Angels and Inquisitors

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To go straight to the intellectual core of Horowitz’s book I diminishes attenuate its full impact. He embeds a sophisticated theological argument in a personal memoir, of family, homes, horses and dogs, in such a way that the matter of morality looms up as an existential question, rather than as an intellectual construct. It is affecting prose; Horowitz is trying to show us, rather than merely tell us, the presentiment. He leaves the reader hanging with the terrible question: What are our lives, and what are they worth?

Now that Russian communism is dead and Russian nationalism is dying, the Russians as a people have no answer to the existential question. When people do not know why they should live, they do not bring children into the world. Russia is dying of disappointment: at a constant fertility rate, Russia’s population will fall from 142 million today to only 66 million at the end of the century.

What Horowitz says of Dostoevsky applies to all of the European nations. The leaders of France and Spain, the principle antagonists in the horrible Thirty Years War of 1618-1648, each believed with solemn fervor that their nation was chosen by God for his works, such that any act in furtherance of raison d’etat, no matter how abominable, was sacred ipso facto.

And Germany (where the news always arrives late) discovered its sacred mission to propagate its culture in 1914, and fell victim afterwards to the hideous delusion of its racial superiority. The terrible thing is that Dostoevsky was a typical European. Not just Russia, but all of Europe is dying of disappointment. So are many Muslim nations, notably Iran and Turkey, as I recount in my bookHow Civilizations Die (and Why Islam Is Dying, Too).

As Horowitz observes, Jews appear less concerned with Christians with the particulars of the afterlife. Some elaboration of this would have been welcome. Eternal life and the resurrection of the dead are fundaments of Judaism, but we strive to bringing eternity into our daily lives than envision the particulars of the World to Come.

Other peoples do the same thing, whether they admit it or not. From the Jews, Franz Rosenzweig remarked, the nations of the world first heard of eternal life, but they sought to be eternal in their own Gentile skins, and tried to appropriate the Jewish concept of election to their own tribe. Adolf Hitler’s “master race” perverts the concept of chosen people (as does Dostoevsky’s notion of Russia as the “unique God-bearing nation”). This had catastrophic results.

America’s founders also envisioned a new chosen people in a new promised land – Lincoln’s “almost-chosen people”, and (as Eric Nelson reports in his 2010 book The Hebrew Republic) drew extensively on post-biblical rabbinic sources as well as the Hebrew Scriptures. What distinguishes America from the failed nations of Europe is the absence of ethnicity: because we are founded on a proposition rather than a race, language or common history, America is immune to the tribal idolatry that ruined Europe.

There are some things we cannot think about without projecting our own limitations. That is true of the vision of an eternity in static contemplation, as well as the displacement of messianic hopes onto a supposed earthly paradise. We cannot imagine a conversation with God.

We cannot imagine eternity without reference to our own perception of time, any more than we can imagine time at the moment of the Big Bang. And we cannot build a paradise on earth without magnifying our own imperfections, as Dostoevsky’s example illustrates. We cannot live in the World to Come because we do not know what it is like. And if we try to force fallible humans to live in an earthly paradise, ultimately we shall have to kill them all for their failings.

Horowitz is still wrestling. He informs us that he is not a believer. Where God is concerned, Horowitz is a tough customer. He does not want easy comfort or cheap grace. But his religious sensibility is so keen that people of faith will find his book of use – not offensive, but disturbing in a productive way. And that is what makes him such a perceptive writer on mortality.

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  • tarleton

    The utopian impulse is essentialy the religious impulse channelled into secular form …with the death of Christendom in the West , the 20 C became the age of secular faiths …the class religion of communism and race religion of Nazi Germany with politics as the new ''sacred''…it's easy to imagine Hitler as a hysterical German christian during the turmoil of the Reformation , or Lenin as a russian holy man/mystic in a search for God, or even Mau as a chinese peasant , burning with the zeal of the converted during the Taiping Rebellion… even the serene and iconic face of Felix Dzerzhinsky wouldn't of been out of place as Grand Inquisitor during Medieval times !
    The religious impulse is a potent and powerful brew and folks who overdose on it are a potential menace

  • Robert Pinkerton

    Utopia derives from the classical Greek — but from which set of roots? Outopos = No place? or Eutopos = Good place?
    I infer from the contradictory possible derivations, the idea that, for the utopist, no place in this real World (of time, space, substance, number, and measure; and actual thinking, feeling, bodily-functional human beings) is a good place.

  • http://libertyandculture.blogspot.com/ JasonPappas

    "Jews appear less concerned with Christians with the particulars of the afterlife.

    What does that mean? Someone should have proof read the article. This is just one of the problem sentences.

  • http://libertyandculture.blogspot.com/ JasonPappas

    It's interesting that Mr. Goldman attributes collectivism (or tribalism) to the Jewish religion. He writes: "Adolf Hitler’s 'master race' perverts the concept of chosen people (as does Dostoevsky’s notion of Russia as the “unique God-bearing nation”). This had catastrophic results." Is Mr. Goldman against Zionism? Is that part of the European tribal thinking? I agree that excessive nationalism is a problem but an appropriate nationalism, call it patriotism, is a desired good.

    In any case, Mr. Goldman addresses American exceptionalism: "What distinguishes America from the failed nations of Europe is the absence of ethnicity: because we are founded on a proposition rather than a race, language or common history, America is immune to the tribal idolatry that ruined Europe."

    Individual rights, not collectivism, is our saving grace. It's the core value that makes our patriotism well grounded.

    • Northanhymbre Heathen

      Hmm, excellent reply! I agree with the part about individual rights and would state that, as a European, I have an abiding admiration for the US constitution and the rights guaranteed therein. So often here in Europe people make the mistake of ignoring the lessons of the past and cleaving to ideas of collectivism which have failed spectacularly. Even many of my own co-religionists (Anglo-saxon Heathens) are in favour of a sort of tribal collectivism, even to the point of favouring the idea of a sacral tribal leader via whom divine power is channeled to the rest of society (it seems to be lost on them that Hitler styled himself as this very thing for "Das Volk" too, even though many of them are avowedly anti-nazi..)

      Being a modernist and universalist myself (universalism in Heathenry refers to the standpoint which is in opposition to racially-based "volkism"), I see the US constitution as a natural evolution of the freedom-loving ways of my north european ancestors – the old tribal model favoured in pre-Christian times, was, I am convinced, part of the reason why we eventually lost ground to the fiscal, political and military might of "Constantine's Sword" (the Holy roman Empire being in many ways the EU of its time, and quite collectivist in nature.) The US has it about right I think in its emphasising of individual rights and freedoms, without losing its sense of the importance of family and ethnic identity etc. I think it is a model which is set to last, and we've already seen that it's popular, judging by the number of people who've "voted with their feet" and gone to live there.

      European "soft socialism" is, IMO, destroying us, and it sickens me that so much of it is seems based on ideas of "this is how we are NOT like the vulgar US – we're more civilised and supply our citizens with this, that and the other…" The real picture though is of entire districts of our major cities given over to rulership by the entitlement-minded, inadequate, vicious thugs that our welfare culture generates, with all the shrill and immature degeneracy which such self-righteous nannyism brings. Of course the people who suffer most in all this are the weakest and most vulnerable members of society, who must endure this hell upon earth – the children, the retired elderly who've fought and worked for this country, the disabled, widowed, destitute, who have no other choice but to stay living (if that's what you can call it) in these social "sinks" terrorised by the product of this "European Dream". Since the London riots, when the product of this political culture came out to "play" (and ordinary decent Britons of all different ethnicities sat and quaked, unarmed, behind the doors of their homes, though many refused to do so and came out as justly notable public heroes) many of us now do not believe in this "dream", infact if we didn't like it before (and I for one did not), we actively despise it now, and will all be glad when the damn thing collapses and ends for good!

      • ziontruth

        "universalism in Heathenry refers to the standpoint which is in opposition to racially-based 'volkism' "

        I don't know if that's your position, but a common misconception, possibly created and certainly encouraged by the Marxists, is that Nazism was the monstrosity it was because of mere ethnic nationalism. That is decidedly not so: Mere, proper ethnic nationalism keeps to itself, keeps a nation to its own borders, defending from encroachment into it but at the same time not coveting the possessions of other nations. Nazism wasn't just ethnic nationalism, it was the imperialism of a particular ethnos and nation. Whenever you wed imperialism—the view of unlimited entitlement to the possessions of others on the globe—to any kind of ideology, be it socio-economic (e.g. Marxism), religious (e.g. Islam) or any other, atrocious behavior results.

        Today the nationalists are all on one side, and their opponents the Marxists and the Muslims are on the other, which happens to be the same side the Nazis were on: Imperialism. The Marxists' slapping of the label "neo-Nazi" on people who merely wish to protect their national rights on their own lands is nothing but deflection and projection on their part, for they share with the Nazis of old the very same guilt, the crime of imperialism.

        • Northanhymbre Heathen

          "Nazism wasn't just ethnic nationalism, it was the imperialism of a particular ethnos and nation. Whenever you wed imperialism—the view of unlimited entitlement to the possessions of others on the globe—to any kind of ideology, be it socio-economic (e.g. Marxism), religious (e.g. Islam) or any other, atrocious behavior results."

          You make a good point, which is worth expanding upon. Indeed the imperialist tendencies within both Islam and Germanic culture can be traced back originally to maladaptive habits bourne of hardships of life in difficult geographical climes (both Wafa Sultan in modern times, and Roman historican Tacitus in ancient times, have pointed such out about the respective cultures in question) The problem is, in time such raiding of outsiders' resources became canonised in Islam, and fell under the heading of "heroic endeavor" for some (mostly landless sons of the nobility) in Germanic culture (a tendency which, far from being erased by the Christian conversion, was simply co-opted by it and promulgated instead by such as the Teutonic Knights and Normans under the guise of "spreading the word of god".) When you translate such 7th century behaviour into modern times, of course what you get (as Robert Spencer so eloquently points out in the DVD "Islam – What the West Needs to Know") are terrorists and marauders who commit atrocities. This is why, as I said in my original post, I'm a modernist as well as non-volkish – old-style European imperialism has been such a destructive force to many, many peoples as well as to our own. You do get the odd Indian saying "but the British came and built this, that and the other", but their families were perhaps amongst the lucky ones who benefited from it all somehow…

          • http://libertyandculture.blogspot.com/ JasonPappas

            I'm enjoying this discussion even if I haven't had time to contribute. Thanks, guys, good points–both of you.

  • ziontruth

    "…but we strive to bringing eternity into our daily lives than envision the particulars of the World to Come."

    Judaism is about making this world fit for heaven to come down to earth. Islam is about bringing the worst vices of earthly life to the hereafter.

    "What distinguishes America from the failed nations of Europe is the absence of ethnicity: because we are founded on a proposition rather than a race, language or common history, America is immune to the tribal idolatry that ruined Europe."

    Not really. Europe and America differ in that the former has been rent by international warfare while the latter is now being torn apart by intranational strife. From the 1960s onward, the U.S. of A. has been slowly but steadily subjected to the Marxist stratagem of pitting its constituent groupings—foremostly the racial ones—against one another. This is as great a hazard as the bickering among nations was in Europe.

    The Jewish concept of national belonging is the best of both worlds: Having a biological component (being born to a Jewish mother) to make it a real family affair, but with an opening for grafting into the family anyone who sincerely seeks it (the option to convert by the requirements of Jewish Law). The result is that nationalism in the Jewish State is, on the one hand, more along Europeans lines, with the urgency of rejecting multiculturalism that the Europeans are familiar with while Americans are less so, but without the casual apathy toward religion that has sapped Europe of most of its power to fight the Islamic invaders, because even the most militant secularists in Israel recognize the Jewish State is not viable without the religion, be their aversion to observing it as it may.

  • 080

    There seems to be a lot of confusion in all this. I think that we are very similar to the civilization as it developed in Europe. At least we are following the same trajectory. As far as I can see it is all inevitable. I am particularly skeptical of the idea that "only a God can save us" because that is what Heidegger said. We all continue to try to do what is best for us and to present it as the pinnacle of logical thought. If religion is so important how come it was largely dumped during the 20th century?

    • ziontruth

      "I am particularly skeptical of the idea that 'only a God can save us' because that is what Heidegger said."

      Is that indefinite article ("a God") in Heidegger's original quote? That's what Germany wanted and got in the Austrian corporal it raised to power. That's Goldman's argument in a nutshell, I believe: If you turn your back on traditional religion, you'll live to see the void filled with secular replacements far worse than the worst of religion's excesses throughout history.

      "We all continue to try to do what is best for us and to present it as the pinnacle of logical thought."

      Well and good, but you must realize the Islamic imperialists think the same about their way. It is the pinnacle of logical thought as far as they're concerned. Most people use reason and logic, but that doesn't guarantee reaching the same conclusions.

  • Amused

    There are TWO REALMS in which we exist , The Corporeal ,and the Spiritual we understand neither fully …..the result ? All the above B.S. and psuedo-theology.

  • johnnywoods

    It might help if the average person had a real conception of Eternity.

  • Amused

    No person has any conception NOR perception of eternity or the term infinite ,and that is because we are terminal creatures with a beginning and an end ,inasmuch as our tangible mortal existence .

  • Northanhymbre Heathen

    I'm of the opinion that the existence of the unseen, of the soul, afterlife, deity etc, can all be self-proven by those who are willing to try traditional religious/spiritual techniques for themselves. From the Indian Yogi doing his meditation and mantras, to the Jew praying at the Wailing Wall, both are doing something their ancestors have done for centuries in order to make a connection with something numinous. We can sit and debate it all we want, but this has never produced any answers yay or nay in the whole of human history – it is only through practice and being open to the possibility that there is "something else" underlying the material appearances of nature, that we can finally make the breakthrough IMO. Fred Alan Wolfe is an interesting physicist to listen to on these matters, as is Amit Goswami. <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUVrvlaPuGE” target=”_blank”>www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUVrvlaPuGE http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iu53_pa-9Bk

  • Amused

    LOL…..I find it rather amusing that David , an atheist would write such a book . I have nothing against atheists , for truly only a man knows what is in his own heart and no one else .The very notion of "redemption " is one of a spiritual nature , and that is anti-thetical to any anti-spiritualist [atheist ] .

    • JEM

      Why are you amused? All men are created in the image of God and cannot escape that fact. Even atheists will not be able to escape their own conscience in the end. The common thought is “If there is a God, why has he not revealed Himself.” The answer is He has revealed himself. God has been manifest in the Flesh. The problem is that man is alienated from God and by nature prefers darkness to light. This is all basic Christian teaching but the natural man cannot receive it. He must be born again. The alternative is to be calling God a liar because we will believe the witness of men but will not believe the witness of God concerning His Son. Far better to be reconciled to God through His son Jesus Christ while there is still time than to be under His displeasure in eternity.

      • tarleton

        more religious psychobabble

  • freedom

    Walker Percy becomes more and more relevant every day.

  • cynthia curran

    Well, David is actually showing that Eastern Orthodoxy which has more of church and state relationship than the west does failed into the hand of the communists with a new secular religion.. Both the Byzantine Empire and the Russian Empire were known for a mixture of church and state. Justinian almost mixed the church and state to a point where they were almost no difference this explains some of Procopius's criticism of Justinian who is compared to Stalin by one modern historian. Granted, I think Justinian was far from Stalin since in the ancient or medieval world it wasn't as centralized as modern coutnries to do such things.

  • cynthia curran

    did fall into the hands of sthe communists, I mean.