Ashamed Of The Faith

Escoffier, who sometimes posts at Veritas Lounge, left a superb comment recently over at Dalrock’s blog, in the post Worse than fear. Worse than malice. His comment can be found here. The comment, like the original post,  addressed why so many Christians, especially Christian men, are willing and eager to set aside scripture when it comes to matters such as marriage. I am going to repeat his whole comment as a block, both because it is that good, and for ease of reading; my comments will come afterwards:

I want to add a supplementary / alternative reason to explain this embarrassment over the text of the Bible. It’s been touched on but not really fleshed out.

That is, that these nominal Christians under discussion are all moderns first and Christians second (if second). Worse, they don’t even know they are moderns, or what it means to be a modern, or what modernity is.

Modernity, to say the least, conflicts with the Bible. It was designed to, on purpose. Yet it has been so successful in taking over nearly all conscious and sub-conscious thought that hardly anyone any more recognizes it for what it is. That includes most contemporary Christians, to whom “modernity” is simply synonymous with “reality” or even “morality.”

There’s a particular strand of modernity that’s particularly relevant here, namely historicism, and specifically rational historicism (as opposed to radical or irrational historicism). This is the idea of “progress.” “Progress” is cooked into the original conception of modernity, but it came to take on a different meaning much later. Originally, it more or less just meant “We can improve the material condition of man on earth; human beings have a lot more power than either the Bible or classical philosophy will admit.”

Rational historicism takes this idea much further and posits a unidirectional progress, which is worked out through impersonal forces (the so-called historical dialectic) over which man may be an unwitting instrument, but which he didn’t design, doesn’t direct, and can’t control. “History” is nonetheless rational, moving “forward” (with occasional, necessary steps back) to ever-“better” states and eventually to an end state in which all dialectical conflicts are resolved, all moral and political problems solved, and final wisdom achieved (if not necessarily accessible to all). In pop-culture terms, the Star Trek universe is basically the cartoon version of this end state.

Nearly everyone today believes in this “arc” at least in a simplified way. The present is believed to be inherently more enlightened that the past. We Don’t Do That Anymore Because We Know Better. And the future will be inevitably more enlightened than the present.

The source of this impression is ultimately perverted or corrupted or mistaken philosophy, but one does not need to have studied philosophy at all to have been affected, even “convinced.” The astounding success of modern natural science and its offspring, technology, serves to “prove” to such people that “progress” is real and that the present is superior to the past. Technological progress is assumed to be coeval with moral and political progress.

But it is never explained why this should be so. Actually, certain modern philosophers did try to make such a case, but they hardly proved it and their case is open to serious theoretical difficulties which have been pointed out by other philosophers. However, that whole dialogue may as well never have happened as far as the average modern person is concerned. He is simply unaware of it and takes on faith that the present is morally superior to the past.

This, then, is a significant source of the embarrassment. The modern Christian (modern first, Christian second) is embarrassed by the evident conflicts between his nominal faith and his actual, if unconscious, modernity. Modernity trumps. So the offending Scriptures have to be dealt with one way or another. There are many possible ways: insist that it doesn’t say what it seems to say, come up with Rube Goldberg interpretations to square it with modernity, call it “metaphoric,” say that it was right for that time but not our time, and so on. The latter is a kind of “Living Constitution” framework for the Bible. It assumes that God has left to us the task of “updating” Scripture as the “times change.” The changing of the times is held to be the true constant, and really the true God, but only implicitly.

To begin with, Escoffier’s use of the word “moderns” can probably be translated quite accurately into “liberals”, in the sense of the word as I used it in my post The Sound of Inevitability. As for which word is better or more precise/accurate (they aren’t the same thing), I think that is a matter of semantics. Both can work, although for the remainder of this post I will use moderns and modernity instead [the same applies to liberalism and modernism as describing the same over-arching philosophy].

Escoffier is also on the mark when he states that most people “don’t even know they are moderns, or what it means to be a modern, or what modernity is.” Most people adhere to all sorts of philosophical beliefs without realizing it; they lack both the knowledge to categorize their beliefs as well as the introspection to observer them. This double barrier makes it especially difficult to explain to people their own beliefs, as even if you correct their ignorance they might still not get it. All of which means that for most people understanding what they actually believe is probably not feasible.

Escoffier is also correct that most people in the West are moderns first, and Christians second (assuming that they are Christians). There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Training (or indoctrinating) of someone to be a modern begins at a very young age, often before matters of faith
  • Everyone is immersed all the times in modern thinking and modes of thought, whereas overtly Christian approaches are much more rare
  • Modern thinking has already infiltrated a significant amount of Christianity, and corrupted a number of critical fields of doctrine
  • Modernist thinking is baked into everyday assumptions of “how things work”, as well as our understanding of history and our present place in it

And the list goes on. Now, I’m not sure if modernity was in fact explicitly designed to subvert Christianity. Escoffier might be on the right track here, but whether he is or not determining whether this is the case would take up a post by itself. So I will leave it be for now.

“Historicism” is an interesting strain of thought. From my experience most people are just like Escoffier describes: subscribers without realizing what they are subscribing to or even that they are subscribing to something at all. It is the dominant paradigm of the present age, and as Escoffier notes, pretty much everyone buys into it. I think these two sentences are a perfect summation of what most people believe:

The present is believed to be inherently more enlightened that the past. We Don’t Do That Anymore Because We Know Better.

Most people really do buy into the idea that we know better now, and it shapes their thoughts and beliefs when it comes to anything historical. And yes, that includes Scripture. And nowhere does this manifest more than when Scripture concerns women in some way:

  • Wives required to submit to their husbands? Barbaric.
  • Women not allowed to teach or hold authority over men? Outdated.
  • Women required to cover their head while praying? Oppressive.
  • Women advised to maintain a quiet, gentle spirit? Misogynistic.

As far as I can tell, pretty much every part of Scripture (or Tradition) that addresses women in some way is now interpreted through the modernist filter. And that means if it doesn’t agree with modern thinking and beliefs about women, it must be discarded.

This brings us to the final paragraph of Escoffier’s comment, which I will repeat again for ease of reading:

This, then, is a significant source of the embarrassment. The modern Christian (modern first, Christian second) is embarrassed by the evident conflicts between his nominal faith and his actual, if unconscious, modernity. Modernity trumps. So the offending Scriptures have to be dealt with one way or another. There are many possible ways: insist that it doesn’t say what it seems to say, come up with Rube Goldberg interpretations to square it with modernity, call it “metaphoric,” say that it was right for that time but not our time, and so on. The latter is a kind of “Living Constitution” framework for the Bible. It assumes that God has left to us the task of “updating” Scripture as the “times change.” The changing of the times is held to be the true constant, and really the true God, but only implicitly.

There are a couple of key points here. The first is that people are embarrassed by what Scripture says. And by people, I mean “Christians.” They really are ashamed of what the Bible has to say about things like marriage, divorce and “the role of women.” Those teachings are incompatible with modernist thought, and in fact scandalous nowadays. To be associated with them is to be a social pariah. As Escoffier points out, modernity trumps Christianity in terms of their values hierarchy. They have either forgotten, ignored or never learned the admonition of Saint Paul: “Do not be conformed to this world. No, they have conformed, and in many cases do so with gusto.

Yet, for reasons which only they know, they don’t want to give up all of Christianity. They still want to keep some of it- usually the happy, nice, fun parts like the resurrection and grace and forgiveness. But the hard parts, and the parts that conflict with modernity? Those must be “dealt with.”

Ultimately, I think Escoffier is correct when he says that “the changing of the times,” that is, the belief in “Progress”, is the real God of most “Christians”, not the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob. They do not keep the Great Commandment and “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deut 6:4-5). It is the world, and its empty philosophy, that they truly love.

Update: Novaseeker has created a post highlighting Escoffier’s comment, and Dalrock has created his own post as well.

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30 Comments

Filed under Christianity, Churchianity, God, Marriage, Moral Agency, Neo-Reaction, Sin, The Church

30 responses to “Ashamed Of The Faith

  1. deti

    Good post. Lots to digest here.

  2. Yes, Escoffier hit this one out of the park. There are subjects here worth a post by themselves: the nature of modernity, whether modernity was a purposeful attack on Christianity, modernity trumping Christianity for most, the need of many to “reconcile” the two, etc.

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  4. I posted about some of my experiences and thoughts on my blog.

    I think that most Christians are deceived just because the vast majority of them are deceived. And being deceived is a very, very, very bad spot to be in.

  5. Elspeth

    I have always chalked it up to modern teachers *interpreting* Scripture in the gentlest, most *loving* light rather than being ashamed of the faith, or even pleased with the current marriage model.

    Of course there are always the virulent egalitarian feminists in our ranks but for most I think it’s simply a matter of them believing that the commands to husbands and wives balance each other out so that when you get down to it, what you have is mutual submission in practice.

    Even though that’s not what Paul wrote, that’s what he meant- ideally- in a better less harsh world than the one in which he lived. One like ours.

    **No, I don’t believe that. I’m just analyzing the logic.

  6. deti

    Another enormous problem is the conflation of “fairness” (a modern concept) with “justice” (a moral/philosophical concept).

    We now believe that which is “fair” is not only “just”, but also “good”, even “moral”. This is erroneous because “fairness” and “justice” are not the same thing and are not coextensive. There might be overlap between the two in some cases, but they’re not synonymous. Modern thought holds that the two concepts are indeed synonymous.

    Perfect justice is that which God metes out. Western legal systems are (or were) based in large part on the Mosaic law expressed in the Old Testament (Exodus 20), and set out in Leviticus and repeated in Deuteronomy. Western systems of justice are supposed to be rough replications of the Mosaic law and the Ten Commandments, codified for easy understanding and everyday application in real-world situations. The idea is to have a simple, easy to understand legal code that everyone can understand and follow, with a clear set of consequences for violations of the code. Examples: Penalties for crimes, and restitution/damages for civil wrongs. This was the modern justice system.

    But, hard cases make bad law. Rigid application of “justice” had very harsh results for some. Some went bankrupt; some lost everything; some lost family members; some just didn’t do well and “fell through the cracks”.

    For some, the justice system wasn’t “fair” even though it was “just”.

    So, we had to have exceptions. If you had to pay damages, well, no you didn’t, if it was too hard or too expensive or would put your family in the poorhouse. You could go bankrupt and get that debt erased. If you committed a homicide, you weren’t criminally liable if you were underage or a nutcase or mentally disabled or high on Twinkies or insane with [insert emotion of choice here]. If you were in divorce court because you committed adultery, it was because your spouse was mean to you or spent too much money or wouldn’t have sex with you. We have to allow divorces for other than adultery, because if we don’t, people will be miserably unhappy or in danger of death or violent abuse or grinding poverty or won’t get to have sex.

    And in each case, government had to Do Something About This because these things were Not Fair. It was not fair that I should have to pay damages when I cannot because it will be too difficult. It was not fair that I should be held responsible for a homicide because I’m too young or not very smart or ate too many cookies. It was not fair that I should suffer consequences for cheating on my spouse, because he’s a meanie. If you don’t let me get a divorce then I’ll be unhappy and it’s not fair that I should have to be unhappy.

    Not only did government do something about this, it was made part of the “justice” system. In truth, we no longer have a “justice” system. We now have a “fairness” system in which everyone is treated not according to the same rules, but according to whether some exception trumps the general rule. We recite the rule; then we ask: “does this person/situation/thing call for an exception to make it fair because application of the rule would be embarrassing, injurious, disadvantageous, or expensive? Is one of the parties a member of an aggrieved special interest group? Does the situation involve a “sensitive” subject matter of an “intimate and personal” nature? If the general rule is applied, will there be a disparity of result such that it looks like one party has an advantage over the other?”

    All of this, of course, is to make sure that the result is “fair” or perceived as fair, either internally or externally. There is no “justice” involved in it anymore. Not only do we call what is “fair”, “just”, but we assign a value judgment to it. If it is unfair, then it is necessarily immoral and bad, and cannot be part of a “justice” system. We want our justice system to not only resolve the disputes, but we want it to be “good” and “moral”.

    And a measure of whether something is “good” or “moral” is whether it makes the participants happy or satisfied. I am “unhappy” to have to remain married to a fat woman. Getting divorced and having sex with a skinnier woman will make me “happy”, so it is therefore good, and if it is good it must be moral. I am unhappy having to stay married to a man I don’t love; so it is only fair that I should be able to get a divorce so I can have a chance to get married to a man I do love and am attracted to, because that will make me happy. And if it will make me happy, it is good, and therefore is moral. And so forth, etc.

  7. mdavid

    Women not allowed to teach or hold authority over men? Outdated.

    This is an interesting one for modern times. I’ve never seen it really challenged among the Trads I hang with (of course, no female clergy or deacons, that’s obvious). But otherwise, nobody goes there probably because they are happy to see anybody – woman or no – fill whatever job is needed. Beggars can’t be choosers sort of thing.

    Women required to cover their head while praying? Oppressive.

    I think the Church’s position on this Pauline text is that head covering is a cultural thing, so moderns don’t necessarily require it like Paul was ordering the Corinthians in his time. Sort of like defining modest dress; each culture creates what is modest attire in their culture. A good example is a modest Amish (prude to us) is actually immodest among some Middle Eastern folk, who veil a woman’s face in public since it is indeed a sexual trigger for men.

    The mass I usually go to has about 80% veils. And it warms my heart to see veils scattered around at other masses I attend…it’s like, hey, I probably know her!

  8. Gunner Q

    “We Don’t Do That Anymore Because We Know Better.”

    Ironically, all the stuff we now Know Better validates the Bible. We quit God, do our own thing and find him again. Christians in the 19th Century had trouble countering Darwin’s teachings. When they looked at a cell under a microscope, it looked like a soap bubble with a black dot in it. Yeah, that might possibly have come from nowhere so God obviously isn’t real. Today we know the truth, that the cell is so complex that evolutionists now assume the existence of an infinite number of realities to justify not believing in a creator. Even the manosphere helps… who would have thought cads and players would independently prove the need for Biblical patriarchy?

    Have you ever noticed that while humanity made progress in medicine, chemistry, economics, agriculture, manufacturing and a thousand other facets of knowledge, the one place we never advance is moral knowledge? Every moral code invented by man is violated by man. We agree, or mostly agree, on everything from science to sociology… but no moral progress has been made, by ANYBODY’s definition, in thousands of years. It’s almost like we’re in rebellion against the notion.

    I sometimes think that, if somebody were to create a perfect, mathematical proof for the existence of God then humanity would voluntarily return to the Dark Ages in protest.

  9. mdavid

    Oops, I meant headcoverinfgs at mass, not veils. Although I’ve seen that too occasionally.

  10. Alan K

    Ultimately, I think Escoffier is correct when he says that “the changing of the times,” that is, the belief in “Progress”, is the real God of most “Christians”

    Honestly, I think so, too. Glad that the problem is being identified properly.

    As a curiosity, do we have any statistics to gauge the penetration of this modern philosophy into Church teaching? Any surveys among professing Christians about the perceived improvement or degeneration of mankind? How prevalent is it?

    I fervently believe that without Divine Intervention, man degenerates rapidly and without any hope of recovery. But, exactly how much of a headwind of popular opinion am I facing within the Great House?

  11. @ Gunner Q

    Have you ever noticed that while humanity made progress in medicine, chemistry, economics, agriculture, manufacturing and a thousand other facets of knowledge, the one place we never advance is moral knowledge?

    As a matter of fact, I have noticed it. Of course, convincing others of that fact is something else entirely.

  12. @ Alan K

    I’m not sure that it is something you can quantify. Depends on the denomination, certainly. Some are more “infected” than others. Some are less so. But none, save perhaps the tiniest and most isolated of certain Protestant sects, have escaped it. And to be honest, I’m not really convinced about that last bit either.

  13. Alan K

    Donal, I agree that it’s difficult, but still wonder if there hasn’t been some attempt, somewhere. This seems like Dalrok’s bread and butter, by the way. He always finds stats for the craziest things.

    Without any previous research, a short questionnaire could ascertain the relevance of scriptural doctrine and Church authority among modern Christians. We’ve all participated in dozens of these things for work and such. Present it informally, kind of like this…

    Were the Apostle Paul’s teachings/views affected by his era? (Strongly Agree, Agree, Unsure, Disagree, Strongly Disagree)
    Does Church doctrine keep up with the times? (SA, A, U, D, SD)
    Does the Bible as commonly known, contain significant error? (typ.)
    Does the Holy Spirit ever lead you contrary to Scriptural or Church teaching? (typ.)
    Do you have confidence that God reveals His mind through His Word and His servants? (typ.)

    And so on. The questions could be general enough to divert attention away from any specific issue, but still generate honest and revealing responses. I wonder if it could be done on a small scale in various places? Drop it into a supposedly Christian forum and tally the responses?

    I’m just kicking it around, not volunteering you for a crazy project!

  14. mdavid

    GQ, Have you ever noticed…a thousand other facets of knowledge, the one place we never advance is moral knowledge?

    DG, As a matter of fact, I have noticed it. Of course, convincing others of that fact is something else entirely.

    Donal, I doubt you can get Catholics to agree here. It’s doctrine that moral knowledge not only is possible, but of course has been occurring from the Apostolic Age until now. Sure, St. Thomas’s opus “Summa theologica” was a while ago circa 1200, but many other advances in moral knowledge are more recent, such as in the human sciences. Humanae vitae, while not teaching anything directly new about prior condemnations of birth control, did update it with modern understanding of science with NFP, which was a change. Just war has advances too. I do agree that many people – even most – ignore these advances and prefer to make their own way.

  15. feeriker

    A grand slam for both Escoffier and you, Donal. This is something I would like to see set in front of every priest, pastor, Bible study teacher, or lay leader as food for thought. My own experiences suggest that reaction would fall into one of three categories: confusion/incomprehension, vehement denial, or admission of the truth accompanied by acceptance, apathy, or despair.

  16. @ david

    You are right. Looking back, I’m not sure what I was thinking. More likely I wasn’t.

    However, if you replace “moral knowledge” with “the application of moral knowledge”, it fits. However much more we “know” about being moral now, our ability to actually live up to that standard hasn’t changed one iota.

  17. @ Alan K

    You know, I think that there might be a study or two out there. In fact, I think someone passed me a link a while back that talked about one such study. Will see if I can find it.

  18. @ feeriker

    I suspect that rather than three distinct responses, most folks would probably follow a “stage” path. Everyone would start confused, because they don’t understand what you are saying. Then, once they understand, the denial starts. Some of course may never make it to that Stage 2. Others will not make it past Stage 2, and stay in denial. A few will make it to Stage three, where you can get a couple of reactions.

    Some will indeed respond with despair and accept things won’t change.

    Others will ague that if they teach The Truth, that people will leave the Church en mass. Therefore, it is better to teach only “half” The Truth, and have people stick around to listen, than to teach all of it but have no one stick around to listen.

    Many will probably adopt the same kind of behavior you see in a lot of “conservatives” when it comes to politics- they will declare themselves zealous defenders of the movement, except for that one issue, which they just happen to hold a non-orthodox view on. For politics, that can mean abortion, same sex marriage, environmental policies, immigration, etc. Considering how common it is in politics, I would expect it with religious leaders as well.

    Very, very few would both “get it” and be willing to do something about it. And those who do? They will probably get booted like JoJ.

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  20. feeriker

    Others will ague that if they teach The Truth, that people will leave the Church en mass. Therefore, it is better to teach only “half” The Truth, and have people stick around to listen, than to teach all of it but have no one stick around to listen.

    This, I fear, is the primary driver. It might do well to remind church leaders that while we know from the Gospels that Jesus preached before crowds of thousands, it is a near certainty that he started off with crowds of tens of thousands – which soon dwindled wwhen parts of his meesage didn’t align with the selfish, temporal wants that were prevalent in the day. Yet he still managed to get his message across to those who needed it. Today’s professional clergy should be asked what they would be doing with their time today (to say nothing of what kind of life they’d be living and in what kind of world) if Jesus had caved in to prevailing opinion and watered his message down.

  21. femininebutnotfeminist

    To expand a bit on what Elspeth said about different people having different interpretations of Scriptures… I’ve noticed this too, where a pastor gives what seems like a good interpretation at the time, and he seems very genuine in what he believes, but is totally clueless, even though he means well. For example, and also expanding a bit on the headcoverings for women thing… I once heard a pastor mention the verse about headcoverings and said that the covering was referring to long hair, so women are supposed to keep their hair long because short hair on a woman when she prays is shameful. It seems very silly to think about now that I know of Mantillas (aka veils) which are actual, literal fabric headcoverings. This is where Catholic Tradition comes in I guess.

  22. femininebutnotfeminist

    Not that this idea applies to “all” church authorities… I have seen my share of wussy pastors that just won’t tell it like it really is because they are afraid of angering their congregation. As have most people here reading this I’m sure.

  23. @ FBNF

    The Orthodox Church also had the same teachings as the Catholic Church re: head covering, for a long time too. But like the Catholic Church, the OC has also “loosened” its teaching. Just more compromises with modernity, sad to say.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean that women shouldn’t have long hair either. Setting aside the importance of keeping to the True intent of the Word, part of me doesn’t care which interpretation is correct, so long as women are actually held to it. Hope that makes at least some measure of sense.

  24. femininebutnotfeminist

    @ Donal,

    Yes, that makes perfect sense. And I do agree that women should absolutely have long hair, and that we should be held to that verse, no matter which interpretation is correct. I’m now doing both (already had long hair, started using a Mantilla recently). Better to cover all my bases so I’m doing the right thing either way.

  25. Alan K

    FBNF, you’re actually quite correct in doing both; long hair (which is a natural glory to you in most daily circumstances) and a modest covering for said hair (in a demonstration of the Lord’s and your husband’s authority over you in the Assembly and on other occasions of prayer, study, etc.)

    Both of these points are evident in scripture and easily traced, but essentially, ‘well done.’ Keep it up, regardless of any ‘modern thinking’ on the subject.

    We still need God’s order in all of our pathway here, no matter how much anyone believes that we have ‘improved.’ For any who doubt our persistently broken condition, please refer to the Apostle Paul’s explanation of human frailty in Romans 7:15. Self improvement and vaunted ‘free will’ are merely foolish imaginations of man’s pride. Beware of the trap.

  26. Exfernal

    “The changing of the times is held to be the true constant, and really the true God, but only implicitly.”

    Is acknowledging the validity of some perspective the same as worshiping it as “the true God”? “Panta Rhei” and its alternative formulations (like the Buddhist concept of mujou) predate modernity, if not monotheistic religions themselves…

  27. So much meat in this post! But here is something I might comment on:

    “Escoffier is also on the mark when he states that most people “don’t even know they are moderns, or what it means to be a modern, or what modernity is.” Most people adhere to all sorts of philosophical beliefs without realizing it; they lack both the knowledge to categorize their beliefs as well as the introspection to observer them. This double barrier makes it especially difficult to explain to people their own beliefs, as even if you correct their ignorance they might still not get it. All of which means that for most people understanding what they actually believe is probably not feasible.”

    The firs time I interacted with my own shallow understanding of my own philosophical presuppositions was at seminary. Studying epistimoogy and hermeneutics forced me to confront the oft repeated mantra “the Bible is the word of God.”

    Analyzing all of the therories about inspiration (is it verbal?, inerrant?, plenary?) begs a million other questions before one can even get to “what does that mean– the Bible is the word of God?”

    When Moses or Paul was sitting in some dark, oil-lamp lit room writing what eventually become scripture, was the had of God actually directing the quill, or was it something else? Did God bring that writer, through his life experiences, personality and writing style to write EXACTLY what He wanted? Are there any intra or inter-book errors? What does that say about free will?

    This stuff can drive you crazy, but you get the idea. Since those days, I have developed what I THINK happened to produce scripture, and it is pretty well aligned with traditional perspectives on it. But the point is, if you are going to go around saying “the Bible is the word of God, you better have idea what the heck you mean by that, or you just sound like a parrot. You must EARN your positions through internal thought experiments, struggling to know the truth by studying church fathers, wise current leaders. You have to develop them and discard what does not stand up to scrutiny.

    Take that problem and multiply it by a million, add thousands of years to it, add on top of that all thre presuppositions of modernity and you barely get a feel for we all have so much we don’t know about what we don’t know. It is quite humbling really.

    As your entire post suggests, most people don’t have a heuristic, metacognitive approach that will cause them to ask these questions. They are either too lazy, or scared of whay they might find.

    I tremble in front of the knowledge that I don’t even know where most of my presuppositions came from. Even I read scripture, classic literature, theological commentary, and prayed for 24 hours a day, I still wouldn’t know.

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  29. Escoffier

    To begin with, Escoffier’s use of the word “moderns” can probably be translated quite accurately into “liberals

    First of all, thanks for your kind words.

    Second, I want to clarify a little what I meant. By “modernity” I mean a philosophic movement that began in the early 16th century and continues to this day.* It was a change of orientation, a fundamental break, from the moral/political/metaphysical thought of the pre-modern (ancient and medieval) world.

    All liberals are moderns are but not all moderns are liberals in the contemporary sense. By that I mean, modernity has undergone many important changes over the past 500 years. Most people today who we would consider “conservatives” are in fact people who favor the political tenets of early modernity, the thought of—at its best—Locke, Sydney, Harrington, Montesquieu, etc.

    What they want to “conserve” is social and political life as it existed then, or was reformed according to those principles. Essentially, their stance is “Let’s take modernity exactly this far and no further.” It is, to say the least, an open question whether that stance is feasible in the long run. We would have to admit that, as of right now, the auspices are not looking great.

    But there is a really important difference between these early moderns and what came later. They were much more concerned with character, character formation, virtue, education, etc., than are the later moderns. And even here we have to make a distinction between the philosophers and the statesmen. You can make a case that the philosophic teaching of the early moderns is either consciously (though subtly and secretly) or unconsciously anti-virtue, but that is emphatically NOT true of the American Founders, who knew full well that virtue (or “good behavior” if you will) was absolutely indispensable to republican government.

    So a sensible or good conservatism today that tried to conserve the Constitution of 1789 and the genuine improvements (no slavery) but not the “improvements” which do not deserve the name (income tax, direct election of senators, to say nothing of the myriad of unwritten changes), as well that sought to uphold morality, religion and virtue—that would be “conservative” by our standards but still at least party within the framework of modernity.

    Really, the root difference between ancient and modern political thought is not liberty v. authority, freedom v. license, or equality v. inequality. Those are age-old dichotomies/tensions that are coeval with political life. The root political difference may be stated as follows: for ancient political philosophy, the standard of right action and the good order is supplied by human virtue; for the moderns, it is supplied by human wants and needs. Boil it all down, and that’s the essence: virtue v. “satisfaction.”

    That’s not to dent that the ancients and the moderns have different answers to those questions (liberty v. authority &c.), different ways of dealing with them to be sure, but the differences are really less fundamental than the big difference. For instance, Aristotle and Hobbes would both agree that there must be a certain amount of order and there must be a certain amount of freedom. How much of each, in what way, how the balance is struck etc. they would differ about. Also, I would note to your point that a core tenet liberalism is anti-authoritarianism—yes, that is true of what we consider contemporary liberalism, but not simply of modernity. Hobbes was as authoritarian as almost any philosopher and he is emphatically modern, and even a founder of liberalism, though by no means a “liberal” in the contemporary sense. Also, the ne plus ultra of liberal-modernist doctrines, Communism, is quite authoritarian as well. At least in practice, even if Marx promised otherwise. So it’s not quite that simple.

    The real core difference between modernity and pre-modernity is metaphysical. But how that manifests itself in political though comes down to virtue v. satisfaction.

    * I am going to leave to one side the question of whether there is yet a “post modernity” and whether we have entered it. I’m not convinced either way, and I don’t think it’s directly relevant here in any case.

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