Monday, September 01, 2008

The party of fecundity

I've been browsing Sarah Palin stories all weekend, not sure why -- some political soap operas just grab my attention for reasons that are not always clear to me. Moldbug has put up a special post analyzing the class issues in play. As usual, his approach is incredibly reductive, but he's probably onto somsthing nevertheless. Palin seems like an incredibly weak play from the Democratic (aka "Eloi/Brahmin") perspective. But the right is crowing about how wonderful she is, how she's going to show all those tofu-eating elitists what real Americans are like, etc. Who is right?

The real red/blue split in this country is not betweeen economic classes so much as it is between urban and rural values ("rural" is a misnomer, since the locus for these values has long ceased being actual farm country and is more like exurban sprawl). The former are cosmoplitian, multicultural, worldly, intellectual, and transnational. The latter are traditionalist, nationalistic, religious, and jingoistic. They are based on entirely different value systems, and even though the platforms of the two parties are not all that different, when compared to the range of possible political opinion, their emotional and values appeals seem to be poles apart and getting more polarized over time.

From this standpoint, Palin is an inspired choice. She is lively, and adds a spark of vitality to the McCain image which otherwise seems to have one foot in a rest home if not the grave. She makes rural values seem dynamic and attractive, rather than old and fusty. Her inexperience and fecklessness is no handicap to getting Republicans elected, as demonstrated by the last two cycles. Weird stuff about Palin has been breaking all weekend, culminating with the recent revelation that her 17-year old daughter is pregnant and unmarried. But I don't think that's going to hurt her, nor are the fact that she herself has a young child. Contrast it with the carefully controlled reproduction of the Clintons, or Obamas. These rugged Alaskans rut and reproduce in the all natural way. If a Down's baby or teenage mother is the result, well, la-di-da, that's part of the circle of life.

So all these baby eruptions are going to help her image and appeal, I predict. It's going to interfere with Obama's somewhat ethereal charisma by presenting a much more primal variety. Obama was poised to be a unifier, and might have pulled it off, but this brilliant play has boxed him into his native urban elitist demographic. His appeal ultimately is to the head, Palin's is rooted somewhere south of that, in the lower chakras.

This feeds into another idea which I don't have time to treat, which is that the religion of the Christian right is not particularly Christian from my perspective. The Jewish and universalist aspects of Christianity (which are the only ones that resonate with me) have been largely discarded, and replaced with a variety of authoritarian, militaristic paganism. Blue Christians seem to have largely disappeared from the political scene. The "pro-life" movement has little basis in historical Christianity but makes a lot of sense as part of a nationalistic fertility rite.

[Update: ah, here we go.][and here][Oh, yuck, Steve Sailer is on to the same idea. I feel dirty.][I wish I had come up with this post title.]

9 comments:

PA said...

Blue Christians seem to have largely disappeared from the political scene.

You know what Mencius would say: they became the Progressives.

Zimri said...

You need to, uh, "treat" this "idea". Not because I disagree (you may be right) but because, I am a reader and you must entertain me, and not tease me.

On the Christian Left I defer to Mencius, who has delivered treatments on that subject in many, many posts by now.

Consider this as appendix to your future "Fundamentalist Protestants are the Byzantine Church of America" post - Are the Catholics religious-right, or religious-left?

The Catholic priesthood wants an anti-abortion amendment. (Roe versus Wade repeal isn't enough; that would be derided as "states' rights" with the obvious 1860 allusions. Besides Roe is just shitty law.) If the Church were placated with this you'd be pleasantly surprised, I think, how left-wing (in the sense of pro-tax-spending, and certainly universalist) it would become.

The Church has been co-opted by imperium before - c.f., Constantine, who inherited Diocletian's completely anti laissez faire "dominate".

mtraven said...

Teasing is often part of being entertained...

Truth be told, I am pretty damn ignorant about the history of Christianity and don't have time to read up on it, so I am hesitant to address the topic. But briefly, it's pretty clear to me that the main concerns of the Christian right (abortion and homosexuality) have almost nothing to do with the contents of Jesus's teachings as presented in the gospels. So, it must be about something else. Jesus had very little to say about sexuality, and in fact the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas has words to the effect that erasing the distinction between male and female is one way to "enter the kingdom", rather the opposite of what the line that the defense-of-marriage nincompoops are spinning. So why this intense focus on regulating sexuality and reproduction? Where does that come from? I've heard it was the confluence of Augustine with the imperial Roman state that turned Christianity into the anti-sex league, but like I said, I'm ignorant.

Also, it's not for me to say which variants of Christianity are more authentic. All I can say is it is pretty damn difficult to see the connection between what passes for Christian politics and what Jesus is supposed to have said.

Re the Christian left: In the sixties there was a robust Christian left (Martin Luther King, the Berrigan brothers, William Sloane Coffin) which has all but vanished now, for reasons which are not clear to me. Mencius' theories don't really have any bearing on this as far as I can tell.

Zimri said...

Hello mtraven, thank you for allowing me access to your blog (despite the trenchant comments about your priesthood video, to which you've already responded).

Jesus's teachings are hard to extract. Paul's teachings are hard to extract. And since Paul (and other authors, like James) were writing while Jesus sayings were still in oral tradition, it is very possible some Pauline or Jacobite (heh) teachings became "sayings of the Lord" and entered the odd Gospel.

Paul is on record as preaching that the end of the world was coming, that there was no male or female in God's kingdom, and such; also he made allowances for female leaders of the Church. This is in Paul's authentic writings, not obvious forgeries like the two Tims and Titus.

Yes, the Church as a hierarchy made sure to regulate womens' roles. This was part of a general reaction against the enthusiasms of certain sects of Christianity - notably, the Carpocratians. But their forgeries are easy to spot after the last couple centuries of Biblical (and extra-Biblical) textual criticism, and particularly after recent understanding of the first century Roman-provincial milieu.

Abortion was already banned as an offense to life in the Didache. The Didache is still in the New Testament in Ethiopia (somewhat revised, as "Apostolic Constitutions"); and it is oft-mined for doctrine to this day elsewhere.

Homosexuality was condemned even earlier, by Paul.

As a Jew, Jesus can't have approved (officially) of either. But as we know, committing sins against Judaism didn't stop Jesus from meeting with the sinners. Jesus can't have approved of prostitution; we know he shared his table with prostitutes. We know he didn't love the Roman system; he sat with tax collectors. He also hated murder and loved children. I expect he knew of abortion among the prostitutes he met. I also expect he would have shared his table with homosexuals, also, perhaps, among the prostitutes he met. Although the First Stone story is not really canonical, it ends "go forth and sin no more", so an honest repentance of either sin would have been enough for him (and still is, for believers).

But it strains belief that Jesus would have thought that homosexuality and abortion were fine. That's just not how first century Jews or Christians thought.

But we are veering from your stated claim, "authoritarian, militaristic paganism". My whole argument above has nothing to do with militarism or paganism; it has to do with the authoritarianism inherent in (first century) Judaism and (some forms of) Christianity. If you are going to talk militaristic paganism in American Christianity, and I mean this as someone who is trying to help your argument, you are going to have to find better examples. Abortion and teh ghey won't cut it.

Zimri said...

As for Thomas: that book exists in a few fragmented Greek copies in Egypt and nowhere else (there's also a full translation into Coptic in Nag Hammadi). Thomas was not endorsed by any church with a hierarchy and is, at best, a snapshot of an oral tradition at the time the real Gospels were written. I suspect that Thomas, in writing or in copying, was corrupted by knowledge of the Gospel of Luke at least.

I do know of your quote, but it also appears as a quote from Paul in the Galatians. It smells an awful lot like the well-documented habit of Muslim hadith to put a saying of Umar into the mouth of the Prophet (c.f. Joseph Schacht, "Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence", 1950).

So much for Thomas.

In Paul's teaching, that was a word for equality of position within the Church. But then Paul had to explain, later, to the Romans that he did not in fact mean to suggest that men and men could go at it like a married man-woman pair.

So much for that saying as Christ's permission for homosexuality.

mtraven said...

Thanks for commenting, but work is starting and I don't have much time for dialog.

I admit to very little expertise in the history of early Christianity. But I think you miss the point, which is not whether or not Jesus would approve of homosexuality. The point is, he said very little about it, it did not seem to be a big concern, but it is the biggest concern of present-day Christians. It may well be that an obsession with sexuality entered into Christianity very early on, so I can't say that the Christian right is being "inauthentic" (not for me to say in any case). But the contrast between the gospels and practiced Christianity is glaring, to an outside observer.

Thomas was not endorsed by any church with a hierarchy...

Point being? That certainly recommends it to me over hierarchy-approved texts.

Michael said...

There is a long history of Christian opposition to abortion and identification of it with the gravest sin. Zimri has already touched upon the earliest parts of Christian history, so I'll mention some that followed.

Consider the Cathar heresy. The Cathars were a species of Gnostics who believed that the material world existed in separation from God, that it was the creation of an evil demiurge. They therefore viewed the conception and bearing of children as a tragedy, since it wrenched their souls from unity with the divine. The Cathar perfecti - those who had received the consolamentum, which was the chief sacrament of their faith - were supposed to abstain entirely from sexual relations. However, most of the Cathar faithful deferred taking the consolamentum until near death. Those who were not perfecti were allowed to satisfy themselves sexually as long as the acts in which they engaged were infertile. Amongst the charges against the Cathars were that they committed abortion, buggery, and contraception. The Church condemned Catharism in the first instance for its heretical theology, but it also noted that ideas which were wrong had consequences in behavior that was wrong. A "miscreant" is, literally, one who holds wrong beliefs. His villainous actions are merely their consequences.

We find the ties between heretical belief and sexual misconduct made over and over again throughout history. The Templars, who were accused of heresy, were also accused of buggery. Witches' sabbaths were commonly believed to combine worship of the devil with sexual license. The sorceress La Voisin, who was at the center of the "Affair of the Poisons" in the time of Louis XIV, not only told fortunes and sold philtres, but procured abortions, sold poisons to women who were tired of their husbands, and assisted at black masses (for which she provided unwanted babies to be offered as sacrifices). Huysmans, whose novel "Là-Bas" betrays a considerable familiarity with nineteenth-century occultism, describes the chasuble of the black mass officiant as being embroidered with a pattern of the leaves and fruit of savin (Juniperus sabina). Savin is a plant from which an abortifacient drug is derived. The symbolism is clear - abortion is one of the sacraments of Satan.

Ecclesiastical condemnation of sodomy certainly began with Paul, and is part of Christianity's Jewish heritage (Saul Bellow, in his novel "Ravelstein," describes it as a "gentile vice").

Christian antipathy to sodomy received great stimulus from the offical Roman cult of Antinous, the eromenos and constant companion of the emperor Hadrian. Antinous drowned in the Nile in 130 AD during Hadrian's inspection tour of the empire. Hadrian in his grief had the boy deified, the only non-member of an imperial family to be granted such status, and built a city in his honor on the banks of the Nile near the place of his death. The imperial cult had already been the cause of much distress on the part of Christians, who (like the Jews) thought it idolatrous - but the cult of Antinous was worse. Its narrative of a young man who had died and had been resurrected as a god appeared to be a blasphemous parody of Christian belief. Worst of all was that he was the emperor's catamite. The church fathers of the second century - e.g., Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Irenaeus - all had scathing things to say about Antinous and his cult.

Religions are formed as much by the beliefs and practices they repudiate as they are by those called for in their creeds and confessions. We see this repeatedly in the Old Testament, where Jews distinguish themselves from their enemies, worshippers of graven images and practitioners of obscene and repulsive rites. Why should Christianity, with such a heritage, be any different? The apple does not fall far from the tree.

Buggery and infanticide were not objectionable to the ancient pagans. For the former, a great body of evidence exists, from the time of Plato to that of the last additions to the twelfth volume of the Palatine anthology. For the latter, there are numerous accounts in both Greek and Roman sources of unwanted babies being abandoned to die of exposure on desolate hillsides. As for abortion, the observation that Hippocrates, in the original version of his eponymous oath, prohibits physicians from administering abortifacients, suggests that their use was commonplace in his time. It is speculated by some writers that the plant silphium, which may have been a type of giant fennel or which may have resembled asafœtida, was used in ancient times as a contraceptive. So great was the demand for silphium (which was harvested only from wild plants, and never domesticated) that it became extinct sometime in the first century A.D.

In any event, Christianity at a very early point began to define itself by the avoidance of certain types of sexual conduct, just as Judaism defines itself, for example, by the observance of certain dietary taboos.

Your comments, in a strange sort of way, illustrate how people come in their own attitudes to reflect those of their enemies. Your insistence that Christianity be defined only by the few words Jesus is recorded in the New Testament as having said parallels the attitude of Protestant fundamentalists who similarly insist upon a strictly Biblical "primitive Christianity" and dismiss the early fathers and doctors of the Church, the formulations of its various councils, and its traditions generally. Of course the belief and practice of such "Bible Christians" bears very little resemblance to what we know of the beliefs and practices of Christianity in the time before Constantine.

Marc said...

The "pro-life" movement has little basis in historical Christianity but makes a lot of sense as part of a nationalistic fertility rite.

I assume you're pro-choice, as it seems that you have swallowed the pro-choice rhetoric regarding what the pro-life movement is about (i.e. controlling sexuality), and not the pro-life movement's own stated intention regarding its motive, which is to extend human rights to the unborn. The latter is very in line with Christian teaching (that which you do to the least among you, you do to me, or whatever it is Jesus said... sorry, not much of a Christian myself) and follows in the humane tradition of Abolitionism, which also sought to extend human rights toward a group whose full humanity was denied by those with the most to lose should the more inclusive understanding of the term, as proposed by Abolitionists, become law.

mtraven said...

Marc -- I'm afraid that's demonstrably nonsense. If the "pro-life" people were consistent, they would be supporting contraception, which would lead to fewer abortions. They don't. They would be all in favor of gay sex, which also leads to fewer abortions. They don't. They would oppose IVF, which for the most part, they don't (some do, but it's a politically untenable position so it's not emphasized).

And of course, if they really treated every fertilized zygote as a person, they'd be doing something about the appalling fact that over half of all "people" die before they even get a chance to implant in the uterus. Pretty shocking mortality rate. But nobody actually believes what the forced-pregancy lobby claims to believe. They want to regulate human reproduction while being completely ignorant of how it works.