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Christians were not put on earth to live a life of pleasure. They were adjured by Paul to put to death those parts of themselves that belonged to the earth. They were not to indulge the body, or even the affections. These were to be crucified. Christians were not to allow themselves to be governed by any non-piritual consideration — even by emotional relationships with family and friends. For Jesus himself had demanded of his followers that they should hate their family and their very selves:.

Luke, AV. For centuries, ever since Jesus had preached his gospel, small contingents of Christians attempted to realise these ideals. In the early centuries of the Church they had left the world and entered monasteries. In faithful obedience to their scriptures they had turned their backs upon their families and, as the outward charter of their ideal of inward self-hatred, they had taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

As marks of their contempt for their own flesh and for all emotional indulgence, they had beaten their bodies with cords and whips until the blood ran. In an effort to attain spiritual purity they had chastised themselves and one another. They had fasted, they had prayed, they had locked themselves in solitude and wept in despair and contrition.

The monasteries in which they embraced such rigorous disciplines were living monuments to the doctrine of contemptus mundi. But they also gradually became centres of learning in which the underlying ethos of Western science and Western rationalism was evolved. When Christians scourged themselves with whips they did so in order to achieve purity; the aim of chastisement was chastity, as the shared etymology of the two words suggests.

The fantasy which Christian ascetics thus acted out was that by inflicting hurt upon their bodies they might succeed in destroying the unclean substance they were supposedly made of. The monastic idealisation of reason had a similar origin. One of the traditional religious functions of reason, from Augustine on, was to chastise concupiscence and, by instituting a state of rational purity in the soul, to bring the Christian closer to God.

Mental discipline was thus the counterpart of physical discipline and it too set out to eliminate the defilement of the body by systematically suppressing emotions, appetites and irrational impulses. For the rise of monastic rationalism did not change the underlying attitude of Christians towards purity.

Their spiritual journey remained as much conditioned by the doctrine of contemptus mundi as it ever had been. In many respects the emergence of ascetic rationalism merely translated into mental terms — terms which were ultimately more subtle and more psychologically effective — the forms of self-contempt and self-chastisement which are found in the cruder and more primitive forms of asceticism.

Foundations of the Anthropology of Gender

In this manner reason was usurped by a powerful spiritual elite and used for a fundamentally irrational end. In all these respects — and this Weber himself recognises — the rise of rational asceticism in the great monasteries of the middle ages helped to usher in the specific form of Puritanism which was adopted by Protestants after the Reformation. But superimposed on this underlying continuity was a very significant element of discontinuity. For to the most rigorous kind of Christian, possessed of that compulsive veracity and obedience to the letter of the scriptures which was above all encouraged by the spirit of the Reformation, even the extremes of self-denial practised in the great monasteries of the West were not enough.

They were to be rejected not because they represented excesses of asceticism, but because they still fell short of that absolute spiritual asceticism preached in the New Testament.

What Jesus and Paul had condemned most passionately were the externals of religious asceticism. It was for the marks, rituals, outward signs and charters of spiritual poverty that they had reserved their deepest contempt; it was the inward reality of spiritual poverty, alone and undefiled by bodily externals, that they had demanded of their followers. Purer than the faith which had taught them purity, these zealous religious revolutionaries had recognised intuitively that ascetic religions have an inbuilt tendency to subvert their own absolute ascetic ideals.

This they do by restoring in ritual that which is denied in doctrine. It is through the medium of bodily ritual that traditional religions keep alive, in an attenuated and negated form, the sensuality which pure spiritual asceticism seeks to destroy absolutely.

It was, above all, of such sensual ritualism that Jesus and Paul had sought to cleanse their own Jewish faith. The Puritans, with their authentically Pauline capacity for divining any form of bodily or sensual indulgence, however deeply it might be concealed beneath outward austerities, set out to revive the spirit of the New Testament and to purify their own paganised faith of all ritual satisfaction or sensual indulgence. What they intuitively recognised was that scourging and chastising the flesh was a way not of extinguishing the sensual imagination, but of keeping it alive.

By paying an outward penance in the form of bodily pain, traditional Christian ascetics were doing what men and women have often done in the context of their sexual lives: they were using physical pain and fantasies of punishment as the medium in which some degree of erotic and emotional freedom could be conjured back into the imagination without inflicting any hurt on the conscience. Something very similar could be said about every one of the rituals, charters, codes of discipline and other externals which had come to surround the cultivation of spiritual poverty.

As external forms of discipline were multiplied, so the inner conscience relaxed with the result that Christian ascetics often liberated the very levels of sexual fantasy they sought to destroy.

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In the delusional world-view which was now embraced by these same Puritans, the only way forward to the absolute purity idealised in the gospels was to renounce all forms of ritual discipline together with the monasticism which was their institutional stronghold. Luther, Calvin and their successors repudiated monasticism, together with the whole notion of physical penances not because they embodied a form of asceticism which was too rigorous, but because the very impossibility of the monastic ideal almost inevitably engendered a form of asceticism which was too lax.

Yet the rejection of the monastic ideal was not total. In their repudiation of monasticism the leaders of the Reformation saw themselves as faithful followers of the scriptures. For although the teachings of Jesus did indeed idealise a life of poverty, chastity and obedience, that life was, by example, to be led in the world.

In order to put this gospel ideal of worldly asceticism into practice, what the early Reformers attempted to do, with all their uncompromising zeal, was to make the world their monastery. The pursuit of spiritual purity which had once been the vocation of the few was now to become the duty of the many. The Puritan ethic thus demanded of every Christian man and woman what had never been demanded of any monk or nun: that they should daily expose themselves to all the snares and temptations of the world and still remain virtuous. It was in order to guard against that sensual fall into sin which everywhere threatened the inhabitants of the new worldly paradise of Puritanism that Puritan leaders and preachers multiplied Godly discipline to a degree and with a psychological intensity which had never been encountered before in any broadly based Christian movement.

Even here there was no complete break with the Catholic tradition, however. During the later middle ages the Roman Catholic church had increasingly sought to impose a form of monastic discipline upon the laity, and had encouraged individuals to engage in self-scrutiny, in a systematic weighing of their sins, and in the organisation of their own conscience.

10. Sexual behavior

The deep continuity between the rational asceticism of the Reformers and the rational asceticism developed in the great monasteries of the West is even more important than the superficial discontinuity. Martin Luther, we should recall, had himself been a monk; Calvin had received a severe religious training and attended the same religious school as Ignatius, who would go on to found the Jesuit order.

When such reformers left their monasteries and their religious institutions — and eventually their Church — it was not because they had failed to internalise the ideals of monastic discipline. Rather they had internalised them so successfully and so deeply that they could no longer tolerate the dissonance which they saw between these pure ideals and the impure human reality of the Church all around them, where sensual freedom and financial acquisitiveness were everywhere apparent, even, as Luther found to his disgust, in Rome itself. It was nothing other than their own profound internalisation of the discipline of monasticism that Luther, Calvin, Knox and their kindred spirits set out to impose on their followers.

It was this formidable project which lay at the heart of the exercise in religious indoctrination which they, and the Puritan preachers who came after them, undertook. In the secular monasticism of the Puritan movement the rule books and the codes of discipline which the founders of the great Catholic orders had written with quills upon parchment in the gloomy light of their cells were no longer to be copied laboriously by other monks into hour books, illuminated and enriched with some of the greatest treasures of Christian art, and used as the external charters by which the daily lives of monks and nuns were to be ordered, by which sins were to be weighed and penances prescribed.

Instead these ancient rule-books and codes of discipline were to be scored with the cold, hard steel of religious conviction upon the soft flesh of every human heart, so that every Puritan could become his own abbot, regulate his own day, weigh his own sins inside the dark cell of his own conscience and there prescribe and inflict the penance which he deemed just. It is in just such a profound internalisation of the rational asceticism of Western monasticism that we find the very essence of the psychology of Protestantism, the very origins of the modern Protestant conscience.

But it is here also that we find the roots of the modern tradition of liberal individualism and the beginnings of the process of secularisation out of which modern European and American democracies would eventually emerge. The process of internalisation was, necessarily, a slow one. The early Puritan leaders did not abjure rule-books and traditional disciplinary sanctions, for in the social conditions in which they worked, they could not. At Zurich Zwingli took the initiative in forming a board of moral discipline and drew up a list of sins to be punished by excommunication, sins which included theft, unchastity, perjury and avarice.

In the same spirit Calvin in Geneva composed his Institutes — a manual of discipline which brought even the lightest action under a rigid spiritual rule. This was the reality of Puritan discipline in the early stages of Calvinism. But the ideal was very different, and for this ideal to be realised, the spiritual police force with which Calvin surrounded the members of his church had to be relocated inside the conscience of every individual Christian.

It was in pursuit of this ideal that Puritan preachers set out to arm each one of their flock with a personal spiritual discipline and thus to create the authentic Puritan conscience. But his words are despatched with such speed, and with such extreme sureness of aim that, even though we may glimpse their initial direction, we may fail, because of our own moderate vision, to see that point of human nature at which they eventually strike home.

What they suggest is nothing less than this: that for democracy to be a political possibility, the very rules of the body politic must themselves be recreated inside the individual body of every member of that democracy. It was the achievement of Puritan leaders to seize upon this principle intuitively and apply it with a rigour and an effectiveness which had never previously been seen. For it was by creating the Puritan conscience that they succeeded in constructing an imaginative replica of their own political ideology inside the bodies of their followers.

For in the constitution of the Puritan there was to be but one absolute and unquestioned ruler. In every part of the body and in the very depths of the heart the spies of the conscience were posted.

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Every deviation was reported, every excess registered, every move made by the insurrectionary powers of the body was charted anxiously and spiritual forces were immediately sent out to put down the rebellion. In order that dangerous forms of association should not grow up within the human imagination and rise in solidarity against the tyranny of reason, any attempt to organise the imagination systematically was implicitly outlawed; the right to engage in systematic intellectual organisation which is to say in scientific inquiry was possessed only by the rational soul which was ruled always by the iron will of God.

Since subversion might grow from any form of human relationship which was not rigorously policed, affections were crushed, friendships distrusted and any spark of human warmth which could be deemed excessive or self-indulgent was trampled on by the agents of the spirit. Then, in order that the rebel forces which had been bound and hurled down into the dungeons of the conscience should not attempt to throw off their shackles, the Puritan made all work — including intellectual work — into an instrument of self-chastisement until the body, bound within its dungeon, was mortified with a pain deeper than any whip or scourge could inflict.

Idleness became a sin unclean, almost, as adultery. Insofar as the Puritan movement within the Christian Church was in the vanguard of a concerted attack on all notions of external hierarchy and episcopal authority, arguing instead for the enfranchisement of the individual Christian believer, the ideology of Puritanism itself envisaged a kind of ecclesiastical democracy. But in order that the profound rigidity of this democracy should not be challenged, the political body of the individual Puritan was not a democracy.

Human reason was not to rule over the body firmly but justly, consulting at every step with ordinary human feelings and impulses and with the untutored and unprejudiced evidence of the senses. It was to rule cruelly and autocratically, in splendid isolation from the body and the feelings, accountable only to the pure eye of God. It should be recognised that this cultural revolution was not limited in its scope to those countries where Protestants came to hold the balance of ecclesiastical power. The crusading zeal of Puritanism was part of a much larger movement of rigorous reform which swept through almost every part of the Christian Church from the fifteenth century onwards.

Very similar sentiments would eventually be manifested in the Counter-Reformation within the Roman Catholic church, in the spiritual disciplines introduced by Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuit order, and by other reformers. The contribution made by this same cultural revolution to the emergence of European secularism should not be difficult to divine. For what happened increasingly, as the rigorist cultural revolution of Reformed Christianity was carried deeper and deeper into the body politic, was that an outer religion of laws, rituals and observances was replaced by an inner religion of spiritual self-discipline and of the conscience.

To the extent that religion appeared to become increasingly invisible it did so not because it had been banished from the body politic but because it had been secreted in its very citadel — in the political bodies of the individuals into whose hands the government of the state was now gradually committed.

For one of the fiercest ideals of St Paul, who had derived it directly from Old Testament prophets like Ezekiel, was that the laws of God should be written not upon tablets of stone, but upon the inward conscience of the individual believer. In helping to realise this ancient religious dream, the Puritan and Catholic rigorists who carried through a cultural revolution in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries did not only bring into being the psychological preconditions of modern secular democracies, they also helped to create the underlying ethos of modern science and modern rationalism and of the liberal individualism which remains the dominating ideology of the West.

If religious ideologies appear to play no part in liberal secularist societies, it is not because they have been left behind or in some way marginalised.