The Old Voice of Glad and Angry Faith

“to say nothing of all the stuff I do behind the scenes I can never tell you about.” 
Not sure why you're defending the indefensible. 
—JustJinxed, commenting on Three Kraters Symposium, Episode 58: Politicon Caves to Twitter Outrage and Pulls Milo from Lineup 
I get this kind of comment a lot from my academic colleagues, even those who are otherwise sympathetic to me. They don’t know how much I am in contact with Milo or the kinds of things he and I have been talking about, and they tend to assume that Milo is as he has been portrayed in the mainstream media or by Buzzfeed: an agent provocateur, someone who is outrageous purely for material gain, a grifter, not a serious interlocutor, doing what he does for the sake of publicity and nothing else. How is it possible for me to defend such a person? Surely doing so, as one friend recently put it, is at odds with everything I am as an intellectual.

Well. My first response must be of course, “Have you read much of my blog?” But I know that that is asking a lot of colleagues who are busy doing their own research and who tell me, bluntly, “I don’t usually read blogs.” But even those who write their own blogs have a hard time being sympathetic, particularly with my insistence that the crisis we are in as academics has anything to do with religion. One, commenting on my Sightings article about what Milo’s campus tour demonstrated about our culture on campus, noted that he found my argument “distressing on several grounds, most notably Fulton Brown’s criticism that secularism is an inadequate substitute for religious ideals.” At least he got my argument right! And, to be fair, he does defend my—and Milo’s—right to speak when invited to do so on campus, even if he disagrees with what we have to say. But—as a professor of evolutionary biology, not to mention the author of a book entitled Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatiblehe is already in the other camp, as it were. The camp that finds whatever I say about faith and the importance of Christianity for our culture ridiculous.

And you ask how I can defend Milo? How can I not? You may say, as does Professor Coyne, that “a Catholic [like Milo] who is gay is somewhat of a hypocrite,” but it is saying something if that is the worst accusation you can bring. Which it is—everything else you have heard about Milo are lies. Milo has threatened no one, doxxed no one, called down internet trolls on no one. Neither is he a white supremacist or a Nazi. Nor, for the gazillionth time, does he “support pedophilia”—quite the reverse. What Milo is, as everyone knows who watches even one of his talks all the way through, is a Christian dedicated to defending the soul of Western civilization. Don’t believe me? It says so right on his website.
Dangerous is owned and operated by Milo, Inc., a 360-degree media company conceived of and founded by Milo. Milo, Inc., is dedicated to leading the battle for the soul of Western civilization by harnessing Milo’s unique blend of laughter and war.

Why laughter and war? Milo explained at the conclusion to his acceptance speech for the Annie Taylor Award for Courage in Journalism in 2016:
So let us fight, but let our motto be Risus et bellum, Laughter and war. Because nothing stings our foes, foreign and domestic, more than our hearty laughter at their lies and nonsense. And also because nothing will better remind us what we’re fighting for than the laughter of Chesterton, of Chaucer and of Shakespeare, and of course the God who inspired them all.
Here he was inspired by a passage from G. K. Chesterton’s Heretics (1905):
The usual verdict of educated people on the Salvation Army is expressed in some such words as these: “I have no doubt they do a great deal of good, but they do it in a vulgar and profane style; their aims are excellent, but their methods are wrong.” To me, unfortunately, the precise reverse of this appears to be the truth. 
I do not know whether the aims of the Salvation Army are excellent, but I am quite sure their methods are admirable. Their methods are the methods of all intense and hearty religions; they are popular like all religion, military like all religion, public and sensational like all religion. 
They are not reverent any more than Roman Catholics are reverent, for reverence in the sad and delicate meaning of the term reverence is a thing only possible to infidels. That beautiful twilight you will find in Euripides, in Renan, in Matthew Arnold; but in men who believe you will not find it—you will find only laughter and war. 
A man cannot pay that kind of reverence to truth solid as marble; they can only be reverent towards a beautiful lie. And the Salvation Army, though their voice has broken out in a mean environment and an ugly shape, are really the old voice of glad and angry faith, hot as the riots of Dionysus, wild as the gargoyles of Catholicism, not to be mistaken for a philosophy. 
Professor Huxley, in one of his clever phrases, called the Salvation Army “corybantic Christianity.” Huxley was the last and noblest of those Stoics who have never understood the Cross. If he had understood Christianity he would have known that there never has been, and never can be, any Christianity that is not corybantic.
There was a piece in Quillette recently that has been niggling at the back of my mind. “Progress and Polytheism,” it is entitled. “Could an Ethical West Exist Without Christianity?” The answer, according to its author, is of course, yes, because Stoicism—but this is to make the same mistake Huxley did. Stoics—and I would venture that the majority of my colleagues in academia, if they follow any philosophy at all, are at heart Stoics—are embarrassed by displays such as those Milo makes, not to mention by claims that Christianity is somehow necessary to an enlightened understanding of the world. Like Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker—whom Quillette author Ben Bassett, “a Ph.D. researcher at Monash University in archeology and ancient history,” cites with approval—they want nothing to do with the claim that Christianity brought with it any lasting good. As Bassett summarizes Pinker’s position, “the Christian period [before the Enlightenment] was one of moral and political stagnation, thanks in part to its reliance on superstitious ‘revelation.’”

Why are academics so allergic to Christianity, when, as I pointed out in my Sightings article, the very universities at which they teach trace their institutional foundations back to the Middle Ages when theology was queen?* Chesterton knew.
There is only one thing in the modern world that has been face to face with Paganism; there is only one thing in the modern world which in that sense knows anything about Paganism: and that is Christianity. That fact is really the weak point in the whole of that hedonistic neo-Paganism of which I have spoken. 
All that genuinely remains of the ancient hymns or the ancient dances of Europe, all that has honestly come to us from the festivals of Phoebus or Pan, is to be found in the festivals of the Christian Church. If any one wants to hold the end of a chain which really goes back to the heathen mysteries, he had better take hold of a festoon of flowers at Easter or a string of sausages at Christmas. 
Everything else in the modern world is of Christian origin, even everything that seems most anti-Christian. The French Revolution is of Christian origin. The newspaper is of Christian origin. The anarchists are of Christian origin. Physical science is of Christian origin. The attack on Christianity is of Christian origin. There is one thing, and one thing only, in existence at the present day which can in any sense accurately be said to be of pagan origin, and that is Christianity. 
The real difference between Paganism and Christianity is perfectly summed up in the difference between the pagan, or natural, virtues, and those three virtues of Christianity which the Church of Rome calls virtues of grace. The pagan, or rational, virtues are such things as justice and temperance, and Christianity has adopted them. The three mystical virtues which Christianity has not adopted, but invented, are faith, hope, and charity. 
Now much easy and foolish Christian rhetoric could easily be poured out upon those three words, but I desire to confine myself to the two facts which are evident about them. The first evident fact (in marked contrast to the delusion of the dancing pagan)—the first evident fact, I say, is that the pagan virtues, such as justice and temperance, are the sad virtues, and that the mystical virtues of faith, hope, and charity are the gay and exuberant virtues. And the second evident fact, which is even more evident, is the fact that the pagan virtues are the reasonable virtues, and that the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity are in their essence as unreasonable as they can be.
My academic colleagues want me—and Milo—to be soberly virtuous. They want him and me to behave with justice and temperance, not exuberant hope. They cannot understand why I spend my time championing someone who dresses up in costume in order to make a serious point—or uses jokes to make intellectually challenging arguments. They see only his antics, never his joy. They hear only his laughter, never his love. They worry about Milo’s campy posturing and the effect that it will have on how my own work is received.

They think they are being reasonable. I think they are being sticks in the mud.

Perhaps it is impossible for me to help my academic colleagues see what Milo and I are doing with our costumes and jokes. Certainly, they have proved resistant to the arguments I have made about why I have adopted the methodology that I have in my teaching and in my research. But I do not think that this is a reason to stop trying, any more than I think Christianity is dependent on “superstitious ‘revelation’” or religion only about being well-behaved.

Hot as the riots of Dionysius, wild as the gargoyles of Catholicism. Indefensible? Yes, if you are a pagan. Not at all if you are willing to give yourself over to faith, hope, and love.


*They have argued with me about this, too—clearly none of them has ever heard of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, never mind Paris. Harvard was founded to be the Cambridge of New England. Just saying.

For the full story of my friendship with Milo, go here.

Popular posts from this blog

Wheel of Sevens

Lies, Damn Lies, and the Washington Square News’ Use of Evidence

Talking Points: Three Cheers for White Men

An open letter to the faculty advisory board of the NYU student newspaper on the lies told about Milo Yiannopoulos in its reporting

Why Jordan Peterson Lost That Bout to Cathy Newman