Thursday, January 25, 2007

Rome vs. Carthage redux

Mark writes:
I'm not particularly addressing America's relationship with the Islamic world at all. That's because, as I said, I don't think the Story is about America (or Islam for that matter). I think it's about Christ and the Church. For me, things matter as they are related to that central drama. One of the patterns I note in the biblical revelation of Christ's Church is the pattern I described yesterday: that the Assyrian is ultimately a rod in the hand of God. He may think he's calling the shots, but actually it's God. So I think the wise approach is to "seek first His Kingdon and His righteousness" rather than spend the bulk of our energy looking for ways to hold on to our sin while still cleverly manipulating politics, science, technology, etc. in order to stave off the consequences of our rejection of God. It seems obvious to me that the post-Christian West is deeply engaged in the latter process and that the result will simply be to make our final self-inflicted judgement (all such dooms are self-inflicted) more complicated and terrible.

However, I also believe that God is rich in mercy and that repentence is possible at any time. I have no particular crystal ball that allows me to see the future with respect to Islam and the West. But we do have a bit of revelation concerning the Church and it gives me hope. I am not as confident as some of my readers that the world is doomed to an Islamic future in saecula saeculorum. That is not to say it is not a source of great evil. It is simply to say that I'm not ready to simply throw in the sponge and say the power of the Christ who conquers death is helpless against the onslaught of Islam. Part of my reason for thinking this is theological: Islam does not seem to me to fit the bill for the final apostasy and the nature of Antichrist. We are, to be sure, absolutely guaranteed that the Church faces a "final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the "mystery of iniquity" in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh." (CCC 675).

The question I find myself asking, in light of biblical revelation, is this: which side of the conflict between the post-Christian West and the Foaming Bronze Age Fanatic Islamosphere is far more likely to give us "the lawless one ... the one doomed to perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god and object of worship, so as to seat himself in the temple of God, claiming that he is a god" (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). Say what you will about Islam, but I don't see it producing that figure in a million years, whereas the West is ripe to give birth to him right now.

That's not to say I *prefer* the Foaming Bronze Age Thugs to win. It's to say that, in my heart, I cannot believe that they will. I think Scripture is true and that the coming of Christ will take place in a world that is apostate and (mark this) seriously ready to deify man, not in a world that never heard the gospel and which regards the deification of man with horror. That description fits the decadent West a lot better than than the Islamic East, so I retain a confidence, if you can call it that, that the winners of this particular "civilizational struggle" will be the post-Christian West, whose cultural and technological masters are laboring even now to create fresh sins that cry out to heaven and terrors that will dwarf Islam's crimes as continue on our post-Christian path toward "the supreme religious deception ... of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh."

When that will come, we don't know. *That* it will come is guaranteed by the word of God. And for my money, it seems much more like to come from a Decadent West triumphant over Islam than from Radical Islam triumphant over the West.

To which I have a number of theological and prudential objections to this, not the least of the latter being that arguing that our culture is far more likely to produce the eschatological embodiment of evil than Islam strikes me as a de facto argument that we are, at the end of the day, more evil than our current crop of enemies. IIRC, didn't the New Oxford Review write something to the effect that the Caliphate might perhaps be preferable to our current state of affairs because of the absence of gay marriage?

While the evils of the Islamic world are not the evils of the West (post-Christian or otherwise) no more than our evils are synonymous with those that occur in Africa or China, to rank ours as being so superior to them strikes me as exceedingly wrong-headed. And while I realize that Mark regards the entire politically active pro-life movement as nothing more than a sham because he has soured on the GOP over the war in Iraq, he might want to take note of the sacrifices that millions of people have made for that movement in order to turn back the clock. And if I might be permitted to champion Europe against the general gloom and doom that characterizes the future of the Continent not as the beginning of shar'iah eternal but rather as part of a necessary if unfortunately bloody catalyst needed to help Europe rediscover its Christian heritage. The West de-Christianized itself in less than a century, the argument that such a de-Christianization is irreversible strikes me as being less than a sure assumption. Mark also fails to recognize that the main levers of socio-cultural power in the post-Christian West are far more degenerate than they are tyrannical. If they cannot even mount a coherent defense against the Jihad, I fail to see how they are likely to be enslaving the planet any time soon. The vision of the future received by St. John has many possible lines of interpretation, but I have never seen any exegesis to the effect that the rule of the Antichrist will be a passive affair.

One thing I will take issue with in particular is this one:
I think Scripture is true and that the coming of Christ will take place in a world that is apostate and (mark this) seriously ready to deify man, not in a world that never heard the gospel and which regards the deification of man with horror. That description fits the decadent West a lot better than than the Islamic East, so I retain a confidence, if you can call it that, that the winners of this particular "civilizational struggle" will be the post-Christian West, whose cultural and technological masters are laboring even now to create fresh sins that cry out to heaven and terrors that will dwarf Islam's crimes as continue on our post-Christian path toward "the supreme religious deception ... of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh."

The vicious death cult currently practiced by proponents of suicide bombing, let alone the sick cults of personality that exist around Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab Zarqawi strike me as just as much a deification of man as anything the transhumanists, libertines, or libertarians that I suspect are the focus of much of Mark's ire in the West ever cooked up. Same goes for those that existed around Hitler, Stalin, or Chairman Mao that we see repeated miniature form by Kim Jong Il. Depending on how far back you want to go, there has been shortage of men willing play god and people willing to follow them to the most brutal ends imaginable. All of these views were evil, but they all managed to come to a conclusion without being eschatological.

One of my fundamental problems with Mark's whole conceptual framework for the war on terrorism is that he is incapable of understanding it outside of Rome vs. Carthage. For him, it's always a "heads they win, tails we lose." While this is certainly true in the sense that evil will always be with us short of the eschaton, to argue that there is never a preferable outcome in secular conflicts because we lack perfection is not only wrong-headed but unscriptural. To fall back on outcome that I suspect Mark will agree with, I do not believe that because of manifold sins practiced by the United States during the 1940s (and were these sins all that better than those we practice now? Or were they merely a different flavor of the same poison?) meant that there was no real difference in whether or not we or the Nazis prevailed? I certainly don't think so then, and I would argue that the same is true now.

After all, being a Molinist after Dave Armstrong who helped to convert me, I believe that we live in the best of all possible worlds.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Abortion. That's the reference point. A country that slaughters 1.4 mil a year, legally - not such a great cultura.

Anonymous said...

JOSEPH D'HIPPOLITO SAYS...

Mark's nonsensical attempt at eschatological exegesis conveniently ignores one powerful element: the responsibility of the powerful to protect the innocent.

Mark and his new paleocon friends, who hide their ideological isolation in the worn and frayed cloak of pseudo-morality, refuse to realize that, in deposing Saddam, we destroyed the regime of a sadistic tyrant who would use gas to murder thousands of innocent civilians and design all sorts of tortures for his political "enemies."

Of course, this counts for less than the rhetoric of "just war" in the minds of Mark and his allies. But they should remember that action speaks louder than words -- and the actions of a president who had the temerity to act to destroy such a regime hold far more weight than the vain, pious platitudes of a highly revered hypocrite on Peter's throne who did nothing about the plight of oppressed Kuwaitis in 1990-91, Arab Christians, Lebanese Christians, Melekite Christians, Chaldean Christians, Palestinian Christians, Maronite Christians...need I go on?

Anonymous said...

JOSEPH D'HIPPOLITO SAYS...

Two more points:

1. If Mark wants an example of a truly morally depraved society, he should visit the Palestinian Authority some time. Its political and religious leaders do nothing but foment a truly barbaric hatred for the Israelis -- a hatred that will manipulate children to sacrifice themselves in politically motivated genocide for "Allah" and "martrydom," a hatred that consumes every milligram of energy and talent that the Palestinians could otherwise use to build their society peacefully and productively.

But, of course, the late pope never described such a culture of death as a "culture of death." And since Mark takes his political cues from the late pope, Mark is thus oblivious to such cultures.

2. The whole "Rome v. Carthage" dichotomy is a false one. Mark designs it to place himself above the fray, to make himself some sort of noble moral arbiter. All he's doing is demonstrating his ability to impose a false moral equivalence that does nothing but camouflage his moral ignorance. Mark not only imposes that false equivalence, but he also uses it to construct his own Ideal Catholic Society To Which Everybody Should Ascribe. Such a society exists only in his fantasies. Yet if he truly wants to construct such a society, he could begin by attacking the pervasive corruption in today's Church Establishment, but that's another point entirely.

"Rome vs. Carthage" is a cop-out. It enables Mark not to dirty himself with the unpleasant choice of having to ally with a Western society that doesn't meet his precious, perfectionistic demands against an Islamic society that only offers a form of holiness but denies the power thereof.

Bubba said...

Joseph, this is probably a grossly unfair generalization, but I'm not sure a guy is engaging in moral equivalence when -- as jihadists accuse us of being the Great Satan -- he suggests that we're the mostly like source of the Antichrist.

Flambeaux said...

FWIW, my objection to his Rome v Carthage lens is that he's just wrong. Period. It's clear from the allusions he's made to it that he fails to grasp what was essentially different about either culture, and why Rome had to win or die.

His ignorance, once again on display here, simply further discredits what he passes off as analysis.

Thanks for doing the heavy lifting, guys. If nothing else, you're helping one man manage his blood pressure. :)

Anonymous said...

JOSEPH D'HIPPOLITO SAYS...

Bubba, as I look at what Mark means by "Rome v. Carthage," I'm not stressing his view that Western civilization is the most likely source of the Antichrist (that's akin to what Jerry Falwell said about the Antichrist being a Jew; there's not enough evidence in either case to make those respective cases stand up).

My point is that Mark seems to view neither "Rome" nor "Carthage" as worthy of his support. Well, he just happens to live in a civilization that provides freedom, the rule of law, scientific inquiry, a sophisticated level of intellectual attainment and, in many cases, sound morality. Granted, neither the U.S. nor Western civilization as a whole is the "best of all possible worlds." Human nature, being what it is, is still inherently sinful and will warp any civilization's legitimate achievements. All people of good conscience must confront the evil in their midst, regardless of where it eminates from.

Nevertheless, Mark must make a choice between "Rome" and "Carthage," not throw both into the dust bin for a civilization that exists only in his own fantasies. All people must make such a choice.

And, no, Bubba, your implied question is not a "grossly unfair generalization." If I can't explain myself properly and clearly, such questions must be asked.

Bubba said...

What I'm saying, Joseph, is that I'm not sure Mark's taking an entirely neutral stance between Rome and Carthage when he suggests that the Antichrist is more likely to be Roman. That might be a gross overgeneralization of his position, but it may be that -- at least in this respect -- there's something that isn't neutral about his argumentation.

kathleen said...

Shea's post is bizarre enough that the implication of moral equivalence between islamists and the west is the only thing that prevents the post from being an utter non-sequitur . (the antichrist will be western ... and so? we should just sit back, prevent our hands from getting dirty and let terrorists have their way while we passively continue to evolve into the sort of decadent, western society that would yield the antichrist? the war ill-conceived because the bible says that we'll be top dog at the end of the world anyway, so why bother? )

Christopher said...

Exactly, Kathleen.

Rather than challenge the thrust of Mark's assertion about "The Anti-Christ will probably come from the West" I rather just shake my head and wonder, "so what does that mean for us?" We can wallow in irresponsibility to the rest of the world because we're doomed anyway? Isn't that the exact attitude that would in fact lead us further down the road toward depravity.

Bubba said...

I posted a similar comment independently at our blog, but I'm glad to see I'm not the only one wondering at Shea's point.

Christopher Fotos said...

My point is that Mark seems to view neither "Rome" nor "Carthage" as worthy of his support. Well, he just happens to live in a civilization that provides freedom, the rule of law, scientific inquiry, a sophisticated level of intellectual attainment and, in many cases, sound morality. Granted, neither the U.S. nor Western civilization as a whole is the "best of all possible worlds." Human nature, being what it is, is still inherently sinful and will warp any civilization's legitimate achievements. All people of good conscience must confront the evil in their midst, regardless of where it eminates from.

Nevertheless, Mark must make a choice between "Rome" and "Carthage," not throw both into the dust bin for a civilization that exists only in his own fantasies. All people must make such a choice.


Yeah, there are a lot of implications to be puzzled through, but I agree with the general thrust there. Mark seems to have an increasingly tenuous commitment to the society that defends his way of life, which explains much.

Donald R. McClarey said...

At the time more than a few people in the West, especially after he survived the bomb attempt on his life in 44, thought that Hitler was the anti-Christ. If I had been alive at that time, I suspect I would have been tempted to that belief. It says something bad about the West that someone as mad and bad as Hitler could rise to power in a major Western nation, and come perilously close to dominating the globe. However it also says something gloriously good about huge portions of the West that they fought so bravely to smash Hitler and that then they implemented policies that led ultimately to the fall of the Soviet Union. There are great evils in the West, abortion would head my list, but thus it has ever been. There are also myriads of good men and women in the West who are combatting these ills, while also fighting threats from without. Thus it has ever been also. Mark, as his speculations about the coming of the anti-Christ demonstrate, is too pessimistic about the West, because he tends to dwell upon the deeds of evil and ignore the deeds of good.

Flambeaux said...

donald r. mcclarey wrote:
"because he tends to dwell upon the deeds of evil and ignore the deeds of good"

Beats working for a living.

*grin*

Flambeaux said...

And, fwiw, my wife just asked me to throw this log onto the pyre:

If Mark really thinks that Islam poses no genuine threat to the West, he should look up Hagia Sophia in a good encyclopedia.

Anonymous said...

Maybe all those years of being a talented writer and yet unable to earn enough has soured him out. It happens to a lot of us in mid-life.


Ivan

Flambeaux said...

He fails to earn enough by his own choice. I know several people with comparable skill sets who do not get online every few months to beg enough money to pay "dental bills".

Freelance writers who are, dare I say it, well-fed.

But none of them deliberately chose to pursue work in a tiny market notorious for its lack of money.

To be clear, many people don't have the options he does. But for those who do, I have no sympathy when they complain about being broke after they have clearly rejected viable avenues of earning potential. If the man spent half, just half, the time pursuing real freelance writing work that he spends blogging, his family would be in a better situation.

And no matter how noble the cause you think you're serving as an apologist, if you're a husband and father and you're not providing for the material needs of your family, you're neglecting your duties.

Victor said...

I don't see much value in comments about how a stranger, even one disliked rightly by myself and others, runs his household or supports his family. Such future comments will be deleted.

Anonymous said...

JOSEPH D'HIPPOLITO SAYS....

Agreed, Victor. Besides, any personal or financial problems Shea might have do not, cannot and never will justify his infantile, vile behavior toward others.

Anonymous said...

Josiah says:

Given Mark's stated fondest for Chesterton, I find his whole "Rome v. Carthage" trope a bit odd. Chesterton, after all, thought that Rome's defeat of Carthage was one of the pivotal events in human history, and was fiercely pro-Rome.

http://www.worldinvisible.com/library/
chesterton/everlasting/part1c8.htm