Saturday 1/11/14

    1. Christian Civilization vs. The Project of Modernity
    2. Atheist Straw Men
    3. Iran and Munich prattle


Fr. Stephen on how things were before “the project of modernity,” and how things remain an Classical Christianity:

Christian civilization ended somewhere around the time that the modern world began. The Modern Project has not asked how it could save Christian civilization – that civilization was its enemy from the beginning …Sola Scriptura was … first and foremost a wedge used to dismiss the Classical Church and its Traditions. Like the American Constitution, Scripture has been “evolving” ever since.

Today Classical Christianity has not disappeared. It remains and is a thorn in the side of modernity. The popular media keep a constant watch on the Vatican, hoping for any sign that its classical foundations are slipping. Orthodoxy in its resurrected Russian vehemence is characterized as allied with a “thug,” and as thoroughly reactionary.

Meanwhile, Christianity in its classical form is set upon a difficult road. The temptation is simply to be reactionary – to see itself as the conservative “choice,” in which case the Modern Project will be complete. For if Christianity will simply agree to be a choice then it can be understood (and marginalized). It is, however, the Classical contention that we are not the product of our own choices, that our lives are defined by God’s gracious gift and that all things are relative to God alone that flies in the face of the modern world. It is the place of Tradition – something given that is not a choice – that refuses to yield to modern pressures.

I understand the temptation simply to be reactionary, because what Fr. Stephen elsewhere refers to as “anti-sacramental” “ideology” is where I came to Orthodoxy from, and it’s the baggage I’m still involuntarily carrying:

The anti-sacramentalism (and non-sacramentalism) of some Christian groups is among the most unwittingly pernicious of all modern errors. Thought to be an argument about a minor point of doctrine, it is, instead, the collapse of the world into the empty literalism of secularity. In the literalism of the modern world (where a thing is a thing is a thing), nothing is ever more than what is seen. Thus every spiritual reality, every mystery, must be referred elsewhere – generally to the mind of God and the believer. Christianity becomes an ideology and a fantasy …

(Fr. Stephen earlier this week on theophany, which in Orthodoxy is focused on Christ’s Baptism, not the Magi, whence the sacramental emphasis).


One of the many virtues of theologian David Bentley Hart’s stunning new book, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, is that it demolishes this facile, self-satisfied position, exposing how completely it relies on a straw man account of God for its cogency. Atheism may well be true; a society of secularists might get along just fine without any form of piety. But until those unbelievers confront the strongest cases for God, they will have failed truly and honestly to rout their infamous enemy.

(Damon Linker; H/T Rod Dreher) I have yet not read the book. Hart at what I’m assured is his most brilliant, specifically in The Beauty of the Infinite, proved too difficult for me, but he has written at a more popular level, too, such as Atheist Delusions and a regular column in First Things.


From the sublime to the, er, earth-bound:

In Going to Tehran, former analysts in both the Bush and Clinton administrations, the Leveretts offer a uniquely informed account of Iran as it actually is today, not as many have caricatured it or wished it to be. They show that Iran’s political order is not on the verge of collapse, that most Iranians still support the Islamic Republic, and that Iran’s regional influence makes it critical to progress in the Middle East. Drawing on years of research and access to high-level officials, the Leveretts’ indispensable work makes it clear that America must “go to Tehran” if it is to avert strategic catastrophe.

(Announcement of Leverett & Leverett, Going to Tehran: Why American Must Accept the Islamic Republic of Iran) Note, too, the insight of Daniel Larison, who has had it with Iran hawks’ “Munich” yammering (emphasis added):

The comparison doesn’t make any sense here, but not just for the usual reason that Iran makes for a very poor stand-in for Nazi Germany. When they compare diplomacy with Iran to the Munich conference, Iran hawks reliably get the roles backwards. If there is any “appeasement” going on in this dispute, Iran is engaging in it by trying to make enough concessions to forestall an attack from one or more states. The U.S. and its allies and clients are the ones threatening military action if their demands aren’t met, and Iran is the one being pressed to agree to terms under duress. If everyone in the Iranian government were as preoccupied with the “lessons of Munich” as so many American hawks are, they would have to assume that there is no point in negotiating with governments that are likely to turn around and attack them a little later.

* * * * *

“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

One thought on “Saturday 1/11/14

  1. I want to encourage you to read Hart’s The Experience of God. I couldn’t even begin to get into Beauty of the Infinite, but found The Experience of God very clear, readable, and helpful.

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