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Is there an "inner revelation" of the conscience which teaches us self-discipline by the light of faith? If not, then our "faith" is mere fear or habit or imposture. Christianity is the climax of moral reason, not its opposite.
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A Body Without Breath
How Right and Left Have Both Stifled Moral Reason within the Christian Faith
John R. Harris, Ph.D.
John Harris taught language (Latin, French) and literature (English, World) for two decades at various levels before retiring from a college professorship to found Arcturus Press. He is not a trained theologian, has never attended a seminary, and frankly admits that he struggles to feel at home in any of contemporary Christendom's formal settings. This book, then, was not written to garner points with a circle of colleagues, employers, or neighbors: it is, instead, the sincere and vigorous (though also well reasoned and documented) response of one man--a man who pays bills and worries over his child, like all "real people"--to the agonizing shallowness and disturbing worldliness which have beset Christianity from either extreme. "This is the book," he says, "which I had to write after leaving my last teaching job at a Protestant college. I had other reasons for leaving, and other things I wanted to write; but this book--its frustration, its indignation, its appeal to common sense and fair play--lay at the bottom of everything else. Parts of it were composed three or four years ago, but its basic idea has been nagging at me throughout my adult life. And that is just this: that a Christian must love goodness if he claims to love God, and must strive to do good if he claims to serve God. The rest is mere chaff in the breeze."
Click here for excerpts.
Summary of Contents
Part One: Orientation
Chapter One: If Not Goodness, Then What? An initial assertion based upon reason that the preeminent attribute of a God called All-Good must be moral perfection.
Chapter Two: Denominational Odyssey A brief personal excursus, delving only deeply enough to substantiate the claim that the author has not deliberately favored any denomination over another for sentimental reasons.
Chapter Three: A Word about Works An explanation that "works" in the study refers not to programmatic behavior aimed at social engineering, but to intensely intimate, often irreproducible struggles. excerpt
Part Two: Excesses on the Far Right
Chapter Four: The Question of Authority—Why Knowledge of Goodness Cannot Rest Solely on the Bible The clear thrust of Western thought about goodness, both Christian and pre-Christian, is that moral truth cannot originate in cultural quirk. Mere Bible-reading without moral analysis cannot separate human universals from Hebrew conditionals.
Chapter Five: The Question of Authority (continued)—How Fundamentalism Undermines Good Deeds and Distorts Grace A more abstract argument is built upon the bare necessity of deliberation, choice, and mortification of selfish interests in all cases involving moral behavior.
Chapter Six: How the New Literalism Has Severed Its Conservative Roots The image of "old-time religion" cultivated so meticulously in some quarters of the Religious Right is shown to be grossly distorted.
Chapter Seven: Fundamentalism Plugs In—The Role of Television in Creating the New Literalism Like liberal anarchy, right-wing literalism gained momentum in the early seventies, owing largely to televangelism.
Chapter Eight: Fundamentalism and Empiricism—Strange Bedfellows with Backs Turned The much-touted adversarial relationship between the Religious Right and science results from their sharing a common standard of proof and a common belief that ultimate reality is material.
Chapter Nine: Conscience Versus Self-Indulgence—Homage to Thomas Molnar The traditional Catholic point of view deserves to be singled out for honoring moral reason, yet it sometimes stops short of granting God’s goodness the highest priority
Part Three: Betrayal From the Left
Chapter Ten: Neo-Liberalism, Sex, and the Perversion of Love and Forgiveness The single most visible failure of the liberal church to provide moral leadership over the past half-century must surely reside in its ineptitude at resisting the sexual revolution. excerpt
Chapter Eleven: Neo-Liberalism, Lies, and Moral Chaos Closely related to the liberal church’s catering to a degenerate culture by debasing the Christian view of love is a broad "softening" of terms and boundaries often equivalent to routine lying.
Chapter Twelve: Neo-Liberalism, Utopia, and the Pathology of Social Decay Inevitably, the well-intentioned liberalism of the nineteenth century allowed its social conscience to lure it into irreverent varieties of twentieth-century utopianism. excerpt
Chapter Thirteen: Positivism, Scientific Faith, and the New Liberal The impact of empirical science upon liberal Christianity is a matter of historical record and, indeed, was not always deleterious; but today the cosmologist’s materialism is, if anything, more self-effacing than the hedonistic social reformer’s.
Chapter Fourteen: The Electronic Media, Hollywood Chic, and the New Liberal The unholy alliance between the liberal church, the academy, the entertainment industry, and politics is fusing more solidly every day as it courts an ever more agenda-driven vision of the perfect social commune.
Part Four: Per Saecula Saeculorum
Chapter Fifteen: The Fundamentals—Back to the Basic Facts of Life and Death As the book concludes, the opening focus on "mere Christianity" is recovered and a perspective upon contemporary Christian practice sought. excerpt
Chapter Sixteen: Varieties of Mystical Experience—Are There Any? The answer to the title’s question is essentially "no"—not unless one considers the mystery of moral inspiration, which is infinitely closer to God’s true nature than an unusually clear dream, job-hunting or fund-raising auspices, etc.
Chapter Seventeen: The Role of Organization and Ritual—Confessions of a Neo-Kantian This final chapter is an apology for public ritual in the light of reason’s vulnerability to obsession and, specifically, moral reason’s vulnerability to paranoia and depression.
From the Author's Preface
"I am not accusing the Christian church or any several denominations of wholly abandoning moral philosophy. Like other human institutions, churches have bills to pay, and in a culture devoted to shallows pleasures, a stern message requires a very brave messenger. Yet if I may draw an example from what is our most topical crisis as I write, the formal response of organized Christianity to Islamic terrorism has been woefully 'under-deliberated'. We are told in one kind of congregation to trust that God will keep our own families and property from harm; in another occupying the spectrum’s opposite end, we are treated to the theatrical humility of mutilated history lessons wherein Christians are always aggressors and Muslims victims. Nowhere do we hear (or nowhere have I heard) that death must come to all, that the style of urban living we have chosen lends itself to occasional calamity, that no one who chooses to kill is primarily a victim, and that no one who breathes is wholly incapable of killing.
"We have lost our moral way. Our guiding light has been extinguished by opposing gales of hedonistic generosity and programmatic ideology. Both major political factions howl from either direction at different times. The Right would have us regard our material prosperity as God’s blessing when, in some ways, it perniciously undermines our moral fortitude. Yet we are to view Islam with no such indulgence, since its sacred book is sometimes harsh and its more liberal interpretationists cannot be true believers! The Left, on the contrary, would have us flail ourselves (always excluding its own anointed prophets, who are our conscience) while awarding villains of every stripe the special dispensation usually reserved for young children and lunatics. In love with their Mosaic pose, its progressive orators will overlook a ghastly ruin of atrocities and debauches in the modern world’s carnival-gone-berserk as long as they may blare "Onward! Onward!" from the prow of the pageant’s leading float.
"I have been warned that a work so critical of both extremes can succeed only in alienating all possible readers. What I find most wrong-headed about this admonition is its imagery. The positions I have just challenged have no more to do with polarities, really, than my own position does with moderation. My complaint is precisely that both 'extremes' are in fact alike in founding their worship of God somewhere other than upon His supreme moral goodness. Personally, I see no excuse for being moderate in adoring such goodness. This simplest of criticisms is 'fundamentalist', if you will—and I suspect that it will resonate in all simple hearts. If there are too few of these among all of us who profess a real love of the true God, then Creation has greater problems than my lack of marketability."