Was Canada a theocratic state, scarcely different from the Ayatollah’s Iran, until 2005?
That does not sound like a description of the Canada of ten years ago as I remember it, nor can I think of anyone who was alive and living in Canada back then who does remember it that way. There are those, however, who appear to be suggesting that such was the case.
That was the year that Parliament, led by the Liberal government of Paul Martin, passed the Civil Marriage Act that made “marriages” available to same-sex couples across Canada. This had more or less been accomplished by the courts on a province-by-province basis in the year or two preceding the bill which standardized it. It was, of course, a controversial move - both on the part of the courts and Parliament – and remains so to this day. Many who opposed this change being made would like to see it reversed today. Progressives who supported the change have been known to describe the position of their opponents as theocratic.
Now think about that for a second. If it is theocratic to take the position that marriage is a union of a man and a woman, that it was wrong to re-define it otherwise, and that it ought to be changed back, then this means that our country was a theocracy for most of its history, up until about ten years ago. Similarly, if it is theocratic to say that abortion is murder and ought to be against the law, then our country was theocratic until 1988, especially prior to 1969.
Canada, of course, was not a theocracy prior to these changes, nor has she ever been a theocracy. A theocracy is a form of government in which a deity is the acknowledged head of state, the priests are the ruling class, and laws of religion are also the law of the land. Canada’s head of state is Queen Elizabeth II and neither we nor Great Britain have ever regarded her or her predecessors as a divine being in the way the Japanese used to think of their emperors or the Roman Empire her Caesars. Clergy may run for public office in Canada, have often done so and have often been successful, but nobody holds public office here by right of being a priest. The law of the land consists of the Constitution of Canada, the Common Law, and laws enacted by Parliament. Since we are not now and never have been a theocracy it is therefore not theocratic to oppose the sweeping changes to the traditional moral, social, and cultural order of Canada of the last half century and to seek to undo those changes.
Another accusation, similar to that of theocracy, that is frequently levelled at those who remain loyal to the old, traditional social, moral, and cultural norms is that of Puritanism. This charge often comes from the left wing of conservatism, from those who would consider themselves to be “progressive conservatives” and who, knowing a little bit about the history of English conservatism know that the Puritans were the radical enemies of the Tories or conservatives in the seventeenth century. What this accusation really means, therefore, is that those who oppose changes such as liberalized abortion laws and the redefinition of marriage and are therefore thought of and think of themselves as “social conservatives” are not true to conservative tradition and principles.
What this fails to take into proper consideration is the nature of the conflict between the Tories and the Puritans. It was hardly the case that the Puritans wanted a Christian society based upon the teachings of the Bible whereas the Tories were defending a secular order in which Church and State were kept rigorously separate. The Tories fought on behalf of European Christendom’s traditional alliance of throne and altar – or at least the modern English variation of this alliance that had come out of the English Reformation and the Elizabethan Settlement of the sixteenth century. That is about as far from secularism as you can get!
The English Reformation had begun with an Act of Parliament that declared the king to be the highest earthly authority over the Church in England which was, of course, the same thing as declaring that the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, had no authority over the English Church. This ultimately had the effect of breaking the communion between Canterbury and Rome, and the Church in England became the Church of England. The Elizabethan Settlement at the end of the sixteenth century was the official answer to both Roman Catholics who sought to put the English Church back under papal authority – and had briefly succeeded in the reign of Mary I – and strict Calvinists who wanted a more thorough Reformation that would strip the English Church of every last vestige of Catholicism. The Settlement declared mandatory attendance at the services of the Church of England, which Church was given a moderate Calvinist confession in the Thirty-Nine Articles, and which would conduct its services in the English vernacular, but which would retain its Catholic hierarchy and structure and as much of its rituals, ceremonies, and traditions as were consistent with its Protestant confession. The Calvinists who wished for a more thorough Reformation were the Puritans.
One thing the Church of England retained from the pre-Reformation tradition was the traditional Christian understanding that in the here and now we are living in exile from Paradise and will not be restored to Paradise until the Second Coming of Christ brings history to an end. In the here and now the taint of Original Sin will always be with us, and so, to meet human needs that arise out of Sin, God has appointed the civil government and the Church to two distinct and limited roles. To meet our need for protection from the violence of Sin in others, the civil government has been appointed to the task of passing and enforcing laws against evil acts like murder and theft. To meet our need for confession and forgiveness of Sin in ourselves, the Church has been appointed to proclaim in Word and Sacrament the forgiveness of God given to us in the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In this traditional understanding it was recognized that these were limited roles and that neither of these institutions had either the ability or the responsibility to do what only Christ Himself will do at His Second Coming – restore Paradise.
The Puritans rejected this sensible and traditional way of looking at things. Their doctrine taught them to look upon the king and the priestly hierarchy of the Church as tyrants colluding together in the oppression of the people and to consider themselves to be God’s chosen, godly, few, called upon either to separate from the irredeemable corruption of Church and State or to wage war against it and establish the Kingdom of God on earth. They rejected the tradition of understanding and teaching the Scriptures that had developed from the Church Fathers to the Reformation as being a construction of the conspiracy between king and priest and substituted for it a demagogic method of interpreting the Scriptures in which every condemnation of the enemies of God was applied to the king and priest while every promise to God’s holy elect was applied to themselves.
This doctrine was a tree that bore much fruit, none of it good. The Puritans became politically seditious, going to war with the king and committing regicide in the 1640s, and later leading the republican revolution in the American colonies in the 1760s. They rejected the tradition of Christian liberty that had been built on the foundation laid by St. Paul in his epistles, in which Christians were free do whatever was not explicitly condemned as a sin in Scriptures and thus had liberty in matters of food and drink. It is place they recreated the ethical system of the Pharisees, placing excessive emphasis upon Sabbath keeping, and railing against games, dancing and other “amusements” which no Scripture condemns either explicitly or by general principle, while justifying, for the sake of the merchant trader class from whom they drew their numbers, the grasping rapacity which is both explicitly and repeatedly condemned in Scriptures. Hand-in-glove with the Puritans’ Pharisaism in morality went their Philistinism in art and culture. They objected strenuously to music and drama and when in power they closed the theatres, got rid of the art collection of King Charles I, and removed organs, tapestries, artwork, and everything of beauty that they thought detracted from their perverse ideal of “simplicity” in the churches.
In Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, the Elizabethan divine Richard Hooker defended the Church of England and the Elizabethan Settlement from Puritan attacks. Puritanism reduced to the idea that whatever in the tradition of Christendom could not be shown to be commanded by the Bible must be eradicated and forbidden. Hooker argued instead, for the principle that everything in the tradition of Christendom that could not be shown to be forbidden by the Bible, ought to be permitted to be retained. While the Puritans condemned the king and the priests as being “tyrants”, their own system had far less room for freedom. Hooker wisely saw that tradition and freedom stood and fell together, along with the civil and ecclesiastical order. This insight became the keystone of the Tory position in their fight against Puritanism.
The Tories fought on behalf of tradition and freedom and the civil and ecclesiastical order. The Puritans fought to overthrow the civil and ecclesiastical order and regarded tradition as the enemy of freedom. So where is the spirit of Puritanism to be found today? Among those who continue to affirm the traditional social and moral standards that until very recently were recognized as being those of our own culture and society, who were raised themselves under those standards and who wish for their own children and grandchildren to be raised under the same standards? Or among the progressives who rail against tradition as the enemy of liberty, who have turned the public schools into indoctrination centres to re-educate children in case they have been taught the traditional social and moral standards by their parents and churches, who try to use the human rights tribunals to silence all dissent from their revolution, and who have radically changed the nature of one of the most basic of social institutions from what it has been from time immemorial to make it conform to a rigid doctrine of egalitarianism?
How often have we heard the statement “you cannot legislate morality”? Have you ever stopped to think just how foolish this statement is? If it were said instead that “you cannot make people good by passing legislation” there would be nothing wrong with this. The familiar saying, however, is understood to mean that there is something out there called morality which is forbidden territory for legislators.
The problem with that is that legislation is merely a fancy term for the government passing laws. Laws are merely rules that the government enforces. Like all rules, they place limits upon people’s choices. They tell you that you are not supposed to do this or that – kill your fellow man, steal his possessions, burn down his house, etc. – and they prescribe penalties for you if you ignore the law and go ahead and make those choices anyway.
Why do we have laws? This is a question that can be answered either generally or on a law-by-law basis. If we answer generally, we say that we have laws because they are necessary for the good of the community or the society as a whole. If we answer on a law-by-law basis, we look at what the law prohibits and show how it is something that is harmful, wrong, and evil to a degree that justifies the law. The law that says that you cannot kill your fellow man except in certain very specific circumstances, such as to prevent him from killing you first, is there because murder is just this sort of evil.
Note that both answers require the language of morality for their expression. Morality is human behaviour conceived of in terms of good and evil, right and wrong (the related term ethics refers to systematic thought about morality). Laws in general exist for the good of the society. Specific laws are passed against specific evils. Laws are all about good and evil.
In other words, far from it being the case that morality is something the law cannot or ought not to touch, morality is by definition the only thing that the law concerns itself. It is not true that you cannot legislate morality. It is rather the case that morality is the only thing that can be legislated.
What those who say “you cannot legislate morality” are usually really trying to say is that “you ought not to legislate a specific type of morality, i.e., religious morality”. In other words, the all important question for such people is the question of “who says” that certain behaviour is right or wrong. If a certain type of behaviour is determined to be wrong by the democratically arrived at consensus of the secular society (more likely, in reality, by some out-of-touch group of Ivory Tower liberals) then they are okay with laws being passed against it. If the prophets and Apostles in the Bible, Jesus Christ, the Church Fathers, and the moral theology of the Church for two thousand years says that a certain type of behaviour is wrong, then they object to laws being passed against it on the grounds that such laws would be “theocratic”.
This reflects a certain type of thinking that is based upon progressive and positivist assumptions about the history of human thought. In this type of thinking religion, theology, and metaphysics are seen as primitive forms of thought that are vastly inferior to those of the modern reason and science which have superseded and surpassed them. Religion and theology come from a dark past, according to people who think this way, in which they were the tools of oppressive rulers for controlling their people. Reason and science, they think, by contrast, are the tools of the emancipated individual. Therefore the true morality and ethics, from this point of view, must be that about which a consensus is arrived at voluntarily by these modern emancipated individuals guided by the light of their experience (or, more likely, whatever their progressive professor tells them to think). If religious codes of morality have any place at all it is in the private conscience of the individual.
This sort of thinking is, of course, utter nonsense. If there are any rules of behaviour about which anything coming even approximately close to a universal consensus, agreed to by all peoples in all place and all times, exists, it is those basic rules which are enshrined in the moral codes of religion – in, for example, the Decalogue’s “thou shalt not kill”, “thou shalt not steal”, “thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour”, etc. Far from arriving at a superior morality, the Twentieth Century bears record of how modern, emancipated man, justified himself as he committed evils on an unprecedented scale.
That religion teaches that a certain kind of behaviour is wrong is not a valid argument for the law to stay out of it. Religion teaches that murder is wrong, only a fool would therefore argue that there must be no law against murder lest we succumb to the threat of theocracy. There is no difference in kind between the law that forbids you or I from murdering our fellow man and a law which forbids a woman from having an abortion. Indeed, the best and only argument against the latter law would be that it ought to be rendered redundant by the law against murder.
Legislation, by its very nature and definition, is all about morality. It is the government attempting to limit our personal choices, by forbidding that which is wrong, for the good of the whole society. Now, if morality is the only thing that can be legislated, it does not follow that all morality ought to be legislated. In other words, we can recognize that one kind of behaviour is right and another is wrong without insisting that the government and the law has to have a say about it. If we wish to live in a free society, and the English speaking world has traditionally placed a very high premium upon freedom, rather than a tyrannical or totalitarian society, then we will prefer that the law limit itself to prohibiting those evils about which it is absolutely necessary that there be a law. This is a principle that has long been recognized in orthodox moral theology, being identified, for example, in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. (1)
A far better principle, about what the law can and cannot do, than the foolish “you cannot legislate morality” is the principle that the law can only govern outward behaviour and not the heart. This is another way of saying that you cannot make a person good by passing laws. That is not what they are there for. You can pass a law that says that a man cannot poke his neighbour’s eye out, and, hopefully, this law will reduce the evil of blindness due to eye-poking. A law that tried to prevent a person from even thinking about poking their neighbour in the eye, on the other hand, would be silly and inane.
It is telling that the progressives, who accuse social conservatives of theocratic motives for wanting to undo the legalization of abortion and for wanting to return to what until very recently was the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, are the ones who love to recite the absurd saying that we have here debunked about not being able to legislate morality, yet they themselves are loud and shrill in their support for anti-discrimination, “human rights” and “hate” legislation. A law against abortion does not tell a woman how to think or feel – it tells her she cannot kill her unborn child. Laws against “hate” exist for no purpose other than to tell people what to think and feel.
Conservatives are fortunate to have enemies who are always trying to help them out. The foes of the conservative – liberals, socialists, bleeding hearts, leftists, do-gooders, and everybody else who falls under the general umbrella of “progressives” – are always trying to tell us who we are and what our role is. Or rather, they are always trying to tell us who we are not and what our role is not. The “true conservative”, they tell us, is never a reactionary. There are those within the conservative camp who would echo this sentiment, particularly those on the left wing of conservatism, but I think this is a mistake, not only because by doing so we are allowing our opponents to define us and thus giving them an advantage over us, but because what they are telling us simply does not hold up to scrutiny.
Indeed, the only way the claim that the true conservative is never a reactionary would make sense would be if we accepted the definitions of conservative and reactionary which state that the former is the person trying to preserve the present status quo and the latter is the person trying to restore the status quo ante. If we accept these definitions, then, of course, a conservative and reactionary could never be the same person for their purposes are at odds with each other. These definitions, however, are notoriously woefully inadequate.
It is not that difficult to see what the Left gains by insisting upon this claim. Progressives see themselves as being the advocates of socially beneficial change. They grudgingly acknowledge a legitimate role for the conservative as the voice of caution, to argue the con-side against their changes as they propose them, but who, once they change has been made, is supposed to accept it as being written in stone and never attempt to reverse it. If the conservative accepts this limitation on his role then all the progressive has to do is obtain enough support at any given time to make a particular change and then he need never worry about defending that change from conservative attack ever again but can indeed, rally the conservatives to defend his changes against the reactionaries who would seek to undo them. It also boosts confidence in the progressive vision of history in which every change introduced by a progressive is seen as a positive step, moving history along in a linear fashion, towards a future, better, and more just society.
For the conservative to accept the role assigned to him by the progressives, however, would be to reject some of the most basic principles of conservatism. This is one of the reasons why I prefer the older term Tory. The newer label, conservative, has connotations of caution, risk-avoidance, and resistance to change, all of which are good enough in themselves but none of which, singularly or taken together, make much of an argument against the progressive definition of the role of the conservative. The same can hardly be said of the term Tory which from the seventeenth century has been the party of church and state, standing for apostolic authority in the former and the rights and prerogatives of the monarch in the latter. There is no way that this can be reduced to a mere defence of whatever the status quo happens to be at the present movement.
Indeed, the history of the Tories in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries very much gives the lie to the claim that a conservative – or a Tory at any rate – can never be a reactionary.
The antecedents of the Tories in the late seventeenth century were the Royalists or Cavaliers who fought for King Charles I in the English Civil War in the 1640s. They lost, the king was arrested, charged with treason in a mock trial conducted in a Parliament from which all of his supporters had been removed by the force of arms by the triumphant New Model Army of the Puritans, then murdered and martyred. After a mercifully short interregnum in which, under the evil dictatorship of Oliver Cromwell, the Puritans cancelled Christmas and Easter, stripped the churches of everything that was visually or audibly aesthetically pleasing, closed the theatres, forbade harmless amusements on the Lord’s Day, and basically went out of their way to make everybody gloomy and miserable, Charles II was restored to his father’s throne and the Church of England with its bishops, King James Bible, and a new edition of the Book of Common Prayer that would become the standard edition was brought back, in what was the most spectacular and successful act of reaction in the history of the world – the English Restoration.
Then, when the Tories lost the battle against the Whigs in 1688, and James II was ousted from the throne by Parliament and replaced by his son-in-law and daughter, those Tories who remained loyal to the House of Stuart, including the non-juror bishops of the Church of England, became the reactionary Jacobites who tried unsuccessfully to restore James and later his son Charles to the throne. While the case can certainly be made that the Jacobites acted unwisely it can also be argued that they were the most true to the principles of the Tory Party. Such later High Tories as Dr. Samuel Johnson in the eighteenth century and Sir Walter Scott in the nineteenth, while loyal to the kings of the Hanoverian succession, nevertheless looked back on the Jacobites with sympathy and romanticism.
At any rate, within the space of a single century (the last Jacobite rising was in 1745, less than one hundred years after the death of King Charles I) the Tories had sought to restore two different status quo ante’s, and whatever we may think of the Jacobite cause and movement, the first of these, the Restoration, is certainly an argument in favour of reaction.
The folly of the idea that the Tory or conservative is allowed to oppose progressive changes as they are put forward but must accept and defend them once they are made is quite easily demonstrated. If followed to the letter this would mean that we could never attempt to correct a change that has proven to be a mistake. It is no good saying “you cannot turn the clock back”. Not only is this a bad metaphor – the statement is not even literally true – it is a deadly one. To use another metaphor – a more apt one – when you have swerved off a road and are heading towards a cliff it is suicidal to shrug your shoulders, say “what’s done its done” and keeping heading in the same direction.
Perhaps the most bizarre argument I have ever encountered against the idea that a conservative could take the reactionary position was based upon the fact that conservatives are not traditionally opposed to all change but accept change that is in accordance with the rule of law and which is done “little and little”. This, however, is actually an argument against the declaration that conservative and reactionary are mutually exclusive because that declaration is based entirely upon the idea that the conservative must support the present status quo against all changes.
Yes, the conservative accepts certain kinds of change. His position is not that all change is bad – just that the onus of proof lies upon the person who proposes an innovation. The changes he accepts are lawful, accomplished slowly, and on a small-scale. More importantly, however, for a conservative to accept change it must be change that is consistent with and better yet a means of continuity. Furthermore, a conservative can accept changes of a sort that no progressive ever accepts – changes that acknowledge that a progressive innovation has been a mistake and go back to a way that was time-honoured, tested, and true. It is precisely because a conservative can accept this kind of change that he can be a reactionary.
Indeed, Tory principles demand that the conservative be a reactionary in certain situations. The Tory regards society as an organic whole that includes past and future generations as well. He does not accept simple, unmixed, democracy, whether as a constitutional form, or the idea that the majority at any present moment should rule. The voices of past and future generations must be heard as well and since the future generations cannot yet speak the past generations must be their voice against the present generation whose primary concern is always its own interest in the here and now. Therefore if some demagogue or some persistent group of activists is able at a given moment to obtain enough support in the legislative body or even the general public to make a change that goes against the wisdom of the ages embodied in the voices of the past generations passed down to us in tradition, the Tory has the duty to work to undo this change – to take on the role of the reactionary.
Throughout the history of the Christian Church several labels – including “Christian” itself – were initially coined as terms of opprobrium by the enemies of those labelled but were later appropriated by the labelled and worn as badges of honour until eventually their original negative sense was forgotten. Sometimes this pattern is reversed, however, and one notable example of this is the term “fundamentalist”. This word was coined by Curtis Lee Laws, the editor of the Northern Baptist newspaper The Watchman-Examiner in 1920, as a self-descriptive label for Christians who “still cling to the great fundamentals and who mean to do battle royal for the fundamentals.” The term caught on among Protestants, especially in denominations that were descended from the English Calvinist non-conformist groups and among those that had arisen out of or been heavily influenced by the evangelical revival movement of the preceding two centuries.
Today the term is still in use but its meaning has changed. There are still Protestant groups who self-identify as fundamentalist. For these groups the term still has the same meaning it had in the 1920’s and ‘30’s but with the added concept of ecclesiastical separation from those who reject the fundamentals. There is some overlap with the groups who identify as “evangelical”, but self-identifying fundamentalists would regard most of these (whom they would call “new evangelical” or “neo-evangelical”) as compromising because they are less separatist and more willing to accommodate liberalism. Those who would identify themselves as evangelical rather than fundamentalist often use the term fundamentalist to mean those who hold to theological concepts like dispensationalism and its accompanying pre-millenial eschatology and neo-Puritan ethics (don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t dance, etc.) although none of these things is technically part of the meaning of fundamentalism for those who identify as fundamentalists. Outside of evangelicalism, other Christian theologians often have hazier ideas as to what fundamentalists actually believe. I read a Roman Catholic apologist once who said that fundamentalism was basically Calvinist. In fact, the majority of fundamentalists are probably better described as Arminian, except perhaps on the issue of eternal security. The most Calvinist of theologians, strict 5 point Reformed types, usually don’t like to think of themselves as fundamentalists because they identify fundamentalism with dispensationalism which is at odds with their own covenant theology.
Far more common than any of these meanings, however, for most people today, the term fundamentalist has come to have the meaning which progressive academics, clergy, and commentators have attached to it, namely that of “religious extremist”. Thus terrorists waging jihad against the West are now called “Islamic terrorists” and the followers of Rabbi Kahane are now “Jewish fundamentalists”.
It is fundamentalism in the original sense of the term which we will be considering here and its relationship with theological orthodoxy. When Curtis Laws coined the term the phase “the fundamentals” was already being widely discussed. Ten years previously the Bible Institute of Los Angeles had begun to print a series of pamphlets under the title The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth. It ran to twelve volumes by the time it was done five years later (it was later re-issued in a four volume hardbound edition) and consisted of essays by learned men from various denominations including Presbyterian (James Orr, B. B. Warfield, A. T. Pierson, Charles R. Erdman), Anglican (Dyson Hague, W. H. Griffith Thomas, J. C. Ryle), Baptist (A. C. Dixon, E. Y. Mullins), Plymouth Brethren (Algernon Pollack) and Methodist (Arno C. Gaebelein), mostly Americans but with some Canadian and British contributors. The contributors were clergy, for the most part, often clergy who did double duty as academic professors as well. The pamphlets argued in defence of the authority and truth of the Holy Bible as the Word of God and for historical Christian doctrines such as the Trinity, the deity of Jesus Christ, His Incarnation and Virgin Birth, the Atonement and Resurrection, Justification by Faith and the Second Coming against various modern ideas and movements. The same year that these pamphlets, edited by R. A. Torrey and A. C. Dixon began to be published, five doctrines were identified as essential to the faith at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, USA. The five doctrines were 1) the inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures, 2) the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, 3) the substitutionary atonement, 4) the bodily resurrection of Christ and 5) that Christ’s miracles as recorded in Scripture were historic and genuine. These were very similar to a five point statement made at the Niagara Bible Conference in 1895, an abridged version of their earlier fourteen point statement of 1878. In the five points of 1895 the deity of Christ was the second point, the virgin birth and substitutionary atonement were the third and fourth points, and the fifth point included both the bodily resurrection and the second coming. These two statements gave birth to the idea of the “Five Points of Fundamentalism” and to perpetual confusion as to the formulation of those five points.
The publication of The Fundamentals, the statements by the Niagara Bible Conference and the Presbyterian General Assembly, and the entire fundamentalist movement in general arose in response to a specific problem – the growth of unbelief, formulated as doctrine, in the Protestant denominations. This formulated unbelief was known as modernism or (theological) liberalism. Either term is apt because it was a product of the Modern Age and the predominant ideology of that Age which is liberalism. The Modern Age was an Age of rebellion against tradition and authority, which liberalism regarded as shackles that robbed people of their freedom and blinders that kept from them the light of reason and science. Needless to say, this type of thinking, which had gradually grown up in the academic world as Renaissance humanism, the rationalism of the “Age of Reason”, and the “Enlightenment” took the university further and further away from its medieval, theocentric, Christian roots, eventually produced the attitude that C. S. Lewis and Owen Barfield dubbed “chronological snobbery”, i.e., the attitude that says “its well enough for people of past ages, who didn’t know any better, to believe in things like miracles and the virgin birth, but people like me in this enlightened, modern, age in which we live cannot be expected to believe such things”. When this attitude is held by a clergyman or theological professor it takes the form of theological liberalism, which regards the virgin birth of Jesus Christ as a story His disciples later made up (or borrowed from pagan mythology) and says the same thing about His deity or uses the term “divinity” instead of deity, meaning by such a term a concept like “the spark of divinity that is in all of us”, borrowed from the early Gnostic heretics. The Apostles said that Jesus rose from the dead, the liberals taught, because they could feel Him living on inside themselves the way you or I might continue to still feel the presence of a loved one who has passed away. The essential message of Christianity, modernism taught, was that we should love all people and treat them fairly and justly, reading modern egalitarianism into the concepts of “fairness” and “justice”, and all that stuff about the Son of God, coming down from heaven, being born of a virgin, dying for our sins, and rising triumphant over sin and death, was just window dressing. All of that was unnecessary anyway, liberalism taught, because the whole concept of “sin” comes from an outdated and barbaric understanding of morality that we have outgrown in modern times.
With garbage like this coming to be taught from the pulpit there was a clear need for something like fundamentalism to reaffirm and fight for the truths that Christians had historically and traditionally believed which the modernists or liberals were denying.
The fundamentalists believed they were contending for sound or orthodox doctrine against heresy and unbelief. There are those who would say that this is ironic because fundamentalism did not itself represent what has historically and traditionally been considered orthodoxy within Christianity. There are a number of different reasons given for this charge. One would be that the denominations most heavily represented in fundamentalism are those that arose out of the English Dissenting or Non-Conformist Movements and their counterparts in continental Europe, i.e., the churches traditionally considered the Radical or left wing of the Protestant Reformation. Another would be that the Bible Conference movement which produced the first formulation of what became the Five Points of Fundamentalism was a platform for the dispensationalist version of pre-millennialism.
These arguments, when coming from the traditionally orthodox in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran Churches, have much truth to them which we will consider shortly. Sometimes, however, you will find these arguments on the lips of those who are less interested in defending traditional orthodoxy than in bashing fundamentalism from a position of clear and obvious sympathy for either theological liberalism or the opponents of fundamentalism (and evangelicalism) in the present culture war. It is difficult to credit such people with good faith and the appropriate response is to say that traditional Christian orthodoxy is more than fundamentalism not less than fundamentalism. Or, to put it another way, when traditional Christian orthodoxy approaches and criticizes fundamentalism it is from the direction opposite to that of theological, political and cultural liberalism.
Each of the five points of fundamentalism, whichever formulation is used, is affirmed by traditional Christian orthodoxy. The deity, virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, bodily resurrection, and second coming of Christ are affirmed in the Creeds of the early, undivided, Church, which are the classical statements of traditional orthodox faith. If traditional orthodoxy is to be distinguished from fundamentalism on these points, it is that traditional orthodoxy prefers a more precise, as well as more aesthetically pleasing, formulation of these doctrines. Rather than say “I believe…in the deity of Jesus Christ”, for example, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed declares the orthodox belief in “one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, Begotten of the Father before all worlds; God, of God; Light, of Light; Very God, of very God; Begotten, not made; Being of one substance with the Father; Through whom all things were made”. Whereas liberalism denies the doctrines affirmed as fundamental by fundamentalism, or affirms them nominally but in such a way as to deny them in actuality by stripping them of their substance, traditional orthodoxy expresses them in a fuller, more complete, way.
Liberalism regards fundamentalism as clinging to outdated ideas, to superstitious beliefs about virgins giving birth and the dead rising, that we, so much wiser than our forebears, know better than to believe today. If traditional orthodoxy finds fault with fundamentalism it is for a completely different set of reasons.
Traditional orthodoxy might fault fundamentalism, for example, for being too reductionist. The ecumenical Creeds are the classical formulation of orthodoxy and there is a lot more in each of these than is in the five points of fundamentalism. The Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds have a Trinitarian structure, with one section for each of the Three Persons, and the first section of the Athanasian Creed spells out the doctrine of the Trinity at length. The Holy Trinity is not listed as one of the points of fundamentalism, nor do they mention the Father and the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that fundamentalists did not believe in the Holy Trinity, on the contrary, they were and are Trinitarians, but it does mean that the orthodox Creeds are a more complete statement of the “fundamentals” of Christianity than the five points of fundamentalism.
It is the first of the five points, however, which is the most contentious, both for liberals and the traditionally orthodox, but for different reasons. Liberals ridicule the idea of the inerrancy of Scripture because they don’t believe the Bible to be the Word of God and think it to be chock full of historical and scientific errors, superstitions that sophisticated, rational, educated, modern people know better than to believe in these days, and fanciful myths and legends, no different from those of other primitive peoples and probably ripped off from them. This point of view is not shared by the traditionally orthodox.
Where traditional orthodoxy has a problem with the first point of fundamentalism is in the fact that it is placed first, before anything is said about Christ. This, to the traditionally orthodox, says that fundamentalism takes the Bible as its starting point and tries to demonstrate Christ from the Bible. This, in the orthodox point of view, is a mistake because Jesus Christ, the Living Word of God, is the full and perfect revelation of God to man. He is to be our starting point. It is because Christ taught that the Scriptures are the authoritative Word of God that we are to accept them as such. Our theology, in other words, is supposed to be Christocentric rather than Bibliocentric.
This does not mean that traditional orthodoxy rejects the inerrancy of Scripture. Inerrancy, it is true, is a term of recent usage and is not, therefore, part of the traditional language used by the Christian Church in speaking of the Scriptures. The concept the word represents, however, is clearly implicit in the orthodox view of the Bible. The Church did not claim, from the time of Christ and His Apostles, in the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, East and West, down to modern times, that the Bible was a set of merely human writings that could be right or wrong in what it teaches. No, the Church, following Christ’s own example, taught throughout the ages that the Bible is the written Word of God, that the person hearing the words of Scripture is hearing God speak through His prophets and apostles. The traditional orthodox view is that the Bible is the written Word of God, not a merely human book as liberalism teaches, or something that becomes the Word of God when we experience God through it as neo-orthodoxy (actually a form of liberalism rather than of orthodoxy) taught. In this it agrees with fundamentalism and inerrancy is implicit in this view because if the Bible is the written Word of God, if its words are a communication from God to man, then to say that the Bible is in error in what it asserts or teaches is to say that God is in error.
To understand what the doctrine of inerrancy means and does not mean requires a great deal of common sense, a commodity which is sadly in short supply in our day and age. It means only that the Bible is inerrant in what it asserts and teaches. It does not mean that because a sentence is found in the Bible it must therefore be taken as true in every possible sense without reference to its context,. Joshua 2:4-5 includes the words “There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were: And it came to pass about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark, that the men went out: whither the men went I wot not: pursue after them quickly; for ye shall overtake them.” These words were not true, they were a lie told by Rahab to the men of the king of Jericho to protect Joshua’s spies. The words are in the Bible, but Biblical inerrancy does not mean that they are true, because the Bible does not assert that they are true but rather tells us that they are a lie.
Nor does Biblical inerrancy mean that the Bible must measure up to modern, man made, standards of technical precision. Here is an example of what I mean. The Bible frequently refers to the sun as rising in the east and setting in the West. On a couple of occasions it refers to God performing miracles in which the sun either stops in its movement across the sky or even moves backwards. Modern science tells us that the phenomenon (appearance) of the sun moving across the sky from the east to the west is actually caused by the motion of the earth as it rotates on its axis. Therefore, a technically precise way of saying “the sun rose” would be to say “the rotation of the earth on its axis caused the sun to become visible on the eastern horizon”. This does not mean that the Bible is in error in referring to the sun rising. The Bible is God’s verbal communication to man. If God is going to communicate to men verbally He must speak the language men use and the language which men use is phenomenal language and not the language of technical precision. The language of technical precision is not a measuring stick to which the language of phenomenon is to be held up and judged to be “right” or “wrong”. Only pedantic fools of the type of whom the character of Sheldon Cooper on television’s “The Big Bang Theory” is a hilarious caricature would insist otherwise.
Unfortunately it is not just arrogant atheists, humanists, and materialists who are such pedantic fools. Fundamentalists have often outdone them by coming up with bizarre interpretations of the phenomenal language of the Bible – such as the reference to the firmament and the waters above it in the creation account – in order to make the claim that it is a technically precise account of what the world was like at creation (but is no longer). This is unnecessary for the reasons given in the preceding paragraph and by doing so the fundamentalists have done exactly what they accuse theistic evolutionists of doing, i.e., reading the text in a way that nobody prior to Darwin would ever have dreamed of doing.
This brings us to one final difference between orthodoxy and fundamentalism which we will consider. Orthodoxy and fundamentalism both teach that the Holy Bible is the Word of God and as such is authoritative and true in all it asserts and teaches. Fundamentalism, however, insists that the Bible be interpreted as literally as possible. Orthodoxy, on the other hand, insists that the Bible be interpreted as traditionally as possible. Sometimes the traditional interpretation of the Bible is a literal interpretation. The other points of fundamentalism are good examples of this. Traditional orthodoxy does not allow for an understanding of the deity of Jesus Christ that is any less than that He was fully God come in the flesh as true man. It does not allow for crossed fingers when affirming belief that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary. It does not allow for the idea that Jesus rose from the dead “in the sense” that His disciples felt Him living on in their hearts. Orthodoxy is more than fundamentalism, not less, and saying truthfully that the orthodox way of interpreting the Scriptures is traditional rather than literal does not lend support to such attempts to hide sheer unbelief behind the guise of faith.
The difference between the literal and the traditional way, the fundamentalist and the orthodox, ways of interpreting the Scriptures is this. The fundamentalist, literal, approach accepts modern, rationalist, and individualist presuppositions. It sees the indwelling of the Holy Spirit spoken of in the New Testament as referring primarily or even exclusively to the individual believer. It therefore sees the Holy Spirit’s ministry of guidance and truth (John 16:13) in the same way. Unlike the modern charismatics, who have a similar individualistic view of the matter but who emphasize an experiential relationship, fundamentalists insist that there is a rational formula, method, or technique for arriving at the proper interpretation of Scriptures, which is the literal method. Ironically, the fundamentalist view violates a literal understanding of I Peter 1:20.
Orthodoxy is not so individualistic. The orthodox view does not reject that the Holy Spirit comes upon and indwells believers individually. The rite of confirmation would make very little sense otherwise. In orthodoxy, however, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit refers primarily to the Church as the collective Body of Christ and it is that collective body that is the primary recipient of the ministry of guidance into truth.
This does not mean that the correct interpretation of the Scriptures is what the authorities of the Church at any given particular time say it is. This was the arrogant position taken by the corrupt ecclesiastical officials whose abuse of their position by using a bad theology of salvation developed in the late Middle Ages to prey upon people’s fear of hell and purgatory to extort money from them prompted the response of the Protestant Reformers whose assertion of the supremacy of Scriptural authority, in the unfortunate terminology of Sola Scriptura, eventually led to the fundamentalist position. The Church as the collective Body of Christ, includes not just believers alive today (the Church Militant), but past generations who have passed into the presence of Christ (the Church Triumphant) as well. If the Church as the collective whole of the Body of Christ is the recipient of Christ’s promise that the Spirit of Truth would guide us into all truth then these past generations must be included as well. What this means is that for the Church today to be led into truth and not slide into error it must listen carefully to how past generations of Christians have understood the Scriptures.
There is no formula for doing this. The idea that everything can be reduced to a formula or technique is the great heresy of the Modern Age in philosophy, science and politics as well as in theology and religion. There are principles to guide us, however, one of these being the classical canon found in the Commonitory of St. Vincent of Lerins, which is that we should hold to “that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all.” These are not absolute terms, otherwise we would be looking for an extremely low, lowest common denominator, but it means that we should listen to what has been persistently taught, throughout the whole Church and not just in one branch, arm, sect, or locality, from the earliest times. To do so, will not lead us anywhere close to modernism, liberalism, neo-orthodoxy, or any of the various other forms of latter day unbelief, but will give us a fuller understanding of the truth than that which is found in fundamentalism.
A conservative is a traditionalist, i.e., someone who believes strongly in preserving all the good things – ideas, customs, habits, institutions, rules, etc. – that have been passed on to us in the present from the past, as a trust for future generations. A progressive is an innovator, i.e.. someone who believes that the road to a better future starts by moving away from the past through radical experimentation guided by the light of reason and science.
The terms “Tory” and “Whig” are synonyms for “conservative” and “progressive” respectively, but they have more specific connotations. They are the old names for the parties which were re-organized and re-named into the Conservative and Liberal parties in the nineteenth century. The old names were used from the late seventeenth through to the early nineteenth century. The Tories were the champions of the rights and privileges of the Crown and of the established Church of England. The Whigs were the champions of the elected legislature and of the dissenting, non-conformist, Protestant sects.
The term “Tory” is still widely used, mostly as a nickname for the members of the Conservative Party. I use it as a self-descriptive label in a somewhat different sense, to indicate that my conservatism is the older type of royalist and religious conservatism rooted in established institutions that the Tory Party stood for before it changed its name, and not primarily a conservatism of low taxes and free markets, although I have nothing against those things per se.
The term “Whig” has not survived as well. The American Republic was founded upon Whig principles in the eighteenth century and for a time the term was used as the name of an American political party, albeit one whose policies differed somewhat from those of the English Whigs. This was dissolved in 1860 and the Republican Party took its place. Canada was founded upon Tory principles as a confederation of provinces that had remained loyal to the British Crown in the American Revolution. Here, we do not refer to the members of the Liberal Party as Whigs in the way we speak of members of the Conservative Party as Tories, we call them “Grits” instead.
Nevertheless, Whig ideals have often been on display in the policies and actions of the Liberal Party in the Twentieth Century. Likewise, Canadian history, once written by such stalwart Tories as Donald Creighton and W. L. Morton, in the last half of the Twentieth Century began to bear a marked resemblance to what Sir Herbert Butterfield called “The Whig Interpretation of History”, when a new school of Liberal historians, including such notables as Pierre Berton and Peter C. Newman arose. Whereas the older school of historians were patriots of the Dominion of Canada founded in 1867, who believed in its founding principles, and saw its British heritage of Common Law, the Westminster Parliamentary system, and the Crown itself as an indispensable part of what Canada was all about the newer school were advocates of a newer kind of Canadian nationalism, heavily promoted by Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau in the 1960s and 1970s, which sought to create a new Canadian identity by stripping Canada of as much of her British heritage as possible and de-emphasizing the rest, while emphasizing the traditions and heritage of French Canadians, Canadian Indians, and new immigrants from the Third World. This new Canadian history can be seen at its most Whiggish, however, when it discusses a 1926 event known as the King/Byng affair.
To understand this it would be helpful to define the basic difference between Tories and Whigs under the Westminster system. A Tory and a Whig can both support the system of parliamentary monarchy. They view it differently, however. A Whig has a natural distrust of kings and regards the powers of the elected assembly as a fundamental check on the potential for tyranny in the royal office. A Tory’s natural distrust is of mobs and the demagogues that stir them up, and he regards the office of the king as an essential check on demagoguery, political opportunism, and the “tyranny of the majority” that Alexis de Tocqueville warned the Americans about.
The Whig interpretation of history, as Butterfield explained it, is the theory, predominant in the histories of the Whig historians of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in which the past is seen as one endless series of progressive events leading up to the liberal democracy of the present. Every event in which royal power is limited is regarded as a positive step towards the rights, freedoms, and democracy of the day, regardless of whether the king at the time was behaving tyrannically, as was the case with King John, or was a good man defending the traditional rights and prerogatives of his office, from unscrupulous fanatics, as was the case with King Charles I.
In classrooms across Canada, the King-Byng affair, if discussed at all, is given the Whig treatment. It is portrayed as an important step in Canada’s becoming a sovereign country with full control over her own affairs. While this view conforms to the 1926 election propaganda of William Lyon Mackenzie King’s Liberals it does not conform to the facts.
The events leading up to the affair began with the 1925 federal election. At the time King was Prime Minister, the Liberals having won the 1921 election with 118 seats. This was reduced to 101 in the 1925 election. Arthur Meighen’s Conservatives won 116 seats. Ordinarily this would have resulted in the Conservatives being asked to form a minority government. King, however, went to Lord Byng of Vimy, the Governor General (viceroy) at the time, and told him that he had obtained the support of the Progressive Party for the continuation of his government. Byng reluctantly accepted this.
Before the year was out, King’s government was rocked by scandal. Here is how John G. Diefenbaker described it in his memoirs:
Within weeks of the 1925 election, the entire range of corruption began to emerge. Canadian customs officers were involved in a smuggling ring operating in Windsor-Detroit, in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, and throughout the New Brunswick-Maine boundary. Directing much of these operations was a senior Customs Inspector and implicated was the former Liberal Minister of Customs and Excise, the Honourable Jacques Bureau, who, instead of being sent to jail, had been appointed to the Senate by King prior to the 1925 election. (John G. Diefenbaker, One Canada, Volume I, p. 146)
A House committee was appointed to investigate and when its report was in, the Conservatives called for a vote of censure against the King government, the socialists called for a Royal Commission to investigate the customs corruption further, and finally a proposal was put forward that combined both of these calls.
Desperate to avoid a vote of censure, and having obtained an adjournment, King went to Lord Byng and asked him to dissolve Parliament. Byng, in Diefenbaker’s words “rightly and properly refused King’s request” for:
Never before in Canadian or in the whole of British parliamentary history had such a request been granted to a Prime Minister facing the censure of the House of Commons. (Ibid. p. 147)
Byng instead, asked Arthur Meighen, leader of the Conservative Party – which had won the largest number of seats in the preceding years election – to form a government. It was entirely within his rights and prerogatives as representative of the Crown to do so. As it so happened, Meighen’s government lost a confidence vote shortly after being formed and an election was called anyway. During that election, King lied through his teeth about the whole affair. Here is how Diefenbaker described it:
Mackenzie King then produced one of the most transparent falsehoods of any man in any generation of our country. He claimed that Canada was in the midst of a constitutional crisis, that the Governor General, Lord Byng, had acted on instructions from Downing Street in inviting Meighen to form a government, and that he, MacKenzie King, would save the common people of our nation from colonial peril. King’s “challenge of imperialism” was so phoney it made Barnum look like an amateur. There was no substance in it, either in law or in logic. But it attracted the public imagination, or at least King’s performance did. (Ibid., pp.147-148)
What the last sentence means is that King’s Liberals won the election. This doesn’t speak well of the electorate at the time that they would buy King’s spurious charge of interference from London when the Prime Minister had clearly asked for a dissolution of Parliament for entirely self-serving reasons, showing utter contempt for the legislative body that was about to censure his government for corruption. This charge was all the more spurious given that in King’s letter to Lord Byng, resigning his premiership he reminded the viceroy that:
in our recent conversations relative to dissolution I have on each occasion suggested to Your Excellency, as I have again urged this morning, that having regard to the possible very serious consequences of a refusal of the advice of your First Minister to dissolve parliament you should, before definitely deciding on this step, cable the Secretary of State for the Dominions asking the British Government, from whom you have come to Canada under instructions, what, in the opinion of the Secretary of State for the Dominions, your course should be in the event of the Prime Minister presenting you with an Order-in-Council having reference to dissolution. (William Lyon Mackenzie King to Lord Byng, Governor General of Canada, June 28, 1926)
Lord Byng, far from acting under orders from Downing Street, had rejected King’s advice that he consult with London, before doing his constitutional duty of refusing to dissolve a parliament just so the Prime Minister could avoid a vote of censure.
Far from being a champion of Canadian sovereignty against imperial interference in Canada’s domestic affairs, King was a sleazy politician, desperate to cling to power and avoid the censure his government richly deserved. While the Whig interpretation of this event is taught in history classes around the country, the Tory interpretation of this event, as explained by John Farthing in his posthumously published Freedom Wears a Crown is more in keeping with the facts. According to Farthing, the King-Bing-Thing, damaged the traditional constitution of parliamentary monarchy that is the foundation for our country’s form of democracy and tradition of personal liberty. King, in insisting that Byng should have granted his dissolution request, showed contempt both for the constitution role of the King, whom Byng represented, and of the Parliament that wanted to censure him. He did not want his government to be accountable either to the Crown or to the elected assembly. Here is how Farthing put the matter:
If a Prime Minister either receives or is threatened with adverse vote in Parliament has he the right to demand of the King the immediate dissolution of the Parliament? Must the Sovereign or the Governor General accede to any and every such request on the part of a Prime Minister? If so, then it follows by the same logic that Parliament itself also becomes a puppet of the same Prime Minister. (John Farthing, Freedom Wears a Crown, p. 67.)
If the King or his viceroy must grant a dissolution whenever the Prime Minister asks for one and for whatever reason, even if it is to prevent the Prime Minister from being held accountable to Parliament, then the Prime Minister and his cabinet have usurped the rightful, constitutional powers of both the King and Parliament. Ever since Stephen Harper became Prime Minister of Canada the Liberals and NDP have accused him of showing contempt for Parliament and running the government as if he and his cabinet were accountable to nobody. If this is the case, he is following the precedent of Liberal Prime Ministers going back until Mackenzie King in the 1920s.
The solution to the problem is not one either the Grits or the NDP are likely to accept, but it was identified by John Farthing years ago, who wrote:
I suggest that only when its true and rightful priorities are restored to the Canadian Constitution – when the King is recognized as of prior significance even to the Prime Minister – will the Cabinet take its true place in our national government and fulfil its democratic function. (Ibid. p. 68).
John Farthing, Judith Robinson ed., Freedom Wears a Crown, Toronto, Kingswood House, 1957.
John G. Diefenbaker, One Canada: Memoirs of the Right Honourable John G. Diefenbaker, Volume One: The Crusading Years 18695 –1956, Toronto, Macmillan of Canada, 1975.
Letter from William Lyon Mackenzie King to Governor General Byng, 28 June 1926 found here:
The local left-liberal newspaper, the Winnipeg Free Press, recently ran an article on the angst, humanists, atheists, and agnostics were feeling over the Christian faith of Devon Clunis, the chief of the Winnipeg Police Force. Several people wrote to the editor to comment on this. One of the letters printed on November 12th, attributed to the pseudonym “OBSERVER6” asked “Why, in the 21st century, are these practices still around?” The practices in question were those of offering Bibles to police recruits and using material prepared by John C. Maxwell in leadership seminars.
OBSERVER6’s remark is a variation of words that are frequently used by progressive, forward-thinking people as a one-size fits all answer to everything they find objectionable. Those words are “this is the twenty-first century”. The number of situations in which progressives seem to think this is an unanswerable argument is astonishing.
Do you still believe the teachings of the Christian faith? If so, do you allow your Christian faith to affect how you live your life in every aspect, publicly as well as privately, including professionally and politically? “Get with the program”, the progressive says, “This is the twenty-first century” as if the truth of Christianity and the validity of Christ’s claims as Lord over the entirety of the lives of His believers are determined by the date on the calendar.
Do you think that men are men and women are women, that it is more meaningful and more important to be a man or a woman than it is to be an “individual”, that men and women are different and complementary rather than equal and interchangeable, and that men are made by God and nature for women and women for men? If so, you are really out of step with the times and the progressive will say to you “This is the twenty-first century.”
I could go on giving other examples but I think you get the idea.
As an argument “This is the twenty-first century” makes little sense. Whether a person ought to believe the teachings of Christianity or not does not depend upon what year, decade, century or even millennium it is. It depends upon whether or not those teachings are true. Did Jesus of Nazareth, after being crucified by the Romans to appease the Jewish mob, rise from the dead? If so, this validates His claim to be the Christ, the Son of God come down from Heaven to save mankind, which in turn validates everything else He ever said. As it so happens, the evidence that Jesus of Nazareth did indeed rise from the dead is very strong – strong enough that more than one, convinced skeptic who set out to disprove it ended up converting. The empty tomb that prevented the account of the Resurrection from being snuffed out by the Romans and Jewish leaders in the first century, the transformation of the Apostles from the men who fled at Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion into men who went to their deaths as martyrs for their conviction that He had risen from the tomb, the five hundred plus eyewitnesses that St. Paul could refer to as being still alive when he wrote his first epistle to the Corinthian church, and indeed the conversion of St. Paul himself, from a man hostile to the faith to its foremost proponent due to an encounter with the Risen Christ, provide a very strong case indeed for the truth and historicity of the Resurrection of Christ. The truth and historicity of the Resurrection and of Christianity itself do not diminish the longer in time we are removed from the event. Indeed, the truth that the Son of God came down from heaven, lived among us, was crucified and rose again, cannot help but be the most important truth in human history and will remain that way throughout human history. Indeed, the fact that we are in the twenty-first century since these events took place – note that we date the centuries from these events – makes it more important than ever that we believe these truths and live our lives accordingly because one of the things Jesus said, that is verified by His being the Son of God, which in turn is verified by His having risen from the dead, is that He will come back to judge the living and the dead, and event which inevitably grows nearer the further removed from His Ascension that we get.
When progressives say “this is the twenty-first century” to dismiss Christianity, traditional ethics, private property, the differences between the sexes, monarchy, the survival of Caucasian ethnicity, and everything else from the past that they despise, they are clearly not making a valid argument as far as sound reasoning goes. They are expressing an attitude, an attitude held by all progressives, and by far too many who would not consider themselves to be progressive. Thanks to C. S. Lewis we have a term for that attitude – “chronological snobbery”.
In Surprised by Joy Lewis tells how he himself had held this attitude in his earlier days, how he had dismissed old ideas and customs as belonging to older and therefore outdated periods. He was cured of the attitude by his friend Owen Barfield who demolished all the assumptions it rests upon. Lewis described chronological snobbery as “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited”.
Now it is true, to an extent, that we have more knowledge in the sense of accumulated information available to us in the present than was available in the past. I say “to an extent” because information is lost as well as accumulated with the passing of time. This fact, however, calls for a very different attitude than that of chronological snobbery. . The knowledge that we have available today that was not available in the past is knowledge of the past – the knowledge of what has been thought and said, done and accomplished, discovered and accumulated, by all the generations that have preceded us. This ought to command an attitude of respect towards the past – not an attitude of “who cares what they thought in the past, we know so much more today.”
Of course people thought things in the past that are not true. People continue to think things today that are not true. I do not mean the things that have held over from previous ages that are dismissed with “this is the twenty-first century” but ideas that are modern, progressive, and in keeping with the prevalent spirit of the present age. An ideas being new and modern, is no guarantee of its being true, and an ideas being old and unfashionable is no guarantee of its being false.
Indeed, if it were to come down to a question of the presumption of truth, with regards to ideas that cannot be demonstrated to be false, then the presumption of truth ought to go to ideas that are older in the sense of having been held for long periods of time in the past (as opposed to older in the sense of having been thought up millennia ago and discarded in the first generation) rather than to ideas that are new and innovative. Their having endured the passing of ages past, is an argument in their favour, rather than against them.
So the next time some progressive tries to dismiss a timeless truth as being outdated by the fact that it is "the twenty-first century" congratulate him on being able to read the date on the calendar and ask "So what?"
Someone had the bright idea of filming a young woman as she walked through the streets of New York to “create awareness” of the “harassment” women face as they go about their daily routine. The video, which includes multiples cases of catcalling, went viral and has generally provoked one of two responses. Among those who still possess a degree of sanity it raised the question of when, exactly, the words “How are you?” became offensive and began to fall under the category of harassment. Progressives, on the other hand, noted that two thirds of the men who whistled, or hooted, or asked the young lady how her day was going were non-white. Now the only explanation progressive thought will allow for non-whites being presented in a less-than-flattering way in a video is racism on the part of the video-maker. So began the great progressive moral dilemma of which is the greater outrage – that young women have to endure such offensive remarks as “how do you do”, or that the feminists who produced this video were so insensitive as to fail to edit their film in such a way as to show only white men doing the “harassment”.
Speaking of feminists, back in the 1970s a famous squabble took place between Betty Friedan, whose The Feminine Mystique launched “The Women’s Liberation Movement”, also known as second-wave feminism, in the 1960s, and Simone de Beauvoir, the French existentialist philosopher whose more academic The Second Sex had laid the intellectual foundation for a more radical form of feminism fourteen years prior to Friedan’s book. In a 1975 interview, Friedan proposed a voucher system by which women who have stayed at home and raised their children could receive cash value for their work, to which Beauvoir responded by saying:
No, we don’t believe that any woman should have this choice. No woman should be authorized to stay at home to raise her children. Society should be totally different. Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one.
Friedan saw this as taking things a bit too far and she expressed her disagreement saying that “there is such a tradition of individual freedom in America that I would never say that every woman must put her child in a child-care center”.
Someone apparently forgot to inform the current president of the United States about that “tradition of individual freedom” because he is now echoing Simone de Beauvoir. On October 31, Barack Obama turned up on Rhode Island where he gave a speech on public, pre-school, day care. In this speech he said:
Sometimes, someone, usually Mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result. That’s not a choice we want Americans to make.
So let’s get this straight. Barack Obama is notoriously “pro-choice”. Almost as pro-choice as Liberal and NDP leaders Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair here in Canada who will not allow the members of their parties any choice about being pro-choice. The choice in question, however, is the choice they believe every woman should have as to whether to allow the new human life growing in her womb to survive or to snuff it out. That choice, Obama – and Trudeau and Mulcair – insist must be left to the woman, and the state should not interfere even to protect the interests of the unborn. If, however, a woman should choose to leave the workplace, and devote her time to raising her children at home – that is a choice he does not want Americans to make?
How appropriate that Obama chose Halloween as the day on which to make such a ghoulish remark.
On the subject of ghoulishness, up here in Canada the ultra-ghoulish Bill C-36 has just received Royal Assent, having passed the Senate on Tuesday the 4th, and the House of Commons a month earlier on October 6th. This Bill, introduced by Justice Minister Peter McKay earlier this year, is designed to replace the prostitution laws that were struck down by the Supreme Court last December. The problem is that the laws this Bill introduces are a gazillion times worse than the ones they will be replacing.
Prostitution is by definition the exchange of sexual intercourse for money. Ordinarily it is a man who is offering money in the exchange and a woman who is offering sexual intercourse. In a country that does not wish to make sexual immorality itself illegal, it makes no sense to pass laws against prostitution, which is distinguishable from other sexual immorality only by the fact that money passes from one hand to another. It makes even less sense to pass a law that makes it legal to offer sex in exchange for money but illegal to offer money in exchange for sex. Yet this is exactly what Bill C-36 does. It is a fundamentally bad law.
All you need to do to see that this is a terrible law is to try and imagine any other law that would take the same form. What if the Prohibitionists, rather than declare the sale of alcohol to be illegal, had told the saloons they were free to stay open and peddle their wares but that all of their customers would be arrested? Imagine a law that would allow a drug dealer to peddle dope while punishing his customers for buying it!
Advocates of this law will argue that prostitution is often connected with other evils such as kidnapping, abuse, slavery, drug addiction, etc. This is true, but there are already laws against kidnapping, human trafficking, slavery, and all these other evils. When a new law is proposed to combat evils that are already covered by existing laws you can be sure there is something nasty to be found in the deal somewhere. Think of Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act which has finally been removed from the law. This was included in the CHRA in 1977, because the prosecution in Ontario found it too difficult to proceed against John Ross Taylor under the “hate propaganda” laws that Pierre Trudeau had added to the Criminal Code in 1970. These were themselves unnecessary because the laws against incitement were already sufficient to deal with the one or two demagogues out there who might try, with little success, to stir up a mob to racial violence. Canada has suffered a tremendous loss of freedom because we piled up unnecessary laws on top of the perfectly good laws against incitement. There is more suffering down the road due to Bill C-36, I am afraid.
Bill C-36 takes its inspiration from the laws of Sweden, which were based upon Marxist feminist ideology. According to this ideology the relationship between the two sexes has historically been that of an oppressor class (men) and an oppressed class (women). Prostitution, this ideology states, is a form of patriarchal oppression in which men (pimps and johns) conspire to keep women (prostitutes) in sexual slavery. Therefore, according to this ideology, social justice demands that the law liberate the oppressed and punish the oppressor. It is from this starting point that the architects of the “Nordic Model” came up with the idea of making prostitution legal while criminalizing the purchase of a prostitute’s services.
This is a very deceptive ideology. The fact that many prostitutes enter the sex trade by being kidnapped while young, addicted to drugs, and forced into it, is distorted into the lie that all prostitutes enter the trade in this way. The fact that prostitution would be nobody’s first choice in earning a living is twisted into the lie that no woman would ever choose prostitution apart from coercion. Prostitution is presented, not as an exchange of sex for money between two desperate people, but a conspiracy by men (pimps and johns) against women.
Prostitution is a distortion of the natural relationship between the sexes. Men are primarily attracted to youth, beauty, and other indicators of fertility in women, whereas women are primarily attracted to strength, wealth, confidence, and status, indicators of the ability to provide and protect in men. Optimally, this results in a marriage in which a man and a woman find what they are looking for from each other in a context of mutual love, self-sacrifice, and lifelong commitment. Human nature being what it is, this does not always happen and in prostitution you have the opposite of marriage. Man’s desire for a fertile mother for his children is reduced to a desire for sex, and woman’s desire for a strong, resourceful, husband to protect and provide for her and her children is reduced to a desire for cold, hard, cash, and the one is exchanged for the other as a business transaction. Things have to have gone terribly wrong somewhere for both the man and the woman before they could come to this kind of arrangement.
Bill C-36 will not solve the problem and it is not a step in the right direction. That this bill has been put forward by the Conservative Party and endorsed by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is a sad indicator of the extent to which Marxist and radical feminist ideology has infiltrated the Canadian right and evangelical Christianity.
In my last essay I talked about how an alliance of Western countries, including Canada, was coming together to fight ISIS or the Islamic State, a jihadist terrorist organization that has seized a large chunk of territory in Iraq and Syria, declared itself a caliphate, and has been kidnapping young women, committing ethnic cleansing against groups like the Yazidis, beheading Western journalists and behaving atrociously in general. I talked about how the rise of ISIS was made possible by the folly of the current American President and his predecessor. The governments of Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad, while despicable in many respects, were capable of keeping jihadist groups like the one that became ISIS in check. In their confidence in the ability of liberal democracy to create a new and better world, George W. Bush removed Hussein and Barack H. Obama threw his support behind the rebels seeking to oust Assad. I talked about how the war against ISIS was being fought on behalf of an unworthy cause, of liberalism, the disease that is killing Western civilization from the inside out, rather than Christianity, the faith which resisted Islam’s onslaught on the Western world from the Battle of Tours to the Gates of Vienna. I also talked about how the Bush doctrine of taking the fight to the terrorists, i.e., waging wars overseas to wipe them out before they can attack us at home is the mirror image of what we ought to be doing. We should be trying to keep jihadists out of Western countries so that we do not need to waste Western lives and Western money waging war overseas. Dr. Srdja Trifkovic has said that “The victory will come not by conquering Mecca for America, but by disengaging America from Mecca and by excluding Mecca from America” (1) and if we substitute “Western civilization” for “America” I think that is about right.
Within days of having completed this essay another aspect of the problem presented itself.
On Monday, October 20th, a young man named Martin Couture-Rouleau ran down a couple of Canadian soldiers with his Nissan Altima inthe Quebec city of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. One of these, a fifty-three year old Warrant Officer named Patrice Vincent, died from the injuries the next day. After the attack Couture-Rouleau called 911 to boast of what he had done “in the name of Allah”, then took off in his vehicle with the police in hot pursuit and ran into a ditch, escaped his vehicle, attacked the cops with a knife, and was shot down dead. He had converted to Islam last year, renamed himself Ahmad LeConverti, and had his passport confiscated because he wished to go overseas to join ISIS.
Two days later, another young man named Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, went to the National War Memorial in Ottawa and shot Corporal Nathan Cirillo, one of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, from behind with a rifle. He then fled the scene of the murder, arrived at Parliament Hill, jacked a vehicle which he drove to the Peace Tower, entered the Parliamentary buildings and engaged the House of Commons security forces in a gun fight in the Hall of Honour before being taken down by Sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers. Zehaf-Bibeau had converted to Islam ten years ago.
These incidents, which were apparently unrelated, present another aspect to the problem in that the perpetrators here were home-grown. Couture-Rouleau and Zehaf-Bibeau were Canadians, and not just in the same sense that Omar Khadr, who had been born in Toronto, to a family that raised him in Peshawar, Pakistan and Jalalabad, Afghanistan is a “Canadian”. They were both born and raised in Canada, to Canadian families, and were brought up in mainstream Canadian culture. Their conversion to Islam was one side of a coin, the other side of which was a rejection of the society into which they had been born and its culture.
Now clearly a strategy that focuses on keeping jihadists out of the country with a sensible immigration policy and strong border security cannot prevent attacks from homegrown terrorists who have rejected the country, society, and culture into which they were born and have by choice embraced the culture of jihad. Indeed, a preventative strategy against this sort of attack is likely to prove elusive. Measures like tightening up security in places that are at high risk of being targeted and increasing domestic surveillance can only do so much and come with a heavy cost in terms of freedom lost. We have only just now, in the last few years, began to recover the freedom that was stolen from us by the father of the present leader of the Liberal Party back in the 1970s and can scarcely afford to lose any more.
Speaking of Trudeau père, it was he who in 1971 declared Canada to be officially multicultural. This is a huge part of the problem we are dealing with. Multicultural, as Trudeau used the term, means something more than mere cultural plurality. Culturally, a society can be either homogenous or plural. There are different kinds of homogeneity and plurality. The city-states of ancient Greece or Renaissance Italy had one type of cultural homogeneity, the nation-states of post-Renaissance Europe had another. The Roman Empire, in which a multitude of local cultures were tolerated so long as they recognized the supremacy of Rome was a different kind of cultural plurality from that which came about in Britain when the king of Presbyterian Scotland inherited the throne of Anglican England.
Canada has always been a culturally plural country. In the original Confederation of 1867 there were four provinces, three of which were primarily English and Protestant, one of which was French and Roman Catholic. The plurality, the Fathers of Confederation had in mind for the country they established, was a plurality along the lines of that which then existed in Austria-Hungary in which culturally distinct nations were joined by a common loyalty to a Christian royal House. This is not the kind of plurality Trudeau had in mind when he declared Canada to be multicultural.
Trudeau’s multiculturalism is a pluralism based upon the idea of equality – that all cultures are equal. This is not the same thing as saying that under the Crown all citizens have the same rights and are subject to the same laws regardless of their culture. The latter idea is not culturally neutral but is distinctive of certain cultures and not present in others. If all cultures are equal then a culture that contains this idea is no better for doing so than a culture that does not and the opposite of this concept is equally valid. The only way in which all cultures could be equal would be if all cultures were equally worthless. Multiculturalism or cultural egalitarianism is cultural nihilism.
This applies to religion, which T. S. Eliot rightly said was the heart and centre of culture, as well. Religions do not all teach the same thing. Therefore, the only way in which all religions could be equal would be if they were all wrong. This would seem to be exactly what many progressives think or at least assume, even if they are unwilling to admit it. This assumption could only have developed in the vacuum created by the loss of faith in the religion that has been at heart of Western culture and civilization for almost two millennia. Perhaps that vacuum might help explain how two young men, born and raised in the Western country of Canada, could so reject their country, its culture,and the larger civilization to which it belongs as to embrace, in a zealous and violent way, the religion that has sought to conquer that civilization by force since the seventh century. If Trudeau fils is still looking for "root causes" of jihadist violence that is one he might consider.
(1) In Defeating Jihad: How the War on Terror May Yet Be Won In Spite of Ourselves, (Boston: Regina Orthodox Press, 2006).
In the op/ed columns of newspapers and on blogs on the internet and in commentary on television and radio, a debate is raging over the necessity of “boots on the ground”. The question is one of how to deal with ISIS – not the ancient Egyptian goddess but the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – the Sunni jihadist organization that has seized control of a large chunk of territory on both sides of the Syrian-Iraqi border and which earlier this year proclaimed itself to be a caliphate. We have been hearing news stories about the atrocities this group has perpetrated, from the ethnic cleansing of the Yazidi to the mass kidnapping of Christian girls to the beheading of Western journalists, for months and for those carrying out the aforementioned debate, it is a matter of whether air strikes would be a sufficient response or whether a ground invasion is necessary. It is taken as a given by both sides that military intervention of some sort or another is necessary..
That military action against ISIS is necessary is certainly the position of our Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Last month he declared the Islamic State to be “a direct threat to the security of this country” and promised that Canada would not “stand on the sidelines and watch” in the fight against ISIS but that we would “do our part”. What doing our part entails, apparently, is the sending of Canadian CF-18 Hornet fighter jets, along with support vehicles and military personnel, to take part in an international coalition fighting against ISIS in Iraq. The House of Commons approved this action by a vote of 157-134 on October 7th and polls indicate that it has broad support among Canadians.
That support is not universal, of course, and while Prime Minister Harper’s rhetoric does raise the interesting question of what he would have proposed to do about this “direct threat” to Canada’s security if an international coalition had not already existed and neither the USA, UK, not UN showed any interest in fighting ISIS, perhaps the best argument in favour of the government’s position is to contrast it with the alternative position of the vapid and vainglorious leader of the Liberal Party, Justin Trudeau. Trudeau insists that Canada’s role in this conflict should be one of providing “humanitarian assistance” rather than combat, i.e., providing food, shelter, and other necessities to the victims of ISIS rather than helping to take out the terrorist organization that is victimizing them. This is rather akin to the man in the old anecdote about the insane asylum who proves that he is worthy of abiding in that institution by continuing to mop up a floor flooded by an overflowing sink rather than turn off the tap.
Recently, former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien weighed in on the matter, supporting Trudeau’s position, pointing to all the thankful remarks he still receives from Canadians for keeping us out of the 2003 Iraq War and saying that providing humanitarian assistance has been Canada’s way for fifty years. That is somewhat of an oversimplification, which ignores the fact that Canadians had a combat role in the War on Afghanistan authorized by Mr. Chretien himself or that we had a combat role in the original war against Saddam Hussein in 1991.
Yes, Jean Chretien was right to keep us out of the 2003 Iraq War. It was probably the only time in his life he was ever right about anything but you know what they say about a stopped clock. The invasion of Iraq began in the March of 2003, one year and a half after the attack by Islamic terrorist organization Al Qaeda upon the United States on September 11, 2001. It was this latter event that took the administration of then American President George W. Bush down a militaristic path. Now the United States, at least to any sane person, had in the 9/11 attack a clear justification for retaliation. It seemed odd, therefore, that so soon after 9/11, while its broadly supported efforts to take out the terrorist organization responsible for the attacks and the Taliban regime that sheltered them were still underway and incomplete, the Bush administration would concentrate so much effort on taking out the Saddam Hussein regime which had no plausible connection to the attacks.
The Bush administration’s official reason for toppling the Hussein regime was their claim that Hussein was developing Weapons of Mass Destruction which it was cleverly hiding from UN inspection teams. That seemed then as it seems now to be an excuse, a pretence that hid the Bush administration’s real motives. At the time those of us, left and right, who thought the Iraq War was a mistake, did so because a costly war of regime change in Iraq did not make sense when the War in Afghanistan was still underway and because we suspected that the actual motives of the Bush administration were less than noble. Whether those suspicions were warranted or not, now, looking on it from the perspective of eleven years of hindsight, another reason for considering the Iraq War to have been utter folly is apparent. Namely, that it is the removal of Saddam Hussein that made the rise of ISIS possible.
The Ba’ath government of Saddam Hussein was reprehensible in many ways, of course, but what it had going for it was that it was capable of keeping jihadist groups like the one that eventually became ISIS down. If what Iraq needed was a stable government, with something vaguely resembling law and order if you looked at it from far enough away, where Muslims other than those of the predominant sect, Christians, and other groups would enjoy a degree of protection and not be completely trampled on, then Saddam Hussein was the best of all possible bad options.
Whatever the non-ideological motivations of the Bush administration might have been, two overarching ideological principles can be seen to have guided its military actions. The first is the idea of “taking the fight to the enemy”, i.e., going overseas to take out the terrorists before they can attack us in Western countries. The second is the idea is that terrorism is the product of and supported by non-democratic governments which should therefore be replaced by democratic ones wherever possible. If the “War on Terror” was an expression of the first idea, the Iraq War embodied the second.
The current President of the United States has been criticized by many for his handling of international affairs. Frequently this takes the form of comparing him negatively to George W. Bush – whereas the latter was decisive, firm, and strong, Obama is indecisive, wishy-washy, and weak. However much truth there may be in this, I would suggest that with regards to international affairs, Obama deserves the most criticism for the area in which he and Bush are most alike, namely their naïve belief in democracy as a universal force for good.
By removing the dictator who kept such forces at bay in Iraq, in the name of democracy, Bush created the conditions that led to the rise of ISIS there, just as his insistence upon democratic elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip only empowered and gave a sort of pseudo-legitimacy to the terrorist organization Hamas. Obama received much criticism for not following through on the “line in the sand” rhetoric he directed against the government of Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian Civil War, but, while this did cause the United States to lose a great deal of “face”, perhaps the bigger problem was that he had thrown his support behind the rebels, when the weakening of the Assad regime is precisely what led to the rise of ISIS on the Syrian side of the border. Consistently, Obama like Bush before him, has supported rebel groups against strongman governments in Egypt, Libya and all across the Middle East and, as with Bush before him, the largest benefactor has been Islamic jihadists.
Indeed, if you are looking for a sound case against Canada’s involvement in the coalition against ISIS, ignore the twaddle coming out of the mouth of the son of our worst ever Prime Minister, the fact that Barack Obama is the leader of the coalition is a good place to start. To that, we could add that the coalition includes the biggest jihad-sponsoring countries in the Middle East but none of the governments that have effectively kept down and contained jihadist terrorism in the past. The same was true of the coalition George W. Bush put together for his War on Terror which is why that War was for the most part a sad and sick joke. Finally, we could make the case ironclad by pointing out that while our opponents, by establishing a caliphate, have sought to stoke the fire of zeal among their followers by conjuring up imagery from the earliest history of Islam when it was united, strong, and a virtually unstoppable juggernaut, we are once again marching into battle against them not under the aegis of the faith that defeated their fathers at Tours and the Gates of Vienna, but in the name of liberalism, the disease that is killing us from the inside.
Perhaps one day Western leaders will awaken to the fact that the best strategy for dealing with groups like ISIS is the reverse of the Bush doctrine. Instead of taking the fight to the terrorists overseas in the hopes of averting terrorist attacks on Western soil it would make much more sense to close the borders of the West to the Islamic world so that we do not have to involve ourselves in their conflicts over there. Despite the disturbing number of “Western” youth being recruited by organizations like ISIS, however, this strategy is less acceptable to progressive liberals and leftists like Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair than outright war. In the meantime, we should be thankful that Prime Minister Harper, however grandiose his rhetoric, placed very careful and specific limits on the military action for which he sought and obtained Parliamentary approval. The United States is not so fortunate. Their president is clearly in over his head and in the long run could potentially have them bogged down in a quagmire that would make George W. Bush’s look like a little mud puddle in comparison.
In the traditional moral theology of the Christian Church, seven “sins” were identified as being particularly deadly. These were Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Avarice (Greed), Gluttony and Lust. I place “sins” in quotations not because I question the Church’s judgement of these as being wicked, but because they are actually vices rather than sins. A sin is an evil act like murder, robbery, or lying. A vice is an evil character trait or habit – the opposite of a virtue which is a good character trait or habit. These seven obviously fall within the vice category, and in classical Christian moral theology are ordinarily contrasted with seven Christian virtues, but the name “Seven Deadly Sins” somehow became attached to the list, has the weight of centuries of prescription behind it, and, if it comes down to that, has a better ring to it than “Seven Deadly Vices.”
Dorothly L. Sayers, who was a mystery writer, Christian apologist, and medieval scholar in the early to mid twentieth century, gave an address to the Public Morality Council at Caxton Hall in Westminster, in 1941, entitled “The Other Six Deadly Sins.” The text of her address can be found a number of collections of her essays, including Creed or Chaos? and The Whimsical Christian. The six which are the topic of her talk are those other than Lust and the point of her discussion was that these six had come to be neglected and Lust overly emphasized in popular Christian teaching. “Perhaps the bitterest commentary” she said “on the way in which Christian doctrine has been taught in the last few centuries is the fact that to the majority of people the word ‘immorality’ has come to mean one thing and one thing only.”
Ironically, in traditional Christian theology, as reflected in Dante Aligheri’s Divine Comedy - of which, incidentally, Sayers produced a translation – Lust was considered to be the least of the seven. Pride – the sin of Lucifer and the original source of all other sin - was considered to be the worst. The order in which I listed them in the first paragraph of this essay goes from worst to least – traditionally, the Church would list from least progressing to worst, beginning with Lust. As Virgil leads Dante up the mountain of Purgatory in the Purgatorio, they encounter the faithful being purged of their vices in order of their seriousness, beginning with lust and ending with pride.
If Dorothy L. Sayers was right in saying that popular Christian ethics had come to focus too heavily upon Lust to the exclusion of other sins, and she was, there is now a tendency in certain circles to make Avarice into the sum and total of all evil. Sayers used the term Covetousness for this vice. Both terms are now rather archaic but they are also more precise than the most common contemporary equivalent, Greed, which in its ordinary, everyday usage, includes Gluttony as well as Avarice. Avarice was the third least of the Seven Deadly Sins in traditional Christian ethics but those who seek to wed Christian theology to socialism often seem to consider it to be the worst. This is because they see Avarice as the driving force behind the capitalism they hate so much.
Whether Avarice actually is the force behind capitalism is debatable – much depending, of course, on how one defines capitalism. We will return to that momentarily. What is indisputable, however, is that Envy – traditionally, the second worst of the Seven Deadly Sins - is the force behind socialism. Nobody put it better than Sir Winston Churchill who said “Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery”. Envy is hate and resentment of other people because of what they have. It is the very essence of socialism.
Now to be fair a distinction needs to be made here. In North America an unfortunate tendency has developed to lump every law and every government program that is aimed at - whether effectively or not - bettering the conditions of the less advantaged under the label of socialism. This is not what the word socialism has historically meant and it is certainly not what Churchill meant by it in the above quotation. Indeed, laws and programs intended to better the conditions of the less advantaged have historically, often been introduced by conservatives, like Otto Von Bismarck in Germany, Benjamin Disraeli in the United Kingdom, and R. B. Bennett and John G. Diefenbaker in Canada for the purpose of combating socialism. In an interview with the Paris Review in the early 1970s, Anthony Burgess remarked that “to take socialism seriously, as opposed to minimal socialization (which America so desperately needs), is ridiculous”. This is the necessary distinction so let us borrow Burgess’ apt terminology for it. The laws and programs that comprise minimal socialization are not based upon Envy, but Envy is the essence of true socialism.
Socialism began in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and has been formulated in many different ways and has spawned many different movements which often bear little resemblance to one another.. Some socialists were anarchists who wanted to get rid of the state, others saw the state as the instrument by which their goals would be achieved. Some believed violent revolution was the path to their collectivist utopia, others insisted upon working peacefully and lawfully within the established system. Beneath all of these differences, what the various socialists had in common, is the idea that the private ownership of property is itself evil and unjust and that it is the source of most or all other evils and injustices in society. Originally, socialists proposed as a “solution” to this “problem” that private ownership be replaced by some form of collective or common ownership. Today, many, perhaps most, socialists have abandoned the advocacy of collective ownership in favour of a combination of confiscatory taxation, a heavily regulated market and an expansive welfare state that is far beyond anything that could be described as “minimal socialization”. What they have not abandoned is the basic idea of socialism that blame for the ills from which society suffers is to be placed on the “haves” for having so much. This hatred of the “haves” for having, continues to permeate all socialist rhetoric and it is precisely this attitude which the Church has traditionally condemned as the cardinal vice of Envy.
The relationship between socialism and Envy, therefore, is undeniable. Socialism is an ideology, and its basic concept reduces to Envy. If there is a relationship between capitalism and Avarice it is by no means as clear as this. Capitalism is an economic arrangement in which people own property on or in which commercial goods are produced (farms, mills, mines, factories, etc.), hire other people to work on or in that property, and market the goods, living off of the profit, that which they receive for the sale above what is necessary to cover the costs of operating their property. If some or even most capitalists (property owners) show Avarice in overcharging for their goods or underpaying their employees this does not mean that capitalism itself is based upon Avarice in the way that socialism is based upon Envy. (1)
Not only is the connection between socialism and Envy clearer and more fundamental than the connection, if any, between capitalism and Avarice, Envy is in the traditional teachings of the Christian Church the worse of the two vices. Let us consider why the Church traditionally ranked these vices in this way.
Avarice is similar to Lust and Gluttony in that it is a natural, God-given desire that has been perverted by excess into a vice. God, the Bible tells us, created man male and female, and ordered him to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. Sexual desire, therefore, in and of itself, cannot be the bad thing that the Bible and the Church condemn as Lust. Lust is sexual desire taken to a vicious excess. Similarly God created us so that we require sustenance and gave us an appetite for food. If we did not have that appetite we would starve to death, but when that appetite is indulged to excess it becomes the vice of Gluttony. If Lust is the perversion by excess of the good, natural, and God-given sexual appetite and Gluttony is the perversion by excess of the good, natural, and God-given appetite for food, Avarice is the perversion by excess of the good, natural, and God-given appetite to have material possessions.
Jesus said that all of God’s commandments could be summarized in the greatest two – to love God and to love our neighbour. It follows from this that all vices and sins must be defects in our love for God and other people. This tells us how the vice of Avarice is to be distinguished from the natural, God-given, desire for material possessions. It is not sinful to want “things”. If however, we put our trust in material wealth, looking to our possessions as our source of personal security, then we have failed to love God properly because we have committed idolatry by giving to our material possessions the faith that we owe our Creator. The desire to have – even to have more – is not in itself Avarice. It becomes Avarice when we look at others and think “I don’t want them to have any, I want it all for myself”.
Envy is a different sort of vice altogether. It is not a twisting or a perversion of a natural desire but consists entirely of ill will towards others.. Envy resents another for what he possesses. The resentment is based upon the fact that it is his and not mine regardless of whether I actually want it for myself or not. Envy wants to see what the other person has taken away from him even if oneself is not thereby enriched or benefited in any way. As Dorothy L. Sayers said of Envy:
Envy is the great leveller: if it cannot level things up, it will level them down; and the words constantly in its mouth are “My Rights” and “My Wrongs.” At its best, Envy is a climber and a snob; at its worst, it is a destroyer-rather than have anybody happier than itself, it will see us all miserable together.
It is closely related to Pride, which in the traditional view is the only one of the Seven worse than itself. Pride is the worst of the Seven because it is the true “Original Sin” in the sense that it was the first sin, the sin of Lucifer, the root from which all other sin sprang. If Pride is the root sin, Lucifer’s sinful attitude towards himself, the second sin, the first to grow out of the root of Pride in the heart of Lucifer was Envy, his sinful attitude towards his Creator.
The Church’s traditional ranking of the vices seems entirely right and sensible. Envy is the second worst after Pride because the two are inseparably intertwined, almost the same sinful attitude in two different aspects, Pride looking inward and Envy looking outward. They are satanic in the most literal sense of the word – the sins that brought about Lucifer’s fall – and thus the spring from which the tainted river of sin and vice flows. Avarice, like Gluttony and Lust, is a lesser vice, a natural, God given desire that has been twisted and taken to excess, by the corrupting influence of the root sins of Pride and Envy.
Thus traditional Christian theology sheds much light on the kind of modern theology that looks more sympathetically towards socialism, the heart of which is Envy, than towards capitalism, which socialists claim promotes Avarice. (2)
(1) This essay will probably come across as an apology for capitalism, which I suppose it is if we associate no other connotations with capitalism beyond the definition in the eighth paragraph. The term usually has other connotations of course. These include mass production, industrialization, urbanization, technology, progress, and basically all the concepts that are wrapped up in the word “modern”. I make no apology for a capitalism that includes these concepts, each of which I look upon with varying degrees of suspicion and disgust. These are as much a part of socialism, however, as they are of capitalism.
(2) Dorothy L. Sayers, whose speech “The Other Six Deadly Sins” I have referred to throughout this essay, said that “If Avarice is the sin of the Haves against the Have-Nots, Envy is the sin of the Have-Nots against the Haves.” While I understand why she would say this, I question it. Anybody who has worked or volunteered for an organization that distributes food, clothing, etc. to the Have-Nots and has had to try and prevent those who are ahead in the distribution line from hoarding everything from those who are behind them in the line, will know that Avarice or Greed is hardly an unknown vice among the Have-Nots. On a somewhat related note, V. S. Naipaul has the narrator of one of the stories in his In a Free State comment “But no, like all poor people they want to be the only ones to rise. It is the poor who always want to keep down the poor.” I would also suggest that if one wants to observe Envy, on a truly spectacular scale, one has to look among the Haves.
A Protestant Christian, patriotic Canadian, and a reactionary High Tory with a libertarian streak, at the same time a monarchist, indeed a royal absolutist, and a minarchist.
You can e-mail me at gerrytneal(at)hotmail(dot)ca