Friday, July 11, 2014

Friday BookReview -- Philip Rieff: "The fire of a new no"

[first published on October 20, 2012]

Philip Rieff’s book, Charisma, was published after his death in 2006:
"The therapeutic is that terrible beast who has been slouching toward Bethlehem… Therapeutic and charismatic are proposed in this book as ideal anti-types… There is no charisma without creed… I understand the charismatic as somehow in truth an innovative resolver of ambivalences by the introduction of new interdicts into our lives, the fire of a new no.  The therapeutic is a releaser from the interdicts… All holy terror is gone.  We live in terror but never in holy terror… Max Weber [d. 1920] is himself the culminating expression, I think, of the Protestant pathos, which turns into evolutionism and progressivism, with its mystique of breaks with the established order as the highest expression of the intellect and of soul."

A writer in the ‘Boston Review’ said that Rieff’s “exegeses are ingenious and original, and they all yield the same conclusion: religion is prohibition, culture is inhibition, authority is salvation, submission is wisdom, transgression is folly, and criticism of anything but the pretensions of critical reason is impiety.”

A couple questions to Pence regarding the work –

In what sense are the current lawn signs in Minnesota pushing the legalization of gay marriage [for November referendum on whether to change state constitution] an even more radical break with tradition than all the 1960s war protests with their sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll?

Rieff argues that religious man – a man whose interior character is shaped by allegiance to some sacred order – is protected by interdicts and taboos. The most effective assault on man’s relationship with God and the sacred is to eliminate prohibitions and taboos.

There it is, right out on your neighbor’s  lawn—right out in public—“end the taboo against homosexuality!”

If you can un-train the physiological revulsion men feel toward that, the buttresses protecting the interior life are fatally weakened.

What is his point about Catholics,  Grace, and the Protestantism of Weber (added 3/2018)?

Professor Rieff accuses the secular sociologist Weber of divorcing charisma from its supernatural origin. He attributes this to a Protestant mindset which tends toward progressivism and evolutionism.   He says the Protestant pathos presents Christianity in terms of good beginnings and bad institutional endings. They transgress against the priestly order which is tied to a Divine Authority.  Charisma is not a transgressive act. Just the opposite--it emits from radical obedience. Charisma is a grace, a gift, an imprint by God upon the soul that makes the soul.  Weber in the spirit of Protestantism divorces men from the grace giving acts of authoritative priests in the sacramental order. Charisma emerges outside the sacramental order and indeed often degenerates into  uninhibited acts of the autonomous self.  Charisma argues Rieff  is not an alternative to institutional order. An order built around obedience to the UNALTERABLE FORM provides a transmission belt of grace, of God's life, of the Spirit. Charisma is called all these in Scripture. Charisma comes from without to deepen the within. Most often, this communion with the Divine is not just an individual event. A large body of believers, an entire community or movement or even an era is actually more likely than a single individual to obey together and hence experience these Divine awakenings. From the communal acts of obedience to a unitary creed will come the reception of the particular gifts of charisma.  This interaction occurs in the  "vale of soul making" which is man between God and the world. The person in obedience to God and in conflict with the world is in holy terror of God. He fears transgressing God's commands. But only in this bounded place will a man prophesy and show forth the varied gifts of the Spirit. The state of grace, a Catholic formulation, is the Divine imprinting on a man's soul that deepens his inwardness and character. Such a man acts in holy terror of the divine which necessitates a repulsion and condemnation of the interdicted abominations. Such a religious character (as opposed to the therapeutic man) is willing to utter the "great no."  
Why are Mr. Rieff’s insights so important?

Because he was a true authority on Freud, he saw the connections between the sexual revolution, modern self-actualization psychology, and the therapeutic personality. And with the fall of Marxism, the locus of atheism as a worldview has moved to the arena of sexual identity.

To understand human psychology is to understand the spiritual soul which is meant to know and love its author and commander. Rieff exposes the “murder of God” by Freud, who with his modern descendants has tried to explain human psychology without its source and end: a personal God.

Before the Jews were killed in the gas chamber, he says, the Freudians killed God. Rieff saw several generations and whole academic disciplines running that fool’s errand. All of his work is tethered to this triple axis of the sacred, of character, and authority. In this last work, he locates the ultimate authority clearly in the Personal God who is contacted in prayer and is the ultimate "meaningful authority." We reviewed his discussion of this in his  Jew of Culture.  

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