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Escoffier on Modernity and the Embarrassment of Christians

Embarrassed

Escoffier recently posted a comment at Dalrock’s blog which seemed useful as a standalone post.  It deals with the issue of why so many contemporary Christians appear to be embarrassed with the moral teachings of Christianity.  I’m posting it here in full for comment.  (EDIT:  I see that Donal has also posted it — that’s good, it deserves a broad audience).

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I want to add a supplementary / alternative reason to explain this embarrassment over the text of the Bible. It’s been touched on but not really fleshed out.

That is, that these nominal Christians under discussion are all moderns first and Christians second (if second). Worse, they don’t even know they are moderns, or what it means to be a modern, or what modernity is.

Modernity, to say the least, conflicts with the Bible. It was designed to, on purpose. Yet it has been so successful in taking over nearly all conscious and sub-conscious thought that hardly anyone any more recognizes it for what it is. That includes most contemporary Christians, to whom “modernity” is simply synonymous with “reality” or even “morality.”

There’s a particular strand of modernity that’s particularly relevant here, namely historicism, and specifically rational historicism (as opposed to radical or irrational historicism). This is the idea of “progress.” “Progress” is cooked into the original conception of modernity, but it came to take on a different meaning much later. Originally, it more or less just meant “We can improve the material condition of man on earth; human beings have a lot more power than either the Bible or classical philosophy will admit.”

Rational historicism takes this idea much further and posits a unidirectional progress, which is worked out through impersonal forces (the so-called historical dialectic) over which man may be an unwitting instrument, but which he didn’t design, doesn’t direct, and can’t control. “History” is nonetheless rational, moving “forward” (with occasional, necessary steps back) to ever-“better” states and eventually to an end state in which all dialectical conflicts are resolved, all moral and political problems solved, and final wisdom achieved (if not necessarily accessible to all). In pop-culture terms, the Star Trek universe is basically the cartoon version of this end state.

Nearly everyone today believes in this “arc” at least in a simplified way. The present is believed to be inherently more enlightened that the past. We Don’t Do That Anymore Because We Know Better. And the future will be inevitably more enlightened than the present.

The source of this impression is ultimately perverted or corrupted or mistaken philosophy, but one does not need to have studied philosophy at all to have been affected, even “convinced.” The astounding success of modern natural science and its offspring, technology, serves to “prove” to such people that “progress” is real and that the present is superior to the past. Technological progress is assumed to be coeval with moral and political progress.

But it is never explained why this should be so. Actually, certain modern philosophers did try to make such a case, but they hardly proved it and their case is open to serious theoretical difficulties which have been pointed out by other philosophers. However, that whole dialogue may as well never have happened as far as the average modern person is concerned. He is simply unaware of it and takes on faith that the present is morally superior to the past.

This, then, is a significant source of the embarrassment. The modern Christian (modern first, Christian second) is embarrassed by the evident conflicts between his nominal faith and his actual, if unconscious, modernity. Modernity trumps. So the offending Scriptures have to be dealt with one way or another. There are many possible ways: insist that it doesn’t say what it seems to say, come up with Rube Goldberg interpretations to square it with modernity, call it “metaphoric,” say that it was right for that time but not our time, and so on. The latter is a kind of “Living Constitution” framework for the Bible. It assumes that God has left to us the task of “updating” Scripture as the “times change.” The changing of the times is held to be the true constant, and really the true God, but only implicitly.

14 Responses

  1. Cane Caldo

    Glad to see this got it’s own post. It’s great.

  2. Escoffier on Modernity | Dalrock

    […] During the discussion of Worse than fear. Worse than malice. Escoffier offered an outstanding explanation of our modern sense of moral progress.  This was worthy of a stand alone post, and Novaseeker has been kind enough to create one for it:  Escoffier on Modernity and the Embarrassment of Christians […]

  3. Scott

    Good stuff.

    The old “moral progress is inevitable” meme, and it’s counterpart “technological advances and moral progress are inextricably correlated.”

    My question to those who believe this: How is it the most technologically advaced civilization in 1939 was Nazi Germany?

    The truth is, if super advanced space aliens came to Earth tomorrow, there is about a 50/50 chance they assimilate or extinguish us vs help us to be more peaceful and loving.

    1. Donal Graeme

      @ Scott

      Have you watched the Day the Earth Stood Still? The original, that is, not the modern re-make, which was just Eco-Porn. It addresses that topic somewhat.

      And yes, this comment is a great one that deserves widespread dissemination- there is an important discussion to be had here, and the more places it is discussed, the better.

  4. Ashamed Of The Faith | Donal Graeme

    […] Novaseeker has created a post highlighting Escoffier’s comment, and Dalrock has created his own post as […]

  5. Mark

    I agree with Escoffier’s summary on modernity and Christianity, but would add that the root is idolatry – something (pride) and/or someone (self) has supplanted Yhwh as Lord. Escoffier implies this when he writes “modern first, Christian second.”

    As Dennis Prager once said, “Whenever an adjective is added to an important value-based noun, there’s an agenda…. There is justice and there is injustice. There isn’t justice and social justice. ‘Social justice’ means left-wing equality.”

    The same applies to Christianity, as far as I have observed. There is Christian and non-Christian. Christ and anti-Christ. Everything else is politics, at best, and in most cases a flat out ruse.

  6. tz2026

    New-old.
    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_x/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-x_enc_19070908_pascendi-dominici-gregis_en.html
    PASCENDI DOMINICI GREGIS
    ENCYCLICAL OF POPE PIUS X
    ON THE DOCTRINES OF THE MODERNISTS
    SEPTEMBER 8, 1907

    I don’t quite agree, Morality, or Natural Law as C.S. Lewis called it does develop, but from within:

    https://archive.org/stream/TheAbolitionOfMan_229/C.s.Lewis-TheAbolitionOfMan_djvu.txt

    A theorist about language may approach his native tongue, as it were from outside,
    regarding its genius as a thing that has no claim on him and advocating wholesale
    alterations of its idiom and spelling in the interests of commercial convenience or
    scientific accuracy. That is one thing. A great poet, who has ‘loved, and been well
    nurtured in, his mother tongue’, may also make great alterations in it, but his
    changes of the language are made in the spirit of the language itself: he works from
    within. The language which suffers, has also inspired the changes. That is a
    different thing — as different as the works of Shakespeare are from Basic English. It
    is the difference between alteration from within and alteration from without:
    between the organic and the surgical. In the same way, the Tao admits
    development from within. There is a difference between a real moral advance and
    a mere innovation. From the Confucian ‘Do not do to others what you would not
    like them to do to you’ to the Christian ‘Do as you would be done by’ is a real
    advance. The morality of Nietzsche is a mere innovation. The first is an advance
    because no one who did not admit the validity of the old maxim could see reason
    for accepting the new one, and anyone who accepted the old would at once
    recognize the new as an extension of the same principle. If he rejected it, he would
    have to reject it as a superfluity, something that went too far, not as something
    simply heterogeneous from his own ideas of value. But the Nietzschean ethic can
    be accepted only if we are ready to scrap traditional morals as a mere error and
    then to put ourselves in a position where we can find no ground for any value
    judgements at all. It is the difference between a man who says to us: ‘You like your
    vegetables moderately fresh; why not grow your own and have them perfectly
    fresh?’ and a man who says. “Throw away that loaf and try eating bricks and
    centipedes instead.”

    But I also don’t see the point. Everything he says about the problem of “modernism” applies to the 180 done in the last 100 years on the issue of contraception (universally condemned before 1930). I doubt even 5% of protestants accept that it is sinful (Catholics don’t practice, but it is clearly condemned in the teaching).

    The only thing missing from the original description of modernism is the excuse that “we really are returning to what the first Christians actually did”, e.g. pointing out how Jesus treated women with respect, how they paid for him and his disciples, how he first appeared to women after rising…

    The problem is not modernism per se, but where on the list of innovations does one insist on stopping and that going further is suddenly heresy.

  7. A♠

    Relevant [if not yet mentioned]:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronological_snobbery

  8. Professor Ashur

    The default assumption that progress always equals moral advancement is also probably tied into the West’s belief in youth culture. Youth are always on the cutting edge of what is “good and right”, in their view. This is why young people feel very safe dismissing the accumulated wisdom of centuries of human experience.

    They falsely assume that humanity, like technology, need only be considered in the here and now. So yes, the modern computer programmer is probably safe in their ignorance of defunct typesetting, but the technology of human behavior never changes.

    The arrogance of youth is as bad as it has ever been.

    1. Scott

      Nice–

      Hadn’t thought of that. It’s why youth are allowed to basically take over all the institutions. They are considered morally superior, by virtue of their being young.

  9. Jenny

    I love how you have named this error but I’m needing a solid way to refute this mistaken belief in our society, or encouragement, or scripture. Anything that doesn’t leave us hopeless and gives us the ability to love and show truth. Blessing to you Escoffier and Novaseeker, may you continue to pursue truth and love Christ.

  10. Father Knows Best: Father’s Day Edition | Patriactionary

    […] Veritas Lounge: Escoffier on Modernity and the Embarrassment of Christians […]

  11. UK Fred

    @Mark
    The late Patrick Hutber once summed up the use of the adjective social as transforming the noun to mean the opposite of what it really ought to mean, and used the phrases “social contract”, “social justice” and “social work” to illustrate his point.

    @Jenny
    While the origins of “Modernism” is not there, much of the drive for modernism and post-modernism has come from the Frankfurt School of marxism.

    @Novaseeker
    If this is hijacking your thread, just delete it, but as I have just posted on Dalrock,
    “It is part of the Frankfurt School agenda which was created to aid communism spread. It was originally based in Germany but fled to the USA when Hitler came to power. From then to the early 60′s it embedded itself in the US college and University system. It was, in fact, responsible for the counter culture revoluton of the 60′s( which most of the youth at that time saw as liberating from the admittedly authoritarian, and moral governance that existed. This is not the stuff of conspiracy theories but stark fact. Marcuse was one of the leading lights of this operation and his frank and open confessions are all on the youtubel The aim was to change forever the long establshed judao-christian heritage. To give you further insight (assuming like most people you are now aware of all this) I show below the key points of the Frankfurt School agenda. Please, then, if you wish compare those leading points with the actions of the labour governments of 1997 – 2010…..a close match, indeed. But this agenda is shared by the 3 parties – we live in a 3 party, 0ne party state of cultural marxists.
    “The final aim of the Frankfurt School was to make the West so corrupt it “will stink”
    “The School included among its members the 1960s guru of the New Left Herbert Marcuse (denounced by Pope Paul VI for his theory of liberation which ‘opens the way for licence cloaked as liberty’), Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, the popular writer Erich Fromm, Leo Lowenthal, and Jurgen Habermas – possibly the School’s most influential representative.
    “Basically, the Frankfurt School believed that as long as an individual had the belief – or even the hope of belief – that his divine gift of reason could solve the problems facing society, then that society would never reach the state of hopelessness and alienation that they considered necessary to provoke socialist revolution. Their task, therefore, was as swiftly as possible to undermine the Judaeo-Christian legacy. To do this they called for the most negative destructive criticism possible of every sphere of life which would be designed to de-stabilize society and bring down what they saw as the oppressive’ order. Their policies, they hoped, would spread like a virus—‘continuing the work of the Western Marxists by other means’ as one of their members noted.
    “To further the advance of their ‘quiet’ cultural revolution – but giving us no ideas about their plans for the future – the School recommended (among other things):
    1. The creation of racism offences.
    2. Continual change to create confusion
    3. The teaching of sex and homosexuality to children
    4. The undermining of schools’ and teachers’ authority
    5. Huge immigration to destroy identity.
    6. The promotion of excessive drinking
    7. Emptying of churches
    8. An unreliable legal system with bias against victims of crime
    9. Dependency on the state or state benefits
    10. Control and dumbing down of media
    11. Encouraging the breakdown of the family
    “One of the main ideas of the Frankfurt School was to exploit Freud’s idea of ‘pansexualism’ – the search for pleasure, the exploitation of the differences between the sexes, the overthrowing of traditional relationships between men and women. To further their aims they would:
    • attack the authority of the father, deny the specific roles of father and mother, and wrest away from families their rights as primary educators of their children.
    • abolish differences in the education of boys and girls
    • abolish all forms of male dominance – hence the presence of women in the armed forces
    • declare women to be an ‘oppressed class’ and men as ‘oppressors’
    “Munzenberg summed up the Frankfurt School’s long-term operation thus: ‘We will make the West so corrupt that it stinks.’
    “The School believed there were two types of revolution: (a) political and (b) cultural. Cultural revolution demolishes from within. ‘Modern forms of subjection are marked by mildness’. They saw it as a long-term project and kept their sights clearly focused on the family, education, media, sex and popular culture.”

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