Comfortable Words, PS

On FB a virtual friend cleverly compared FDR's line with Docetist heretics.  I responded by agreeing but adding that  FDR hardly had a a neuron in his brain that was not employed full time in pandering to his vanity and lust for power, and he inevitably chose yes men and second-raters of the Rex Tugwell type--just as Kennedy did--to be his collaborators. It is sometimes said that he is the first President to rely almost exclusively on other people to put words in his mouth. Perhaps that confirms one of his classmates statements that he was always regarded as least likely to succeed. So, he wouldn't know Docetist from Nestorian and certainly would not care.

When another acute friend chimed in, he wondered if possibly the Monphysites were a better analogy but added that  he was forgetting all that he had learned of such things.  I offered consolation: That's not altogether a bad thing, since so much we know is second-hand boozhwa. But, let's pose the question in the abstract. What sort of antecedent heresies and fallacies would prepare us to accept the notion that objective reality is less significant or menacing than our feelings about it? It is the sort of thing CS Lewis talks about at the beginning of The Abolition of Man, where he brings up the Coleridge anecdote and the textbook response that a mountain is not in itself magnificent because that is only a word that expresses our feelings about the mountain.

The first commenter pointed out that she had been thinking along those lines: "I suggested Docetism as it is the view the the divine alone matters, the flesh is an illusion. If we only fear fear...we have no concern that anything can hurt the body. As it doesn’t exist except in the mind. In a sense it is a form of solipsism."

I injected this bit: It's a nice analogy and a useful way of thinking. They were almost as crazy as postmodern intellectuals today, who reject history and perceptible reality in favor of some wildly improbable "narratives" on race, sex, and gender, but as ridiculous as the docetists were, they would not seem to be so demonic in their hatred of human nature. But then,  progress drives most of us into stranger and stranger improbabilities.

Of course there is, as an excellent parallel, the docetist fable by which Judas was on the cross, while Jesus, in the form of the snake who in the garden liberated man from the evil creator god, stood by laughing. That goes on better than Washington and Jefferson as demonic racists.

 Re-reading Gibbon for the third time, I am struck by his combination of good sense and skeptical naivety. There were good reasons for the intransigance manifested by Athanasius and Augustine. They were opposing not just a false understanding of Christ and the Trinity but also of human nature.
This was not the whole of the discussion, but a fairly coherent thread.



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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

1 Response

  1. Jacob Johnson says:

    So is the new fad of the fist symbol representative of the black life of matter enclosing the beings of light in its grasp? Or is it just a neurodegenerative symptom?