Dietrich von Hildebrand on reverence and being

Writing (disapprovingly) in 1966 on the then-nascent reforms to the Roman rite Mass:

Reverence gives being the opportunity to speak to us: The ultimate grandeur of man is to be capax Dei (ed: “capable of receiving God”). Reverence is of capital importance to all the fundamental domains of man’s life. It can be rightly called “the mother of all virtues,” for it is the basic attitude that all virtues presuppose. The most elementary gesture of reverence is a response to being itself. It distinguishes the autonomous majesty of being from mere illusion or fiction; it is a recognition of the inner consistency and positiveness of being-of its independence of our arbitrary moods. Reverence gives being the opportunity to unfold itself, to, as it were, speak to us; to fecundate our minds. Therefore reverence is indispensable to any adequate knowledge of being. The depth and plenitude of being, and above all its mysteries, will never be revealed to any but the reverent mind. Remember that reverence is a constitutive element of the capacity to “wonder,” which Plato and Aristotle claimed to be the indispensable condition for philosophy. Indeed, irreverence is a chief source of philosophical error. But if reverence is the necessary basis for all reliable knowledge of being, it is, beyond that, indispensable for grasping and assessing the values grounded in being. Only the reverent man who is ready to admit the existence of something greater than himself, who is willing to be silent and let the object speak to him- who opens himself-is capable of entering the sublime world of values. Moreover, once a gradation of values has been recognized, a new kind of reverence is in order-a reverence that responds not only to the majesty of being as such, but to the specific value of a specific being and to its rank in the hierarchy of values. And this new reverence permits the discovery of still other values. …

The irreverent man by contrast, approaches being either in an attitude of arrogant superiority or of tactless, smug familiarity. In either case he is crippled; he is the man who comes so near a tree or building he can no longer see it. Instead of remaining at the proper spiritual distance, and maintaining a reverent silence so that being may speak its word, he obtrudes himself and thereby, in effect, silences being. In no domain is reverence more important than religion. As we have seen, it profoundly affects the relation of man to God. But beyond that it pervades the entire religion, especially the worship of God. There is an intimate link between reverence and sacredness: reverence permits us to experience the sacred, to rise above the profane; irreverence blinds us to the entire world of the sacred. Reverence, including awe-indeed, fear and trembling-is the specific response to the sacred. 

Which jives rather nicely with my earlier diagnosis of modernity as “the institutionalization of rebellion against the order of being,” either birthed by or leading to a kind of spiritual autism, a “pervasive insensibility to the sacred”:

Without a sense of the sacred, reality becomes meaningless, senseless, and incomprehensible; the human condition becomes one not of citizenship and duty but of imprisonment and injustice. Rebellion against that order results, with predictable consequences.

60 years ago, we were told the Mass, that “gobbledegook of Latin ritual” pregnant with “obscurantism” and “magic” (to quote the execrable Paul Blanshard), had become incomprehensible to modern man, and that, far from trying to communicating its riches more effectively, we had to open it up to his appreciation by cutting out much which was worthy of appreciation. Now, it’s marriage that’s up for similar treatment. We’re all spiritual autists now.

No Flood Needed This Time Around

Birth rates are plummeting globally, so that even in countries where fertility is above replacement, it soon won’t be. In 150 years or so, the only people around will be religious conservatives, because other sorts of people with looser morals aren’t reproducing (thanks to the Pill, and all its knock-on social and economic effects, noticed in this video).

We have to step back and realize that what is happening to man right now is a pervasive and radical winnowing, comparable almost to the Flood. It’s natural selection at work, weeding out liberalism from the gene pool, and via co-evolution from the meme pool.  Put another way, liberalism is a lethal intellectual mutation. Whether it takes 50 years, or 1,000, liberalism is doomed, because it is at war with reality. Not only is it not nice to fool Mother Nature, it can never, ever be done in the first place. The Logos of the world is not mocked, no matter how amusing our petty pranks at his expense seem to us.

Fortunately for those who are deleting their own ilk from the world’s future, this winnowing may not involve catastrophic war, plague, or economic collapse. The autophagy of liberalism need not destroy civilization in the process. Civilization, even the West, might just squeak through and prevail in the end, preserving some of the best bits of what it has so far achieved. We might get through this winnowing with very little pain and suffering: no mass death, just a series of successively smaller, successively more traditional generations, as liberals die off after long, entertaining, meaningless lives.

Atheism, Agnosticism and Cultural Low Self-esteem

I think … the skeptics are taking over atheism. …I am an agnostic,

because I believe that is the human condition, and I am a skeptic,

because I believe that is the most efficient way to live my life.

A recent comment at the Orthosphere

 Atheism and its twin brother agnosticism are usually descriptions of individuals. But they’re also cultural forces, shaping society and in turn being shaped by the society in which they live and move and have their being.

[For brevity, I shall refer to them both as “atheism,” for they’re essentially identical at the level of day-to day operations.]

What has atheism to do with low cultural self-esteem? Just this: Atheism, especially today’s variety, makes a virtue of not believing. But skepticism weakens a man and a nation, leading ultimately to ruin unless countered by a renewal of belief.

Think of it: What character trait is today nearly-universally held to be the greatest virtue? Which trait is most praised? The absence of which trait is loathed most deeply and punished most harshly?

Tolerance, of course.

It does go by other names: nonjudgmentalism, openness, diversity, anti-racism, etc. But whatever it’s called, the supreme virtue of the modern age is not to believe. Continue reading

Socrates, Techno-Speak, and Similar Issues

I have some new or newish pieces up on the current regime and how to fight it. There’s one just out at Crisis Magazine about how bad ideological pluralism is (for starters, it’s a particular system of social control that obviously can’t be pluralistic). There are also a couple at Catholic World Report about why the Church can’t use modern public language to speak to modern man (it’s a sort of technological Newspeak), and about Socratic questioning as a way to disrupt the flow of sophistical patter. And then there’s a piece published at Crisis Magazine during Lent about how to how to be a bit more Lenten if you happen to be a political ranter.

Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out: Variations on a Theme.

My current brace of columns  includes one at Crisis Magazine about the trend away from concrete loyalties and objective principles toward radical subjectivity and a combination of money and bureaucracy as the basis for what’s still called public life. The other one, at Catholic World Report, makes the obvious point that the result is unlivable and we should all go out and refound Christendom.

The Abomination of Desolation of the Marital Altar

The Eucharist is a participation in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. But then likewise a true wedding is a participation in the Sacrifice at Golgotha.[1] The bed of marriage is properly an altar, where bride and groom offer their lives in a total sacrifice, joining and thereby engendering a new and larger organism.

When Paul says, “I beseech ye, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies, a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” [Romans 12:1], he refers to the whole and perfectly general motion of the Christian toward his Savior and Lord, howsoever expressed: whether in priesthood, or martyry, or marriage – or at Mass.

The rites of the altar – the bed, the table, the throne – are the basis of society: “Wherever an altar is found, there civilization exists.” And, vice versa: where there is no altar, there is no civilization; no cult, no culture; no culture, no polis.

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Hammer-and-nails Christians

Be ye followers of me, brethren, and observe them who walk so as you have our model. For many walk, of whom I have told you often (and now tell you weeping), that they are enemies of the cross of Christ; Whose end is destruction; whose God is their belly; and whose glory is in their shame; who mind earthly things.

– Philippians 3:17-19

Surely you’ve heard the news of a few legislative attempts to prevent entrepreneurs from being legally harrased into material complicity with evil by servicing gay “weddings” — gay “weddings” which, mind you, are not even legally recognized in many of those states (yet).

That’s not especially alarming, or new, anyway; the free and equal new man cannot tolerate any restrictions on his liberty, even those imposed by the mere existence of the reactionary untermenschen who periodically crawl out of the sewer to contradict him. What alarms me is the extent to which Christians have thrown in with this particular anti-Crusade. In the last three days I have personally dealt with the libels of no less than three Christians, at least one of them an ostensibly “good” Catholic, daring to claim that a Christian baker refusing on principle to bake a cake for a gay “wedding” is morally deficient and contrary to Christian love; and my girlfriend (at least as fierce as me, but nowhere near as accustomed to leftist vitriol) has had to deal with several more, to her great distress. (Get it? You can’t “judge” — i.e., not be 100% on board with — sodomites for what they publicly and repeatedly say and do, but you can surely read and know the hearts of far-away small-business bakery owners on the basis of third-hand reports of their conversations.)

Let us be clear; if your position is that the “love” which we mean when we say “God is love” or “God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son” obliges you to sell needles to heroin addicts or to let children eat sugary cereal for every meal, then you are setting yourself against the plain letter of Scripture, the unanimous witness of Christian history, and the dictates of basic human reason. If your position requires you to view faithful Christians as crucifying Pharisees and aggressive, unrepentant sodomites as the hapless sinners who dined with Christ, then you have got absolutely everything backwards. If your position is that the Constitutional-rendering-of-the-moment has higher Magisterial status than the unbroken opinion of all saintly Christians for all of time everywhere, then maybe you should replace that little metal cross hanging around your neck with a stylized hammer and nails.

Consider the options

I

Here’s the headline version of the relevant story: a Catholic high school hires a vice-principal who is (whether known or not to the school) a practicing homosexual. As part of the terms of his employment, he signs a contract obligating him to publicly abide by the teachings of the Church. At some point later on, he “marries” his boyfriend, a public repudiation of those teachings that earn him the termination of his employment — whereupon the Catholic students at the school rebel.

Suppose you were the pastor, or even the bishop. What would this tell you about the state of affairs in the local church, or in the Church in America more broadly, or the Church in general?

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