Theodore Dalrymple on the narcissistic self-referentialism that rules in most public and private dialogue and its effect of shutting down any real debate. In a supposedly free society there are so many taboo subjects that people are afraid to discuss. Dalrymple is a great cultural observer because he has not been desensitized by constant exposure to television and movies. I remember watching a bit of Jerry Springer once many years ago and realizing its dangerous effect on most people. Most people lack strong formation in Christian morality or the ability to think things through based on sound moral principles. So what do they mostly go on? Visceral reactions. If they see or hear about something that is emotionally upsetting they think it wrong. But what happens when they are constantly exposed to bad or outrageous behaviour? They become inured to it. Having no strongly negative emotional reaction they become indifferent or even accepting of the action. After all they have seen it before and even worse things. Meanwhile the state barrages them with messages that “intolerance” and “judgmentalness” are wrong and “openmindedness” and “pluralism” are good, increasing their mental handicap.
Blair, as you know, since leaving office has converted to Catholicism without publicly recanting any of his past views or decisions. In fact he has since expressed his disagreement with Church doctrine. In other words he never really converted from anything to anything. But evidently that was acceptable to those who received him into the Church – after all he is Tony Blair!
Many of his comments remind me of an observation made years ago. That Gnosticism or dualism has always been the dominant religious mindset and continuously returns under different guises. And it is popular again. Why? Well, one senses a difference and conflict between the mind and the body. But taken too far this leads to a complete division between the soul and the body, the mental and the physical, intention and actions. Such a radical division can lead to extreme ascetism (as in some Catholic, Hindu and Buddhist ascetics) or more popularly in wholesale self-indulgence. After all what I do in the body has no effect on the soul (the view Paul discovered many Corinthians embraced). This allows a person to act badly but claim purity of heart. One can aggrandize oneself in business or in government while claiming the be honestly acting in the best interest of others. One can break one’s vows to a spouse and destroy the well-being of children because one is now “in love” with another.
Protestantism itself is a kind of Gnostic heresy: where an intellectual (or heartfelt) assent of faith in Christ and what He has done trumps all actions – past, present or future – on one’s own part. As long as one has faith in Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice no personal action can endanger one’s assured salvation. What I do comes from my sinful fallen nature but my faith in Christ comes from grace and saves me. I know Protestants try to soften this dilemma by saying works of love flow from faith and prove its presence, but they cannot deny – without undermining the doctrines of sola fide, imputed justification and assured salvation – that continued sinfulness cannot endanger the salvation of one who believes. After all it is Jesus’ work that saves us in spite of ourselves. Martin Luther strongly affirmed this when he said sin boldly but believe more bolder still. With the triumph of Protestantism came the strong re-emergence of gnosticism in Western thought, including philosophy (Descartes, et al.), and it has now morphed into its popular secular form that dominates our culture (i.e. What I do does not define who I am. Rather I am defined solely by my intentions or heart).