The Wisdom of Russell Kirk

Over at The Imaginative Conservative, a plug for a recent biography of Russell Kirk by Dr. Bradley J. Birzer, written by Glenn Moots.

I was amused by this:

“So dispirited was Kirk by his subsequent experience in the graduate program at Duke University that he resisted any return to academe and instead worked in the payroll department of a local factory. Dr. Birzer argues that it was wartime conscription that rescued Kirk from his corporate lot in 1942. He used the newfound leisure of Army life to read deeply and broadly from the Western canon, fight against laziness, embrace a stoical worldview, and develop his love of place despite unfamiliarity with the desert wastes. Kirk’s experiences at Ford Motor and in the Army were indeed formative. They made his criticisms of centralization more caustic and solidified his contempt for the mediocrity and homogeneity promoted by corporations, government, Hollywood, and the automobile.

Kirk also confirmed his despair of government solutions, writing of conscription, “Greater self-love has no government than this: that all men must wear Khaki so that some men may be taught to brush their teeth”.”

This contempt for “homogeneity” fostered by our cultural and economic elites is something that I share.

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A Couple of Must-Read Articles by Welsh and Linker

Here and here.  The obligatory hat-tip goes to Rod Dreher, author of The Benedict Option and who blogs at The American Conservative.

I have much more to say about these matters, but suffice it to say that while I fully acknowledge and appreciate that by many metrics, some things are in fact getting better, better buckle your seat belts, folks.  It’s going to get rough.

Ian Welsh: “We are near the end of an ideological order: neoliberalism. We are near the end of war-making technological era, with the rise of robots.  We are near the end of a production technological era, with the rise of AI and bots.

Combined with environmental catastrophe (and nukes), this makes what is coming down the line much worse than the normal cyclical change.  Much, much worse.  We can create a better world, or a few better societies, out of it, to be sure, but there is probably no avoiding the Age of War and Revolution which is soon to be upon us.”

Damon Linker: “And this is how things appear at this historical moment: The world is run by an international elite that lives in a rarified world of seemingly boundless power and luxury. Though the members of this elite consider their own power and luxury to be completely legitimate, it is not. It is the product of a system that’s rigged to benefit them while everybody else languishes in declining small cities and provincial towns, eking out a dreary existence, toiling away their lives in menial service-sector jobs or scraping by on disability checks while seeking out a modicum of fleeting joy in the dumbstruck haze of a painkiller high.”

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The Reality of Spiritual Experience

Firstly, my apologies for being away.  I’ve been rather busy lately.

I have always been fascinated with mystical experiences.  It turns out that quite a few people have them.  We just don’t hear about a lot of them because they are private and personal, and most folks tend not to share such matters openly.  It also doesn’t help that we live in a fairly skeptical world with respect to spiritual or religious experiences.

So, I found the following article extremely interesting, for a number of reasons.  Here’s the relevant excerpt:

“The reaction to the book changed Podhoretz’s life. He started looking for academic positions, and he began drinking when he was at home alone, almost a fifth of Jack Daniel’s a day, his stepdaughter later told Jeffers. He had a contract to write a book on the nineteen-sixties—he had hated the Beats, and he regarded the counterculture as the legacy of the Beats—and he went to Yaddo, the writers’ colony in Saratoga Springs, where he had written much of “Making It,” to work on it. Writers’ colonies are not where you ideally want to be if you have a drinking problem. One day, a fellow-colonist, the critic Kenneth Burke, told Podhoretz that he needed to straighten out. So Podhoretz got in his car and drove, a little under the influence, to a farmhouse he had bought in Delaware County, and it was there, in the early spring of 1970, that he had a vision.

As he told the story to Jeffers, he had finished his writing for the day. He was walking outside, carrying a Martini and feeling content, when it happened. “I saw physically, in the sky, though it was obviously in my head, a kind of diagram that resembled a family tree. And it was instantly clear to me that this diagram contained the secret of life and existence and knowledge: that you start with this, and you follow to that. It all had a logic of interconnectedness.” Not quite Allen Ginsberg’s “Sunflower Sutra,” but strangely close. The vision lasted thirty seconds, and when it was over Podhoretz realized what the diagram was telling him: “Judaism was true.” He did not mean the ethical teachings of Judaism; he meant Judaic law. He vowed to change his life.

To all appearances, he did. He stopped drinking, he began interrogating friends about their spiritual condition, and he transformed Commentary again, this time into the scourge of left-wing permissivism and progressivism.”

Of course, the materialist scoffs at such tales.  They typically posit that it is the result of a frenzied mind or is a mere product of biochemical splooshes in the cerebral cortex.  It’s interesting to me, though, that such biochemical or purely naturalistic events in the brain can lead to such radical spiritual changes.  But of course, the secular humanist won’t concede to any notion of there being a “spiritual” thing at all.  The best they will do is admit that there is perhaps a thing such as “consciousness” but we just don’t really know what that is.  Yet.



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Some Recommended Articles

For your edification:

Here TOF lambastes a recent Time magazine article.  “The first thing the Reader notices is that these ten replacements for the ten commandments are not in fact commandments, but simply opportunities for one to pat oneself on the back. They tell us nothing about the nature of the good.”

An outstanding critique, reminiscent of a hard-hitting and challenging essay I once wrote.

“What I want to say is this. My own experience with my physical, psychological, and spiritual disease, and my healing from all of it — a healing that spiritually, is still ongoing, and will be for the rest of my life — has confirmed my opinion that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is quack religion. It’s like a doctor who gives the sick sugar pills because they taste good. My priest did not batter me with fire-and-brimstone religion at all, but he insisted, in his quiet, serious way, that my own sinfulness had to be confronted, and confronted repeatedly, if I wanted to get well.”

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Mere Mormonism: An Appeal

I am a Mormon by religious persuasion.  I say persuasion because I have had a few (emphasis on few) undeniable experiences that I cannot ascribe to indigestion or psychosis that has convinced me of the truth claims of the church known as the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Those experiences were guideposts that led me on to further spiritual confirmations and experiences.  This soul journey, of course, continues.  I’ve had some intense shocks along the way, surprises of the major and minor varieties, and where I sit currently reminds me of that quaint adage that “life is what happens when you made other plans.”  Nevertheless, despite the twists and turns, and the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, I am openly and eagerly a defender of the aforementioned Church.  I believe strongly that the Church has enormous value, that its influence is overwhelmingly positive and a force for good in the world.  But more than this, I am convinced that this Church is a different organization intrinsically than other organizations.  It is set apart by a special authorization.  It possesses an influence, tied to an extra-dimensional bestowal of authorities, that renders it unique in a supernal, majestic way.

This desire to defend has, by its ineluctable nature, thrust me into a certain category of citizen who inhabits the online virtual universe, at least in the English speaking realm of what is termed the blogosphere.  Since I am unabashedly a defender of the Church’s religious truth claims, and since by implication that means that I am loyal to her name, her reputation, her standing, etc., this loyalty brands me and puts me into a box that is, by its very nature, diametrically opposite to another group of folks who feel no compelling loyalty, no especial sense of apologia, and who generally seem to relish any good opportunity to take the Church down a peg or two or to broadcast her weaknesses, imperfections, flaws, or contradictions.  (Many of those in this category quite possibly possess no evil motives for their actions.  They simply do this because they are not convinced that the Church, as an institution, really possesses any distinguishing characteristics that set it apart from any other inherently patriarchal entity.)  

In short, online[1] Mormonism is divided between two antipodes: the committed and faithful[2] in contradistinction to the committed and perhaps not so faithful[3] (according to the traditional understanding of what being faithful means).  Please note: my purpose here is not polemical, neither is it an attempt to achieve what may very well ultimately be impossible.  I am not disparaging the not-so-faithful crowd.  My desire is not to insult them or show them any form of animus or unkindness.[4]

For a number of months I’ve been mulling over in my mind a notion that I picked up while reading C. S. Lewis.  It has always been my heart-felt belief that online Mormonism is hopelessly mired in an endless process of reshuffling the deck of controversies.  It goes in a messy cycle: prophetic authority, authenticity of the Book of Mormon, present-day existence of true revelation to the Brethren, throw in some feminist angst, black priesthood ban, polygamy, ad nauseam, ad nauseam.  The fundamental problem is that these issues never really get resolved.  The issues perhaps become slightly more refined over time, but overall, the issues are as stark and as compelling to the believers and the not-so-believers as when the issues first saw the light of day.  And depending on where you sit on the spectrum of belief, these issues — or perhaps just one of them — can be dispositive.  In other words, the cognitive dissonance the issue causes is essentially the coup de grâce for that person’s house of faith.

It is not an exaggeration to assert that despite the rivers of digital ink that have been spilled over these controversies, there really is no satisfactory intellectual resolution on the horizon.  In short, faith — legitimate let’s-go-down-to-the-river-and-pray, hallelujah — true and living faith is required to reach resolution.  And online Mormonism really sits at an impasse.  What remains sad is that both sides become enmeshed in a kind of walled-off bunker mentality.  I’m over here; and you — well, you’re over there.  It often seems that a profound chasm lies between us.

The current state of Mormonism is extraordinarily diverse.  There is no denying it.  While generally speaking, there is a currency[5] of Mormonism that you can spend whether in Tokyo, Accra, or Atlanta, there are also cultural differences that impinge on matters.  For example, I will never forget the singing of hymns while in Japan.  Even the happy songs were sung like we were at a funeral.  (I’m not trying to criticize the Japanese; on the contrary, I admire their culture a great deal.)  My point is to emphasis the fact that while the priesthood organization and its forms are the same the world over, cultural differences can make substantial differences in how the Gospel is accepted, internalized, lived, and shared.  It can change how the Gospel is experienced.

I am not really proposing anything radical.  But I have two essential gripes that I wish to place before the online Mormonism audience.  

One: there is an extreme excess of navel-gazing in our culture.  Way too much.  We have binged, for decades, on Mormon navel-gazing.  We’re addicted to it.  We have to quit it.  Stop it cold turkey.  I beg of you.  Navel gazing will not magically grant us any additional enlightenment.  In fact, my position is to assert that this navel-gazing ispreventing us, as a people, from receiving vital inspiration to reach outward.  It is not making us wiser.  It is having quite an opposite effect.

Please allow me to explain what I mean.  We spend way too much time talking and debating about issues that only pertain to Mormons, and on matters of rather arcane theology at that.  It is my sincere, heartfelt plea that we stop talking so much about internal matters and focus more on how Mormonism’s theology, doctrine, and practices can revolutionize the outside world.

Second: it is high time that we — as brothers and sisters — stop concentrating on that which divides us and start focusing our energies upon that which unites us.  I am proposing Mere Mormonism.  

Let me explain this.

When Lewis wrote Mere Christianity, his purpose was to present a kind of Christianity in its basic, pure form so as to attract people to consider the virtues of Christianity.  It was an attempt to distill Christianity’s vital essence and then present that essence to an audience so that they could take a peek without being distracted by an excess of detail or controversy.  As he states in the Preface, “Ever since I became a Christian I have thought that the best, perhaps the only, service I could do for my unbelieving neighbours was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.”

In other words, Lewis didn’t feel that he had to talk about his Anglicanism.  He just believed that he needed to show a good example of Christian living.  

He goes on further: “The reader should be warned that I offer no help to anyone who is hesitating between two Christian ‘denominations’.  You will not learn from me whether you ought to become an Anglican, a Methodist, a Presbyterian, or a Roman Catholic.”

Lewis then gives us two reasons for his approach.  The first is that “the questions which divide Christians from one another often involve points of high Theology or even of ecclesiastical history, which ought never to be treated except by real experts.”  The second reason is “that the discussion of these disputed points has no tendency at all to bring an outsider into the Christian fold.”

In applying the Lewis approach to the divided world of online Mormonism, perhaps we can profit by phrasing Lewis in an alternative way.  Hence: “Ever since I became a [Mormon] I have thought that the best, perhaps the only, service I could do for my unbelieving [fellow Mormons] was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all [Mormons] at all times.”

“The reader should be warned that I offer no help to anyone who is hesitating between two [Mormon faith-paths].  You will not learn from me whether you ought to become a [true believer Mormon, a cultural Mormon, a New Order Mormon, or a Jack Mormon].”

Lewis desired with all his heart to open the doors to the mansion of Christianity so that people would step into the parlor hall and feel comfortable before venturing on into the side rooms where they would learn deeper (and perhaps, sharper) doctrines.  In this desire, he was very much interested in a kind of big-tent Christianity.  

The objection immediately arises that this kind of big-tent invitation glosses over non-negotiable aspects of doctrine.  Lewis addresses this reasonable complaint by offering this salient reminder: “There are questions at issue between Christians to which I do not think we have been told the answer.”  

I believe that there are issues that we Mormons are arguing about to which we have not been given answers.  There are legitimate reasons for this, not the least of which is that perhaps it is God’s will that we struggle in faith on some points of doctrine.  Lewis goes on to note that there “are some [issues] to which I may never know the answer: if I asked them, even in a better world, I might (for all I know) be answered as a far greater questioner was answered: ‘What is that to thee?  Follow thou Me.’”

“What is that to thee?  Follow thou Me.”[6] — Profound and vital wisdom is here for us, a lesson that we Mormons can learn and apply in our interactions with our fellow brothers and sisters.

I am not suggesting, of course, that Mormonism itself needs to change at all in order to be more interesting or more palatable to folks.  What I am trying to convey — imperfectly, of course — is that Mere Mormonism could offer a way forward for the online Mormon community to have legitimate conversations.  We need to talk to each other — with respect, with mutual admiration.  We can learn from each other.  I’d like to make an appeal for us on the “true believing” side of the spectrum to reach out in openness and honesty and respect to our fellow brothers and sisters who believe a bit differently than we do but who are no less worthy and valuable in the sight of our mutual Father in Heaven.

[1] For the purpose of this essay, I choose to ignore the virulently hateful folk who make it their mission to destroy the Church overtly.  In short, I will not address the rabid anti-Mormons.  

[2] For lack of better terminology, the “orthodox” or the “true believing Mormons”.

[3] Many expressions exist: new order Mormons, progressive Mormons, hipster Mormons, etc.

[4] Please accept this assertion as sincere.  While in the past I’ve had my fair share of unpleasant interactions with the less-believing Mormon crowd, I truly do not wish them any ill or harm.  On the contrary.

[5] The coin of the realm, of course, makes all the difference [the Spirit].

[6] John 21:22

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Your Morals

Go to Your Morals to take a quiz and explore the assumptions upon which you have built your personal morality.

My results are in the picture below.  I am green, the typical liberal is blue and conservatives are red.  I am fascinated with the liberal abhorrence of loyalty and authority, two virtues that are demanded in being members of churches.  No wonder most liberals stop going to church.



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Guerrilla War

“Conservatives are reduced, and will continue to be reduced, to fighting as guerrillas.”

Thus Rod Dreher.  I encourage you to read the whole article.  Being a conservative Christian in the decades to come is going to be interesting, and it’s going to require bravery and mettle the likes of which we haven’t had to show.

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