What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.

About

What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Compare and Contrast

Compare and contrast, that is, two comics originating from opposite ends of the sociological and ideological spectra, that nonetheless manifest a curious dispositional similarity: Amanda Marcotte's It's a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Inhospitable Political Environments, a graphic novel detailing the exploits of Choice Girl (perhaps Mark Shea's coinage; I''ll not be purchasing a copy for verification...) against fundamentalists and other anti-abortion retrogrades, who are portrayed as stereotyped African natives (select images at Shea's blog), and this, er, classic of Protestant anti-Catholic bigotry, which lingers over the damnation of all those Christians who have not trusted in the proper verbal formulae.

Numerous are the ways in which these two specimens could be analogized and disanalogized to one another. I'll just mention their longing for a sort of Summing Up, a Great Reckoning, at which the reprobate will be requited with the damnation that is theirs - a will to eschatological finality, and the belief that one already possesses the understanding thereof. It is an atmosphere alien to fine literature of orthodox Christian extraction.

Comments (43)

Well, having just read Dostoevsky's Demons for the fourth time, I think one could say that an Orthodox-sympathetic author also could show something of a "will to eschatological finality"...

I just knew that once Maximos started talking about something other than the economy, I'd fall in love again (of the Platonic variety, of course)!

I just finished the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky edition of the "Brothers K" (somehow I avoided reading the whole thing back in high-school and it's taken me 20 years to finally pick it up again) and if it isn't my favorite book of all time, it is most definitely in the top 10. First of all, their translation is amazing (or perhaps gets at the genius of Dostoevsky better than most). I had the sense while reading the book that it could have been written last year -- the language and ideas are somehow both timeless and to this fan of all things modern, somehow contemporary (particularly the characters arm-chair psychology, even while obviously criticizing some of these modern ideas. Second, as Maximos suggests, there are no easy solutions in the novel or great "Summing Up". Will Mitya really escape from prison? Will Ivan get better and maybe someday come back to the Church (and what is the lesson to learn from Satan's visit to Ivan...which reminded me of the Rolling Stones' song "Sympathy for the Devil"...I wonder if Mick was inspired by the novel)? Will Alexei really marry Madame Khokhlakov's daughter? What the heck does the ending of the "Grand Inquisitor" chapter mean for the conundrum of theodicy? I could go on, but you get the idea. As soon as I finished the novel I wanted to start again..."fine literature" indeed!

Well, choosing Jack Chick as your representative Protestant and Dostoevsky as your representative of Orthodoxy might look a *little* like stacking the deck.

The Devils could with equal ease be read as a commentary on the probable consequences of the longing for total revolution: madness, death, etc.

There are no grand solutions presented in The Brothers Karamazov; in fact, the only rejoinder to the atheistic fantasy of the Grand Inquisitor, under whose ministrations ordinary people need not exercise responsibility, for the priestly caste has already done so on their behalf, entering into the mystery of evil consciously, and suffering for it, is the open-ended one of Alyosha's work with the boys: he reconciles them to the peer they tormented, and they all weep at the poor boy's funeral. There are no technocratic solutions, no social-scientific formulae that augur the best of all possible worlds, the optimal balance of utilities and disutilities; there is only the (ascetic) struggle against the evil that lies in the human heart, for, as another great Russian writer articulated so well, the line between good and evil does not divide groups of men, but the human heart itself.

Yes, I could stand accused of stacking the deck. However, in my favour, the longing for a summing up, for the damnation of one's enemies, usually makes for poor literature, and it is the sensibility I wish to condemn. The Protestantism/Orthodoxy/Catholicism (since Percy was Catholic) angle is not the one I'm aiming for. I'm certain that there must be unhinged Orthodox apocalypticists about; I just don't know where to find them.

"I'll just mention their longing for a sort of Summing Up, a Great Reckoning, at which the reprobate will be requited with the damnation that is theirs..."

Not that I'm any fan of Chick tracts (far from it), but when did the parts of Revelation that refer to the resurrection of all the dead small and great standing before God and to the casting into the lake of fire of those not found written in the Book of Life get deleted? I mean, the "last things" does include judgement, and damnation is supposed to be a distinct possibility. As C. S. Lewis said, "The really frightening things were said by Jesus." Like, "Depart from me ye cursed into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels" or the parable of Dives and Lazarus.

Those passages have not been deleted, not at all. It's the unhinged arrogance and presumption of the Chick tracts that I'm condemning, that sensibility which presumes to know how judgment will be apportioned, who will be assigned what eternal lot, that one is assuredly elect, and that the hoped-for damnation of one's enemies is an occasion for amusing ironies.

We Orthodox have a Sunday of St. John Climacus during Lent, and the harsher parables of Christ figure throughout the season; these things should impel us toward self-examination, not towards the hurling of bulls of damnation at theological adversaries. And the Chick folks want God to smite the Papists just as firmly as Marcotte wants to smite folks who oppose her sacrament of death.

Being that Chick touts himself a Bible Christian, it's ironic that his version of judgment flies directly in the face with the actual judgment Jesus describes in Matthew 25:40-46 -- although he had the gall to quote a line in it in spite of his deliberate twisting of the text:

40 And the king answering shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.
41 Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels.
42 For I was hungry and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty and you gave me not to drink.
43 I was a stranger and you took me not in: naked and you covered me not: sick and in prison and you did not visit me.
44 Then they also shall answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not minister to thee?
45 Then he shall answer them, saying: Amen: I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me.
46 And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting.

I knew that was going to be a link to a Jack Chick tract. I'm utterly ashamed to say that when I was but a young boy, I actually took them seriously.

Maximos, the contradiction in your stance - which Lydia has already alluded to - seems so blatant and obvious that I'm actually willing to give you the benefit of the doubt on this one. Eschatological finality is a firmly Christian concept. You say that the problem with Marcotte and Jack Chick is that they implicitly claim to know the eternal destiny of each person, yet it seems fairly clear that any Christian exclusivist position makes the same claim.

You don't make a version of Jack Chick's claim about "jihadists" and "liberals?"

Eschatological finality is a firmly Christian concept.

Certainly it is. The claim that we can possess foreknowledge of the details is not.

yet it seems fairly clear that any Christian exclusivist position makes the same claim.

It is contingent upon the particulars of any such position. Catholics and Orthodox will claim that while there is no salvation outside the Church, and through any mediator other than Christ, ultimately, they will also claim that we cannot definitively demarcate the boundaries of the Church; I don't believe that this entails the same dilemma. Protestant fundamentalists, on the other hand....

You don't make a version of Jack Chick's claim about "jihadists" and "liberals?"

I'm neither asserting that I know, of a certainty, that they are damned (I don't even entertain the thought, as my concern is solely for the temporal consequences of their philosophies and policies; what is not of these is for God.), which would be the Chick parallel, nor imagining that I can achieve an End to Evil, a final reckoning that will decisively and permanently "put them in their places."

Actually, though I was a little facetious and probably shouldn't have been, I didn't say that Maximos's position contained a contradiction. I meant to imply only that his words could be taken to be asking us all to be nice and not imagine that anyone will actually be damned, nor to long for the final redemption when, in fact, such final decisions will be declared openly.

And I appreciate his clarifications, which I think are largely right.

I would only add that I think there are signs of both a more self-examining and a harsher sensibility in Scripture. There are all the imprecatory Psalms for example, and even some of the milder pronouncements about the fate of the wicked seem to show a certain relish, "Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh. The Lord shall have them in derision," and so forth. The Apostle Paul expresses a rather sharp wish regarding his theological opponents in the book of Galatians, with which y'all are probably familiar. He also says that he's commended (I think it is) Alexander the coppersmith to Satan, that he may learn not to blaspheme. Well, after all, he was an apostle. But I guess what I'm getting at is that I'm not sure we can _entirely_ rule out the legitimacy of some sort of sense of rightful satisfaction when justice is done to the wicked. Such a sense figures quite rightly in Western movies, for example, when it's a good thing to feel satisfaction that the bad guy loses the shoot-out. I would say, however, that even then restraint is the watchword. Gory details about the suffering of the damned make very bad literature, and that for good reason.

Then the problem changes. You're taking up a distance from final judgment itself, right? Reserving that for God. Except you use religious language to describe the "temporal consequences of their philosophies and policies." You want to use the language of eternity without actually standing behind it.

Contrast this with your average atheist liberal - of which Marcotte is a prime example - who denies the language of eternity to being with.

You both criticize temporal consequences, but only one of you uses the language of eternity. It is deeply dishonest on your part to try and claim that Marcotte/liberals make firm eternal judgments, while you yourself only make eternal suggestions.

Feeling satisfaction when the wicked receive their merits in this life is one thing, if kept within licit measure; it's feeling that satisfaction in anticipation of the damnation of some identifiable persons, or groups of persons, that ought to be suspect. I've certainly had many harsh things to say about the Mahometan religion, but I'm not consigning all of its adherents to perdition, and exulting in the thought.

You want to use the language of eternity without actually standing behind it.

Actually, I don't. Temporality is not finality.

Those who deny the language of eternity often immanentize its discourses, imagining that they can achieve some finality in this life. I'd like folks such as Marcotte to repent, ie, change their minds and ways of living, to reorient themselves to Being; she'd like to smite some of us once and for all.

Almost forgot to comment on the following:

Gory details about the suffering of the damned make very bad literature, and that for good reason.

I'll make an exception for the Divine Comedy, which isn't terribly gory, anyway. Much of that masterpiece hews to the biblical language of classes of sinners, an exhortative device which renders the figures generally applicable, instead of applicable to some delimited set of Others we are encouraged to hate and wished damned.

Gosh, and I just taught the Divine Comedy. You're right. (And I'd say the INferno gets pretty gory. And Dante seems to get alot of satisfaction out of the fact that Boniface is going to be thrust head down with fire on his feet,etc.) I guess that just shows the perils of making hard and fast aesthetic statements like that.

Those who deny the language of eternity often immanentize its discourses, imagining that they can achieve some finality in this life.

I agree. It is worth pointing out, however, that "the end of history" is not an inherently Leftist idea. Whatever eschatalogical fantasies that Hegel and Marx may (emphasis on the may for Hegel) have had have taken a serious beating on all sides, going all the way back to Walter Benjamin's Thesis on History.

I'd like folks such as Marcotte to repent, ie, change their minds and ways of living, to reorient themselves to Being; she'd like to smite some of us once and for all.

If this is meant to be something other than rhetorical flourish, you'll have to back it up. I'm a regular reader of Pandagon (though I am very far from her beliefs; I'm also a regular reader of this blog), and I simply don't see the finality you're claiming. The images in her book are ridiculously racist, but threatening? They were (poorly) chosen for their campy, ironic value. They are certainly no more threatening than the Orthodox Christian belief (which I assume you share) that eternal damnation is just and, in a way, entirely desirable. I doubt Marcotte would ever consider hell a just outcome for even the most fundamentalist Christian.

And if it is just rhetorical flourish, we come back to my previous point. I have never read anything like a final judgment or an eschatological position on Pandagon. Whereas this blog is predicated on the idea that there are elements of humanity that are at war with God. You can say that the details of the final judgment are hidden from you, but you still believe in such a judgment and base your politics on it. Marcotte does no such thing.

That's an interesting insight, Jeff. I'm not sure there's a direct parallel, since Chick's dogmatic denunciation of Catholic dogma fails to note its own irony, while those charging Marcotte with racism are explicit in theirs, though they label it her hypocrisy.

Or maybe that falls under 'contrast'.

So there I was, waiting on my slow dial-up to load the Mark Shea page, and what should my eyes spy? "My advice to sedevacantists: Repent and return to the True Church or you will go to Hell. You, of all people, know well that there is no salvation outside Her." Yikes!

On a very different note, I am very fond of Walker Percy and never really got the sense that he was very orthodox in his Christianity. Unless orthodoxy means something that is far different than what I think it means. He was the person who initially read and helped bring to publication the tragicomedy of John Kennedy Toole's vivid, subversive, surreal masterpiece.

I will point out that those are the images involving native Africans in the book. There were also ones where Lorna the Jungle Girl was up against animals and white men. (Some vegan types object to her fighting animals. No one objected to the nasty portrayals of white men.)

Dante not gory??? And mostly applicable to classes of sinners rather than to particular individuals???

Inferno XXVIII, 21-40:

...A rundlet, that hath lost
Its middle or side stave, gapes not so wide
As one I mark’d, torn from the chin throughout
Down to the hinder passage: ’twixt the legs
Dangling his entrails hung, the midriff lay
Open to view, and wretched ventricle,
That turns the englutted aliment to dross.
Whilst eagerly I fix on him my gaze,
He eyed me, with his hands laid his breast bare,
And cried, “Now mark how I do rip me: lo!
How is Mohammed mangled: before me
Walks Ali weeping, from the chin his face
Cleft to the forelock; and the others all,
Whom here thou seest, while they lived, did sow
Scandal and schism, and therefore thus are rent.
A fiend is here behind, who with his sword
Hacks us thus cruelly, slivering again
Each of this ream, when we have compast round
The dismal way; for first our gashes close
Ere we repass before him..."

And it's not like that's a particularly atypical passage.

Sorry about the translation, by the way - I just took the first one I came across that I could copy and paste. Pinsky's is my favorite.

"Unless orthodoxy means something that is far different than what I think it means."

Percy's Catholicism was orthodox, which made his art subversive. How could it, in this day and age, be otherwise?

Well, quite right, Steve. To make matters even more interesting, there are passages in Dante that indicate that we are not supposed to pity the damned souls. I myself think Dante isn't always consistent on whether it's okay to pity the damned (his pity for Paolo and Francesca is not condemned), but the passage in canto 20 (?? is it) where he weeps for pity of the sorcerers and is rebuked by Virgil is absolutely unambiguous.

By the way, I hasten to add that I meant no disrespect to Dante, above. With Robert Pinsky's help, I have come to love the *Inferno* as I had already come to love the *Iliad*, the *Odyssey*, and the *Aeneid* (with the help of Lattimore, Fagles, & Fitzgerald).

Unfortunately, I grew up in a time and a place where nobody learned classical languages (let alone medieval Italian!). So I must rely on translations. Tant pis.

I take the point about gore in the Inferno. Memory is a fallible thing. Still, I'd not say that such individualized passages comprise the bulk of the work, though perhaps there as well, memory fails me.

I'm not much troubled (actually, not troubled at all) by such passages, any more than I'd be troubled by the suggestion that Stalin was enduring some torment in hell, given the extraordinary evil he embodied; it is the categorical condemnation of classes of identifiable persons (ie., Catholics, etc.), as opposed to generic categories of impenitent sinners (ie., the lustful or gluttonous) that runs afoul of Christian doctrine.

It is worth pointing out, however, that "the end of history" is not an inherently Leftist idea.

I wouldn't claim that it was, not least on account of recent history.

The images in her book are ridiculously racist, but threatening? They were (poorly) chosen for their campy, ironic value.... I have never read anything like a final judgment or an eschatological position on Pandagon.

Campy? Assuredly. Ironic? I'm not persuaded on that score; they were clearly chosen, without regard to the obvious racial overtones, in order to shout from the rooftops that Marcotte's ideological adversaries are primitives and savages. I don't perceive any irony in that. Moreover, one will not find eschatological declarations at Pandagon, precisely because no one there is interested in the final judgments of a God; what the imagery and rhetoric suggest, however, is not eschatological finality, but that immanent finality by which retrogrades will be dealt with decisively, and consigned to the dark, dank past that they represent, as this is the progressive narrative.

"Still, I'd not say that such individualized passages comprise the bulk of the work, though perhaps there as well, memory fails me."

'Fraid so. In every circle he meets specific damned souls and sees their torments, and usually they want to tell their stories. That, in fact, is the bulk of the work. The one thing that distances it from the reader is that quite a lot of the souls are medieval Italians and other folks that ordinary people like me know nothing else about, whose names mean nothing to me.

"any more than I'd be troubled by the suggestion that Stalin was enduring some torment in hell, given the extraordinary evil he embodied."

Although I can understand this sentiment, I don't think we can assume anyone's damnation, even someone like Stalin's. "Deathbed" repentance is always a possibility, and in such cases, I sincerely hope it happened.

'Fraid so.

Ah, so memory fails me. I've not read the Inferno since 1997 or so. I should rectify that.

"Deathbed" repentance is always a possibility...

Indeed it is. I suppose I'm just playing the probabilities...

"Indeed it is. I suppose I'm just playing the probabilities..."

Fair enough.

"I've not read the Inferno since 1997 or so. I should rectify that."

I've been planning to read the Inferno since 1997 or so and haven't done it yet. I've got Anthony Esolen's translation sitting there waiting, and I've read his introduction twice already, but still haven't made the plunge.

I did, however, manage to read Don Quixote for the first time last year, so I guess that's some consolation.

Yes, Rob G. And as Lydia writes, "restraint is the watchword."

One lacks restraint in wishing to go back and strangle in the cradle this or that notorious villain of the past.

One has restraint when, like Odysseus, counsels respect for the burial of Ajax:


AJAX
Then listen. For the gods' sake venture not
Thus ruthlessly to cast forth this man unburied:
And in no wise let violence compel thee
To such deep hate that thou shouldst tread down justice.
Once for me too this man was my worst foe,
From that hour when I won Achilles' arms;
Yet, though he was such towards me, I would not so
Repay him with dishonour as to deny
That of all Greeks who came to Troy, no hero
So valiant save Achilles have I seen.
So it is not just thou shouldst dishonour him.
Not him wouldst thou be wronging, but the laws
Of heaven. It is not righteousness to outrage
A brave man dead, not even though thou hate him.
AGAMEMNON
Thou, Odysseus, champion him thus against me?
ODYSSEUS
Yes; but I hated him while hate was honourable.
AGAMEMNON
Shouldst thou not also trample on him when dead?
ODYSSEUS
Atreides, glory not in dishonouring triumphs.
AGAMEMNON
'Tis hard for a king to act with piety.
ODYSSEUS
Yet not hard to respect a friend's wise counsel.

All of you folks planning to read the Inferno, may I add that you simply must in that case go on and read the Purgatorio and the Paradiso. It's shame that the Inferno is read in literature survey courses but the others are almost never read. It's not that I want to discourage the reading of the Inferno. If they are doing something that good in a survey course, so much the better. But I cd. wish the other two were not neglected.

I wouldn't dream of doing otherwise.

Did Dante have the Greek tragedies?

Take note the year 1300 is the fictional year Dante's Divine Comedy takes place. His divine comedy is a journey from our life to beatific vision. Dante linked it to this sensitive moment in the passage of time. Dante found this moment as something quite important in his own day.

Keep in mind in the medieval world, comedies typically ended up in happiness; likewise, Dante believed that if we do the right things in this life, it ultimately turns out in happiness (i.e., the divine vision).

"Comedy" here does not mean a bunch of jokes, mind you --

As he passes in this journey, from hell up the mountain of purgatory and through all the circles of heaven; what he constantly has in the back of his mind is every one of those things -- whether we encounter evil, whether we're involved in trying to purge from ourselves our sins, or whether we begin to have vision -- that ultimately if we're oriented to the right things (i.e., the Catholic concept of orienting one's entire existence to God, as was taught fundamental in the Church's Catechism), it is a happiness that is at the end of all things.

The journey through hell reproduces the way we find ourselves embroiled either in error or in sin. It's not like we deliberately choose to commit terrible sin most of the time; it's a drift where little by little, it gets to a point you're unable to free yourself from sin.

The descent through hell desribes the various levels of sin. From the simplest such as indifference and then you go deeper and deeper to things such as lust until little by little, deeper and deeper, Dante goes further into self-indulgence to actual malice until at the very bottom of Hell, frozen in ice and beating his wings and trying to escape is Satan himself -- the deepest possible evil!

But Dante, having gone through this journey is, in a sense, freed from all these points of evil by having gone through a sort of examination of conscience (embedded in the Catholic concept of Penance -- which is alluded to in the Purgatory phase of the journey) where at this point, he turns around and starts to ascend into a different direction.

In heaven, there are the contemplative traditions of the Catholic faith observed; but that may go into an entirely different discussion altogether.

"Deathbed" repentance is always a possibility, and in such cases, I sincerely hope it happened.

So is winning the lottery a possibility; but to hope to do so would be foolish. I think it would be more salutary, in fact, to understand that not only vicious men like Stalin are in hell, but also very nice people who were otherwise impious. That loving old aunt, for example, who always remembered your birthday but never went in for all that "God stuff," you should consider that she is damned for eternity -- if, that is, you intend to take religion seriously.

I read once that when St. Francis Xavier was a missionary in Japan, one of the most difficult obstacles preventing the natives from converting to Christianity was the idea that all their parents and ancestors were in hell. St. Francis, however, did not back down. He refused to let them hope that they were not damned. Now that is charity.

Nice recap, aristocles.

And these Chick tracts, are they comic or tragic?

"I think it would be more salutary, in fact, to understand that not only vicious men like Stalin are in hell, but also very nice people who were otherwise impious."

Sorry, but have to disagree with you here. We understand that such people may very well be in hell, but assuming that they're there seems to me to be a sin against charity.

Rob G,

All I meant by that statement was that, generally speaking, impious people, even if they were nice, are in hell. How is that against charity? Are you saying that perhaps nice impious people don't, as a rule, go to hell?

"All I meant by that statement was that, generally speaking, impious people, even if they were nice, are in hell."

I agree as long as the 'generally speaking' qualifier is maintained. Once we start looking at particular individuals, however, it's pure speculation, and I believe then we're on thin ice.

but assuming that they're there seems to me to be a sin against charity

A sin against charity and a sin against the mind.

Sophocles is instructive in this regard. He understood how confidence in the fnality of human knowledge creates tragedy. This understanding was shared by Socrates and passed on to Plato. The sense of it comes through very strongly in both the Antigone and Oedipus Rex: transfixed by a truth the mind capitulates to premature conjectures and judgments, premature because pertinent evidence is still at large.

Witness the trial of Socrates. It's taking a very long time. The judgment still remains unknown. As Socrates told the jury, "who of us goes to the better lot, only God knows." The jury, however, voted, and Socrates died in 399 BC.

It can be difficult to keep these two judgments distinct with classical locutions like immanentize and eschaton. Anyhow, I suspect some satisfaction arises out of a sense of justice whose complexities between the mundane and transcendent have been erased. Satisfaction is a rare thing in tragedy.

Lydia (or anybody else, for that matter) - could you recommend translations of the *Purgatorio* and/or the *Paradiso*?

I started with the *Inferno* at least half a dozen times, always giving up after a few cantos, until I came across Robert Pinsky's wonderfully natural yet still poetic (*terza rima* in English!) translation.

Unfortunately, he didn't move on to the later books.

I recommend Sinclair's prose translation. I discussed it a little in this post last year:

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2007/06/the_sublime_and_the_ridiculous.html

And now I've finished teaching the poem using that translation for my daughter, and it worked out very well. If you definitely want a poetic translation, Ciardi's is good from what I've read of it, though I've never read the whole thing in it. But for me, Sinclair's prose was helpful sheerly for moving through such a long work.

Lydia - many thanks. Somehow I missed that thread. On the strength of Bill Luse's recommendation, I think I'll give Ciardi a try.

Dorothy L. Sayers -- the best rhymed version in English, and the best explanatory footnotes. She follows Charles Williams' understanding of Dante, which I consider theologically profound. See also her two volumes of papers on Dante.

Post a comment


Bold Italic Underline Quote

Note: In order to limit duplicate comments, please submit a comment only once. A comment may take a few minutes to appear beneath the article.

Although this site does not actively hold comments for moderation, some comments are automatically held by the blog system. For best results, limit the number of links (including links in your signature line to your own website) to under 3 per comment as all comments with a large number of links will be automatically held. If your comment is held for any reason, please be patient and an author or administrator will approve it. Do not resubmit the same comment as subsequent submissions of the same comment will be held as well.