Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Three Easter essays

I complain a lot about our local newspaper, The Citizen, and say that if they ever stop running David Warren's column, I'll just quit reading it altogether. And they did run a a typically ankle-biting series of "skeptical" stories prior to Easter, going over all the lurid speculations that Jesus was gay, or married, or non-existent. But to make up for it, over the Easter weekend they published three really EXCELLENT essays by one of their columnists, Robert Sibley. They were well-written and even footnoted, an unusual thing in a mere newspaper column.

The first one was entitled Rethinking the revelation, and was published on Saturday. It is a nice overview of the way Christianity learned to synthesize reason and revelation, and of how the Enlightenment philosophs began the process of separating religion from the realm of what is "knowable". And here we are today, in the age of scientism, when the public assumptions are all on the side of materialism, and religion is corralled into a little area off to the side. (Though never quite successfully - as Sibley notes, materialists are vexed to see religion stubbornly rising from the grave yet again.)

The second one, published Easter Sunday, was Recovering Reason. It continues the theme of reason combined with revelation, using Pope Benedict's Regensburg address as a starting point. He goes on to point out the irony of the modern tendency to exalt science and disparage religion, since it was only because of Europe's Christian foundation that such a thing as modern science could arise at all.

The modern arrangement has led to physical advantages, but has left us spiritually impovershed.
"What is special about our case is that we see the breakdown coming about in a particular way," says Charles Taylor. "We see it coming through hypertrophy, through our becoming too much what we have been. This kind of fear is perhaps definitive of the modern age, the fear that the very things that define our break with earlier traditional societies -- our affirmation of freedom, equality, radical new beginnings, control over nature, democratic self-rule -- will somehow be carried beyond feasible limits and will undo us."
Chesterton wrote something uncannily similar in 'The Everlasting Man', when he described the ancient world on the eve of Christ's birth.
It was the best sort of paganism that wore the laurels of Rome. It was the best thing the world had yet seen, all things considered and on any large scale, that ruled from the wall of the Grampians to the garden of the Euphrates. It was the best that had conquered; it was the best that ruled; and it was the best that began to decay.

Unless this broad truth be grasped, the whole story is seen askew. Pessimism is not in being tired of evil but in being tired of good. Despair does not lie in being weary of suffering, but in being weary of joy. It is when for some reason or other the good things in a society no longer work that the society begins to decline; when its food does not feed, when its cures do not cure, when its blessings refuse to bless. We might almost say that in a society without such good things we should hardly have any test by which to register a decline; that is why some of the static commercial oligarchies like Carthage have rather an air in history of standing and staring like mummies, so dried up and swathed and embalmed that no man knows when they are new or old. But Carthage at any rate was dead, and the worst assault ever made by the demons on mortal society had been defeated. But how much would it matter that the worst was dead if the best was dying?
I admit that often today I feel like I'm living in that time - the West, and today American, are the best things the world has ever seen, and I feel that I'm watching it falling under its own weight. As Chesterton goes on to say, "The life of the great civilization went on with dreary industry and even with dreary festivity. It was the end of the world, and the worst of it was that it need never end." Those words "dreary festivity" come to me now every year when the Oscars come around; every time the papers recount the exploits of Paris Hilton or Anna Nicole Smith, or whoever has their name in the news these days.

The series finished on Monday with The mystery of Easter, and I think it's the best of the three. Sibley writes about the unconcealed hostility for the truth of Christianity, and the obvious wishful thinking among materialists that somehow it can be made to disappear.
It would take volumes to account for these anti-Christian attitudes. It is perhaps sufficient here to suggest a psychological paradox: The hostility toward Christianity is a response, in part at least, to what theologian David Hart describes as "the dark night of humanity's interior retreat from faith." Westerners have been deprived of the sense of meaning and purpose that Christianity once provided them, both as individuals and as a civilization. As psychologists know, denial and hatred are often the flipside of longing and love. In this light, hostility toward Christianity (as distinct from skepticism) is a form of self-hatred born of loss and fear.
He goes on to deal with the obsessive quest today to de-Christify Jesus, and strip him of the miraculous and the godly, and quotes C.S. Lewis (among others) to refute the claims that Jesus was just a wise sage and a good man.
Christianity, as theologian Jean Danielou once said, "is essentially faith in an event" -- that event being God's Incarnation. In the same way that "proving" Mohammed was a war-loving madman, Yahweh a figment of Moses' delirium, or Siddharta Gautama a delusional psychotic, would undermine Islam, Judaism and Buddhism, so, too, does "disproving" Christ's divinity strip Christianity of its substance and, arguably, open the door to nihilism. Too often, though, our response to this threat of meaninglessness isn't a courageous refusal to abandon the moral conduct that gives humans their dignity and worth. Instead, as journalist Brian Appleyard observes, the result is "the increasingly desperate pursuit of any kind of transcendence" -- sexual obsession, extreme shopping and ideology being among the most popular -- to mask the fear and the loss. Just ask those who make money insisting on the holiness of bones.


Blogger Nasty, Brutish & Short said...

Glad you're back! I was getting worried about you.

11:31 pm  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

Oh, I'm fine. But Easter is a BIG holiday up here, and the kids were off school Good Friday and Easter Monday, so when they're around full-time, it's a little hard to access the computer! And when they finally go back to school, I have to start cleaning up all the mess that's built up over 4 days. Ugh...holidays.

6:02 am  

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