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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Enthusiasm, XIII: The Laws and Characteristics of Enthusiasm

In the previous posting in this series we had a graphic illustration of the dangers of abandoning Aristotelian-Thomism and the intellect as the basis of the natural law.  This was Dr. John D. Mueller who, by going outside the Aristotelian-Thomist framework for his analysis of a system based on Aristotelian-Thomism, invalidated his own theories.

Knox: the Enthusiast must not think.
Ironically, Mueller’s book, Redeeming Economics, received accolades as well as input from a number of prominent neo-Chestertonians and neo-distributists.  These are people ostensibly dedicated to preserving and promoting Chesterton’s thought, based solidly on the common sense of Aristotelian-Thomism — and, as we have seen, G.K. Chesterton, Ronald Knox, Fulton Sheen, and Mortimer Adler (among others) insisted that abandonment of Aristotelian-Thomism ultimately results in the abandonment of reason.  As Knox explained,

[I]n the mind of the ordinary believing Christian, the two principles of reason and revelation are interlocked; a theologian will sort them out and delimit their spheres for you, but in everyday life there is an unconscious give-and-take which regulates your thought without friction.  It is not so with the convert to enthusiasm.  In his mind, a sudden coup d’état has dethroned the speculative intellect altogether; . . . You must not think; that would be to use the arm of flesh, and forsake your birthright.

The Logic of Enthusiasm.
That is the logic of enthusiasm; naturally, it is not always pressed. . . . But always you find this morbid distrust of the intellect cropping up; . . . It must be admitted that evangelical enthusiasm is less marked by this dislike of learning than mystical.  For the Evangelical (illogically, perhaps, but by habit) regards the Bible, not the inner light, as the ultimate source of theological certainty.  But, in so far as he is true to type, he will reject the interpretations offered to him by scholars.  He prefers to get down “his” Bible and “see what it says”; from the plain sense of it there is no appeal.

Still more confidently, the enthusiast dismisses all considerations of human prudence, and trusts to the light within him, when he must face the day-to-day problems of life. . . . To live by, and for, a series of supposedly Divine communications is, too commonly, to cultivate an unhealthy state of mind, avid of portents and ill protected from the inroads of superstition. (Knox, Enthusiasm, op. cit., 586-587.)

Platonism: from the abstract to the particular.
Having examined a specific case, however briefly — Mueller’s Redeeming Economics — we can now perform an Aristotelian-Thomist abstraction, and go from the particular to the general.  A Platonist, of course, would attempt to go from the general to the particular.  We see this in socialism, which posits that the abstraction of humanity as a whole has rights (particularly property) that are doled out to particular individuals, reversing what an Aristotelian-Thomist would consider the proper order, of the abstraction of humanity, the collective, having rights only because individual human persons have made a delegation of those rights.

In his book, The New Enthusiasts, James Hitchcock notes that Knox gave short shrift to Gnosticism, Manichaeism, and the Fraticelli.  This may be because Knox saw them not as attacks from within the Church, but (as Chesterton suggested with the Fraticelli and the Manichees) as the invention of a whole different idea of religion.  These would thereby not have been the formation of different sects within and actual or effective separation from the Church — attacks on the unity of which was Knox’s theme — but attacks from the outside.

Fabian socialist pacifism.
These days, as we have seen, the attacks from outside and inside the Church noted by Chesterton have joined forces, especially after the distortions and twists following Vatican II gave them an opening.  The expanded georgist socialism and theosophy of Fabian socialism from outside the Church have become inextricably linked with the expanded georgist socialism and theosophy of Msgr. John A. Ryan’s social doctrine.

The application and development of the enthusiastic spirit hard on the heels of Vatican II thereby created the illusion that the Council was somehow the cause of the aberrations, the post hoc ergo propter hoc (“after this, therefore because of this”) logical fallacy.  The attack from outside the Church in the form of Fabian socialism seemed to validate the attack from inside the Church in the form of Ryan’s social doctrine on scientific grounds — the reliance on past savings as the only source of new capital formation and the lack of the act of social justice were the same in both cases.

In his book, Hitchcock gives a list of fourteen characteristics, almost laws, of enthusiasm (pages 16-24).  As we might expect, Hitchcock derives his list from Knox’s book.  It is important to note, however, that not all enthusiastic individuals and groups may demonstrate every characteristic on the list.  Further, they often exhibit the characteristics in ways other than those recorded by Knox and Hitchcock.  Nor should we take this list as necessarily complete:

Creating human nature anew: global pessimism/destructive grace.
1) Excessive Piety.  2) Schism.  3) Charismatic Authority.  4) Ultrasupernaturalism.  5) Global Pessimism (Destructive Grace).  6) Anti-Intellectualism.  7) Theocracy.  8) Millenarianism.  9) Mysticism.  10) Antinomianism.  11) Lust for Martyrdom.  12) Invisible Church.  13) Desire for Results.  14) Experimentalism (Novelty).

1. Excessive Piety.  We have yet to come across someone we would consider an enthusiast who believed that the outward practice of whatever faith he or she had wasn’t somehow superior to that of everyone else.  This includes the individuals who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious,” and who make a point of disparaging the presumed hypocrisy of people who attend religious services.  Probably because of this, any disagreement with an enthusiast on any point is apt to be taken as an attack on, or insult to his or her personal faith.  This has the advantage (to the enthusiast) of allowing him or her to get out of any debate simply by alleging an attack on that faith.

Theosophists waiting for others to attain enlightenment.
2. Schism.  Even when they remain nominal members of a particular sect or denomination, enthusiasts tend to consider themselves apart from others who have not yet attained an acceptable degree of enlightenment.  They may be patient with and kindly to others, or they may be malicious and spiteful, but spiritual Apartheid is almost always present.  As Chesterton noted of the theosophists (the patient ones, at least),

“Their patience mostly consisted of waiting for others to rise to the spiritual plane where they themselves already stood.  It is a curious fact, that they never seemed to hope that they might evolve and reach the plane where their honest greengrocer already stood.  They never wanted to hitch their own lumbering waggon to a soaring cabman; or see the soul of their charwoman like a star beacon to the spheres where the immortals are.” (G.K. Chesterton, Autobiography. North Yorkshire, U.K.: House of Stratus, 2001, 93.)

"I thank Thee, Lord, that I am not like him."
Nor is this confined to non-Christians or adherents of versions of pseudo religions.  As C.S. Lewis has the demonic character Screwtape instruct his nephew Wormwood in his book, The Screwtape Letters (1942),

“I have been in correspondence with Slumtrimpet who is in charge of your patient’s young woman, and begin to see the chink in her armour. . . . it consists in a quite untroubled assumption that the outsiders who do not share this belief are really too stupid and ridiculous. . . . Can you get him to imitate this defect in his mistress and to exaggerate it until what was venial in her becomes in him the strongest and most beautiful of the vices — Spiritual Pride?”  (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters.  New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1959, 110-111.)