TNP is a Christian site. Given the state of the religion and its leaders in the US, that's probably enough to quit reading now. But TNP has an interesting project that I agree with in some ways and disagree strongly in others. Personally, I was raised a Christian, but I've never practiced it and have little tolerance for evangelism. And I really don't care much about the reconstruction of the church except that I abhor most of the views of the Christian Right and would like to see them reconstructed. If anything, I suppose I'm a Deweyan liberal-communitarian pragmatist humanist neo-internationalist critical environmentalist Marx-and-critical-theory-influenced social democrat who occasionally flirts with nihilism. That self-description, however, changes over time.
The thing I respect most about religion are those religious people who take an intellectual interest in the meaning of life and cosmos and do it with a sense of humor and fallibilism as well as a commitment to people who may not otherwise have any opportunity to derive any meaning or happiness from life. It's not simply a matter of knowing the stories and names in the Bible and following them, but of the full range of exploration of human and natural life from wherever it comes. For example, Rabelais himself and a few of the medieval thinkers who preceded him. I've known very very few Christians like this, but have had deep respect and often love for those few I have. A good friend of mine, now dead, when I lived in France was the old (nearly 80 at the time) and widely-respected Dominican monk Pere Vallee, who was himself a writer of books on art and the nature of meaning, a supporter of contemporary art (who ran one of the great small galleries of the Rive Gauche), a life-loving man of good humor, and a lover of copious amounts of countryside red wines. He led me, through a stay at his own medieval house in Mezels, to fall in love with the little medieval villages of the Dordogne.
But, I digress. The New Pantagruel is an interesting site. It appears mostly interested in an odd kind of combined medievalist-puritan cleansing of a corrupt church and society. I also, however, clicked some of their links to other sites and was brought to one arguing for "intelligent design" (the ID post argued against ID as "supernaturalist," suggesting that the label reminds one of witches and such. But there's no way around that -- it is supernaturalist. Science is naturalist. Positing a supernatural designer of the universe is not. That's what supernatural means). Not that TNP is held to the views of other sites, but the prominence of the link is disappointing.
But The New Pantagruel makes a fundamental error, one worth learning from on the American political left if not more broadly. Its enemy is modernist "Liberalism" (click on the "Welcome to TNP link") and it blames modern social problems (indeed, social ontology) and the problems of the church on this Liberalism. The reasons are good ones in some ways, but the error is that they take Liberalism in an all-encompassing sense that belies their supposed commitment to speaking to some of the other modern problems they describe below and elsewhere on their site. They take it more in the European sense of liberal (as nihilistic free-marketeer) than the American left-of-center sense of the term. This is misleading or misinformed. What they're arguing against is a "soul-less" materialism run amok, the kind of philosophical and economic liberalism that's summed up in economic globalization's insistence that there is no other vision of the world than the religion of economic growth. They admit this comes from both the "left" and the right in the American political context. On this, I agree. And it should be obvious by now that I don't think morality and religion are coextensive.
But look up Deweyan liberalism, for instance -- you'll find similar arguments, especially those with an ancestry in Emerson and James. Honestly, read Dewey's Art as Experience and tell me that's a work of nihilism. It's a work of modernist liberalism that achieves or at least speaks to some of the things The New Pantagruel itself seeks. Even look at the actions of many idealistic liberals, religious or not, in carrying out the supposed missions of the church that the American Protestant church has largely betrayed.
The point here, however, is not to take or justify one position over another. One of the most interesting aspects of The New Pantagruel is that it seeks to fight against some of the very things that dismay many liberals, and many others regardless of political leanings. It's a mistake for them when they too easily make out a generic liberalism to be the bogeyman and affirm positions of the Christian Right. I hope they don't take that direction.
That's all I have to say on this for now. It's late, I'm tired. But do check out the site. It's at least entertaining and provocative. Here's a bit from their introduction.
...The pre-modern remnant of the Christian tradition reacts against the more obviously exploitative and soul deadening aspects of Liberalism, but the overweening temptation to be immediately relevant, to participate in Western "mass" culture, and to get a seat at the table has inexorably dragged the church forward towards its mass death. The Western church has become, in large part, a walking identity-crisis. Thus, we experience the frustrations of a schizophrenic who desires simultaneously to be the life of the party and to be left completely alone; we are continually demoralized by our failure to find a place where we can experience equally the pride of being different and the happiness of blending in. In essence, this crisis embodies the whole ailing left-right split of our modern era. The recognition must soon dawn on the church that no matter what one’s political persuasion, there is no modern basis for achieving the true wealth that is life; no modern basis for the humane traditions of the Church; no modern basis for a real counterweight to the forces of the age. There is, then, both a historic need and moment for prophetic voices that treat the modernity-induced crisis of church and culture effectively.
The New Pantagruel aspires to do just that, on whatever scale, large or small, is given us. It is namesake to the satirical, irreverent, jocular, and committed anti-materialist work of the 16th Century French Christian Humanist Francois Rabelais. Rabelais's time was much like our own: revolution and unparalleled expansion; avarice turned nearly into an art; soul deadening materialism; stifling political centralization; easy corruption in churches and governments; gross societal inequities; and tradition either ghettoized or seeking accomodation. In Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel, Pantagruel trips through life in the French countryside with his loyal but rascally companion, Panurge. Along the way, they drink deeply of the "triumphal, earthly life" (Erich Auerbach) and the "wild enormities of ancient magnanimity" (Thomas Browne). With this mirthful temperament towards all that is humane and with frightful anger directed against the forces that would squash such things, Rabelais used laughter, parody, and what the Russian Literary Critic Mikhail Bakhtin called "grotesque realism" as a means of subverting the pillars of official culture and the proto-totalitarian orders of society. Pantagruelism is, according to Rabelais, "a certain jollity of mind pickled in the scorn of fortune." It is that odd cast of mind which allows one to see the corruption everywhere, including in oneself, while still loving the world.