Volume > Issue > Hatred: A Christian Imperative?

Hatred: A Christian Imperative?

The Reign of Love, Volume I: Properties of Blood

By Thomas Fleming

Publisher: Fleming Foundation

Pages: 322

Price: $44.34

Review Author: Charles C. Yost

Charles C. Yost is Assistant Professor of Medieval History at Hillsdale College in Michigan.

In a world of chaos and vaunted antidotes thereto, expectations run high and results fall short. One profferer of antidotes, Jordan B. Peterson, has said many sane and healthful things — yes, you should make your bed and clean your room. But Peterson’s program for reform fails precisely for the same reason that all liberalism fails: its basis in unreality. Like any other “liberal” — whether classical or leftist — Peterson assumes that healthy humans are mere individuals. Indeed, in Peterson’s view, the problem is “group-think” and “identitarianism” in their various ideological incarnations. (But why not, rather, see such phenomena as inarticulate protests against the alienating horror of modernity and its relentless war on the ties that have traditionally bound man to man, war with the intent to reduce him to a fungible cog in a global market?) And what solution does he offer? More individualism.

If something hasn’t worked yet, try harder.

Readers will scour Peterson’s writings in vain for the teachings of Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, or Aquinas. Given this screaming gap in his knowledge — which yawns ferociously between Near Eastern myths and Carl Jung — one wonders how self-consciously traditionalist Christians or conservatives of a traditional mien can take Peterson as their patron sage.

Now, with the publication of the first volume of Thomas Fleming’s Reign of Love, they have no excuse. Or they would have no excuse except for the strange obscurity into which the author has fallen, despite the critical midwifery he provided for the American paleoconservative movement through his contributions at Chronicles magazine, at the Rockford Institute, and now as leader of the eponymous Fleming Foundation (still located in Rockford, Ill.). The Reign of Love promises to be Fleming’s consummate statement on morality, politics, and society, which goes beyond the author’s previous work The Morality of Everyday Life (2007) in providing an alternative to “the Liberal and Collectivist traditions of moral and political reasoning.”

In this first volume, subtitled Properties of Blood, Fleming vigorously asserts the reality of the family as an extended kin group united by acknowledged common descent. It is here in the family that we learn how to be human — over and against the liberal myth of the individual, which Fleming rejects, and the “conservative” notion of the so-called nuclear family of husband, wife, 2.1 children, and probably a dog (advocacy for which represents conservatism’s latest rearguard action in defense of a trench first dug by revolutionaries but now deemed “traditional” relative to the inexorable march of progress). The wisdom of the Western tradition bequeathed to us by our ancestors, as well as “objective observation” of human behavior (sociobiology in the style of Edward O. Wilson), offers a much richer vision.

Fleming is well aware of the way enemies of traditional society manipulate and distort passages of the New Testament in order to gaslight their Christian interlocutors and push their own revolutionary doctrines. For example, if we insist on the legitimacy of maintaining national borders or distinguishing countrymen from aliens, we are met with appeals to the Good Samaritan and the migrations of the Holy Family. (Augustine gave us the proper response to such adversaries of Christ who would reduce His words and example to the service of their idols — in this case, human rights — in City of God: “Who then are you, with whom it is scarcely fitting to speak of your gods, let alone my God? My God who is terrible above all gods, because the gods of the heathens are demons, but our Lord made the heavens.”)

Here we come to the nub of the problem. Is Christianity an ideology that dissolves the traditional order of kin and kith, the rule of fathers, and the jealous love of fatherland and ancestors in favor of a world-rejecting, imperium-transcending, and universalizing ideology that laid the foundation for modern deconstructions of race, ethnicity, nation, family, marriage, patriarchy, and sex? In a more seminal form, this conflict between “Athens/Rome” and “Jerusalem” is the same challenge that was posed by the Emperor Julian (r. A.D. 361-363) and taken up by Augustine in City of God following the Gothic sack of Rome in A.D. 410. But Fleming’s approach is diametrically opposed to that of either the apostate emperor or the Church father. The Christians of late antiquity raised on Virgil and Cicero and committed to the imperium might have found cold comfort in Augustine’s separation of the City of God from the City of Man — distinct in their origins, trajectories, and destinies — a view that, in its own way, rather agrees with the noncompatibility position of Julian, who forbade Christians from teaching the pagan literature in which they did not believe. (Certainly, Augustine saw much in the pagan tradition worthy of Christian appropriation, and his very argument in the first part of City of God is predicated on his own mastery of that tradition, which enables him to subvert it.) But for his part, Fleming is convinced that Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem are in the same neighborhood.

Fleming argues for the deep agreement between Christianity and old-fashioned (pagan) values. He does this by taking the approach of a philologist: analyzing the texts of the Greek New Testament with an eye to the specific terms used and their resonances within the larger canon of ancient Greek literature. Fleming also emphasizes the tradition to which Jesus Himself was heir and which He, by His own admission, never meant to abolish, that is, the patriarchal, obsessively kin-centric, and xenophobic world of the Old Testament. This approach allows Fleming to draw out the impressive affinities among the ancient Jews, Greeks, Romans, and Germans in the ways they thought about family and familial obligations. Although differing in the details of how they named and related to family members — and sometimes Fleming’s text sags beneath the pedantry of his philological dissections — these people all made distinctions between “who was in” and “who was out”; they all separated kin and friends from enemies; and they all acknowledged a priority in moral obligation to those who are bound more closely by ties of flesh and blood. Christianity changed none of this.

Even though Christ had a fraught relationship with His own people — as exhibited in His tense dialogues with the Jews in the Gospel of John — He nonetheless closed ranks in solidarity with them when dealing with outsiders. Far from denying the ethnic distinction between Samaritan and Jew drawn by the woman at the well, Christ insisted on the superiority of His own people (cf. Jn. 4:9-10, 21-22). When beseeched for a miracle by the Canaanite woman, Christ asserted His mission was to the children of Israel, and that it was “not good to take the bread of the children and cast it to the dogs” (Mt. 15:26) — thus exhibiting the ancient Jewish hatred of the abominable Canaan. Of course, after the Canaanite woman’s display of humble faith, Jesus does comply with her wishes — thereby showing us that it is possible to love one’s enemies even while recognizing that they are indeed enemies.

Then there is St. Paul’s comparing neglect of one’s “own” (των ιδιων) and one’s own family (και μαλιστα οικειων) to apostasy and infidelity (cf. 1 Tim. 5:8). Fundamental to Christ’s law of love is the ability to order our loves and fulfill our obligations appropriately; to discriminate between those who have a prior claim on our love from those whose claims are more remote; and to recognize that we owe something greater to those with whom we share blood, language, and cult.

Here Fleming is at his most daring. That God is love, and Christ’s law is a law of love, is uncontroversial among Christians. But Fleming strives to accommodate hatred within the parameters of Christian morality. That hate could be an appropriate way for a Christian to relate to others makes us very uncomfortable, but for all our discomfort, hatred waxes strong in the Holy Scriptures. “Lord, have I not hated them who hated Thee,” pleads the psalmist, “and have I not languished because of Thy enemies? With a perfect hatred have I hated them, and they have become my enemies” (Ps. 139:21-22). And the Lord God Himself says, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau have I hated” (Mal. 1:2-3; Rom. 9:13). We hear from Christ Himself the terrible sacrifice required of those who would be His disciples: “If anyone comes to me without hating (μισεῖ) his own father, and his mother, and his wife, and his children, his brothers and his sisters — yes, and even his very life — he cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26). The key verb here in the Greek text is μισεῖν, a stark and common enough word in Ancient Greek that unambiguously means “to hate,” as in “misogyny” (from μισ- and γυνή = “woman”).

Drawing on the pre-Socratic philosophers, Fleming identifies “love” and “hate” as two inevitable and reciprocal forces upon which the cosmos and civilization depend. “Love” is affinity for the “other” and the “different” (man for woman, for instance), but at the same time, it involves a reciprocal repulsion from that which is the same as, or similar to, the lover. Hatred is the opposite: repulsion from the “other,” but at the same time and reciprocally it expresses preference for what is “like” to, or the “same” as, the hater. That is to say: Whenever we express preferential love or recognize prior obligations for someone, we are — to that same degree — expressing preference against, or “hatred” for, others. I prefer my own children and think nothing of buying them ice cream that they certainly don’t need — even to the neglect of hypothetical children of the Third World supposedly dying of hunger at the very same instant. A man keeps faith with his wife even to the contempt of other women. I hate outsiders not because they are in themselves unworthy of love but simply because I prefer my own kin, clan, and nation — and that is right and just.

What is crucial for the Christian to recognize is that all these human loves and hates are ultimately relativized by the total love owed to God, who transcends all being, in view of which the Christian is obliged to hate, by comparison, everything and everyone that is not God, even up to and including his very own life and flesh — just as Christ Himself commanded. Yet this same God who is above all is also in all — for which reason we are enabled, but by God’s grace alone, to love the world as God loves it (cf. Jn. 3:16). True as this is, it no more undermines the moral imperative to hate than it removes Christ’s unambiguously harsh words from the Scriptures.

We have here two horns of the paradox of Christian morality, and we can only banish one of them at the expense of the full truth. Contradictory as this ethic may seem, does it not find its place among so many other mysteries of the Christian religion — the transcendence and immanence of the Divinity; the One God in Three Persons; the immortal God who suffers and dies — without which Christianity would be reduced to a merely human system? It has been frequently observed that heresies often originate from the desire to resolve divine paradox and cut it down to human dimensions. It is also true that, given the needs and temptations of the hour, one horn of a paradox — the one that risks being forgotten — may need to be emphasized temporarily over the other. In a world where Christ’s enemies have fashioned nooses out of His law of love so as to trap His disciples in snares of moral confusion, perhaps it is high time for Christians to remember the imperative to hate.

The point, then, is that both love and hate, preference for and preference against, must have a place in the Christian moral universe. It is not the “City of God,” writes Fleming, but the “City of Satan” that teaches us to relate to all human beings — kin, not-kin, countrymen, aliens — indifferently, with neither love nor hate, to express no preferences, to pretend that we can love all mankind abstractly and without distinctions, as though such a thing were possible for mere mortals bound in time and space by flesh and blood, whereas God alone is the true lover of mankind.

Fleming’s book is essential reading for any Christian who wants to learn how to defend the traditional moral order without ceding ground to the enemy or accepting his false assumptions. The Reign of Love can be obtained via the online store at the Fleming Foundation homepage (fleming.foundation) as well as at Amazon, where interested readers will find it in both paperback and Kindle formats.

 

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