Towards A Muscular Christianity

Submitted by Alfonz

The happiest people I’ve ever met are nuns. This might contradict the stereotype of pinch-faced matrons smacking rulers on schoolkids’ knuckles, but it is true.

No doubt there are nuns who fit the conventional, secular image of what a nun is like. In my experience, nuns have an extraordinary ease of being about them. They smile, not in the rictus, forced, fanatical way of the evangelical preacher or door-to-do evangelist. The nun’s smile is easy, fluid, a gentle breeze. They laugh readily, and not only at the wholesome content you might associate them with. I’ve known nuns who can sink several pints of beer without so much as a blush.

The non-believer might suggest that the happiness of nuns comes from delusion or, perhaps, institutionalization. No doubt the life of the nun is easier than that of many outside the comforts of the convent. To me, however, it seems obvious that nuns are happy because they have found their place in the transcendent order of things. They are brides of Christ fulfilling their vocation, doing what they were always intended to do. Not all are called to be nuns – most are not – but those that are find boundless joy in the pre-emptive embrace of heaven. They live hovering, suspended between Earth and Paradise.

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Happiness isn’t a very fashionable metric for success in these circles. You don’t want to be happy, do you young man? I certainly don’t. I want glory, honour, success, wealth, women, power and pleasure. I’m not called to the monastery or to a shrew wife in a Hobbit hole, I want to conquer the world and explore the stars, lay low my enemies, cast down their idols and be exalted.

One of the defining questions of our time is the question of the warrior ethos. Medieval monks ordered society into those that work, those that pray, and those that fight. Where is this last group today? Not in the armed forces, for the most part, as these are increasingly coddled by bureaucracy and ideological dictats that constrain action and temper the martial soul. The US military’s tooth to tail ratio is around 1:10. Even less in the police, which might once have served as a sort of proxy for warrior ethics, but which is now even more constrained by politics and its carapace of bunk. You might find some warrior ethics in a local militia, but these are non-existent in the Old World and increasingly staffed by drunk, paunchy fantasists in the New. The progressives are correct in their suspicion that red state America has no stomach for a civil war, beyond their posturing. If they truly believed they could win one, it would have started years ago.

The ‘happy warrior’ (the phrase itself makes me cringe) is a persistent meme in many cultures. The soldier who trains hard and fights easy, who finds existential calm in the demands of battle, who is firm with his allies and merciful in his ruthless treatment of enemies – this is the warrior ethic that we might like to revive. Most men have some notion of themselves as warriors, in daydreams and fantasies. Not all are called – I’m not sure I’m called for one (here I am writing a verbose blog post from my desk rather than slaying dragons). Those that are will only find peace, contentment, ‘happiness’ perhaps as warriors, fulfilling their vocation. We have greater need of them – of Arthurs and Alexanders – now than ever before. Only they can bring justice and, as the bloodthirsty ideologues of the Africa National Congress have spent years reminding us, ‘there can be no peace where there is no justice.’

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Our age has debased the concept of justice. It has tamed it, institutionalized it, and perverted it towards its own ends.

Real justice is like civilization; indeed, it is civilization. It is intuitive – you know it when you see it. It is not the rule of law, or worse, the rule of lawyers. It is not a penal system that delegates its beatings, its rapes, its tempering of the savage spirit, even its executions to criminals, interring men in the full knowledge that brutality will be committed, just not by the lawful authorities.

The rule of law exists to protect rats. Any fool can see that the hulking, red eyed man with the face tattoos, the mohawk, the broken knuckles, the missing teeth, is trouble. The same, but more, can be said of the so-called ‘white collar’ criminal – the liar, the fraudster, the extortion artist, the slippery international agent who procures underage prostitutes for the rich and powerful. Your ordinary man, your ‘citizen’ wouldn’t allow him within a mile of his daughter if he could, but before he can sanction punishment, he needs to see evidence, proof, procedure. He won’t allow any public authority to simply beat or hang the man and he would never dream of doing it himself. He lives in a comfortable world of statutes, due process, dumpy women in stab-proof vests with tasers. ‘Criminal justice’ is no justice at all, it is a grotesque parody of cosmic realities, a racket, a play act performed to give us an illusion of satisfaction.

Divinity is true justice. Divinity is supreme power, all the more beautiful for being supreme. Moab is my wash pot; Edom is my footstool: Philistia, triumph you because of me. Sodom and Gomorrah are cleansed with fire, the walls of Jericho crumble down, every knee shall bow every tongue shall confess, what is done in darkness shall be seen in the light. This is the real truth that is worshipped in churches, mediated by the arcana of theology and the comforting representations of fruit, animals, prophets and so on. We are comfortable with Jesus Christ as kindly God Man, but less comfortable with Him as supreme judge over all. This is His ultimate function.

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Most Christians today don’t really understand this. Even faithful, good Christians who keep the commandments, fulfil their vocations, give to charity and say grace before their meals. These are all fine things – good even. They also disguise a fundamental reality. They provide a sense of continuity with the Christian past, but they exclude significant aspects of the ancient tradition, and its reflection of divinity.

What does Christianity mean to you? The images it conjures can be guessed at: mega churches, dusty cathedrals turned into tourist attractions, artworks which many view but few appreciate, prayer, preaching, nice young men in ties. You have go-ahead priests making pop culture references on Twitter or calling for ‘LGBT outreach’, you have blue-haired women in mockeries of episcopal garb, declaring Greta Thurnberg a saint or demanding more copulation with Somali pirates. You have the Tablet, the Church Times, American Affairs, the Amazon Synod: knitted jumper Christianity, womanly Christianity.

Over the last 150 years, men have left the churches to the rule of priests and women. Priests are important and good, but they cannot rule. Their authority must be tempered and augmented by that of responsible, pious, secular men, by strength and honour from the second sword. This view was once canonical – the two swords of the crusading monk St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who knew that Christendom could not stand on the theorizing and moral sermons of priests alone. It needed to take up the sword, to defend itself and to conquer.

Where were the pagan gods of old, the ancestral spirits of northern Europe, in the age of the Crusades? Where were they at Tours, at Granada, at Dorylaeum and Arsuf? Which Nordic deity sallied forth from Antioch, seized Edessa in a fit of absence of mind, cleansed Sicily, liberated Spain, made the streets of Jerusalem run with infidel blood? Which Celtic fertility goddess led the fleet forward at Lepanto? Which thundering sky spirit drove Columbus, Magellan and da Gama over towering oceans, or inspired Cortes or Pizzaro to lay low the devil cities of native America, ruled by fanatics in human skin and built on mountains and mountains of human bones?

Christianity is the worship of God incarnate. The full implications of that are difficult to grasp, but the Christian man must feel God’s presence in all things and sanctify, not reject every part of his nature. God is present in nature, in beautiful sunsets but also in predators, in parasites, in hurricanes. God is present in human experience, in moments of joy, comfort and peace, but also in pleasure, in wrath, in violence. The sight of a beautiful woman attests to His majesty as much as any cathedral or high-sided valley. Properly channelled, the desire to lay low our idolatrous overlords and rebuild the world on a just foundation is a manifestation of the divine, of God’s will. This is the God who became human, who penetrates our world and ourselves daily in bread and wine, who desires intimate communion with us. Obeying His laws and accepting our natures are intrinsically linked. We fear Him as we adore Him, as we should fear and adore the world and as we should fear and adore and work on ourselves, the greatest part of His creation.

Be strong, form bonds, make plans and build things that you may glorify God. This was understood until only a few generations ago. The muscular Christianity of the Victorians gave birth to many good and manly enterprises: The Boy Scouts, the Knights of St Columbus, the foundation of elite schools and clubs, innumerable adventures and heroics in the world beyond Christendom which brought the world within Christendom’s grasp.

Muscular men have turned away from Christ and His Church. This has left it as a shell, doctrinally sound in most matters but hollow and powerless.

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The Puritan spirit is everywhere today. Many people, even many believers, mistake this for real faith in God. It is not. The legalism, the pedantry, the cringing and pandering to the world – it all stems from a lack of confidence in God that comes, ultimately, from a lack of confidence in self.

The Christian man should not have to force himself into obedience with the will of God. He is not a dog, he is a free man, that is how his creator made him. He aligns his will with divinity and keeps the commandments happily, not as some dour celebration of self-denial but as self-mastery, self-exultation. The puritan exaggerates his virtues, but the true believer exaggerates his shortcomings, his sins. When he falls short of the divine standard, which he always will because God is so infinitely greater than himself, he keeps the faith, picks himself up, and keeps striving for moral perfection. He doesn’t look for comfort or loopholes in theology.

Theology is the proper domain of priests. A Christian man who is not a priest should have little need of it. His faith cannot be based on apologetics, because apologetics come from a position of weakness. The clue is in the name. God does not need proof; such a vast and ur-rational notion, such a being, is demeaned by evidence and clever argument. Most modern apologists are windbags, their arguments are sometimes good, but they cannot ever access divinity through them. The formulas of St. Thomas Aquinas provide some satisfaction and can silence an arrogant non-believer (matter cannot beget itself, therefore it must have an immaterial cause, we call that cause God). Aquinas himself grasped the futility of his efforts and abandoned his writings for a life of prayer and unspoken contemplation. After a moment of spiritual rapture, he destroyed the manuscript he had been working on and said, ‘compared to what I have seen, all of my writings are as straw.’ This is the correct attitude to theology and philosophy – most of what cannot be experienced and felt is a distraction from ultimate truth.

The Puritan seeks to make everyone a priest, a theologian. Luther preached a ‘priesthood of all believers’ and his many, many successors, most of whom he would reject and despise, have built a society and a Church ruled by priests. Priests are necessary and good – they should command our respect. But they should also be ordained and submit to the accumulated wisdom of doctrine, of tradition, so that they may be responsible in exercising priestly power. Journalists, academics, activists, NGO executives, bureaucrats, pundits, scientists, celebrities – this is what the priesthood of all believers has wrought. We have a vast, bickering, informal priesthood, with no dogma, no discipline, and no tethering to ultimate realities. Our first priority in the political realm should be checking the power of these pseudo-priests and confining it to its proper sphere.

I had an exchange on Twitter with a prominent Catholic user. He was surprised when I said to him that there is more to faith than the avoidance of sin, but I stand by this absolutely. Sin is a conscious rejection of the will of God. Our true purpose, however, is not to avoid it through efforts of will, self-denial and sophistry, but to exalt God in all things, to see Him everywhere, and to become worthy of final union with Him. When we glimpse the beatific vision in heaven, we will see what a small thing sin was, what petty and wretched creatures the demons of hell are, and how trivial our earthly anxieties always were.

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In the English Civil War, the puritan army was known as the Roundheads. The anti-puritans on the royalist side were known as Cavaliers. This was the real issue of the war, all of the details about ship money, the Book of Common Prayer, Parliamentary privilege and executive versus legislative power were mere details. It was a clash between the spirit of Puritanism and the spirit of God, between legalistic moralising and real justice, authority and intimate communion with the divine. The Puritans won, and the Anglo world is still living with the consequences of that.

The puritans killed their king. Charles went to his death with honour – even bad kings usually do. He forgave his jailors, rejected their legitimacy and calmly accepted his fate. Everyone who saw him beheaded on that cold morning knew they had seen real nobility die that day. Charles was not a great king – he was a poor statesman, a weak military leader, and he lacked presence or wit. What came after him, however, was endless bickering in parliament, pointless wars between rival puritan factions, and grim laws banning public festivities, theatre performances, drink and other good and innocent things. It was rule by self-proclaimed priests writing made-up laws, and that form of government has persisted, in different forms, ever since.

The stereotype of the cavalier has persisted in English literature and folklore. The cavaliers were dandies, lovers of beauty and pleasure – they were frivolous and unintellectual. Their politics was as instinctive as their religious faith, it wasn’t deeply thought out or based on close reading of texts, it was hyper-rational, experienced rather than reasoned out. Then as now, it is rare to find a cavalier intellectual, a cavalier priest.

The cavaliers, however, understood one thing that does not need theoretical justification. There is an order to the universe, with God at the top and man presiding over creation. This order extends downwards to human society. Some are higher and some are lower than others, some may rise and fall based on fortune, merit or (occasionally) virtue, but we are only equal in death, when we face divine judgement.

GK Chesterton, the habitually misunderstood English author of the early 20th century, put the following words into the mouth of a cavalier officer in the Civil War:

‘It is true that we have the sins of men: drunkenness, carousing, lechery. But your men have the sins of devils: pride, treason, spiritual rebellion.’

Many latter-day puritans balk at this, pointing out (not wrongly) that sins of the flesh are still sins – they will still send you to hell, to eternal separation from the divine. Chesterton, however, is not here encouraging or excusing drunkenness or fornication, but he is identifying that the urge towards these sins of pleasure and excess is a far lesser evil than the urge to spiritual rebellion, conceit and deception. It is impossible to deny that we are animals with animal impulses, but the puritan with all his theories and arguments and moral exhortations is colluding in the demonic, in denying God what God is owed and defying his nature as a creature of God’s creation.

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Chesterton has been appropriated by people who do not understand him and who use his writings as a comfort blanket. PT Carlo, wherever he went, and Richard Greenhorn of these pages have called these people the ‘dads’, and I will borrow the term. These are the #traditionalists, the Rod Dreher readers, the amateur theologians. I have been tempted towards their path myself. It is a dead path, full of self-delusion.

The dads are unrealistic about the nature of justice and authority. They are full of fear and will not countenance the warrior ethos. Their priority is building families and communities, getting by, doing what we can within the current system. This is fair enough as practical advice for the immediate term, but its spirit is lacking. Christianity, in essence, is a call to arms. This world will not last, Armageddon is coming, and we must choose a side. You won’t be allowed to tend your allotment and quietly catechise your kids on Tolkien and Lewis for much longer – the powers that be will not stand for it. We can fight or be enslaved; those are the only options.

Critics think that Chesterton is cuddly, unserious, blue-pilled. But when he writes something like:

“It is not merely true that a creed unites men. Nay, a difference of creed unites men – so long as it is a clear difference. A boundary unites. Many a magnanimous Moslem and chivalrous Crusader must have been nearer to each other, because they were both dogmatists, than any two agnostics. “I say God is One,” and “I say God is One but also Three,” that is the beginning of a good quarrelsome, manly friendship.”

He is not calling us to some sham, universalist ‘tolerance’ of Islam. He is, on the contrary, exhorting us to fight against Islam. He is doing this, however, with a warrior spirit, a spirit of mutual respect, of knowing your enemy. I could write a long screed about the shortcomings of Islamic theology, or the bad conduct of Muslim warriors, slavers and invaders past and present. You probably know all of this already and will not read it as a spur to action. It would be small-minded, embittered whinging, cheap talk which the internet is full of. It becomes possible to fight the Muslim only when you acknowledge him as an opponent in a fight – and this requires that you treat him with some respect.

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BAP is closer to the truth than perhaps even he realises when he writes ‘I am sure that all of your religions are true.’ In some sense, they are. If Christianity is true, then Islam is at least 90% true, and Judaism also. There are more than tendrils of truth in all the great spiritual traditions, in Hinduism, in Buddhism, in Shinto and the Dao, in ancient paganism.

I say that all these truths and insights into divinity and the self are reconciled in Christ Jesus. I don’t say this as some esoteric vaguery – I mean it literally. God is real and God is manifest in creation. Our natures reflect Him more than we know, which is why He walked among us. The perennial power of this truth explains the global spread of Christianity: all cultures have some notion of ultimate divinity, and of divine incarnation. The LARPing ‘pagans’ on the internet, quoting Skyrim at each other and dismissing a ‘Semitic’ God do not understand this. BAP does, which is why he does not embrace Odinism, or whatever. His writings are closer to literature than philosophy or theology, Bronze Age Mindset is a sort of neo-classical mythology peppered with comment on the issues of our time.

This mythology is a necessary revision to the Classical literature that has stood as a constant in western affairs for at least three millennia. The Age of the Iliad is over, it was over at the time of Alexander. The Classical World became plump and stagnant for want of an Achilles, Greece was conquered by the more vital civilization of Rome, which itself got lazy, turned to bread and circuses, to doormice dipped in honey, vomitoriums and orgies with pubescent slaves, dependent on armies of auxiliaries to labour and fight. The fat old men who waddled around first century Athens or Alexandria claiming to be philosophers were LARPing, Classical philosophy struggled along in doldrums, rehashing the ideas of Aristotle and the Stoics. They mocked Christianity as low status, the cult of ‘the Nazarene carpenter’, because they saw that its spirit, the spirit of Logos incarnate, would wash away their world and reanimate European man, robbing them of their priestly authority. It certainly did this.

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My wager is that our last best hope is not reheated paganism, or a nationalist mass movement (as if that would ever be allowed to get off the ground) but for a muscular, masculine, post-puritan Christianity. We need networks of intelligent, athletic and politically clued-up young men to exert a greater influence in their parishes, and then maybe at the level of local politics. Wholesome outdoor pursuits combined with sports, study and shared prayer could all be routes in to such a revival, whether formally organised or not. In the short term, it’s probably prudent not to dress up in Carlist uniforms and march through the streets, calling yourself the Order of St. Chad or whatever. Perhaps the tide will turn sufficiently in our favour for that sort of thing to become viable, perhaps not. For now, young men in your circle need to know two things: that God exists and that people who follow Him probably don’t hate them as much as members of most other civic associations. There are obviously many exceptions, but these are easily avoided.

What does muscular Christianity look like? Few of us have really seen it. It was once a dominant force in our culture, now it is shunned and pushed to the margins.

I’ll identify two key characteristics of muscular Christianity: the willingness to bear hardship and generosity of spirit.

The exorcist Fr Chad Ripperger defines masculinity in terms of hardship and the capacity to undergo it willingly. He says that those who can endure pain of all kinds are most resilient against the very real threat of the demonic in their lives – and he is right. Hardship doesn’t just mean physical pain, although resilience in this regard certainly helps. It also means a willingness to forego pleasure, to take risks, to assert authority and brave ridicule from the wider world. Self-denial, prudence, temperance and fortitude have always been celebrated as spiritual as well as personal virtues. Practising these will not only enrich you spiritually, it will also toughen you for life’s trials. The man who can handle discomfort – pain, cold, hunger, ostracism – is close to invincible.

Generosity of spirit is harder to define. It is easily confused, by Christian and non-Christian alike, for ‘niceness’, that modern scourge. Being nice is not a virtue, needless to say, and would not have been identified as such by even our recent ancestors. It smacks of weakness, of a desperate need to be liked. Worse, it is increasingly a vector for ideological conformity, as the usual voices exhort us to just ‘be nice, people’ and submit to their agenda. Do not, under any circumstances, be nice.

There is a difference, however, between being nice and being kind. This goes beyond mere semantics. Sometimes the kind thing to do is the very opposite of being nice. If a friend is putting on excessive weight, or making the same stupid mistakes with women, or making irresponsible decisions about money, substances, diet, career – the nice thing to do is to smile, encourage them, tell them to be themselves and do what they feel. The kind thing to do, the thing that takes real love (and real balls) is to tell them the truth. Don’t be mean for the sake of it, incivility for its own sake is immature and unproductive. But do be honest with them. ‘I think you need to drink less or ‘change what you eat’ or ‘stop being a pussy’ are not always easy things to say, but they are the right things to say. Just as a responsible and loving parent does not allow their four-year-old child to ‘express themselves’ by playing with toys in the middle of a highway, so the kind friend does not indulge or deceive their fellow men, their compatriots. They’re too good for that.

In this, we seek to emulate the true nature of God. Those who claim that God is indulgent, who over-emphasise His love and forgiveness and claim that He does not care about our actions or choices demean Him. God is love, but he is also righteous anger and justice. He is a father, and fathers are not defined either by their ‘niceness’, or by their conformity to garbage 1950s stereotypes about handiness and self-reliance (would Alexander the Great have known how to fix a spark plug? Would he have cared?), but by their firmness and generosity of spirit.

The aristocratic ideal, identified by Nietzsche among many others, is a rare and heady mix of responsibility and a sense of adventure. That is what we need from our young men, and that is what, properly interpreted, traditional Christianity can provide. There will be roadblocks on the way – interfering authorities, scolding Susans, suspicious priests, and heretics who put liberal values before God. Fine. Nobody said this was an easy road. It is, however, the road worth taking.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Senhorbotero says:

    What an excellent essay. I have been waiting to read this for many years. You have cleared my brain of all it’s excess clutter and focused me upon the essentials. Now let’s build an army and fight. Brilliant writing. Thank you.

    Like

  2. Amen to all. God forbid we all don goofy glasses like Rod Dreher and moan about being accommodating as we try and find a quiet spot to avoid the SJW hunter-seeker mob. If we’re going to go out, at least go out swinging.

    Like

  3. K says:

    Anyone who identifies with the sentiments expressed in this article should check out https://www.brotherhoodangeliccrown.com

    They embody all of the ideas expressed here, without succumbing to the impulse for public attention that plagues so many groups who have tried to form similar organizations.

    Like

  4. Euler the Oiler says:

    Crude Rome conquered cultured Greece at the height of the latter’s power. No one expected it. And if the Greeks hadn’t been so (rightfully) arrogant to spit on the Roman’s robe, it might never have happened.

    Like

  5. info says:

    Martin Luther was correct in the priesthood of all believers.

    Like

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