Jeremy Smith posted a trenchant comment to one of my essays here, Liberals Anonymous. In that essay, I said:
Liberalism errs about the order of being, and so disagrees with the world. It’s poor policy to argue with the universe, no? Yet that is just what liberalism does …
Jeremy made a really excellent point:
But the world is fallen. Nature is fallen. The UNIVERSE is fallen. … Not just liberalism, but Christianity itself “disagrees with the world.” “The order of being” of the world is also fallen. The world is not the final authority.
He’s perfectly correct, of course. “My Kingdom is not from this world.” What then is all this traditionalist talk about how the Good Society conforms itself to the Order of Being? Ought we not to live away from this world, and toward Heaven?
But this is just what the world is doing; that’s the only reason it still manages to constitute itself a world from one moment to the next. If in order to continue in being the Fallen world were referring only to its own depraved past, and relying only on its own creative resources to cobble together a future, it would devolve almost instantly into chaos, as disparate creatures went each like sheep to his own disparate way. So it would dissolve. But it doesn’t dissolve. So that’s not what it’s doing. What the heck is going on, then?
Let’s unpack this.
The essence of the Fall, and of the creaturely turn toward sin, is the turn away from God as the superordinate source of order, in favor of something else. All sin then partakes on the one hand of pride, and on the other of idolatry. Each is ultimately an epistemological error. Pride errs in lending too much confidence to creaturely works of prehension; idolatry errs in its judgements about what is truly most important. Idolatry follows upon pride almost inevitably. Acts of sin carry these errors of knowledge into practice, actually realizing them. And when an error is realized in an actuality, so that it becomes an ineluctable fact of history, all other creatures – from quarks to seraphim – are thenceforth forevermore forced to reckon with it, and compensate for it. It’s a huge cost of participation in a Fallen world; a total pain in the neck, and – so far as our own poor creaturely powers are concerned – insuperable, when push comes to shove. We’re basically doomed. Such are the wages of sin.
Absent a Divine Fix, the result of creaturely self-reliance for a causal order is disastrous. For creatures operate perforce from a parochial perspective. No creature can therefore be competent to a comprehension of all things sufficient to a suggestion of a path forward, by which disparate creaturely events, each with its own peculiar take on things, may be coordinated to generate a coherent causal order.
But, thanks be to God, the Divine Providence is thus competent. To the extent then that there is a coherent causal order, it cannot be due to the operations of creatures, but only to the flux into the creation of the Divine Will, and, importantly, to the preponderant obedience of creaturely occasions thereto.
We may conclude that, while it is indeed Fallen and depraved, the created order is not utterly depraved, either in whole or in any of its parts. For, the utter depravation of a creature is just its utter annihilation; so long as a creature exists, it has and expresses at least that most basic good of mere existence, upon which all other excellences depend for their realization.
And creation is basically good, after all; creaturely existence is wonderful. We complain, but only about defects and derogations of creaturely life. If the Fall meant that the created order was just garbage, through and through, we wouldn’t complain. No one complains about a defect in a piece of garbage. Indeed, if the world was throughly garbage, we wouldn’t even exist to complain in the first place, because a totally bad world would totally fail to exist. Complaining, then, moaning and groaning – i.e., pain – is and can only be a feature of an actual existence that is basically delicious.
The orderliness of the created order, then, however truly messed up it is, reflects truly the beauty of God. A creature’s disagreement with the created order is therefore compounded of two sorts of disagreements: a disagreement with the disagreeable depravation of God’s good Will for us, and a disagreement with that Will.
And, obviously, God’s Will preponderates at every occasion over any depravation thereof. How could it be otherwise? I mean, he’s God, right?
So a creature’s disagreement with even a depraved order of being is mostly a disagreement with God.
All right, so how does this high-falutin’ stuff connect with the reactionary’s practical mundane predicament? It means that in conforming ourselves and our societies to the ancient human social and biological order, to the natural order, the organic order that gave us rise, we do very well. It means that a disagreement with, e.g., the nisus to reproduce our Fallen humanity in this Fallen world, or with any of the many practical policies that support that reproduction – as patriarchy, social order, custom and law, tradition, heterosexuality, antipathy toward perversion thereof, the dutiful care and education of the young, true faithful and honest religion, attention to duty, loyalty to duly constituted authority, and so forth – is a disagreement with being as such, and with the Divine Will.
Not that we may be cocky about this, of course. That would be pride: Babel all over again. But at least we may avoid the worship of Death, and the cult of Moloch.
There are two further things I would say. First, if we abjure the Fallen world in favor of Pure Heaven, or some image of Heaven, we run the grave risk of committing the Gnostic error. Pride, yet again.
Second, the continued coherent existence of the world, in its crazed career toward the eschaton, should be all we need to convince us that, thanks to the Incarnation and Passion, the world is already effectually redeemed. To the extent that it exists at all, this rotten old good old world is the forecourt of Heaven; that’s the only way it could exist in the first place. Its causal coherence tells us that God has not given up on it; and the fact that he has not given up on the world just is the fact that he has already redeemed it, completely, so that it is bound in its every instance for Heaven. God cannot fail of his purposes for us and our world, except by our disagreement with them. Whatever is, then, has a due shot at immortality. No good thing need be lost, or – given mere Omnipotence – ever can be.
Only the wicked bits will be calcined away, to dust. But these are just the bits that had in any case already bound themselves to non-being.
But wait! Is it not the case that only rational souls can attain immortal theosis? Yes. But recall – we all know this – that we rational beings are procedures of the whole created order. Our bodies, our minds and acts, come from everything, and contribute to everything; this is just Mach’s Principle, and Whitehead’s dictum that “each atom is a system of all things.” The most parsimonious term for it is “love.” The world is an integral operation. It is a communion. So, “No man is an island” means that the salvation of one bit of the world is the salvation of the whole shooting match. The resurrection of my body therefore involves the resurrection of everything that has contributed thereto. Only as a member of a more or less Earthly system, after all, could my body be really my body in the first place, or my mind mine. If I am ever redeemed, so is my whole past.
Let’s do live toward Heaven, then; and recognize this earthly life as its antechamber.