, we will not carry our sickbed and needles of morphine out into the sunny glades where healthy children dance and play — we will not need the morphine to kill the pain any more, because we will not be in pain.
Three, keep in mind what the words above are about: Someone (a friendly nonbeliever) was asking me whether the Church needs worldly power and the friendship of Caesar to prevail. (Or, to be accurate, he was making the unsupported claim that the Church needs worldly power to prevail, and that only when Constantinople makes Christianity the established state religion can she prevail.)
I answered that we Christians need no vain worldly powers from a vain world.
My answer is in nowise hopeless; it merely says to put no hope in worldly things, which are destined to be carried away in the days foretold by St. John of Patmos like the antediluvian world was carried away in the flood.
Do we need Caesar’s friendship? Come now! The Orthodox Church, the Nestorians, the Copts, the Syrians, and all the Indians instructed by St. Thomas have been ground under the bootheels of pagan kings and paynim sultans for over a thousand years: they have more martyrs to their glory and more saints than earned the palm in the West. When the Church was burdened with worldly power, one thing she ended up doing was corrupting herself, and shattering via Reformation and Counter-Reformation, wars, tumults, and persecutions, into fragments large and small. It was not until the Enlightenment that the keys to the liquor cabinet where the wine of worldly power is stored were locked away from our poor, drink-besotted Mother Church.
For better or worse—and I think it is for the worse—when the priesthood in a nation is beholden to the Throne, and not to Rome, the national church ends up free from Rome but enslaved to the Throne, as happened to the Russian Orthodox beneath the Czar, and happened to the German Lutherans under their princes and chancellors and eventually under their dictator.
One the one hand, an international Church with some temporal power has the beneficial side effect of acting a check on the ambitions and tyrannies of local kings and princes. At least some of the time, the Church defends the poor against the aristocracy (that is, those times when the Churchmen are not all brothers and cousins of the aristocrats, and conspiring with them to consume the poor.)
On the other hand, had the Church not abused her worldly power, she would still deserve it.
On the third hand, if the husband of a drunk wife is also a drunk, not to mention a wife-beater, then he cannot be trusted with the keys to the liquor cabinet of power either. The anointed kings and parliaments of Christendom savaged the Church after the shipwreck of the Reformation, and I mean that to include all denominations, including the established Churches.
The American Constitution is designed to check such abuses of princely power without a Church: Caesar’s power is divided into branches, and each is supposed jealously to guard the against trespass by the other two. You don’t need an independent and international Church to check the local government power: the government will do that to itself by itself. So goes the theory.
One of the grim and ironic reversals or perversions of the modern age is that the freedom to worship, as respected both by America and European Democracies, is being used as an excuse to tear down crosses from war memorials, pull the commandments off courthouse walls, silence prayers in schools, and dechristianize Christmas, and in all other ways being turning into a legal obligation not to worship. (And do not bother to tell me that private worship in the basement of one’s own house or in the catacombs is still allowed: Catholic charity hospitals are being closed by the Federal Government because we will not provide abortions, and preachers on the pulpit on private land have been prosecuted abroad or jailed for “hate speech” crimes for no more than preaching, as they are duty bound to do, God’s law concerning homosexuality.)
The worldly legal institution of disestablishment and separation of Church and State, which were designed to protect the Church from Caesar, is now the prime excuse used by Caesar to harass the Church. Place no faith in Caesar.
The only “hopelessness” you see in my answer is the fact that I place no hope in worldly things.
Four, one’s disgust with the Noah story depends almost entirely on what one thought the people thus condemned were like.
If we imagine them to be as civilized as, say, the Romans with their gladiatorial games, or the Aztecs with their ghoulish mass-human sacrifices, or the Phoenicians burning children alive in brass idols while playing tambourines to drown the high-pitched death-shrieks, or Babylonians forcing their daughters into ritual temple prostitution, or the Spartans with their institutionalized sodomy-rape or Afghanis with their institutionalized pederasty-rape, or as civilized as Nazis with the genocide of the Jews, or the Turks with their genocide of the Armenians, or the Soviets with their genocide of the Kulaks, or the Chinese with their genocide of the Chinese, or as civilized with the Catholics with their Spanish Inquisition, or Elizabethans with their English Inquisition, or as civilized as plantation owners in the New World, Christian gentlemen of learning and refinement, who drove the cringing Negro into the field with whips.
On the other hand, the antediluvians may have been as uncivilized as the man-eating headhunters of Borneo, or as malign as the marauding Mongol hordes who piled pyramids of skulls before the cities they burned and buried, or maniacal Viking who hang their screaming and eyeless human sacrifices from the sacred oak and ash tree, or may been as uncivilized as the savage, slave-taking, girl-raping Sioux whose delight was to torture captive prisoners very slowly to death ….
But suppose the Antediluvian had all these qualities and more, and that each and every one, had either done or helped to do some murder or act of equal malice. Suppose the Creator of the earth looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted His way upon the earth, and the earth was filled with violence through them.
Need I go on? While human justice would never condemn a whole peoples, much less a whole world, to death for the iniquities and evils practiced, the idea that divine justice, which has no choice but to be just, might condemn an evil world to the fate it so richly deserves, while hard for a gentle heart like mine to imagine, is not hard for a cool head like mine to hypothesize.
We don’t know what the antediluvian civilization was like. Perhaps the noblest works of sculpture, architecture and poetry were wiped out: wonders of the world nobler than the Colossus of Rhodes or the Lighthouse of Alexandria or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Perhaps these things, by now, would have been wiped out by the history in any case.
Or perhaps they had nothing worth preserving, merely ugly and ill-make wigwams, tents, or rude sheds that served them for stockades, slave-pits, mass-graves, rape-huts, torture-chambers, infanticide pits, bordellos, barracks and opium dens. Maybe the only “palaces” of the Antediluvian days were the larger tents of brutal pirate chiefs, where the beating hearts or pickled heads of captives buried in the shallow soil beneath the tentpole.
Or maybe, no matter who bad they were, even if they were super-Aztec super-Nazi biker-gang pirate-gang lying-ass weasel-mouthed Politically Correct slave-raping baby-killing cannibals who kicked their dogs and ate their cats for stew, maybe no human being deserves death no matter what he does.
This is a noble sentiment! Would that all men could chose life, and live, and would flee from sin and death!
One would think a just God would offer men the bread of life from heaven somehow, even if He had to come down from heaven to do it, even if He had to bleed, and be mocked, and be scourged, and to die bringing life to us. Good thing no one hearing about that good news would reject it with scorn and heap hatred and mockery and martyrdom on those who carry that news!Oh, wait, minute…
But in the meanwhile, the fact of life is that all sons of Adam die, soon or late, and I do not see why it is particularly monstrous to have them all die on one day, cleanly and quickly, rather than each man on a different day, by war, by disease, by lingering famine.
I am not saying it is not bad that there be death in the world: I cannot think of anything worse, unless it is that there be sin in the world.
I merely point out that from the point of view of a drowning man, it is not remarkably worse for him, and it may make no difference at all, if many men are drowing at the same time, or only a few, or all.
We also do not know how many chances the Antediluvians got, how many warning shots across the bow, or how many were also instructed to build Arks but who ignored the instruction, or how many Noah invited aboard his, and the invitation was scornfully refused. My opinion of the Justice of God will differ is all was done quickly and in secret, with Noah giggling to himself at his doomed neighbors, pretending with innocent eyes that he was merely planning a pleasure cruise or stocking a petting zoo, or if a prophet the dignity of Jonah, surrounded by signs and wonders, gave sufficient forewarning to leave them all without excuse.
Were they without excuse? If we take the story of the Flood as a myth, we must accept all parts of the myth as if they were fact to judge whether the myth reflects divine justice; if we do not take the story of the Flood as myth, then likewise we must accept all things reported as fact as fact. In the first case, we are talking about whether a character acted fairly and justly in a story, but we must agree what the story says: in the second case we are talking about whether a real God acted with real fairness and justice in real life, but we must acknowledge the reality, not just those facts that support one side of the case.
According to the Book of Genesis, Methuselah died (age 964) just at or just before the flood, and Adam (age 687) was still alive when Methuselah was born. If we accept the Genesis timeline, it means that the Fall of Man and the Banishment of Cain were within one generation of living memory.
This means anyone could go to his grandfather or his tribal elder and hear an eyewitness account of exactly what the Creator God was and did and what He expected of His creation. Someone alive in those days could not honestly and with open eyes deny that he stood under the judgment of an angry God, any more than someone alive in our days can honestly and with open eyes deny the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews actually took place.
This means, whether the story is myth or fact, the story is about people who very clearly and very obviously knew that what they were doing was contrary to God’s law, and obviously knew God was real, alive, awake, and active, and if they were taken by surprise in those days, the only surprise was the timing and the form of the punishment, not the fact of it. They have no excuse.
No human has the right to pass judgment on a civilization. But nature does. The Author of Nature a fortiori does.
Five, the core of life is a paradox: there is an old saying that those who try to save themselves in battle die and those unafraid of dying will live. Likewise, we are much more likely to reverse the current corruption and evil oppressing this modern age if we have neither hope of victory or fear of defeat. Our battle is a small part of a much larger war.
Pessimistic as my tone may sound, I did not say it was inevitable or desirable that the world will be destroyed in my lifetime, or in a hundred lifetimes to come. But Christians, Norsemen, and Astronomers agree that one day this visible world will perish. And if the ‘Big Rip’ Theory of the Eschaton is correct, then the end will come as suddenly as a thief in the night, and the heavens, just as prophesied, will roll up like a scroll.
When will the end come? For all I know, it could be tomorrow, or it could be 15 billion years hence. For all I know, these are the days of the early Church. We have not even spread the Gospel throughout the Milky Way Galaxy, to say nothing of the Virgo Cluster.
To answer your questions:
Do you believe your side is weak?
Yes, as weak as our Forefathers who defeated the all-powerful British Empire. Yes, as weak as the hands that tore down the Berlin Wall. As weak as Jerusalem when the city was encompassed by Sennacherib. As weak as Saint Telemachus, when he jumped from the stands during the Games, and stepped between two Gladiators, and died, and by his death wiped out that ancient, sinister, sadistic entertainment.
I am not sure what you mean by “weak.” We Christians could, in one election cycle, vote out any and every politician supporting abortion, and wipe out the practice of mass infanticide as rapidly as the martyrdom of St. Telemachus wiped out the practice of Gladiatorial games. Do you think the Gladiatorial industry, all those huge Colosseums, trainers, slavers, beast-handlers, promoters and so on, did not have more money bound up in the murder of fighting-slaves than the Negro-killing group called Planned Parenthood has bound up in the massive effort to abort ghetto babies? (Oh, they kill White and Yellow and Red babies too, but notice where the main effort and main emphasis rests.)
Its seems to me that Christians are defeated, as we have been in the Culture Wars, only when we surrender to an otherwise impotent enemy.
“You have might and power and courage and will. Your enemies are weak, cowards, and don’t even believe they have will. Surely you can fight back these hordes?”
Surely, but only if we actually take the labarum of our Christ completely seriously and march under its banner. In that sign, we will conquer. The question for my fellow Christians is whether or not they are serious? I hear some sleepy murmuring, but the giant has not waked: to be frank, I have yet to see that sign raised.
“Or is it the Prince of Darkness you fear? Will the Devil rise up and oppose some great cultural crusade to save the world from this abyss?”
I don’t understand this question: you talk as if this did not already happen, long ago, in Eden.
This world belongs to the Prince of the World.
When the Devil showed Christ the kingdoms of the world, they were indeed in the hand of the Devil to bestow. We are already behind enemy lines.
My long and longwinded essay on What’s Wrong with the World is an essay on how unwise it is to trust worldly powers, things such as a cultural support for rational philosophy, to cure what is a spiritual evil. I thought the conclusion of the essay, which describes Faith as the Mother of Reason, made it clear enough what I thought the source of salvation and redemption to be.
To my knowledge, I am not saying anything other than what Christians from the beginning have always said:
I am saying this world is base and corrupt and doomed. Place no faith in the world or in the idols of the world. Be not conformed to the world.
Instead, vow the vow a soldier vows, who swears never to let his sword sleep in its sheathe, never to retreat, never to surrender, never to let a fallen comrade alone, and to continue to resist even if captured: and I speak of the captivity of addictive sin.
I am saying the fight is hopeless. The enemy is a fallen archangel and a prince of fallen archangels mightier than any mortal imagines; at his command the hordes of the pagan world come, not knowing who they serve.
Those the world count as wise, the mightiest of governments, of princes, and of parliaments, all do his dark bidding and combine against us, the weak and powerless and foolish in the world. There is no slander the enemy will not spread against us, no torment and no persecution the enemy will forswear.
—and lest this talk of torment be dismissed as mere paranoia, I remind you that Catholics as well as Gypsies and Jews were arrested, tortured, and killed by the Nazis within living memory in Europe, and that Christians and Jews are being hounded and hunted and savagely persecuted in many nations in other hemispheres throughout this century, including to this very day: the butchery of the Armenians by the Turk comes to mind, not to mention the persecutions of the Church in China and Russia and Indochina.
I say not only that the battle is hopeless, but that we should fight on, yes, and sing and rejoice as we fight, because final victory in the war is absolutely certain.
The battle is hopeless and the war is already won. Washington did not win a single engagement with the British; but he won the war. We are in his position. With food, without ammo, with uniforms in tatters, and with unshod feet of footsoldiers leaving bloody footprints in the snow, we are assured to win.
The war is certain, and victory will not come by our hands, but from hands that are still scarred where we pierced them with iron nails; and as the beginning of the victory celebration, a new heaven and a new earth, unstained and pure, shall rise from the ashes of the old, and the lordly dead will arise again in glorified flesh, and all tears wiped away.
There are those who call this a fairy tale. I assume such scoffers are not old and wise enough to believe in fairies.
To them, I give the answer of that most excellent marshwiggle and insightful theologian, Puddleglum. Suppose my account is a fairy tale. Your account is not even that.
One modern account of the world consists of little more than saying “Life is a bitch, and then you die, and in the end nobody lives happily ever after. Entropy triumphs over all, a nightfall of endless darkness and infinite cold.”
Well, says I, if you actually believed your account, the wise thing to do is to swallow cold poison and jump into the sea: so the fact that you are still here hints that at some level you know your account is unsatisfactory: a poorly constructed story, pointless, plotless, and with a weak ending. It is not a tale at all, but a complaint.
Another account, this one with considerably more pedigree, says, “We are all just naked apes or meat machines: our souls are made of atoms blown together by the twelve winds with no more purpose and meaning than the shape of the sand dune: we are helpless and without free will, victims of blind evolutionary forces and blind historical forces. Atop the Holy Mountain no gods dance, and no burning bushes speak. Death is dreamless sleep and soft oblivion. Therefore let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Entropy triumphs over all, a nightfall of endless darkness and infinite cold.”
This is a poor story: a tale of despair, a myth to justify hedonism.
A nobler version of this same account says, “Man is a rational animal, capable of moral reasoning, creativity, productiveness, love. Man is heroic. Therefore let us live rationally working with mind and heart and soul to produce such works of art and science as befits so dignified a creature: let each man to live for himself alone, a paragon of self-reliance each man in the solitary but invulnerable tower of his self-made soul, never demanding nor making any selfess sacrifice. Nor hopes nor fears of after-lives or nether-worlds need detain us: Therefore let us think, and work, and triumph, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Entropy triumphs over all, a nightfall of endless darkness and infinite cold.”
This is a poor story: vanity, vainglory, and blindness to the pain and misery of life. The pretense that bad things never happen for no reason to good people is a very thin pretense: since the days of Job, we have all known better. This is a tale of vainglory.
A very ancient version of this account, perhaps the most ancient, has a different ending, for it says, “All this has happened before, and all shall happen again. When the world dies in fire, it shall be reborn from ashes, and all the pain and toil and travail, all the blood shed and tears wept, will all be shed anew, accomplishing nothing. The universe is a wheel of pain, and even the gods are nailed to its spokes like Ixion. To be born is to die, to die is to be born. Fate is all.”
This is too a poor story: all I will say of this account, whether one calls it Greek Ecpyrosis or Hindu Kali Yuga, or Cyclical Universe Theory, is that it is different in name, not in substance, from the Tale of Despair given above. The defeat is as absolute as if the nightfall of endless darkness and infinite cold is already come, and a cyclical changelessness worse than death already has us in its claws.
This is a tale of supine despair more despairing than the tale of despair given above, which at least promised finite rather than infinite misery.
A more noble version of this same ancient account: “All this has happened before, and all shall happen again. The universe is a wheel of pain. The pain is caused by attachment to desire, and desire is caused by thought, and thought is caused by self. By means of strict discipline and stern patience, patience longer than many lifetimes, I will learn to detach myself from all thought and therefore from all pain, and enter into a state of perfect nonthinking nonbeing, where I will neither sin nor suffer Karmic punishment for sin. By self-extinction I escape the wheel of pain.”
This is a poor story: I will say of this account that is has all the drawbacks of the despair of the belief in the Eternal Return given above, but it also has the vanity and vainglory of pretending men can improve themselves into perfection and prelapsarian sinlessness by discipline and meditation. The attempt to achieve bliss by means of pure selflessness is as untrustworthy a daydream as the attempt to achieve bliss via worldly satisfaction with the world by means of pure selfishness.
In sum, the accounts of life outside my so-called fairy tale are heedless hedonism, despairing resignation, vainglorious selfishness, supine despair, or vainglorious selflessness.
None are anything a decent man would say to the mother weeping over her child’s untimely grave.
None are fit for human beings to live by.
None describe life.
None are philosophically edifying, morally encouraging, scientifically true, or dramatically satisfying accounts of man’s place in the universe; whereas my so-called fairy tale is all of these and more.
I repeat Puddleglum’s answer:
Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things–trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.