Last week it was suggested that everything matters because everything is properly an expression of the order of God’s own glory, with glory identified as the transcendent ground not only of ideas but of every event, action, and object, its highest term being Christ Glorified, with the art of living being the summary expression of glory with holiness in this life the anticipation of eternal glory.
Glory promotes in this life an order which it imposes in eternity, the order of glory. That this is not recognized as such by many is not disqualifying; our history began in rebellion against God’s order. What the left-minded call Fascism, to the confusion of those ignorant of Woke political philosophy, is order gone wrong, or order they see as illegitimately proposed and inauthentically imposed, order that is superficial, not rooted in broad consent, Thus to argue that there are two genders or to defend the family or to disapprove of deviant sexual behavior is for the Woke on its face the imposition of an alien and unjust order. Parents who want their children taught to use the pronouns of Tennyson or Shakespeare, like traditional Catholics, who are suspected of doubting that the state is the ultimate authority, are a shame and a scandal, to be suppressed.
The twentieth century offers several examples of attempts to impose a cultural-political order by violence. The number of Russians who really wanted Marxism will always be unknown, but there is enough evidence that the system in the beginning was not a majority movement but was imposed by the revolutionary zeal of bourgeois theoreticians. Similarly, long before the 1939 start of World War II, Adolf Hitler proclaimed a ‘European New Order’ publicly on 30 January 1941: “The year 1941 will be, I am convinced, the historical year of a great European New Order!.” Peronism in Argentina and Bolivarian Populism in Venezuela are examples of order imposed nationally having the consent of part of the population. All of these imposed orders are inimical to human flourishing; some, National Socialism, Marxism, Wokeism are demonic.
All are substitutes for the Christian order that prevailed before 1789, the principal character of this order being the inculturation of Christianity by way of God-approved Kingship, with religion rooted in a near-universally practiced liturgy which reflected a common morality, a situation now unimaginable. The old order was hierarchical, which endured for about a thousand years, reflected the fact that creation and every classical political order is hierarchical, including contemporary egalitarian, democratic political orders, in which hierarchies of wealth and power are carefully disguised, while the real hierarchy of morality and beauty is suppressed.
The splintering of Christendom, with its complex causes, followed by the Peace of Westphalia, with its cuius regio eius religio (whose the regime, his the religion) doomed that order, and since that time there has been a struggle, sometimes violent as in Spain in the thirties, sometimes contained within a political system, between the remnant of the old Christian order and various attempts to stabilized government and culture on a popular basis such as the consent of the governed, with the old Christian order dying (politically), slowly, under the assault of rationalism packaged as science, presenting itself as a better alternative to the older un-scientific order. What is now taking place is the last act of this drama, with Progressivism (now Woke) challenging the cultural space occupied as recently as the 1950s by the ghost of the old order.
The difficulty at the heart of cultural unrest is the existential fact that no cultural-political order is effective, or even legitimate, unless it is rooted in the heart of the people it proposes to represent and, in a sense, govern, which is more than the consent of the governed. This dissonance occurs when an older order is failing because it has become inorganic, dissociated from the heart of the culture. It happened in the late eighteenth century when the feudal order collapsed. It happened in the twentieth century, becoming obvious in the 1960s and institutionally dominant by 2000, as what we might call the bourgeoise order, with its notes of responsibility, property, and religion gradually collapsed. In both of these examples the old organic order was unable to defend itself culturally. Not that it lacked adherents, but in the contest the best lacked zeal and the worst displayed demonic energy. Resistance was scattered and was itself divisive. The zip had gone out of the old culture. In a sense the payoff for Deism was the French Revolution. The payoff for the abandonment of revelation in the early twentieth century is wokeness.
Be it remembered that the sixties were the days of the ‘Death of God’ theology; In 1961, Gabriel Vahanian’s The Death of God was published, arguing that modern secular culture had lost all sense of the sacred, concluding that for the modern mind “God is dead.” An Emory religion professor Thomas J. J. Altizer offered a radical theology of the death of God that drew upon William Blake, Hegelian thought and Nietzschean ideas. He conceived of theology as a form of poetry; however, he no longer accepted the possibility of affirming belief in a transcendent God. The October 1965 and April 1966 issues of Time featured the theology of Thomas J. J. Altizer. The April issue, published at Easter time, put the question on its cover in bold red letters on a plain black background: “Is God Dead?” And not to forget Paul van Buren and William Hamilton. Somehow Dietrich Bonhoeffer got caught up in this movement. Had it not struck a nerve It would never have achieved currency in the theological communities; probably it never really penetrated popular Christianity. Certainly not the Roman Church. But you could feel the starch leaching out of the professional academic class and their book-reading colleagues in the broader population.
It occurred to everyone all at once that God really might be dead as far as American and Western European culture was concerned. The movie “The Graduate” told the story. What the civilization for which hundreds of thousands had died in two world wars was a career in plastics and a tryst with one’s fiancé’s mother. The seeds of hatred of western civilization, now a university commonplace, was planted by books such as The Making of a Counterculture and Paul Goodman and Herbert Marcuse. Reason, as represented by Aristotle, was now under attack. I recall that friendly author remarking that he was a bit ashamed of his book, which I had asked him to sign, because rational defenses of Christianity, which his work offered, were now impossible.
The difficulty was that the Death of God theology, perceptive as it was in a gently cynical sense, left the remnants of Christian civilization naked in the public square. The sixties saw the de-criminalization of homosexual behavior with Illinois in 1961, no fault divorce began in California in 1969. The birth prevention pill became universally available in 1963, the year of Kennedy’s assassination in November. The Vietnam War festered, hated by the communicating class, ambiguously supported in the general population, finally, by 1969, requiring 500,000 US troops, only to lose to the rag-tag North Vietnamese Communists amid a repudiation of the cause by prominent Christians: William Sloan Coffin and the Berrigans. Contributing significantly to the unsettling of American religion was the Second Council of the Vatican. Whatever the intention of the Council was, it succeeded in showing that there was nothing permanent; the Church, in Tolkien’s words, ceased being a refuge and became a trap. Catholics, having been told for 400 years that the mass of Pius V was sacrosanct were confronted with change that occurred in a day, replacing the august Latin of perhaps seventeen centuries with a liturgy not so much wrong as ordinary and marginally patient of the banal. In 1967 the Episcopal Church replaced the 1928 Book of Common Prayer with the Green Book, thereby destroying on of the props of the English language In the same year in a resolution supporting changes in abortion laws, the General Convention expressed its “unequivocal opposition to any legislation on the part of the national or state governments which would abridge or deny the right of individuals to reach informed decisions in this matter and to act upon them.”
When the hope of glory goes, what remains is corruption and decay. There was no will to resist these rebellions and innovations. The unraveling of the mainline protestant denominations begun intellectually in the sixties worked its way through church culture until in 2022 there were two varieties of Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Methodists, the issue being the behavior for which God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, now defended by the Mainlines. And not to suggest that this and related moral issues have not put the Roman Church under great stress.
The response to this catastrophic decay has all too often been an attempt to restore Christian culture or Christian civilization. Restoration is noble and foredoomed because the arena in which the war must be pursued is only secondarily and marginally civilization. The battle is fought in two arenas not accessible to politics, the heavens, the realm of glory, where the battle goes on until the end, and the human heart, and while the first of these must be left to the powers and authorities, the second presupposes the mystery of conversion, which is the work of the Holy Spirit wrought upon witness. On the years before Constantine, when Hellenistic culture was certainly debased and the leadership often depraved, the fathers took little notice; generally, they wrote about the truth and prayed.