As Christians we live in quite desperate and precarious times in the West. The great historical (and current) persecutions of Christianity throughout the ages it seems is no match for the conquer dressed in humanitarian clothing known as secular, post-enlightenment liberalism. Where the soviet gulags failed to break the strength and determination of both Orthodox and Catholic clergies with brute force and persecution, the soft solvents of liberalism, be they the promotion of hedonism, inverted notions of universalism, modern subjective relativism etc. seems to be a much more effective scrubbing tactic against the Christian memory and DNA of the West. To the genuine traditionalist, there seems to be an ongoing onslaught by modernity against everything that was once dear and sacred. The siege walls around the traditionalist, the right-wing reactionary, the earnest believer in the divine grow ever tighter, and it seems every year a new partition of the wall collapses in, and with it the hopes for a great restoration grows dimmer and dimmer.
The erosion of religiosity in modernity of course comes in waves and could only take place at the most intimate of levels in the human subject. The polyphonic control apparatuses of what Reactionaries call “the cathedral”, internationalist globalism, or any other term used to connote the controllers of the modern world, has been working for quite some time to achieve what many consider to be “liberation”. Only the reality is this messianic liberation promised by modernity grows more abstract, atomized, and in turn, nihilistic, a liberation that is alien to what the traditionalist considers the higher liberation felt in the Lord our God. I always like to use an observation of the development of the modern left to illustrate this point; in the 80s and to an extent, the 90s, you had the California ideology embrace the new age. “California Buddhism”, mindfulness, cybernetic, energy channeling, etc. all of them in turn colonized and made into self-help tools to aid productivity in the corporate globalized technocracy. The left has now wholesale abandoned this form of New Age Woo a long time ago, trading in those “Free Tibet” bumper stickers and 70s edition guru paperbacks for a more nihilist worship of the self in various forms, and with it full on moral nihilism and relativism. By comparison, the new age left, the neo-hippies and mindfulness anti-globalization activists seem infinitely preferable to present mutations of post-enlightenment thinking in the current year (plus 3).
This is a troubling sign because as religious people who are politically aware enough know, our leftist cultural masters, whom are largely indifferent and outright hostile to Christian based social orthodoxy, no longer even have a free and easy going (and morally non-imposing) form of spirituality inhabiting their being. The cultural Brahmin-caste has now committed to systematically undoing the only stitches of any form of metaphysics they had left. We see nihilism practically worn as a chic fashion statement in a variety of popular forms of media, let alone the minds of the youth being awash in an education-government-cultural apparatus that practically enforces various forms of cognitive dissonance. To quote Saint Anthony the Great “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.”
This is the main point of existence in the modern world for many Christians and metaphysically minded people in general who are aware of the fallenness that surrounds us. We are cloaked in an impenetrable despair, one that threatens to swallow us whole if it was not for our faith in the promise of redemption through God’s divine grace. It is a common occurrence that we wake up, consume media via various forms of detached simulacra, peer into our screens and are subject to the latest forms of debased modern discourse. We are bombarded with news stories and trending opinions, comment sections, demonstrations of the most base and profane nature designed to tear away at the old order. This is not to say the old order was always the best, and absolutely everything in modernity is evil, but it is quite explicit how far down the road to destruction we are heading in the West. Traditionalists and those of a higher metaphysical worldview see this outrage building up, tearing at us, slowly peeling off the livid skins of our psyches, throwing us into despondency with every new ungodly trend that comes down the cultural sewer-pipe. As Nietzsche said, when realizing our mortality and the state of modern existence, we commit to the “gnashing of teeth”, or we can accept it and forage along a better path. In turn this boils down to a truth that younger people in particular, at least the ones who want to be serious in their faith, and in turn realize the spiritual sicknesses our societies has been infected by desperately need to hear but refuse to: all of this bitterness, all of this obsession with highly intellectual and sometimes viscerally emotional critiques of the modern world (things I also am guilty of obsessing over) and the despair that this abyss-gazing produces only really amounts to one thing, outrage pornography.
Yes indeed, outrage porn is a hot commodity among the faithful, the right-wing, the online underground dissidents, all share in this goal of being united in outrage and impotent anger. We all share the desire to one day “do something” about it but say this with full knowledge that the people running things look on us like we are weeds to be cut down, and the road to power is nearly impossible. So, on we go, watching YouTubers, reading and composing well-crafted tweets, and what we end up with is merely fueling the inferno inside of us to the point of shutting down, slouching our heads, and swallowing that bitter black pill of despair. It is an addiction in a way to feel deair at the state of the world, in moderate doses it keeps one sane, and the eye trained to spot the spiritual blight on ideas, people and things. But soon enough, naval gazing into Gomorrah deadens one inside, jades the soul, and in some extreme cases harden one’s heart to the message of Christ the eternal.
This leaves those who are earnest in their faith, us who long for a traditional way of life and a restoration of the human flourishing that God has intended for us to seek answers and solutions. Faced with increasing marginalization in the public square, we have those who come along and preach the message of resignation. Resignation of course can be harnessed and utilized, it can be a spiritual reprieve from the modern world, but then resignation too, if it is led along the way by despair, can become an excuse for existential defeatism; one merchant of resignation that seems to be popular among Christian communities recently is Rod Dreher, the master of incessant outrage, and the crafter of the “BenOp” or “Benedict-Option”. Now there are some very fine and noble ideas in the BenOp that can be made practical, and it only makes sense that like-minded religious communities should come together and form a lasting bond that can immunize each other from the ever-present machinations and excesses of modernity. To live among the ruins and among the fallen state of Man is arduous when done alone, and there can be no lasting change without community, tribe, religion, and a bond of higher ideas that seeks to break a hole into the light of God through the hollowed halls of the modern world.
The BenOp unfortunately has severe limitations in that it relies on a way of community-by-resignation. To resign one’s self from the nation state that crafts policies which will only lead the destruction of our children’s futures, and from the media and culture industry that pollutes the minds of the impressionable is who one ought to do to achieve a vastly deep and caring soul. One must be immersed in and immerse one’s community in things that give spiritual nourishment and deters people around you from the wanton hedonism and materialism of the present. The problem is this resignation comes at a cost of rendering yourself and the people around you as vulnerable and ineffective in terms of challenging present norms and cultural/political discourses (such as untenable egalitarianism, moral relativism, the minimizing of the family, etc.) that threaten your very way of life. What the BenOp amounts to is in the end an age-old boomeresque solution to the current godless direction the West is taking. “Boomer” in the sense of basking in the excesses of post-war north American decadence, while expecting to break deals and make wagers with the cathedral systems of power. The equation is predicated upon the typical middle class, run of the mill centrist conservative/libertarian way of thinking, “as long as the powers that be leave me alone, I won’t make a fuss, and Caesar can keep taking what is owed, and I will live a faithful life in isolation”.
This is unfortunately a naïve position taken by people within communities of faith, but one that is tempting and even necessary at times. The problem is that the systems of power, and the greater metaphysical illnesses of modernity simply will not stop at an armistice and will never be satisfied with the isolation of people that go against the current modernist cultural programming. One of the most despairing things is to realize that modernity, neoliberalism, mass apathy and rootlessness, these things are all-pervasive, not just expressed in abstract institutions, but within the modern subject. Even resistance to such things entails an entanglement with their vicious consequences and workings, for to even be considered a “modern” subject means to be caught within the discourses of modernity. Simply put, the Traditionally-minded know that there is a spiritual malaise that surrounds everyone, but we cannot quite point to it, so we go on as a terminally ill and bed-ridden patient, waiting for the “end” or the great exit out of modernity. Unfortunately, even this is what some have labelled “doomsday optimism”, where modern society just needs to collapse and implode due to the crushing wright of its own contradictions, and then Christians and traditionalist conservatives fill the void of power by establishing more primal forms of social organization. It is only natural that all these facts can lead one into despair and a sinking feeling of ominous woe, one that desperately wishes to ignore, but can never shake the feeling that things are about to get worse without a massive civilization sea-change, and no doubt things probably will get worse for the spiritually minded.
Out of the Mind.
It should be said that one must never ignore that state of the world and the state of current modern civilization, but also keep an inner distance from these things, and to do so that will not let these feelings of despair sink into our souls like blight into a summer crop. A hard lesson to remember is that despair can even manifest as a heresy, for it negates God’s divine plan for the salvation of humanity and all things. Despair must never get in the way of the calling God places within our hearts towards what is distinctly beneficial to humanity, in other words, God wishes for us to flourish, despite the fallen state of the world. To quote St. Robert Bellarmine’s “Doctrina Christiana”:
“One who hopes in God, he acknowledges God as God, insofar as he holds Him as the most faithful, merciful and powerful, and trusts that He can and will help him in all necessities. Those who despair of the mercy of God sin, as well as those who hope in man more than in God.”
One must train the mind to recognize the very real dangers and traps that modernity lays for the soul, while also examine how these realities affects us, and how the dark clouded thoughts of despair enter our minds. One must be proactive, be good to God, and formulate communities around one’s self, while also going further into investing in a long-term plan with fellow like-minded spiritual people. The inner and out pain and suffering of the world is not going to leave us any time soon, and to convince moderns of their folly seems like an impossible task. Can we tell the promiscuous and the prideful in sin to simply not sin? Women to stop believing in the lie that it is a human “right to killing the youth? Men in power to stop destroying the earth out of greed? Predatory ideologues to stop poisoning the minds of the youth? We can surly say to them that their path leads to only destruction and judgment, but it seems hopeless. The reality is we are operating on different moral, ontological and existential understandings of humanity and society. While the establishment and mainstream view of the modern world is that of “progress”, we only see destruction. As mentioned above, we also cannot just sit on our hands and wait it out, for God will have the final judgment in the end, but this does not mean Christianity preaches a sort of passive quietism. The city of God may be in heaven, but that does not mean the city of man go ablaze while we watch.
As Christians we are obliged to act, to influence the social conditions around us, to influence the institutions of power (which our ancestors have established to begin with) and to learn the various doctrines and discourses of our spiritual trespassers. We must become more aware observers, but to also train ourselves to not let our souls be tainted in this act of detached abyss-gazing, and to not lead ourselves into despair. The hyperreality of the internet makes it incredibly easy for us to envelop ourselves with decay and degeneracy, so there must be a great pulling back from the precipice, and to truly focus on things that are of vital importance to our souls. The mission of Western philosophy and Christian theology has been to train the mind and soul to look for higher things, how soon do we forget this in the wake of non-stop incessant media saturation. We must be honest in our convictions and argue that the traditionalist worldview is not antiquated or truncated, but vibrant and lively. We may never know what our ancestors knew, and we cannot simply commit to live-action-roleplaying the past, but we can move forward and try to ingrain in ourselves and others, principles that are eternal. The problem is complacency, and not wishing to deal with the consequences of offending the morally inverted sensibilities of those who hate our beliefs and way of life. Some will be shunned, families will be divided, people will get fired, or blackballed from the halls and social regalia of official mainstream society. Those who are at odds with the modern world can only expect such treatment by those in power, for modernity and its porous, materialistic and soul-destroying ideas are threaded by all that is eternal and metaphysical. Christians and traditionalists must take seriously the realities of this world and be prepared to face the consequences of living within the knowledge of things above our mortality. Despair is a very easy temptation, but its side-effects are the total ossification of action, and in some extreme cases, a denial of the very foundations of Christianity to begin with. One must not be led into despair for too long, the consequences are too grave.
(artwork done by me. Entitled “the despair of Job, color study #1 of a larger piece”. March, 2018, acrylic on paper, 5×9).
This article was originally published in Demetrios Magazine, Fall, 2017.