Failure of the secular

Stan Goff
42 min readMar 25


Appendix to “The Battle of Woke Hill

And now I say to you, stand back from these men and leave them; for if this movement or this work is from men it will be destroyed; but if it is from God you will not be able to destroy them; you might even turn out to be men who are battling God.

— Acts 5:38–39

We have our Social Security and my very modest military pension. It ain’t a lot, but we eat and sleep indoors. So, I don’t write for money; and if I did, I’d probably starve. Since I don’t depend on accumulating and keeping followers — which can often mean avoiding fraught subjects — I write whatever I damn well please. Which is why I can today, without fear, make reference to original sin.

By that, I don’t mean the popular misconceptions, and I certainly don’t intend a detailed revisitation of the Augustine-Pelagius debate. It simply means — and I’m writing, as an unapologetic Christian (there’s a pun there), that humanity exists in a fallen state. We are born with the potential and propensity for manifold forms of disorderly desire, over which we can never — on our own — gain total mastery. That’s what it means when some of us pray (as I do thrice daily), “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

No equivocations today. I’m not going to disclaim by saying, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power . . . but that’s just my opinion.” That’s not my topic, exactly, but it’s the ground upon which I stand. We are, all of us, metaxic creatures, standing astraddle of the sacred and the profane — part animal, part divine.

I could say, between the material and the transcendent, but that’s my segue. The binary separation between material and transcendent corresponds to the binary of “religious” and “secular.” Some readers are familiar with what’s problematic about this binary opposition, but for those who are not, I’m going to take a bit of time to spell it out.

(You aren’t deficient if you’re unfamiliar — it’s an arcane point, this religious-secular myth. You and I part of the overwhelming and blameless majority into which it’s been relentlessly drilled. I write for the in-betweeners, those who are neither heedless of the “deep” subjects nor highly sophisticated and specialized academics, for the feral scholars and autodidacts and square-pegs and otherwise reckless types who transgress the established intellectual divisions of labor out of a concupiscent curiosity. I discover new stuff or feel like I might be onto something new, and I pass it along like a sourdough starter. It’s a conversation for anyone, but especially for geeks and outcasts with scars, callouses, tics, and limps.)

I’ll start with a pet peeve: the term, “begging the question.” I shouldn’t get wrapped around the axle about the transpositional plasticity of cosmopolitan language, and I generally don’t, but this one stirs the pedantic little scold in my head for some reason.

Since the death of logic and rhetoric in the university, saying that something is “begging the question” is generally a pretentious way of saying this or that “raises (or poses) a question.” How beg and raise, or beg and pose, got themselves merged is that transpositional plasticity thing. Probably more to do with the “question” part, eh?

In fact, the term question-begging originally meant, and within the discipline of logic still means, an informal fallacy, in which a conclusion is foregone because it’s already smuggled into an unexamined premise upon which the conclusion is presumably based.

It’s Donald Trump saying, “I got the most votes because I won the election.”

The secular-religious binary assumes its own conclusion — that this division exists prior to its naming. The premise-conclusion is already embodied in the hyphenated phrase. When an entire society has come to accept this circular logic, we end up with a kind of cultural question-begging in which any challenge to this notion of the secular-religious binary becomes unthinkable. Unthinkable not in the sense of too horrible to think about, but in the sense that it lies beyond our constricted conceptual horizon. Based on this unthinkability, the separation between religious and secular is naturalized; it appears as an irreducible fact of nature, like gravity or charge gradients. It’s just there, axiomatic and impregnable.

This is Charles Taylor’s “immanent frame,” from within which thought-leaders keep telling us that “religion” is no longer needed, now that we have “science.” Humanity is emerging from its childhood into adulthood.

The “secular” first article of faith.

From that article of faith, we then outwork whole systems of thought. Moreover, people have found ways to take sides in this artificial opposition, wherein the secular opposes the religious and the religious opposes the secular. After all, the binary was invented precisely to oppose the two. But if this binary opposition turns out to have been invalid, or at least not natural, then both sides of “the secular-religious divide” have been barking up the same wrong tree.

In fact, until just prior to the American Civil War, there was no such thing as “secular,” defined as the separation of questions pertaining to philosophy, ethics, and governance from the spirits, gods, God, or the sacred. In Augustine’s time, the saeculum meant “of the Age,” the implicit meaning being “that which perishes.”

The new naming of the “secular” came about as the linguistic reflection of a process we might call “secularization” which had been developing in the West since the late fifteenth century. In whatever case, the point is, this secular-religious binary was a conceptual invention. Prior to the late fifteenth century, in the West, but also pretty much everywhere, the idea that intellectual, ethical, or governmental practices would be divorcable from some shared cultural certainty about the divine or the sacred would have been considered preposterous, and rightly so.

It’s still preposterous, even in modern “secular” societies and states. Jacques Ellul showed how all societies, including “secular” societies, require myths. Not “myth” in the popular meaning of something untrue (Mythbusters), but myth as a foundational organizing narrative for a society. Here he describes the secular myth:

It seems to us that there are four great collective sociological assumptions in the modern world. By this we mean not only the Western world, but all the world that shares a modern technology and is structured into nations…. That man’s aim in life is happiness, that man is naturally good, that history develops in endless progress, and that everything is matter.

The other great psychological reflection of social reality is the myth. The myth expresses the deep inclinations of a society. Without it, the masses would not cling to a certain civilization, or its process of development and crisis. It is a vigorous impulse, strongly colored, irrational, and charged with all of man’s power to believe… In our society the two great fundamentals myths on which all other myths rest are Science and History. And based on them are the collective myths that are man’s principal orientations: the myth of Work, the myth of Happiness (which is not the same thing as presupposition of happiness), the myth of the Nation, the myth of Youth, the myth of the Hero.

Propaganda is forced to build on those presuppositions and to express these myths, for without them nobody would listen to it. And in so building it must always go in the same direction as society; it can only reinforce society. A propaganda that stresses virtue over happiness and presents man’s future as one dominated by austerity and contemplation would have no audience at all. A propaganda that questions progress or work would arouse disdain and reach nobody; it would immediately be branded as an ideology of the intellectuals, since most people feel that the serious things are material things because they are related to labor, and so on.

It is remarkable how the various presuppositions and aspects of myths complement each other, support each other, mutually defend each other: If the propagandist attacks the network at one point, all myths react to the attack. Propaganda must be based on current beliefs and symbols to reach man and win him over. (Ellul, Propaganda)

Jacques Ellul, 1912–1994

Ellul’s four postulates of the secular myth, (1) “that man’s [sic] aim in life is happiness, (2) that man is naturally good, (3) that history develops in endless progress, and (4) that everything is matter,” are the cornerstones of secularist ideology.

Ideology deforms ideas, and through ideology, our capacity to distinguish between what is self-evident and what only appears to be self-evident is shrunken and atrophied — deskilled.

I know I said that “secular” is an historically specific conceptual construct; but that doesn’t make it unreal, even though history is proving it to be mistaken. Mistakes are real things with real consequences.

Definition break:

Ideologies are sets of abstract mutually-reinforcing beliefs, based on sealed interpretive frameworks, in the service of power struggles.

Ideologies can be very wrong, very real, and very powerful all at once.

Most human beings, given a similar social context, and exposed relentlessly to the same ideological errors, will draw a limited variety of similar conclusions. Based on this limited variety of similar conclusions, they will self-organize into sub-ideological, and sometimes warring, camps. This was less true when more people had tight cultural relations in stable, shared spaces; but with our increased atomization, technological dependency, and hypermobility, this tendency to form sub-ideological camps, broken off from embodied practical relations, has gained a lot of momentum — like, runaway train momentum — especially through new communications technology.

This tribalizing momentum has taken on an erratic, dissolutionary aspect as history continues to prove the basic assumptions of secularism wrong.

The pursuit of “happiness” has become enslavement to experts and addictions.

Human beings continue to demonstrate not some primal goodness, but a persistent transhistorical fallen-ness.

“Progress” has aimed us at an abyss of nuclear-armed instability in the face of global financial crisis and a disorganizing terrestrial climate.

Materialist reductionism is outworking into nihilism.

Definition break:

Materialist reductionism: the “reduction” of wholes into parts, after which the parts are made prior to the wholes. You are a human being — a recognizable and self-contained form with consciousness, desires, rational capacity, will, and purpose. You can only be a human being as this whole. Materialism is a philosophical tradition that assumes that wholes are not meaningful, and that true understanding of your existence as a human being can only be based on the material facts of your existence. You are broken down (reduced) into systems, organs, tissues, cells, cellular substructures, molecules, atoms, wave-particle dualities, etc. This understanding might be helpful to a physician, but the physician can’t talk with these material sub-sets — only with a living human being. The strict materialist might talk with you, but he or she will still maintain — in the face of the evidence to the contrary embodied in the conversation — that, at the end of the day, all we are is a collection of atoms, and that this fact is more true (ontologically prior to) your living form, which most of us still believe is somehow sacred (which is why we prohibit murder), or possessed of a soul. Since the soul is immaterial, says the strict materialist reductionist, it isn’t real.

Nihilism: (1) The doctrine that nothing actually exists or that existence or values are meaningless.

(2) Relentless negativity or cynicism suggesting an absence of values or beliefs.

(3) Political belief or action that advocates or commits violence or terrorism without discernible constructive goals.

Break over.

We left off with: “‘Progress’ has aimed us at an abyss of nuclear-armed instability in the face of global financial crisis and a disorganizing terrestrial climate. Materialist reductionism is outworking into nihilism.”

Underneath all this is the begged question, the ground below which we can no longer collectively see (or think): ideological secularism.

(1) “Man’s aim in life is happiness; (2) man is naturally good; (3) history develops in endless progress; (4) everything is matter.”

The irony is that this ideological secularism is shared by most who claim to be “religious” when it comes to how they live their lives, including the shared assumption that any “real” solutions to our problems can only be resolved by politics. But politics has become a set of vigorous and increasingly warlike oppositions in the political sphere that remain impervious to resolution. Why? My provisional answer is, the “who-how/how-who crisis.”

The secular myth, like all sociological myths, grounds who “we” collectively think we are, leaving us to work out how we get by and get along. As this myth is progressively exposed as a failure, we’ve seen political discourse shift radically away from law and policy issues (how questions) to ever sharper conflicts about who “we” are.

What does is mean to be, e.g., a “real” American? More deeply, though, what does it mean to be human? If you can’t ground your answer to that one on natural forms — of which the human creature is one — you’re standing on quicksand. And when we can’t answer that question, living together becomes a great deal harder; we experience a social crisis that is metaphysical. Form, in this sense, is a metaphysical given, and the rejection of forms is metaphysical chaos.

So why do I say secularism failed? Why not capitalism failed? Or technology failed? Or this or that system failed? Because I’m becoming more and more convinced, through chastened experience and study, that the baseline problem we’re facing is what has receded from view, what has become unthinkable, and that’s what philosophical types call metaphysics. Here’s the Stanford link, if you want metaphysics spelled out. Being-as-such, first things, the eternal. Big abstractions that persist in the face of an evolution of historical contingencies. Relationship between form and essence, potentiality and actuality, natural hierarchies, that kind of thing. Universals.

Secularism, understood philosophically, claims that there is no inherent meaning in human life, or life generally, or being. This is a metaphysical claim. So, when we raise the question, “What does it mean to be human?,” we can no longer answer it. The problem (or crisis) which secularism now faces is that it cannot examine the errors in its own metaphysical ^^^ premises because it denies that metaphysics exist. There is no metaphysics because I have no metaphysics; and so I am against metaphysics, because it’s a myth. It’s like saying I don’t have a brain tumor because I don’t have a brain. We’ll circle back to this.

There’s an historical flyover we need here; but before we do, it needs saying that secular ideology does some question-begging with regard to history, too. Think of the term “Enlightenment” in the context of an arbitrary division of history into stages, like “pre-modern/modern.” Enlightenment . . . preceded by (cue the scary organ music) . . . Dark Ages. Light-dark . . . get it?

Most of what most people think they know about “pre-modernity” is superficial nonsense, based — whether we know it or not — on the secular-ideological preconception that human life before modernity was, in the words of seventeenth century secular ideologue Thomas Hobbes, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Any medieval historian can tell you that this is not an accurate generalization about the so-called Dark Ages. Hobbes got this false impression from the Renaissance ideologue, Petrarch, and it just happened to both form and fit his own ideology.

At any rate, we see here how even the periodization of history — breaking chronological history into periods, or “ages” — has an in-born ideological aspect. Certain unquestioned premises serve to lead us to particular conclusions. Unquestioned premises, which should be questioned but aren’t, then lead us to questionable conclusions. The most effective ideology is one where questions about the ideology’s premises no longer even occur to to the mass of people. We just accept these premises at face value. How many of us have heard someone say, “You can’t stop progress”?

Speaking of chronological history, we can trace most of today’s philosophical/political premises back to the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Condorcet, Hegel, Mill, Marx, Nietzsche . . . those guys. Twentieth (and now twenty-first) century thinkers were mostly still trying to work over, under, around, and through these earlier philosophers. The American Constitution, which we still regard as an infallible document and object of public worship, was written when the fastest any human being could travel was the speed of a horse or a sailing ship.

These various philosophies contended with one another in the political realm during the twentieth century, as they simultaneously contended with the ups and downs of the increasingly world-hegemonic, albeit volatile, capitalist political economy. Throughout the nineteenth century, empire building and inter-imperial conflict continued to stimulate the dialectical development of war and technology. At the beginning of the twentieth century, these dynamics led to World War I; and World War I paved the way to the Bolshevik Revolution.

Time to back up again and gather in some more information. Back around the time of the bourgeois revolutions in France and the US, the philosophical materialism of these revolutions’ intellectual fathers was understood to function politically alongside “religion,” with religion providing a kind of moral check on materialistic excesses. They had consigned “religion” to the private sphere in part because they thought religious privatization would prevent violent conflicts that would tear their ideal societies apart — something they’d learned from the financial ascendance of the Dutch Republic.

The bourgeois revolutionaries — read Benjamin Franklin’s self-help advice or Thomas Jefferson’s ruminations, or even Rousseau’s utopian rants — assumed that some of the key moral precepts inherited from Christianity would persist beyond the privatization of “religion” as cultural norms, and that these moral precepts would attenuate the libido dominandi, will-to-power, whatever you want to call it; and that this persistent vestige of Christianity would serve as an extra-legal, extra-judicial insurance policy for peaceful coexistence. They could assume that in their time, because it was apparent then. Deism, agnosticism, and atheism were not widespread, except among a few intellectuals, and many of the Christian virtues still held sway, albeit in the form of parochial altruism — “altruism that is directed in a preferential manner towards members of one’s own social group” (racial and some religious minorities excluded).

This functionalist view of “religion,” in the United States, ran headlong into the Civil War, which I believe in many respects to have been the first modern, total war.

Many regard McClellan to have been a “hesitant” commander — for you Civil War buffs — but McClellan, Jefferson Davis, Ulysses Grant, Robert E. Lee, William Sherman, “Stonewall” Jackson, Ambrose Burnside, and Braxton Bragg were all co-veterans of the US expansionist war against Mexico — a racial and religious other, outside the fence-ring of their parochial altruism, and fit for conquest. There was no hesitation there.

Lincoln was quite bloodthirsty in his prosecution of the Civil War. The famous reticence of McClellan has been attributed to cowardice and to ambition, though McClellan had always comported himself with calm physical courage on the battlefield. His primary reason for resisting Lincoln’s orders was that he believed in just-war as articulated by the Christian philosopher Thomas Aquinas; and he saw clearly that the battles of this war were being conducted in a way that was not “proportional,” against fellow white Americans! The treatment of the enemy was out of proportion to the wrong, and he rejected the acceptance of civilian casualties as the price of war. McClellan wrote (and you’ll see the parochial altruism here):

[War] should be conducted upon the highest principles known to Christian civilization. It should not be a war looking to the subjugation of the people of any State in any event. It should not be at all a war upon population, but against armed forces and political organization. Neither confiscation of property, political executions of persons, territorial organization of States, or forcible abolition of slavery should be contemplated for a moment. In prosecuting the war all private property and unarmed persons should be strictly protected, subject only to the necessity of military operation.

Neither Grant nor Sherman had any such qualms, of course. They were modern warriors. War being war, just war principles have always been impossible — my perennial disagreement with my own church’s continued articulation of them. With the introduction of new war technologies during the Civil War, however, and with the absolutist political objectives of the war, adherence to just-war principles were even more impossible. This marked the first major unraveling of “religion” as a hedge against civil disorder. Northern churches — Catholic and Protestant — supported the Union; and Southern churches — Catholic and Protestant —supported the Confederacy.

The First World War was gestating, less than fifty years in the future, when the Civil War ended in 1865. The Communist Manifesto, written by a brilliant neo-Hegelian atheist, had already been in publication for seventeen years already, Darwin’s Origin of the Species for six. Pragmatist philosopher and former Confederate sympathizer Charles Sanders Pierce was in 1867 appointed a resident fellow at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. John Nelson Darby, the so-called father of “futurism” and proponent of the “dispensationalist” heresy — which gave rise to what is now called Christian political evangelicalism, had already been lecturing for twenty-five years in Europe and America when the war ended.

After the Civil War, the United States rapidly transformed into an industrial, urbanized nation. Technological innovation, economic growth, development of large-scale agriculture, and the expansion of the federal government characterized the era, as did the social tensions brought about by immigration, financial turmoil, federal Indian policy, and increasing demands for rights by workers, women, and minorities. (National Museum of American History)

A new American movement sprang up in the 1890s, calling itself “Progressivism.” The Progressive Movement (or Era) aimed at increasing the power of the Federal Government to counter the ill effects of industrialism, to fight rampant corruption and monopolization, and to “improve” the human species through “social hygiene” (eugenics). The movement had elements of futurism, social/racial Darwinism, pragmatism, and evangelicalism. In Europe, Marxism was becoming ever more popular in response to some of the same kinds of social stressors.

“Religion” still worked as a functional brake on the libido dominandi, but not nearly as well as once anticipated. Teleology — explaining the world as developing toward some ultimate end — had shifted from God’s renewed Earth to the man-made techno-utopian Future. The matter of ethics had also rotated from “vertical” to “horizontal,” with the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, the eighteenth century German, with his attempt to ground Christian ethical values in nature.

Whatever people believed, in transcendent terms, had been effectively privatized, while social life itself had become “secular” in practice. Public life took less and less notice of “religion” as it increasingly concentrated its practices on the achievement of personal prosperity in a dog-eat-dog economy, and on nation and future — the new objects of public worship.

Then World War I happened. There’s an old military truism that there are no atheists in foxholes. I beg to differ. There’s nothing better than modern warfare to make people question (and even abandon) God. World War I — which was an unprecedented slaughterhouse of a war — left a kind of cultural trauma in its wake. The other thing it opened a path to was the unlikely victory of the Bolshevik Party in Russia. The Soviet Union was to become the world’s first explicitly atheistic state — something initially and enthusiastically embraced by many in Europe and America as the harbinger of The New Future. It also set off alarm bells for the capitalist class around the world.

The twentieth century, after the Bolshevik victory, was determined by that event. Fascism was a reaction to it. The New Deal was a reaction to it. Hitlerism was a reaction to it, even though Hitlerism paradoxically provoked a temporary alliance between the Soviet Union and the Atlantic Allies during the Second World War. The Cold War was a reaction to it. (Republican demagogues in the US are still red-baiting; even such arch neo-conservatives as Hillary Clinton are referred to as socialists and Marxists!)

By 1917, in a practical sense, the West had become, at least in a practical sense, thoroughly “secularized” in our daily public life as well as through secular governance. We had lost any common reference to the transcendent — the sacred having migrated to the nation-state as the universally shared object of worship. Revolutionary Russia would also, and inevitably, follow the nationalistic (always ultimately militaristic) path.

[Excerpt from Borderline, (Goff), pp. 291–2]

Harry Stout has suggested that the American Civil War established the American civil religion, merging church and state into one. World War I consolidated the merger, giving large numbers of Northern and Southern white men the opportunity to fight alongside each other under the same flag. Progressive churches flocked to the banner and cast the war for the first time as “self-sacrificial service to other nations,” giving it an altruistic theme and cosigning its international character. These messianic themes concealed a more pecuniary motive. The war itself was undertaken during the Woodrow Wilson administration. Wilson had run on a peace platform; but the U.S. had bankrolled the Allies. When it looked as if New York’s financial institutions might be facing the prospect of an Allied defeat, Wilson beat the drum and sent the troops to secure repayment of the debt.

The war had begun with an inter-imperial rivalry between Great Britain and the up-and-coming Germany. No one anticipated the scale of the destruction or the horror of this war. Infantry charges met with the withering lethality of the new machine gun, turning the European war into a slaughterhouse of attrition fought from pestilent trenches. These static trenches were then subjected to screeching storms of across-the-horizon artillery. Poison gas was deployed — and those who did not drown on their own blistered lungs or go blind were forced to bear life in the trenches, where they could wait for random artillery death, their respirations echoing in the sweaty rubber-and-glass masks strapped to their faces, lice feasting on their bodies, their macerated feet peeling away inside wet, muddy boots. In the Somme offensive alone, there were more than a million casualties.

Glory in battle gave way to the valorization of a kind of grim individual endurance. The shock of the war’s senseless destruction gave rise to Christian pacifist as well as humanist war opposition. Christian pacifists, socialists, women’s groups, and a host of artists and intellectuals questioned the reasons for the war, and the reasons for war in general. By 1920, public opinion had tilted in support of Benjamin Joseph Salmon, a Catholic pacifist who had been sentenced to twenty-five years’ hard labor for refusing induction. Said Salmon,

Regardless of nationality, all men are brothers. God is “our Father who art in heaven.” The commandment “Thou shalt not kill” is unconditional and inexorable. . . . The lowly Nazarene taught us the doctrine of non-resistance, and so convinced was he of the soundness of that doctrine that he sealed his belief with death on the cross. When human law conflicts with Divine law, my duty is clear. Conscience, my infallible guide, impels me to tell you that prison, death, or both, are infinitely preferable to joining any branch of the Army.

After more than two years of beatings and forced-feeding in response to a hunger strike, he was released. While Salmon was incarcerated, he received no support from his church hierarchy. Cardinal John Farley of New York said, “I consider it little short of treason. . . . Every citizen of this nation, no matter what his private opinion or his political leanings, should support the President and his advisers to the limit of his ability.” Church and state were again one, and morality had again been outsourced to the state. The fact that the war was fought by Christians, who were engaged in killing other Christians, gave most Allied and Central Powers churches no pause. Each declared the other apostates and enemies of God. Nationalism had grotesquely triumphed over Christianity and Christendom.

Meanwhile, the imagination of war was being confronted by its new reality. Machine guns, artillery, and poison gas confronted the old symbols, and they began to lose their meanings. With the loss of meaning, men and masculinity were confronted with a new crisis, which Nietzsche had already named — the death of God. The God of the univocal metaphysic (Duns Scotus) was, for many participants and observers, nowhere to be found in the trenches, and the name of God seemed to many a kind of obscenity on the lips of the war’s apologists.

[end excerpt]

The same had been true for the Russians, mostly peasants who’d thrown their caps into the air at the outset of the war in celebration of the coming grand adventure. They returned home not merely chastened, but traumatized to their cores, and became the embittered shock troops of the first atheistic revolution.

After the war, many Western urbanites embraced libertinism in a kind of post-traumatic, post-Christian bacchanalia. Many also embraced Marxism. The “Roaring Twenties” were a kind of mad amalgam of three “secular” forms of worship — hedonistic pleasure-seeking, jingo patriotism, and the socialist “new future.”

Patriotic reaction took the form of fascism in Italy in 1922. The socialist “new future” in Russia was commandeered by Stalin in 1924 and inevitably took on a nationalist aspect. Then the West came crashing down with the Great Depression — an unprecedented crisis for capitalism, which led directly — which I won’t outline here — to World War, Part 2, with the rise of Hitlerism.

By 1938, the year before the war kicked off, there were four major political ideologies in the West, all “secular”: imperial democratic pragmatism, fascism, Hitlerism, and Stalinism. The East was witnessing the rise of Japanese imperialism and the nascent Communist insurgency in China. War and power politics being what they are, the imperial democratic pragmatists and Stalinists entered into a reluctant, and sometimes testy, alliance against the fascists, Nazis, and Japanese imperialists.

It must be said that there were two Cold Wars — one before WWII and one after. The Western capitalist constitutional republics were alarmed from the outset after the Bolsheviks took power. They’d even sent an ultimately failed combined expeditionary armed force into Russia attempting to reverse the Bolshevik victory.

It’s here where we can pick up the ideological thread that accompanied this eventful period and how it corresponds to the whole secular-religious dichotomy.

The most effective ideological counteraction to the rising popularity of socialism was to denounce its atheism. “Godless-communism” became a single-word reference. (This didn’t always work as expected. In Alabama, black communists, like Hosea Hudson, said they carried two books: the Bible in one hand and “the Stalin book” [on nationalism] in the other.)

“Godless-communism” remained in the lexicon after World War II, resuscitated by 1950 after the glow of Allied victory had worn off. But the West was most alarmed by Stalin’s forced march to modernization, which had — in many ways — accomplished in two decades an industrialization/modernization (and concomitant secularization) that had taken the capitalist powers two centuries. So the race was on to demonstrate a superior capitalist prowess in the provision of modern technological goods.

The capitalists were always going to win this competition, because capitalism is superior to socialism in the creation of more-money. I’ll risk another short excursus here, based on my thesis — cribbed from Alf Hornborg — in Mammon’s Ecology.

General purpose money is an exchange accelerator. The more of it that’s available — if it’s a stable currency — the more forms of exchange which are accelerated. This acceleration, of course, applies without regard to whether certain forms of exchange are beneficial or not; but for the development and production of an increasing supply and variety of consumer goods, the speed of the creation of money is crucial. Gladiatorial market exchange “makes” money faster than centrally-planned economies can. This is not an argument — quite the contrary — for capitalism; it’s just saying that if the goal is ever more consumer goods (which for many reasons is not desirable), then capitalism is the way to go.

In the case of the post-war West, capitalism was “improved,” in terms of making it acceptable and ensuring it didn’t self-destruct, through the employment of Keynesian policies that attenuated its worst Darwinian propensities and stabilized the relation between supply, demand, and money creation.

We’re seeing the results today of the abandonment of Keynesianism, beginning with Reagan and Thatcher, then spreading like a plague throughout the world under the banners of “globalization” and “financialization.” The latest bank failures, for example, and the inability of central banks, who’ve become one-trick ponies, to control inflation through the manipulation of interest rates.

At any rate, the Cold War competition became a competition to create and satisfy more and more desires for a people who would become more and more identifiable as consumers. If the expansion of money presupposes the expansion of desire, then ever more self-centered and un-reflective hedonism becomes an economically necessary growth-engine.

There was a very long discussion of this dynamic, from Augusto Del Noce’s point of view, in “The Battle of Woke Hill,” to which this post is a kind of appendix. Specifically, the discussion pertained to Del Noce’s thesis on the “decomposition of Marxism,” by which he meant — and this is highly abbreviated — the separation of “messianic” dialectical materialism from productivist historical materialism. In summary, Del Noce said that historical materialism gained ascendance in the capitalist nations, especially in the US, whereupon it defeated “revolutionary” Marxism in the Soviet Bloc.

The West was helpless against the outworking of the Marxist secular anthropology, while the East was helpless against the economic outworking of secularization. What we ended up with was bourgeois atheism, a hedonistic marketplace, and technocratic political rule.

In the same article, I registered an American exceptionalist quibble, to wit, that Anglo-American (especially American) secularism, unlike European secularism, was and is at least as traceable to pragmatism and positivism as it was and is to Marxism . . . probably more. I’ve been ruminating on that for a couple of weeks now, and it occurs to me that this may also account for a kind of pig-headed, anti-intellectual, American stupidity.

Bear with me. Pragmatism is an orientation to “purposeful action” (a Dewyean shibboleth), in which truth is reduced to what one can do. It’s a great attitude for doing anything that “works,” but it’s likewise an incredibly irresponsible orientation which perversely ignores both accountability and the knock-on consequences of many things that “work.” It’s the reason we have big automobiles, big blank lawns, gun culture, and clear-cutting. It’s why in America, we suffer a kind of collective theoretical insufficiency bordering on outright paralysis. Our public discourse is seldom more illuminating than troll threads on Twitter.

But back to secularism (and its scientistic accomplice).

Religion is an illusion of childhood, outgrown under proper education.

— Auguste Comte

. . . and . . .

There is no god and there is no soul. Hence, there is no need for the props of traditional religion. With dogma and creed excluded, then immutable truth is dead and buried. There is no room for fixed and natural law or permanent moral absolutes.

— John Dewey

. . . and . . .

I believe that in this way the teacher always is the prophet of the true God and the usherer in of the true kingdom of God.

— John Dewey

In the above quotes, we have a near perfect distillation of secularism, as described by another philosopher, Eric Voegelin. Voegelin called secularism a form of neo-Gnosticism. For the longer form discussion on that I refer you again to the article (linked above) to which this post is an appendix. The short form is that neo-Gnosticism is the rotation of ultimate redemption, or eschatology . . . call it what you will . . . from the “vertical” (reaching for reconciliation with God) to the “horizontal” (“building” heaven in the “future”).

This “rotation” is not, however, what makes Gnosticism Gnosticism or neo-Gnosticism. The Gnostic outlook has three components: rejection, special knowledge, and a “perfected” realm in some speculative beyond. Early Christian Gnosticism rejected the worldly realm, and claimed that certain forms of mystical knowledge (gnosis) were required to escape that realm and enter into the realm of pure spirit. This was vertical Gnosticism. Post-Hegelian neo-Gnosticism (Marx and Dewey both qualify as neo-Gnostics) rejects the past (i.e., tradition), embraces the “special knowledge” of scientism, and projects Utopia into an imaginary realm called The Future.

This relates to the Cold War inasmuch as this period marked a decisive shift in the West which abandoned both Marx and Dewey in a sense. Both of them lived during periods when vestigial religious values still applied those brakes to the libido dominandi.

During the Cold War, the “affluent society” accelerated its break from the past and its rejection of all traditional values. This break took two general forms — moral and libertine — but in America especially, where we suffered from the aforementioned theoretical paralysis, these two inclinations were finally merged like lemon juice and milk, leading to the clabber of moral incoherence described in “The Battle of Woke Hill.”

There little doubt that the struggle to break Jim Crow and end the US occupation of Vietnam were just, but the “movement zeitgeist” also became a petri dish for drug abuse, disrespect of elders, destructive relationships, the loss of the distinction between authority and power, profanity for profanity’s sake, rebellion for rebellion’s sake, pornografied culture, and what Phillip Reiff called “deathworks,” or the intentional desecration of what others hold to be sacred in a politics of performative outrage-elicitation.

These were the species of vegetation lining a path to what can only be called, finally, normalized insanity. We now routinely say things, with a straight face, that are clearly not sane.

I should know. I was the captive of several forms of this insanity for most of my life. Darbyite Adventism, Ayn Rand “objectivism,” murderous infantry nihilism, drug culture, probative masculinism, liberalism, Marxism. From the soil of insanity shall emerge an insane biome. By insanity here, I mean the selective refusal to distinguish between what is self-evident and what merely appears to be self-evident within one or another self-contained and hermetically-sealed ideology.

[T]he spiritual temper of Gnosticism is, first, a state of profound suspicion — a persistent paranoia with regard to the whole of apparent reality, a growing conviction that one is the victim of unseen but vigilant adversaries who have trapped one in an illusory existence — and then one of cosmic despair, and finally a serenity achieved through final detachment from the world and unshakable certitude in the reality of a spiritual home beyond its darkness. The deepest impulse of the gnostic mind is a desire to discover that which has been intentionally hidden, to find out the secret that explains and overcomes all the disaffections and disappointments of the self, and thereby to obtain release. It is a disposition of the soul to which certain individuals are prone in any age, but one that only under special conditions can become much more than a private inclination.

— David Bentley Hart

Gnosticism, for Voegelin, was not so simply an historically specific heresy, but a perpetual temptation which continually re-emerges throughout history. He cites, for example, Joachim of Fiore in the thirteenth century, who interpreted John of Patmos’ Apocalypse (the Book of Revelation) as a kind of roadmap to “the new age,” something that was taken up again by Christian dispensationalists, the forerunners of today’s Rapturist/Christian Zionists.

I did a short exposition of American right-wing political Christianity in “The Battle of Woke Hill,” which pertains to what I’m about to quote from Del Noce’s essay (“Eric Voegelin and the Critique of the Idea of Modernity,” 1968) on Voegelin’s analysis of modern neo-Gnosticism, or secularism. (You can find it here; when you open the link, hit Control-F and type in “Lisa McGirr.”)

Demythologization, in the usual sense, means criticizing tradition in the name of the “spirit of modernity” . . . Voegelin turns this notion upside down. What must be demythologized is the foma mentis [mindset] behind ordinary demythologization, namely the “spirit of modernity” itself or, to be more precise, the “mystique of the new man,” the idea of a transfiguration of human nature through a process of self-redemption (in which Revolution replaces grace) . . .

. . . Voegelin outlines for us a subterranean history of the Western spirit. It is the history of forces that have emerged to full light in today’s world [1968] after a very long period of incubation. Our work is marked by the greatest development both of science and technology and also of the mythical spirit, a contradiction that is only apparent: Nazism’s unity of fanaticism and technology goes to show that there is no contradiction. However, after so many years, in so many publications, and in so many studies of Nazi fanaticism, I believe there has been no particular effort to study the crucial issue of its alliance with technology. The prejudice that the advent of science and technology marks the end of homo credulus is too well established. (Del Noce)

In Borderline, I spent two long chapters describing the research I’d done on the European witch hunts, for which early modern (not pre-modern) thinkers like Jean Bodin and Francis Bacon were the most enthusiastic advocates.

The futurist Hitler was a devotee of astrology.

In the case of Joachimites and much later the Christian Zionists, their “secularity,” their neo-Gnosticism, was a function of pulling God, as a kind of cosmic engineer, decisively and fully into some “intelligible,” if mysti-fied, projection of history. Today’s moralists, the lemon in the curdle, and today’s libertines (the milk) still celebrate technological progress, whether in the form of petroleum-agriculture on the one hand or gender-reassignment surgery on the other.

The appeal of Jordan Peterson among many disaffected men is an appeal to an imagination-altered version of an earlier neo-Gnosticism — the form in which the vestigial values inherited from Christendom (which he reifies as “Western civilization”) still served to apply the brakes to the excesses, like “deathworks,” but also to earlier forms of male power for which the context is now gone. Peterson’s amalgam of social Darwinism and Jungian psychology should give us the hint. Social Darwinism and Jung’s ideas are both neo-Gnostic. They want all the moral alignments of the imagined past, but without the metaphysical foundation. Social Darwinisn was a core belief among early twentieth century neo-Gnostic ideologues (Marxists were the exception) including the Progressive movement, fascism, and eventually Nazism. Jung was explicitly neo-Gnostic. John Vervaeke, another darling of many unsettled conservatives, is very similar to Peterson in his neo-Gnosticism. Vervaeke is an advocate of what I call religious functualism — a proponent not of actual faith per se, but of the re-establishment of faith traditions for their instrumental brake on the libido dominandi. Vervaeke thinks this re-establishment can be “reverse engineered.” Emphasis — engineered.

I won’t go into what could be an entirely separate thread here about Dun Scotus and something called univocity, except to recommend it as a line of enquiry to readers so inclined. All I’ll say here is that Peterson, Vervaeke, et al, and their acolytes are univocalists (as well as neo-Gnostics), which is a metaphysical (materialist) deficiency wherein they take — between alpha and omega — the alpha to be “matter,” or things which “exist,” when that’s the beta . . . so to speak. The alpha is Being, or Creation — an independent (of conceptualization) order without which the stuff of existence could not “come into” Being. It’s an arcane and rather Thomistic point, to be sure, but one with a hell of a lot of weight to which we are inexorably chained whether we see the chain or not.

The shorthand is that referring to the “concept of Being” with Being considered as a mere concept, evades or denies the actuality of Being which is there “prior to” it conceptualization. In Christian terms, in the words of Robert Barron, it makes God “mappable on the same set of coordinates as creatures.” The Creator is pulled inside Creation. Peterson does this regularly.

(Link here to a very good podcast on univocity by Branko Malić.)

The transfer of teleology from God to history or the future is a shared construction between Peterson, secular socialists, technocratic “progressives,” and Steve Bannon. The libertine Trump can rant about Make America Great Again and appeal to the moralists who yearn for a return to 1950. It’s all still the same sour milk.

The lemon blames the milk; and the milk blames the lemon; but the clabbering is irreversible. This is the failure of the secular, a metaphysical failure, a failure of neo-Gnosticism itself, in every form. (Now I’ll leave that metaphor behind, having [ahem] milked it for all its worth.)

Yet even so, there remains an essential disparity between that voice as we hear it now and as it was heard by the ancient Gnostics. For them, the inner “call of the stranger God” remained an expression — however tragically muted and distorted — of a perennial and universal spiritual longing: the wonder at the mystery of existence that is the beginning of all philosophy and all worship, the restlessness of the heart that seeks its rest in God, that luminous elation clouded by sorrow that is the source of all admirable cultural achievements and all spiritual and moral heroism. Even at its most despairing, the Gnostic religious sensibility still retained some vital trace of a faith that, in more propitious circumstances, could be turned back towards love of the world and towards a vision of creation as a vessel of transcendent glory. Our spiritual situation may be very different indeed.

— David Bentley Hart


One of my most frequent complaints about many of my favorite cultural critics is their inattention to war and all its formative ramifications. I realize it’s a bit of an obsession with me, in part because I spent a good portion of my own life as a professional soldier. This is why I have turned to those thinkers whose own most formative experience was war — Ellul, Virilio, now Del Noce and Voegelin. I won’t diverge down that path here, except to say that there’s a very direct correspondence between war and technology, as well as a correspondence between war and the importance of increasing velocity — in every sense — in the course of what we have come to call “development.”

The connection between modernity, war, and the failure of secularism was also explicitly spelled out between WWI and WWII by the French intellectual René Guénon, who’d also identified the crisis of modernity as a metaphysical crisis. Guénon himself was a restless spiritual seeker with syncretic beliefs adopted from his serial immersions in Christianity (including a dalliance in Gnosticism), Hinduism, and Islam, and he was dismissed by many academics because he did sometimes wander recklessly far afield. But he also demonstrated some downright prescient insights. Del Noce pairs him more than once with Simone Weil, especially in thinking about the secular tendency to reject authority out of an incapacity to differentiate authority from power.

This failure to distinguish authority from power allows plain power to eclipse genuine authority and pave the way for totalitarianism.

Specifically, Guénon’s reflections on metaphysics led him to conclude that at the core of modernity’s metaphysical crisis was the displacement of quality by pure quantity. The shorthand for this transition is “scientism,” or (again) the claim — which Guénon demonstrates is imaginary — that the only true knowledge is what can be mathematically modeled, that is, proven by natural science. The imaginary postulate here is that the universe discernible in time and space (history) is the only reality, and that this reality operates like a machine — mechanistically. There is, of course, no way to prove this because evidential probation is itself a practice confined inside history.

If Being is greater than the material and encompasses time-space-matter, then scientism is false. But even apart from the conundrum presented by history-constrained probation, there are quite obviously many phenomena within history that likewise do not conform to mathematical modelling. And most importantly, this reductive and frankly simple-minded (think Dawkins) ideology ignores (and attempts to deny) quality, that is, the self-evidence and self-sufficiency of forms. I am a man — this is a real thing, not discernible in itself as various mathematical aggregations, but as a self-evident and self-sufficient form. Denial of it — no matter what kind of academic or speculative language one might employ state that denial — is not sane. It is an act of cognition that separates itself from reality.

We said earlier on that ideology deforms ideas by diminishing our capacity to discern the difference between what appears to be self-evident and what is self-evident. That was perhaps an understatement of our current predicament, as we outright deny the ontological self-evidence of forms and embrace the merely apparent self-evidence of “secularity.”

Simone Weil, 1909–1943

Returning for a moment now to Simone Weil, she made a strong point of associating power with the lust for “prestige,” of which there is never enough. This is not a psychoanalytic claim, but kind of Augustinian one (Weil was born a secular Jew, gravitated toward Catholicism during a short and turbulent life, and believed to have been baptized on her deathbed at the age of 34.)

Psychoanalysis was scientistic (“secular”) inasmuch as it participated in the anti-transcendence zeitgeist of the early twentieth century. That is to say, neo-Gnostic psychoanalysis was aimed down instead of up. It sought its conclusions from speculation about the sub-conscious instead of the supra-human. God, in other words, was removed from heaven above and re-posited as a subconscious illusion of the phallic superego.

Weil’s point corresponds . . . and here we’re back to it again . . . original sin.

Original sin, or human nature as a “fallen” state, is demonstrable even to the honest non-believer, though this honest non-believer may often be a misanthrope. Human beings, as wills at war with themselves — think of the old cartoons with a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other — “fall.”

Even the best of us comes up short from time to time. Our world, and we with it, are wounded. The salve for that wound — the salve-ation, the reconciliation — cannot be accomplished by our own effort, but only by mending the rift between heaven and earth, by the God who is human, the human who is God. That’s not us.

Keep watch and pray that you might not come to trial; truly, the spirit is eager, but the flesh is frail.

— Matthew 26:41

The first sin, in our origin myth, is motivated by the desire to be “like God” — in classical terms, pride, or the failure of humility (shared root in humus, or soil; we are dust [soil] into which was given God’s breath [life]).

Returning to Weil and Del Noce, what about power?

We made the claim above that the rejection of authority corresponds to its separation from power, whereupon only power is left on the field, so to speak — which lead inexorably to forms of totalitarianism. This is a big claim, which Del Noce spells out at great length and to which I can’t possibly do justice here.

Totalitarianism always begins with salvific and liberatory assertions and designs. As an autobiographical aside, I came of age in the sixties (born 1951) and early seventies, during what Tom Holland called “the most convulsive period in the West since the Reformation.” I don’t know if that’s overstated or not, but I can attest to its convulsive-ness. In many ways, we are still living through it; at the very least, through it’s outworking. Del Noce is writing 1970, when he published “The Shadow of Tomorrow,” in which he details “the characteristics of the new totalitarianism.”

Kent State University, 1970

We can begin with the thesis that animated my reactions to Del Noce in “The Battle of Woke Hill”: at the core of totalitarianism is the consequentialist enclosure of ethics by politics. When the term totalitarianism was strategically deployed as a political epithet to put an equal sign between Nazis and Communists, it was always associated with camps, truncheons, and secret police. But this conflated means and ends. These were war measures. In reality, the fascists and pre-Nazis were at civil war with the Communists almost as soon as World War I ended. Del Noce seeks not the contingent means, but the essence, when he speaks of “the new totalitarianism.”

One feature of the new totalitarianism was “scientistic dogmatism” — the groupthink of secularism. Another feature was the “negation of spiritual forces.” Yet another was the “disintegration” of older social bonds and obligations (atomization), whereupon “large corporations and political parties take the semblance of fiefdoms.” He noted that the right identified totalitarianism with Stalin and Mao, the left identified it with fascism and Nazism, and the middle with both. This was, Del Noce said, a kind of collective myopia that left everyone unable to discern the emergent new totalitarianism of dogmatic scientism, spiritual negation, and atomization. This new form nonetheless shares with those more primitive forms the consequentialist enclosure of ethics by politics.

Were he alive today, he would see the ripened and poisonous fruit of “secular” technocratic rule nearly perfected, and in its perfection failing spectacularly. A Mussolini, a Stalin, a Hitler, a Franco, a Pol Pot . . . would burn with envy today at our panoptic surveillance grid and the enthusiastic embrace of it by a populace that has been as conceptually (that is to say, philosophically) deskilled as it is practically deskilled. The secular fever dream of technologically escaping our dependence (on nature and God) has translated itself into a form of dependence that would boggle the minds of our fore-bearers.

This de-personified dependency is too horrible to admit, necessitating a herculean cognitive dissonance, in which we convince ourselves — with the able assistance of technocratic propagandists — that we still retain some form of agency — through politics, the most fixed game of them all. Del Noce said, “large corporations and political parties take the semblance of fiefdoms.”

Tolkien would say, “They are one, Sauron and the ring.”

What has all this to do with our fallen state, original sin?

Our fallen nature was the first thing which had to be denied in the name of secularism. To (re) create ourselves (how is that working out for us?), we had to become “like God.”

“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled,” said Charles Baudelaire,” was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

Now, closer to home (for me, at least).

Americans believe in the sole redemptive power of law and political action, as part of our founding myth. This cultural certainty has disabled US “Christians,” whose memories of the works of faith and tradition have atrophied. The attempt to “christianize” secular liberalism (the US founding political ideology) has resulted in the secular-liberalization of American “Christianity,” and both liberal and right-wing Christianity.

What all secularized Christianities share — what makes them secular — is what Charles Taylor (who studied under Iris Murdoch, who was in turn influenced by Simone Weil) described as the “closed box” of the “immanent frame,” which, even as it allows for many various and personalized “spiritual” beliefs and practices, confines all of us, in public practice as well as psychological disposition, to playing at politics and treating the world as essentially disenchanted.

Iris Murdoch, 1919–1999

(I won’t go into the thrashing tendency of people to chase spiritual fads here; but what this “immanent frame” default does to Christianity, specifically, is reduce it to one of several kinds of metaphysically barren therapy, to yet another sociologically “functionalist religion.”)

Politics is always primary for us, fixing our eyes on the flat, dead horizon of power and manipulation, and both philosophy and theology have become in too many respects political stepchildren. I myself have fallen prey to the delusional temptation of “redemptive” politics, and it consistently pulled my conceptual as well as contemplative gaze away from God and toward the machinations and manipulations, and the antagonism between brothers and sisters, created in the struggle for power. The irony — if you can call it that — is that this preoccupation with power is powerless . . .that herculean cognitive dissonance with which we convince ourselves — with the able assistance of technocratic propagandists — that we still retain some form of agency in the political arena.

Of course, we can and do reclaim “agency” all the time in daily life, just not in the political realm, which has become a secular amalgam of the Great Oz, the naked emperor, Dr. Strangelove, and three-card-monte.

Secularism’s inevitable monopolization by politics loosed a high velocity proliferation of change which has led (inevitably) to its own internally-generated political decomposition. Political actors and institutions struggle first to keep up, then fall behind through a series of increasingly reactive actions in the face of increasingly rapid, unexpected, and ultimately uncontrollable stimuli. The more authoritarian states are less vulnerable. At least they have the capacity to respond decisively, even if they are themselves aboard the runaway train. Secular liberalism, which grows more authoritarian and panoptic by the day, is still fighting a losing rearguard action, having already lost any capacity for proaction.

It is bleeding political agency as a consequence of its having bled out its philosophical capacity. It can’t grasp its own failure.

As liberalism’s failures mount and its agents and agencies are exposed for their impotence and corruption, they’re hemorrhaging credibility, too. Meanwhile, secularity, the hidden metaphysical pathology, has come to colonize our public consciousness — the way bacteria can colonize a diseased heart. And so we’re bedridden, metaphysically paralyzed.

“Society” is more and more held together by the fraying threads of old dependencies, as politics itself bends toward a kind of pop-ideological warlordism, one sect battling another … nowadays on the decadent virtual terrain of the attention economy.

Secular liberalism — the “progressive” assault on restraints and limits, even those imposed by nature — discovers the outcomes of the war on restraint but too late, and reacts in its final throes, albeit from many directions at once, with crackdowns, shunnings, hyper-surveillance, cynical propaganda, dirty tricks, and other totalitarian reactions. Truth — which we deny exists — is swallowed up by all that remains, that is, many diverse, and unaccountable wills to power, themselves impotent.

Writ large, the nihilism before our eyes now is a highly variegated, self-organized, adaptive complex without any focal center, heedlessly embedded in an ecologic, financial, political, military, and metaphysical matrix that is itself undergoing a world-historic process of decomposition. The endgame for this blind matrix is inevitable: it too will decompose.

End of the world? (Probably) no.

What begins, what is already beginning, is trial and error, starts and stops, disasters and recoveries. Eventually, perhaps, to become some new and yet still fallen form or forms of social organization, as ever more localized adaptations in the interstices and cracks. If we’re not annihilated in the last war . . . the Archons are still — even as the world burns around them — playing at geopolitics.

Secular progress: the apex

If and when the world transitions over the next few decades, domino by falling domino, it will enter into a long period — and likely not a pretty one — of bricolage. Micro-adapters, urban rats. We won’t become hardy mythical heroes against the backdrop of an agonal dystopia. We’ll become far more like “Bubbles,” the junkie bricoleur portrayed in The Wire.

As to Christians and that more amorphous category, Christianity. The failure of the secular is no more a “threat to Christianity” than “the secular” is. Christ needs no protection.

“Secularism” and post-secular nihilism are an opportunity for Christian purification, as Michal Hanby has said. A time when we need to remember where we came from — from a dusty, calloused little redeemer who came for a fallen world and for its fallen people, and flipped the devil on his own playground without lifting a finger to “defend” himself.

I simply argue that the cross be raised again, at the centre of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles but on a cross between two thieves; on a town garbage heap; at a crossroad of politics so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek … and at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where He died, and that is what He died about. And that is where Christ’s own ought to be, and that is what church people ought to be about.

― George MacLeod, 1956



Stan Goff

Author of the books “Hideous Dream,” “Full Spectrum Disorder,” “Borderline,” “Mammon’s Ecology,” and “Tough Gynes.”