On why I am opposed to magic ontologies

You might expect me to say, “Because God condemns sorcery.”  That is true.  Or you might expect me to say, “Burning incense to the Queen of Heaven is a sin.”  That is true.  But that is not what I am talking about.  I was in some fascinating Facebook discussions about Greek thought.  Here is a summary of my points:

I do not think there is a dichotomy between Hebrew and non-Hebrew languages. In that sense I agree with Barr’s critique. However, Greek though, influenced by Egyptian magic (Plato studied in Egypt), does have differences with the structures behind the “Hebrew way of life.”

We will say it another way–and this is where Augustine is very helpful, if very wrong: when I ascend up the chain of being, do I gain more being inversely with corporeality?

But if you read Ps. Dionysius and others, one knows God by beginning with abstract concepts of Deity and then rises up the chain of being by negating those concepts. Plotinus, Nyssa, Origen, Evagrius and others are very clear on this. Jesus, on the other hand, descends to us and takes flesh and knowing him we know God.

Footnote: in the eschaton are we going to drink wine on Yahweh’s mountain or achieve hyperousia and contemplate the Empyrean Forms?

when I say thought patterns I mean the way the human brain forms ideas. They most certainly saw the world differently, which might be why God called for war against Hellenism in Zechariah 9.

John Henry Cardinal Newman summarizing the anchoretic life (which is Hellenism applied). 
“Surely the idea of an apostle, ummarried, pure in fast and nakedness, and at length a martyr, is a higher idea tha
n that of one of the old Israelites, sitting under his vine and fig-tree, full of temporal goods, surrounded by his sons and grandsons” (Newman, Loss and Gain).

This is chain-of-being ethics in all of its terrible purity. There is a line in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time where wolves will stop what they are doing, even sacrifice the whole pack, to kill a Myrdraal (think goblin bad guy). That’s sort of how I feel about chain of being ontology.

And it is by no means a Greek thing. I have long maintained that the Greeks–Plato–borrowed from Egyptian magic religion. ANd you can find similar horrors in other Eastern religions.

Once you accept chain-of-being as the normative paradigm for getting our thoughts about God, and we see this same paradigm in other religions (and hermetic traditions), then it doens’ tmake any sense to say, “Well, our’s is different.”

I realize it looks like I am equating neo-Platonic magic with all of Hellenism. Allow me to clarify. I see a continuity between neo-Platonism and earlier Hellenisms. Almost all (all?) hold to an ontology of overcoming estrangement. Secondly, neo-Platonism is simply the apex and most beautiful finale of Hellenistic thought. (When the last Magus, Iamblichus, died, NeoPlatonism and Hermeticism (basically the same thing) went underground until the Templars. This lines up with Justinian’s closing the academies and Damasius’s getting back at him by pretending to be Dionysius the Aeropogatie. I pick on NeoPlatonism because most ancient Christian thinkers drew upon some variety of it.

And by the way: I have read DEEPLY into the ancient hermetic, magical, and neo-platonic traditions from a historical standpoint. You can line up Origen and Trismegestus on ontology and it is basically the same thing. I want to consider myself in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets (no, I don’t predict the future). As a result I violently hate all forms of magic. PM me if you want more details. I don’t want to go into it in public.

Anyabwile’s Specifics

My goal in these posts is to raise epistemological awareness of some issues relating to biblical ethics. As it stands, any humanist can ride circles around well-meaning Christian ethicists on what the Bible says about slavery.

After searching TGC for specifics on this debate, and wading through a lot of irrelevant posts on “insensitivity,” Anyabwile finally gets to the heart of the matter. He writes,

This, the central premise of the book, fails to sense how horrific an experience slavery was for African Americans.

Wilson’s larger argument is that Southern slavery was far more benign than Roman slavery. I do not think he is saying it is an ethical good, but merely making a contrast. I might take issue with some parts of Wilson’s book, but he has a point here: what was the difference between slaves in Greece and Rome and Southern slaves? The former could be killed and sexually used with impunity. While this certainly happened to a lesser degree in the South, the South had moral and cultural bulwarks to lessen this evil. Rome did not.  Here is the argument:  The Hellenistic world saw the man as needing sexual release in any way he got.  Semen was building up in him and he had to release it somehow (other men, women, animals, slaves, etc). Even Roman and Greek youth–youth who were not slaves– could be masturbated on until they became adults (Cahill, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea).  The only thing forbidden was actual penetration.  Now if that would happen to the free sons, imagine–or don’t, for that matter–what would have happened to the slaves. That didn’t happen in the South. There’s Christianity for you. But Lincoln died on the cross to free the slaves.

Does that make African slavery right?  (Why just African?  Many Scots and Irish went to the plantations, too).  My point is that if Paul knew that was happening to slaves in the Roman empire and he didn’t say anything (the only thing he did say was Masters be right to your slaves), then that sheds some light on Southern slavery and the Church.

Anyabwile writes,

Second, Wilson writes about the “obvious inferiority of black culture” with seemingly no understanding or acknowledgement of how the Southern culture he’s defending actually actively guaranteed black underdevelopment!

I think both of them are wrong on this point. Wilson is simply stating a historical fact: where in Africa do you find Bach, Vivaldi, and neo-Classical architecture prior to the coming of the European?  Where did Voodoo come from? Why did the Haitians consecrate their island to Satan? The Malinese are kind of an exception. I am not making a judgment, just an observation. Anyabwile does have a point that the Southerner could have done a better job in elevating black culture. Fair enough.

Anyabwile is upset that Wilson writes,
Christians who doubt this should consider whether it was safer to be a black child in the womb in 1858 or in 2005″

But this is no different than what Martin Luther King’s daughters have been saying for the longest time.  Why is it bold and heroic for Alveda King to say stuff like this but racist for Wilson to say it? It is no different than What Ms Sanger said when she started Planned Parenthood. It is no different from what Alice Walker’s daughter has said, and Anyabwile has yet to answer the question, “Well, is it more dangerous?”

Wilson had written that more people are upset over someone’s calling Robert E. Lee an honorable than the black-on-black crime. Well, he has a point.

Even Will Smith was bold enough to call out black on black crime.

Anyabwile for the most part doesn’t deal with the specifics of biblical exegesis or historical realities.  At most he simply accuses Wilson of “racial insensitivity.”  Let’s pretend that is a sin for the moment.  Per Matthew 18, eventually Wilson should be excommunicated from the church (let’s pretend the Federal Vision didn’t happen for a moment).  By extension, that also means that anyone who thinks Robert E Lee is a noble human being is also guilty of racial insensitivity and thus risks excommunication, which is being cut off from the Kingdom of God.

How is this any different from Romanist tyranny?  Racial inensitivity is not a biblical category, and so it isn’t a sin.  Aspects of said behavior might be sinful in “not putting others first,” but that’s a different question.   While we are on racial fellowship in the church, when I used to attend Auburn Avenue (this was a long time ago) there were black people in the church (how many white PCa churches can say that today?  LOL).  We had the Lord’s Supper every week.  Thus, blacks and whites were sharing communion and eucharist with each other.  I would say at the same table ala Galatians 2, but churches don’t eat communion at tables any more, Galatians 2 notwithstanding.  But you get the idiom.

When North Gets it Right

I’m tough on Reconstructionists, but I will give credit where credit is due.   North nails it:


Again and again in my writings, I return to this theme. The essence of biblical religion is ethics. The ethical self-government of the redeemed man is the foundation of society. God’s law, not the autonomous laws of the universe, or the mind of man, or the dreams of men, is the basis of all order, including social order. 117 It is from ethics that we proceed to dominion.

This world view is future-oriented and confident. It sees man’s primary struggles as ethical, not metaphysical. We struggle against powerful forces, but we use biblical law as our guide, and call upon God’s Holy Spirit to enable us to apply that law successfully in our lives and institutions. Progress is ethical, intellectual, and also cultural and external. Progress is real, but it is necessarily progress in terms of a permanent standard: biblical law. 118 Self-discipline is of greater importance than precise ritual.

The world of the sorcerer is the mirror image of the dominion religion’s conception of God’s world. It is a world inhabited by powers. These powers battle against man in terms of ritual; any ritual error on man’s part, or any flinching, leads to disaster. Men try to harness these powers: by ritual, by subservience, or by calling even strongerpowers against them. Ethics is irrelevant.

Unholy Spirits, 158.

Why is this important?  North simply puts into practice what I have been saying, too.  Metaphysical religion/chain-of-being religion = magic.    Ethical religion (and corollary: salvation) = dominion by the godly, regenerate man.

The 5-Point Covenantal Model

In the 19th century a German theologian was asked what he thought about Hegel’s philosophy.  He replied that it was a beautiful and powerful system, but it was like a loose tooth:  he was scared to “bite down” hard.   That’s how I feel about Ray Sutton’s That you may Prosper.   As his 5 points go, there can’t be any disagreement with any of them.   The danger comes when you put them together and filter the bible through them.   But that points to another problem:  even doing that, I still don’t see a danger.  Here are the points.   According to Sutton’s reading, which is based upon Kline’s, every covenant will have these points.

1. The transcendence and immanence of God
2. Authority/hierarchy of God’s covenant
3. Biblical law/ethics/dominion
4. Judgment/oath: blessings and cursings
5. Continuity/inheritance

By itself it wouldn’t be too much of a problem if the Tyler guys didn’t create mischief with it.   Ironically, even later Klineans like Horton are saying similar things.  That doesn’t make it right, of course, but it does lend to it an acceptability it formerly lacked.  I am going to walk through some of the basic points:

1.  Transcendence

Here is where it shines.   Sutton (and Jordan, North, and Rushdoony) wonderfully contrast the Hebraic, covenantal religion with that of metaphysical religion.  The former denies a continuum between creator and creature.  As a result, salvation is not metaphysical, but ethical.  This automatically leads to:

2.  Authority and Representation

When I reread this part, I couldn’t help but see parallels to Oliver O’Donovan’s Desire of the Nations.   Someone must mediate and represent God’s judgments.  Ultimately, we see this in Christ though God did establish judges for the people.    God manifests his transcendence through mediators–but this mediation is not ontological, but ethical and civil (which shows both the power and shortcoming of Pseudo Dionysius).

3.  Ethics

Sutton wonderfully draws the contrast between Ethical and Magical religions (see pt 1).  The former is based on fidelity to God’s word.  The latter on manipulating reality.  Ethical religion’s relationship is “cause-effect” (though not entirely and absolutely so; that is why Sutton refines the model to read “Command/fulfillment”).

Interestingly, magical religions necessitate a chain of being ontology: as above/so below (74).   Sutton should have fleshed this out more.  Still, the connection on magic was spot-on.

4.   Sanctions

Blessings, cursings, and rewards come through judgment.  This often includes sacrificial judgment (and with our eyes on Christ, we see an echo to point 2, mediation).  We are dealing with oaths and witnesses and because Christ’s death in is in view, we also see the Lord’s Feast.  We shouldn’t be afraid of calling bread and wine symbols.  They have power because God’s Word says they have power (Word and Sacrament!).  This symbol of the Covenant represents God’s oath upon himself.  This is Covenantal Ontology.

I’ll deal with the last point, Continuity, later.

Olav II: Our Template in the War Against Paganism

A few years ago I came across the life and story of Saint-King Olav II of Norway.  His life gripped me in many ways, for many of my intellectual struggles and concerns about my own life and where I am looking into how to express one’s Christianity coincided around St Olav’s life (and legacy).    Several points about Olav before I elaborate on his and our war against paganism:

  1. He demonstrates that many Northern European countries, even until the time of the Schism, held to a form of Christianity that shared similarities with both Romanism and Eastern Orthodoxy, yet were markedly different from both.
  2. Even though they were Orthodox, they were distinctively Western cultures and countries.
  3. Thus, Germanic and Scandinavian Orthodoxy was a specifically incarnational Orthodoxy, an Orthodoxy that took root in society’s most basic levels.
  4. Thus, those of us from Northern European stock have precedents, sometimes unknown to us, in Western Orthodoxy.  This is not to say that Western Orthodoxy is the ideal.  In many ways it is lacking.  However, we in the West are Reforming Catholics, and we draw from the heritage available to us.
Olav died in battle defending Christian Norway against those who would return it to Paganism.  While America is not Christian (and even by the most vague standards, it’s debatable if she ever were), America, too, faces an onslaught of paganism.    And perhaps even more than Olav’s Norway, this paganism has governmental and institutional authority.
“God is not separate from the Earth,”
Which means “God = Earth = Earth is God.”
Lest I am misunderstanding him, the pagan groups responded,
“We are Neo-Pagans — implying an eclectic reconstruction of ancient Nature religions, and combining archetypes of many cultures with other mystic and spiritual disciplines — and our beliefs and values are no different from those you describe as your own. Your book, Earth in Balance, is heralded by our People as a manifesto for all we hold dear…Know that there are half million NeoPagans out here who support you, and who voted for you, and who will rally to the aid of your policies for the salvation of the Earth and the reunification of the Great Family”

This was spoken almost fifteen years ago.  No doubt the impetus is stronger.  Let’s ponder St Olav’s last words before leaving,
“Fram, Fram, Kristmen, Korsmen, Kongsmen.”  Forward, Forward, Christ-Men, Cross-Men, King’s-Men

May we, too, have a similar end.

Conspiracy convertskii = new age magic?

I am thankful to Jay Dyer for the following research.  One of the more interesting fellows in conspiracy research is Alexandr Dugin.  On the surface he is anti-postmodern, anti-New World Order, and appears to be a committed Russian Orthodox Christian.  Many convertskii–though certainly not all, to be fair–have become quite taken up with him.  He makes bold statements and appears well-read philosophically.  I was interested in his ideas for about two weeks, and then a few things tipped me off that this is headed in a bad direction.

  1. Dugin’s anti-New World Order statements quickly became anti-anything “West” statements.  Imagine a harder version of the anti-Western bigotry we see on some Orthodox forums.   There are many demonic things in the secular West, I don’t doubt, but these blanket statements are worse than useless.
  2. Roots in National Bolshevism:  National Bolshevism is a form of communitarian fascism that is open to Christianity and presents a strong national front against globalism.  Unfortunately, many adherents are openly atheistic and a house cannot have two masters.  Even worse, the symbol of National Bolshevism is still the hammer and sickle.  Most people really don’t know what that means, aside from some vague reference to Soviet Russia.  The Kabbalists who toppled the Tsar, though, knew exactly what the symbol meant.  It was a reference to the Demiurgos using a scythe to sever the connection between heaven and earth.  It is literally a Satanic form of atheism.  To be fair, Dugin distanced himself from the earlier elements of National Bolshevism, but the separation seemed to be over leadership, not doctrine.
  3. Chaos symbol:  This is where Jay’s analysis is very helpful.   Dugin essentially argues that his Eurasian Union is to use the West’s power against the West.  Chaos theory.
  4. Protecting the “Tradition?”  I’ve come to be suspicious of the Tradition element inherited and passed along by guys like Guenon.  Much of it is quite interesting, but if these guys are positing an ancient tradition that is tied with Egypt, India, and Babylon, then I have to really disagree.   To be fair, Dugin isn’t advocating allying with Babylonian magic.  However, consider his movement’s flag:

Compare with below:

Chaos magic symbol above

Unfortunately, it’s not a coincidence, given Dugin’s advocating using the West weapons against the West. That is chaos theory.

Many convertskii–those who have converted to Orthodoxy from Protestant sections–are promoting Dugin.  Let’s think about this for a moment.  These convertskii rightly see that the current US order is corrupted and fatally flawed.  They want a consistent, communitarian alternative.  Dugin’s model provides that.   I have to ask if they are aware of the consequences.

On why Perry Miller wanted Jonathan Edwards to be John Locke

Regarding Miller’s landmark study on John Locke Jonathan Edwards…

Miller, Perry.  Jonathan Edwards.  Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1949 [2005].

The late John Gerstner described this book as one of the most important books written on Jonathan Edwards.  And when he said this in the 1960s, he was correct.  Edwards studies has exploded since then.  One must be careful of being too critical of Miller’s work.  When he wrote this few academics took the Puritans or Jonathan Edwards seriously.   Now we have almost a glut of material.   For all of Miller’s faults, he did the the project started.

Miller offers two keys to interpreting Edwards’ life and thought:  the philosophy of John Locke and the internecine politics of New England.   To phrase it more precisely:  Jonathan Edwards’ use of John Locke was a focused and indirect attack on the soon-to-be-labeled “Old Lights” in New England (pp. 3-35).  This is (allegedly) seen in Edwards’ early sermon, “A Divine and Supernatural Light,” from which we understand that the senses in themselves do not deceive (45, emphasis added).  This is very important for Miller’s reading of Edwards’ reading of Lock, for this is how Miller will interpret Edwards’ work The Religious Affections.  In short, Miller reads Edwards as saying “God does not impart religious truth outside sensory experience” (55).

No doubt Edwards was enthralled with John Locke early on.  Further, Miller does cogently argue that Edwards’ use of Locke allowed him to formulate his ideas the way he did.  However, few of Edwards’ modern interpreters have placed the same level of importance on Locke as Miller did.  George Marsden suggests, pace Miller, that Edwards, like any respectable New England thinker of his day, tried to keep apace of modern intellectual currents and this meant reading men like John Locke (Marsden, 60ff).

Nonetheless, there are aspects of John Locke’s thought that did leave a permanent impression on Edwards.  Miller asserts, “Metaphysically, this led to the immense conclusion that the entire universe exists in the divine idea” (Miller, 63).  Indeed, Edwards will further develop this idea in his defense of Original Sin, arguing that in the realm of the mind all of humanity, like an atom, is a single concept (278).  Miller suggests it but doesn’t develop the conclusions:  Edwards had implicitly rejected the older substance-ontologies for an ontology based on mind and atom.

Divine Causality

Edwards understands “cause” to mean “a sequence of phenomena, with the inner connection of cause and effect still mysterious and terrifying” (79).  Cause, for Edwards, is not simply that which determines an effect.  Rather, it is that which is “necessarily antecedent” (257).  The first premise in the argument against free will:  perception is not the import of an object, for the object is without significance, but the object as seen, the manner of view, and the state of mind that views. Miller adds another premise to clinch the argument:  just as the will follows perception’s view of things, rather than the things themselves, so the will lies within the tissue of nature and is caused by something external to it (257).

Against Modernity

Miller sees Edwards as an enlightened critic of modernity, and he places Edwards within a larger anti-modern narrative.   In discussing the implications of a Lockean-Newtonian worldview, Miller notes that the “science” of modernity cannot answer the basic questions upon which it is founded:  if atoms are so hard that they never break, how small is the smallest atom (83)?  Said another way:  if atoms are the fundamentally smallest entity in the world, of which all other entities consist, and that is all reality is, then what holds the atoms together?  Is that which holds atoms together also made up of atoms?  And so the questions could go on.   The important point, though, is that the aforementioned questions represent a fatal weakness in modern Scientism.   Scientism of its day could not answer one basic question:  what holds the atoms together?  Miller has a simple answer:  magic (83).   Unfortunately, Miller does not pursue this.  Many of the Enlightenment thinkers were deeply involved in the occult and Miller could have had a field day exploring this.

Now, I like beating up unbelieving science as much as the next guy, but this picture has largely eclipsed Jonathan Edwards.  Yes, Edwards would have been aware of this discussion.  Further, Edwards would have been a critic of modernity, but as Marsden notes elsewhere, this isn’t the heart of Edwards, and Miller has wasted a lot of time shadow-boxing dead Englishmen.

The Religious Affections

This is the weakest and most frustrating part of Miller’s narrative.  Miller is insistent that Edwards be read according to Locke’s dictum that what we can know, we can know from sense experience.  During the Great Awakening, so the argument goes, many people had “visible signs” of something at work.  Miller, being a pagan, has no understanding of the Holy Spirit, and can only see external effects.   Missing this key fact, virtually everything he says about Edwards from this point on is painfully incorrect.  The reader is encouraged to consult Iain Murray’s biography on this point.

Conclusion: Pros and Cons

Like any work by Perry Miller, the prose is a delight to read.  Unfortunately, that is why the book is misleading.  Much of Miller’s scholarship on Puritanism has since been refuted.  The Puritans didn’t invent the idea of “covenant” to soften a mean God.   To the degree this might have been the case in New England owes more to the structurally flawed nature of Congregationalism and the Half-way covenant than it does to Reformed theology.   And to the extent that Miller captures on key ideas in Edwards, he tends to overplay minor issues and miss major points.   Further complicating things is that none of Miller’s quotations of Edwards point the reader to specific works.  Perhaps accessible editions of Edwards’ corpus weren’t available then (it’s amazing to think of how much good Banner of Truth Trust has done the world on this point).

On the other hand, when it comes to Edwards’ major doctrines Miller summarizes Edwards quite well, and for what it’s worth, cuts off Arminianism at the knees.  Should you read this book?  I suppose.  Any major work on Edwards should consult Marsden first, then Murray, and lastly Miller.