Submitted by Bodhi Bronson
This essay was inspired by Richard Greenhorn’s “BAP, Classical Man, and the Christian Bugman” and by BAP’s “Old and New Paganism.” It is intended as a contribution towards what BAP describes as a truce and an alliance between pagans and Christians in the name of “manliness and excellence.”
I remember when I first heard some of Jonathan Bowden’s speeches many years ago, when he was still alive and had a website with his paintings and recordings. The worldview that I had started to piece together from various books and articles and websites that I had been reading—a comprehensive critique of modern society from the dissident right, a critical theory of the right—was fully formed in Bowden and expressed in a way that I had never heard before. His knowledge of history and art and philosophy and politics was astounding, and he could weave all of these together into a vivid picture of nature and life, which he would evoke in your mind with his his spellbinding oratory.
I listened to everything by Bowden that I could find. Even a bad Jonathan Bowden speech was better, had more fire, and more information, than most other speeches by anyone else. Compared to him, all the Victor Davis Hanson and Bruce Thornton lectures I’d been listening to from ISI were utterly tame—were, to use a word that didn’t exist then, cucked. Bowden knew that his public speaking was a performance, and he spoke of his methods and his views on the subject several times, such as at the end of his talk on “The Real Meaning of Punch and Judy.” His speeches were always extemporaneous, and almost always brilliant.
But then he died. And since that time, there has been no one to fill the void that he left, no speaker with that kind of charisma and breadth of knowledge, who is able to combine both and wield them as power in a verbal performance.
No one until now, that is. Though I am sure many will disagree with me because their styles are so very different, I think BAP is the most important and original speaker on the right since Jonathan Bowden. (I reviewed his podcast here.)That he is an anon with a fake(?) accent only shows the utter strangeness of our times. But the worldview, and the knowledge, and the power of the message, is entirely comparable. Like Bowden, BAP preaches a message of strength, realism, masculinity, artistic creativity, and “that which is core, primal, Indo-European.” And like Jonathan Bowden, BAP is a Nietzschean and a pagan.
This paganism has so far proven to be a stumbling block for many on the Christian right, and that is what I would like to address in this essay. I will argue that BAP and BAPism, rather than being any kind of threat, is a very necessary tonic to contemporary mainstream Christianity, which has lost its way and is in need of serious correction.
Men Without Chests and Churches Without Men
More than a half-century ago, C.S. Lewis coined the phrase “men without chests” to describe the fruit of a society based on relativism. Lewis lamented that secular, skeptical society produced cold-hearted, cynical men without passion or virtue. In the classical understanding of the Greeks, which then found its way into Christianity, man has a tripartite psychology composed of base appetites, a higher desire for honor, and the intellect. In the body these are represented by the belly, the chest, and the head, respectively. Each is meant to be guided by the ones above it, with the lower appetites being reined in by the desire for honor, and the intellect guiding discernment of what is honorable. The man without a chest lacks this desire for honor and nobility and so is left only with his intellect and his lower appetites.
When Lewis wrote this in the 1940s, the problem essentially manifested as hypocrisy in society. Men’s intellects still knew good and evil, and they felt obliged to pay respect to this distinction in public, but in private many indulged various lower appetites because they had no desire to control them and become better men. Today, we look back on that time with nostalgia, because at least the proper ordering of the head and the belly was still in place. Men indulged their private vices, but at least they still called them vices. Today, the main function of the intellect is to serve the lower appetites and to justify them as virtuous. (This is one meaning of the satanic inverted pentagram: the star represents man, and it is turned upside down so that what is lowest in man—his belly and his genitals—becomes highest.) If you doubt this, take a course at your local university and learn the New Virtues of queerness and polyamory and obesity.
Lewis’ critique remains relevant, but there is one crucial way that it missed the mark, even in his own time: Is the Church able to correct this problem of men without chests? I don’t mean the Church in the idealistic sense of the mystical body of Christ which can never defect and against which the gates of hell shall not prevail; I mean the flesh and blood, brick and mortar churches of men and women in this fallen world.
Or rather, the brick and mortar churches of mostly women. Go into almost any church in the West, whether Catholic or Protestant, and you will find more women than men—“chicks and some chickified dudes with limp wrists,” as Calvinist pastor Mark Driscoll memorably put it. Because for quite a long time now, institutional Christianity in the West has suffered from a serious lack of men. I’m not just referring to post-1960s, post Vatican II liberal churchianity, but going back hundreds of years. This issue was painstakingly examined by Leon Podles in his book The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity, which is a must-read for understanding the problem of religion and masculinity in the West. (The book is out of print but is available for free on Podles’ website.)
The problem is common to both Catholicism and Protestantism—only the Eastern Orthodox have more men than women. Podles identifies one important cause as the bridal mysticism that developed in the West in the 13th century, in which the Church became known as “the Bride of Christ” and it became common to see the soul as feminine in relation to God. The problem with this is obvious: no masculine man wants to be a “bride” or part of a bride, and no man wants his soul to be feminine in relation to a masculine God. Catholic spirituality in particular became prone to highly feminine, not-so-subtly sexual mysticisms in which female saints waxed lyrical about their “lover” Jesus and how he “penetrated” their, uh, souls. (I recall Jay Dyer memorably said about this sort of thing: “Jesus is not your boyfriend.”) Protestantism was partly a male revolt against this overabundance of womanliness in the Catholic Church, though it too has long since been feminized and weakened.
Over the centuries, more and more men left the Church, and it became more and more a place for women. At best, a man’s place in the Church was as a protector of it, which still left him fundamentally outside of it. In many European societies of the past few hundred years, it was commonplace for women and children to go to Church while men stayed away. The Church was seen as a good institution for women, something to teach them morals which would make them better wives and mothers; meanwhile, a man could do his work and have his fun in “the real world.” (I am reminded of Don Corleone in The Godfather: “Women and children can be careless, not not men.”) A man who did go to church was probably viewed with suspicion by the rest, seen either as effeminate or perhaps as someone who enjoyed the company of other mens’ wives. (Like the priest in The Sopranos—yes, I view everything through the lens of fictional Italian gangsters.)
Fast forward to the present, in which a disturbingly large number of churches are feminized and converged. The increasingly liberal and globalist Catholic Church is run by sodomites and money launderers, while the thousand and one Protestant sects compete with each other over which can be the most woke and have the worst music. Young men who are awakening to the crisis of the West and who are looking for guidance and a course of action will at some point look at the Church, because Christianity is undeniably one of the pillars of Western civilization. But what they will find in many churches will likely make them turn away in disgust.
I recall E. Michael Jones speaking to someone about the current pozzed state of the world. His advice to the young man on how to fight against it was to “find the nearest Catholic Church.” As much as I like and respect Dr. Jones as an elder and a true culture warrior, and as much as I admire both his erudition and his courage, I nonetheless sometimes get a sense that his lifelong Catholicism gives him certain blind spots. There is much to be commended in his voluminous work, and the Catholic tradition undoubtedly provides him with a strong and comprehensive theoretical framework in which to operate. But in order to hold onto that framework, he has to willfully ignore things that are problematic, such as the Orthodox critique of Roman Catholicism, the Vatican Bank, the reality of racial differences, and the holes in the Catholic interpretation of history, which usually whitewashes the Catholic Church and absolves it of its sins. (For example, contrast Jones’ account of Catholicism’s position on usury with Michael Hoffman’s work on the same topic.)
The Catholic Church is, despite all its problems, still the repository of much of the Western tradition, and there is a great deal of good there which can nourish the soul. It is probably a good place for some people, especially those who have an ethnic connection to it. (The lack of such a connection is one reason that the Orthodox Church is problematic for many Westerners). But for the young men who see the degeneracy of the modern world and want to fight against it with everything they have, who feel called to be warriors, even if only with the pen—what does the contemporary Catholic Church, or any other other Christian institution for that matter, have to offer them? Does it have a place for such men? Or would it only seek to tame them, if not shun them outright? The old knightly orders have all become mere business charities. The Church is more likely to apologize for past Crusades than to even think of raising an army for another. And much of the Church hierarchy is far more comfortable with the likes of “Father” James Martin than with E. Michael Jones. Just telling these young men full of energy and righteous anger that they should shut up and pray the rosary more often isn’t going to cut it—they will leave and go elsewhere.
Indeed, this is exactly what is happening among Latino immigrants in the United States, who are leaving the Catholic Church and converting to Islam. (So much for the Great Brown Hope of the Integralist trads.) This makes sense not only from a masculinist perspective, since Islam these days often presents as a more manly and aggressive faith than Christianity, but also from a racialist perspective, since Islam is increasingly becoming the symbol of the brown, global South against the white world of the north, as Jonathan Bowden noted in a speech on Islam in 2006, and as Lothrop Stoddard anticipated a hundred years ago.
Guenonian autistes and wiggers notwithstanding, whites are not likely to convert en masse to Islam, because it is too alien to Indo-European sensibilities. The spiritual marketplace offers people endless options to believe whatever they want, from world religions of all races and colors to new age nonsense, in whatever piecemeal combination one wishes to assemble it. For many, those with shallow souls easily filled, this will be enough. The bugman can have his ¡Science! on weekdays and his LGBT-friendly Methodism on Sundays, while his gf can have her yoga and her Law of Attraction books. But a few will need something else, something very different.
As Leon Podles’ work makes clear, we are not the first generation to realize this predicament. Protestantism was, among other things, an attempt to reconstruct the faith, to follow the intuition that something had gone missing from the Church. (It was also a manifestation of northern resistance to the imposition of southern spirituality, but that is a topic for another essay.) In more recent times, the movement within Protestantism that became known as Muscular Christianity spoke to the crisis of masculinity in the churches, and attempted to provide a better structure for Christian men to live out the faith with honor and virtue.
What many Christians or would-be Christians today want, at least among the trad set and those coming from the dissident right, is a spiritual and ethical framework that is missing from contemporary life. They are looking for a comprehensive critique of the current state of the world, one which comes from a superior point of view, and they are looking for a way, a path. But insofar as this is also missing from much of contemporary Christianity as well, we find ourselves in the position elucidated by Ernst Jünger in Eumeswil:
“I am an anarch—not because I despise authority, but because I need it. Likewise, I am not a nonbeliever, but a man who demands something worth believing in.”
We are Nietzscheans by historical circumstance, and not by choice.
Two Kinds of Nihilism; or, Why Modern Christianity Needs Nietzsche
When the bowties from Conservatism Inc. huff and puff that BAP and the frogtwitter kids are “nihilists,” they are attacking a straw man and are not addressing the true nihilism of our time. The Orthodox Christian writer Clark Carlton, in an excellent and far-ranging talk that I encourage everyone to listen to, remarks that nihilism does not come as nihilism, it comes as fake idealism. It is contemporary liberalism—by which I mean really the entire modern ethos, encompassing much of “conservatism” as well—that is the true face of nihilism in our time, not Nietzscheanism or BAPism, and which is far more insidious and soul-destroying than anything from the pagan world.
Fifty years ago, James Burnham recognized that liberalism was an ideology of suicide, which is to say that it is anti-life, the opposite of vitalism. In his time that was a prescient observation, but in our own age it is grossly apparent. It isn’t BAPism or Nietzscheanism which reduces all of life to materiality and commerce. It isn’t BAPism that encourages rampant drug use, both legal and illegal, in order to numb the pernicious effects of cultural rot in both the body and mind. It isn’t BAPism which attacks the family from all sides and promotes the killing of unborn children.
Carlton also notes in his speech that 1st century pagans were far closer to the traditional Christian worldview than we are today. They believed in a cosmos with a ruling principle, inhabited by beings and forces both seen and unseen. They believed in a moral order. Then, when much of this pagan worldview became decadent and degenerate during the late imperial phase of the Roman Empire, Christianity emerged in part as a corrective response. Today, we are in the late imperial phase of the American Empire. Institutional Christianity is no longer new and vital but old, and, in many cases, infected with the nihilism of the modern ethos, giving rise to the abomination that we call churchianity.
The difference between Nietzschean vitalism and bugman churchianity is that the bugman is fundamentally a materialist believer in ¡Science! who merely reserves a little slice of his imagination for a small, lukewarm belief in a vague “higher power.” His little belief (“oh ye of little faith”) comforts him sometimes, like the thought of a craft beer after a hard day at the office, but otherwise has almost no influence on his lived existence at all. Faced with a choice between doctrine and polite society, he will choose the latter every time, which is not a problem for him because his pozzed church will change the doctrine for him so that everything’s copacetic and comfortable. He is utterly closed off to any real transcendence because for him “transcendence” and “spirituality” are merely abstract categories in his mind which are thoroughly compartmentalized and walled off from life.
The Nietzschean vitalist, in stark contrast, wants to storm the gates of heaven. The sort of active, heroic nihilist that Nietzsche and Jünger and BAP refer to is ardently involved in a quest for meaning and purpose, and in that sense is in revolt against nihilism. Jonathan Bowden summed up Nietzsche’s metaphysical position in this way:
“Nietzsche’s contribution to modernity and to modern intellectual thinking is there may be things which may be [ontologically] prior, but we don’t know what they are, and we have to test them through struggle, through life, through will and purposiveness, and various levels of what he called Will to Power which he believed was the basis of all lived existence.” (Heidegger speech)
“Nietzsche believes that we test ourselves here now in relation to what’s going on before us. And the more primordial we are, the more we live in accordance with what we might become, the more we link with those concepts which are eternal and that exist outside us.
“So what appears with half an eye closed to be an atheistic, a secular, and a modern system, if you switch around and look at it from another perspective, is actually a form for traditional ideas of the most radical, the most far-reaching, the most reactionary, and most archaic and primordial sort to come back. To come back from the past.” (Credo speech)
This type of man is open to the transcendent, but demands to experience it for himself rather than take it second-hand. Julius Evola had much to say to this type of man in Ride The Tiger. The Nietzschean vitalist has little in common with most contemporary Christians, but considerably more in common with ancient pagans. And since ancient pagans were closer to Christianity than we are—were, in fact, the people chosen by God to be the vehicle for the Faith—Christians should consider seriously if they and their churches have not missed the mark in some crucial respect, bringing them to their present predicament.
Christ came at a very particular time in history. He came in the “fullness of time.” As Richard Greenhorn pointed out, only Classical man was prepared to receive Christ. The New Testament, especially the Book of Acts, is quite clear that when the first Apostles took to spreading the Gospel, they found most of the Jews to have hard hearts and closed minds, and so St. Paul explicitly states that “the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.” (Acts 28:28)
Nietzsche counsels us to “Live dangerously.” To be a Christian in the late Roman Empire was to live dangerously—to risk imprisonment and death. But, as Soren Kierkegaard saw so clearly, to be a Christian in European Christendom was no longer so—it was instead to be a herd animal, a bugman.
Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) Does the bugman want more life? He can barely handle the little life that he has now—he prefers to minimize and narcotize his life and let it slowly fade away as he is entertained and poisoned by the spectacle. It is the vitalist who has ears to hear the call, who is seduced by the promise of Moar Life!
Two Kinds of Christianity
With what can we contrast bugman churchianity? On the one hand there is paganism and Nietzschean vitalism of course. But there is also another kind of Christianity, hard to find nowadays but seen everywhere throughout the history of European civilization. It is the Christianity of Dante. It is in Dante, above all in the Commedia, that Christianity finds its fullest expression as the consummation and capstone of the entire history of Western civilization, where Greco-Roman history and myth and philosophy take their place as a kind of Gentile Old Testament—fulfilled and completed by Christ, not negated by Him—and where European history, art, and politics assume a grand theological importance within a Christian framework, and not apart from it.
Dante’s vision in the Commedia can be a model for the faith in the West. It is intellectually refined, spiritually subtle and deep, and it is rooted equally in the Bible and the Greco-Roman heritage. It is uniquely European, and pan-European, embracing both the north and south. It is a Christianity that has an honored place for warriors of the faith, and for vitality and strength, for as G.K. Chesterton noted, “Historic Christianity has always believed in the valor of St. Michael riding in front of the Church Militant; and in an ultimate and absolute pleasure, not indirect or utilitarian, the intoxication of the spirit, the wine of the Blood of God.”
Chesterton and his contemporary Hilaire Belloc were probably the last great spokesmen for this kind of heroic Christianity, which was already well past its prime in their day. In our time, Christians have the unfortunate task of trying to pick up the pieces, of recovering what has been lost. For this, we can look to Chesterton and Belloc, and to Dante, and to the Church Fathers, and to the entirety of the Classical tradition which, as BAP noted, has always been a wellspring of inspiration for Western man. And we can look to Nietzsche and BAP as well, for they bring something of great importance, something which is missing.
A Christian Critique of Nietzscheanism
This is not to say that there are no substantial disagreements between Dantean Christianity and BAPism. For one, Danteans would see Greco-Roman thought as progressing from Homer onto the Pre-Socratics, and then onto Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, who foreshadow the coming of Christ by asking questions that only He is the answer to. Nietzsche, though, and presumably BAP as well, would say that Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were not progress but decline, a descent from a more robust spirituality and physicality to a more abstract intellectuality and skepticism. This is similar to Heidegger’s position that only the Pre-Socratics came close to correctly intuiting the true nature of Being, and that all of Western intellectual history since them has been a kind of error. (“An incredibly arrogant statement, really,” Jonathan Bowden noted.)
There are many ways that a man or woman might come to the Christian faith, but one of them is a realization that objective morality is true. Among the many aspects of Nietzsche’s philosophy that have had deleterious consequences is his notion of “beyond good and evil.” I submit frankly that there is no “beyond good and evil.” Good and evil are not mere social constructs, but are realities woven into the very fabric of existence. The attempt to go “beyond” good and evil always ends up as merely the rejection of good and the embrace of evil. Dostoyevsky saw this very clearly, and Nietzsche, as a student of Dostoyevsky, should have known better.
In BAP’s review of Ernst Jünger’s Storm of Steel (Caribbean Rhythms episode 13) he speaks of Jünger’s absence of moral perspective as a virtue, as a kind of clarity, but I think this is an error. Moral sense is just that—a sense, like vision or hearing or smell. If an author was blind or lacked a sense of smell, would his descriptions of food be clearer because they lacked visual or olfactory data? They might be interesting for the heightening of the other senses, giving perhaps more lush descriptions of taste and texture, but we would not regard the absence of sight or smell as an inherent virtue. And it is the same with moral sense. Moral sense can err, can be distorted, just like the other senses—a man might mistake a rope for a snake, a car backfire for a gunshot, etc.—and indeed, the distortion and perversion of moral sensibility is one of the cardinal features of modern liberalism. But this does not mean that there is no underlying reality—in this case, an underlying reality of good and evil. To the contrary, a truly honest and therefore heroic perspective is not to see the evil and cruelty and chaos of the world and therefore throw away one’s moral sense as useless—this is always a temptation that all truth-seekers must confront on their journey—but rather to understand this profound conflict, between the world as it is and the human soul as it is, the fundamental incompatibility between a longing in the deepest core of the human heart and the way of the world. Nietzsche and those who advocate doing away with one’s moral sense are quite simply wrong, and there is no better illustration of this than Nietzsche himself, overcome with compassion for a horse being unjustly beaten by a man, and collapsing with his arms around the poor beast. For as Chesterton observed, the man who will not soften his heart eventually goes soft in his brain, and that is exactly what happens with the adolescent hardness of persona that Nietzsche sometimes affects and advocates in his writings.
In a recent Twitter post, BAP called out a particularly vile killing of wolves by government hunters as “satanic.” I agree. But without a Christian moral framework, what does that statement mean? I don’t just mean having a conception of Satan as an entity or force, but rather a moral understanding of evil rooted in a sense of objective morality. I’m not suggesting that BAP lacks this sense, and that Christians have it—to the contrary, his moral sense seems more finely attuned than that of many Christians who see no problems with animal slaughter, mass chemical pollution, or state-sponsored usury, because they’ve been led to believe that Jesus came to teach muh free market and unconditional support for Israel.
In his essay, BAP says: “We like to roleplay about Deus Vult. But look at how the priest Bartolome de las Casas throws abuse on the Spanish knighthood for their conquest of the New World.” But this kind of tension between priests and warriors is necessary and is a part of the dynamic of Indo-European civilization. It is the tension—and also the complementarity—between the head and the chest, going back to the analogy from Plato’s psychology. There is perhaps no better example of it than the Spartans, who were said to divide their time equally between military training and religious rituals.
Nietzsche’s philosophy is an attempt to rediscover the vitalism that had gone missing in Western culture, and gone missing from Christianity. But this does not mean that “Nietzscheanism”—something he never would have approved of or wanted—is a replacement for the Western tradition or even a sufficient thing in itself. Heroism—heroic masculinity—is a necessary but not a sufficient cause. In other words, there must be heroic masculinity, but heroic masculinity by itself is not enough. The heroic must serve the Good. When strength refuses to serve the Good, when it says non serviam, that is the inception of the satanic. At its worst, Nietzsche’s philosophy is muddled adolescent braggadocio and confusion, for as he himself realized, all philosophy is autobiographical, and Nietzsche’s life was not that of a conqueror but of a troubled hermit.
There is perhaps no better illustration of where “Nietzscheanism” leads than Jack London’s autobiographical novel Martin Eden. London is exactly the sort of man that many of us would aspire to be like, truly a man of adventure and vitality forged by sun and steel. In developing his worldview, he came to be a Nietzschean and then a kind of Social Darwinist influenced by Herbert Spencer. But his novel shows very clearly where he saw this trajectory leading. (If you haven’t read it, I won’t spoil it for you, go and read it now, at once!—and then see the recent film version by Pietro Marcello.)
So I hope that Nietzscheans and pagans will look anew at the Christian and Classical tradition which stretches back nearly three thousand years. It is not what many of you have been led to believe it is. And I hope also that Christians will look at BAP and Nietzsche not as adversaries but as invigorators. Deus Vult!