Thursday, December 15, 2016

Against Imminent Flourishing

Encountering the assumptions and norms of secular, liberal Universalism, we need to train ourselves to distinguish the particular assumptions of this worldframe from obvious truths, for which they are often confused. Because this frame is our inheritance—for better or for worse—this requires some training and discipline.

To understand the depth of the problem, and the insidious nature of the enemy, let's look at something that, on its face, may appear straightforward and uncontroversial: The Human Development Index (HDI.) The HDI, per Wikipedia, "is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and per capita income indicators, which are used to rank countries into four tiers of human development."

Bracketing the question of what exact data, metrics, standards, and procedures are used for establishing the rankings, what could be controversial here? Longer life expectancy, better education, and greater amounts of income are uncontroversially better than their opposites, and the HDI ranks accordingly. How could anyone, secular Universalist or not, dissent?

Here we recall that Christians worship Jesus Christ, the Theanthropos, who likely had moderate levels of formal education, lived a life of voluntary poverty, and was brutally executed at a fairly young age. The supreme human life, according to the Christian, fails on all three measures of "Human Development": education, income, and life expectancy.

Not only that, but Christ exhorted his followers to "take up your cross and follow me", into that very same life of simplicity and sacrifice. If his followers were to be successful according to Christ, their lot would entail a martyric form of life, if not martyrdom itself (and all of the apostles were in fact martyred, save for St. John); if they were to be successful according to the world, it would not.

This is not, of course, to suggest that education is bad, money anathema, or that we should aim for the shortest lives possible. It is to say that what is deemed to be "flourishing" in the purely imminent frame of the secular materialist, will always necessarily be a secondary, at best, concern for the traditional Christian. And that in many instances, what would increase stature in the imminent frame, would diminish it in the eternal. The two can't be reconciled.

All other considerations being equal, a devout, faithful, uneducated woman who dies giving birth to her fifth child at a young age is of incomparably higher stature in the Kingdom than a selfishly childless, successful, careerist secularist who lives to a ripe old-age, having aborted many children along the way. On the HDI, the former hurts your nation's rankings and the latter helps them.

And how easily we (opponents of the secular-Universalist project), slip into adopting their framing as our own. When presented with HDI rankings, rather than striking immediately to the question of the underlying presuppositions, we instead seek to explain the data in favorable ways. "The highest ranked nations are secular European ones, who all have Christian histories and retain Christian principles, even if in deracinated form." However true that may be, that tack accepts that the metrics of 'human development' are fundamentally correct, when they are actually quite irrelevant to the actual sine qua non of human flourishing: salvation.

And many other non-ultimate, but still highly crucial, metrics of actual human development are routinely left out of the frame of the secular Universalist: moral sense and constitution; aesthetically pleasing cities; high TFR, etc.

When we argue that pornography is bad, not because it degrades the soul by divorcing the sexual act from the intimacy, blessedness, and fecundity of the marital bond, and objectifies humans in the service of self-gratification, but because it harmfully re-wires neural pathways, we repeat the mistake. The latter fact may be empirical evidence of the former truth (which can be accessed independently via revelation), but to make it the central plank of the case is to embrace the secularist, materialist frame.

This overreliance on data, and with it the multiplication of 'problems' for 'reformers' to solve, Helen Andrews has dubbed "bloodless moralism." Meanwhile for us, as Thomas Carlyle puts it, "tables [of data, statistics] are like cobwebs, like the sieve of the Danaides; beautifully reticulated, orderly to look upon, but which will hold no conclusion."

It's imperative that Christian reactionaries and traditionalists avoid succumbing to the conservative temptation of attempting to beat liberals at their own game, here. And it's tempting to do so, because the data is in fact on our side, when it is correlated with a proper telos. But being obsessively and myopically "data-driven" is a feature of the Left, and is a product of its implacable imminentism. Christian reactionaries are concerned with the sacred, the eternal, the immortal, and locating those within the imminent. But tacitly accepting the imminent frame as the supreme one is to allow the secular-Universalist to set the rules of engagement and, thus, to lose.


  1. Would the young woman, the same in every respect but for having no faith or the wrong faith still rate in your kingdom, higher or at all, than the greedy, selfish secularist who makes the appropriate deathbed conversion at the end of his long life? Isn't belief in your deity the only prerequisite for eternal glory in the kingdom?

    1. Hey Bill: The short answer is no. What you're talking about is a peculiar protestant innovation and heresy, not found in the Scriptures or Tradition of the Church, known as "justification by faith alone." The Scripture teaches man is not justified by faith alone, but by grace through faith attested by works. So whether a deathbed conversion would result in salvation, no one can say, God will judge. But we can, and do, say that there are higher and lower ranks in the Kingdom. The Kingdom is decidedly not an egalitarian democracy. The Lord's Mother, for instance, is a saint but also the chief of all the saints, their Champion Leader, and greater than them all.