More details

A Vitalist Christianity? Don’t Bet on It.


A Vitalist Christianity?
Don’t Bet on It.

It’s impossible to think about the future of Western civilisation without thinking about Christianity. Even now, whatever the present state of Christianity in all its various shapes and rainbow colours, there’s no escaping its continuing influence on every aspect of Western life and thought. If Westerners we be, then Christians we be too. It’s that simple.

The Western tradition is Christianity. Some try to deny this, but they’re wrong. Even if you just want to get rid of Christianity and start all over again, by reconnecting with what you consider to be the West’s pagan roots, you’ll have to go through Christianity to do so. Your opposition to Christianity ties you to it, and it to you.

Our access to the Classical World, and to European paganism of the ancient world more broadly —inasmuch as we can know anything about it at all — is mediated by Christianity. For a thousand years, Christianity guarded vital aspects of the pagan past and carried them forward, not least by preserving much of the institutional structure and the imperial aspirations of the Roman Empire. Christianity preserved the language and learning of the Classical World too; although much was also lost.

T.S. Eliot was right when he said, in The Idea of a Christian Society, that the West would only cease to be Christian when a different positive ideology took its place. By “positive” he meant of course a substantive set of doctrines and beliefs, a worldview that actually has some meaningful content of its own, rather than being just a series of negations and denials. It’s not enough just to say “I don’t go to Church and I don’t believe, so I’m not a Christian.” The air we breathe and the very earth we walk on are Christian.

The great fragmentation of Christendom that began with the Reformation and culminated in the Enlightenment, secularism and the “Death of God” did little to remove Christianity from the West. If anything, Christianity became insinuated more deeply in Western life, in new forms that could command just as much fervour as the old, perhaps more.

The dominant supposedly secular mass belief-systems of our day, liberalism and the various forms of socialism, including Marxism, are nothing but outgrowths or bastard children of Christianity. They are what T.E. Hulme called “spilt religion”, in which fundamental aspects of religion, like its moral system or its vision of human nature or even its path to salvation, spill over from the vessel they were once contained in, creating a real bloody mess — in Hulme’s memorable image, like a pot of treacle being poured all over the dinner table.

Neither liberalism nor communism would be possible without the universalism and absolutist moralism of Christianity. The great socialist utopias are so obviously inverted heavens, where paradise is made possible in the here and now rather than the after, that it should really go without saying.

I attach these thoughts as a preface to the main purpose of this piece, which is simply to say this: the dissident right has a problem with Christianity. Instead of treating Christianity with the sophisticated analysis it deserves, considering not only the complex problems raised by Christian theology but also the history of the Church as it has actually existed, we get cheap caricatures. These distortions serve to do little more, in the end, than make the dissident right look unlettered — actually, “stupid” is a better word — and alienate potential allies in the coming fight for the future of the West. Here are two examples.

For some on the dissident right who preach the gospel of vitalism – a celebration of life itself in all its aspects, beautiful and terrible, good and evil, mental and physical – Christianity is just something that must be overcome. These people often cite Nietzsche in favour of their argument, while displaying little to no sense that they’ve actually understood Nietzsche’s writing on Christianity beyond a few phrases like “the slave revolt in morality”, “life-affirming” and “life-denying”. Yes, Nietzsche did call the emergence of Christian morality a “slave revolt”, an inversion of aristocratic morality, but he wasn’t totally condemnatory of this historical event. Far from it. In fact, Nietzsche believed that the slave revolt in morality had made man “more subtle”, in a  good way, and capable for the first time of “making promises”. Nietzsche expressed significant admiration for Jesus at different times in his career, calling him “the noblest of men”; although by the time of his last published work, The Antichrist, Jesus had been reduced to an “idiot” in his estimation.

Others on the dissident right believe that Christianity is not totally life-denying, as the cruder Nietzscheans would have it. In fact, a vitalist Christianity is possible. The evidence for this position is also based in history, in the brute fact that men like Hernan Cortes and Henry the Navigator existed. Such men were Christians as much as they were explorers, swashbucklers and heroes. Rather than denying the physical side of life, they embraced it with gusto. And if they existed before, so the thinking goes, they can exist again. All that matters is to encourage more people to recognise this, and then maybe it will happen.

While it’s true that these men existed and that they were, at least during their own day, numbered among the faithful, this is hardly less shallow a position than the cod-Nietzschean one. For starters, it underestimates the extent to which there is, and always will be, a conflict between priestly and warrior values at the heart of Christan morality. My friend Semmelweis wrote a fantastic essay on the subject in Issue Ten of MAN’S WORLD, using the fourth Rambo film (the one where he goes to Burma – you know, the really gory one) as an illustration. This split between warrior and priest is seen elsewhere, including in the Indo-European tradition – indeed, it may be an “eternal tension between compassion and power”, as Semmelweis puts it –  but in Christianity it takes a particularly acute form that seems to offer little hope of a reconciliation.

For every incident like Jesus casting out the moneylenders from the temple or telling his disciples to go and buy swords, there is a myriad of instances that can be interpreted as fundamentally at odds with the warrior spirit championed by vitalism. Turn the other cheek, render unto Caesar, think not of the morrow and the entire message of the Sermon on the Mount… The central drama of Christianity, the Crucifixion, admits no easy answer to the question of Christianity’s attitude to the body and physical life. A pro-vitalist Christianity would always rest on interpretations that are easily disputed from multiple angles at once, not only from the Bible, but also from the works of the Great Church Fathers and events from Church history.

Men like Hernan Cortes and, much earlier, barbarian kings like Alaric who converted to Christianity, appeared during a very particular phase in the history of the Church. For the first 1700 years of its history, certainly up to the Siege of Vienna in 1683, Christianity was at war for its existence in the most literal sense. In short: the Church needed men like Alaric and Cortes to survive.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, an essential part of the continuation of Christianity in its territories was an accommodation with Germanic life. We can see this in the famous letter of Pope Gregory the Great to Abbot Mellitus, who was in the process of converting the Anglo-Saxons in the kingdom of Kent. Instead of destroying their pagan temples, Pope Gregory told Mellitus to reconsecrate them to God, the better to win the Anglo-Saxons over.

The conversion to Christianity of the new barbarian kingdoms of Europe changed the Church as much as it changed the barbarians themselves. Many of these Germanic accruals were later washed away by the Reformation and the Counter Reformation, but it’s in this context – of a Church that had to change itself to survive, by cosying up to dangerous men – that we must understand the “vitalist Christians” of yore.

Does the Church need such men today? Of course it does. But the question we should be asking instead is: Does the church think it needs such men today? Obviously, the answer to that question is “no”. Just look at what the Church, especially the Catholic Church, is doing right now, at this very moment: nothing less than dismantling the Western civilisation of which it once considered itself the main custodian.

Late last year, an exposé in an Italian newspaper revealed that prominent members of the Catholic Church, including bishops and cardinals, had been funnelling millions of euros to NGOs that are bringing migrants to Europe in boats. What’s worse, these bishops and cardinals had probably been doing this with the tacit support of the Pope himself, since one of the most prominent activists involved in the scheme is a close friend of the pontiff. This is just one egregious instance of the Catholic Church and its new accommodation with the spirit of the times – with St George of Floyd and Pachamama and all the other bioleninist trash it now promotes.

The Protestant churches aren’t any better either. They too, have staked their future on the Third World, because it’s Sub-Saharan Africa and Latrine America where all the religious growth, and the population growth, is taking place. It’s not just Catholic organisations like Jesuit Refugee Services USA that are bringing migrants across the US southern border in record numbers: It’s also groups like Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, World Relief and the National Association of Evangelicals.

The simple truth is that, even if a vitalist Christianity is possible – and I’m not saying it isn’t – there’s no question of the institutional Church accepting it in any regard. The Church doesn’t want a revival of Western civilisation in any sense we might recognise or desire. The Church wants the Great Replacement.

1200 630

Man’s World in Print

MAN’S WORLD is now available, for the very first time, as a high-quality printed magazine. Across 200 glorious pages, you’ll find everything that made the digital magazine the sensation that it was – the best essays, the most brilliant new fiction, interviews, art, food, sex, fitness – and so much more.

Man’s World in Print

MAN’S WORLD is now available, for the very first time, as a high-quality printed magazine. Across 200 glorious pages, you’ll find everything that made the digital magazine the sensation that it was – the best essays, the most brilliant new fiction, interviews, art, food, sex, fitness – and so much more.

You must submit

Want to write for
Man’s World?

Here at Man’s World, we’re always looking for new contributors to dazzle, inform and amuse our readership, which now stands in the hundreds of thousands. If you have an idea for an article, of any kind, or even a new section or regular feature, don’t hesitate to get in contact via the form below.

Generally, the word limit for articles is 3,000; although we will accept longer and (much) shorter articles where warranted. Take a look at the sections in this issue for guidance and inspiration.

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
I have an idea for a