You have written me an insightful email deserving careful response. In a nutshell, you wonder if the struggle against forces of evil in our society is over, with the victory of evil on the societal level; all that remains is for us individually to protect ourselves from their onslaught.
With the help of God who enlightens our minds, I will do the best that I am able within brief compass and a quick response.
Let’s begin with your last question first: “Can that which once was be saved or is it time to wander adrift until we can begin anew?” I take up this thought first because a reasonable reply seems clear: No one can save “what once was,” in any full sense. Consider the insight of ancient Greek philosophy—insight that is found in other cultures as well. In the words of Plato, “Everything that comes into being passes away.” There is no lasting eternal order or being-thing in time. Each and all pass away in time. That applies to us as individual human beings, to political societies, to human communities, to civilizations, to planets, to galaxies, and so on: Everything in space-time perishes. There is no lasting “new order of the ages” that can endure forever the ravages that come in time—despite what some may wish or promise.
However, much of what was once gained, can be rediscovered, cherished, and endure for a while. Some of the best of Hellenic, Roman, medieval Christian, modern civilizations can be learned, relearned, applied, and “saved” for at least some time, before it succumbs, and the task falls to others to rediscover these insights and achievements yet again. This struggle to gain and regain truth within time falls on each one of us, ever and again. It is part of our human task: “Honor your father and your mother.” Honor what has given us birth, nourishes us, enriched our lives. And that includes intellectual, spiritual, and political achievements of the past. Yes, each of us must search through the rubble, and find the treasures and gems that have often been thrown out deliberately or ignorantly, or suffered a not-so-benign neglect, or even a nihilistic will to destroy what is good. In this context, I recall words of Dostoevsky, written perhaps in the 1880’s, and which impressed me around 1975 when I first read them: “The West has lost Christ. That is why it is dying. That is the only reason it is dying,” I would add this: It is first and foremost our foundation in God, in Christ, and in right reason (Cicero’s phrase) that all-too-easily gets lost, and that must be discovered and cherished again and again, by each generation, person by person. This burden falls on every one of us, each according to his or her abilities. Nothing good endures without much effort.
In the second part of your question, you ask, “or is it time to wander adrift until we can begin anew?” I would say that it is never time for a good and wise human being to “wander adrift.” Again, the term “adrift” brings to my mind a good study I read in my early twenties by Walter Lippmann, called Drift and Mastery, written in 1914, and under the clear influence of Irving Babbitt at Harvard. One must not drift, nor should one look to automatic salvation or trust devoutly in an institution, or a Constitution, or certain political leaders, and so on. The burden not to drift, but to live according to right reason and order, falls as a heavy and urgent responsibility on each human being. Clearly behind Babbitt and Lippmann was their study of the Buddha, and especially of the Dhammapada, with its repetitive teaching that “you yourself must do the work” of becoming genuinely enlightened. One must not seek to escape the discipline of the intellect and will. The ancient wisdom is: Do not rely on others—not even on the Buddha for enlightenment or peace (nirvana). If one merely drifts through life—as so many do—very little good will result. It was no good or wise man, but Adolf Hitler, who wrote in Mein Kampf that “I go the way of a sleep-walker, directed by divine Providence.” Do not drift, do not sleep-walk through life. I heard a strange echo of the same attitude from an evangelical-Pentecostal Christian many years ago who said to me, “I just put my mind in neutral and am guided by the Holy Spirit.” I rejected that attitude on the spot, and told the speaker as much, and why: Putting one’s mind in neutral is not the life worth living, the truly human way. One may and should draw on the divine Spirit for insight, guidance, and energy to know and to do the good, but one must make the effort oneself with every fiber of one’ being. In short, do not drift, do not let oneself go into a mindless state and think that good will result. It will not. In fact, the best proof is our culture: It is not that many have deliberately and knowingly “killed God” in the Nietzschean sense, but that many of us have become indifferent to God, to our eternal destiny, to right reason as enlightened by the indwelling divine Spirit. We have drifted and become intoxicated with ourselves. In such condition, we cannot truly “begin anew.” Rather, “the way back is the way forward,” as Eliot wrote in “The Four Quartets.” You and I must make the effort to recover the wisdom learned and forgotten, and in that mental culture we can and must begin afresh each day. We have helps; we are not alone. Study the best spiritual and philosophical writers who made the supreme effort themselves.
And now we briefly consider your main theme: that our country has already been destroyed, that we are “past the point of no return.” You add that “I think the destruction [of our country] has already taken place and we are now in an apocalyptic mode of existence. Instead of despair, this realization has brought about a sense of peace….”
My response in brief: Not so fast, my friend. That many of our “elites” think and act “in an apocalyptic mode of existence” is surely true. They keep screaming that the end is near—for example, because of “climate change,” or a pandemic, or nuclear destruction, or who knows what their next Big Thing is. But the struggle between these Gnostic-“experts” and more traditional ways of thinking and acting is not complete. I am not sure that we are past, or have reached, what you call “the point of no return.” The virulence of the ongoing onslaught of “Progressives” against more traditional and conservative “lifestyles” shows that the Gnostic dreamers are not convinced that the struggle is over, either. They seek to silence all voices that express a clear and dangerous disagreement to their ascendancy and dominance in society, from the Federal Government down to cities and towns across the country, and from “the cradle to the grave,” or rather, from “the womb to the tomb.” The model of their domination over others and all is the abortion mill, where “experts” so dominate and manipulate nature that the unborn infant is annihilated—all hidden, of course, from public scrutiny. These are their death camps, where they assert their superiority over nature and those “stupid” enough to “respect the life of the unborn.” And the Progressives—these “knowers” and “dreamers” and “experts”—show their influence and power over nature as they increasingly allow or cause elderly who are no longer deemed “socially useful” to be “euthanized,” or put to death—whether these elderly want to die at their hands or not. And again, the Progressive intellectuals dominate education in America, from elementary and secondary education up through most of our “institutions of higher learning.” In many cases, these schools and universities are centers of mind and action-altering, as the teachers, professors, and administrators seek to “liberate” the young minds from traditional ways of thinking—especially any belief in God and respect for the dignity of every human being—and make them willing tools of the “knowers,” the ruling elites. The power over more traditional ways of American life is exercised daily through the mass media and popular culture (especially with films from Hollywood and noisy and invasive mind-altering self-styled “music”). Yes, the forces of Progressive intellectual deculturation are extremely strong, and they are loudly ascendant in American society.
The victory of self-styled “Progressives” over more traditional and grounded American ways of life is not complete. We still have parents, teachers, some professors, some media intellectuals, some clergy, some everyday Americans who realize that the Progressive dream is more of a nightmare, robbing us of our minds, our ways of life, our freedoms. The two great forces against the apocalyptic-Gnostic dreamers are genuine faith in God (which requires an openness to all truth) and genuine, down-to-earth common sense (Cicero’s “right reason”). Genuine faith and right reason together ground a human being not in propagandistic illusions of “a better world to come” and “social justice and equality,” but in the here-and-now, in the wonders of the physical world, in the divine giveness of the human condition. Those so grounded in turn respect every being in God’s creation, and have a due and responsible love of one’s own—from proper self-love and self-discipline to love of one’s family and community, and up to love of “nature and of nature’s God,” borrowing Jefferson’s phrase.
That you and I and some others we know can still see the Progressive nonsense for what it is indicates that the battle is not over, that our country is not yet fully lost. But as it was said some seventy years ago (by Eric Voegelin), “Our fate is in the balance.” The fate of a people in history, and of the engendering-encompassing civilization, is always in the balance. Nothing is guaranteed or assured—except that each and all will perish in time. For coming-to-be and perishing is the indestructible rhythm of reality. Progressives with their dreams of “transforming the world” (a phrase coined by Karl Marx, used boldly by Barack Obama a few years ago) will also pass away.
The forces of destruction in the name of their god “Progress” are not new in western civilization. Their roots are in the ever-divided human heart and the will to power, the lust to dominate reality, so that “nature is something plastic,” as John Dewey wrote about one hundred years ago. In the history of western civilization, these forces were seen in ancient Greece, with the Sophists’ belief in gaining power over others through the magical power of words. It was seen in the Roman lust to dominate the world by bloody arms, and to remake it all as a province of Rome. (And of course there were later echoes of the Roman imperialistic spirit in the western Church.) The will to dominate reality was also seen in hermetical and magical practices, in alchemy, and then in medieval Gnosticism with its belief in ushering in “the age of the Spirit” when all human beings would be “free,” and no longer in need of institutional support and guidance, because we will become “new human beings.” The Gnostic dream of transforming reality came to the fore in the Renaissance, the Reformation, and especially the European Enlightenment, with the belief in immanent reason understood as a human power to understand and to “change the world.” “Modern” and Enlightenment “reason” and its offspring—modern “science” as the most powerful instrument of change—have been in ascendancy since men such as Descartes, Voltaire, Rousseau, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche showed us that the way to dominate and control reality is in our human hands. In our own country, the Gnostic-Progressive dream was expressed in the naive belief in human freedom and equality, and in “democracy” as the means of human liberation. Even some of our “Founding Fathers” dabbled in these Gnostic illusions. Had they not had their share of foolish beliefs, how could our country have declared itself to be novus ordo seclorum—“the new order of the ages.” In reality, there is no “new order,” no “new world order,” no “perfect society” as dreamers have imagined. There is no “Kingdom of God on earth” in any definite or full sense—as some in the Church have foolishly asserted, or as the Puritans dreamed and sought to accomplish through destruction and mass killings, hence foreshadowing the bloody nightmares of the French, Nazi, and Communist revolutions in more recent times.
Everything passes away, including apocalyptic dreams—imaginations that the world will magically be “transformed” (as common metals could be transformed into gold through alchemists’ imaginings and spells). The Progressive forces in our midst are in an orgy of ascendancy, and their victory appears to be growing ever more complete. On this, we are surely in agreement. But we make a serious intellectual-spiritual mistake in thinking that “the battle is over, the victory won.” No one knows the future—no one—for the future does not exist as any fixed or knowable state of being. Our own country could yet experience perhaps not a “new birth of freedom,” as Lincoln promised in his Gettysburg Address, but something more profound and more beneficial: a renewal of our spiritual, intellectual, and moral lives through genuine conversion: a turning away from what one thinks, believes, does, and a turning toward the unseen light which we call “God.” Let’s not underestimate the power and wisdom of the Almighty to inspire some probably young men and women who will open their hearts and minds to the Spirit, regain the right use of reason as a humble sharing in divine Reason, and so change not the world, but persuade and guide one human heart after another to “enter into the joy of the LORD” through humility and genuine love of God and of neighbor. God is not defeated, so renewal is always possible. God is at work in the midst of our spiritual and mental illnesses, so renewal springs up. Reason has not been eternally destroyed or even definitively corrupted by Progressive illusions, so at least some human beings can and will learn to think more clearly, more insightfully, more in harmony with the Mind of God. It is the divine alone that brings all things into being, that governs by wisdom and goodness, and that will bring His handiwork to perfection beyond the realm of coming-to-be-and-passing-away. And not here, but only beyond the realm of death is it true that “all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well.” It is not for us to seek to force eternity into time by our wishes, wills, wants, or manipulations.
You and I cannot afford to hide, or to withdraw, or to take shelter behind a wall and allow the storms to blow over us. Each has sacred duties to perform. These duties, these tasks, are for each one to discover for himself, herself. In many and in disturbing ways, our major institutions have failed us: government, education, churches, intellectual classes, media and cultural “icons” and elites. Their failures and betrayals are many, and egregious. They abound all around us. But through the noise we may choose to listen to the voices of some courageous individuals who break from what you correctly termed the apocalyptic mode of existence and find their way back to common sense, genuine fairness, a decent respect for others. Even now, for example, we have a few scholars and journalists in America who have seen, perhaps uncovered, perhaps admitted that our own leaders deeply betrayed our best political traditions (including the rule of law and the rights of the accused) by using the enormous powers of the Federal government to spy on their political opponents, to seek to overthrow them in power, and to cause enormous social upheaval. Intellectual honesty and integrity are not dead. The battle for “the heart and soul of our country” is not over. Some still choose truth and goodness over power, wealth, influence, and being idolized by the masses. Admittedly, most of our “elites” succumb to the allures of evil.
I would have written a little more at this point, explaining in brief where I stand on these issues personally. Another problem has emerged that needs analysis: it is the undue attachment of Catholics to the Church; you have experienced this problem. I will write this in a separate blog. Suffice it to note that as some have an undue attachment to their own ego, and some to the country (“my country right or wrong”), and some have their ego-attachment to “the Bible” or to “the Koran,” so there are others who have an undue attachment to “the Catholic Church.” In truth, the Church is not “the Kingdom of God on earth,” nor is any country, nor is a mass movement, such as Communism. God alone is God. We all have much waking up to do.
—Wm. P. McKane
05-07 June 2020
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