Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Tradition, Misoneism, and Modernity

Tradition is an evil practice. To act according to tradition is to fore go rationality, to allow oneself to slip into the darkness of mental habit received from above, to quit thinking and to submit to authority for the sake of authority regardless. To practice tradition is to sink into misoneism, to become and to remain a primitive, a corruption of Humanity. To do as has been done because all do as is done as it was done is to become nearly Muslim. To fear and hate change, to endlessly replay the same sorry tunes of yesteryear because it is tradition, because it is heretical to change, because it is innovation, that is to be Islamic. To murder for the sake of ones misoneism is to be a Muslim to the fullest extent.

Modernity is not merely new, Modernity is different today from Modernity ten years ago, and if one were to look out the window, then Modernity might well change before ones tired eyes. After countless generations of Man and that like man and less like man, unchanging generations of Man, suddenly, a mere 5,000 years ago Man changed radically, a revolution in Human life, the Agricultural Revolution. Hunters and gatherers settled here and there and made cities. Cain slew Abel. There are those today who will never forgive it. There are those who hate the Agricultural Revolution more intensely than life itself. Imagine how they react in the deserts of Arabia and the mosques of Islam to the triune Revolutions of Modernity: France, America, and Industry. Imagine them and see our own Leftists.

The pre-lapsarian longing of the average Utopian Left phantasist is causing murder and mayhem across the world, their longing for the perfect return to Eden. Those of us who value Modernity are more inclined to support a gradual climb to reality and betterness. Tradition? A lost pile of out-worn and dangerous ideas passed down by maniacs and blood-sacrificers. The Stalinists, the Pol potters, the lot, all longing for the past of the Golden Age, and willing to kill Humanity to achieve their visions of purity, they are the dangerous traditionalists.

Look at the first page of Buruma and Margalit, Occidentalism. "Their topic of discussion was 'how to overcome the modern.'"

Misoneism, the hatred of change, and look at the cost of it.

That reference comes from the Japanese fascists who waged war on America.

But before we go stupid and hate tradition, let's turn to some sober reflection of what we're on about:

1 - The Mind's Gravitation Back to the Familiar

The Mind's Gravitation Back to the Familiar
By Emile Cailliet

THE familiar setting constitutes for us the substantial reality to which we revert as through a law of our being. The substantial character of the experience is happily suggested in Coleridge's phrase, "palpable and familiar." And just as we are at home in the familiar, so are we likely to be homesick in strange surroundings. The experience recalled by George Pope Morris speaks to the condition of many of us:

In other countries, when I heard
The language of my own,
How fondly each natural word
Awoke an answering tone.

Natural words act upon us as do familiar names. Once more it took a poet to apprehend this deep affinity. Thus Shakespeare exalted the magic of names as familiar in one's mouth "as household words." The familiar gives us a sense of security in the midst of precarious circumstances, that is, of circumstances that call for prayer. And so, to revert to the safe haven of the familiar often turns out to be for us a mostly unconscious way of praying.

Where our treasure is, there will our heart be also. Because he so highly values the pearl of great price, the Christian is likely to experience more deeply than others, this gravitation of the mind back to the familiar


There is something sacred about the familiar. This word "sacred" originally meant untouchable, as in the Latin dictum, Res est sacra miser (the miserable one is untouchable), where a primitive connotation is readily apprehended. The perennial character of such primitive views must be ascribed to a deep-seated misoneism, or fear of innovation. As primitives see it, to innovate is to expose oneself to the most dreadful dangers. A pertinent motto for the primitive landscape of reality could read, "Do not disturb."

As subsequent meanings of the word "sacred" come to light, it appears that the sacred object is no longer only the untouchable object, but further the desired, beloved object. In this connection our young people today may find it worthwhile to dwell on the tradition of courteous love as it developed through the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. I refer especially to the devotion of the knights of the Round Table to their lady in that state of near-worship which was then coming to fuller expression in the Virgin cult. It is historically true to say that the highest expression of human love originated in religious mysticism. And so, as we speak of the sacredness of the familiar we find ourselves treading on holy ground.

The reason I have insisted on this question of origin is that it helps us understand why we should respect views of long standing. They constitute patterns of sacred memories through which the soul perseveres in a wisdom unaware of itself. That wisdom we call tradition. It should never be lightly tampered with, still less allowed to become an object of ridicule. What may mislead many of us is that the deeper the roots, the better hidden they are. Conversely, the familiar becomes all the more sacred as its origins are lost in the night of ancient days. Hence the impression on the part of the faithful that things have always been as they are now found to be. The status quo accordingly may be felt to pertain to the very order of God. No wonder a religious fear is likely to be aroused at the thought that it might be disturbed.

One of the reasons some people are so hard on Fundamentalism may be detected in their ignorance of the distant origins of that position. Casting ridicule upon it is the natural reaction of detractors whose memory hardly goes further back than the year of our Lord 1909 when millions of copies of The Fundamentals published in Los Angeles spread over the Protestant world, preparing the way for the Christian Fundamentals League and the World's Christian Fundamental Association. Henceforth slogans take over, and the whole conservative position is easily dismissed amid catcalls and name-calling. The very name, Fundamentalist, is even currently abbreviated for the sake of brevity in final judgment. Whereupon the straw man supposed to incarnate the backward beliefs freely ascribed to him, is summarily disposed of. It is nevertheless a fact that he may have been an earnest evangelical Christian, as has often proved to be the case.

The plain truth is that the Fundamentalist attitude constitutes by birth and by right one of the essential aspects of the Reformation. This is stated in the awareness that men like Luther, and more especially the Renaissance scholar, Calvin, blazed the trail in more than one way to the modern attitude toward the Bible. What actually happened is that having opened the Scriptures to the laity, the Reformers were led by controversy to indiscriminately claim for the whole Bible an absolute authority henceforth substituted for that of the Church of Rome. Their theological interpretations of the book moreover remained controlled by the traditional schema. The main point is that the Fundamentalist's affirmation of the infallibility of Scripture originally was that of the Reformers. Were it only for this consideration, it should not be scornfully disparaged.

Sheer intellectual honesty would have us make a further acknowledgment with regard to this matter. As the Reformers opened the Book to the laity, an enthusiastic fervor greeted a Gospel now accessible in one's native tongue. Thus the Christian message was apprehended afresh in its pristine dynamism. A newness of life animated the Body of Christ. The fact to acknowledge further is that there comes to light at this juncture another striking similitude between Fundamentalism and the Reformation. Making full allowance for occasional cases of smug complacency and lack of charity on the part of some Fundamentalists, an incontrovertible belief in the verbal inspiration of all Scripture today also generates the same enthusiastic fervor as of old, among the proponents of the ancient view. While many a sophisticated Christian feeds on an Ersatz diet of learned up-to-date disquisitions, Fundamentalists are out in every sort of weather ringing door bells. It is also a fact that Pentecostal sects hold the field in South America as well as on other continents where missionaries are at work. If it still be true that "by their fruit ye shall know them," what is to be the stand of many of us on the Day of Judgment?

Having thus attempted to do justice to Fundamentalism in the context of I Cor.13, however, we must admit in the next breath, that ignoring to all practical purposes four centuries of cultural advances amounts to a serious declension. It is a terrible thing for Christianity to allow itself to be out of touch with the world of men and affairs which is its mission field. I recently directed a university retreat in the "Bible Belt." There I found myself confronted by a generation of students who had been "conditioned" against the evangelical message. A discreet inquiry revealed that in practically every case youth had been submitted to obsolete pressure methods of approach. It further appeared that quite a number of the younger instructors had already known a similar revulsion and, as a result, turned to Unitarianism. Moreover, currently available books had hardly proved a help. What purpose is ever served, may I ask, by reprint editions of obsolete theological dissertations, whose essential merit today is to act as tranquilizers for cases of religious misoneism? And yet a whole section of the publishing industry today is thriving on this business of warmed-over titles. What this means is that the vacuum which has naturally appeared during the last fifty or sixty years in the production of ultra-conservative Biblical literature, is being artificially filled. Conversely, as new manuscripts catering to the old stereotyped outlook may not get access to the wider cultural market, they worm their way into that late nineteenth century vintage of publications. The cultivation of obsolescence in this age of intense scientific progress truly has become an end in itself in a whole area of traditionalism.

Henceforth references to evangelism may be construed as labels of doubtful intellectual quality. This is particularly grave in the midst of a generation groping for trustworthy guidance, We are undeniably confronted at this point with baleful aftereffects of the mind's gravitation back to the familiar.


Let us now turn to a somewhat composite group of conservatives, quite a number of whom have achieved distinction in their own special field. Anxious to steer clear of identification with Fundamentalism, yet equally concerned with an unswerving commitment to traditional interpretations of theology, they have chosen to be called "Evangelicals." In so doing, incidentally, they would seem to have claimed a monopoly on evangelical Christianity, and ipso facto revived the suggestion that any other construction put on the faith amounts to liberalism, and that liberalism is not Christianity. Many of us would take exception to all such suggestions of monopoly,however praiseworthy the intention behind them may be.

The real intention of these "Evangelicals," moreover, is hardly veiled by seeming concessions made in the hope that the day may be at hand when the old solution will once more come into its own. For this real intention is to all practical purposes conditioned by the mind's gravitation back to the familiar; in this case, back to the crystallized formulations of old. Should a man of good will suggest specific instances where the liberation of the natural sciences from the encroachments of an unenlightened theologism need not be duplicated in the case of the historical method painstakingly developed by the human sciences, the "Evangelicals" may temporarily agree. And yet their next move may well be to call him in for the sake of slightly "amending" his wording. This once done, however, it would readily appear that the mind's gravitation back to the familiar had run its natural course.

This is not meant to imply that "Evangelicals" agree among themselves. They do not, as even Billy Graham has had occasion to find out. Just as the most bitter disagreements are likely to materialize between neighbors across the fence, so the sharpest theological arguments originate among those conservatives who differ on minor points. Give them a rank atheist, and they will love him because he is "convertible." It is the minor dissident that arouses their ire. Meanwhile the children of this world pass by the island of discord, as an army would ignore quarrels among stragglers on the path of advance.

Billy Graham has done just that, yet in his own way. He has done it with bravery. I have in many respects reluctantly come to the conclusion that a great deal of controversy around him has originated in unconscious envy, if not professional jealousy, and this is particularly bad among servants of the same Lord. The fact remains, nevertheless, that to ignore obvious difficulties in no way disposes of them. Throw a problem out through the door, and it will reappear at the window. It is in many respects commendable to proclaim to a large gathering, "The Bible says . . . and the Bible says ," as it nothing had ever happened since the days of the Reformation to affect the total picture. Yet the receptive listener who steps forward is likely to find out for himself sooner or later that even the India paper which bears the sacred text is no longer negotiable at face value. Not that the text itself has lost any of its significance. Quite the contrary. It commands higher value than ever before, and this, to the last word. It is merely that it has been identified as a dated and culturally conditioned human record of God's disclosure. Any profession of faith and statement of beliefs accordingly must proceed from both the account of events and the meaning actually implied in them in a given social and cultural context. Any attempt to perpetuate the element of relativity which may have become involved in the process is bound to bring the one who makes it out-of-touch with the later age in which he lives, and moves, and has his being. Not only does such a situation prevent useful communication with contemporaries, but it interferes with the knowledge of God and of his design.

The mind's gravitation back to the familiar has this in common with the larger aspect of gravitation: to ignore or hide its existence does not prevent it from being there.


Our inquiry further brings us into contact with a rather likable group of Christians, conciliatory and ever ready to placate and mollify, yet withal anxious to hold on to the alloy of set ways of thinking. They are aware that the world in which they live keeps moving on and that there can be no turning back of the clock. While accepting as inevitable the inroads of the well established historical method into traditional interpretations, however, they are far from being wholehearted in their acceptance. In actual practice they welcome contributions likely to prove harmless while easing undeniable tensions. Yet they hardly control their wistful eagerness to have enough left of the old interpretations to carry on as usual. This is their way of not offending the congregation if they are in the ministry, or of professing Christianity with a tenable open-mindedness if they are in the pew. In the course of conversations with inquirers, they proceed in the same spirit, ready to concede the seemingly unessential. But then, where is their frame of reference for essentiality? And so they essay a tentative give-and-take while holding on to what they cannot do without. In other words, they do their best to safeguard selected parts of their disintegrating profession, even while the facts which inspired it have been put in jeopardy. Their Christian conversation admittedly may be admirable in actual practice, as if they wanted to atone for the confusion of their ideas.

Eclecticism has often sought in activity, if not in activism, ways of creating unity among discordant intellectual views. This tendency is well known in schools of philosophy. It is also noticeable in ecumenical gatherings where participants of different theological persuasions come to realize that they can work together even in the face of unresolved tensions in matters of doctrine. Yet in a case where all such tensions come to light within the same individual person, it becomes obvious that a divided soul can hardly achieve that single-mindedness which makes light of obstacles encountered along the appointed way. Apart from a consistency grounded in a well-ascertained motivation, life is bound to be a succession of semantic nightmares in anguish and endless misery.

The mind's gravitation back to the familiar can never safely be taken for granted as a force in a component of forces. It must be squarely faced as a major source of disturbance across the path to maturity.


New Christian currency has been issued in the world of thought since the days of the Reformation. It does indeed bear the same old symbols. More surprising still, these symbols would seem to command higher value today than they ever did, were it only because the realities to which they point now may be ascertained with more accuracy. This is new currency nevertheless, a currency devised to meet the changing needs of a new social and cultural environment which implies new ways of thinking. The mind's gravitation back to the familiar notwithstanding, we must as adults face the fact that it is not what we like to hear, read, or see, that constitutes the criterion of correctness, but the adequacy of our apprehension of the meaning and purpose of him who speaks to us. What matters in interpreting the Bible in particular is to apprehend and convey as accurately as possible the thought and intention of the original writer in his own situation.

Conservative Christians are right in insisting upon the wholeness of the Bible, and in holding on to every word of the precious record. The fact of the matter is that the historical method of studying the Bible is equally as insistent that it cannot possibly destroy a single word in that record. Its main concern is to find out what the words meant to say in the mind of those who used them. Once viewed in this light, the New Testament in particular bears witness to the actual preaching of the early Christian community. To construe it otherwise amounts to distorting it. To set it within the living context of the apostolic age that produced it, safeguards its genuine meaning for all times, including our own.

There always will be those who will ascribe to God the kind of thinking they would do, were they in his place. Ours is happily a simpler task, namely, to figure out what the Word of God who meets us in and through the Bible, actually says to us and expects from us. This we may safely do only in the measure as we counteract in his grace that ingrained tendency to gravitate back to the familiar. The Book of Deuteronomy (32:11) beautifully suggests the nature of the ordeal implied therein for a man of good will, as the Lord leads him:

Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
that flutters over its young,
Spreading out its wings, catching them,
bearing them on its pinions.

We do need this divine stirring up of our natural propensities; yet we need not fear it as we trust ourselves to the protection of the everlasting-wings.

I'll return to Buruma and Margalit in the next post to look further at the hatred of the modern.


Anonymous said...

What do you mean by "To murder for the sake of ones misoneism is to be a Muslim to the fullest extent?"

dag said...

OK, it's a bit of over-statement. To kill people as an expression of ones deepest hostility to the idea of change is a sign of total commitment to misoneism. I think that when Muslims kill at random and suicidally to express their fear of change, they are expressing the ulitimate misoneism today, and they are therefore the best expample of misonesim. Misoneism is the root of Islam in our time. Islam has been a backward looking and ossified poligion since the end of the Mutazilites, and today; at the end of the Islamic existnce, what we see in Islma's violence is the fullest extent to which one may be Muslim.