The Pornography of Barbarism

The following post was written several years ago. It seems apropos to revisit it, in light of the recent horror in Aurora.

 
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I am not easily shocked anymore.

Perhaps it is my profession, where the constant exposure to human suffering and pain harden the spirit and keep emotions at a safe distance. Perhaps it is the almost imperceptible but relentless inoculation brought about by the constant stream of violence and vice which pour forth from the dazzling screen faced daily from the comfort of cottage and couch. Perhaps it is the cynicism and callousness from one too many movies showing gratuitous sex; one too many art exhibits with fecal creativity or blasphemous pretension; one too many headlines of school shootings or child rape. It all seems to blend together, like some Clockwork Orange deprogramming script shimmering on screen as we sit with eyes held open against our will, the beauty of Beethoven lulling us into the normalization of depravity.

Each scene, more horrid than the last, flashes by, horrifying in the moment but soon forgotten, our calloused souls no longer responding, our eyes transfixed in cold determination on money and the material, routine and ritual. We have swum in the cesspool so long we no longer notice the smell.

This week, some things broke through the indifferent haze. Like some unheralded emetic, the cynical disdain for a culture gone corrupt turned instead to nausea — physical, to be sure, yet far more: a nausea of the soul, a dyspepsia so deep in the spirit that no hardened defense could mask its rolling waves of disgust and dismay.

There was, at the first, the video: a teenage girl, lured into a trap, then brutally beaten by six other girls her age for thirty minutes continually, carefully recorded on video for upload to YouTube.

Then came the Yale “artist” who repeatedly impregnated herself by artificial insemination, then aborted the fetus with drugs, carefully saving the results for display wrapped in plastic and Vaseline for her senior art exhibit.

Then this morning, in the local paper: a man — a school bus driver — convicted for sexually assaulting a 4-year-old girl left alone on his bus.

One could multiply such incidents, ad nauseum, on almost any given day, in any part of the world — beheadings and genocide, ghoulish scenes of body parts and bloodied walls from yet another heroic martyr seeking virgins through hyperviolence. Yet these events, small on such a savage scale, in some way troubled me more than most.

One wants to rail at a society gone mad, at a civilization which has lost its bearings and moral compass, at a decadence fed by materialism and secularism, force-fed with the rotgut wine of postmodern relativism, drunk with the notion that ideas have no consequence and idols worshiped bring no destruction.

Yet the time for such anguished mourning seems long past, its passing but a point in a pitiful past history. We have, it seems, entered the post-human age.

Our secular prophets have heralded the Good News: there is no God; we are but accidental apes. We have been liberated from the bondage of religion and morals; we are, at last, in this twenty-first century, at the pinnacle of human achievement and potential. The shackles of superstition are broken, the potential of man unbounded, his glory unlimited but by the constraints of his imagination.

Yet as we celebrate our exalted humanity, the technology we worship brings glimpses of a darker reality, flashed in some subliminal message quickly dismissed as aberration or sideshow.

We may reflexly think of those who partake in such ghastly exhibitionism to be but beasts — but to think thus insults the animals, whose nobility far exceeds our own. For the animal kingdom is violent, brutish, and predatory — but it is so with purpose, its violence constrained by the drive to survive, or mate, or protect its territory. It is only the human animal who ventures into the subhuman, in glorification and gleeful pursuit of perversion for pleasure, of violence as theater. It is this theatrics of barbarism so prevalent in our age which bespeaks something far darker, more sinister, more terrifying. For to be human is to share the beautiful and the good with the hideous and evil; it has been so since the dawn of history. But to celebrate perdition, to promulgate a pornography of barbarism, to cast it abroad over media and message seems the unique and chilling characteristic of our current reckless age.

Civilization has always withstood the barbarians with low walls lightly guarded. It has depended far less on strength of force than strength of character, a consensus among the civilized that certain behavior and unrestrained license threaten its very existence. Laws and the power of enforcement cannot long resist the dark demons of depravity unleashed from within; the power of Rome proved feeble when there became no difference between the citizens within and the barbarians without. The Dark Ages which thus ensued seem now long forgotten, even as we arrogate the privileges of freedom while destroying the self-control and restraint on which it depends.

Our own Dark Age seems soon upon us. The knowledge and technology which have brought us to such great heights will document in living color and HD the breaching of the walls and the slaughter of the children.

Don’t touch that remote — you will not want to miss the next episode. And be sure to post it on Facebook.

Our Gnostic Masters

The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything but his reason.
 
       — G.K. Chesterton —

We have become a nation of experts.

They are everywhere: on TV, advising us about raising our children or improving our sex life; in magazines and newspapers, lending a measure of weight to opinion pieces disguised as news; in business, promising to improve productivity and bolster profits through higher productivity, or slicker marketing, or yet another reorganization or “team-building” project. They are ubiquitous in government and politics, lending credence to the implausible and certainty to the unpredictable. Armed with statistics, and studies, and the ethereal proclamations of other unnamed experts like unto themselves, they saturate our psyche with innumerable “facts” and figures, that we may live perfect lives in an imperfect world. The chaos which swirls around us need not engender fear and hopelessness — there will always be an expert to hold your hand, lest you become lost and wander from life’s perfect path.

Intimidated by their credentials and self-assured certainty, we slowly relinquish the uneasy feeling that their advice and conclusions invariably run counter to our experience, and common sense, and the simple wisdom of life acquired through parents and parish, logic and lore. Theirs is a relentless battering of our natural defenses, made ever more potent by lives lived without margin, frantically running to and fro, pursuing the very goals our experts have set forth, while quietly dying to the insight gained by simplicity and satisfaction with life’s precious but fragile treasures. Their strident advocacy drowns out the the quiet wisdom whispered to the soul in contemplation and prayer, found only in reflection and the fertile soil of rich relationships.

The fecklessness of our experts is often utterly dispensable, if annoying, as our guilded guides waffle from truth to contradictory truth: “Take estrogen!” “Don’t take estrogen!” “All fats are bad!” “These fats are good!” “Sun causes cancer!” “Sun prevents cancer!” What is true today will be foolishness tomorrow — and nary a hint of humility will be heard from those who hustled us mere months before.

As our increasingly secular and superficial culture abandons the transcendent truths of faith and the tested wisdom of tradition, we search desperately for a lodestone upon which to ground our lives, and so trade trust and belief in transcendent and transformational absolutes for fear and the desperate desire to control the world which has become our enemy. We frantically cling to every proffered proof, no matter how foolish or feckless, seeking something upon which to ground and anchor our lives. As these sands shift dangerously beneath our feet, we lurch and stumble from fragile branch to broken rail, as we stagger along a path which leads ever downward.

Yet the allure of the experts can prove far more destructive than mere personal angst in a turbulent, fast-moving world: how many listened to the professionals who told us we could not lose in real estate? Leverage to the max, it can only go up! The consequences across the economy have been devastating — except for those who sold us this sage advice. These “experts” understood the game far better than the market, and walked away unscathed and wealthy, leaving only our wreckage in their wake.

Our dependence on the guidance of scientists, economists, educators, and technocrats proves especially toxic when their expertise becomes wedded to money and political influence. Under the guise of shielding us from the complexity of their disciplines, they evolve into closed guilds, guardians of a secret knowledge which we, in our harrowed and hectic lives, have no time and little interest in understanding. As our educational system — itself run by a closed guild — produces generations of students tutored in woman’s studies, postmodern deconstructionism, and the evils of the West, yet ignorant of logic, philosophy, and the rigors of the hard sciences, the problem is compounded. We increasingly are left with little recourse but to trust those who guard and disperse the hidden knowledge we no longer comprehend. Our gnostic masters dispense their wisdom; ours is but to nod, and obey.

Nowhere can this process better be seen than the unfolding drama surrounding the East Anglia email scandal. Centered on one of the three major centers for climate research and data in the world, the hacked emails and software code have ripped open the veil to show us the inner sanctum of science utterly corrupted and politicized. At issue is anthropogenic global warming (AGW) — the theory that recent warming trends in global temperatures are caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide from human activity, fostered by industrialization. It has long been a theory which struggled to pass the sniff test, placing undo weight on a trivial component of so-called greenhouse gases, while ignoring the enormous (and obvious) impact of solar activity, water vapor, and cloud cover. Yet for years we have been told — in increasing shrill and strident tones — that this theory is “settled science,” and there is an imminent crisis at hand.

It has been fascinating to watch this ball of yarn unravel. In what may prove to be the greatest hoax mankind has ever witnessed — most certainly the one with almost unimaginable financial impact globally — we are watching the “settled science” of AGW disintegrate. We read how data was manipulated to hide declining global temperatures and make them appear to be rising sharply (“Mikes nature trick“). The peer review process made sure no contrary or skeptical opinions were published, and efforts were made to delegitimize journals which published such articles. Proxy data such as tree-rings were cherry-picked to ensure that the data conformed to the AGW philosophy. FOIA requests for data were met with stonewalling and destruction of raw data. The homogenization of temperature station data — making adjustments to the temperatures to reflect changes in the surrounding environment, such as urbanization — showed shows striking and arbitrary adjustments to demonstrate a sharp rise in temperatures when no such changes existed in the raw data. Other major climate research centers are similarly stonewalling raw data requests. The data problems just scratch the surface; the software used to generate reports and alarmist graphs was incompetently written by amateur programmers — and could not even reproduce the graphs from the original data without massive software hacks and fudge factors — by the programmer’s own admission.

The response of climate scientists to these devastating revelations? Denial and attack. The response of the UN Climate gurus and American and Western policy makers? Denial and attack. The response of the media to this massive global meltdown of AGW “settled science? Silence.

Amazing.

Whatever the role of human activity in global warning, one thing is abundantly evident: the current “science” of AGW is not really science at all, but more closely resembles a pernicious, cultic religion. Its priesthood holds the secret knowledge about “climate change,” and we the fools who question or challenge them engender naught but condemnation, ridicule, hatred and disdain. For the priesthood and the true believers who bow to them, the payoff for guarding their secrets are huge: for our scientist priests, millions in research grants, often at taxpayer expense; for the evangelists (Al Gore comes to mind), the ability to engender hysteria with wild, apocalyptic climate claims while raking in millions on carbon trading and investments in “green” technology; for the politicians, the opportunity to further extend the control and power of government into every aspect of its citizens lives while pocketing huge political contributions from environmental groups and green industries.

We have been lectured endlessly by our postmodern mentors that religion is naught but ignorance and superstition, while scientific “facts” are Truth. But “knowledge is power,” as the saying goes — especially when the knowledge can be hidden behind a veil of secrecy, manipulated at will to conform to unchallengeable presuppositions and philosophies, then relentlessly drilled into our collective consciences through compliant and complicit channels of media, education, and politics.

The climate scientists are hardly alone in such gnostic gambits; evolutionary biology — whose “scientists” seem to spend most of their efforts proving that God doesn’t exist rather than demonstrating that their tattered and threadbare theories of evolution have an actual basis in reproducible science and genetics, and a demonstrable and reliable predictive value (which all solid science must have) beyond the the pure speculation and projection that comprises most evolutionary science. Think I’m being a crazy fundamentalist creationist? Try, as a scientist, to demand that evolutionists satisfactorily answer any host of devastating challenges to their theories: the irreducible complexity of biological subsystems such as the eye, the cellular mitochondria and intracellular protein factories; the entropy problem (complex systems tend naturally to disorder and chaos, not more complexity); the Cambrian explosion; the impossibly long odds that all physical constants stood at precisely the correct values at the instant of the Big Bang; the enormous problem of free will, higher intellect, and purpose in the human animal which has no precursors in lesser beasts. Challenge these — even with understated, respectful, and serious questions — and watch how quickly the ad hominem attacks begin, how quickly you will be excluded from “peer reviewed” literature, ridiculed and ostracized, and labeled as an ignorant creationist fundamentalist, an enemy of science — or worse.

In our repudiation of a world based on absolutes and transcendency, our free fall into secularization has ironically left us clinging to science as our sole absolute, our foundation in a world which no longer makes sense, in which there are no true absolutes. Yet science cannot bear such weight alone, detached as it has become from notions of absolute truth and the true nature of the creation that is man and his universe. It has become instead a tool of power, and manipulation, and deception. The ship of knowledge no longer has an anchor, and drifts aimlessly toward the rocks of self-righteous deception and the shoals of arrogance.

G.K. Chesterton, writing nearly a century ago, mused that “this is the age in which thin and theoretic minorities can cover and conquer unconscious and untheoretic majorities.” What was true then is ever more true today, as we relinquish our own convictions and the truths which come by faith and tradition for the perilous tyranny of rule by experts. True freedom requires absolute truth, with its liberating transparency and the humility of knowing we are not gods. Science detached from absolutes will not bring progress but peril, not truth but tyranny. In our quest for the Utopia which technology enticingly promises, to forget our foundational truths is to invite disaster and slavery.

Sadly, we are already well on our way.

Life in the Necropolis

The recent arrest of Roman Polanski for statutory rape with a 13-year-old girl has peeled back the veil covering our cultural decay. Numerous artists, directors, and other Hollywood celebrities and powerbrokers have come out and condemned the arrest, while rationalizing his behavior and condemning what they see as unjust punishment. The public response to this has been somewhere between shock and revulsion, with many commentators, even the New York Times editorial page, expressing surprise and dismay at Hollywood’s response to a man who drugged and raped a minor.

Yet in the midst of the outrage about the crime and the response of media celebrities, there have been few if any who have grasped the implications of what this event and its response have uncovered. One can sense this confusion in the many commentaries speculating about the motives of an entertainment industry which seemingly approves and applauds such heinous behavior.

In our postmodern and post-Christian culture, we yet collectively retain an innate sense of wrong or evil behavior, while often being unable to define exactly why we find depredations such as Polanski’s reprehensible. We become even more bewildered when we encounter large swaths of seemingly intelligent individuals embracing and rationalizing such behavior. Remnants of a common moral and ethical framework for society remain, but significant segments of it no longer ascribe to the premises upon which it is based. We are faced with a new religion; a secular faith, morally amorphous and maddeningly incoherent. Yet it is rapidly becoming the dominant denomination and worldview of much of our culture.

It seems perhaps odd to describe a philosophical worldview which rejects any notion of God or moral absolutes as religion. Yet it is very much a moral and ethical framework, albeit one with considerable potential for cognitive dissonance, intellectual incoherence, and moral confusion. This growing secular orthodoxy finds its roots predominantly among those whose political leanings are leftist or progressive, although it is by no means exclusively confined to them, and may be found in its variants among libertarians and even conservatives.

What then are the doctrines and dogmas, if you will, of this rather confusing and contradictory confession?

In traditional religious understandings, especially that of the three great monotheistic faiths, the moral framework resides in absolutes established and communicated by a transcendent Being. While the specifics of what such absolutes entail and demand vary from one religious tradition to another, they all share the precept that human behavior is judged against the standards of a God, and that these standards exist above and apart from man himself. They are by their very nature transcendent. The behavior of man is judged against these unchanging principles, and resulting shortfalls ultimately must be redressed, either by compensatory good works, judgment, or by forgiveness and grace.

This secular religion, in contrast, posits the moral compass within the mind, exclusively. It is fundamentally Gnostic in nature. The morality of a given behavior is no longer judged based on a transcendent standard given and administered by a divine judge, but is rather graded by the knowledge or beliefs of the individual (or group) in question. Simply put, it is the belief system of the individual rather than his or her behavior which is the ultimate determinant of good or evil.

This core conviction gives rise to what appears to those who do not ascribe to this worldview to be a rather stunning propensity for hypocrisy. The identical behavior of two individuals, one of whom believes the “right” things, the other of whom believes the “wrong” things, will be judged in diametrically opposite ways. Those whose beliefs and politics are “correct” will have their errant behavior minimized, rationalized, justified, or ignored, while those whose beliefs are “incorrect” will be viciously condemned and castigated, despite high motives and noble intent. Our instinctive inclination to judge behavior against an unchanging moral absolute finds such arbitrary precepts irrational and frustrating — as indeed they are not really absolutes at all. What we are observing in practice is a guiding principle far removed from our instinctual dependence on moral law. That which is contradictory, hypocritical, and irrational when viewed from a traditional moral framework is in fact entirely predictable once we understand that the seat of moral judgment resides in what the individual believes, rather than what the individual does.

Postmodernism posits the notion of “narratives”, which are an understanding of culture and society largely determined by those in power. It specifically rejects the notions of Divine lawgiver or transcendent moral absolutes as mere narratives of religious power centers whose intent is to control. For the postmodernist, all behavior will ultimately be judged against their own narrative rather than an absolute which transcends culture and time. What the religionist views as a transcendent absolute is seen as nothing more than another narrative by the postmodernist — a narrative imposed by religious and paternalistic authority solely for the purpose of controlling the flock. The intersection of these two radically different worldviews makes compromise and communication virtually impossible between them, since there is no common framework of understanding or language to bridge the gap.

Even seeming linguistic commonalities lead to confusion in the interface between these cultures. For the traditionalist, the concept of evil, for example, represents a violation of moral absolutes, by individuals ultimately held responsible for their actions. In the postmodernist vocabulary, evil is corporate, embodied in institutions and groups, and is a social construct rather than a moral one. The rejection of absolute truth, and the resulting repudiation of reason as a basis for judgment, creates an exasperating comfort with contradiction, where cognitive dissonance is the norm, and that which is emotionally compelling or strongly believed becomes Truth by the mere force of conviction driven home by relentless repetition and coercive groupthink. The term “evil” thus no longer serves a universal meaning across the culture, and its use sows confusion rather than commonality. One could multiply examples without end from the linguistic miasma of politically correct speech, politics, and the mind-numbing inanity of popular culture.

The postmodern philosophy, now thoroughly inculcated throughout the culture through the vehicles of media, academia, entertainment, and politics, has created a fertile soil for the disintegration of a culture based on Western values of rationalism, moral restraint, and the sanctity and dignity of human individualism. Postmodernism is ideally suited for two outcomes: the acquisition of power, and libertinism. Power is acquired through the ruthless dismissal of all moral restraints in the achievement of pursued goals (morals serve only to advance the narrative, and may be redefined as the need arises); through the reinvention and redefinition of language to deceive and confuse; through the demonization of all who oppose the goal as the embodiment of evil; and through the erosive and relentless undermining of the traditional societal and moral constraints which oppose the desired cultural and political changes.

While at the cultural and political level this bequeaths a brutish and divisive social milieu, enforcing a collective coerced conformity of thought and speech, at the individual level, paradoxically, the very opposite occurs. Non-conformity becomes the norm, as radical individualism and autonomy breeds a disdain for restraint in appearance, behavior, and speech. With the loss of the notion that man is a reflection of a divine Creator, and accountable to a higher Being or Law, the individual must compensate for his devaluation (for we are, after all, just cosmic accidents) by becoming ever more outlandish and outrageous in ways self-destructive, offensive to others, and hideous. Michael Jackson becomes our Dorian Gray — as the rotting necropolis of the spirit seeps through the grave clothes we have so carefully wrapped, having whitewashed the entombed soul with plastic surgery, slick production, Photoshop edits and high fashion. Our Ferragamos and facelifts, our tattoos and painted toes, are but weathered signposts on the rutted road to the expansive wasteland of our inner desolation.

In this postmodern desert, where higher purpose and divine restraint are nowhere to be found, all behavior becomes subject to the self-referential and self-justifying emotionalism of self-gratification. Tolerance becomes the standard by which we increasingly accept the intolerable; only restraint, tradition, and religion remain as worthy of contempt, bigotry, depreciation, or outright hatred. Since there is no evil, evil thrives, ever becoming the norm in a cultured stripped of decency, respect, modesty, and self-sacrifice. There is but one fixed point on the postmodernist’s map: the self. With no true North to fix its moral position, the compass needle swings wildly in every direction, resting only on its own center.

The ironic truth of godless postmodernism is that its gods are legion — and they are merciless. The cruel god of Age destroys the fatuous goddess of Beauty. Gaia, worshiped in rituals of trivial privations by pitiful men and the emptied treasuries of nations, hurtles her planet relentlessly to chaos and destruction, in turns by heat or cold, despite those proffered drink offerings. The god of Human Progress weaves delusional hopes of Utopia as humankind bewitched by her visions hurtles violently downward toward Hell. The deities of science and technology deliver not sought-after salvation but ever more frightening sorcery whereby man may be enslaved, devalued, depraved, and destroyed. The worship of the trees, the sycophantic paeans to science, the lugubrious celebration of joyless lust, do naught to appease the gods: the world remains utterly beyond our control, dangerous and unpredictable and profoundly unsatisfying.

And so we turn back to the Dream: the Utopian vision of a world at peace, unified and prosperous, where all problems resolve propitiously as Mankind becomes One, while religious bigotry, ignorance and superstition fade to black. It is always but one more revolution away. But the ethereal vision remains just out of reach, its ephemeral promises an illusion. As we grasp at the shadow in the mists, rather than finding hope we find hatred; rather than finding tranquility, tyranny; rather than finding Paradise we discover a sordid pit of perdition, as our promised deliverance devolves into deviancy and our perceived blessings into barbarism.

It is a dark road down which we travel, made the more frightening by the delusional grandiosity of those whose vision propels us forward. One wishes, were it possible, to stand astride a generation gone mad and scream, Stop!! — in hopes that even some might heed, and awaken to the disaster before them. But even such might prove to no avail; the delusion is powerful, and obsessive, and intoxicating, and relentless.

And the road ahead seems likely to be littered with extraordinary wreckage.

Truth & Consequences


In the trial of Jesus, ancient texts have recorded this exchange:

Pilate replied, “You are a king then?” “You say that I am a king, and you are right,” Jesus said. “I was born for that purpose. And I came to bring truth to the world. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”
 
“What is truth?” Pilate asked.

Some questions are truly timeless.

We live in an age where the notion of truth, of absolutes which transcend the individual and society, is increasingly under assault. Ours is an age of radical individualism, wherein man alone becomes the sole arbiter of what is right or wrong, where moral relativism reigns, where postmodernism trades absolute truth for “narratives”, which vary from individual to individual, culture to culture, and age to age.

It is no small irony that ours is an age of science and technology — disciplines which depend by their very nature on the absolute, unchanging, and permanent laws of nature. Yet this same age rejects or disdains the concept of absolutes and transcendent truth. No one questions the speed of light, or the Pythagorean theorem, or the laws of gravity, or the quirky and counter-intuitive physics of subatomic particles. The postmodernist whose narrative does not accept the law of gravity will still need a sidewalk cleanup crew when he flings himself from a tall building, believing he can fly.

The difference, of course, is that the absolutes of physics and science apply to the physical world, quantifiable and tangible in greater or lesser measure, while the absolutes of ethics, morality, and religion touch on the metaphysical, the invisible, the theological. The materialist rejects such notions outright, as superstition, “values” (i.e., individual beliefs or preferences based on nothing more than feelings or bias), as mindless evolutionary survival skills, or the dying remnants of an age of ignorance. Absolutes are rejected because of the presuppositions of constricted materialism, the arrogance and conceits of intellectualism, the notion that if it cannot be weighed or measured it does not exist. But the deeper and more fundamental reason for the rejection of transcendent absolutes is simply this: such absolutes make moral claims upon us.

In truth, man cannot exist without transcendent absolutes, even though he denies their existence. Our language and thought are steeped in such concepts, in notions of good and evil, love and hate, free will and coercion, purpose and intentionality. We cannot think, or communicate, or be in any way relational without using the intangible, the metaphysical, the conventions, the traditions. We are by our very nature creatures who compare: we judge, and accept or reject; we prefer or disapprove; we love or hate, criticize or applaud. All such choices involve the will as a free agent — and free will is meaningless if it is not used in the context of an ethereal yet unchanging standard against which a choice is measured. We say a rose smells beautiful and a rotten egg rotten, because we judge those smells against an invisible standard which determines one to be pleasant and the other offensive. We cannot measure the love of a child, or or weigh the sorrow of a death, or calculate the anger at an injustice or the beauty of a Bach concerto; yet such reactions, and the standards by which we recognize and judge such intangibles, are every bit as real as the photons and protons, the law of gravity or the principles of physics. Even the most hardened Darwinist, atheistic to the core, by necessity must speak the language of purpose and transcendence and choice, as Mother Nature “selects”, and “chooses”, and “intends”, and “prefers” this genetic trait or that survival skill. We are incapable of describing even the purported randomness, mindlessness, and purposelessness of evolutionary biology without concepts and language of intentionality, preference, good and evil.

No, the rejection of absolutes is the rejection of their claim upon our wills. To reject that absolute truth exists, to deny that standards and principles stand apart from mere constructs of human imagination, is to affirm the absolute that we are absolutely autonomous, answerable to nothing and no one, masters and gods accountable only to ourselves. To deny absolutes is to deny free will — and to deny the consequences of choices which violate the very principles we dismiss as foolish, ignorant, prejudiced, and superstitious. To deny dogma is to be dogmatic; to reject absolutes absolutely is to affirm absolutes, even if unknowingly. Transcendent absolutes define our very humanity; dogs do not have dogmas, nor are cats categorical.

G.K. Chesterton, prescient and insightful as ever in his vision of the foolishness of man in his intellectual hubris, said:

Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas. As he piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense . . . becoming more and more human. When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined skepticism, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding to no form of creed and contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.

Ideas have consequences, philosophies have predicates, and the rejection of absolutes absolutely dehumanizes us, for we devolve from a species of high principles and moral light to denizens of a depravity far lower than the animals. For animals have rational restraints on behavior, brutish though it may be, while there is no end to evil for the human mind unleashed from absolutes.

Speaking of the fall of Carthage, with its materialism, wealth, and power, steeped in a religion whose worship sacrificed infants in the fires of Moloch, Chesterton says thus:

This sort of commercial mind has its own cosmic vision, and it is the vision of Carthage. It has in it the brutal blunder that was the ruin of Carthage. The Punic power fell, because there is in this materialism a mad indifference to real thought. By disbelieving in the soul, it comes to disbelieving in the mind … Carthage fell because she was faithful to her own philosophy and had followed out to its logical conclusion her own vision of the universe. Moloch had eaten her own children.

The rejection of absolutes, with the resulting moral relativism and narcissistic nihilism, is no mere intellectual folly nor faddish foolishness. It is instead a corrosive toxin, appealing in its seeming rationality and reasonableness, but pervasive and deadly for both person and polity.

If the Truth will set you free — and it most surely will — its rejection will surely enslave you.

Gnostic Fascism

Courtesy of the always-excellent blog What’s Wrong With The World, we read this gem about the philosophy and worldview of our current educational system:

It seems to me that the regulative idea that we — we…liberals, we heirs of the Enlightenment, we Socratists — most frequently use to criticize the conduct of various conversational partners is that of “needing education in order to outgrow their primitive fear, hatreds, and superstitions. This is the concept the victorious Allied armies used when they set about re-educating the citizens of occupied Germany and Japan. It is also the one which was used by American schoolteachers who had read Dewey and were concerned to get students to think ‘scientifically’ and ‘rationally’ about such matters as the origin of the species and sexual behavior (that is, to get them to read Darwin and Freud without disgust and incredulity). It is a concept which I, like most Americans who teach humanities or social science in colleges and universities, invoke when we try to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic, religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own.

What is the relation of this idea to the regulative idea of ‘reason’ which Putnam believes to be transcendent and which Habermas believes to be discoverable within the grammar of concepts ineliminable from our description of the making of assertions? The answer to that question depends upon how much the re-education of Nazis and fundamentalists has to do with merging interpretive horizons and how much with replacing such horizons. The fundamentalist parents of our fundamentalist students think that the entire “American liberal establishment” is engaged in a conspiracy. Had they read Habermas, these people would say that the typical communication situation in American college classrooms is no more herrschaftsfrei [domination free] than that in the Hitler Youth camps.

These parents have a point. Their point is that we liberal teachers no more feel in a symmetrical communication situation when we talk with bigots than do kindergarten teachers talking with their students….When we American college teachers encounter religious fundamentalists, we do not consider the possibility of reformulating our own practices of justification so as to give more weight to the authority of the Christian scriptures. Instead, we do our best to convince these students of the benefits of secularization. We assign first-person accounts of growing up homosexual to our homophobic students for the same reasons that German schoolteachers in the postwar period assigned The Diary of Anne Frank.

Putnam and Habermas can rejoin that we teachers do our best to be Socratic, to get our job of re-education, secularization, and liberalization done by conversational exchange. That is true up to a point, but what about assigning books like Black Boy, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Becoming a Man? The Racist or fundamentalist parents of our students say that in a truly democratic society the students should not be forced to read books by such people --black people, Jewish people, homosexual people. They will protest that these books are being jammed down their children \'s throats. I cannot see how to reply to this charge without saying something like “There are credentials for admission to our democratic society, credentials which we liberals have been making more stringent by doing our best to excommunicate racists, male chauvinists, homophobes, and the like. You have to be educated in order to be a citizen of our society, a participant in our conversation, someone with whom we can envisage merging our horizons. So we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable. We are not so inclusivist as to tolerate intolerance such as yours.”

I have no trouble offering this reply, since I do not claim to make the distinction between education and conversation on the basis of anything except my loyalty to a particular community, a community whose interests required re-educating the Hitler Youth in 1945 and required re-educating the bigoted students of Virginia in 1993. I don \'t see anything herrschaftsfrei about my handling of my fundamentalist students. Rather, I think those students are lucky to find themselves under the benevolent Herrschaft of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents. It seems to me that I am just as provincial and contextualist as the Nazi teachers who made their students read Der Stürmer; the only difference is that I serve a better cause. I come from a better province.

Rarely do we get such a clear window into the thinking and motives of those who rule our educational institutions, to whom we have entrusted our children, that they may transform a society through their indoctrination into the secular, Utopian vision of their dreams. Richard Rorty, the late philosopher and postmodernist who died in 2007 (and simultaneously discovered the Truth he so long ridiculed and denied, much to his eternal detriment), epitomizes the mindset of our secular culture, which insinuates itself at every opportunity through our media, our institutions of “higher learning”, our popular culture and the entertainment industry.

This is the soul of our now-thoroughly post-Christian, postmodern culture.

This is the soul of our now-thoroughly post-Christian, postmodern culture.

Keep in mind that the “fundamentalists” whom Rorty sought to discredit, ridicule, and reeducate are not simply knuckle-dragging, illiterate, six-day-creationist bumpkins, the straw men they create to dismiss and destroy with presumptuous arrogance — but rather every Christian who believes in absolute truth, who places themself under the authority of Christ, the Church, and the Scriptures. Our enlightened masters have their secret knowledge — and the sworn duty — to coerce all “unbelievers” into discarding their “primitive fear, hatreds, and superstitions.” This is Gnosticism with a fascist bent — the arrogance of superior knowledge, forcefully applied to all who resist.

This philosophy, now thoroughly inculcated in generations of students, and echoed incessantly in media, entertainment, the arts, and popular culture, have engendered a societal world view which can no longer be redeemed with reason, or persuasion, or by the religious engagement in the low compromise of “cultural relevancy.” The culture of materialism and the ideology of atheism have merged, and are now entrenched, dominant, and empowered. The church has fiddled as Rome burned — and now finds itself engulfed in the fiery holocaust it did little to avert. It is long past time for the church to stand proudly apart, to state the truth without fear or compromise, to serve as light and salt to a very dark and increasingly dangerous and toxic society. We will be hated for it — but we are already hated: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”

The challenge of the church today is to stand apart, to be the prophet, to be, if necessary, the martyr. It is time to abandon congregations and churches which have been compromised and co-opted by this corpse of a culture — let the dead bury their dead. It is time to call church leaders and pastors to account, and rebuke or even reject them if they refuse to stand for and teach the truth of the Gospel. It is time to train our children — after we ourselves have been trained — in the core beliefs of our faith, its historical veracity and integrity, in the defense of that which is true, and unchanging, and eternal. It is time to set aside the petty differences of denominationalism and sectarianism, join hands in submission to Christ, and recognize the true enemy we face. Your enemy is not the Baptist, or Catholic, or Pentecostal church down the street; however large your differences may seem. It is not the man who makes you uncomfortable by raising his hands in church; not the woman who loves the Mass and respects the saints; not the Biblical literalist nor the contemplative mystic who sees visions and dreams dreams. They are your brothers and sisters in Christ. Get to know them, discerning their spirits and the passion of their hearts. Learn to love them, learn from them, serve them, respect them. Pray, worship, and study together. The faith which you proclaim is broad and deep, rich in gifts and heritage, a spectacular jewel with countless facets reflecting the unlimited brilliance of a gracious God.

The night grows darker; it is well past time to fill your lamps with oil, and light them.

Return to the Monastery

The walls are ancient, massive, and seemingly impenetrable. Built over centuries, stone by stone, they allowed those who lived within them to largely forget their existence. Their security was a given, their maintenance deemed unnecessary, the once-white radiance which glimmered from afar now pockmarked and pummeled, the mortar crumbling but unnoticed by those thus protected. The ramparts stand lightly guarded now, for few found the siege of small hideous men a threat — and many envied their crazed passions from atop the high walls, where sanctuary seemed like slavery and chaos freedom.

Those few who sounded the alarm went unheeded, for the massive stones which tumbled and thundered to earth were lightly regarded, the trembling of the ground at their impact ignored lest it disturb the revelry within. The city has been infiltrated, not with shock troops but with trollops, its defenders lying naked in the embrace of whores. The breach is imminent — yet the city sleeps, its shops shuttered, its currency squandered, its treasury depleted, its armies far abroad fighting fearlessly a war no one notices for a cause long forgotten.

The light streaming through the now-breached walls most surely represents change — and just as surely brings not hope, but new horrors.

We have been engaged for some decades in what is often called a “culture war.” It is in truth far more than that — far more than simply clashing preferences or soft values at variance, more than red versus blue, big government versus small, professors versus plumbers, city versus rural. It is at its core warfare in a different dimension, in a realm we understand poorly if at all. It rages in the realm of philosophy, or perhaps more precisely, in the realm of spirit.

The increasingly-likely presidency of Barack Obama — teamed with a entrenched, empowered, and intractably secular and liberal Congress — portends a tectonic shift in these cultural clashes, with profound changes looming for those who battle to preserve and advance the causes of traditional morality, respect for life, and religious values. In addition to changes in the political landscape which may prove every bit as drastic (and destructive) as the New Deal, two recent essays peer through the looking glass, not toward this impending change in the socio-political landscape, but rather toward the ethical and moral morass into which we are about to be thrust. The view through the glass is sobering, to say the least.

Richard John Neuhaus, writing in First Things, takes a look at the culture wars and the courts in Obama, Abortion, and the Courts:

We are two nations: one concentrated on rights and laws, the other on rights and wrongs; one radically individualistic and dedicated to the actualized self, the other communal and invoking the common good; one viewing law as the instrument of the will to power and license, the other affirming an objective moral order reflected in a Constitution to which we are obliged; one given to private satisfaction, the other to familial responsibility; one typically secular, the other typically religious; one elitist, the other populist…

No other question cuts so close to the heart of the culture wars as the question of abortion. The abortion debate is about more than abortion. It is about the nature of human life and community. It is about whether rights are the product of human assertion or the gift of “Nature and Nature \'s God.” It is about euthanasia, eugenic engineering, and the protection of the radically handicapped. But the abortion debate is most inescapably about abortion. In that debate, the Supreme Court has again and again, beginning with the Roe and Doe decisions of 1973, gambled its authority, and with it our constitutional order, by coming down on one side.

The result is the Court \'s clear declaration of belligerency on one side of the culture wars, endorsing the radically individualistic concept of the self-constituted self.

In like manner, Robert George at Public Discourse paints an even gloomier prognosis on the future of the defense and protection of human life based on Senator Obama’s own legislative history:

Obama’s Abortion Extremism

What kind of America do we want our beloved nation to be? Barack Obama’s America is one in which being human just isn’t enough to warrant care and protection. It is an America where the unborn may legitimately be killed without legal restriction, even by the grisly practice of partial-birth abortion. It is an America where a baby who survives abortion is not even entitled to comfort care as she dies on a stainless steel table or in a soiled linen bin. It is a nation in which some members of the human family are regarded as inferior and others superior in fundamental dignity and rights. In Obama’s America, public policy would make a mockery of the great constitutional principle of the equal protection of the law.

Grim prospects, these — and surely discouraging to those who mourn over our nation’s growing embrace of a culture of hedonism and death. It is difficult not to grieve over a nation so increasingly lost that it seeks salvation in soothing words while embracing that which destroys it.

Yet I have sensed for some time that we have been fighting the wrong war in the wrong way in such matters. We have massed troops and sent them heroically into the hardened defenses and machine gun nests of an entrenched secular culture. We have protested at abortion clinics; spent millions to defeat laws and propositions to legalize euthanasia, or prostitution, or gay marriage; elected pro-life candidates who too quickly compromise, or leave office shortly after discovering the futility of changing a corrupt and co-opted political culture. We have filled the radio airwaves and internet blogs with billions of words to protest activist judges and the politicians who appoint them, or expose the hypocrisy of politicians who “personally” oppose abortion as “faithful” members of their church while voting in lockstep for every abortion right — even infanticide.

Yet we have, for all our screeds and screeching, changed little — and been unwilling to change that which is most important: ourselves. We rant against the soft porn and profanity of what passes for TV entertainment — but our TV sets stay on. We abhor Hollywood, but go to their movies, obsessing about their empty hedonism while faithfully reading People and Us and Vanity Fair. We decry our materialistic age while filling our lives with costly toys and glittering bangles, as our credit cards threaten to crush and devour us. We criticize our sinful culture but never mention sin in our churches. We hate our corrupt and compromised politicians — then vote them right back into office, showing our sophistication and nuance on political issues. We resist and deplore the aggressive pro-gay agenda in politics, culture, and education — but never befriend the gay man or woman, nor learn to humbly love nor embrace the wounded soul thus enslaved. We split our churches into a million denominations, self-righteously hating those heretic Catholics, or Protestants, or charismatics, or fundamentalists, as is our wont — while fully embracing a culture which will not be content until we are all silenced and destroyed.

In ages past, the church responded to a decaying culture — violent, decadent, pagan, hopeless –by separation, drawing itself apart from a lost and self-destructive world. The monastic movement sought dissociation in order to focus on that which truly mattered, to reject the sound and fury which invariably accompanies the hollow hopelessness of men hiding from the harsh light of truth, who ridicule the eternal while reaping its rebuke. It is perhaps no accident that monasticism prospered most after the church fully embraced the corrupt culture, emerging from centuries of isolation, exclusion, and persecution to embrace the harlot in the person of Emperor Constantine. The church became wealthy, and powerful, and fashionable, and favored — and thereby lost the passion for purity, and humility, and sacrifice, and personal holiness which had been its hallmark in its first three centuries. Yet men yearned for that which is eternal, and sacrificed the comforts of culture for the discipline of devotion.

It is, I sense, time to revisit these truths and this history, to ask ourselves if we have benefited our culture and country by fighting its wars on the battlefields of its choosing. Is it not time to consider whether we, too, should draw back, not in defeat but in strength, and fight this war — and it is most certainly a deadly combat — on grounds where it must be fought, in the hearts of men — starting with ourselves. Perhaps it is time — well past time, even — to begin our pilgrimage away from a lost culture which has embraced the delusion that we control our own destinies, that our pleasures and profits will makes us happy, that freedom and peace may be had by embracing selfishness and slavery. The monastery we must seek is not some sacred sanctuary, some pastoral refuge of stone in a land far away. Our world is not the world of centuries ago; we cannot cloister ourselves in some lonely enclave, distanced and detached from debauchery and decadence far away. Ours must be the monastery of the soul, an abbey of abstinence, and devotion, and prayer, and self-sacrifice.

The call of the monastery is not a call to isolation, or hermitage, nor a call to a John Galt-vengeance on a society which has rejected our noble pleadings and higher values. The heart of the monastery requires no walls, but is instead a community, with a rule of order, spiritual discipline, prayer, simplicity of living, and hard work. It is a place where humility and honesty thrive; where prayer is a daily, even hourly, discipline; where we challenge every desire in the light of absolute values and eternal perspective; where relationships are reconciled and true peace among men can thrive. The abbey abides where we live — in our churches, our small groups or Bible studies, our neighborhoods, in coffee houses, in the warmth and hospitality of our open homes. It is here where we may truly transform our society — one heart, one soul, one life at a time.

Let the culture go where it may; we must be a true light. It is time to abandon the delusion that we may change the hopeless by becoming more like them — we must instead become a shining city on a hill, a stark contrast to the darkness which surrounds us. If what we believe is true — and it is — then those who run from truth may well see in us an answer to their failed and fruitless pursuits, to the shallow shell of a life lived in self-gratification and the pursuit of pleasure and power.

We will be misunderstood, hated, ridiculed, rejected. So be it — our strength will lie in one another, and in Him who calls us to holiness.

Let us now say, “Let it begin — and let it begin, with me.”

Surveying the Abyss

Those who know me best have little doubt: I am irrepressibly optimistic. Not naive, mind you — at least from my perspective — but whether by personality, disposition, or faith, I am wont to believe the best about people, and circumstances, and the future. I drive my wife nuts, she being of a decidedly more pessimistic bent.

But I must confess of late to a recurring sense of foreboding, about a great many things. Now, prognosticating about the future is a fool’s game, to be sure; a review of most any futurist’s predictions invariable shows a predictive rate substantially less than could be had by tossing a coin.

But I do have eyes, and ears, and over half a century of something one less circumspect might call “wisdom” — and a sense of the spiritual sharpened mostly by ignoring its promptings, with the invariable consequences. Wisdom, as they say, is gained by experience — and experience is gained by lack of wisdom.

In a world which incessantly rips its cultural chords at rock-concert levels, it is no small feat to listen to the still, small voice — and harder yet to distinguish it from the countless seductive whispers and wishes of life long lived in self-gratification and indulgence. Yet that voice ever quiet is nevertheless persistent — and it seems to be speaking with an urgency and clarity which is hard to dispel.

We are standing, I sense, at the edge of an abyss — and the earth beneath our feet is shifting and unstable.

We live in a society saturated with information. The paradox of this spectacle is that we no longer possess the ability to integrate and evaluate the information which assaults us from every direction. One moment the news ticker at the bottom of the screen shows some mind-numbing drop in the stock market; the next moment, we are enthralled with some bitch queen trying to kick the shins of his lesbian competitor on Project Runway. The news media jumps from the crisis of the second to the latest Hollywood dalliance, and from there to some hopeless hyped hysteria about global warming or the health scare of the week, providing no sense of perspective about which of these might be the more important.

So it behooves us to stand back; to turn off the TV, shut down the browser, put down the paper, turn off talk radio, and truly listen — not to the screeching banshees with their banal hysteria, but rather to that inner source, be it spirit, or soul, or mind, or the wisdom acquired by life’s experiences.

Take a moment, if you will, for a brief look around, surveying our 21st-century world. Let yourself absorb the panoramic view, all 360 degrees, not averting your eyes at things which are unsettling or fear-provoking.

Glance first dead ahead: we are in the midst of a financial meltdown. Of course, there have been many financial crises in the past, many “Black Fridays”, where years of accumulated wealth have disappeared almost in the twinkling of an eye. Yet our current crisis seems different. The past 50 years in the West, particularly in America, have brought about an extraordinary increase in wealth. This increase has only accelerated, although with periodic painful retractions, as the speed and complexity of our financial systems has increased exponentially. Derivatives, globalization, computer-driven investing, complex financial instruments and securities, have greatly increased both the profitability and the instability of financial systems. Even those who should understand these complex financial instruments and systems can be blindsided — as they were in our current credit crisis.

Much like a complex computer software program, its programmers understand how it should work, and make assumptions about the parameters — which, when when fed unexpected values, leads to catastrophic failure. Our financial wizards lost the ability — or more likely never had it — to control for every eventuality, including those which could cause catastrophic economic failure. We stare in amazement that seemingly no one anticipated our meltdown in mortgage equities; but our hope in and expectations of “experts” will invariably be dashed as system complexity and instability increases.

So now, glancing around, we look to government to save this from the “greed” of Wall Street — although we have long celebrated Wall Street’s greed as long as our profits and portfolio values were rising. It’s Wall Street’s job to be greedy — we have demanded it of them. So we look to government institutions never designed to moderate or correct such lightspeed instability — and are angry when we find them unable to intelligently address this implosion. Even in a perfect world, our elected leaders would have no more wisdom or ability to correct a highly complex and increasingly unstable economic system, where events half a world away can send your nation’s economy reeling in ways you could never have anticipated.

And this is no perfect world, by any measure.

For years we have tolerated incompetence, corruption, dishonesty — and yes, greed — in government while looking the other way. On those rare occasions when politicians have made principled stands, we have rewarded them with a firestorm of political assault, full-throated media ridicule and criticism, and enormous financial pressure from lobbyists pouring money into the pockets of those who purport to represent the people. We have elected a government of the people, in the most literal and disgraceful sense: we have elected, and kept in office, those who share our desire for self-gratification and materialistic acquisition at the expense of character, moral integrity, honesty, and prudence. The cesspool which is our current Congress is what we have reaped by our own actions — or perhaps more accurately, by our inaction. We have elected those politicians who are like us in every way — and we hate them for it. They are, after all, created in our own image.

Glance a bit in another direction and you will find a host of unsolvable problems of a magnitude as great or greater than our current credit crisis. Social Security and Medicare roar down the tracks toward a washed-out bridge, with no engineer at the throttle; massive budget deficits balloon as we pour trillions into a war that no one seems interested in fighting; trillions more pour forth in political favors and pork designed to maintain our corrupt politicians in their unchallengeable congressional seats. $700 billion in bailouts will seem chump change when our bills for this fecklessness come due.

Glance yet again, and watch a presidential election wherein we seem poised to elect a candidate without portfolio, with a long history of association with corrupt political machine pols and leftist bomb throwers, including those both rhetorical and literal. This is the Messiah to whom we look for the solutions to our increasingly intractable problems, setting aside all rational thought for the opiate optimism which sees salvation in smooth words and sage assurances. Indeed, we seem eager and ready to bring to fruition the revolution of the 60’s: with clenched fists thrust skyward, the age of peace, free love, drugs, irresponsibility, and emotional feel-good policies is upon us, based not on experience nor any understanding of human frailty and corruption, but rather on a blind idealistic utopianism.

Then glance around the world, where the Russian bear roars menacingly; where Iran races to nuclear capability while diplomats twiddle and dither, driven by a religious fascism which glorifies death as they bow down to the false prophet; where an increasingly impotent Israel is surrounded and threatened by massing forces zealous for its destruction; where China pursues a massive military buildup as it eyes Taiwan and Southeast Asia; where Korea cranks out nukes and missiles, selling them to the world’s most wicked regimes; where Europe is ludicrous in its impotence, ever seeking our protection when desperate while hating us ever the more; where the sun has finally set on the British Empire, leaving only a pathetic pandering jester where a mighty force for civilization and law once stood; where a thousand failed states are seething cauldrons of violence, and poverty, and hatred, engendering transnational terrorists now empowered by the same technology we hope will save us. The world, like its financial systems, is extraordinarily unstable, with powerful centrifugal forces breaking apart even once proud and powerful nation-states. The parched, cracked grasses await but a spark to start an inferno.

Then glance at culture (if you can stomach it), where the decadent is celebrated, where the good is ridiculed, where the satyr is worshiped, where no pillar of tradition may stand nor bulwark of morality may endure. Our media promulgate not truth but narrative, not fact but fabrication, a fully empowered propaganda machine entirely co-opted by postmodern secular culture and messianic politics.

And yet, here we sit, watching on our flat screens in full HD the celebration of androgynous eunuchs in staged competitions about who can create the prettiest dress or redesign the penthouse of some satyrical single, who long ago decided that life was about getting laid, leaving the emotional, physical, and social tab for someone else to pay. These are the individuals we celebrate and elevate with our eyes, our time, our adulation, our admiration, our money.

The extraordinary instability in the world cannot long endure — and I fear we are ill-prepared in the extreme for the abyss which will follow. We have raised generations to believe they are entitled to ease, wealth, and prosperity; we have taught them through our easy divorces and casual shack-ups that commitment only lasts as long as it feels good, and that love is all about sex; we have failed to provide any framework of character, morality, integrity, and perseverance upon which to rest when all we have taken for granted — the wealth, the comfort, the false security, the easy irresponsibility — crumbles to the ground.

It is long past time to get back to basics — to faith, to church, to principles, to relationships, to integrity. We are, I believe, about to be tested in a most difficult and frightening way — a darkness the likes of which we have not seen before, and may never see again. The provocation may be known, or unknown, be it nuclear terrorism, or some yet-unseen financial collapse; a cataclysmic natural disaster; or a butterfly in some unknown location flapping its wings and setting off a chain reaction which ignites the world in conflagration.

Of course, such prognostications may well be wrong; perhaps naive optimism would be the better course and certainly more pleasant to entertain. But as for me, it is time to focus: to look hard at my spiritual, financial, and relational assumptions, to tune out far more of a chaotic and decaying culture, to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best, while asking God to shine his light of conviction on my life to purify and strengthen it, and hopefully grow in some measure of wisdom. It is time to simplify, to prepare, to fast, to pray, to repent. It is time to stop spending on the frivolous and start giving more generously.

If you are a person of faith, it is time to dig in, hard, and quit playing games — your life may depend on it. If you are skeptical of such matters, consider: upon what will you lean when your world collapses? Will your considered indifference and intellectual smugness about us fools of faith save you? What will you do when all that matters to you is taken, and you are left, finally, profoundly alone with naught but that frightened face in the mirror?

I have slept for too long, as have all of us. It is time to fill the lamps with oil lest they be found empty when the bridegroom arrives.

Wisdom From an Atheist


David Foster Wallace, a writer, professor and committed atheist, died on Sept 12, 2008. He was perhaps best known for his book about John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign. Wallace was a thoroughgoing postmodernist — and thereby solidly possessed of the notion that there is no capital-T Truth.

Recently, The Wall Street Journal published an essay, adapted from a commencement speech he delivered in 2005, upon which I stumbled by the usual spidery web of disconnected URL links (HT: Touchstone Magazine and Signs of the Times). It is in many ways a stunning piece in its insight and wit.

Consider:

A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. Here’s one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely talk about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness, because it’s so socially repulsive, but it’s pretty much the same for all of us, deep down. It is our default-setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth.

And this:

Because here’s something else that’s true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.

Not bad for a postmodern atheist. And also tragically prophetic:

It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in the head. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.

He committed suicide, by hanging, at age 46.