Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Savitri Devi: A Warning to the Hindus

Savitri Devi

I just finished reading the Bhagavad-Gita today. Coming around slowly from the experience, I thought I’d check what Savitri Devi (pictured left) had to say specifically on the subject of Hinduism.
She wrote an important book on the survival of Hinduism called, A Warning to the Hindus, published in 1939. Power, nationalism and, surprisingly, liberalism in social matters were at the heart of her proposition. I include a brief excerpt below.


John Dunn.

Savitri Devi


A Warning to the Hindus

From chapter 6

‘A Change of Mentality Among the Hindus’

The Development of Nationalism

The three quarters of Spain were Mohammadan, at one time. Why are they not now?

Not because of the superiority, if any, of the Gospel over the Koran, but because of the greater military strength of the Catholic kings, makers of modern Spain, compared to that of the last Mohammadan rulers; because political power remained, finally, in the hands of the Catholics. When you possess political power, then you can make nations do what you like, think what you like, profess whatever sense or nonsense you like, nowadays and in the future, as well as you could in the past. It only requires a more powerful administration, backed by more powerful war-engines, as all techniques improve with time.

We would like the Hindus to remember this, and to strive to acquire political power at any cost. Social reforms are necessary, not because they will bring more “humanity” among the Hindus, as many think, but because they will bring unity, that is to say power. The Hindus have been living, up till now, with less “humanity.” Many unseen dramas, many crushed aspirations, many weary, wretched lives have been the consequence of Hindu orthodoxy, enforced in daily matters with all its rigidity. But we do not speak of them. We do not advocate in favour of the sufferers, in the name of “humanity.” If, with less “humanity” the Hindu nation was growing stronger as a nation, instead of growing weaker everyday; if, with less “humanity,” the Hindus could organise themselves, reconquer India for themselves, and make free India a ruling power in the world, then, we would never ask them to change the slightest of their habits, nor to get rid of the grossest of their superstitions, if any. If, without the collaboration of all Hindus, Hindudom was flourishing and able to flourish in the future, we would not even advocate the suppression of Untouchability. There is nothing so strong as deep-rooted customs. Humanitarian views have never uprooted them. But the pressure of a hard, undeniable necessity has, sometimes. The necessity that is pressing the Hindus, specially in the regions where they are a minority, is to live, first. To live, they must grow strong; they must get political power in their hands. We advocate social reforms, the abolition of Untouchability, liberalism in daily social matters, alliance with the sturdy Hillmen considered as Hindus (since necessary), and the recall of all Indians back to Hindudom, because we believe that these are the effective means, by which the Hindus will get political power, and, with it, the possibility of every kind of national glory, within India, and outside India, one day.

Excerpt taken from http://www.savitridevi.org/works.html

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson

Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson   
I found this amazing interview with Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson on angelfire.com. The interviewer is Gisela Graichen and it is taken from the book Die Neuen Hexen (The New Witches) by G. Graichen and translated by the Seiðman.

SveinbjörnBeinteinsson, the son of the farmer Beinteinn Einarsson from Litlabotni-on-Hvaljardsbeachand Helga Pétursdóttir from Drághals in Svindal, was born on Apr. 4, 1924. He died on the 24th of Dec., 1993, from heart failure. In 1972 he founded the Ásatrúarfélag, the Icelandic heathen organization, of which he was the chief góði until his death. Since 1991, Sveinbjörn lived on his land in Drághalsin Bergmassiv Skardheiði (approx. 60 mi. from Reykjavik), where the 6 ½ foot statue of Þor can be found.


S. B.: "Here in Iceland heathenry it's a completely normal thing. I'm more scared of the fact that I smoke than that I'm a heathen. My religion was officially recognized by the governmentin May of '93." G. G.: You were the founder?

S. B.: "Yeah, I was already interested in the old Gods when I was a child. I snatched up the wisdom out of the Sagas, the Edda and the old stories. By the time I could read I was already pouring over the Sagas and by the time I turned 16 I had published my first poems dealing with the Gods."

G. G.: What's your actual occupation?

S. B.: "Farmer, author, and poet.My forebears have always been farmers."

G. G.: You live here by yourself on your land. Isn't that kinda lonely?

S. B. : "Oh no, my nearest neighbor lives 3½ mi. from here, and, besides that, I'm completely surrounded by beings, Land spirits--the Hidden folk."

G. G.: What about when you're sick?

S. B.: "I go out into Nature and gather herbs to cure myself."

G. G.: What do you write?

S. B.: "Works about Iceland's history,songs, poems. I also have a scholarly book about the technical construction of Old Icelandic poetry. Historically, we have some pretty complicatedpoetry here."

G. G.: Are you baptized?

S. B.: "Baptized, confirmed, the works. I've always had pretty close ties to Christianity, at least, asit's practiced here in Iceland."

G. G.: Are you still in the Church?

S. B.: "No, before someone can join us, he first has to leave the Church."

G. G.: When did the idea first come to you to start a movement out of your belief in the old Gods?

S. B.: "In the winter of'71/ '72. At that time we were getting a lot of Jesus Children into Iceland, and I said to myself, 'Wait a minute, we have older beliefs in Iceland. Why should we not bring them back to life? How come we're bringing in all these other sects?' I gathered up a group of people (we were 12of us at the time) and soon we had a few more. The idea quickly began to sound real good to us."

G. G.: Was this a conscious movement against the sects coming in?

S. B.: "Yes, in direct opposition to it. We wanted to give people a chance to belong to the old religion.The religion that was here on Iceland before there was Christianity, that was forbidden us in the same year that Iceland adopted Christianity."

G. G.: Was the old folk religional ways kinds of wavering about under the surface of things?

S. B.: "Absolutely! It was alive and well all these years."

G. G.: Why were they practiced only behind closed doors for 970 years, and only now are they coming out in the open?

S. B.: "Because they were illegal.The old religion was practiced only in secret because the Church was feared as the strongest force in the country. Iceland was Catholic until 1550.Then came the Reformation and with it came the Evangelical Church of theState. Not until 1874 did we get religious freedom of choice and only then could one leave the Church. After that, all we needed was a little time to let the dust settle before starting our move."

G. G.: You said that the old religion lived on for a 1000 years; how was this expressed?

S. B.: "The country folk always believed in Nature, in natural experience, and in Beings that live in Nature like elves, gnomes, and good, positive-natured Beings which live near people and help them. It could also be that these the Dead as well. No one knows where these creatures live, but it is known that certain people are always surrounded by them."

G. G.: Not all people?

S. B.: "No, not all of them."

G. G.: For what reason do these Beings seek out the people that they follow?

S. B.: "Why this happens to only certain people no one knows. It's a special kind of luck, though, when one receives this kind of support. It has absolutely nothing to do with the "holy things" as we know them from the Church, though."

G. G.: Are there ghosts or spirits on your land?

S. B.: "I've never seen them, but I sense them."

G. G.: What do you call yourselves?Heathens?

S. B.: "We call our religion Ásatrú,the belief in the Æsir, in the old norse Gods. We don't want to just call ourselves heathens because there are so many different types of heathens."'Heathen' is the overall term for it."

G. G.: How did you gain official,legal recognition for the religion?

S. B.: "We didn't have to demonstrate or have a revolution. We just founded a collective of people who believed in the Æsir. In the law, it's forbidden to go out and do missionary work. No one should be able to force his beliefs on another. They come on their own when they are minded to do so."

G. G.: What was the official reaction to the emergence of your collective?

S. B.: "At first they were skeptical.I had to go to the Minister of Justice ­who happens to be pro religious freedom and explain our goals. Anybody can start his own religion, but to get the same recognition as the State Church, requires permission from the Minister of Justice."

G. G.: Was it difficult to get this special permission?

S. B.: "I knew the Minister of Justice.Earlier he had been a law professor at the university in Reykjavik. I reminded him about old, pertinent law cases where he had interpreted the law pertaining to religions in particular ways, because it was easy for me to read through them, that it was legal what we were doing. That's how we finally got our religion recognized. Then I had to apply for a License to Practice with the police, and since then we've had the same rights as the Church."

G. G.: Which rights are those?

S. B.: "I am able to legally marry couples , for example. In Iceland, you can't just go to the Justice of the Peace. The marriage between couples in our collective is legal."

G. G.: How many couples have you married? A lawyer explained to me that there might be similar problems in Germany as well.

S. B.: "Around 10 couples.

"I heard about a case where a couple got married sort of as a joke. The young lady was of legal age and found out the next day to her surprise that the marriage was legal. She held off for an annulment because was going to have to give up ½ all her possessions. The thing wasn't really a joke. The couple had to apply all the way up to the Parliament. They stated the they really weren't suited for one another and wanted them to declare the marriage invalid so they wouldn't have to go through with the legal proceedings of the separation,but the Parliament didn't come through with it. The marriage was valid and fully legal. They had to go through with a divorce just like any bodyelse."

G. G.: How did the State Church react to the legal recognition?

S. B.: "During the hearing the Minister of Justice called the Bishop to the witness stand. Naturally, he was against it. The Bishop also gave an official ruling against the legalization of the collective. But the Ministry struck it from the record. Then he wrote a lengthy article in the newspaper, but the publisher of the paper had reacted rather favorably to our bringing the old religion back.

"In Parliament there was also a bid by a member of the conservative party that our religion should not be legalized. There was a debate but the opposition wasn't able to pull it off. The Minister of Justice himself put in a good word for our religionand personally stood behind it and us."

G. G.: Does he belong to your movement?

S. B.: "No, but here in Iceland we're so tolerant towards the practice of different religions that we are pretty well understood. They also tried the same thing in Norway but they weren't successful."

G. G.: How many members did you have in May of '73?

S. B.: "40."

G. G.: How many members do you have today (1986)?

S. B.: "Eighty registered members. But a larger number than that goes to our meetings, to the blóts. They are 'Friends of the Félag' and they are in the majority, in other words, they are not officially registered. Blóts are out ceremonies; the old norse word for 'sacrifice.'"

G. G.: You still sacrifice in this day and age?

S. B.: "We don't know exactly how our ancestors conducted these feasts, but we don't sacrifice. First, when we gather, everything is blessed and made holy."

G. G.: Is the Function headed by a high priest?

S. B.: "There is an Allherjarsgóði,a chief-góði, of the highest order, or better: the highest Judge. In the past each district had its own góði. Once a year, they met together at the 'Judgment Place.' They held both priestlyand legal functions in the district. After the christianization of Iceland,the religious function was dropped. The chief-góði, opened the meeting called the Þing and blessed it. This is how we also begin our meetings. Then the Sagas are read and the Gods are toasted."

G. G.: A lot?

S. B.: "Symbolically, out of a drinking horn. We prepare the mead, and then we drink. After that, anyone can standup and say whatever he has to say. Here in Iceland, folks also like to recite poetry. Lastly, folks are gathered together, they feast together,and they drink together."

G. G.: Which Gods are prayed to?

S. B.: Mainly, Þórr (Thor). He gets the highest of praises. As a God, He is more common than Óðin (Odin), more people-friendly. He is the God of farms; He makes the earth fertile with His Hammer; The God of Strength and Help."

G. G.: Are there ritual items on the altar at the ceremony?

S. B.: We have a drinking horn and a small statue of Þórr.

G. G.: In Germany the religion is called Óðinism. What role does Óðinn play in your religion?

S. B.: "Anyone can pray to the Godsin whatever manner he likes. Óðinn stands for Wisdom, the Imagination,and great Knowledge."

G. G.: Isn't He also the God of magicians and sorcerers?

S. B.: "That is a part of His knowledge,yes, absolutely! The Gods are often talked about and discussed according to Their different functions."

G. G.: But the chief-God is Óðinn,i.e., masculine.

S. B.: "The Goddesses play a very large role. Freya, the Goddess of Fertility, is very important. She is the counterpart to Óðinn."

G. G.: Is She at the same level or is She subordinate to Him?

S. B.: "On the same level. There is no difference."

G. G.: What roles do women play in Ásatrú?

S. B.: "With the registered members now there is 80% men and 20% women. That might be because women are a little less likely to want to go up before the judge and other officials. One has to leave the Church first, and women often shy away from formalities.The visitors who come to the blóts are usually women. Society in Iceland was never very patriarchically structured. Women have always had more rights and were always looked upon more as equals than they were on the continent."

G. G.: What does the word "witchcraft"mean to you?

S. B.: "Not a living person; the concept stands for a type of power, a magical power."

G. G.: What kind of a power?

S. B.: "It plays a main role, whatever kind of power it is, especially when it mixes with our own strengths. It happens with that combination. My own energy is strengthened through that no matter what I do. The power which stems from close contact with Nature was readily available to people in the past. Over the years, we lost these abilities and attempted to replace it with pseudo things like more powerful cars and bigger houses. Now, we know that this power is inherent in us and we want to revive it. This is my own personal opinion. But, most of the members of this religion are going in this direction. All the ones who earnestly seek it out, find it to be true. Often we have to admit,that we can develop more spiritually. The ability must be cultivated, we can't afford to ignore it any more. If only science had recognized how much we can do much with our minds and our consciousness, they wouldn't have lead us off this path."

G. G.: Even though­ as you say ­it doesn't ever come up, I'd like to talk about this magical knowledge a little more.

S. B.: "It is the special task of our religion to rebuild our ties to Nature, to all the powers that are within Nature, in order to better understand them. There a tree grows or a brook flows, and man is only a part of the process. He must be aware that he is a part of the natural flow of things. The old people, the kind I knew as a kid, who were surely Christians, but they didn't overdo it with the Christian thing. Normally, they had a mix of beliefs in Christianity but also in nature. They had a sense that there were elves and other Beings around them. There were much better relationships between man and nature and people among themselves."

G. G.: You have here in Iceland partially due to the island's isolation and partially to the political move for independence­ a Republic since 1944 ­somewhat of a special situation.

S. B.: "Yes, technical advances in the world pushed us forward. Machines, cars, jet planes, modern ships ­all of it came at once ­in a single generation. We hadn't gone through any of the modern developments like the rest of the European countries. Take,for example, sailing. For a 1000 years man has been sailing. It took thousands of years for man to learn sailing. And, suddenly, in the space of one generation came steamships, then motor boats, all the way up to atomic powered submarines.That was all was too fast, and much too much at one time. That can hardly be done in one generation. Amazingly enough, man adapted quickly to all the new things but at the same time lost his normal, intuitive relationship to Nature. Instead, man created a dead environment. He surrounded himself with a man made wasteland."

G. G.: Is Nature taking revenge while she dies because man has lost his relationship with her?Is that what you're saying?

S. B.: "Yes, I can well remember what the old people used to say to me as a kid: 'Let the tree stand; leave the moss on the rock; don't kill the fly in the window!' Nature was a part of our lives back then. After the arrival of technology and science, we have to wait because the soul comes in second. Mankind seems to me to be like someone who is being forced to dance. A long time ago, I knew of people who were forced to dance and couldn't stop dancing until they either fell completely exhausted or dropped dead. That how it is in the world today with all the its wars. The world is dancing itself to death and can't stop itself."

G. G.: People of your generation can still remember those times. In that case you guys have it easier on your conscience than we do on the continent.

S. B.: "Yeah, we remember the time before technical advances which came to us kind of late. These closer contacts to the old time and the closer contact with Nature and also our cultural past helped pave the way for our religion."

G. G.: Do you want to turn back time?

S. B.: "No. I don't sit down with my group and say, 'Now that we have recaptured the belief system of our past, let's start living like we did in the past.' I don't want to turn back time. I have to live my life in the present. We couldn't nor would we want to do away with the new technologies."

G. G.: You don't avoid driving cars or watching TV?

S. B.: "No, we have to learn so that we can make do. These things shouldn't be the destruction of our sense of well-being that man has has fostered up to this point. Science has to have a balance in our lives. We no longer feel whole. In my youth, I experienced this same balance still when I was living with the Elders. They conducted their lives so as to hurt no one. There are hardly any people left who conduct themselves in this way. Fast paced paced technology has destroyed that."

G. G.: You are trying to lead people towards this 'sense of well-being'?

S. B.: "That is one of our main goals."

G. G.: What are some of the others?

S. B.: "To be able to live with this sense of well-being, and not to lose the balance"

G. G.: Do you believe that you can bring people through your religion to such an awareness that they willbe able to stop dancing?

S. B.: "In our religion I certainly see a hope. You've got an important point. You asked, at the beginning,why just now the old religion is being brought out of hiding and into the open. I answered that it was because of the fear of the Church's power.But, it was also because of something else ­the fear of the science which came up at the beginning of this century. The fear that one would make a fool out himself if he admitted to believing in elves and gnomes,that there are ghosts­ that's spooky."

G. G.: Can people admit to it today?

S. B.: "Today, I think, science has been brought more into the question. Now a person can admit to believing in something that can't be seen. We're finally getting over the strict attention we've been paying to technological advancement and are able to see exactly what it has gotten us. It hasn't brought us what we'd been hoping for for the past 50 years."

G. G.: Is it that you want to create a "new society?"

S. B.: "No revolution. Science has also provided us with good things as well such as medicines, knowledge about epidemics. Although with it we've also caused some of the hunger and starvation in the Third World. Now we are attempting to take care of our spiritual side, to learn, to drive away our lust for aggression, to long for less instead of desiring everything. People can learn to be less aggressive with each other and help one another instead of going after one another all the time."

G. G.: Why do you think that through your religion you will be more successful than Christianity with its "Love thy Neighbor?"

S. B.: "Our religion is more in line with Nature, more closely tied to natural harmony. Christianity has officially set itself up against this harmony. For example, the Inquisition.It does not permit any normal, uninhibited relationship with those things that are around us all the time; instead it draws a strict clear line in front of us. That is what I am against."

G. G.: How would I, through your religion, find this harmony? Will it change my everyday life if I put your religion into practice?

S. B.: "Everything will get easier.You feel better. People take themselves far too serious when something goes wrong. You learn to take things as they are, to be responsible and to put your own energy to better use. It's not possible to be this way all the time. To do that one also needs to be completely at peace with himself and the environment."

G. G.: After the ceremonies does a person feel a special energy?

S. B.: "It's not only the blóts, the official ceremonies, but also by being together with like-minded people.That's where the energy is felt. One senses the positive energy of the others and it strengthens him. It's like being in tune is for instruments,a single note or a chord, a harmony. For me the relationship between Nature,Iceland's ancient history and the language is also very important. We strive to speak a beautiful good Icelandic language. Often we say jokingly that we should speak the same beautiful language that Óðinn did."

G. G.: Can you direct this positive energy towards something in particular?

S. B.: "Careful! I can help other with the energy that I get, but I mean that in a general sense in that I emit kind of a positive radiance around me not in the sense that I could heal someone or the like. We're are not going in the direction of "the occult." People have to take care not to be tossing all these things together or it'll become like a watered down soup or a stew."

G. G.: To accept things as they are, that sounds so much like fatalism.

S. B.: "Yes, a type of fatalism,in a sense. I'm not in a constant battle with things, but, then, I also don't run away from problems either."

G. G.: But, if you hadn't fought your religion would never have been officially recognized.

S. B.: "It's difficult to say which method a person should use. People need to look to themselves to decide what is happening and where we stand. People must make this perfectly clear for the power holders."

G. G.: And do you do that?

S. B.: "I express my stance in newspapers and other publications. When everybody knows all the details, then we are at a point where we can put some pressure on those in power, but we need to be careful. Too much pressure can make it go badly as well."

G. G.: What do you think about the new heathen movement going on in Germany right now?

S. B.: "If they go in the right direction, I think it's good. It's on everyone's mind that we can't continue going the way we are, destroying the environment and Nature. Now, we have to say "Stop!" and try to regain a closer relationship with Nature and recognize ourselves as being a part of Nature. But, people have travel this new direction without extremism, without aggression."

G. G.: Do you believe that your new ­old­ religion will catch on and spread?

S. B.: "I think so. We'll wait quietly and patiently."

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Christianity of gnosis eclipsed by a Christianity of progress

Luther’s rhetoric of antithesis contrasted the destructive force, which he clearly associated with usury and a reversion to the Law with, as he saw it, the sacred, fecund, clear, ordered unity of the mystery, based on a theology of the cross. He associated the first of these antithetical states with the disordered and fragmented nature of fallen man. Whilst in the latter, he valued the hierarchical harmony of original justice - the Truth no less.

In the modern world, we have come to think about sin in a subjective way and have completely lost sight of the objectivity with which it was once understood. The medieval mind felt itself sufficiently in touch with objective truth to know that sin was a disruption of the objective nature of things. It was a blindness to the truth.

This cast of mind defined original justice as order and original sin as disorder, or a rebellion against the cosmic hierarchy. It was vertical in orientation and in accord with the famous (or notorious) Papal Bull of 1302: ‘The way of religion is to lead the things which are lower to the things which are higher, through the things which are intermediate...’* Social institutions assumed a sacramental character as the outward and imperfect expression of a supreme spiritual reality, in which the forces of destruction and disorder were held at bay. Society itself was conceived as a single organism, a people of God, which lived out St Paul’s metaphor of the church as the body of Christ.

The social organism was founded on the principle of unity in multiplicity. Each thing was considered to be in a relationship with something else in conformity with their respective natures, and thus in conformity with the right to fulfil those natures.

Hierarchy in the social organism was accepted as an extension of the cosmic harmony, without which a reversion the fallen state of man would ensue. Without hierarchy there would be disorder; the realisation of a particular nature would clash with all other natures seeking fulfilment.

This contrasts with modern thought, in which an individual right is always absolute and therefore excludes all others. Any attempt to give all rights equal validity fails, because equality destroys rights, i.e. the right of a nature to be what it is. Equality is eventually reached on a commodity basis, on the purely quantitative plane of numerical unities (1 = 1), which is only possible through the destruction of all the qualitative differences that make up these diverse natures. Equality destroys diversity and a right ends up being the right to nothing.

In the medieval social organism, it was accepted that hierarchy was needed to preserve this right, which must renounce its absoluteness and consent to its own relativity. One right would have more of a right to something than another; but this renunciation was not felt as resignation and compromise, it was based on something other than constraint. There was no police enforcement of the law in medieval society. The hierarchical subordination of individuals in the social organism was regulated by their degree of proximity to the Principle. This required the submission of the creature to the Creator, the relative to the Absolute. By this act of submission, all natures had access to a formal and qualitative equality, not horizontally amongst themselves, but vertically with regard to God.

A refusal to submit would be tantamount to repeating the Fall, the act of revolt that had repercussions all along the hierarchical axis. The natures forming this axis were not destroyed by that act of original sin, but they could no longer fulfil themselves according to their truth: they were the stones of a toppled building scattered on the ground. By Adam’s sin ‘original justice was taken away, whereby not only were the lower powers of the soul held together under the control of reason, without any disorder whatsoever, but the whole body was held together in subjection to the soul, without any defect.’ (St Thomas)

The destruction of original justice had resulted in a new order. In reality this was a disorder but, and this is the critical point, it was not self-apparent, precisely because there was no longer any access to the criteria of the original hierarchy, which alone could reveal it to be a disorder. This meant the disorder was lived as an order. Adam could not have known the truth of sin. Moreover, it is not by chance that the dogma of original sin was not elaborated in the Old Testament, but by St Paul. As if to emphasise this great unknowing, Christ repeatedly exposed the Pharisaical adherence to the Law of his detractors as sinful self-righteousness. The point made was that no-one could understand what happened on the last day of earthly Paradise until the day of Christ’s passion. In Jean Borella’s words, ‘we needed to wait for the Incarnation of that One who is Truth, infinite Wisdom, Sun of Justice, Hypostatic Hierarchy, the Divine Word, for the injustice of sin to be fully and totally revealed’.**

The Pharisaic followers of the Law handed Christ over to that epitome of worldly pragmatism, Pontius Pilate. Thus in the Passion, Christ confronted all that was contemptible in the state of fallen man: self-righteousness and pragmatism. To Pilate’s question ‘so you are a king?’ Jesus answered ‘you say I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth...’ The pragmatic Pilate responds with the question ‘What is truth?”

Subjectivism and moral relativism are betrayed in the very question. They were prominent too in the self-righteousness of the Jews who, together with Pilate, spurned the truth in condemning Christ. The truth in all its grandeur and purity was not apparent before the raising of Christ on the cross. From that point, the world could only be true to the extent that it reflected God, the creative logic and the eternal reason that brought it into being. For with Christ’s passion a new hierarchy came into being that united man to other men in their union with God, through Christ. If the truth is objective, then ‘bearing witness to the truth’ means giving priority to God and his will - the truth of the cosmic hierarchy - over against the interests of this world and its powers. The antithesis stated in these terms could not be more stark - choose God or the devil.

We have seen that medieval society sought to reflect the truth in an order of faith that stretched from the parish church and manor, to kingship, the Holy Roman Empire and Christendom. Securing the resultant social organism meant the maintenance of a constant vigilance against forces wholly inimicable to Christic justice, namely the Muslim threat externally and the practice of usury internally - that latter, as we have seen, drew the strictures of the major church councils in the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, as well as the expulsions of the Jews from England (1290), France (1306) and Spain (1492).

No wonder the increased acceptance of usury and a reversion to the Law in theology was met with so much hostility by Luther. To him, and to others who saw this coming years before, Calvinistic covenantal theology was indeed a replaying of the Fall. At this point a cyclical historicism emerged, just as a Judaic linear understanding of history became dominant. The former existed amongst the scattered ruins of the past, whilst the latter pressed ahead in a manner that would later become triumphalist progressivism and liberalism. A traditionalist Christianity of gnosis, with an emphasis on the cross, was eclipsed by a Christianity of progress, with its emphasis on the Law. The component parts of Christianity split apart, the vertically orientated, which was Hellenistic and pagan in origin, from the horizontally orientated, which was Judaic in origin and earth-bound.

* The Papal Bull: Unam Sanctum of Boniface VIII, quoted in R. H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, Pelican, p.34.
**Jean Borella, The Secret of the Christian Way, State University of New York Press, 2001, p.101.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The component parts of Christianity split apart

From the early Christian antiquities in the Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria in Egypt 
The destruction of original justice had resulted in a new order. In reality this was a disorder but, and this is the critical point, it was not self-apparent, precisely because there was no longer any access to the criteria of the original hierarchy, which alone could reveal it to be a disorder. This meant the disorder was lived as an order. Adam could not have known the truth of sin. Moreover, it is not by chance that the dogma of original sin was not elaborated in the Old Testament, but by St Paul. As if to emphasise this great unknowing, Christ repeatedly exposed the Pharisaical adherence to the Law of his detractors as sinful self-righteousness. The point made was that no-one could understand what happened on the last day of earthly Paradise until the day of Christ’s passion. In Jean Borella’s words, ‘we needed to wait for the Incarnation of that One who is Truth, infinite Wisdom, Sun of Justice, Hypostatic Hierarchy, the Divine Word, for the injustice of sin to be fully and totally revealed’.*

The Pharisaic followers of the Law handed Christ over to that epitome of worldly pragmatism, Pontius Pilate. Thus in the Passion, Christ confronted all that was contemptible in the state of fallen man: self-righteousness and pragmatism. To Pilate’s question ‘so you are a king?’ Jesus answered ‘you say I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth...’ The pragmatic Pilate responds with the question ‘What is truth?”

Subjectivism and moral relativism are betrayed in the very question. They were prominent too in the self-righteousness of the Jews who, together with Pilate, spurned the truth in condemning Christ. The truth in all its grandeur and purity was not apparent before the raising of Christ on the cross. From that point, the world could only be true to the extent that it reflected God, the creative logic and the eternal reason that brought it into being. For with Christ’s passion a new hierarchy came into being that united man to other men in their union with God, through Christ. If the truth is objective, then ‘bearing witness to the truth’ means giving priority to God and his will - the truth of the cosmic hierarchy - over against the interests of this world and its powers. The antithesis stated in these terms could not be more stark - choose God or the devil.

We have seen that medieval society sought to reflect the truth in an order of faith that stretched from the parish church and manor, to kingship, the Holy Roman Empire and Christendom. Securing the resultant social organism meant the maintenance of a constant vigilance against forces wholly inimicable to Christic justice, namely the Muslim threat externally and the practice of usury internally - that latter, as we have seen, drew the strictures of the major church councils in the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, as well as the expulsions of the Jews from England (1290), France (1306) and Spain (1492).

No wonder the increased acceptance of usury and a reversion to the Law in theology was met with so much hostility by Luther. To him, and to others who saw this coming years before, Calvinistic covenantal theology was indeed a replaying of the Fall. At this point a cyclical historicism emerged, just as a Judaic linear understanding of history became dominant. The former existed amongst the scattered ruins of the past, whilst the latter pressed ahead in a manner that would later become triumphalist progressivism and liberalism. A traditionalist Christianity of gnosis, with an emphasis on the cross, was eclipsed by a Christianity of progress, with its emphasis on the Law. The component parts of Christianity split apart, the vertically orientated, which was Hellenistic and pagan in origin, from the horizontally orientated, which was Judaic in origin and earth-bound.


*Jean Borella, The Secret of the Christian Way, State University of New York Press, 2001, p.101.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Exploring Heidegger's challenge to accepted modes of thinking

Martin Heidegger

Marx and Satre took liberalism to its utmost extent, both positing that the authentic self is to be found in conditions which facilitate a complete freedom of choice. These conditions, they believed, would be found under communism, perhaps better understood in its original Marxian intent if described as anarchism.

Only in conditions of complete freedom for the individual, thought both Marx and Satre, would the alienated subject be recovered and the historical process of individuation be completed, allowing the individual to emerge finally from the herd as a fully-rounded and fulfilled human being.

Yet the pursuit of fulfilment supposedly made possible under such conditions cannot overcome the Kierkegaardian objection that the piling up of accomplishments would be merely a distraction from despair. It could never offer a life that is either honest in the face of death nor God.

The pursuit of a fulfilled life would become a new fetish, a false god to be worshipped by the free individual. It would be a thing apart from the individual, offering a goal to be attained, yet trapping the individual in an ideology of success no less invidious than that which exists under market capitalism. A dualistic distraction would emerge, a chasm separating the subjective self from the prospect of a fulfilled self. Firmly in the tradition of Plato and Descartes, the individual, the absolute subject would behold an absolute object which would have been abstracted out of the real world.

Commmunist freedom would be the very apotheosis of Platonism, a world in which everything is subordinated to the point of view of the individual in a subjectivism that first took flight in Renaissance Europe. It was here that the ideology of the individual as an absolute subject first began to take hold seriously. In this individualised way of thinking, the absolute subject beholds absolute objects that have been abstracted out of the real world. In this sense, objects are unworlded into an abstract space conditioned by mathematics. This is best illustrated by Renaissance art and the rise of depth perspective, in which all images are subordinated to the point of view of a single individual who, therefore, determines all the properties of the phenomena within the frame. As a result, it is not an objective view of phenomena that is offered by the artist, but one that is highly subjective. Such was the individualised view of the wold that emerged in Renaissance art that, for the first time in history, artists felt able to sign their own works, claiming ownership, so to speak, over the phenomena depicted in their art.

The same perspective emerged in science, but with the self-deluding view that the subject’s beholding of the world was objective and the one and only way in which ‘reality’ could be seen and experienced. This standpoint of empiricism remains dominant in Western ideology and philosophy to this day. It is the subject in Western philosophy that dictates to phenomena how they shall be.

Whereas Kierkegaard recognised that people were living lives in a falsely subjectivised reality, it was Martin Heidegger (pictured above) who wanted to turn the subject-object relationship upside down and put the autonomy on the objects. His philosophy sought to let things be, to let them manifest themselves, instead of making them conform to an a priori Dürer grid of transcendental mathematical presuppositions.

His method was to get rid of the concealments and distractions, the cliches and worn out forms of thinking. He would shift his analysis into the worldhood of the world and the everydayness of Dasein, the term he gave to the human mode of being in the world. Human beings are unique amongst things that be because they are conscious of being. To express this, Heidegger coined the word Dasein, literally in German meaning ‘being there’, to highlight this uniqueness. It was in the life of Dasein that Heidegger sought to mark out authenticity and began to challenge the presumptions of Western philosophy.

We, as individual Daseins, are in the world in so far as we are always doing something. We are always engaged with the world through simply living before we are ever aware that we are doing anything. Thinking about how we are engaged with the world is a secondary phenomenon. Descartes got it wrong, according to Heidegger. Thinking is made possible by already being in the world and here the subject is not apprehending an object. On the contrary, there is no chasm between subject and object in Heidegger’s thinking. He posited a non-dualistic alternative to the Platonistic tradition in Western philosophy. Dasein is totally absorbed in an environing world. Here things have an intereferentiality, an enmeshment in which everything in the world refers to something else. The only shift out of this total engagement with the world is when something breaks, becomes a problem and, therefore, conspicuous. It shifts into a theoretical mode about which Dasein has to think.

The implication is that science has been thinking about the world as a broken object, approaching it as a problem to be solved. Science divorces all phenomena from their contexts, abstracting them into a homogeneous mathematical spacial relationship. Yet, for Dasein, it is our individual concern with the world, at any one moment, that creates the importance of what is spatially near or far, an understanding of the world perhaps best exemplified in the anonymous works of pre-Renaissance artists.

The homogeneity of the spatial relationships of science’s abstract world is symbolic of of the tyrannous average everydayness that is imposed upon Dasein. This tyranny is described as the ‘They’, by Heidegger; das Man to be exact. It is the average crowd phenomenon in which everyone does as everyone else does. Indeed it is possible for Dasein to live out his whole life through this averageness. Heidegger believed that most people do just that. It is the tyranny that das Man exerts over Dasein to conform that is the main threat to the authenticity of Dasein.

In the History of the Concept of Time, Heidegger writes about the basic dispositions of Dasein, the moods, as he describes them. These include:

Discoveredness
Falleness
Unncanniness
Care

Discoveredness is the way Dasein finds himself in the world. Elsewhere, Heidegger writes of how Dasein is thrown into the world. Discoveredness is the act of disclosure of one’s state of throwness into the world, the disclosure of one’s situation in the world to oneself. Understanding is rooted in Discoveredness. The latter is the ground that makes understanding possible. In turn, understanding enacts the being of discoveredness, through questioning things and exposing what is possible. For example, once something is explained to a child, then it becomes possible for that thing to enter into the child’s environing world. Objects do not appresent themselves until we understand them. For example, understanding what a hammer does enables it to enter my environing world and become part of the intereferentiality of that world.

Fallenness includes the things which dissipate Dasein’s energies and are a drain on authenticity. (Elsewhere, Heidegger writes of how the basic tendency of Dasein is to disburse itself around the world and lose itself in its involvements with the world.) In History of the Concept of Time, Heidegger identified three aspects of fallenness.

Idle talk
Curiousity
Ambiguity

Idle talk covers up phenomena in gossip, cliches and mere opinions that have not been thought through. Curiosity is the constant rushing off to the new thing, causing Dasein to be in a constant state of distraction, which disperses energy. It is all part of Dasein’s flight from itself. Ambiguity is a state of always trying to guess what other people are thinking. It entangles Dasein, further dissipating energies and inducing inauthenticity. Heidegger’s vision of Fallenness is close to the Gnostic idea that the soul is fallen into the world, a spark of light that is trapped in matter. It is the threat of Das Man, global man, that Heidegger tried to counter by developing his existentialist philosophy, alone in his cabin, deep in the Black Forest. People lose themselves in cities, in inauthenticity, they disperse themselves in crowds and do what everyone else does, for example, taking a job for the money, rather than for an authentic interest, which leads to an inauthentic life. Heidegger failed to mention that most people do not have a choice about how they earn their living, but are locked into a division of labour. It was with this in mind that Satre connected Marxism and existentialism.

Uncanniness is about the fear, horror and terror that Dasein encounters as part of the nature of being in the world. The explication of the movement of falling as a flight of Dasein from itself has led to the phenomenon of dread as a basic disposition of Dasein to itself. More particularly, the dread is the dread of death - why? Because it is only at the point of death that Dasein is exposed as what it really is. Heidegger writes, ‘there is thus the possibility, in the very moment of departing from the world, so to speak, when the world has nothing more to say to us and every other has nothing more to say, that the world and our being-in-it show themselves purely and simply.’ The flight of Dasein from itself has to end. At the point of death Dasein has no choice but to confront itself. Dasein sees itself in all its nakedness.

Care is what drives all aspects of Dasein’s nature. In care we are ahead of ourselves. There is always an orientation towards the future, making explicit the structure of temporality to Dasein’s life. Heidegger introduces time into philosophy. It was the thing that had been missing from philosophy since Plato and the divorce of being from becoming. Embedded as the subject is into the world, Dasein is always doing something. Heidegger reflected this in his writings by restoring the subject to time. In fact, for Heidegger, being is fundamentally time, flowing through time, always moving forward to accomplish something in time. This urge is rooted in time, constantly moving Dasein forward towards things which sweep it along.

At the end of the History of the Concept of Time, Heidegger moves into an exploration of death. With regard to death, Dasein achieves a type of wholeness. When a tool is finished, it becomes available for use. When a Dasein is finished, it ceases to be in the world. Heidegger believed that each individual Dasein had to come to terms with this fact of the annihilation of being by itself.

Das Man, the ‘they’, tries, during the lifetime of Dasein, to steal authenticity away by covering up death with platitudes such as, ‘well everyone dies’. ‘Everyone dies’, in this context, is about offering the delusion that no one dies. In giving in to that way of thinking, das Man covers up the authenticity of death.

The idea of not being in the world, Heidegger argues, is something that Dasein has to wrestle with before arriving at the realisation that death is always an imminent possibility, always there before Dasein, the ever-present fact that never goes away. It constitutes the totality of Dasein right from the start. It shows to Dasein its being-in-the-world purely and simply. Out of the struggle with this realisation can come the the drive for the creation of an authentic life that will differentiate Dasein from das Man, the one from the everyone.

So death is the single most important thing that motivates Dasein, just as it has been the underlying motivating factor of all the higher cultures throughout history and pre-history. Most of the achaological remains of the earliest cultures are associated with death. Be it the Egyptians with their cult of mummification, or the Hindus with their ceremonial burning of the dead, each civilisation centres on an agreed ceremonial mode of the disposal of the dead. Looking back to the Paleolithic era, it is the burial site that is associated with the very beginnings of human culture. One is tempted to say in the light of Heidegger’s work that the life led by Stone Age man was a much more authentic one than the life led by das Man.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

A social organism founded on the principle of unity in multiplicity

German illustration of the three estates of medieval society  
Luther’s rhetoric of antithesis contrasted the destructive force, which he clearly associated with usury and a reversion to the Law with, as he saw it, the sacred, fecund, clear, ordered unity of the mystery, based on a theology of the cross. He associated the first of these antithetical states with the disordered and fragmented nature of fallen man. Whilst in the latter, he valued the hierarchical harmony of original justice - the Truth no less.

In the modern world, we have come to think about sin in a subjective way and have completely lost sight of the objectivity with which it was once understood. The medieval mind felt itself sufficiently in touch with objective truth to know that sin was a disruption of the objective nature of things. It was a blindness to the truth.

This cast of mind defined original justice as order and original sin as disorder, or a rebellion against the cosmic hierarchy. It was vertical in orientation and in accord with the famous (or notorious) Papal Bull of 1302: ‘The way of religion is to lead the things which are lower to the things which are higher, through the things which are intermediate...’* Social institutions assumed a sacramental character as the outward and imperfect expression of a supreme spiritual reality, in which the forces of destruction and disorder were held at bay. Society itself was conceived as a single organism, a people of God, which lived out St Paul’s metaphor of the church as the body of Christ.

The social organism was founded on the principle of unity in multiplicity. Each thing was considered to be in a relationship with something else in conformity with their respective natures, and thus in conformity with the right to fulfil those natures.

Hierarchy in the social organism was accepted as an extension of the cosmic harmony, without which a reversion the fallen state of man would ensue. Without hierarchy there would be disorder; the realisation of a particular nature would clash with all other natures seeking fulfilment.

This contrasts with modern thought, in which an individual right is always absolute and therefore excludes all others. Any attempt to give all rights equal validity fails, because equality destroys rights, i.e. the right of a nature to be what it is. Equality is eventually reached on a commodity basis, on the purely quantitative plane of numerical unities (1 = 1), which is only possible through the destruction of all the qualitative differences that make up these diverse natures. Equality destroys diversity and a right ends up being the right to nothing.

In the medieval social organism, it was accepted that hierarchy was needed to preserve this right, which must renounce its absoluteness and consent to its own relativity. One right would have more of a right to something than another; but this renunciation was not felt as resignation and compromise, it was based on something other than constraint. There was no police enforcement of the law in medieval society. The hierarchical subordination of individuals in the social organism was regulated by their degree of proximity to the Principle. This required the submission of the creature to the Creator, the relative to the Absolute. By this act of submission, all natures had access to a formal and qualitative equality, not horizontally amongst themselves, but vertically with regard to God.

A refusal to submit would be tantamount to repeating the Fall, the act of revolt that had repercussions all along the hierarchical axis. The natures forming this axis were not destroyed by that act of original sin, but they could no longer fulfil themselves according to their truth: they were the stones of a toppled building scattered on the ground. By Adam’s sin ‘original justice was taken away, whereby not only were the lower powers of the soul held together under the control of reason, without any disorder whatsoever, but the whole body was held together in subjection to the soul, without any defect.’ (St Thomas)


* The Papal Bull: Unam Sanctum of Boniface VIII, quoted in R. H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, Pelican, p.34.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Gay Marriage and Enlightenment Terror

Jurgen Habermas, who coined the expression 'post-secular society'.   
Legislation is about to be enacted on gay marriage in France, the United Kingdom and the United States. Many would say that this is an issue of little importance relative to the economic turmoil in Europe and on-going military conflict in the Middle East. Yet it is this simultaneous acceptance of gay marriage across the major western powers that illustrates a continued belligerence in Enlightenment thinking that shakes off criticism as though it did not exist.

It is the millennia of tradition, divine law and status as a sacrament of the Church, all anathema to Enlightenment adherents, that makes the institution of marriage uniquely pivotal to any current consideration of the Enlightenment’s obsession with progress. It highlights the power of a movement that continues to dominate western thinking, as it has for over two hundred years, despite having its philosophical legitimacy substantially eroded. We are all children of the Enlightenment and this is why alternatives to this deceptively natural way of thinking often seem remote. Michel Foucault claimed that the Enlightenment determined ‘what we are, what we think, and what we do today,’1 and John Gray has insisted that ‘all schools of contemporary political thought are variations on the Enlightenment project’.2

The Enlightenment legacy, guarded by its neo-liberal heirs appears to be secure, as it extends its reach across the world, all opposition crushed by its two irresistible forces of military and economic power. Localised opposition is ground down by attrition, resulting in the erosion of difference and the ruthless imposition of a shared economic and human rights ‘consensus’. The legacy is remarkably immune too from the criticism heaped upon it by political theorists of the last century and this. It seems to have a momentum of its own, carried forward by economic forces that are deemed by the mutant Marxism of its supporters to be inevitable, whilst remaining devoid of any philosophical or moral content.

Enlightenment reason inculcates an overwhelming concern for efficiency and gives people enormous power without any legitimacy grounded in morality. Thinkers in the mid-twentieth century rushed to associate this amoral ‘instrumental reason’ with totalitarianism. Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, for example, attributed the barbarism of the Third Reich’s death camps to Enlightenment thinking. Whilst Jacob Talmon and Isaiah Berlin laid the blame for Bolshevik totalitarianism and the Soviet gulags on the way the Enlightenment’s universalism extends politics into every sphere of life. However, whilst these critiques resonated in their historical context and served the political and economic objectives of the western democracies, more recent commentaries have taken the form of a post-modernist critique of the western neo-liberal consensus. The common themes that recur in the post-modernist critique centre upon the Enlightenment’s universalism and rationalism as dangerously hegemonic, logocentric and totalising. It is the relentless drive towards sameness and the intolerance of other forms of thinking as irrational that has led the post-modern critics to regard the Enlightenment’s universal claims for reason and progress to be code for intolerance and oppression. Jean-François Lyotard, for example, claimed that the Enlightenment’s own metanarrative entails exclusion and coercion, the elimination of diversity and difference, which is why Lyotard frequently associated the Enlightenment idea of rational consensus with terror.3 Michel Foucault too exposed the dark side of the supposedly humanitarian and progressive Enlightenment, to show that every apparent victory of Enlightenment ideals of ‘freedom’ and ‘reason” in fact resulted in new and even more insidious forms of domination and control - his notable illustration being the Panopticon prison.4

Martin Heidegger’s ‘destruktion’ of Cartesianism left Enlightenment thinking teetering on shaky metaphysical foundations, yet it continues to offer scientific rationality as its guiding principle. Alasdair MacIntyre identified this as the Enlightenment’s chief failure, arguing that it provided insufficient grounds for moral judgement, undermining earlier justifications for morality without putting anything in their place.5 John Gray is especially wary of the Enlightenment’s emphasis on instrumental reason, claiming that when this kind of reason prevails in the social world instead of a more collective, ‘communicative’ reason – when, to use Habermasian parlance, ‘the lifeworld’ is ‘colonized’ – the predictable result is a Weberian loss of meaning and widespread Durkheimian anomie.6 Jürgen Habermas, erstwhile supporter of the Enlightenment, has indeed recognised the need for a bridge to certain religious traditions in order to restore meaning. As such, religious values would act as a moral counterweight to the markets and power of bureaucracy that continue to weaken social solidarity.7 Yet despite Habermas describing the prevailing mood as befitting the term ‘post-secular society’, western governments carry on as though nothing has happened.

Gay marriage is presented as a natural consequence of rational thinking which is not to be questioned. Opposition is disregarded, and treated as a bigoted residue of pre-Enlightenment thinking that will quickly pass into history, aided and abetted by governmental control over the education of the masses. Herein lies the terror. Democracy under these conditions, with compliant media and no anti-Enlightenment opposition, bears all the hallmarks of totalitarianism. In a sweeping disregard for tradition, divine law, even something as fundamental as gender difference, Enlightenment thinking seeks to impose its universalist objective of sameness with a crushing power. Acting in the name of freedom and diversity, its actions are the polar opposite, resulting in legal enforcement and the erosion of diversity. Gay pride in difference is squashed and millennia of acceptance of marriage defined as a union between one man and one woman is set to be expunged, at a stroke.

The truth is that, to instrumental reason, difference is a nuisance. The state, in the name of equality, needs little excuse to impose uniformity. All must be rationalised and subordinated to the facilitation of bureaucratic administration and calculable economic efficiency - even the holy sacraments.

Nowhere is safe from the all-pervasive reach of the Enlightenment state. Sanctuary is no longer to be found, even in the Church.


John Dunn.

1. Michel Foucault, “What is Enlightenment?”, trans. Catherine Porter, in Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth, vol. 1 of The Essential Works of Foucault, 1954-1984, ed. Paul Rabinow (New York: New Press, 1997), 303.

2. John Gray, Enlightenment’s Wake: Politics and Culture at the Close of the Modern Age (New York: Routledge, 1995), viii; see also John Gray, Voltaire (New York: Routledge, 1999), 48.

3. See R. Hariman, Prudence: Classical Virtue, Postmodern Practice (Pennsylvania State University, 2003) 267

4. See Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage Books, [1975] 1979), 200-209.

5. See Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, second edition (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, [1981] 1984), chapter

6. See Jürgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, Volume Two: Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason, trans. Thomas McCarthy (Boston: Beacon Press, [1981] 1987), part 8, especially 326, 355.

7. German philosopher Jürgen Habermas agreed when he commented in 2004 that “Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of western civilization. To this day, we have no other options [to Christianity]. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter,” quoted in Christopher Cauldwell, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West, ‘Benedict XVI: New Ideas About Belief and Unbelief” (London: Allen Lane, 2004) pages unnumbered.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Martin Luther and the new paideuma


Martin Luther
The Catholic Church went out of business when its hierarchy ceased to believe its own dogma. Leo X didn’t take Luther’s thought as a serious matter. He didn’t expect others to do so.
(Ezra Pound, Guide to Kulchur)
If the misuse of money was seen by the church as the major threat to the social unity of Christendom, imagine the despair of the faithful when the Pope himself resorted to financial chicanery to finance the renovation of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The banker known as Jakob Fugger the Rich was chosen by Pope Leo X to manage the money-raising campaign. Johanne Tetzel, a Dominican priest,began the sale of indulgences across the German lands. In particular, Albert, the Archbishop of Maintz, agreed to allow the sale of the indulgences in his territory in exchange for a cut of the proceeds. He did so in order to pay off the debts he had incurred in paying for his high church rank.

Despairing of the money corruption and usury-driven indulgences, Martin Luther (pictured above) famously nailed his ninety five theses to the door of Wittenberg cathedral. Within two weeks, copies of the Theses had spread throughout Germany; within two months throughout Europe.

Though more and more commonplace in the late Medieval period, usury was still considered a sin and one most closely associated with the Jews. So when in 1520 Luther wrote in his letter To the Christian Nobility of the Christian Nations, ‘Fugger and similar people really need to be kept in check’, he was speaking against the usurious activities of bankers and Jews, with convictions that were consistent with those that had driven in the nails at Wittenberg three years earlier. Luther’s intention had been to cleanse the church of its money corruption and return it to a simple theology of the cross. Unintentionally, he had unleashed the forces of the Reformation, the reverberations of which can still be felt in our own times.

It is possible to imagine a Luther without Calvin, but impossible to imagine a Calvin without a Luther. Nevertheless, once Luther had opened the doors to reform, Calvin rushed in to rearrange the ecclesiastical furniture.

In his fear of the sacrilegious and socially corrupting power of money, Luther was socially conservative, whereas the second generation reformer, John Calvin, was a force for radicalism. Calvin assumed an economic organisation that was relatively advanced as far as the power of money was concerned, and expounded a social ethics on the basis of the seemingly inevitable future. Thus Calvin stood in marked contrast to Luther and the medieval theologians who proceeded him. The medieval church had striven to keep the uses of money limited and under strict control, with usury in the most widely defined sense outlawed as an excommunicable offence. Society was conceived holistically as a people of God, which reflected St Paul’s metaphor of the Church as the body of Christ. In this social organism the parts, though varied, each served vital functions for the survival of the whole. Disproportionate growth of any one part, such as trade for monetary gain, was seen as a malignant threat to the rest, quite apart from the biblical admonishment of usury as sinful.

Calvinism, an urban movement, found its stronghold in social groups to which the traditional scheme of social ethics had become irrelevant. Its most influential adherents operated in the great business centres like Antwerp with its industrial hinterland, London and Amsterdam, strongly influenced by generations of Jewish emigres whose antecedents had been ousted from Spain, England and France. For any reformed theology to thrive in these conditions, it had to start from a frank recognition of the necessity of capital, credit and banking; and that is just what Calvinism did, breaking with the tradition that regarded a preoccupation with economic interests beyond subsistence needs as sinful, stigmatising the middleman as a parasite and the usurer as a thief.

Under the new and progressive urban conditions, the rules were turned upon their head. Whereas to strive for personal enrichment had once seemed incomprehensible, for the Calvinist there was nothing wrong with good honest profit, as he understood it, derived from diligence and industry. Usury became respectable, where it has previously been condemned as immoral. Calvin and his followers assumed credit to be a normal fact of life; and the financier was not a pariah, but a useful member of society.

Luther believed that anyone could reach salvation as long as he had faith. This belief is shown in his famous statement ‘justification by faith’. One did not have to be chosen to have faith. In contrast, Calvin preached that those predestined for salvation were defined by their virtuous lives, and they were referred to as "the elect." Also, the elect could be determined by their economic and material success. Under this doctrine, good works, whilst not a way of attaining salvation, become indispensable as a proof that salvation has been attained.

The aptitudes cultivated by a life devoted to business found their complement in the new theology, which formed the basis of a new paideuma, a term coined by Leo Frobenius and described by Ezra Pound as meaning ‘the tangle or complex of the inrooted ideas of any period. . . ,the gristly roots of ideas that are in action’. In this reformation paideuma of the Calvinists, the will of God was allied with the economic virtues that has escaped the clutches of the restrictive traditional belief system of the Medieval Roman church. The escapees and inverters of the values of tradition from this point would see all forms of traditional belief as barriers in the path of progress; and it would be a linear path into the future, in keeping with Judaic tradition. Calvin’s emphasis on Sola Scriptura, meaning the Scriptures as Christ’s unique revelation of the way to life, threw a greater emphasis upon the Old Testament for the individual Christian than under the Roman Catholic tradition. With the stories from the Hebrew Bible as their example, all opposition from tradition along the path ahead would be dealt with as ruthlessly as Joshua dealt with Jericho etc. In their determination to clear the pathway ahead, the adherents of the new paideuma would use every weapon at their disposal, including subterfuge, political revolution and war, because the issue at stake was not merely economic self-interest, but now the will of God, later to be the will of the people.


Martin Luther on Staff and Scrip, Dr John DunnBy 1571 in England, a mere thirty years after the suppression of the monasteries, the Act of 1552, which had prohibited all interest as ‘a vyce moste odyous and detestable, as in dyvers places of the hollie Scripture it is evident tobe seen’*, had been swept away. This was but the outward expression of the new paideuma**,a view which held that the world of money and commerce existed in an amoral sphere of their own, separate and apart from religion and ethics.

Religious belief would become increasingly a private affair, whilst the ‘freedom’ of the market reflected the struggle amongst the various possessors of wealth for supremacy. Everything would have its price in this blind battle of everyone against everyone. Everything would eventually be bought and sold. Nothing would escape the meshes of this devil’s mill.

Gone was the concept of society as a social organism in which everyone had his or her diverse, but equally important, part to play. Society would now consist of the elect and unelect, winners and losers, the chosen andthe rest, in a civil society that grew out of Calvin’s covenantal or contractual view of church and society as voluntary associations.

Medieval society had been characterised by familiarity; people achieved a level of freedom whereby they could do whatever they pleased without fear of violating the norms of the society***. In contrast, civil society would slowly, but surely, sever all the ties of familiarity, put egoism and selfish need in the place of familial ties, and dissolve the human world into one of atomistic individuals who are inimically opposed to one another. This is a process of severance that continues globally to this day.

There had once been no division between the inner and personal life of religion and the practical interests of the external order. After the Reformation all national, natural, moral, and theoretical conditions would become extrinsic to man.


Practical need and egoism began to replace salvation as the motivating force of society and, as such, would eventually appear in purest form as soon as civil society had fully given birth to the political states of Europe and North America. Undoubtedly, in the new monotheism following the Reformation, money was and remains the god of practical need and self-interest.

The rending of the inner life from the external material world continues to this day, as the dominant economies,with their liberal ideology, countenance no resistance to the imposition of civil society and the worship of money worldwide.

The Medieval individual was once part of an order of faith that stretched from the parish church and manor, to kingship, the Holy Roman Empire and Christendom. After the Reformation man’s supreme relation became the legal one. His relation to laws became valid for him not because they were the familiar laws of his own will and nature, but because they werethe dominant laws and because departure from them was avenged.

There had been no place in Christian medieval life for any economic activity which was unrelated to a sacred end. It is important to understand the holistic nature of this worldview, for it was the totality of traditional society that distinguished it from the post-Reformation world, in which work came to be accepted as a practical necessity****,a view that would eventually fragment tradition’s authority. In fact, fragmentation could be said to be the hallmark of the new paideuma.


Martin Luther on Staff and Scrip, Dr John DunnLuther did not live to see anything even approximating to the full fruition of the social change wrought by the Reformation his actions had triggered. He was aware, however, of the direction of travel and, as can be seen in his later writings, it left him in despair. Having vented his anger against the sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church, he lived to see the forces of the Reformation leading to the very acceptance of the usurious practices, of Fugger the Rich and others, that he had warned must be kept in check. Society had turned in the very opposite direction to that which he had intended in his criticism of the Church’s financial malpractices and later pleas to the Christian nobility to keep usury in check. The banking culture emanating from commercial centres such as Antwerp could not be associated solely with the Jews. After all, the Pope’s banker, Fugger, the most successful banker of his day, was a Catholic. However, the myriad of accusations that Luther levelled against the Jews, most notably in On the Jews and Their Lies, demonstrate that he associated the lending of money for interest with a Judaic frame of mind, the influence of which had long since broken free of the restrictions laid down by the Councils of Lyons (1274) and Vienne(1312).

Moreover,they are nothing but thieves and robbers who daily eat no morsel and wear no thread of clothing which they have not stolen and pilfered from us by means of their accursed usury. Thus they live from day to day, together with wife and child, by theft and robbery, as arch­ thieves and robbers, in the most impenitent security. (Martin Luther, On the Jews and Their Lies, 1543)

Many commentators have attempted to separate these railings of the older Luther from the young reforming radical on the cathedral steps of Wittenberg. However, Luther’s contempt for usury was consistent throughout his life. The harshness of tone in his old age simply reflected the increased despair at the pace of the revolution in social attitudes that was taking place before his very eyes.

In his sermons, Luther preached against covenantal Christianity, advocating instead the theology of the cross.

This difference between the Law and the Gospel is the height of knowledge in Christendom. Every person and all persons who assume or glory in the name of Christian should know and be able to state this difference. If this ability is lacking, one cannot tell a Christian from a heathen or a Jew; of such supreme importance is this differentiation. This is why St. Paul so strongly insists on a clean-cut and proper differentiating of these two doctrines. (Martin Luther, Sermon on Galatians, 1532)

He must have seen, however, that a return to the Law was taking hold in early post-Reformation Europe and he would have interpreted this movement with dread. He new that in the early days of the church the unbelieving mind had interpreted the cross as nonsense — a religion founded on the crushing, filthy death of a man cursed by God was foolishness to Greeks and an offence to Jews, depending on whether their sin was intellectual arrogance or moral self-righteousness. In the theological turn taken, soon to be full-blown Calvinism, he could see the same rejection of the cross and cycle of sin repeated.

As Luther saw it, the living Word of God in Christ ceased to be a restraint upon economic self-interest. The Law of the Old Testament had instead become allied with the self-righteous economic virtues of the age as a reason why self-interest should be given free play, an attitude that would later be systematised economically by Adam Smith and philosophically by John Locke. The same values that led Luther to condemn the financial chicanery of Leo X were those that left him exasperated at the new paideuma or, as Luther would understand it, the Judaic paiduema that was now taking hold.


*Quoted in R. H. Tawny, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, Pelican, p.183

**A term coined by Leo Frobenius and described by Ezra Pound as meaning ‘the tangle or complex of the inrooted ideas of any period. . . , the gristly roots of ideas that are in action’.

***Click on Thought Pieces and see ‘Our wills become one single will’.

****Art resists this notion of work. The post-Reformation and Renaissance eras saw the rise of the artist who signed his work, who expressed himself, the artist often as rebel and outsider.