Tuesday, March 31, 2015

War and the Church, Part III: The South

Richard Weaver bewords the South’s view of war as a ‘ritual’ or ‘game’ that must be performed because it is in man’s being to fight.  However, rituals and games are always offered to, or done for the sake of, another.  To whom do Dixie’s knights offer this ritual of war?  Largely, to the shame of the South, to themselves:  Southerners not possessed by the demonic ‘West is best’ ideology generally have fought (whether personal duels or wider wars) because of an affront to their honor; that is, their high-minded view of themselves has been wounded and now they must do battle with the offender to repair their reputation before others and to cheer their own hurt feelings (‘Southern Chivalry and Total War’, pgs. 163-4). 

It scarcely need be said that this is not a Christian but rather a humanistic approach to war.  There are, though, redeeming aspects in the Southern view of war.

Firstly, war as a ritual or game is by its nature fought according to rules, which helps keep the fighters from engaging in the most destructive and barbarous acts possible during battle (‘Southern Chivalry and Total War’, p. 164).

Also, a war to sooðe one’s hurt pride will most of the time be of a more limited kind than one fought for the sake of a religiously tinged ideology (fighting to ‘spread democracy’, for ‘economic freedom’, ‘women’s rights’, and so on).

(This may clearen to some extent why the persecutions of Christians under the Roman emperors were less severe than those under the communists in Russia and Eastern Europe or under the Islamic State’s fighters today in the Middle East and Africa:  The former centered on the worship of a living man, the emperor, each of whose particular virtues and vices would determine the harshness of the punishments he inflicted on the Christians if he felt threatened or slighted by them, thus setting some bounds to his acts.  The latter are based on inhuman ideas (godless materialism; the religious conquest of all peoples) that neither know nor are able to impart mercy or any other boundaries.)

Furthermore, there are utterances by those most representative of the Souð, like Robert E. Lee, about ‘the limitations of soldiering as a profession’:  It ‘does not prepare men for the pursuits of civilian life’ (Weaver, ‘Lee the Philosopher’, p. 176).

And there is Prof Weaver’s own important insight - mirroring the actions of the South’s patron saint, King Ælfred the Great, after he had defeated the Danes in England - ‘It [the materialistic, spoiled, short-sighted middle class--W.G.] cannot see that after one has defeated the enemy, one has the responsibility of saving his soul’ (‘Southern Chivalry’, p. 169).  This mind-set is one that sets the South apart from those who shallowly seek the ‘complete destruction of the enemy, so . . . we won’t be at the expense of having to do this [i.e., fight them--W. G.] again’ (p. 169).

Prof Weaver pondered how mankind’s warlike bent might be safely bounded so that peace might come to the world (‘Lee’, p. 174).  The answer he sought came with the coming of Christianity; and more specifically, with the coming of organized Christian monasticism.  Robert Boenig in his ‘Introduction’ to Anglo-Saxon Spirituality quoted André Vauchez on the monasticism of Dixie’s Old English forefathers:

By presenting religious life primarily as a ceaseless struggle against the “Ancient Foe,” monastic spirituality awakened widespread reverberation within a warlike society whose secular ethic . . . favored related values (p. 42).

For Orthodox Christians in general (who are all called to a life of asceticism, just like monks), but especially for the monks who leave the cares of the world to focus their attention only on the salvation of their souls (i.e., union with God), life is a war with the inner passions and the demons and the devil, who seek our downfall.  Here, then, is where the Southerner’s yearning for a fight, and all mankind’s, may be safely directed, just as it was with the South’s violent Anglo-Saxon and Celtic forebears:  to battle together with our brothers (or sisters) in the monasteries with the unseen forces in the ghostly realms for the salvation of our souls and bodies.  And may those of us still living in the world follow well their ensample, as Christians throughout the ages have sought to do.

Works Cited

Robert Boenig, ‘Introduction’, Anglo-Saxon Spirituality: Selected Writings, Boenig trans., Mahwah, Nj., Paulist Press, 2000.

Richard Weaver, ‘Southern Chivalry and Total War’ [1945], The Southern Essays of Richard M. Weaver, Curtis, III and Thompson, Jr., eds., Indianapolis, Ind., LibertyPress, 1987.

--, ‘Lee the Philosopher’ [1948], The Southern Essays of Richard M. Weaver, Curtis, III and Thompson, Jr., eds., Indianapolis, Ind., LibertyPress, 1987.

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