From the Reformation to the Third Reich: Protestantism’s Impact on Western Culture – Part 2
The following is part two of a multi-part series.
Taken from John Immel’s second session
at the 2014 Conference on Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny
~ Edited by Andy Young
|Click here for the introduction
Click here for part three
Click here for part four
|Click here for part five
Click here for part six
Click here for part seven
Click here for part eight
I’m going to continue with my case on the nature of philosophy, how it is a driving force of human action. It has impacted the evolution of Western thought in particular, and specifically it shaped National Socialist Germany. It is currently shaping the United States of America.
At the TANC Conference of 2013, I began to explain the evolution of Western thought, and I started all the way back from Thales around 600 BC. One of the biggest challenges I have is that Christians tend to believe that Christianity just sprang up out of a whole cloth, but it actually has a very specific place in the larger context of the evolution of Western thought. The roots of those ideas can be seen as far back as Plato and Pythagoreans, and many of our doctrines come from the Cynics and the Stoics.
I’m going to pick up where I left off in the timeline I began last year, around 150 AD, because this will lay a foundation. I’m going to touch briefly on Plato because the roots of current Christian doctrine can be traced from Plato to Augustine to Luther to Calvin. Actually, it is not really all that much of a dirty secret. The fact of the matter is that anyone can find this relationship with no effort at all. It is hidden in plain sight for anybody to find.
You will recall from our study of the Cynics and the Stoics that they believed the flesh, the material world was corrupt. They were responsible for the introduction of the soul-body dichotomy into Western thought.
Christianity largely picks up this soul-body dichotomy from these ancient Western thinkers. The Cynics and Stoics ultimately believe that the way man achieves knowledge and virtue was by the discipline of the flesh. Because the flesh was weak, it required kind of like an athlete’s training.
Around 200 AD a man by the name of Plotinus picks up on the Cynic and Stoic doctrines. Plotinus takes these concepts to the next logical progression. Not only is the material world inferior, it is in fact totally morally depraved.
Consider what Plato taught. Plato believed that this earth was a shadow variation of a perfect world. This world was not true reality. It was really the reflection, the shadow on the wall of a cave. The otherworldly realm was called the world of Forms. Plato believed that man’s grasp of reality was limited. Plato believed that man’s ethical standard was his subordination to the state. He believed that man was inferior. He believed that certain men, what he called philosopher kings, should be in charge. They should dictate good.
Plato still has a secular philosophy. In other words, he still believed that select men can get to this transcendent world, this world of Forms, by virtue of his reason. Now it wasn’t a clean blanket statement that all men had this ability. It was really reserved for a select few men who specifically practice virtues that gave them access to the forms and higher levels of knowledge, but it was still a secular version.
By contrast, Plotinus dropped all vestiges of the human element. According to Plotinus’ disciples, Plotinus had zero interest in the physical life. His entire obsession was attaining a transcendent reality. But his transcendent reality was a religious transcendence. He accepted the premise of the mystery cults, the Gnostics, where because man is specifically corrupt, there was a certain initiating practice that gave them access to the knowledge, and they were uniquely qualified to get to this knowledge by virtue of their specific denial of fleshly existence.
This means that the secular transcendent world is graspable because man is the secularizing part. But a religious transcendent world is not graspable because man has no place in that world. Here is how Plotinus described this. Listen to the echoes of what becomes Christianity.
“The One is, in truth, beyond all statement; whatever you say would limit It; the All-Transcending, transcending even the most august Mind, which alone of all things has true being, has no name. We can but try to indicate, if possible, something concerning it. If we do not grasp it by knowledge, what does that not mean that we do not seize it. How does man come to seize knowledge of a transcendent being? It is impossible for man to cease transcendent knowledge by reason.”
I want you to notice that he wanted reason to be part of man’s incompetence.
Once you understand Plotinus, it becomes very simple to understand Augustine, because this is the version of Platonism that Augustine got hold of. He did not have the original Plato. Augustine sees in his mind the one, the All-Transcendent, as the Christian God. It is from this framework within which he places Christianity, because there was a problem with early Christianity.
When Jesus showed up on the scene, He was in Israel talking to Israelites about Israel issues. He repeatedly stated that He came to the lost children of Israel. This is why, particularly in the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Matthew, you see virtually no recognition of a world beyond Palestine. You see functionally no understanding of the broader Hellenistic world.
By the time we get to the Gospel of Luke, being a Roman and having much more concern with the broader Hellenistic world, his original works are actually addressed to someone named Theophilus. While Luke’s interest is to a broader Greek world, even then Luke’s focus is only inasmuch as he wants to show the progression of the Great Commission going to the outermost parts of the earth to these people. So even by the time we get to the Book of Acts, he is still just focused on that evolution.
And herein lay the problem. As this Jewish movement, which started out in this little backwater no nothing territory of the Roman Empire, moves in to the broader Hellenistic world it is confronted with some profound intellectual problems.
The Hellenistic world has no association with the Jewish background of the things that Jesus said and did. There was no quick way to explain the nature of the Jesus movement to this broader Hellenistic world because there was no full philosophical statement. It was a collection of stories and aphorisms and parables. And so to that world and to that mind, Christianity did not have a lot of direct relevance.
By the time we get into the 2nd century, Christianity is really reeling. Christianity needed an integration into a broader philosophical statement. One of the first who tried to do this was Philo. Philo was a Jew, and he was definitely a Hellenistic Jew, and his goal was to take Platonism and merge it into Judaism. He is one of a number who were making these attempts at philosophical integration.
This is the fundamental problem that landed on Augustine’s lap. Augustine set out to finalize the integration of these ideas, and he used the turnkey solution of Platonism to do it. Concurrent with this, the Roman Empire was crumbling. There was a lot of chaos happening in the world, both political and social. People were looking for some means and some way to begin to explain these things, so a corrupt material world and a corrupt man in a war-torn and war-ravaged and famine-ravaged existence seems to make an enormous amount of sense.
Then there is the political side of this equation to consider. Around 250 AD, Christianity began to emerge as a player in the social-political structure of the world. By 300, the Church was full of all sorts of political ambition. Bishops became effectively synonymous with rulers.
Constantine then capitalizes on the Christian statist ambition as he presided over the Council of Nicaea. Constantine says, “You know what, guys? I’m tired of hearing you bicker. I’m going to put an end to this.” He declared a specific orthodoxy to be upheld. He called all opposing positions to be demented and insane, and then he proceeded to persecute anyone who happened to believe otherwise.
Constantine galvanized ecumenical support for his power in the failing Roman Empire, using his civil authority to condemn. In trade, the winning bishops pledged their allegiance to Constantine. Constantine died in 337, but the Council of Nicaea lasted for almost another 25 years. With each year that passed, the Church became increasingly more embroiled in civil governance.
Fast forward to the appointment of Flavius Theodosius to emperor in 379. Theodosius’ role in history and more importantly, Church history, has been airbrushed out of existence, as Charles Freeman notes in his book AD 381. This is a profound failing because in 381, for the first time in Greco-Roman history, religious orthodoxy became synonymous with political power. In 381, the power of the state was galvanized into Christianity forever. This forever changed the face of the world. From this point forward, the leading Christian theological concern was who had the authority, the force, to compel doctrinal outcomes. No matter the specific theological hair being split, the underlying fight was who held the force to suppress the dissenting opinion.
Here’s why this is important. Secularism gets a black eye because we tend to assume that secular means immoral. But secularism only means the division of religious orthodoxy from political orthodoxy. A secular state is effectively an agnostic state where the force of government does not care what the specific religious convictions of people are. Even though they believed in hundreds of gods, the Hellenistic world, and in particular the Classical Greek world, was effectively a secular state. Man could believe what he chose. He was not compelled by doctrine to believe anything.
The only other manifestation of a truly secular state in the history of the world is the United States of America. It is important for people to grasp this. The single greatest political achievement the world has ever seen was a secular state, meaning that man was free to believe what he wanted. I’m going to talk about this at length later on.
Theocracy on the other hand is the merging of political power with the theological orthodoxy. A theocracy means that man is compelled to a given theological standard by force of government. And this is exactly what happened with Theodosius. Augustine’s doctrine was then able to reign effectively for the next thousand years without contest. No one could muster an objection because it was considered treason to object to Augustinian doctrine.
Augustine decides he has cared for all the basic premises:
- The soul/body or mind/body dichotomy derived from ancient Greek doctrine
- Man is epistemologically corrupt
- The abandonment of reason
- A commitment the presumption that select men are morally correct to dictate intellectual content (dogmatism)
- The primacy of the state (the church)
Central to all of these premises is asceticism. Asceticism is a philosophical commitment of the individual to destroy every facet of his physical existence. Asceticism is the practical application of the soul-body dichotomy put into practice. Christian asceticism took the apostle Paul’s determination to beat his body literally and seriously.
The Church taught that asceticism gave access to the supernatural through mortification, literally, the death of the flesh. Paul Dohse has written at length about the doctrines of mortification and vivification. Most Christians tend to assume that when we talk about mortification, we’re really talking about something they can pick and choose. But in this case is means the literal death of the flesh. Self-destruction would earn God’s pity. Self-destruction showed that man was full of guilt.
Some examples of ascetic practices included celibacy. This was very common. Virginity was considered an ethical ideal tied to the belief that the natural world was evil. This actually hit women very hard through the Dark Ages because women were either virgins or whores. Women were seen as tempters of men. Celibacy was the means to prevent. Celibacy was also a means by which the Catholic Church could keep their property from disappearing into inheritance. Priests that don’t marry don’t have kids, won’t have wives. The Church gets the money. The Church gets taxes. The Church keeps it, because when the priests dies, he doesn’t give it away to his family.
Another ascetic practice was the renunciation of material possessions. For example, a man by the name of Alexander married poverty, which I think is hilarious considering our current preoccupations with re-defining marriage in America. Alexander would beg for his food and did not keep his excess. One commenter on Alexander’s wife said that his form of monasticism was better because it didn’t create the housekeeping problems of say, the Franciscans. In other words, he didn’t have cleric. I think that’s hilarious.
Another ascetic practice is the renunciation of food. The ideal Christian fasted for 40 days, as practiced by Jesus. It also turns out that starvation past 40 days killed you.
They reduced or prevented sleep. They turned sleep into torture. They slept on beds of nails. They were beaten if they fell asleep. Syrian monks tied ropes around their abdomens and slept standing up. Others hung themselves in awkward positions.
They condemned hygiene. They refused to cut their hair, fingernails, or toenails. They dressed in filthy rags and allowed sweat and dirt to accumulate.
They abandoned movement. It was common to lock themselves away in monasteries, but then they would take it further and lock themselves into ever-smaller and smaller cells. Truly horrific is that some ascetics would go into the desert, sit down on a pile of rocks and stay there until their legs are rotten away. They beat their bodies. Men would stare into the sun until they were blind so that they would never succumb to the lusts of the eyes. Monastic orders wore girdles around their loins so that they would not desire women. Castration and self-flagellation were very common.
Here is the point that I want to make. These practices never made it into general practice for the simple reason that it is not livable. It is by definition designed to kill. It is a commitment to death and destruction that cannot be practiced. But the point is that these kinds of practices were venerated. It was seen as an ethical ideal. The men who did practice such action were considered saints. The Church turned these people into heroes.
Because of Augustine, throughout the Dark Ages we have an entire intellectual collapse. Reason cannot grasp God, and there is no earthly reality. Imagine an entire culture built around this fundamental presumption. This is the proof-text mindset- the need to use authority to validate ideas. The proof-text mind cannot think in terms of causality. It is a mind that equates causality with authority. It is a mind that does not grasp principles.
Of course, what this really means is that we are talking about an entire culture built on rational dependence. In other words, it is a culture that gets all of its rational content from somebody who dictates. This is impossible for a scientific society, because a scientific society is built around rational independence, the ability to independently review and explore the world find commonalities and causalities.
What were the results of the Dark Ages?
Intellectual stagnation. It paralyzed all critical thinking. Authority was what governed human interaction, and the result was war, war, war, and more war. God was always in the business of smiting someone else who got it wrong through the sword of the church/state. The concept of “rights” was really a discussion of prerogatives. The “Divine Right of Kings” is really the divine prerogative of kings.
The intellectual stagnation of the Dark Ages produced infant mortality rates estimated at 50 percent, some sources suggest maybe as low as 30. A villager serf, his wife, and surviving children shared a living space of roughly 700 square feet, and they shared that space with livestock.
By age 12, a boy was considered old enough to pledge his life to his sovereign, meaning he was considered old enough to go to war. By 12, girls were considered old enough to marry. They were sold as a chattel, considered a societal burden because they were a mouth to feed. They could not endure the rigors of agricultural life. The concept of a dowry was designed to make marriageable females more attractive to male suitors. Men were basically paid to take on women.
Ninety-five percent of the population worked at agriculture with farm implements out of the Stone Age. Yields were estimated at a quarter of the seed sown. Therefore, it took roughly two acres to feed one person. By comparison, modern farming methods yield in excess of 80 percent, and it takes less than a third of an acre to feed one person. There was no concept of germs, no antibiotics, no vaccines, no anesthetic. Anesthetic was considered sinful. Your pain was necessarily the product of your sin, and God deliberately did it to you. And this all made sense because suffering was a virtue.
Death was a virtue. Pain was merely the natural state of human existence. Practically 95 percent of the populace were slaves, 2 percent did nothing, and the nobility fought wars of conquests for profit. The largest class were the people called the villani. It means villager, but it is the root of our modern word villain. They were born into generational slavery.
This is important to understand. As a class society based on determination, if you were born a serf, you would be a serf. Your grandson would be a serf. Your great grandson would be a serf. Your great grandfather would be a serf. There was effectively no escape. You were committed. You were basically born into subservience, and there was no ability to get out of it. This is the logical conclusion of Augustine’s theories of predestination carried out to their practical application.
“Justice” was meted out with brutal efficiency. A man who stole from a lord’s property, which was effectively everything in sight, could be penalized by being pilloried, drawn and quartered, cut open, or have limbs, noses, or ears cut off. Women, who were accused of crimes, say, daring to seduce a priest or lord (and when I mean by seduced, I mean they lusted after her) had their genitals impaled with hot irons, were locked in iron maidens, burned at the stake, or drowned.
The Church sanctioned all of these actions by government using Romans 13:1-2
“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God. And they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.”
This is the foundation of the “Divine Right of Kings”; the presumption that the king is appointed of God, and whatever he happens to do is exactly what God chooses. This is also a corollary of the doctrine of predestination. It is what God intends. What you see manifest is specifically what God desires.
The Dark Ages are dark in principle, and it is imperative that you understand what this means. Philosophically, it is specifically trying to separate all of man from any good. The fundamental formulations of Augustinian doctrine sought to eradicate man on every fundamental level. Christianity elevated pain and suffering and pestilence and poverty to the highest ethical ideal.
The whole of historic Christian doctrine revolves around the veneration of death. Human suffering reaches its pinnacle in Western thought. Destruction of the flesh is the ethical ideal. It doesn’t take an art scholar to understand why the symbol of a fish (the Greek word ιχθυς “ic-thoos”) in remembrance of the disciples was replaced by the cross as an enduring icon of Christianity. For the first 400 to 500 years, the cross does not appear in Christian art. But by the start of the 6th century, the cross, which is an emblem of political subjugation and torture, becomes Christianity’s central icon.
But then, what other icon would be appropriate for a religion built on human suffering? Four hundred years after Jesus came to preach life in the covenants of promise, Christianity became a cult of death that ruled the world with a nihilistic iron fist.
I get some heat on occasion for calling Christianity a cult of death. But I challenge you, show me I’m wrong. The sum of Christian doctrine is based on the death of man. It is obsessed and fixated on man’s death. And it worships an icon of death and culture. It holds out Jesus’ death and destruction as its highest ethical action. At its root, it preaches that man’s highest ethical ideal is his own self-destruction.
In the introduction I challenged you with this statement: The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. But that statement requires a necessary assumption. If there are men who are good, that presupposes they have values. And the nature of values are such that good men must act consistent with those values.
So then, what causes good men to take no action? What must be the primary assumption?
Change the definition of good!
Turn death and destruction into “good.”
If you want to understand what happened in National Socialist Germany, you must understand that the resulting behavior stemmed from a metaphysical premise that assumed a change in the definition of what was “good.”
Now for me to actually explain why this is so important, we are going to have to do some more remedial work, because most people reading this don’t hold the Augustinian standard of “good” in their head. Most modern Calvinists don’t hold the Augustinian, Luther, and Calvin doctrine of good in their head. Most of them get their definition of good from a very different source. And that’s what we’re going to talk about in part three.
To be continued…
|Click here for the introduction
Click here for part three
Click here for part four
|Click here for part five
Click here for part six
Click here for part seven
Click here for part eight
Subscribe to comments with RSS.