God as the Perfect Sovereign

I’ve been listening to Jordan B. Peterson’s lectures on the psychological significance of biblical stories. Interesting stuff. In the first lecture he hypothesizes that the biblical stories may have been formed over time by distilling stories into myths, eventually condensing them to their core essence in the Bible we know today.

In particular, Dr. Peterson suggests that the concept of God may have been informed by the common attributes of leaders over many generations. This makes sense: Whether we inferred God from his creation or constructed him to make sense of the world, God is the perfect sovereign.

If divinity and sovereignty are so linked, we can make two predictions about theories of sovereignty such as those explored on GABlog and Imperial Energy. First, their findings should mesh with christian theology. Second, to the extent their findings are both novel and true, they should have theological implications.

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End of History as End of Law

I was reading this old article on Social Matter when a thought struck me. Isn’t the promise to end natural law a big part of the appeal of various end-of-history scenarios, both religious and secular?

This seems to be a common thread in most end-of-history predictions, be it technological progress, social progress or religious doomsday. The old constraints no longer apply and we will be liberated from our present struggles and hardships. The appeal of this promise seems like a good candidate for a human universal.

Note that these predictions tend toward the most plausible path given the time period and people’s understanding of their world. Prior to industrialization we had religious doomsday, the industrial revolution and associated economic upheavals brought us the communist utopia, and today various technological doomsday scenarios are popular. That doesn’t necessarily invalidate the object-level reasoning behind them, but it’s something to keep in mind when evaluating the arguments.

Imminent eschatology of any kind biases our thinking toward the short term. Combine this with the pre-existing human tendency to favor short-term benefit over natural law and it greatly accelerates social decay. If we believe in the end of history, we risk becoming history.

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The Elephant in the Room of the Blind

I will now cross the parable of blind men and an elephant with the metaphor of the elephant in the room. Hopefully this pachydermic patchwork helps clarify our thinking and our discussion of the present plight of the West.

Think of the western civilization as a very big room, with lots of furniture and household equipment set up such that it is a livable home for a community of blind people – us. There’s also an elephant in the room: the subtle and complicated web of causal factors that results in what many of us see as the decline of the West. We can’t see the elephant, but if we happen upon it we may touch it and describe what we feel. We can also hear its movement at times and observe the effects, such as broken furniture.

I’ll call the elephant of my analogy “the Elephant” to distinguish it from partial descriptions such as Moldbug’s Cathedral. I don’t think anyone has managed to describe the thing in its entirety; it may well be impossible.

The Elephant seems to have grown larger and more ill-tempered over time. As its tramplings grow more frequent and more damaging, more people notice – even if many prefer to not talk about it. If it was smaller and more docile in the past, perhaps it was even doing useful work. Can it be tamed again? Should it be?

Our blindness hinders our efforts to understand the Elephant. Some people grasp the wreckage it leaves and blame shoddy construction or vandals. Others bump into each other in the confusion and come to blows. Even those of us who realize we’re dealing with an elephant disagree on its nature as none of us have seen one. To complicate matters further, we have a cult that cheers the Elephant on and insists we will only be truly free once our room has been destroyed. Apparently they don’t believe in weather.

How to deal with the Elephant then? First, we must understand its nature. A tame animal that escaped its harness is best recaptured and put back to work; a feral one must be put down. Second, we must understand its anatomy. We must know which end the harness goes to if we want to capture it. If it is to be put down, we need to aim well: mistaking an extremity for a vital part will only serve to wound it and make things worse.

Pay attention to different descriptions of the Elephant. Some are mistaken but many capture different true aspects of it. We must piece them together to improve our understanding.

Here is another, odder, suggestion: develop your spiritual sight. Honed intuition lets you grasp more than reason alone. Follow the spiritual practice of your religion or take up meditation. For this at least, the specifics of your path matter less than that you walk it.

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The Pragmatic Case Against Pragmatism

You may have noticed that I started blogging from a pragmatic secular perspective, reached some conclusions and promptly converted to Christianity. My experience, though idiosyncratic, suggests a claim: On sufficient reflection, pragmatic moral analysis rejects itself.

In principle, a pragmatic approach to morality is optimal. Find your terminal values, determine the optimal instrumental actions and execute. In practice, none of this works. We don’t know our true values – possibly can’t know as they may be in constant flux. Even if we did, determining the right actions would require a deep understanding of the complex interactions and unintended consequences that inevitably crop up in the real world. It can take generations to see the full consequences of what seemed like a good idea at the time, and the much easier task of noticing the connection after the fact is still difficult.

A sufficiently informed thinker may be able to figure it out well enough, at least to the point where he knows to seek wisdom greater than his own. Unfortunately no one is born that wise and many never get that far. Some pursue their selfish short-term interest even when they know better. Guidance, firm if necessary, must be the default for those unable or unwilling to choose wisely for themselves.

As a guiding principle, pragmatism is terrible. “Do what works” only works if you know what you are doing and want to get it right. Too many people don’t.

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God’s Law Is For This World

I’ve noticed an odd inversion in Christian theology. Depending on the interpretation, actions may be rewarded and punished entirely in this world – not in the next.

This is my take on the Orthodox conception of hell, at least. It holds that our experience of the afterlife is determined by our attitude toward God. Accept Him and His presence is heaven for you; reject Him and it is hell. On the other hand, the Bible is full of stories of God heaping material consequences on individuals and entire nations. Good things happen to the virtuous, calamity and suffering strike the wicked. This is remarkably consistent with a materialist understanding of the subtle consequences of our choices.

This is not to say that our choices don’t matter for our salvation. If we are sincere in our love of God, we will also respect His law. It may be possible to be pure of heart and horribly misled – but who is doing the misleading? Self-deception is a sin after all.

This is what I see as the essence of Christianity. God has given His law to guide us in our earthly life, and our souls are to be saved through His love. This is a great gift: we are asked to do right out of love, not out of fear. It is also a great responsibility: when we are not forced to do right by threats of damnation, we must choose for ourselves. The Law is for our benefit but we are free to ignore it.

This is the temptation that has brought the West to its knees. For generations some Christian sects have been emphasizing the easy message of Love over the hard message of Law. One of them had the bright idea to sever its ties to God and His pesky law entirely, becoming modern Progressivism and nearly unrecognizable as a religion. In a cruel twist of irony this crypto-cult of Lawless Love then squeaked through a loophole in the separation of Church and State, took over the Western governments and became our state not-a-religion.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The path the West has taken just might lead to hell on Earth.

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Compassion and the Afterlife

The secular West has lost its belief in the afterlife while retaining much of its Christian compassion. This is an unhealthy combination.

Belief in the afterlife fundamentally changes our understanding of death. Is the person just removed from this world and sent to the next, or is he permanently extinguished? One is tragic and regrettable, the other is a catastrophe of cosmic proportions. It’s no surprise if our debates on life and death get a bit unhinged.

In the temporal world, our resources are limited and we must balance our most sacred values against others. There is no room for infinite value on this side of Eternity – even life must have its price. You can’t have Christian compassion with secular metaphysics.

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On Law and Love

Christianity is a religion of both Law and Love. This is my intuition as a fresh convert so take it for what it is worth. Corrections and clarifications are welcome.

God loves us and has given us His law to follow. These are not in contradiction. God loves both the saint and the sinner even as the consequences of their actions play out according to His law. Thus the phrase: “Love the sinner but hate the sin.” Both are necessary.

The Progressive ethos can be seen as a commitment to Love perverted by the rejection of Law. When you deny people guidance and declare them free to do whatever they wish, individuals react differently. Some choose to act in harmony with the Law, others choose to follow their baser instincts. Consequences still accrue according to the Law: virtue brings good fortune to oneself and one’s community, vice brings misery. When groups tend toward different choices and then reap the results, the Progressive is in a bind. How to keep denying the Law when its consequences are staring you in the face?

The answer is to double down. No consequence should be explained in terms of the choices that led to it. It must be due to unfavorable conditions or sabotage by some better-off Other, never personal responsibility. Then the Progressive shows her love by improving the conditions or adding protections against the Other. These “solutions” often end up shielding people from the consequences of their actions, enabling more vicious behavior. Outcomes stay bad or worsen so she must add more “solutions”, perpetuating the cycle.

There is only so much you can blame on unfavorable conditions before it starts to ring hollow. What if you’ve already heaped every material advantage on the disadvantaged and they still stay behind? If it is not the conditions then it must be the Other holding them down. You focus on the Other, imploring him to treat the disadvantaged better. You change the rules to stop the Other from benefiting himself unfairly. Yet no matter how hard you help the lagging, they stay behind. Is there no limit to the selfishness of the privileged?

This is where perversion really sets in. We are only human and our capacity for love and forgiveness is limited. Sooner or later, if we keep blaming the Other for the results of our denial of the Law, it gets exhausted. No amount of begging, demands or pressure has helped; the wickedness of this unrepentant Other must be limitless. How do you love someone so unabashedly evil? Most of us can’t.

So we arrive at the inevitable conclusion. Nothing helps against this sabotaging Other; he must be immensely powerful and irredeemably evil. If the downtrodden are to be helped, the Other must be stopped – destroyed if that’s what it takes. Unfortunately this only works if the Other really is to blame. If, instead, the Other is just a scapegoat for the Law, we end up punishing the virtuous for the sins of the wicked. This is not only a grave injustice, it’s utterly self-defeating. If the virtuous are sacrificed, there will be no one left to protect the wicked from themselves. Law reasserts itself, harshly, as the ones most able and willing to soften the blow are no longer there to help.

This is the ultimate irony of Progressivism. It promises to repeal the Law and usher in a Utopia of liberty and compassion. By denying the Law, it instead tears down the very things that protected the vulnerable.

The Law is eternal, whether set by God or accidents of biology and logic. The only way to deal with it is to understand it, accept it and act in harmony with it. Love is important, perhaps the most important thing, but it will only flourish in harmony with Law.

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I am Converting

I seem to have been working toward a religious conversion with my blogging. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise given some of my recent posts.

I had a spiritual awakening and seeked for a while, realizing the importance of tradition. I converged on Christianity as appropriate for a westerner and started looking into why Western Christianity seems so much more corrupted by modernity than its Eastern counterpart. My investigation didn’t get further than Wikipedia’s explanation of the differences: I realized the Orthodox tradition is right.

Whether through bias, reason or revelation, I’ve become convinced that Orthodox Christianity is correct. I am converting; to do otherwise would be to declare myself deluded to the point of incompetence. I’d need guidance either way.

I don’t expect to be blogging much in the near future. I’m not comfortable opining on things until my views stabilize. My time is better spent learning the Christian tradition anyway.

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Modernity and Islam as Spiritual Complements

Imagine splitting Christianity in two. One half gets the divinity of God, His omnipotence, the natural hierarchy of Creation, and the harshness of His law. The other gets the humanity of Jesus, the orderly nature of Creation, equality before the eyes of God, and the gentleness of Jesus’s teachings.

Thus separated, these aspects would be distorted and taken to their logical extremes, untempered by their complements in the other half. Divinity without humanity leads to fanaticism, humanity without divinity to secularism. Omnipotence without order becomes divine caprice, order without omnipotence gives rise to scientific materialism. Unrestrained hierarchy encourages oppression, equality implies egalitarianism. Harshness leads to cruelty, intemperate gentleness to degeneracy and lawlessness. These complements start to resemble Islam and modernity, respectively.

The comparison can be extended further. God told His people to be fruitful and multiply, Jesus never had children. The extreme left wants to sacrifice their own kind to heal the world, Muslim extremists want to sacrifice everyone but their own kind. Paradoxically, though, jihadism encourages self-sacrifice while leftists seem reluctant to make personal sacrifices. I have a hard time dismissing this polarity as mere coincidence.

With this in mind, it seems curious how intent the West is on importing its spiritual complement. Is it on some level motivated by a hope for reconciliation or synthesis? I doubt the feeling is mutual.

I got to thinking along these lines when I noticed an interesting synchronicity: the filioque first appeared in the 6th century and Muhammad was born in 571. That was probably a coincidence.

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On Faith and Belief

It should be apparent by now that I am quite sympathetic to Christian tradition from a pragmatic perspective – it works. There’s a catch, though: it seems to fall apart without the metaphysics. Moreover, the tradition’s long-term stability may depend on the details of its metaphysics. For a lifelong secular materialist, this is quite the conundrum.

I’m starting to think it’s a false conundrum, though, built on misguided philosophy. Popperian falsificationism may work in physical sciences but dismissing the unfalsifiable has proven disastrous for our civilization. In other words, testability has been tested and found wanting. Christianity has a track record of working for us, secularism has a track record of failing us. Christianity requires faith to function. So be it.

Have Faith, even if you don’t believe.

Such a curious contradiction. By reason and evidence, it is proper to have faith without reason and evidence.

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