Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Enthusiasm, XV: Remaining Characteristics of Enthusiasm


In today’s posting we conclude our brief overview of the characteristics of enthusiasm — at least, those that we selected.  Not by coincidence, we also conclude that portion of the blog series dealing with Msgr. Ronald Knox’s Enthusiasm and his take on the development of a new concept of religion.  So, today we look at 10) Antinomianism, 11) Lust for Martyrdom, 12) Invisible Church, 13) Desire for Results, and 14) Experimentalism (Novelty).

Msgr. Ronald Knox in 1949
As we noted previously, our list is probably not exhaustive, nor is it intended to be.  Understanding these characteristics, however, is essential to understanding the overthrow of common sense in the modern world, as well as some of the otherwise baffling things that keep happening and recurring.  That’s why we were careful, when drafting this particular post, to lead off with “antinomianism”:

10. Antinomianism.  “Antinomianism” is basically a fancy word for “I gotta be me and live by my own rules.”  Other words for it are “selfishness,” “greed,” “egocentricity,” and one that has undergone a heavy whitewashing in the last several decades, especially in enthusiastic circles, “anarchy.”  While selfishness, greed, and egocentrism are easier to understand, calling it antinomianism or anarchy allows those who are selfish, greedy, and egocentric for what they think are good reasons, to accuse, judge, condemn, and carry out sentence on others who are selfish, greedy, and egocentric for what the accusers “know” are bad reasons.

What's the difference?
In other words (as is usually the case), antinomianism among enthusiasts is the time-honored practice of the pot calling the kettle black.  This is usually without proof, and almost always without any authority, i.e., it's what moralists call “detraction of another,” and takes the form of backbiting and calumny.

Nor is this limited to socialists, collectivists, and liberals going after capitalists, individualists, and conservatives.  It also goes the other way.

Where, for example, the socialist enthusiast assumes that the rich have no rights because they’re not poor, the capitalist enthusiast assumes that the poor have no rights because they’re not rich.  Collectivist and liberal, and individualist and conservative enthusiasts simply substitute their respective terms into the formula.  The enthusiast can always turn his or her own vice into a virtue, and another’s virtue into a vice.

The end result is to abrogate moral responsibility completely by dehumanizing, even demonizing anyone with whom the enthusiast disagrees and who doesn’t fit into a preconceived position.  This is similar to the enthusiastic mystic who applies a predetermined conclusion derived from the convictions dictated by an inner light to anything on which he or she meditates.  As Knox explained,

Sins of King Manasseh, 2 Kings 21
. . . “[o]n the opposite slope lies the peril of pure antinomianism; a single false step, and your evangelical enthusiast is over the precipice.  St. Paul, with his Omnia mihi licent; St. Augustine, with his Ama, et fac quod vis; Luther, with his Pecca fortiter — is it certain that any natural law of morals is binding on a soul which has emancipated itself from the natural, and lives now by a law of grace?  Indulgence of the passions is culpable in the unregenerate soul, helps it on its road to perdition; but the children of predestination are emancipated from the bondage of law; not their actions, but the merits of their Redeemer, avail to justify them.  May it not be that actions which the world counts sinful are, for them, like all their other actions, sanctified?  Alternatively, may they not sin precisely in order that ‘grace may abound’, obligingly offer to Divine grace a broader target (if we may so put it) for redemption?  There have been enthusiasts who, on this principle, were ready to ‘outsin Manasses’.”  (Knox, Enthusiasm, op. cit., 583.)

The logical conclusion, of course, is that as far as the enthusiast is concerned, only the “godly” (meaning those with whom the enthusiast agrees) have rights, that is, those who in legal and constitutional terms are persons.  Nor does is this restricted to “religious” individuals and institutions, for even atheists (if they are honest) admit they hold their position by a faith just as strong as that of any theist.  Thus, as Knox explained (and keeping in mind the enthusiast’s equating grace and charity),

Slaves, having no rights, are not persons in law.
“In its extreme form this theology has political repercussions.  It justifies the doctrine of Wyclif, of Huss, of Lollardy, of Anabaptism, that dominion is founded on grace.  To be born again makes you a new creature; the seed of grace, ransomed from a drowning world, must not be confused with the unregenerate; they are (so to say) a different kind of animal.  They alone, and not the ungodly, have legal rights.”  (Ibid., 584.)

11. Lust for Martyrdom.  This characteristic isn’t too evident these days, at least in its classic form.  Instead, what usually happens is that the enthusiast takes some actions or says some words that he or she hopes will be taken the wrong way.  This allows the enthusiast to claim victim status, thereby graphically demonstrating his or her moral superiority to the unenlightened ones whose souls have not attained the rarified stratum of sanctity inhabited by the enthusiast, thereby knowing what he or she really meant.

Is a manipulated or provoked martyrdom a real martyrdom?
More rarely, the enthusiast will court actual physical, legal, or social harm.  He or she will undertake some deliberately provocative act or speak words calculated to goad someone to attack or react negatively.

Ideally, of course, this is done in such a way that only the presumed aggressor’s actions are evident to witnesses.  This achieves the double goal of suffering a contrived martyrdom and nullifying an opponent.  As Hitchcock notes, in this way the enthusiast attains “a seal of his chosenness.  He also regards it as natural and appropriate that he should suffer at the hands of the ungodly who surround him.” (Hitchcock, The New Enthusiasts, op. cit., 22.)

12. Invisible Church.  For the purposes of our discussion, “Church” should be understood as existing institutions or social structures, not (necessarily) as a religious body — that is, the common good.  To the non-enthusiast (especially within the framework of the Just Third Way), the common good is the institutional environment within which human beings carry out the business of living, i.e., acquiring and developing virtue.  In “Catholic thought” as it pertains to religious society, this is “the visible Church,” but we can apply the same concept to “the visible financial structure,” “the visible government,” and so on, of civil society.

The common good is the environment within which virtue is acquired, not the virtue itself.
To the enthusiast, the common good gets in the way of attaining spiritual enlightenment or political or economic utopia.  All the laws and other institutions of the common good are not there to assist him or her in developing more fully as a human being, but to erect barriers (usually as the result of a conspiracy) that inhibit or prevent his or her attaining true enlightenment or a perfect, godly (or godless for the atheist) society.

Lacking the act of social justice, social justice being the particular virtue directed to the reform of the institutions of the common good to enable people within them to meet their own needs (including acquiring and developing virtue) through their own efforts instead of having results imposed, the enthusiast believes that the chosen ones are helpless against the ungodly.  That is, helpless unless they create an élite hidden community of saints, sages, mystics, or whatever, that recognizes that the common good “becomes at best unnecessary, and often is treated as a hindrance and an obstacle.”  (Ibid., 22.)

William Miller (1782-1849)
13. Desire for Results.  In Hitchcock’s opinion, enthusiasts tend to become easily disillusioned due to the failure to achieve instant results, whether that be personal sanctity, attainment of the next level of consciousness, high wages and full employment, world peace, an end to hunger and poverty, or anything else.  We disagree.  Some few individuals may be easily discouraged, but (other) enthusiasts chalk that up to an individual failure of faith, hope, or charity.  In most cases, such as in William Miller's "Great Disappointment of October 22, 1844", some lost faith, but the others just rescheduled.

In our experience, due to the enthusiastic tendency to blame everything on others as a result of not having the act of social justice, whether it be a hidden conspiracy of traditionalists or modernists in religion, or the rich, the corporations, or government in civil society, there is always a reason why the desired goal is not attained.  This is logical within the enthusiastic framework.  After all, if the enthusiasts recognize their own hidden élite working to bring about the kingdom of God (or who or whatever), it makes sense that others are going by “secret paths” to prevent the coming of the kingdom.

Dr. Samuel Alexander
14. Novelty (Experimentalism).  Novelty (which Hitchcock termed “Experimentalism”) is not quite the same thing of which C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters or that Fulton Sheen came across in his “debate” with Dr. Samuel Alexander (1859-1938), the Australian-born British philosopher, although it is closely related.  In the former, novelty refers to countering what Lewis called “the horror of the Same Old Thing” (Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, op. cit., 115-119).  In the latter (as we shall see), Dr. Alexander used novelty to advance his reputation in Academia with his theory that God evolves (Fulton J. Sheen, Treasure in Clay: The Autobiography of Fulton J. Sheen.  New York, Doubleday, 1979, 25-26).

No, enthusiastic novelty is a manifestation of the ever-present need for the enthusiast to demonstrate a higher degree of spiritual perfection than anyone else, even his or her own comrades.  If A experiences three enlightenments a week, then B has to have one a day, whereupon C has one in the morning, one at noon, and one at night before going to bed.

Mystical Experiences for Dummies?
A then either increases the number of enlightenments beyond that attained by C, or discovers a different gift, such as ecstasies, trances, higher levels of consciousness, or anything that brings something “new and fresh” to the table.  As Hitchcock commented, “A piety which does not issue in continually new and fresh experiences is deemed deficient, and experiences are taken as the essential test of a piety’s authenticity.” (Hitchcock, The New Enthusiasts, op. cit., 23.)

Obviously, many of these characteristics of enthusiasm do not in and of themselves necessarily result in the invention of the new religion of which Chesterton, Knox, and Sheen wrote.  Individually, they may be harmful, but probably in general dangerous only to the practitioner.  Taken as a whole, however, there can be no reasonable cause for assuming that the rejection of the intellect and common sense as the fundamental moral, social, and religious principles of human life does not merely create a new religion, but an entirely new idea of religion.

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