Russell Kirk’s “Enemies of the Permanent Things”

If I could but help just one other soul to the reading of the works of Russell Kirk.  Mormons! Feel of this, and tell me if Dr. Kirk did not echo Joseph Smith in his estimation of eternal truth as “…that religion which has existed since the beginning of the world, but which now takes the name of Christianity.” (pg. 21)  Or maybe in his assessment of inspiration: “Direct revelation, moreover, has been extremely rare: on most occasions, divine wisdom was expressed through the mouths of very human prophets—who may be categorized, if you wish, under the late classification of ‘seer.’” (pg.34)  On the universal availability of truth, as Joseph so clearly demonstrated in his religious innovation and teachings, against the notion of some single, great font of knowledge from God:

“To maintain that all normative truth may be found in the Bible, or in any other sacred book, is to fall into the error of what Coleridge called ‘bibliolatry.’ Though the Decalogue is the word of God, it is not the sole source of the commandments for mankind.  The universality of such moral laws is succinctly put by C. S. Lewis, in his Abolition of Man; Lewis calls these universal commandments, perceived and expressed variously in every culture, ‘the Tao.’…Although in our Father’s house are many mansions, they are not all on the same floor, true enough; yet Jewish and Christian dogmas, if the clearest and highest expression of moral normality, nevertheless do not enjoy an exclusive claim to such revelation.” (pg. 35)

Kirk classes poets with prophets, Solon with Moses (pg. 38), as both active within the seeric office.  Such categorization is harmonious with the implications of Mormonism, in light of Joseph Smith’s utilization of any source in his environment to articulate the truths he grasped.  Poets and prophets deliver eternal verity clothed in the idiom of their culture.

I do not intend for this little review to continue much longer.  In my attempt to shine some points of its light on potential readers I very well could transcribe the book.  Here are some important points of resonance for me with Dr. Kirk.

He was a convert to his faith.  As such, he lacked the cultural conditioning attendant upon an upbringing within the faith (which goes for all faith traditions); his mind was unhindered by the cultural blindness that can result from natal loyalty to tribe.  He thus freely partook of truth whencever he found it.

He read widely.  His thought, and most satisfyingly his writing, was permeated with the fruits of broad literary attainment.  As per his own admission, he did not take the time to learn languages; no Latin, Ancient Greek, or Biblical Hebrew, not German or Italian.  He made this no hindrance to his pursuit of familiarity with writers without the pale of the American and English milieu in which was his training.

He valued revelation and tradition, saw them as complementary.

Read Russell Kirk, Mormons.

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