Thursday, January 22, 2009

Losing Derb's Religion: a partial review of Camp of the Saints

We've been studying the book of Revelations in Sunday School for several months. A few weeks ago we came to the passage describing the battle of Armageddon (or Gog and Magog, depending on your timeline):

7And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 8and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. 9And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, 10and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

I presently use the English Standard Version for personal study, but I grew up with the New International Version, which renders "camp of the saints" as "camp of God's people". So I didn't recognize the origin of the phrase when I read Derbyshire's review of the Jean Raspail's book,Camp of the Saints,several years ago. (O. D.: I can't find Derb's review online; it may have appeared exclusively in the dead tree edition of NR.) But knowing the origin, my curiosity was piqued, and I ordered it from the library last weekend.

Raspail's novel, first published in 1977, describes the collapse of Western Civilization in the face of a "peaceful invasion" of nearly a million impoverished third-worlders wading ashore on the southern coast of France. This invasion is greeted, not with force, but by the moral paralysis of a governing elite that no longer believes in its own country's right to self-preservation.

I offered this post as a review, but that's not quite right. This novel, which at this writing I haven't finished, is perhaps one of the most disturbing books I have ever read. (Perhaps I have lead a sheltered life.) It is disturbing on several levels. First, the physical and moral squalor of the invaders is horrifying. The details don't bear repeating (and are in any case easily found online) and surely exaggerate -- though perhaps not: I've never been to Calcutta, only to South America.

Second, and more noteworthy, the book disturbs in its amorality. In contrast to, say, Altas Shrugged, a novel which deals with not-dissimilar premises, Raspail's novel steadfastly refuses to make grand metaphysical claims of justice. On the contrary, it explicitly concedes, far more than I believe to be warranted, that Western power and prosperity is built on the oppression of the Third World. Raspail's point is not moral, but historical: this is the way all nations play the game. A people, through luck of natural selection, becomes strong: Sumerians, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, Mongols, Aztecs, Incans, Mayans, Europeans. These peoples rise to prominence on that strength; they maintain their position by their strength; and as their strength fades, they are violently displaced by those stronger than they are. Every people is in this same struggle, but only the Europeans tell themselves that their own pre-eminence is wrong, and only they believe that they must atone for their victories by choosing submission to destruction at the hands of peoples less powerful than themselves.

There is a lot to argue here (and if I ever get any commenters, we shall indeed argue it), but hashing out Raspail's overall thesis is not my primary intent. What I want to address is Raspail's decision to lay the suicide of the West directly at the feet of Christianity.

Consider this exchange between a retired professor, observing the armada from his house on the coast, and the spoiled shopkeeper's son come to loot him. The young looter refers to the invaders as "a million Christs."

"I got it from this priest. One of those worker types from the wrong side of town. I ran into him an hour ago. I was on my way up here, and he was running like crazy down the hill. Not in rags or anything, but kind of weird. He kept stopping and lifting his arms in the air, like the ones down there, and he'd yell out, 'Thank you, God! Thank you!' And then he'd take off again, down to the beach. They say there's more on the way."

"More what?"

"More priests, just like him . . ."

But Raspail isn't content with attacking only those clerics seeking radical redemption from the sins of their ancestors; this was but an extreme example. Witness this conversation between a Belgian consul in India and a group of missionaries. The missionaries were leading a protest against the Belgian suspension of transnational adoptions.

"Are you saying you've lost control?"

I'm afraid we have. But it doesn't matter. Most of us are glad to go along. You're right. There is something brewing, and it's going to be tremendous. The crowds can feel it, even if they have no notion what it's all about. Myself, I have one explanation. Instead of the piecemeal adoptions that these poor folk have hoped for and lived for, perhaps now they're hoping and living for something much bigger, something wild and impossible, like a kind of adoption en masse. In a country like this that's all it would take to push a movement beyond the point of no return."

"Nice work your Grace," the Consul retorted, simply. "A lovely job for a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church! Mercenary, hireling to the pagans, all of a sudden! What is this, the Crusades in reverse? Judas leaping up on Peter the Hermit's nag, and crying, 'Down with Jerusalem!'? ... Well, you chose a good time. There's no shortage of poor. There are millions and millions! The year isn't three months old, and already half of this province alone is starving. And the government won't do a thing. They've had it. Whatever happens now, they're going to wash their hands. That's what every consul in the city heard this morning. And what have you all been doing in the meantime? You've been 'bearing witness.' Isn't that what you call it? ... Bearing witness to what? To your faith? Your religion? To your Christian civlization? Oh no, none of that! Bearing witness against yourselves, like the anti-Western cynics you've all become. Do you think the poor devils that flock to your side aren't any the wiser? Nonsense! They see right through you. For them, white skin means weak convictions. They know how weak yours are, they know you've given in. You can thank yourselves for that. The one thing your struggle for their souls has left them is the knowledge that the West -- your West -- is rich. To them, you're the symbols of abundance. By your presence alone, they see that it does exist somewhere, and they see that your conscience hurts you for keeping it all to yourselves. You can dress up in rags and pretend to be poor , eat handfuls of curry to your hearts' content. You can spread your acolytes far and wide, let them live like the peasants and dispense their wise advice ... It's no use, they'll always envy you, no matter how you try. You know I'm right. After all your help -- all the seeds, and drugs, and technology -- they found it so much simpler just to say, "Here's my son, here's my daughter. Take them. Take me. Take us all to your country.' And the idea caught on. You thought it was fine. You encouraged it, organized it. But now it's too big, now it's out fo your hands. It's a flood. A deluge. And it's out of control ..."

Raspail would impeach, if not the whole of Christian morality, then the universal application of that morality. He would presumably have no objection to the intra-societal exercise of philanthropy, where the charity alone does not define the relationship between giver and receiver. Such charity rightly springs from "the mystic chords of memory," as Lincoln put it in his inaugural address. But Raspail sees in the universality of the gospel message -- "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." -- an insidious prejudice against loyalty to, and preference for, one's own, and he indicts this prejudice as the seed of our destruction.

Which brings me to John Derbyshire.

When I started reading him, and at least up until he reviewed Camp of the Saints, Derb described himself as "a feeble Christian" -- feeble, that is, in his attachment to the central Christian truth. Given his policy priorites, and given that his exposure to Christianity was in the Episcopal Church, Derb undoubtedly found Raspail's argument powerfully resonant, and his own faith far too feeble to resist it. If any outsider can point to the place where Derb abandoned Christianity, I would point to the pages of Camp of the Saints.

As for myself, by God's grace my faith is stronger, I have aligned myself with the more muscular branches of Christianity, and I am in any case more comfortable with the paradoxes in my worldview. But none of this is an argument. The blogger known as Vera and I went back and forth a while back on the question of what, if anything, contemporary Christianity (as opposed to the medieval kind) brings to the defense of Western Civilization. I did, in fact, bring up some practical uses for orthodox Christianity as it is lived by its adherents, but these were admittedly small-bore.

But let's turn the question around. How does Derb's present war on religion (which, in practice, means a war on Christianity) help advance his vision of a secure West? Does he really think that a receding Christianity will be replaced by a more muscular paganism? Does he really think that being atheist will encourage us to set about the bloody business of resisting the invasion? Or rather, will it not further empower the very forces seeking our destruction?

The question answers itself.


trumwill said...

One of the reasons I strain to identify as Christian and look for whatever connections I can despite my own personal misgivings about the Truth of the Bible is that I agree with a lot of what you're saying. I don't know the extent to which Christianity in particular is required, but I do align a degree of importance to cultural solidarity where we can find it. Many consider it hypocritical to keep my doubts to myself while publicly identifying as an Episcopalian*, and strictly they are not wrong, but I am at least a little bit suspicious of the ability of a culture which doesn't have such bonds. If my deep uncertainty prevents me from actively being an opponent of the drift towards agnosticism and lack-of-faith, I figure I can at least try to avoid being part of the problem.

This is where it helps to be a member of a church frequently derided for its open-mindedness ("As inclusive as Hell", some T-shirts say) is beneficial. It gives me the opportunity to have it both ways. It also gives me the lack of animosity towards organized religion that most former Catholics and former Mormons I know have.

* - I am more open about my doubts as Will Truman than I am in my civilian identity. I don't lie about it, but I do hedge.

Φ said...

"Episcopalians: inclusive as Hell." I'm . . . not sure how to take that! But it seems that "inclusiveness" will eventually collide with "solidarity"; in fact, Raspail writes of a world where the universal, inclusive aspects of Christianity have thoroughly overrun the solidarity aspects.

trumwill said...

It's meant to be derogatory, though I can't say that I don't see any humor in it.

Inclusiveness is certainly problematic in a church. Episcopalianism's decline is almost certainly (and paradoxically) related to it. It's possible (maybe probable) that if all Christians belonged to such churches that it would be no better than mass-agnosticism. The unity provided by the rigid LDS church in the Mormon West is impressive in many ways. For people like me, though, that could never truly be a part of that, it's good to have a sort-of in-between. The choice for me (and people like me) is not between Evangelicalism (or Calvinism) and Episcopalianism, but between Episcopalianism and complete heathenism.

Patricia Burns said...

The battle of Gog and Magog -

Satan will be loosed out of his prison, the bottomless pit, AFTER the thousand years (the Millennium) is finished (Re.20:7).

After the thousand years, Satan will gather the nations from the four quarters of the earth to battle (Re.20:8). They will encompass the camp of the immortal saints and the beloved city, Jerusalem. Fire from heaven rains down upon them; they are destroyed (Re.20:9).

The Devil is cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast (Re.13:1) and the false prophet (Re.13:11) are (Re.20:10).

The earth and the heavens will flee away AFTER the battle of Gog and Magog (Re.20:11, Dan.2:35, 2 Peter 3:10-12).

I believe that the LAND of Magog (Eze.38:2) is this earth. Satan is the “god” (2 Cor.4:4) of this present evil world (Gal.1:4).

Patricia © Bible Prophecy on the Web
Author of the self-study aid, The Book of Revelation Explained © 1982

Thursday said...

But let's turn the question around. How does Derb's present war on religion (which, in practice, means a war on Christianity) help advance his vision of a secure West?

Right, whatever it's intellectual coherence, as a practical matter a secular right is a clear loser. "How many divisions does the secular right have have?"
Outside of theologically conservative Christians, the constituency for true conservatism is vanishingly small. The "conservative" parties of France, Britain and Canada are nothing if not secular. How well has that worked out?

More specifically regarding the American situation, that isn't to say there aren't troublingly liberal tendencies in, say, Evangelical Christianity, but if you aren't going to find a constituency for conservatism there, you aren't going to find it anywhere.

Φ said...

Thursday: yes, the Auster post wrestles with exactly the problem that Raspail observes. Thanks for the link.

Patricia: the "pre-millenial" apocalyptic timeline has two climactic battles that bracket the thousand years, whereas the "a-millenial" timeline has only one.