The Lost Christian Cosmos

An obscure piece of recent news:

“It was stunning, really,” Dr Kovács wrote when recalling the interview.

“To listen to this interview is to behold the yawning gulf that has grown between the Western media elite and the people of Europe, particularly the citizens of Hungary and Central Europe.

“For example, when I spoke of our opposition to the large-scale migration of a different culture to the European continent and that Christianity is the core of European culture, Guru-Murthy said this: ‘But Europe? I mean, [Christianity] is not really a sort of fundamental of Europe, is it?’

“Stop and let that sink in for a moment. ‘Christianity is not really a sort of fundamental of Europe.’

Krishnan Guru-Murthy is a Channel 4 newsman. And he’s as trendy and fashionable as his co-host John Snow. And for such people, Christianity is completely meaningless and irrelevant. In addition, Guru-Murthy probably also comes from a Hindu or Buddhist culture.

But I share Kovács’ sense of the fundamental importance of Christianity over the past 1,500 years of European history. And Christianity is pretty thoroughly embedded in my own personal history: I was taught by Benedictine monks from the age of 10 to 17. And as a result I will always be just as much a bit of a Benedictine monk as well as being 1960s hippie, or a 1970s computer programmer. And I remain as puzzled, and confused, and fascinated with the Christian cosmos of God, Heaven, Hell, and Soul as I was back then.

However, if the Benedictine monks were very successful at teaching me Latin and English and Mathematics and Physics, they were singularly unsuccessful at teaching me any Catholic doctrine. I simply couldn’t make head or tail of any of it (I had a similar experience with Chemistry). And neither could any of my fellow pupils. We would all just shut up and pretend to understand.

And I suspect that most pupils everywhere had a similar experience. And I think this is because the Christian cosmos was something that began to be gradually abandoned with the rise of Science. We now regard ourselves as machines, powered by food and air, not much different from the machines we drive around in. We don’t believe that when we die we will be rewarded by an eternal afterlife. We don’t believe that when we die our soul leaves our body. In some ways we can’t believe it. And what we’ve lost, along with that Christian cosmos, is an entire accompanying system of morality, constructed over many centuries. And the result is that we have no morality at all.

And that seems to me to be the central problem of the age: we have no morality. We no longer know what is right and wrong, or what is good and evil.

And this is one of the reasons why we’ve been overwhelmed by the new cult of Health. Because if we no longer know what’s good and evil, the medical profession can most certainly see something that’s worth something: Health. And so the medical profession has stepped into the vacuum left by the departing Christian church, and set up Health as a new idol to be worshipped. You must no longer pray in the churches: you must exercise in the gym.

Or it is as if a great tree has fallen in a forest, leaving a clearing which a whole army of invasive plants has begun to spread. One day one of them will become a new great tree that fills the clearing. But right now we have any number of rival sects and cults emerging as the old religion passes away. It’s also why Buddhism and Islam have begun to encroach on formerly Christian lands, as the great sheltering tree of Christianity decays.

And if we have no morality, then anything goes. Or morality is whatever happens to be the fashionable way to behave, or whatever there is a consensus of opinion in favour of. And so there’s paedophilia and gay marriage and transgender bathrooms. We might say of all these things (and also what seems to be a culture of rape in Hollywood) that they’re currently fashionable in some segments of society, particularly those that like to think of themselves as ‘progressive’. People like Hillary Clinton are people who go in whatever direction the cultural wind is blowing. They will follow every single cultural fad, and regard themselves as superior for being able to change their mind about anything at the drop of a hat.

But Christianity had its moral imperatives written in stone. There was nothing fleeting or fashionable about it. Some things were right, and some things were wrong, and they never changed.

And I suppose that, as a novice Benedectine monk, and also a student of the science and mathematics (which the Benedictines also taught), I’ve always been trying to reconcile Christianity with our new science. My view is that if Christianity contained some profound truths, and our new science also contains profound truths, then they ought to be compatible with each other: we ought to be able to reconstruct Christianity (or something very like it) using our new science. And in doing so found morality on reason rather than faith. If we are indeed machines, we ought to be able to discover a Christian ghost in the machine. But to do that, we must become more scientific, and more rational.

But none of our scientists seem to attempt to do this. None of them are trying to extend science and reason into ethics. Their view is that there is no ethical content to science, and we cannot derive any moral ‘ought’ from factual ‘is’. We can never find any moral guidance in factual science. And so morality, if we are to have any, must be found elsewhere. And that opens the gates to the Healthists and the Islamists and the Buddhists and every single cult or sect from anywhere.

But, with Idle Theory, I have gone looking for ways to found morality on science and reason. And my tentative proposal is that all living things enjoy a degree of idleness, during which they are not obliged to work to stay alive. And this idleness is a degree of freedom that allows them to do as they wish, rather than what they must. And all living things live somewhere on a great chain of being which extends from complete busyness at the bottom to perfect idleness at the top, and we are all of us slowly ascending this ladder or chain (while in constant danger of falling off it).

And in this perfectly rational way of thinking about living things, I can dimly make out, re-emerging from the fog, an outline of the lost Christian cosmos. For the top of the ladder or chain is more or less exactly what Christians regarded as Heaven, and what is at the bottom is very like what they regarded as Hell. And what I call idleness is what the Christians called Soul, and without which we cannot live. For once we have no idleness, we are at the doors of death. And using this way of seeing, it seems to me to be possible to construct an ethics which is concerned with increasing or maintaining idleness. What is good or right is what increases idleness (and freedom), and what is bad or wrong is what decreases idleness (and freedom). And furthermore idleness, unlike Utilitarian pleasure or happiness or satisfaction, is a measurable quantity.

Another feature of the Christian cosmos that re-emerges in Idle Theory is the idea of sabbath day, as a day of rest (or idleness). If every week is divided into a working week, and an idle sabbath or weekend, then the idleness of a society is the ratio of the duration of the weekend/sabbath to the week, a number that has historically been 1/7, but is now more like 2/7.  Dividing work and play in this manner allows idleness to be measured.

There is a great deal missing from my reconstructed Christian cosmos. I regard myself as being a sort of archaeologist who, like Schliemann, has excavated only a tiny fraction of Troy. I have yet, for example, to have found Christ in my archaeological dig, nor the Trinity, nor any of his saints. Nor have I found many of the Christian virtues, like Faith and Hope and Charity. Nor have I found much of those values that I was mentioning yesterday, in contrast to all-important Health: Love, Justice, Honour, Truth, Courage, Peace, Community, Happiness, Style, and Beauty. But I live in hope that one day my trowel will unearth a little treasure trove of some of these things.

I suspect that many of my readers will regard this quest of mine as being both unnecessary and futile. What does it matter if Christianity has passed away? Why on earth should anyone wish to reconstruct it? Does it really matter if we have no solid foundation for our morality? Aren’t we getting along perfectly well without one?

I suspect that the Dr Kovacs that I mentioned at the outset is someone who would not ask such questions, because eastern Europeans like him know exactly what the ethical barbarism of the Communist Eastern Bloc was like, and if their Christianity somehow survived it, it is because they recognised its importance in ways that trendy lefties like Krishnan Guru-Murthy do not. And as ever deepening moral barbarism overtakes the Western world (prison smoking bans being only one example), many more people will begin to search for the lost foundations of their decaying morality. It will become a matter of great urgency. Although whether they will set about it in the way I did is open to question.

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About Frank Davis

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6 Responses to The Lost Christian Cosmos

  1. sackersonwp says:

    I think you’re right about the dead-end perspective of Health. The medicos give advice and criticise as though, if you followed their guidance, you’d live forever. If you accept that you won’t – at least, not this time around – perhaps you can be a bit “cool” about weight and petty vices, and hot on things that matter. Think of the vigour and confidence of Belloc and Chesterton.

  2. Rhys says:

    God is dead, and it is we who have killed him, you and I. Thus spoke Nietzsche, and he was right.
    Frank, a few months ago someone on here posted a link to an old book (1920s? 50s?) about how the fall of civilisations always came about after loss of faith and taking up decadent behaviour. For the life of me I can’t remember the title. Can you help me out?

    • Frank Davis says:

      the fall of civilisations

      I remember it. But I can’t remember anything in particular about it. I’ll try searching the comments. I may be able to find it.

      People lose their way. Or they forget where they were going. They forget what they were trying to do. I do it myself quite regularly. I set out to do something (like write some computer program), and then get so immersed in the details of it that I lose the big picture of what I was trying to do, and why I was trying to do it. It’s like losing a shopping list: you find yourself on the fifth floor in a big department store, and you can’t remember what the hell it was you were going to buy, only that it was quite important. And so you traipse back downstairs and go home. And you only remember when you get back home, and find that the light out side the front door doesn’t work, and you were going to get a new one, on the fifth floor of one particular department store.

      If that can happen with one person, it can happen with lots of people. You can hope that at least one person will remember what we were all trying to do. But maybe nobody will. .

      And as for God is dead, well that’s the sort of thing that Nietzsche would say, wouldn’t he? But in Idle Theory’s notion of perfect idleness at one extreme, and unremitting busyness at the other extreme, I’ve begun to toy with the idea of somebody or something that is perfectly idle. However, just because someone is perfectly idle, it doesn’t mean that they’re omnipotent. Or omniscient. And there doesn’t have to be just one of them.

      In this manner I’ve begun to think about something that’s rather like God. But also something that is always busy, always working. In this manner God has been coming back to life a bit in Idle Theory. And so being born again? That’s another deep Christian notion: the God who dies and comes back to life.

  3. waltc says:

    I grew up with no religion. First time I ever read any part of the Bible was in a freshman year humanities course where I also read excerpts of every other religion from the Greek and Roman Gods, the Upanishads, Vedanta, Tao, Zen and–to stumble into an only half-inadvertent pun–God only knows what. But at the age of four, my father taught me the only really important Christian principle–a pragmatic version of the Golden Rule. Becoming dawningly aware of my four-year-old power, I’d pulled a nasty trick on someone and “to teach me a lesson,” my father pulled the same nasty trick on me and, when I yowled, said “See? That’s how it feels.” I never, for the rest of my life, forgot the lesson– the beginning and end my of religious training. But I know my father was a deeply moral man and though the rest of his morals were never stated, I believe I simply absorbed them by osmosis. Long way, I guess, of saying that I think morality exists with its own barometer and on its own plane, separate from Resurrections and Virgin Mothers and babies in bushes and heavens and hells.

    So I think, from my own peculiar perspective, that it’s more, as you suggest, the death of morality that’s troubling the world, and though some people may need the hard threat of hell, or rules about when to eat fish or shun pork, to keep them in line, a reasonable man should be able to figure out the rules of his own road and to fashion them morally.

    But you’re also right too about the death of religion and the rise of science which in turn leads to Healthism. With the death of religion came the death of a sense of wonder and the humble acceptance of fate. If there is no God and no higher order, then Healthism becomes the rational, self-centric explanation for suffering and even for death. If we, not God, are actually in control, then nothing on earth is beyond our control, including our own fate. If man is the ruler, then of course, Global Warming and all those hurricanes are caused by man. And that notion, in itself, becomes a religion (“vanity, vanity” in the other sense of that word) and, like other religion, it also blindly rejects science.

    • Frank Davis says:

      I grew up with no religion.

      I grew up surrounded, more or less, with candles and incense and statues and altars. It was something everyone did every Sunday, dressed up in their Sunday best. They were all very serious about it.. Going to church on Sundays was no laughing matter. It could also be quite hard on the knees. And it was almost all in Latin.

      But they could never explain to me what was so serious about it, or why it mattered. Even Benedictine monks couldn’t explain it to me, although they tried very hard. And I think that they knew that they weren’t managing to explain it to me. And maybe that was because nobody had really quite managed to explain it to them.

      This goes back to what I was just writing in response to Rhys: we forget why were doing something. Or we never knew in the first place. Or fewer and fewer people knew, but they couldn’t explain it to anybody. So I stopped going to church when I realised that I didn’t know why I was going, and never had known.

      The same can happen anywhere else. You find yourself in a sport stadium, watching a game, and wonder why you’re there. Did you really come here to watch grown men hit balls with bats? .

      I know my father was a deeply moral man

      My father was too. And he wasn’t the churchgoer in the family. It was my mother who did religion, and who I came to seem rather superficial, and nowhere near as moral as my father, despite her prayer books and rosaries.

      If we, not God, are actually in control,

      I don’t think we’re anywhere near anything like that. And it strikes me as hubristic for anyone to think that we are. But lots of people seem to see themselves as Masters Of The Universe. All I know is that I don’t.

      • nisakiman says:

        Neither of my parents were particularly religious, and only went to church on high days and holidays, but my father was C of E and my mother had been brought up as a Catholic. And as a result of her RC upbringing, although she tried to make light of it, she was convinced that because she married outside the faith, she was destined to go to Purgatory when she died, such was the power of her religious indoctrination. And it really worried her, this threat that was hanging over her head like the sword of Damocles. Which is one of the reasons I eschewed religion from an early age. It was, for me, basically coercive, and I’ve always rejected coercion, even as a child.

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