Properties of Blood Chapter I, Part A

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Exiled Children of Eve

I shall not cease from mental fight

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand

Till we have built Jerusalem

In England's green and pleasant land..

William Blake was quite mad, even madder than most Swedenborgians, but many Christians (and post-Christians) less insane than Blake have dreamed of building a new Jerusalem, where the unpromising specimens of humanity they had known all their lives would live in perfect peace and uninterrupted joy.  This heavenly kingdom was not located in another dimension or in an afterlife when the saints would receive new bodies, but in the here-and-now, where ordinary men and women, if they could but comprehend and follow the latest revelation, would achieve a justice that had only been hinted at in the societies of the past.

When men have tried to create Golden Age perfection out of bricks and mortar and human blood and clay, as in Savonarola’s Florence, Calvin's Geneva, Robespierre’s France, Hitler’s Germany, or Lenin’s Soviet Union, the reality is more nightmare than paradise.  You cannot make an omelet without breaking a few—or, rather, more than a few million—eggs, and you cannot realize the imagined rights of man without wiping out or at least truncating some of the most basic foundations of human social life, namely, marriage and the family, the institutions of kinship and community, the human habits of barter and exchange on which all economies depend.  This is a hard lesson, and it has been learned the hard way by ideological states such as the former Soviet Union.  It is also the lesson that is being taught to the residents of Western “democratic” countries whose governments are constantly increasing their size and scope at the expense of more fundamental human institutions.

The state per se is not the fundamental problem, and the growth of government cannot be successfully restricted by arguments about efficiency, fairness, or the natural rights of the people.  The metastasizing states of the developed world are not simply misguided exercises in benevolence, nor do they result solely from the desire for money and power—though money and power certainly reward the efforts of state-builders.

The modern state is first and foremost an ideological project aimed at transforming the human race from what it has been from the beginning into some new etherial creature whose basic instincts have been repressed or channelled into socially constructive directions.  Though many of the leaders of this revolutionary movement to liberate the human race have been Christian, the roots of this development lie in the anti-Christianity that has been the hallmark of progress and modernity since the Renaissance.  The reality is not easy to understand, since, in a back-handed tribute to Christianity, such trans-human aspirations are often termed "Messianic," as if they were secularized fulfillments of the Christian vision.

Is Christianity Subversive?

This raises a question of fundamental importance both for believers and for secular liberals who have adopted, more or less, Christian social values: Does Christianity demand or even encourage a revolutionary overthrow of the traditional moral order and social institutions that have been taken for granted in most societies?  In other words, are Christians required to pursue, both individually and collectively, utopian projects designed to eliminate distinctions between mine and thine, kinfolk and strangers, citizens and aliens?

Although Christianity has been prolific in generating utopian dreams, the utopian temptation is not specifically Christian.  Plato and Plotinus had their social fantasies, as did Stoic and Epicurean philosophers and the Essene sect of Judaism, but pagans and Jews may be more easily excused for succumbing to the devices and desires of their own hearts than Christians, who are supposed to follow the teachings of their Master, who firmly declared in one of his final public utterances, "My kingdom is not of this world."  That should have been a warning, at least, to those who would conflate the Christian faith with socialism or democratic capitalism or even the rule of the saints.

Jesus issued his rejection of a kingdom on earth under interrogation from the Roman administrator who would consent to his execution.  When Pilate asked the suspect if he were king of the Jews, he denied the charge. Pontius Pilate's initial misunderstanding of Jesus' royal mission was, no doubt, instilled in him by critics who were eager to paint the Christ in the colors of a secular Messiah who would expel the Romans from Judaea and reinstitute a truly Jewish monarchy.  (The Herods were, after all, a mixed lot descended from Idumean and Nabataean stock, and some of them—Herod the Great in particular—appear to have scoffed at what they regarded as Jewish "superstitions.")  But some of Jesus' own followers took the same line.  After the feeding of the multitude narrated in John (6:15 ), some men were so impressed with the prophet's ability to provide necessities that they planned, as Jesus realized, to "come and take him by force, to make him king."

Despite the clear warnings of the Scriptures, some ardent believers have never ceased in their efforts to build a new Jerusalem.  If we could believe an ancient story, the emperor Tiberius knew better.  The emperor, so the story (given by Tertullian) goes, perhaps impressed by the example of a Jewish prophet who did not contest imperial authority,  asked the senate to include the Christ in the Roman pantheon.  Few historians (apart from Marta Sordi) put much stock in the tale, though it is not inconsistent with Tiberius' ironic sense of humor and just improbable enough to be true.[1]

The first Christian to convert Christ's moral and spiritual message into a program for political revolution may have been Judas, who complained when Mary, the sister of Lazarus, anointed Jesus with oil, a task she and other Christian women would soon have to perform on His body.  When Judas asked why the oil was not sold and the price given to the poor, Jesus' reply was an incisive rejection of the Social Gospel: "The poor you have with you always, but me you do not have always."  The Christian, both as individual and as member of a corporate body (such as a family or church), will practice charity out of his love of God and of his fellows made in God's image, but he will not set up a system to redistribute other people's wealth.   What then, does Christianity preach indifference to the social order or supine compliance with the powers that be and the way things are?  Hardly.

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1. Tertullian, Apologeticum 3,  Marta Sordi,  The Christians and the Roman Empire, Norman: University Oklahoma Press, 1986, pp. 17-18.  Tertullian, who is the source of the anecdote, is not noted for prevarication, and his source is the trial of a Roman senator executed as a Christian in the reign of Commodus.

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

4 Responses

  1. Robert says:

    Yes, this is very good. An old friend and professor of mine once said that your generation ( and his) was not really brought up protestant but rather emancipated because by that time 1920’s both Catholics and Protestants were fideist ( what you call christianism) they compartmentalized “religion” as unthinking faith, as emotional something that had nothing to do with economics, science, literature and sport etc.. that their mores , even morals , all came from Mammon. I was just reading Engels on the Origin of Property and the family. His views would be rather conservative today within the democratic party and probably a moderate withthin the GOP. It is over!! Christians have lost — first their minds, then their faith and now their culture. One cannot give what one does not have and we Christians have become like the Cargo cults who worship old plows and tillers hanging in trees not knowing their meaning. I am reluctant to mention Christ and the history of his Church of saints and sinner in polite society. If you speak the truth, they are offended, if you repeat their lies and appeal to their pre judgements, you betray the truth. Quieteism is not all bad in such times and mercy is a niche in time.

  2. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Yes, I think Christians can make no more serious strategic mistake than to continue thinking that we live in a Christian country or have a Christian culture. The effect of this mistake is 1) to remain in subjection to anti-Christian institutions and 2) to be forever confounding Christianity with capitalism or Marxism or humanitarianism or conservatism. We can be free of all that twaddle, even if we decide to be Marxists or conservatives. In such a case we can at least distinguish our political allegiance from the faith.

  3. Suzanne Smart says:

    Greetings Mr. Fleming, I thought your first Chapter (A) was very good. Although, I would like to forward to you by private email some minor revisions that I made which you may find useful in you final copy. Best wishes, Suzanne

  4. Suzanne Smart says:

    I pointed out some minor grammatical changes and forwarded it to your site email address. Best wishes.