The New Age of Faith

Based on his experience of the past several days, Michael Brenner says the Dark Ages are making a comeback.

Saint Ambrose, Saint Augustine and a Scribe in fresco by Raphael depicting the formulation of the Holy Sacraments at the Vatican Museums. (Slices of Light, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

By Michael Brenner

The Dark Ages are commonly referred to as The Age of Faith. Appropriately so. For it was the avowal of belief that counted above all else. A testament in words as to the state of your soul and mind eclipsed what you did and determined your fate and prospects for salvation.

When a church prelate encountered “evil” behavior and/or speech – of a sinner, of a pagan, a heretic, an apostate – the immediate reaction would be to clutch his pectoral crucifix in his left hand and make the sign of the cross with the right – left to right; right to left if Orthodox (as is Russian President Vladimir Putin).

The gesture was meant to ward off the Evil One. He then would issue an interdiction prohibiting any communion with the brethren until the spiritual miscreant had taken a blood oath of fidelity to the prescribed doctrine and authority.

In this supposedly enlightened, secular age, we are reviving the practice in modified form.

Discourse about Russia/Ukraine is the outstanding case in point these days. Any public commentary about the matter, discussing any aspect of the complex situation, is required to be prefaced by a declaration of belief: a total denunciation of Russia, Putin and the invasion of Ukraine followed by praise to the glory of Ukraine’s stellar “democracy” and the person of Volodymyr Zelensky (the Sainted martyr, who doesn’t cross himself – that’s progress).

Without that avowal, whatever has been said or written is placed beyond the pale – ignored, denied relevance, and interpreted as prime facie evidence of the author’s blasphemy.

A heretic who does not believe in the Holy Trinity, depicted in embroidery on the Standard of the City of Milan. (Bosc d’Anjou, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Someone who is averse to offering testaments of faith just to be qualified to participate in the rites of public discourse is placed in a quandary. Take the vow and then move on with serious thinking OR remain silent OR suffer the slings and arrows from the outraged Faithful.

To come down from those lofty heights, and to personalize it, my experience of the past several days confirms the suspicion that the Dark Ages are making a comeback. For anybody who cares, let me note that nowhere have I stated that I approve or support the Russian military move into Ukraine.

However, I see no good reason to take the formulaic vow as a precondition for people to pay as much attention to my writing as they normally do. Nor do I plan to seek Absolution from Cardinal Biden or Bishop Blinken — even if each were not so heavily pockmarked by the wages of his own Sins. “All things are possible for one who believes. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Michael Brenner is a professor of international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. mbren@pitt.edu

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

21 comments for “The New Age of Faith

  1. March 24, 2022 at 03:27

    If the ignorant have been able to submit to precepts imposed arbitrarily, it is because, sensing their weakness, they have had confidence in those whom they have accepted as masters, in those to whom they have left the task of thinking for him.
    But the one who feels strong wants to know the reason for the acts imposed on him.
    « Outside of faith there is no salvation », it has been said. We repeat today : « Outside scientific faith there is no morality ».
    We must believe in the purpose of things, to accept them. Without this first condition : Faith, nothing can enter the minds of men. The moral doctrine of the future must be based on these words: to know in order to believe; to believe in order to want.
    Link (french) : hxxps://livresdefemmeslivresdeverites.blogspot.com/

  2. Jesika
    March 23, 2022 at 18:22

    It is interesting that Edgar Cayce, “The Sleeping Prophet”, said in 1932 that Russia would be the hope of the world.

  3. Joseph
    March 23, 2022 at 11:28

    We have goaded Putin, vilified him via “Russiagate, broken promises not to move NATO countries closer to Russia’s borders, pointed missiles in Poland toward it, instigated the overt coup of the Russia-leaning Ukrainian government, and not cooperating in hammering out a new “architecture for Russia!s security concerns, et Al. All provocations that has caused the current war. Overwhelming hubris and dangerous arrogance have led to Russia’s response. This diplomatic blunder is a result of the neocon world view that the U.S is the center of the universe with a mandate from God to rule the world. There must be saner people in charge of our foreign policy. Tulsi Gabbard should be our Secretary of State if not President of our country..

  4. David Klim
    March 22, 2022 at 20:06

    Thought provoking Michael, thank you.

    It brings to mind another thought of how we are to not be religious (self- righteous) but to inwardly apply the correct mindset and our actions should follow:
    Amplified Bible
    You [spiritually] blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the plate [examine and change your inner self to conform to God’s precepts], so that the outside [your public life and deeds] may be clean also.
    We in the west need to judge ourselves correctly and should be most concerned with how we have been thinking and acting and the fruits of what we have sown, such as Libya, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan before casting stones.

  5. Peace is the way
    March 22, 2022 at 17:30

    None of us are innocent.

    • Dienne
      March 23, 2022 at 14:44

      I disagree. Some of us – like most on this site – are not only innocent, we are righteous. We see the truth and are trying – to the best of our ability and at at least some personal risk – to bring that truth to as many other people as we can.

  6. alley cat
    March 22, 2022 at 15:48

    “For anybody who cares, let me note that nowhere have I stated that I approve or support the Russian military move into Ukraine.”

    Nice post by Brennan. Remaining silent wasn’t an option with the Holy Inquisition or with Stalin, and it’s no defense against modern witch-hunters either.

    I condemn violent aggression per se, but often there’s a fine line between aggression and self-defense, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a case in point.

    Criminal laws in almost all societies recognize that the use of deadly force in self-defense is sometimes justified, depending on whether or not the use of deadly force was “reasonable under the circumstances.”

    “Reasonable under the circumstances” is the operative phrase here, and that is why Americans are not allowed to talk about the circumstances of the Russian invasion. There’s even a term for the suppression of truth by suppressing the circumstances—“decontextualization.”

    Contextualize at your own risk. Look at Julian Assange, Ed Snowden, or any other “heretic” to see what might befall you if you do.

  7. alley cat
    March 22, 2022 at 14:38

    “For anybody who cares, let me note that nowhere have I stated that I approve or support the Russian military move into Ukraine.”

    Nice post by Brennan but remaining silent wasn’t an option with the Holy Inquisition or with Stalin, and it’s no defense against modern witch-hunters either.

    I condemn violent aggression per se, but often there’s a fine line between aggression and self-defense, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a case in point.

    Criminal laws in almost all societies recognize that the use of deadly force in self-defense is sometimes justified, depending on whether or not the use of deadly force was “reasonable under the circumstances.”

    “Reasonable under the circumstances” is the operative phrase here, and that is why Americans are not allowed to talk about the circumstances of the Russian invasion. There’s even a term for the suppression of truth by suppressing the circumstances—“decontextualization.”

    Contextualize at your own risk. Look at Julian Assange, Ed Snowden, or any other “heretic” to see what might befall you if you do.

  8. Jeff Harrison
    March 22, 2022 at 14:37

    Well, unlike Mr. Brenner, I will be the first to say that Mr. Putin did the right thing. It was really his only choice. The US started this mess when Cookies Nuland took her shot at regime change in the Ukraine. American election “meddling” is behind this whole thing. To make matters worse, the US, desiring to break up the Russian Federation to try to steal their mineral wealth and destabilize the Russian government, encouraged the Ukraine to ignore the desires of Crimea (which was no more a part of the Ukraine than East St. Louis is in Missouri even though it’s in the St. Louis SMA) as well as the two provinces in the Donbas and ignore the Minsk agreements that the Ukraine signed onto. So the regime in Kiev has made several attacks on the Donbas in unsuccessful attempts to subdue the area killing civilians (including civilians acting as a militia). In the meantime, the US propaganda machine is in high gear trying to claim that the Ukraine is some bastion of democracy while having all the opposition politicians under indictment or house arrest or both, the opposition media outlets shut down, and the opposition political party outlawed. They must be thinking of US style democracy. It is also proclaiming that the whole world is on the side of the US when, in fact, as both the Global Times and Consortium news will tell you over 100 of the world’s countries are refusing to join in on “The West’s” sanctions regime. With the US doubling down on everything, it’ll get worse before it gets better.

    • Steve Naidamast
      March 22, 2022 at 18:01

      I completely agree. Many are saying that the situation should have been resolved diplomatically. And this may be true. However, we in the West no longer have any diplomats, just incompetent clowns as the heads of state whose idea of diplomacy relies on the word “no”.

      Given this, what type of diplomatic solution could be developed without the resort to violence?

      • March 23, 2022 at 10:52

        I believe the problem is the other way around. US believes in running roughshod over everyone with military or economic terrorism, hence US has no need for diplomats. They need propagandists and they have plenty of those.

  9. Tim N
    March 22, 2022 at 14:36

    Exactly so, Michael Brenner. What I call the “Required Confession” is something even some Leftists insist upon.

  10. Dosamuno
    March 22, 2022 at 14:18

    God is a Bronze Age fairy-tale.

  11. Robert Emmett
    March 22, 2022 at 13:55

    Amen, er, I mean right on, Professor Brenner.

    As for blood oaths, I’m seriously more concerned about ones taken to avenge Ameircan military rampages rather than about piddly oaths to some apocryphal political belief.

  12. Realist
    March 22, 2022 at 13:44

    None of us “chooses” to believe anything. That is just an expedient myth to make us feel we have agency, responsibility and deserve the rewards or consequences of our condition which is at root the product of a jumble of untold numbers of unparseable probabilities. It’s good to be the archbishop, especially if a saint-in-waiting. It sucks to be the heretic cast upon the floor. Both will always be with us.

  13. Caliman
    March 22, 2022 at 11:07

    Authors as divergent as McWhorter and Taibbi have written about this as well … to paraphrase, we live in an age of belief and that “both sides” (why are there only two sides always?) accept everything that matches their narrative as not just true but good and holy and therefore anything that diverges from their narrative as not just wrong but indeed bad, “deplorable,” and evil.

    Science, healthcare, public policy, etc. … it’s all the same: the important thing is not a careful examination of facts and indeed desire for contrary discussion. The important thing is simple repetition and confirmation and, most importantly, identification of the enemy and his agents for hate and destruction.

  14. John Kennard
    March 22, 2022 at 10:43

    And all the drunks driving by will accuse you of Communism, from the cabs of their pickup-trucks full of Chinese parts (OWS experience).

  15. Dienne
    March 22, 2022 at 10:22

    In my experience, avowing hatred for all things Russian and devotion to all things Ukrainian doesn’t help. You could spend 20 minutes spitting on Putin’s picture or kneeling before Zelensky’s, but the minute you say, “but…” and utter the tiniest heresy, it’s immediately, “Silence, you Putin-loving, democracy-hating spawn of Satan!” Absolutely no blasphemous deviation from the prescribed canon is tolerated, so you might as well not bother. In fact, I’ve been known to start my comments with, “Ekaterina, my Russian handler, bids me to say….”

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      March 22, 2022 at 11:39

      This is why I detest religion in all of its forms. It is superstition handed down from the days when humans didn’t even know where the sun went at night. It is anti-science and irrational. And worse of all, it has been and continues to be used in imposing social control of the people by whoever is King or Pharaoh or Leader or Pope or President or Prime Minister or the IMF or NATO.

      • James Simpson
        March 23, 2022 at 03:29

        Well, true… but Archbishop Óscar Romero was a believer, as were the four Catholic missionaries from the United States working in El Salvador who were raped and murdered by five members of the El Salvador National Guard on 2 October, 1980. These might be exceptions but we should not denigrate people with faith who act sacrificially with and for the poor.

        • Caliman
          March 23, 2022 at 11:09

          I’m agnostic; but indeed Bishop Romero who was later sainted was a great man … and there are many many others of course … people like the Berrigan brothers or even like MLK, who was a pastor after all.

          If faith leads people to believe we are all equal (even if under God) and deserve equal rights and basic humane treatment and encourages people to act to make that happen (liberation theology for example) then it can be a force for great good.

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