Some commenters at Alternative Right have seconded the complaint of the European New Right that Christianity is responsible for our current metaphysical problems. The reason, they say, is that Christianity separates soul and body, universal and particular, Christ and Caesar. The result in each case is that the latter gets debunked in favor of the former, and we end up with a global undifferentiated scheme of nothingness. For that reason we ought to go back to paganism, or the pre-Socratics, or do what non-Western societies do, or whatever.
My response (consolidated and edited) was pretty much as follows. It’s a bit choppy and unresearched, and I’m sure there are people who could improve it, so do comment!
It seems to me that Christianity is not the cause of the destructive radicalism of Western thought. I can’t see a religion of sacraments and the Word made flesh as one that exacerbates polarities and makes them unbridgeable. Instead, it seems to me that Christianity is the answer to a radicalism that has been present since the Greeks.
Some societies are no doubt less differentiated than the West. China for example was traditionally able to consider itself the center of the world and its social order a direct manifestation of cosmic order in a more simple-minded fashion than a Western country could. China itself is still the “Middle Kingdom,” and until 1912 it was ruled by the Son of Heaven.
I don’t think any of that is true any more; hence the recent appeal of Western ideologies and also of Christianity in China. However that may be, time and place alter cases. Once differentiations have been made you can’t return to the egg. Neither the Greek polis nor the Roman patria potestas are available to us. Ditto for the Germanic warrior band.
The radicalism of Western thought is I think native to a part of the world in which multiple civilizations enduringly confront each other. It wasn’t Christians who invented the cosmopolitan ideal or spirit as separate and opposed to flesh. The Greeks were there first.
Even Chinese thought was radical during their Warring States period, and there they had fundamental similarity of civilization to moderate things. It seems obvious that thought is going to become yet more radical in the Mediterranean basin, with Greece, Israel, Egypt, Babylon and who not else jostling each other and Persia a continuing presence on the horizon. The problem of course becomes worse in modern times, with information technology making all times and places present to us.
The issue then is how to bring polarities and separate aspects of life into relation once primitive lack of differentiation has been lost so they can be understood as part of a higher unity and not as pure oppositions. (In the latter case the temptation is always to get rid of one side of the polarity or the other, which is a big reason people and civilizations go bonkers.)
Not every solution for maintaining coherence and sanity will work. It seems to me Catholic Christianity does work. On the whole Christianity accepted what antiquity had achieved but got rid of stuff that wasn’t working and added other stuff that made the whole system function better. As many people have noted, there was lots and lots of continuity on basic points.
It got rid of the pagan gods, who had lost seriousness, and substituted angels, saints, and demons, who had a more comprehensible place in the scheme of things. It kept Plato’s Form of the Good and Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover but made them features of a Person who created everything and became concretely present in the world, which counteracted tendencies toward fatalism, radical opposition of world and spirit, and so on. It created the Church as an institution over against the State, which made it possible once again for understandings of the highest things to play a serious role in public life. And it did a lot to close the gap between philosopher and populace.
All those things had the effect of bringing a world which had lost coherence back into living unity. And the new higher unity wasn’t happenstance but was backed by Creation and Incarnation, the most basic doctrines of Christianity. Maybe something else could have done the job but I’m not sure what that other thing is. Nor do I know of anything else on offer that will give back to us the world we actually live in, which in our experience is not impossibly pointless, divided, and incoherent.