A Pseudonymous Epistemology

There are those so convinced pigs fly and cows regularly hurdle the moon they would confidently bet your life on it. They are credulous to a fault, those who with absolute conviction “believe in the science” yet know nothing of the science. They lack, first and foremost, a meddlesome mind, being perfectly content, unquestioningly accepting the protestations of experts who smarmily admit to having no appetite for whatever they would profess, but rather, own an affectation for hubris embellished with a tankard of bravado and a truck of prevarication on a power trip to “bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”

Chesterton points to this tendency of the facile mind for oversimplification and ready conviction, scrubbing the shine off truth, gilding what it knows nothing about. “They talk of searching for the habits and habitat of the Missing Link; as if one were to talk of being on friendly terms with the gap in a narrative or the hole in an argument, or taking a walk with a non-sequitur or dining with an undistributed middle.” To illustrate, Chesterton notes of professors of antiquities and prehistoric man: “Strictly speaking of course we know nothing about prehistoric man, for the simple reason that he was prehistoric. The history of prehistoric man is a very obvious contradiction in terms. It is the sort of unreason in which only rationalists are allowed to indulge.”

That people are so convincible, so mentally malleable toward accepting the provably absurd is a question desperately seeking, never finding a satisfying answer. Former Soviet KGB informant and defector, Yuri Bezmenov once described it as a decades long process of demoralization, what he called ideological subversion, that succeeded largely from the absence and lack of moral standards. There is a penchant to consider demoralization as a loss of confidence or hope, a deliberate process of dispiriting the soul, and such is entirely one claim for it. But, it is crucially important to note, the ideological subversion Bezmenov described was of a different sort, a manifest defenestration of the morals of a people, for in the process of demoralization, man loses a thing essential: the objective meaning for being.

Bezmenov claimed that for the demoralized, exposure to truth no longer had any perceivable effect; a person who was demoralized was incapable of assessing the accuracy or truth of any information presented. Even when showered with authenticated data, verified truth, facts backed up with documents, with pictures and hard irrefutable evidence, the thoroughly demoralized would refuse to accept the truth—until a military boot crushed him. Then he would understand but not before.

It is in the process of demoralization that man’s relationship with his Creator is destroyed, or, at a minimum, distorted beyond reason. Fulton Sheen (Religion Without God, 1928) foresaw this ideological assault on religion, culture, history and tradition; the abject purpose being the complete devaluation of the rational creature: man.

Present day religion is not in evolution, but in revolution. Evolution implies growth from a germ, revolution a rupture with a principle; evolution has antecedents, revolution knows not its parentage. When we say that there is revolution in religion, we mean not merely a break with the past, but an abandonment as well of much that is best in the culture and heritage of tradition.

Until a generation ago religion was generally understood in terms of man’s attitude toward a Supreme and Perfect Being; today, it is understood in terms of man’s friendliness to the universe or as “faith in the conservation of human values.” The term “God” is still retained by some thinkers, but it is emptied of all content and dissolved to fit every volatile idea and fleeting fancy. God has been dethroned, the heavens emptied, and man has been exalted to His place in fulfillment of an evil prophecy that some day he would be like unto God. Problems which once centered about God now revolve about man, and those which were concerned with man are now fused with the universe. Theism is reduced to humanism and psychology to cosmology, for there is no longer a distinction made between man and matter. God is humanized and man is naturalized. The science of physics and not the “flower in the crannied wall” has come to tell us what God and man are.

Then again, George Orwell (Nineteen Eighty Four) coined perhaps the perfect word for it.

—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. “Who controls the past,” ran the Party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. “Reality control,” they called it; in Newspeak, “doublethink.”

Winston sank his arms to his sides and slowly refilled his lungs with air. His mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which canceled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself—that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word “doublethink” involved the use of doublethink.

It is pointless to point to the meanest error among those so convicted of their absolute absolutions; simply put, they are correct to the point of absurd infallibility, therefore, it is useless to argue, there can be no allowance for dissent or debate. It is as the psalmist pondered “But who can discern his errors” (Psalm 19:12)?

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) offered this insight (Conscience and Truth, 1991) comparing the guilt of the Pharisee to that of the tax collector.

No longer seeing one’s guilt, the falling silent of conscience in so many areas is an even more dangerous sickness of the soul than the guilt that one still recognizes as such. He who no longer notices that killing is a sin has fallen farther than the one who still recognizes the shamefulness of his actions, because the former is further removed from the truth and conversion.

Not without reason does the self-righteous man in the encounter with Jesus appear as the one who is really lost. If the tax collector with all his undisputed sins stands more justified before God than the Pharisee with all his undeniably good works (Luke 18:9-14), this is not because the sins of the tax collector were not sins or because the good deeds of the Pharisee were not good deeds. Nor does it mean that the good that man does is not good before God, or the evil, not evil or at least not particularly important.

The reason for this paradoxical judgment of God is shown precisely from our question. The Pharisee no longer knows that he too has guilt. He has a completely clear conscience. But this silence of conscience makes him impenetrable to God and men, while the cry of conscience that plagues the tax collector makes him capable of truth and love.

Ratzinger, with a well-deserved reputation for Teutonic sobriety, could on occasion evoke a wry humor. In a 1984 workshop at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, examining the relationship between the magisterium of the Church and theologians, i.e., theological experts, he quipped, “It is strange that some theologians have difficulty accepting the precise and limited doctrine of papal infallibility, but see no problem in granting de facto infallibility to everyone who has a conscience.”

Ignorance Is Strength

The sainted apostle Paul admitted what anyone who has matured into adulthood should readily acknowledge, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Cor 13:11). These days, the pedagogy necessary to reach maturity, to grow up and relinquish childish ways has been usurped by those who would wield unconstrained power over the thoroughly demoralized. Far too many, through vincible ignorance, ideologically contrived, find themselves in Neverland willing to believe what they have been sold—fairy dust and flights of metaversal fantasy—never wanting to outgrow their childhood.

It is the ambition of post-modern philosophers pushing pseudonymous epistemologies to replace reality with conjured self-medicated fantasies via the digital metaverse; to churn the mind into gelatinous masses of human dross, entertained but never enlightened; controlled and manipulated by the few, as Lewis so accurately predicted.

According to Wesley Smith “The Great Reset is placing the world under control of invisible bureaucrats.” Smith writes of the growing dangers concomitant with the encroaching “rule by experts.”

What do I mean by “technocracy?” In essence, the word translates into “rule by experts.” But in its currently gestating iteration, it means much more than that. The looming technocracy threatens to impose substantial control over most important aspects of life by “experts”—scientists, bioethicists, and societal “influencers”—but it also poses the threat of iron-clad enforcement of cultural orthodoxies and policies, not only in law, but also via the voluntary actions of powerful segments of the private sector.

Technocracy is a soft authoritarianism. It establishes no gulags to imprison dissenters and pronounces no tyrannous executions to punish the rebellious. Instead, a technocracy smothers democratic deliberation by removing most decision-making about essential policies from the people (through their elected representatives) to an expert class whose decisions are based on their education and experience, and the data they think matter.

It is far too easy to ignore the expert, never questioning their expertise, never doubting their power to control what men must or must not think; the aim for man to never think at all. The truth as C.S. Lewis surmised in The Abolition of Man, is man’s “conquest of nature” meaning some men possess a power which is, “in reality, a power possessed by some men which they may, or may not, allow other men to profit by.” Such men must inevitably—it is in man’s nature—wield such power “over other men with Nature as its instrument.”

There is another view worthy of consideration for it speaks to how such power over other men corrupts absolutely. Smith writes of the “quality of life ethic” in which a person needs to earn his or her value by possessing identified capabilities and characteristics. According to most bioethicists, Smith writes, “the most influential among them adhere more toward a “quality of life” utilitarian approach in which some lives count for more or are perceived as having a greater claim to legal protection than others.”

Here is the problem: Quality-of-life considerations are fine when they are a factor in medical decision-making—that is, does the patient think the potential harmful effects of a proposed treatment are worth risking to attain the health benefit sought. But it becomes a form of bigotry when the judged quality of a patient’s life becomes determinate of his or her moral worth.

Here is how the Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer explains the “quality of life ethic” as it pertains to life and death issues:

We should treat human beings in accordance with their ethically relevant characteristics. Some of these are inherent in the nature of being. They include consciousness, the capacity for physical, social, and mental interaction with other beings, having conscious preferences for continued life, and having enjoyable experiences. Other relevant aspects depend on the relationship of the being to others, having relatives for example who will grieve over your death, or being so situated in a group that if you are killed, others will fear for their own lives. All of these things make a difference to the regard and respect we should have for such a being.

Smith adds that the danger of such an approach should be obvious. “The standards Singer uses to measure human worth are his standards based on what he considers important and ‘relevant.” Such thinking is insane, irrational, and displays a level of ignorance no human being should ever claim. On such ignorance, Chesterton notes those who ought to be able to reason rightly so seldom are of a mind to do so. “It is necessary to say plainly that all this ignorance is simply covered by impudence. Statements are made so plainly and positively that men have hardly the moral courage to pause upon them and find that they are without support.”

Memory is fleeting and yet it first must be memorialized, it must be come by through honest effort, through reality experienced not imagined, otherwise, it is like Winston (Nineteen Eighty Four) struggling to remember even what year it might have been.

He tried to squeeze out some childhood memory that should tell him whether London had always been quite like this. Were there always these vistas of rotting nineteenth-century houses, their sides shored up with balks of timber, their windows patched with cardboard and their roofs with corrugated iron, their crazy garden walls sagging in all directions? … But it was no use, he could not remember; nothing remained of his childhood except a series of bright-lit tableaux occurring against no background and mostly unintelligible.

Ignorance is strength but for whom? A thought must not be thought, a question never asked. Fear and anxiety are the external manifestations of a hypnotized society exhibiting Mass Formation Psychosis (MFP). According to Clinical Psychologist Dr. Mattias Desmet, there are four conditions for MFP:

  1. Lack of social bonds
  2. Lack of meaning making
  3. High levels of free floating anxiety. They don’t know why they are anxious and it is very distressing/painful for humans to experience because of the lack of control, resulting in risk of developing panic attack. They actively look for something to which they can attach the free-floating anxiety, something they can control.
  4. High levels of free floating frustration and aggression.

Whenever such social conditions exist, as they do now, the experts disseminate a narrative providing an object for the anxiety (White Supremacy, domestic terrorism, systemic racism, pandemics) and a strategy/solution (more power to the State) that will remove or diminish the object of anxiety, thus, all the free-floating anxiety attaches to the object suggested by the narrative, resulting in a willing participation in the strategy by the hypnotized masses. In effect, the people believe that by participating in the strategy they are in control of their fear and anxiety. When large groups of people participate in the strategy, it leads to a new social bond, new connectedness, a new solidarity, and this leads to a new sense-making in life. In other words, life becomes meaningful through the heroic struggle with the object of anxiety. As Erich Vieth explains:

Those caught up in the narrative don’t do so because the narrative is correct. Rather, they do so because they seek the new powerful social bonds. Many of the measures are not relevant or true, but they function as rituals in which people participate in order to connect to the masses of others caught up in the narrative. The more absurd and unscientific the … measures and the more that sacrifice is demanded, the better the measures function as rituals. This fits the general function of rituals: a behavior that you participate in not because it is functional … but to show to the tribe/collective that the collective is more important than the individual. You would be in error to think that as [these] measures become more absurd, more people will wake up to the insanity, but that is an illusion. The more absurd the measures become, the more blinded certain people will become.

During the Nuremberg Trial (1945) Hermann Goering was asked “How did you convince the German people to accept all this?” to which he replied: “It was easy… The only thing a government needs to turn people into slaves is fear. If you can find something to scare them you can make them do anything you want.” Perhaps it was Frank Herbert (Dune) who said it best: “Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.”

According to a University of Minnesota health report,

Fear can interrupt processes in our brains that allow us to regulate emotions, read non-verbal cues and other information presented to us, reflect before acting, and act ethically. This impacts our thinking and decision-making in negative ways, leaving us susceptible to intense emotions and impulsive reactions. All of these effects can leave us unable to act appropriately.

It is difficult to overcome fear, especially when you are surrounded by it. Power corrupts and fear is an awesome weapon in the hands of those who would wield it. And yet, it should never be forgotten that such corrosive power exists within each of us, the power over future generations.

C.S. Lewis (The Abolition of Man) stated it with alarming perspicuity:

In order to understand fully what Man’s power over Nature, and therefore the power of some men over other men, really means, we must picture the race extended in time from the date of its emergence to that of its extinction. Each generation exercises power over its successors: and each, in so far as it modifies the environment bequeathed to it and rebels against tradition, resists and limits the power of its predecessors. This modifies the picture which is sometimes painted of a progressive emancipation from tradition and a progressive control of natural processes resulting in a continual increase of human power. In reality, of course, if any one age really attains, by eugenics and scientific education, the power to make its descendants what it pleases, all men who live after it are the patients of that power. They are weaker, not stronger: for though we may have put wonderful machines in their hands we have pre-ordained how they are to use them.

This then is the result of our progressive madness. We have successively been made weaker as we have engineered machines (technology with artificial intelligence) progressively stronger, more to our image and likeness. Our weaknesses, in the hands of the experts, will be our undoing. The greater our ignorance, the more terrible our fear; the greater our reliance on technological advances, the less in the image and likeness of God we appear to ourselves. Man thus becomes a poorly made, vulgar, dispensable machine. “For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means… the power of some men to make other men what they please.” And what they please, their protestations to the contrary, is to make disposable machines of us all. Lewis said it with a bluntness that should shock us all.

But the man-moulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please.

Man’s conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men. There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger.

The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditionings, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself. Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man. The battle will then be won. We shall have taken the ‘thread of life out of the hand of Clotho’ and be henceforth free to make our species whatever we wish it to be. The battle will indeed be won. But who, precisely, will have won it?

The last thing Lewis would have wont to say, I am sure, would have been “I told you so,” but he did tell us, and even the most naïve among us must surely recognize the truth of it now realized.

No longer do men look to the past as to their Golden Age; no longer do they have a memory of a Garden wherein man walked with God in the cool breezes of evening. The Golden Age is now placed in the future, but not one wherein man re-finds at the foot of a Tree the gifts he once lost there, thanks to a God-Man unfurled on it like a banner of salvation, but rather a future in which, due to a cosmic evolutionary urge, man not only makes but becomes God. Man in the supernatural state, it is said, needs no Redeemer as in the natural state he needs no God. As a result of this philosophy of self-sufficiency we have the strange modern phenomenon of a religion without God and a Christianity without Christ.

The Abstraction Of Man

In a bit of retrospective pique, I found it rather an unlikely miracle to discover the meeting of two of the greatest literary and philosophical minds of the twentieth century: G.K. Chesterton and the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Nearly a century in the past (1925), Chesterton introduced the first of what would eventually come to sixty-six books written by Dr. Sheen as he then called him, God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy. In his introduction Chesterton recalled an “incident of a modern skeptical heroine going into a confessional box and telling the priest that she did not believe in his religion.”

He asked her what she did believe in and she said reflectively, “Well, I don’t believe in the Bible, and I don’t think I believe in the immortality of the soul, and I’m not sure that I believe in God,” and so on. And the unmoved cleric replied, “I didn’t ask you what you didn’t believe, but what you do believe.” “Well,” said the lady, “I believe that two and two make four.” “Very well then,” said the priest, “live up to that.”

Chesterton followed noting that it was probably around the same time that Ibsen would have been writing: “Who knows that two and two do not make five in the fixed stars?” This seems to me the cruces of the crises now before us. Just as Orwell imagined in Nineteen Eighty Four: we are terribly slow learners.

“You are a slow learner, Winston,” said O’Brien gently. “How can I help it?” he blubbered. “How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.” “Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”

“These are the times that try men’s souls” wrote Thomas Paine two-hundred forty-six years ago, then, evermore so today. The trying, however, is exacerbated by a foolish agnosticism that wills neither to acknowledge nor deny the very existence of the soul or God for the matter. In God and Intelligence, Sheen considers the nature of God as perceived by the nature of man, pointing out that the problem is much confused by a sort of sentimental version of the divine dignity of man. “As in every other modern matter,” Chesterton writes, “the people in question seize on the sentiment without the reason for it.”

This sentiment is a sediment; it is the dregs of our dogma about a divine origin. They begin by bowing down to man as the image of God; and then forget the God and bow down to the graven image. … It is the view that Being is Becoming; or that God does not exist yet, but may be said to be living in hopes. The blasphemy is not ours. It is enough for us that our enemies have retreated from the territory of reason, on which they once claimed so many victories; and have fallen back upon the borderlands of myth and mysticism, like so many other barbarians with whom civilization is at war.

The problem is generational: each succeeding generation grown in vitro weaker and, through ever more selective grooming, less ‘human’. It is as Lewis saw so clearly: “They are, rather, not men (in the old sense) at all.” Our humanity has been sacrificed at the altar of the Conditioners, the experts, in order for the high priests of Nature to “devote themselves to the task of deciding what ‘Humanity’ shall henceforth mean.” It is ironic how as man conquers—or believes to have conquered—Nature, “we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men, and those individuals subjected to that in themselves which is purely ‘natural’—to their irrational impulses. Nature, untrammeled by values, rules the Conditioners and, through them, all humanity.” The evidence is obvious and yet, so few find themselves the least interested in the knowing. The preponderance of men prefer not knowing for they have been indoctrinated into believing ignorance is strength.

We no longer rule with the mind but with unquestioning sentiment. Reality and truth are what one is wont to make believe through the oracle of Oculus. “When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains.” As Lewis would claim, “those who stand outside all judgements of value cannot have any ground for preferring one of their own impulses to another except the emotional strength of that impulse. We may legitimately hope that among the impulses which arise in minds thus emptied of all ‘rational’ or ‘spiritual’ motives, some will be benevolent.” It is a false hope doomed to utter despair. Lasciate ogne speranz, voi ch’intrate (Abandon all hope, ye who enter here).

Sheen wrote in God and Intelligence of the radically different ways of approaching God. The Intellectualist once argued for the God-proved-by-reason-to-be-existent while the post-modern argued that such a God was and is too far removed from human needs, therefore, the God-I-feel-I-can-use is of much greater value. “The gods we stand by are the gods we need and can use.”

Hence it follows that, although we cannot prove the existence of God, it does not mean that God has lost all His value. The idea may be “theoretically worthless,” it is quite true, but it still has a “regulative use.” Individual need is to be the judge of God. “The voice of human experience within us, judging and condemning all gods that stand athwart the pathway along which it feels to be advancing,” is the measure by which individuals prefer certain gods at one time and certain gods at another. Professor Leuba writes:

The truth of the matter can be put this way: God is not known, He is used—sometimes as a meat-purveyor, sometimes as moral support, sometimes as friend, sometimes as object of love. If He proves Himself useful, the religious consciousness asks for no more than this. Does God really exist? How does He exist? What is He? are so many irrelevant questions. Not God but life, more life, a larger, richer, more satisfying life, is in the last analysis, the end of religion. The love of life, at any and every level of development, is the religious impulse.

There once was an age when man searched for truth no matter where it lay or how hard it rubbed raw the ragged scars of mindless preconception. Once upon a time, wisdom was an aching hunger seeking satisfaction, knowing (epistemology) what was true and real was the noblest of pursuits, the pursuit of knowledge attained through reason was held essential to becoming fully human. And no one cared to be considered subhuman or in the least inhumane. Not everyone could walk with Aristotle, argue Plato or Socrates, philosophize with Augustine or Aquinas, theorize as Galileo, hypothesize as Einstein, or follow faithfully the teachings of Jesus Christ. And yet, all could aspire to know more truth than yesterday, to dream of one day standing on the shoulders of such formidable ancestral giants and reaching the heights of heaven.

Man knew he had been made in the image and likeness of God; he could not explain it, but he knew it because the Church was God’s voice, instituted by Christ, the Word Incarnate, instituted to teach all that he had commanded. In order to fulfill its mission, the Church founded schools and universities where the fundamentals of education through rigorous research and open debate were not only encouraged, but rigorously defended. Reasoned argument was the overarching pedagogical approach to learning. Each successive generation passed on what was then known, with frustrated taunts to the yet to be discovered unknown, with the firm resolve that the next generation would add further wealth to the treasury.

Anthony Esolen, “Our Church and Our Elites” recently observed that at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts, they teach students who read and discuss Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, Shakespeare and Cervantes, Michelangelo and Rodin.

When the young Augustine was at Carthage studying rhetoric among other young men who strove for power and influence in the world of law, he happened upon a book we have since lost, the Hortensius, by Cicero. That book changed his life, because it kindled in him a hunger for wisdom, what the Greeks called philosophy. I guess that in a bad world, we need a Hortensius now and again.

Many other works belong, so to speak, to all the world, but the world has cast them aside, or slandered them, or mangled them beyond recognition. The world will have to turn to the Church not only for Christ, then, but for Cicero too, not only for wisdom regarding the things of Heaven, but for human wisdom about human things, not only for Paul, but for Plato. And more.

Alas, somewhere, somewhen the passing on has become passé, or perhaps, merely too much to bear repeating. Truth has become an itch one dares not scratch. Those obligated to pass on the accumulated wealth of knowing have found it easier and more entertaining to tilt at windmills and chase social butterflies than form novice minds so that they too can increase and pass on their ancestral inheritance. Disinherited from the past, each succeeding generation has become more an abstraction, further distanced from the knowing that was rightfully their inheritance of Nature and of Nature’s God. Lewis acknowledged as much when he said, “no generation can bequeath to its successors what it has not got.” As Walter Hooper wrote (1970) in the introduction to God in the Dock, “I can see that much of the ignorance today is rightly attributed by Lewis to ‘the liberal writers who are continually accommodating and whittling down the truth of the Gospel.’”

This is the truth that now confronts us: generation upon generation upon generation of the blind teaching the blind to see what they care not nor do not know. Consider an art class. The teacher knows little and cares less about art than what nose ring to wear—a reminder of the now ancient practice of ringing the snouts of pigs to prevent rooting in the dirt—or the insanity of asking what pronouns the students might most prefer. The students are told to paint, not an object before them such as a vase or lamp, but their internalized interpretation of Pablo Picasso’s Totem Faces which they have never seen but contextualized through the impoverished eye of the pink-haired, thoroughly inked and illustrated instructor. Now, consider a subsequent art class where the students are instructed to express their internalized interpretation of the previous class’s internalized interpretation of Pablo Picasso’s Totem Faces which they are not shown, have never seen, only described. And so on, generation upon generation upon generation. As abstract as Picasso’s art is, ever more garish gibberish would be the product of each succeeding generation of novel artistry.

Chesterton, speaking of prehistoric man, wrote of what we know and do not know; of what “we do know is that they did have pictures; and the pictures have remained.”

And there remains with them, as already suggested, the testimony to something that is absolute and unique; that belongs to man and to nothing else except man; that is a difference of kind and not a difference of degree. A monkey does not draw clumsily and a man cleverly; a monkey does not begin the art of representation and a man carry it to perfection. A monkey does not do it at all; he does not begin to do it at all; he does not begin to begin to do it at all. A line of some kind is crossed before the first faint line can begin.

No matter how convinced one might be that a thousand monkeys given enough time sitting before a thousand typewriters might reveal the Word of God, it is but a foolish fantasy. The same must be said for the countless students who will to become “educators” by matriculating in pseudonymous studies of gender, ethnicity, identity, culture, multiculture, diversity, or the étudier du jour.

Thus, it is with the approaching abstraction of man. As man is confounded into abstraction, the value of man qua man becomes mundane, worth less, worthless. No more is individual man in the image and likeness of an unseen, unknowable God; man is crudely drawn and redrawn in the poorest image and likeness of his carnival mirrored self, as his Controllers deem sufficiently compliant and, to the end, but useful idiots.

The elites have been in the vanguard of cultural evisceration, in all kinds of ways. Only the Church can recover the abandoned land, and till it with love. By comparison with what people still within living memory once took for granted, there are now no dances, no socials, no local ball leagues, no community singing, few parades—and those but exercises in garishness and obscenity. And no genuine common life.

While I agree with Esolen in so far as the Church may be the only hope for recovery of the soil that has long been abandoned and now lies barren, the questions which must be asked are “Will it? Can it?” Where is the traditional Catholic stainless steel, the zeal to till the fallow soil, to catechize, to teach all the nations all that Christ commanded? I am reminded of a parable. Jesus once told the crowd:

A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep. And when the sun rose, it was scorched and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it and it produced no grain. And some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit. It came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold (Mark 4:3-8).

As Jesus explained, the sower (clergy) sows the Word but not all the seed will fall on fertile ground. That is as it must be, but if the sower refuses or neglects to sow the Word, it matters not where the seed may fall. If the sower prefers popularity, avoids or stirs controversy, speaks not of the existence of evil, bears false witness, mixes bad seed with the good and thus fouls the harvest: of what good will come of it. Likewise, if the sower knows nothing or little of the proper method for sowing, how fruitful the harvest?

Like the aforementioned remarks by Lewis, no generation of prelate (sower) can bequeath what they have not got. Over decades, liberal theologians and wastrel prelates have continually whittled down the truth of the Gospel, subjected the faithful to false or erroneous teaching, and promoted controversy by their personal behavior and public pronouncements they then hubristically nailed to the cathedral door. Jesus told Peter three times to feed his sheep. Tragically, too many of the current crop of successors have failed to feed their flocks a healthy meal.

It is generational. There are so few heroes anymore, no Thomas More (beheaded), no Stephen (stoned), Lawrence (grilled), Sebastian (clubbed), no Andrew (crucified) or Bartholomew (skinned). Fewer today: Clement Shahbaz Bhatti (gunned down), Annalena Tonelli (shot in the head) or Father Jacques Hamel (throat slit). Such as these seldom get any notice beyond the customary tabloid obituary. Those that are noticed seldom practice what they preach and what they preach is often heretical and at times nothing more than apostatizing rhetoric. And poor rhetoric anointed with the salve of heretical clerisy.

For the most part, it is vincible ignorance that fortifies their teaching; years of advanced education provides no assurance of proper preparation for the care and feeding of their appointed flocks. To put it bluntly, ignorance knows both saint and sinner, and yet, it would seem, so few have been given even a modicum of well-trained tongue. A cleric is equally as capable as a historian in propounding a pseudonymous epistemology, that is: uttering falsehoods and heresies. The only difference, the cleric proudly proclaims to be speaking in Persona Christi when in truth his breath smells of rotten eggs and sulfur and his silver-tongued oratory leads the flock on a crooked path to the very gates of Gehenna.

Lewis never identified the Conditioners, those high and mighty few who would form men into something more—but ultimately no longer—human. It is easy, far too easy, to recognize those who aspire to such a lofty throne. Be they heads-of-state or bureaucrat, rich as Croesus corporate oligarchs, or pompous hierarchs seeking earthly glory, they wear their green badge of C(onditioner) with overweening pride. They are in it for themselves; they are masters of their own unwinding, masters of none, even of themselves. They believe they are lords of the universe and hold such power over men to use and discard. Like Saruman standing atop Orthanc, they believe they are in command of all they survey, but they are but fools, ensnared by the Dark Lord Sauron who would rule them all.

This then is the conundrum of the times in which we find ourselves participating: there are signs everywhere of corruption, both societal and ecclesiastical. We could say never has there been such a time but that would be untrue. Less than six months before this aging soul breathed his first, the Venerable Fulton Sheen delivered a radio address (January 26, 1947), a sermon to begin the seventeenth year of the Catholic Hour. In it he spoke of what was “contained in the Papal Encyclical Divini Redemptoris: the all important subject of Communism.” He began by asking, “Why is it that so few realize the seriousness of our present crisis?” a question that remains on many lips today. He went on to answer and his answer should give us more than a moment’s pause:

Partly because men do not want to believe their own times are wicked, partly because it involves too much self-accusation and principally because they have no standards outside of themselves by which to measure their times. If there is no fixed concept of justice how shall men know it is violated? Only those who live by faith really know what is happening in the world. The great masses without faith are unconscious of the destructive processes going on. The tragedy is not that the hairs of our civilization are gray; it is rather our failure to see that they are. The very day Sodom was destroyed, Scripture describes the sun as bright; Balthasar’s realm came to an end in darkness; people saw Noah preparing for the flood one hundred and twenty years before it came, but men would not believe. In the midst of seeming prosperity, world-unity, the decree to the angels goes forth but the masses go on their sordid routines. As our Lord said: “For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, even till that day in which Noah entered into the ark, and they knew not till the flood came, and took them all away; so also shall the coming of the Son of man be.” (Matthew 24:38, 39) Well may Our Savior say to us what He said to the Sadducees and Pharisees in His time: “When it is evening, you say: It will be fair weather, for the sky is red. And in the morning: Today there will be a storm, for the sky is red and lowering. You know then how to discern the face of the sky: and can you not know the signs of the times?” (Matthew 16:2, 3)

The signs of our times point to two inescapable truths, the first of which is that we have come to the end of the post-Renaissance chapter of history which made man the measure of all things. More particularly the three basic dogmas of the modern world are dissolving before our very eyes. We are witnessing: 1) The liquidation of the economic man, or the assumption that man who is a highly developed animal has no other function in life than to produce and acquire wealth, and then like the cattle in the pastures, be filled with years and die. 2) The liquidation of the idea of the natural goodness of man who has no need of a God to give Him rights, or a Redeemer to salvage him from guilt, because progress is automatic thanks to science—education and evolution, which will one day make man a kind of a god as H.G. Wells said, with his feet on the earth and his hands among the stars. 3) The liquidation of rationalism, or the idea that the purpose of human reason is not to discover the meaning and goal of life, namely the salvation of the soul, but merely to devise new technical advances to make on this earth a city of man to displace the city of God.

Sheen finished his sermon with words still true and relevant now seventy-three years advanced: “The only way out of this crisis is spiritual, because the trouble is not in the way we keep our books, but in the way we keep our souls. The time is nearer than you think.”

Deacon Chuck Lanham is a Catholic author, theologian and philosopher, a jack-of-all-trades like his father (though far from a master of anything) and a servant of God. He is the author of The Voices of God: Hearing God in the SilenceEchoes of Love: Effervescent Memories, and four volumes of Collected Essays on religion, faith, morality, theology, and philosophy.

Featured image: “Gate,” by Pawel Kuczynski, 2016.

Want Answers?… Simple But Wrong, Or Complex But Right?

There is a vague discomfiture that comes with the realization that the times have so little improved from those of even our remotest ancestors. One might well consider that man has been regressing since the very beginning with the fall from God’s good graces. And yet, never willing to admit to error, man calls error progress and progress never quite enough. There is, quite naturally, —or so the progressives insist—an existential necessity for progress for its own measure, never bothering to consider either the direction or better purpose toward which we are supposed to be progressing. It seems progressives—perhaps unintentionally, though of that I have serious doubts—are hellbent on putting “all ya’ll deplorables back in chains” while lasciviously twerking the pâté de foie gras.

In his 1905 essay, Notre patrie, Charles Pierre Péguy (1873-1914), French Catholic poet, author, and writer made this penetrating observation: “It will never be known what acts of cowardice have been motivated by the fear of not looking sufficiently progressive.” Now, I have never admitted to any great mathematical profundity, and you are welcome to check my subtraction if you are in doubt, but as near as I can figure that was one hundred sixteen years ago. But wait, there’s more! As Roger Kimball opines, Péguy has enduring importance “because of his insights into the distinctive hubris of modernity: the curious modern tendency to substitute faith in technique for the cultivation of wisdom, the belief that a perfect administration of life could somehow relieve us of the burden, the unpredictable adventure, of living.” Elsewhere, R. R. Reno notes, “Péguy flourished in the first years of the twentieth century, his life cut short by a German bullet in 1914. Since that time, the modern hubris has grown only more monstrous.”

Always a keen observer of human nature, “Truth may be contradicted a thousand times,” the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Old Errors and New Labels wrote, “but that only proves that it is strong enough to survive a thousand assaults…”

But for any one to say, “Some say this, some say that, therefore there is no truth,” is about as logical as it would have been for Columbus, who heard some say, “The earth is round,” and others say, “The earth is flat,” to conclude: “Therefore there is no earth at all.”

Like a carpenter who might throw away his rule and use each beam as a measuring-rod, so, too, those who have thrown away the standard of objective truth have nothing left with which to measure but the mental fashion of the moment.

There are those who loudly deny logic and reason; others, far too many, through self-inflicted vincible ignorance would rather be led by the nose than to think or act for themselves. Haile Selassie, former Emperor of Ethiopia (1930-1974) once said, “Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.” Thus, it is that the silent masses accept without question the simplest expositive, never knowing nor caring whether what they are told is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Nearly eleven decades ago (Daily News, Oct. 5, 1912,) Chesterton posed an interesting “what-if” very much aimed squarely at this generation. “Suppose,” he wrote, “for some reason or other, our great-great-grandchildren come to the conclusion that the 20th century was the beginning of a relapse into barbarism, like the decline of Rome.” Seems as though such supposing no longer needs to be supposed. He goes on, “They will have plenty of coincident facts to quote; the nature-worship which we call pantheism, the power of the medicine-men whom we call scientific specialists, the belief in tribal curses and destinies which we call heredity, the disproportionate preoccupation with the tribe or pack which we call sociology, the Nietszchians with their worship of force, the Eugenists with their hints of Infanticide.”

To translate into current post-modern cant: worship which we call secular humanism, the belief that humanity is capable of morality and self-fulfillment without belief in God; the power of public experts and scientific publicans lacking commonsense, bereft of productive expertise or strict commitment to the scientific method; the belief in the immutable destinies of tribe and race which demand open borders and unrestrained migration; the disproportionate preoccupation with tribe or race or ethnicity under the guises of woke identity, reparations for inherited sins, and equality of outcomes; the Nietszchian nihilism (“God is dead”) which has led to the indiscriminate use of force by the state; the Eugenists (dehumanizing pro-choice) with their demands for unlimited, unrestrained murderous human sacrifice—no more hints of Infanticide—whether unborn, one foot in the grave, or whomever they by happenstance deem a burden to society or a heretical hindrance to their temporal great god Progress.

What Chesterton once supposed is clearly no longer merely a figment of his enormous imagination. What he imagined as possible most assuredly now haunts us. The reason his imagination failed to account fully was explained by his contemporary, C.S. Lewis. In the opening of Mere Christianity, Lewis suggests the absence of “some kind of Law or Rule of fair play or decent behaviour or morality or whatever you like to call it,” would result in man fighting like animals:

Quarrelling means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong. And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are; just as there would be no sense in saying that a footballer had committed a foul unless there was some agreement about the rules of football.

Now this Law or Rule about Right and Wrong used to be called the Law of Nature. Nowadays, when we talk of the ‘laws of nature’ we usually mean things like gravitation, or heredity, or the laws of chemistry. But when the older thinkers called the Law of Right and Wrong ‘the Law of Nature’, they really meant the Law of Human Nature. The idea was that, just as all bodies are governed by the law of gravitation, and organisms by biological laws, so the creature called man also had his law—with this great difference, that a body could not choose whether it obeyed the law of gravitation or not, but a man could choose either to obey the Law of Human Nature or to disobey it.

We may put this in another way. Each man is at every moment subjected to several different sets of law, but there is only one of these which he is free to disobey. As a body, he is subjected to gravitation and cannot disobey it; if you leave him unsupported in mid-air, he has no more choice about falling than a stone has. As an organism, he is subjected to various biological laws which he cannot disobey any more than an animal can. That is, he cannot disobey those laws which he shares with other things; but the law which is peculiar to his human nature, the law he does not share with animals or vegetables or inorganic things, is the one he can disobey if he chooses.

Lewis then stated the obvious. “This law was called the Law of Nature because people thought that every one knew it by nature and did not need to be taught it.” Apparently, not everyone got the memo. Some people, he wrote, would say that “the idea of a Law of Nature or decent behavior known to all men is unsound, because different civilisations and different ages have had quite different moralities.” “But,” Lewis countered, “this is not true. There have been differences between their moralities, but these have never amounted to anything like a total difference. … It seems, then, we are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong. People may be sometimes mistaken about them, just as people sometimes get their sums wrong; but they are not a matter of mere taste and opinion any more than the multiplication table.”

Roger Simon recently opined on what he sees America moving toward, even living through: real-life “Communism, American Style.” Key to his argument is what Karl Marx assumed: that his system would first come to the more modern industrialized state, which to Marx at that time was Germany. He was wrong about that. “Or,” Simon asks, “was he? Perhaps he was just ahead of his time.” Bear in mind, Marx’s manifesto depended on an existing technologically advanced, affluent society, and an impossible to ignore class dichotomy. Again, Simon asks, “What modern industrialized state could be more fecund for communism than the United States of America, the country with the most-est of all?“

America is and has been for a very long time, the richest, most affluent country to ever exist. By third-world standards, even the poorest of the poor supported by an indulgent welfare state are more affluent than over half of the world’s population. “It’s the part of human nature that makes for good communists. In fact, communism owes its existence to them. They are the part of America that will allow, indeed are allowing, communism to walk in the door. Among them are some of our richest and most successful citizens, but that does not stop them from being fools.”

Follow The Pied Piper Of Science

It should be noted the three authors cited (Lewis, Chesterton, and Sheen) were of the latter part of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century and yet what they wrote is as relevant to the latter half of the twentieth and the first quarter of the twenty-first. One cannot turn a page without discovering some relevant thought, idea, or warning of what the future holds should man not change course and return to God, reason, and objective standards of truth. Unfortunately, only the choir will bother to read the music, the conditioned congregation much too enthralled with the high priest’s siren exhortation to hear it. To be fair, the conditioned are often unaware of the conditioning being set upon them for the conditioners are well aware of the dangers of an informed public, thus the censorious exorcism of opposing voices from the public square.

C. S. Lewis (1898 – 1963)

In Religion Without Dogma? (1946), Lewis analyzed the underlying problem of the materialistic mindset which he had but tangentially touched upon with The Abolition of Man (1944). If there is no God, if the material world is all that there is, then thoughts are but electro-chemical reactions in the brain. From where, Lewis then asks, does this capacity for thought come from? For the secular humanist and progressive materialist there can be no soul, no spirit, no transcendent mind; brain function (thought and body control) merely the result of random, electro-chemical processes. As Lewis explains it, “Every particular thought (whether it is a judgment of fact or a judgment of value) is always and by all men discounted the moment they believe that it can be explained, without remainder, as the result of irrational causes:”

Whenever you know what the other man is saying is wholly due to his complexes or to a bit of bone pressing on his brain, you cease to attach any importance to it. But if naturalism were true then all thoughts whatever would be wholly the result of irrational causes. Therefore, all thoughts would be equally worthless. Therefore, naturalism is worthless. If it is true, then we can know no truths. It cuts its own throat.

I remember once being shown a certain kind of knot which was such that if you added one extra complication to make assurance doubly sure you suddenly found that the whole thing had come undone in your hands and you had only a bit of string. It is like that with naturalism. It goes on claiming territory after territory: first the inorganic, then the lower organisms, then man’s body, then his emotions. But when it takes the final step and we attempt a naturalistic account of thought itself, suddenly the whole thing unravels. The last fatal step has invalidated all the preceding ones: for they were all reasonings and reason itself has been discredited. We must, therefore, either give up thinking altogether or else begin over again from the ground floor.

Dwight Longenecker, in his essay Religion Without Dogma, adds, “The same is true of relativism. If the idea that ‘there is no such thing as truth’ comes from the human brain, and the human brain is the result of random, irrational evolution, then the statement, ‘there’s no such thing as truth’ is also senseless. But of course, we know certain statements are true not because they are true in the realm of ideas, but because first of all they are true in this physical world of reality. The philosopher proves the brick is real by kicking it and howling in pain.”

With The Abolition of Man, Lewis envisioned what a world completely governed by scientifically verified facts and devoid of any conception of the Tao would look like. Lewis considered the Tao (a term from the Analects of Confucius) “to mean something like moral inheritance, the legacy of humane wisdom that the older generation imparts to the younger and which the younger have a duty to hand on in due course” (Michael Ward, After Humanity). For Lewis, a society rooted in technology-inspired manipulation must, by definition, organize into two classes of people: conditioners and the conditioned. Lewis saw with rare prescience and clarity of mind exactly “what the thing called ‘Man’s power over Nature’ must always and essentially be:”

And all long-term exercise of power, especially in breeding, must mean the power of earlier generations over later ones. … In order to understand fully what Man’s power over Nature, and therefore the power of some men over other men, really means, we must picture the race extended in time from the date of its emergence to that of its extinction. Each generation exercises power over its successors: … This modifies the picture which is sometimes painted of a progressive emancipation from tradition and a progressive control of natural processes resulting in a continual increase of human power. In reality, of course, if any one age really attains, by eugenics and scientific education, the power to make its descendants what it pleases, all men who live after it are the patients of that power. They are weaker, not stronger: for though we may have put wonderful machines in their hands we have pre-ordained how they are to use them. … There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. … For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please.

Lewis did not address or identify the conditioners directly, but the twenty-first century conditioned know all too well. Einstein, perhaps one of, if not the greatest scientific mind of the twentieth century, provided a hint, arguing in a 1949 article against the concentration of wealth and power in a few hands (conditioners):

[Such concentration will result in] an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.

G. K. Chesterton (1874 – 1936)

Chesterton had a great many things to say about a great many things which is to say he found a great many things interesting though often paradoxical. There is much controversy these days over how many of the rich and powerful elite despise the current order of things; they hate whatever stands in their way of attaining more wealth and power, their insatiable desire to destroy and reconstruct the world into something more to their benefit. Of this sort of radical revolutionary Chesterton would most certainly have had something to go on about. And indeed, he did just that in his introduction to The Defendant (1901). “I have imagined that the main business of a man, however humble, is defence. I have conceived that a defendant is chiefly required when worldlings despise the world—that a counsel for the defence would not have been out of place in that terrible day when the sun was darkened over Calvary and Man was rejected of men.” Some three decades later it would seem Chesterton was just getting his second wind:

If the modern man is indeed the heir of all the ages, he is often the kind of heir who tells the family solicitor to sell the whole damned estate, lock, stock, and barrel, and give him a little ready money to throw away at the races or the night-clubs. He is certainly not the kind of heir who ever visits his estate: and, if he really owns all the historic lands of ancient and modern history, he is a very absentee landlord. He does not really go down the mines on the historic property, whether they are the Caves of the Cave-Man or the Catacombs of the Christians, but is content with a very hasty and often misleading report from a very superficial and sometimes dishonest mining expert. He allows any wild theories, like wild thickets of thorn and briar, to grow all over the garden and even the graveyard. He will always believe modern testimony in a text-book against contemporary testimony on a tombstone. He sells the family portraits with much more than the carelessness of Charles Surface, and seldom even knows enough about the family even to save a favourite uncle from the wreck. For the adjective “fast,” which was a condemnation when applied to profligates, has become a compliment when applied to progressives. I know there are any number of men in the modern world to whom all this does not in the least apply; but the point is that, even where it is obviously applicable, it is not thought particularly culpable. Nevertheless, there are some of us who do hold that the metaphor of inheritance from human history is a true metaphor, and that any man who is cut off from the past, and content with the future, is a man most unjustly disinherited; and all the more unjustly if he is happy in his lot, and is not permitted even to know what he has lost. And I, for one, believe that the mind of man is at its largest, and especially at its broadest, when it feels the brotherhood of humanity linking it up with remote and primitive and even barbaric things.

Read with a mind open to truth—a nonexistent bit of nonsense the radical left in all its incantations must necessarily deny—one can always find in Chesterton a diamond hidden among the discard and clutter. Admittedly, our current condition is certifiably Mad Hatter, complicated and complex, beyond Wonderland nonsense; by all appearances we have lost our collective minds. Chesterton noted eleven decades ago that “there is nothing that needs more fastidious care than our choice of nonsense. Sense is like daylight or daily air, and may come from any quarter or in any quantity. But nonsense is an art. Like an art, it is rarely successful, and yet entirely simple when it is successful.” It is difficult to imagine one so disinherited of a past while content and happy not knowing what has been lost, and yet, that is tragically the output of many, if not most, elite institutions of “higher” education.

There is truly nothing simple in pretending to be sane, especially when it is the “expert” opinion of any well-known but quite mad, mad scientist with a god complex. I believe it was Chesterton who said that any really true opinion can be proved from anything which is very much the old joke: opinions are like anuses, everyone has one and most borrow a foul odor from the barnyard. And yet, by all the evidence, opinions are the dernier cri of modern civilized man. Unfortunately, civilization, unlike opinions, is fast dwindling into oblivion.

Chesterton in his essay for The Illustrated London News (September 9, 1911) wrote, “Vox Populi vox Dei is not a maxim we are in any danger of overdoing; for the modern world has profoundly lost faith in both the two entities. But there is one sense in which the voice of the people is really like the voice of God; and that is that most of us take precious little notice of it.” Every bit of his observation is truer today than yesterday and by every indication will be all the more so tomorrow. The conditioners neither listen to the voice of the conditioned nor to a higher power.

Fulton J. Sheen (1895 – 1979)

In Religion Without God (1928) Sheen observed, “there is, in modern thought, a too general readiness to accept anything which criticizes the traditional, and too great an unwillingness to judge the value of the criticism.” This is, of course, ever more so with post-modern thought, evidenced by cancel culture with the willing, some would say, vainglorious assistance of the agitprop corporate media:

The scientific study of religion has undergone tremendous changes during the last four centuries, changes due in part to the modern mode of approaching problems, and in part to the universal adoption of the experimental method. This changed attitude toward the problems of religion has been marked with each succeeding century. The sixteenth century asked for a “new Church,” the eighteenth for a “new Christ,” the nineteenth for a “new God,” and the twentieth asks for a “new religion.” In response to these appeals and in the name of “progress,” “science” and “liberty,” the Church became a sect, Christ but a moral teacher, God the symbol for the ideal tendency of things, and religion an attitude of friendliness to the universe.

Sheen noted there were two possible adjustments in life: “one is to suit our lives to principles; the other is to suit principles to our lives. ‘If we do not live as we think, we soon begin to think as we live.’ The method of adjusting moral principles to the way men live is just such a perversion of the due order of things.” Man has increasingly, over the last half century instead of making men conform to principles of morality, changed the principles to conform to heterodox immorality. “This kind of philosophy would never have permitted the Prodigal Son to return to his father’s house. It would have settled the ‘crisis’ by finding a new and handsome name for the husks he was throwing to the swine, and called it ‘progress away from antiquated modes of morality:’”

The giggling giddiness of novelty, the sentimental restlessness of a mind unhinged, and the unnatural fear of a good dose of hard thinking, all conjoin to produce a group of sophomoric latitudinarians [17th century English theologians not insisting on strict conformity to a particular doctrine or standard] who think there is no difference between God as Cause and God as “mental projection”; who equate Christ and Buddha, St. Paul and John Dewey, and then enlarge their broadmindedness into a sweeping synthesis that says not only that one Christian sect is just as good as another, but even that one world-religion is just as good as another. The great god “Progress” is then enthroned on the altars of fashion, and as the hectic worshipers are asked, “Progress towards what?” the tolerant answer comes back, “More progress.” All the while sane men are wondering how there can be progress without direction and how there can be direction without a fixed point. And because they speak of a “fixed point,” they are said to be behind the times, when really they are beyond the times mentally and spiritually.

The high priests of the great god “Progress”, as Sheen called them, preach the gospel of want and greed, of hatred and despair, on the one hand bemoaning how terribly awful and rotten the world has become while on the other hand promising utopia, but first, all must be destroyed so it can be built back better. Sounds much too much like, “But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it – away from the fog of controversy.” In the meantime, lower your expectations, you overindulgent deplorables. No bread? Qu’ils mangent de la brioche. All this recalls a song by Kenny Rogers & The First Edition:

I pushed my soul in a deep dark hole and then I followed it in
I watched myself crawling out as I was a-crawling in
I got up so tight I couldn’t unwind
I saw so much, I broke my mind
I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in.

The condition of the conditioned’s condition has been conditioned by the conditioners. Any more questions?

The Abolition Of Commonsense

It should come as no small surprise then how little commonsense plays any meaningful role in the daily life of post-modern man. Evidence of the ubiquity of nonsense pervades every niche, nook and cranny of society, tribe, creed, and culture. Opinion has become the opioid of the masses, addicting the “unwashed” masses to an insidiously nasty habit; facts are irrelevant or inconvenient, truth subjective and relative.

Should opinion be not “as you like it” it must be denigrated, censored, and silenced. Opposing opinion is “fact checked”, then, disavowed as dangerous, evil, hate speech, or against established community standards—which, unsurprisingly, are never critically defined. Most Americans fail to grasp the serious political and intellectual implications surrounding the silencing of opposing voices:

Banning the speech of the allegedly oppressive majority while directly or tacitly inciting protected groups to make unchallengeable claims to marginalization and voice hatred of the majority, outlawing “hate speech” promises to make the public square even more filled with hatred. The criminalization of “hate speech” leads not just to more “hate speech,” but also to civil strife. Most pernicious of all is the legal and moral acceptance of the premise contained in “hate speech” criminalization: the forced acceptance or celebration of unfalsifiable, self-created identities that are impervious to even mild rational interrogation, which opens the way to despotism.

In denying or banning speech considered dangerous or “hate speech” throughout the public square, America will cease to be a nation of the people, by the people, for the people; and it most assuredly will too soon perish from the Earth.

Of opinion, John Stuart Mill (On Liberty, 1859) warned, “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind:”

But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race, posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

Mill’s argument is especially persuasive given post-modern political discourse is too often manufactured out of whole cloth, almost entirely from fickle public opinion, such opinion biased to conform to the prejudice of the one asking for it. Even then, the published analysis is carefully tricked to a preferred outcome and unwelcome opinion either ignored or suppressed. Long before opinion polling became digital and commonplace, Mill saw the problems inherent in relying on opinion as a virtuous, rational source for serious decision-making. “We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavouring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still:”

First, the opinion which it is attempted to suppress by authority may possibly be true. Those who desire to suppress it, of course deny its truth; but they are not infallible. They have no authority to decide the question for all mankind, and exclude every other person from the means of judging. To refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they are sure that it is false, is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility.

Unfortunately, for the good sense of mankind, the fact of their fallibility is far from carrying the weight in their practical judgment, which is always allowed to it in theory; for while every one well knows himself to be fallible, few think it necessary to take any precautions against their own fallibility, or admit the supposition that any opinion of which they feel certain, may be one of the examples of the error to which they acknowledge themselves to be liable.

Reliance on opinion rather than true knowledge founded upon verifiable fact and data is a guaranteed recipe for poor decisions. Likewise, wholesale mindless acceptance of the magical tunes played by the pied pipers of science and polity, as well as the Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity (DIE) polemics of disharmonious mountebanks are guaranteed to lead naïve and gullible lemmings over the proverbial cliff.

Intellectual giant, Thomas Sowell, in his inestimable wit and wisdom once quipped, “It is depressing to hear ideas trumpeted as New! when the underlying reasoning involved was common in the 1840s or the 1790s—and discredited by the 1920s.” Elsewhere (Barbarians Inside the Gates), he says, “I never cease to be amazed at the people who want to make your decision for you, instead of supplying you with the information you need to make your own decision.” In Knowledge and Decisions (1980) he acknowledges the intentional shift away from traditional education which had once focused on the enormous range of human knowledge. In describing what “knowing” meant he employed the phrase “ignorant savage” which, to the progressive woke politically correct social justice warrior is “hate speech”: undeniably racist, xenophobic, and culturally insensitive:

The savage is wholly lacking in a narrowly specific kind of knowledge: abstract, systematized, knowledge of the sort generally taught in schools. Considering the enormous range of human knowledge, from intimate personal knowledge of specific individuals to the complexities of organizations and the subtleties of feelings, it is remarkable that one speck in this firmament should be the sole determinant of whether someone is considered knowledgeable or ignorant in general. Yet it is a fact of life that an unlettered peasant is considered ignorant, however much he may know about nature and man, and a Ph.D. is never considered ignorant, however barren his mind might be outside his narrow specialty and however little he grasps about human feelings or social complexities. We do sometimes refer to a “learned fool,” but the notion of a “fool” implies deficiencies in the reasoning process (so that one is easily deceived or fooled), whereas it may actually be knowledge that is lacking, so that the “learned” person has simply not learned enough outside a certain sliver of human experience.

Sowell adds, “We need to consider the full breadth of knowledge and its depth as well. That is, we need to consider not only how much we know, but how well we know it.”

Perhaps nowhere has such lopsided uninformed opinion become the main course du jour than on university campuses where traditional education over the past several decades has been barbarously exorcised. In The Dying Citizen, (2021) Victor Davis Hanson describes the uptick in an array of nonteaching, in loco parentis, and therapeutic services, coincident to an increasing array of noncompetitive degrees and skills:

In other words, too often the universities saw themselves no longer as teachers of the inductive method and the elements of foundation knowledge. Instead, they were activists. They became intent on shaping young minds to adopt a politicized agenda, whether defined as unquestioned embrace of climate change activism, identity politics, or redistributive economics. Deductivism—picking and choosing examples to conform to a preconceived result—was a recalibration that proved far more costly, and ultimately toxic, for the student than the prior commitment to traditional education that had emphasized a set body of knowledge, and inductive method of accessing it, and the training of an inquisitive mind.

“In today’s world,” according to Ryszard Legutko (The Demon in Democracy), “entertainment is not just a pastime or a style, but a substance that permeates everything: schools and universities, upbringing of children, intellectual life, art, morality, and religion:”

It has become dear to the hearts of students, professors, entrepreneurs, journalists, engineers, scientists, writers, even priests. Entertainment imposes itself psychologically, intellectually, socially, and also, strange as it might sound, spiritually. A failure to provide human endeavors—even the most noble ones—with an entertaining wrapping is today unthinkable and borders on sin.”

The modern sense of entertainment increasingly resembles what Pascal long ago called divertissement: that is, an activity—as he wrote in his Thoughts—that separates us from the seriousness of existence and fills this existence with false content. Divertissement is thus not only being entertained in the ordinary sense of the word, but living and acting within artificial rules that organize our lives, setting conventional and mostly trivial goals which we pursue, getting involved in disputes and competitions, aspiring to honors-making careers, and doing everything that would turn our thoughts away from fundamental existential matters. By escaping the questions of the ultimate meaning of our own lives, or of human life in general, our minds slowly get used to that fictitious reality, which we take for the real one, and are lured by its attractions.

Legutko states what is intuitively obvious to anyone not yet ensnared by trivial pursuits, that the “difference between Pascal’s divertissement and today’s entertainment” is,

the modern man, no matter how much a desire to have fun has captured his soul, knows very well that it is an artificial construction, not the real thing. Whether some other, more objective reality exists is to him a matter of indifference, and if told there is not, he would probably still remain unmoved. Having neutralized all musings about objectivity, the modern man takes pride in his deep involvement in entertainment, which in the absence of other objective references he considers natural.

In an insightful essay, Arthur Milikh describes what has become obvious and objectively true throughout most of the latter half of the twentieth century, but progressive dogma in the first two decades of the twenty-first:

America’s universities have been progressivism’s most important asset, its crown jewel. For over half a century, they have served as the left’s R&D headquarters and the intellectual origin or dissemination point for the political and moral transformation of the nation, especially through the sexual revolution and the identity-politics revolution. Universities have trained the new elites who have taken society’s helm and now set its tone through the other institutions thoroughly dominated by the left: the mainstream press, mass entertainment, Fortune 500s, and tech companies. Universities have also brought to rural and suburban America these moral revolutions, converting generations of young people to their cause. Universities are arguably the most important institution in modern democracy—no other institution has such power to determine the fate of democracy, for good or ill.

Universities were meant be the one fixed place in democratic society insulated from the ceaseless motion of democratic life, with its petty passions, consumption, and moral and intellectual fashions. They were meant to serve as the guardian of the mind and its greatest fruits. In previous eras, segments of society (especially the clergy and the aristocracy) were devoted to protecting learning and a tradition of books. But democracy does not support such classes, and it was originally hoped that the universities would assume this role. Regrettably, they are no longer animated by their original purpose of serving republican self-government or the freedom of the mind. As such, they must be treated as political entities.

That the freedom of speech is under attack on many campuses should not be surprising, given that the freedom of the mind, of which speech is the expression, is rarely understood as their purpose any longer.

In a recent interview Milikh observed how great books formed and informed him far beyond what is now considered accepted norms of academic pedagogy. “In democracy,” he said, “all you have is basically public opinion. You have no past. We don’t remember what happened 10 years ago. And so, all you have to compare your own life against is what you see directly before you or the kind of propaganda images given to you.” Anyone who has ever read Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four will recognize the similarities to the “memory hole” in constant use by the Ministry of Truth. He went on to remark how many people are no longer curious, but rather, are sponges absorbing whatever is given them; never thinking through any of the opinions handed to them.

What struck this avid reader the most was this: “Reading great books gets you liberation from the immediate, liberation from the propaganda, liberation from all the opinions that you are told you must hold to be a good, decent person.” Hearing this woke a memory of something I had recently read (Douglas Murray, The Madness of Crowds):

The ability to tell the truth and survive would appear to depend—among other things—on your line of work. ‘Cancel culture’ certainly does exist. And by now it has become clear how it works. It operates most effectively when it can locate a hierarchy above an individual that is itself wobbly, gutless or otherwise vulnerable to mob pressure. Universities have become Exhibit A in all this. In 2019 Cambridge University’s dismissal of Noah Carl and Professor Jordan Peterson (the latter from a visiting fellowship) amply demonstrated how mobs of ill-informed activists can pressurize an ancient institution into going against the only principles that justify its existence. After all, if a university is going to encourage non-experts to judge experts and privileges people who do not read over those who do, then what is the point of the university?

This then “circles back” to the core issue: no one has the time to read great books. Yet, time is but the effect not the cause of such disinclination, neither are the myriad of excuses so easily inculcated in young minds. The truth is basic, fundamental skills (the 3Rs: reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic) have been purposefully and maliciously demoted, superseded by mind-numbing intersectionality, multiculturalism, gender-bending, CRT, equity, and social justice indoctrination. Thus, no one reads because they have never been taught, encouraged, or even permitted to read great literature, especially with an open and critical mind. Tragically, the statistics bear this out.

There is, of course, a purpose behind the deliberate social indoctrination—exemplified with the historical distortions found in the New York Times 1619 Project or the mandated indoctrination of Critical Race Theory. Santayana’s warning, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” rings clarion to modern ears. It is perhaps a pointless exercise, given so few are capable of or bother to read, to mention what Nicholai Bukharin and Yevgeni Preobrazhensky had to say in The ABC of Communism (1920) on education:

The task of the new communist schools is to impose upon bourgeois and petty-bourgeois children a proletarian mentality. In the realm of the mind, in the psychological sphere, the communist school must effect the same revolutionary overthrow of bourgeois society, must effect the same expropriation, that the Soviet Power has effected in the economic sphere by the nationalization of the means of production. The minds of men must be made ready for the new social relationships. If the masses find it difficult to construct a communist society, this is because in many departments of mental life they still have both feet firmly planted upon the soil of bourgeois society, because they have not yet freed themselves from bourgeois prejudices. In part, therefore, it is the task of the new school to adapt the mentality of adults to the changed social conditions. Still more, however, it is the task of the new school to train up a younger generation whose whole ideology shall be deeply rooted in the soil of the new communist society. [emphasis mine]

In bourgeois society, the child is regarded as the property of its parents – if not wholly, at least to a major degree. When parents say, ‘My daughter’, ‘My son’, the words do not simply imply the existence of a parental relationship, they also give expression to the parents’ view that they have a right to educate their own children. From the socialist outlook, no such right exists. The individual human being does not belong to himself, but to society, to the human race. The individual can only live and thrive owing to the existence of society. The child, therefore, belongs to the society in which it lives, and thanks to which it came into being – and this society is something wider than the ‘society’ of its own parents. To society, likewise, belongs the primary and basic right of educating children. From this point of view, the parents’ claim to bring up their own children and thereby to impress upon the children’s psychology their own limitations, must not merely be rejected, but must be absolutely laughed out of court. Society may entrust the education of children to the parents; but it may refuse to do anything of the kind; and there is all the more reason why society should refuse to entrust education to the parents, seeing that the faculty of educating children is far more rarely encountered than the faculty of begetting them. Of one hundred mothers, we shall perhaps find one or two who are competent educators. The future belongs to social education. Social education will make it possible for socialist society to train the coming generation most successfully, at lowest cost, and with the least expenditure of energy.

The social education of children, therefore, must be realized for other reasons besides those of pedagogy. It has enormous economic advantages. Hundreds of thousands, millions of mothers will thereby be freed for productive work and for self-culture. They will be freed from the soul-destroying routine of housework, and from the endless round of petty duties which are involved in the education of children in their own homes.

That is why the Soviet Power is striving to create a number of institutions for the improvement of social education, which are intended by degrees to universalize it. To this class of institutions belong the kindergartens, to which manual workers, clerks, etc., can send their children, thus entrusting them to experts who will prepare the children for school life. To this category, too, belong the homes or residential kindergartens. There are also children’s colonies, where the children either live permanently, or for a considerable period, away from their parents. There are in addition the crèches, institutions for the reception of children under four years of age; in these the little ones are cared for while their parents are at work.

In a 1955 essay, entitled, “Propaganda” the late author and historian Richard Weaver wrote, “It’s tempting to say that the only final protection against propaganda is education. But the remark must be severely qualified because there is a kind of education which makes people more rather than less gullible:”

Most modern education induces people to accept too many assumptions. On these the propagandist can play even more readily than on the supposed prejudices of the uneducated. It is the independent, reflective intelligence which critically rejects and accepts the ideas competing in the market place. Education to think rather than mere literacy should be the prime object of those seeking to combat propaganda.

Life seldom comes with simple questions, simple answers to life’s complexities are rarely persuasive, at times foolish, but more often dangerous, even on occasion dead wrong.

Deacon Chuck Lanham is a Catholic author, theologian and philosopher, a jack-of-all-trades like his father (though far from a master of anything) and a servant of God. He is the author of The Voices of God: Hearing God in the SilenceEchoes of Love: Effervescent Memories, and four volumes of Collected Essays on religion, faith, morality, theology, and philosophy.

The featured image shows, “The Questioner of the Sphinx,” by Elihu Vedder; painted in 1863.

American Anorexia: The Thin Mind Casts No Shadow


There are at least two definitions for barbarism, neither sympathetic to the innate dignity of the human person. Barbarism is extreme cruelty or brutality, evoking mindless savagery, callous disregard for life, and a cold-blooded viciousness that brooks no mercy; where barbarism rules, culture and civilization will inevitably be corrupted and crushed. History is witness to this; barbarism has existed since God first created man. Whether it has been brother against brother, tribe against tribe, nation against nation, ruler against subjects, it is only the scale that differs, the results are always the same: civility and culture are early victims of decay, oppression, persecution, and inevitably, proscription.

Barbarism is the antithesis of civilization and the destroyer of culture, though contrary to what one might assume, while lacking in objective principles, it adopts pseudo-principles expressed as saccharine euphemisms to justify its brutal disregard. The most barbaric acts of oppression have always been justified through abstractions—utopian phantasms achievable only through the coarsest application of totalitarian diktat and force. In the post-modern world few are wont to believe there are barbarians and barbarism, except perhaps in the movies; but, to use the words of Thomas Sowell, “The barbarians are not at the gates. They are inside the gates—and have academic tenure, judicial appointments, government grants, and control of the movies, television, and other media.”

The twenty-year war, disastrously lost, in Afghanistan exemplifies what Eighteenth century Scottish philosopher David Hume claimed in A Treatise of Human Nature:

“When our own nation is at war with any other, we detest them under the character of cruel, perfidious, unjust and violent: but always esteem ourselves and allies equitable, moderate and merciful. If the general of our enemies be successful, ‘tis with difficulty we allow him the figure and character of a man. He is a sorcerer: he has a communication with daemons … he is bloody-minded and takes a pleasure in death and destruction. But if the success be on our side, our commander has all the opposite good qualities, and is a pattern of virtue, as well as of courage and conduct. His treachery we call policy: His cruelty is an evil inseparable from war. In short, every one of his faults we either endeavor to extenuate, or dignify it with the name of that virtue, which approaches it. ‘Tis evident that the same method of thinking runs thro’ common life.”

According to David Livingstone Smith, Less Than Human, Hume quite elegantly described what “present-day social psychologists call outgroup bias—the tendency to favor members of one’s own community and discriminate against outsiders (otherwise known as the ‘us and them’ mentality).” When things go badly for our group, tribe, etc., it is due to some perceived injustice—racism the current cri de coeur—but when the shoe is on the other foot, it is because the other brought it upon themselves, they deserved what they got.

“Hume takes the idea of outgroup bias even further by arguing that sometimes we are so strongly biased against others that we stop seeing them as human beings.” He described “three powerful sources of bias, arguing that we naturally favor people who resemble us, who are related to us, or who are nearby. The people who are ‘different’—who are another color, or who speak a different language, or who practice a different religion—people who are not our blood relations or who live far away, are unlikely to spontaneously arouse the same degree of concern in you as members of your family or immediate community.”

Or, one could add, those who differ ideologically, politically, religiously, or any of a myriad of social and cultural diversions.

Immanuel Kant, a German academic, saw things differently. He recognized the human tendency to regard people as means to an end, thus (though he never used the term) dehumanizing others, effectively categorizing them as subhuman creatures. He wrote, “man should not address other human beings in the same way as animals but should regard them as having an equal share in the gifts of nature.” “Equal share” sounds far too much like equity which proves no small comfort. When we regard people as a means, we suspend the moral obligation to treat them as fully human. This then grants free conscience to cancel, ostracize, or exterminate such subhuman creatures as we please.

What is it within the human psyche that permits such dehumanization? How can we objectively know that all people, no matter their superficial distinctiveness, are full members of homo sapiens? Smith writes, “Although we now know that all people are members of the same species, this awareness doesn’t run very deep, and we have a strong unconscious (‘automatic’) tendency to think of foreigners as subhuman creatures. This gut-level assessment often calls the shots for our feelings and behavior. We can bring ourselves to kill foreigners because, deep down, we don’t believe that they are human.”

Closer to home, dehumanization is starkly presented through distraction by abstraction: it is no longer your neighbor, it is not your friend, nor your brother or sister, son or daughter. No, it is the unvaccinated (show me your papers,) the undocumented (no papers required,) the insurrectionists, white supremacists, and domestic terrorists (who they might be is undocumented) that have become the focus, the individual is insignificant, it is the group, the tribe, the cult, the mob that must garner our undivided attention as the greatest existential threat to democracy or its victim.

Smith cites John T. MacCurdy, The Psychology of War (1918), who noted when tensions are high, “[t]he unconscious idea that the foreigner belongs to a rival species becomes a conscious belief that he is a pestiferous type of animal.” There are more than enough examples to prove MacCurdy’s point. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, for whom he dedicated it “to all those who did not live to tell it.” Mao Zedong’s cannibalistic “Cultural Revolution,“ resulting in 60-70 million deaths. The ongoing Islamic jihad against the infidel: “Surely the vilest of animals in Allah’s sight are those who disbelieve” (Koran 8:55).

Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, offers a deeply grim portrayal of dehumanization from his experiences in four concentration camps, including Auschwitz near Oświęcim, Poland. It is said that there were days in summer when it snowed in Oświęcim, so heavy were the ashes emitting from the furnaces cremating the dead.

And yet, Frankl survived and wrote what Harold S. Kushner described as one of the most religious sentences written in the twentieth century:

“We have come to know Man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.”

Tragically, history is replete with similar dehumanizing pathologies; nothing has changed, man’s barbaric nature continues, hellbent on destroying himself.


According to Richard John Neuhaus, “Culture is the root of politics, and religion is the root of culture.” This proverb commands a hierarchy whose order of importance is much more than illusory. Politics is not the root of the cultural tree but its fruit, culture is not the root of religion but the moral product of reason and objective truth.

Thus, politics to be good and just must be rooted in a culture grounded in natural law and moral and ethical tradition. For the West, for more than a millennium, such tradition has been monotheistic, predominately Judeo-Christian, which philosopher Peter Kreeft, How to Destroy Western Civilization, notes, at its core has long professed that “[e]very man is an end in himself. Man is the only creature God created for his own sake. Cultures, civilizations, nations, and even religions exist for man, not man for them. And they are judged by how well they serve man, not by how well man serves them.”

This, of course, echoes Scripture: “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27) which by all indications modern man has either willfully forgotten, or as more likely, has narcissistically chosen to ignore. Yet, ever more so, a higher probability rests in man choosing a god more profane, one less intransigent, certainly less creative, willing to bend the truth to fit the progressive narrative.

Every country has a civic religion and America’s civic religion, since its founding, has been wedded to Natural Law and Judeo-Christian tradition—”the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” as written in the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. There are people who claim they are not religious, that belief in a transcendent being is superstitious nonsense. Thus, they will argue, faith expressed in the public square is prohibited by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which is fallacious on its face—but they know that as well as anyone. Those who insist on ramming the Bible and religious dogma down everyone’s throats are cultists, evangelical bigots, Bible thumpers, primitive deplorable fools.

The enlightened secular humanists say and act as if they have no faith, and yet, their ideology, now pervasive on the progressive left, is much more a zealous faith—a zealotry which tolerates no dissent. The secularists, for the moment, have won and their zealots (the Woke Cancel Culture mob) control the language, what can and cannot be said.

Former speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan said in an interview, “I remember when the gay marriage decision was handed down by the Supreme Court, the Harrisburg Patriot in Harrisburg, PA wrote an Op Ed saying, ‘We are no longer going to carry letters to the editor that oppose gay marriage because it is now hate speech.’ So, if you dissent from the orthodoxy of this secular (zealous) religion, you are a hater, a bigot, a racist—pick the term. And you are a bad person who must be silenced. And that proves my point, that their religious zealotry is a lot—talk about someone hammering a point of view down your throat—not only do they hammer it down your throat, but they also sew your mouth shut so you can’t say anything about it.”

Though they deny it, the left believes this, it is their orthodoxy, their religious faith: they are right, you are wrong, but, not only are you wrong, what you believe is hateful. Beliefs that have been around for millennia have become anathema and those who continue to believe are haters and must be silenced.

Cruelty is not limited to the barbarian. Any man, under parlous circumstances, can be cruel to other men. For the main, men are tempered by religion and a moral code, thus, such cruelty generally appears coincident with personal danger or tyranny. “And if anywhere in history masses of common and kindly men become cruel,”

Chesterton would argue, “it almost certainly does not mean that they are serving something in itself tyrannical (for why should they?). It almost certainly does mean that something that they rightly value is in peril, such as the food of their children, the chastity of their women, or the independence of their country. And when something is set before them that is not only enormously valuable, but also quite new, the sudden vision, the chance of winning it, the chance of losing it, drive them mad. It has the same effect in the moral world that the finding of gold has in the economic world. It upsets values, and creates a kind of cruel rush.”

Elsewhere, Chesterton wrote:

“When I was about seven years old I used to think the chief modern danger was a danger of over-civilisation. I am inclined to think now that the chief modern danger is that of a slow return towards barbarism…. Civilisation in the best sense merely means the full authority of the human spirit over all externals. Barbarism means the worship of those externals in their crude and unconquered state.”

As if he were writing these words in the here and now, Chesterton writes as if of the new barbarism:

“Whenever men begin to talk much and with great solemnity about the forces outside man, the note of it is barbaric. When men talk much about heredity and environment they are almost barbarians. The modern men of science are many of them almost barbarians…. For barbarians (especially the truly squalid and unhappy barbarians) are always talking about these scientific subjects from morning till night. That is why they remain squalid and unhappy; that is why they remain barbarians.”

CS Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man, “We reduce things to mere nature in order that we may ‘conquer’ them” which serves to prove man’s desire for a profane god that can be controlled, or at the very least, modified to suit. The crisis of the West, according to Lewis, is really a crisis of reason, a crisis of reason’s ability to know nature, that at the origins of modern science, it was necessary to think of nature in quantitative—measurable and predictable—rather than qualitative terms in order to gain power over it.

“We are always conquering Nature because ‘Nature’ is the name for what we have, to some extent, conquered. The price of conquest is to treat a thing as mere Nature.” So, we reduce nature to quantity so we can control it, but whenever we do so, we lose some of nature’s quality. “Every conquest over Nature increases her domain. The stars do not become Nature till we can weigh and measure them: the soul does not become Nature till we can psychoanalyze her. The wresting of powers from Nature is also the surrendering of things to Nature.”

Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) in Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, is even more explicit, amplifying in many ways what Lewis had only imagined:

“Less visible, but not … less disturbing, are the possibilities of self-manipulation that man has acquired. He has investigated the farthest recesses of his being, he has deciphered the components of the human being, and now he is able, so to speak, to ‘construct’ man on his own. This means that man enters the world, no longer a gift of the Creator, but as the product of our activity—and a product that can be selected according to requirements that we ourselves stipulate. In this way, the splendor of the fact that he is the image of God—the source of his dignity and of his inviolability—no longer shines upon this man; his only splendor is the power of human capabilities. Man is nothing more now than the image of man—but of what man?”

“As long as this process stops short of the final stage,” Lewis wrote, “we may well hold that the gain outweighs the loss,” because it is true that the reduction has given us significant scientific benefits in medicine and technology.

“But as soon as we take the final step of reducing our own species to the level of mere Nature, the whole process is stultified, for this time the being who stood to gain and the being who has been sacrificed are one and the same. This is one of the many instances where to carry a principle to what seems its logical conclusion produces absurdity.… it is the magician’s bargain: give up our soul, get power in return. But once our souls, that is, ourselves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us. We shall in fact be slaves and puppets of that to which we have given our souls.”

The obvious questions one should ask are what prevents us from reducing ourselves to mere nature like the rest of things? What prevents us from reducing ourselves to mere quantity and not quality? The truth, readily available to eyes that wish to see, “if man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated, as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere appetite, that is, mere Nature, in the person of his de-humanized Conditioners.”

We have reduced modern man to mere quantity; no longer do we see man a rational being with an immortal soul. No more is man made in the image and likeness of his Creator, man has been quantitatively redefined, reconstituted into whatever image he desires—transgenderism and sexual orientation perhaps the most obvious— the inestimable quality of man thus reduced to subjective material value. And, sadly, that is not worth much. The elements in the human body are worth about $585. According to one source, 99% of the mass of the human body consists of six elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus, worth approximately $576; all the other elements taken together are worth only about $9 more.

“A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.” Ratzinger, in raising the alarm, noted how we are living in a period of great dangers, “During the past century, the possibilities available to man for dominion over matter have grown in a manner we may truly call unimaginable. But the fact that he has power over the world has also meant that man’s destructive power has reached dimensions that can sometimes make us shudder. Here, one thinks spontaneously of the threat of terrorism, this new war without national borders and without lines of battle.… this has induced even states under the rule of law to have recourse to internal systems of security similar to those that once existed only in dictatorships; and yet the feeling remains that all these precautions will never really be enough, since a completely global control is neither possible nor desirable.” He goes on to say that the truest and gravest danger at the present moment is the imbalance between technological possibilities and moral energy. “The security we all need as a presupposition of our freedom and dignity cannot ultimately be derived from technical systems of control. It can come only from the moral strength of man, and where this is lacking or insufficient, the power man has will be transformed more and more into a power of destruction.”


The brutal dehumanization experienced under hard totalitarian regimes, however, is not the only form of barbarism, there is a softer, more insidious form, which—like cooking a frog by slowly turning up the heat—relies on the inattention of the masses to the soft tyranny inexorably imposed by those who would wield power over them. Zbigniew Janowski knows well from personal experience the brutality and death that comes from that particularly pernicious form of barbarism which he describes in Homo Americanus. But perhaps because of his own lived experience he also recognizes more than many in the West, especially in America, that liberal democracy can itself be as barbaric and cruel, especially without a strong moral compass to temper the powerful urges of those (Lewis’ Controllers) who would wield power.

“The absence of brutality and death in soft-totalitarianism makes it more difficult to perceive the evil of equality.” He notes that though the barbarism experienced under communism provided fertile ground for opposition and dissidents, “the other reason why dissent grew under communism was a strong sense of moral right and wrong taught by religion.” In Poland, “where the Church was strong, ideological opposition was unprecedented.”

Janowski believes the rapid decline in religiosity among Americans may be one reason why this country is well on its way to becoming a totalitarian state.

“Young Americans’ sense of right and wrong seems weak, and if it is strong, it is often limited to students who graduated from religious, predominantly Catholic, schools. One can add that the weak perception of evil may stem from the fact that Americans have not experienced the atrocities that other nations have; they don’t even know about them.”

Janowski’s point is important. Most young Americans have no clear recollection of barbarism on American soil, even worse, they have little or no understanding of it, thus, no comprehension of the barbaric underpinnings of either communism or liberal democracy. The twenty year “war” in Afghanistan has long lost any significance to those born in the twenty-first century. What precipitated it has long been forgotten, memory holed by those self-same tenured academics, judicial activists, leftist politicians, and the complicit media.

Many of those young Americans, if asked, have little awareness of or concern for the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001. Too many have been indoctrinated into believing that any mention of the radicalized Islamic terrorists who committed the heinous attacks is evidence of Islamophobia and overt racial bigotry—quite ignorant of the fact that Islam is neither race nor ethnicity, but rather, both a religion and a political system (Sharia). Islam is the name of a religion, just as Christianity, Judaism, or Buddhism; none favor or are peculiar to a particular race or ethnicity.

Josef Pieper, German Catholic philosopher, once reflecting upon the power of language, wrote, “Words convey reality” which is eminently true as far as such a brief aphorism can connote. However, precision and truth matter; words tossed carelessly together without thought convey nothing of substance.

Orwell, in his classic essay “Politics and the English Language” (1946) said as much when critiquing the dismal state of the English language. He wrote that quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities were common: staleness of imagery and a lack of precision. “The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not.”

I cannot help but add another, the writer intentionally writes in such a way as to obfuscate, confuse, deceive, or distort the message. Orwell decried the unthinking emptiness behind the rhetoric of the communist hacks of his day.

“This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.”

The West has gone soft and squishy. In a very real sense, the language has decayed so much it now quite completely contradicts Pieper’s otherwise sage proverb. Ideological gibberish has replaced precision in our language. Our language, as Ryszard Legutko recently wrote, has become extremely boring: a monotonous repetition of the same phrases and slogans. But, in fact, it is far worse than that, for our language has become foul, vulgar, mendacious nonsense borne out of vincible ignorance and sloth. Interestingly, as much as the tenured academics, power elites, corporate oligarchs, and propagandizing media would insist otherwise, such sins of omission and commission are not relegated solely to the unwashed, uneducated deplorables. A degree does not preclude vincible ignorance; any reasonable person could, based on encounters with teachers, students, and graduates, come to the somewhat droll conclusion that it positively guarantees it.

In recalling his years under communism, Legutko notes, “The purpose of the political language was mostly ritualistic. The language was a major tool in performing collective rituals whose aim was to build cohesion in the society and close it, both politically and mentally, within one ideological framework.”

And yet, perhaps it was Orwell who said it best, “modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier—even quicker, once you have the habit—to say ‘In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that’ than to say ‘I think.’”

It has been said before but bears repeating, “Thinking is hard work.” As Andrew Younan, Thoughtful Theism: Redeeming Reason in an Irrational Age, explains:

“That’s why, if I can make a mean generalization, so few people do it. Believing is, in itself, pretty easy, though oftentimes the consequences of belief can be deeply challenging. Having an opinion is the easiest thing of all. Thinking is the process whereby our minds attempt to arrive at a true understanding of reality, which, if successful, leads to knowledge.” Arriving at the truth is a matter of thinking, not of feeling as so many are convinced. Younan adds, “thinking isn’t just hard work; it takes a lot of time and patience as well…. The truth of reality is not bound by your personal ability to argue or understand. Reality is what it is, independent of anyone’s competence, and the real goal, if you are an honest person, is not to win an argument but to understand the world.”

Of course, truth is, so few living today know how or bother much to think, it is far easier to sit back and leave the thinking to others. We have come to depend on experts, to trust the “science” without question. We forget or have forgotten to trust in our innate ability to reason, to think for ourselves.

“There’s a lot more to a human being than meets the eye, and someone can be brilliant in one area and make enormous mistakes in reasoning or leaps of logic in another area. This includes your parents, your pastor, and all of your teachers.”

Education (government/public) no longer educates, no longer trains minds to think and to reason, it indoctrinates, its purpose to produce compliant drones incapable of independent thought. Younan concludes with this advice to young students, “This has everything to do with you, and you have to trust that your own mind is capable of working through every side and of finding an answer if there is an answer that can be found” which, somewhat paradoxically, leads to a final thought: no one reads anymore. No one reads for the same reason they no longer think: reading requires thinking and both demand strenuous mental exercise. We have grown complacent and comfortable in our ignorance. They call it the boob tube for a reason. As long as we have three hots and a cot and a smartphone to play Candy Crush we are smugly satisfied.

There is a prevailing mythos with respect to higher education which presents degreed individuals as in the majority. This is, at best an enormous overstatement. According to 2019 census data, the percentage of individuals 25-44 years old having earned an undergraduate or post-graduate degree was 37.1 percent for the United States. Broken down by state or district, the indicators represent where college degree holders live, not where they were educated. As might be expected, the District of Columbia holds top spot with 70.4%, Mississippi takes the bottom spot at 22.7%. Thirty-one states are below the national average, East Coast states are among the highest, ranging between 40-52%.

There are three important takeaways from this: first, the preponderance, almost two-thirds, of those within the reported age group are not college educated and live for the most part somewhere between the two dense urban coasts; second, if the output of the academy is predominantly socialist cant, then what does that say for the ideological mindset of the denizens of the District of Columbia; and third, given the underwhelming product of the overwhelming majority of academic institutions in this country, one would be well within their rights to ask who is the more ignorant? Ask a farmer in flyover country who was the first president of the United States and odds are good his answer will be George Washington. Ask a student or a recent graduate the same question and the odds of a correct answer are no more than one in ten, if that. The truth is education has become a tool for inculcating the progressive ideology into the minds and hearts of our youth.

Orwell called it thoughtcrime: politically unorthodox thoughts, such as unspoken beliefs and doubts that contradict the tenets of the dominant ideology; thus, the government controlled the speech, the actions, and the thoughts of its citizens.

In Homo Americanus, Janowski provides further insight. “The danger of the new dialectical thinking is that we no longer operate in the realm of facts, physical reality, established social norms, shared moral and intellectual assumptions, or even a common understanding of the normal and abnormal, sane and insane, but we must operate in the realm of someone else’s mental universe, which we are forced to ‘respect.’ … My perception of the world and, therefore, my existence is a psychological onslaught of someone’s perception of the same world, and my crime lies in that I do not recognize that someone else feels differently.”

The Venerable Fulton J. Sheen wrote in Communism and the Conscience of the West (1948) of the decline of historical liberalism and the rise of the antireligious spirit:

“It is characteristic of any decaying civilization that the great masses of the people are unconscious of the tragedy. Humanity in a crisis is generally insensitive to the gravity of the times in which it lives. Men do not want to believe their own times are wicked, partly because it involves too much self-accusation and principally because they have no standards outside of themselves in which to measure their times. … The tragedy is not that the hairs of our civilization are gray; it is rather that we fail to see that they are.”

He went on, citing Reinhold Niebuhr, “Nothing is more calculated to deceive men in regard to the nature of life than a civilization whose cement of social cohesion consists of the means of production and consumption.”

Such calculated deception is now evident in most of the West. Nearly two decades earlier and ninety years in the past, Sheen observed in Old Errors and New Labels (1931), “[t]here has sprung up a disturbing indifference to truth, and a tendency to regard the useful as the true, and the impractical as the false. The man who can make up his mind when proofs are presented to him is looked upon as a bigot, and the man who ignores proofs and the search for truth is looked upon as broadminded and tolerant.”


At its core, barbarism sees the world as through a carnival fun-house mirror—without the fun part, dark, distorted and ugly—much as O’Brien tells Winston in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four:

“The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love and justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything we shall destroy—everything. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.”

The core of every totalitarian ideology, be it Marxism, socialism, communism, fascism, or any variant ism rests on the idea that there is no afterlife. As John Lennon so fatuously put it, “no hell, no heaven, no religion, too.” Without the promise of life everlasting, there can be no incentive to be obedient, to behave rationally or morally. Janowski, referring to Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler’s fictionalized account of the Stalinist trials and confessions, reinforces O’Brien’s declaration:

“Fear, and fear only, can make people obey in this life. If you rebel, you will be killed, but before we kill you, we will give you an option. You can make a sacrifice for the sake of others—let your death be a warning to others not to rebel. … Your confession and death may even be considered acts of sacrifice for the sake of humanity. Otherwise, you will die uselessly.”

This then is the true face, or the three faces of barbarism, of true evil. In Greek mythology, Cerberus, described most often as a three-headed dog with a serpent’s tail, guards the gates of hell. “Like the meanest junkyard dog imaginable, he lunges to devour anyone who tries to escape.” What do his three heads represent? Power, pride, and prejudice.

Power seems to be an integral part of our humanity. Dwight Longenecker, Immortal Combat: Confronting the Heart of Darkness, describes power as an innate characteristic of man’s free will.

“It is not just that I have power. It feels like I am power, and I assume that the exercise of my power is justified. This is a basic instinct. It is a key to survival. It is unquestioned. I, therefore, see nothing wrong with exercising my power to its greatest extent. To do as I please is as elementary as the need to breathe, eat, and drink, to procreate and live. It never once occurs to me that my will should be curtailed and my power limited in any way. Furthermore, because I have the power to choose, my choice must be the right choice. I must be right. There can be no other option.”

Rational minds can immediately see how such an instinctual human attribute can lead and has led to tragic, too often barbaric abuses of power.

“The total conviction that I am right is the heart of pride, and pride is the second head of the hell hound Cerberus.” Pride is not vanity or arrogance, these are only masks. “Real pride is the overwhelming, underlying, unshakeable, unchallenged, unquestioned, total, and complete conviction that I am right.… Pride is the total, complete, foundational assumption, before all else and above all else, that I am right, that my choices are right, that my beliefs are right, that my decisions are right, that everything I do is right. This complete conviction that I am right is deeply rooted in my character. … Furthermore, power and pride are so basic and deeply embedded in the foundations of who we are that we cannot see them. Power and pride seem like part of the genetic code.… They are deep down. They are invisible.”

“This invisibility of power and pride reveals the third head of Cerberus: prejudice. Prejudice is intertwined with pride and power. To have a prejudice is to prejudge. It means our perceptions are biased: we view the world through tinted glasses. We do not judge objectively, but rather, we approach life’s challenges with our ideas and opinions preloaded. Power allows us to choose, and pride assumes that our choice was the right choice. Therefore, everything in life, from the lunch menu to the news headlines, comes to us through our preexisting assumptions that we have chosen well, that we are right.”

Overweening power, pride, and prejudice are the hallmarks of tyrants, oligarchs, autocrats, and totalitarian regimes. Cerberus may have been a Greek myth, but his heads are with us still. We are living in barbaric times, where the leviathan state threatens to consume the West, including, most noticeably, America. Author Ayn Rand once warned, “We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission, which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force.” That stage has arrived.

Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, famously quipped that “The most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” The American people have forgotten his admonition. They have forgotten because they have become complacent in their abundance and the comfort such abundance affords them. They have been so comfortable for such a very long time that far too many no longer value liberty and freedom in the way Americans once did, rather, far too many of the American people give greater weight to safety and security, or at least the illusion of it, more than they value freedom and liberty. And the government has taken notice. Ask yourself, with every government overreach, every authoritarian diktat, every tyranny imposed, every right disposed, what is the government’s justification for it? The answer is ironically, for the greater good, for your health and safety, etc., etc.

One example will serve to illustrate the growing tyranny of the state. There is an alarming motion, put forth by the state media and public health experts, to identify and separate the unvaccinated from the vaccinated, to deny services and to isolate those who have chosen not be receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Some pundits have gone so far as to say the unvaccinated deserve to die. At the very least, the unvaccinated should be identified (Star of David?) and, I suppose, cry out “Unclean, unclean” whenever in public. Now, where have I seen that before…

“The leper who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:45-46).

The founders of the American idea thought they had designed a limited government subservient to the will of the people. John Adams, the first vice-president and second president, famously wrote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” The barbarians are inside the gates, and they are neither moral nor religious, they are greedy for power and will do what it takes to obtain and maintain their tyranny and control.

What is less clear to the American people is who is in control. One thing is becoming increasingly obvious: it is not the three branches enshrined in the Constitution. The true power resides in the administrative state, the uncontrollable, unaccountable, unelected bureaucratic ministries that have come to regulate every aspect of American life. And what largesse the bureaucrats provide, the bureaucrats will take away, or as Gerald R. Ford, the 40th vice-president and 38th president, admonished:

“A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.” But, it is the words of Benjamin Franklin, when asked what form of government the founders had created, which should be well remembered, “A republic… if you can keep it.”

Seventy-three years ago, Fulton Sheen saw America for what it was and what it was yet to be. “America, it is said, is suffering from intolerance. It is not. It is suffering from tolerance: tolerance of right and wrong, truth and error, virtue and evil, Christ and chaos. Our country is not nearly so much overrun with the bigoted as it is overrun with the broad-minded. The man who can make up his mind in an orderly way, as a man might make up his bed, is called a bigot; but a man who cannot make up his mind, any more than he can make up for lost time, is called tolerant and broad-minded.

“A bigoted man is one who refuses to accept a reason for anything; a broad-minded man is one who will accept anything for a reason — providing it is not a good reason. It is true that there is a demand for precision, exactness, and definiteness, but it is only for precision in scientific measurement, not in logic.”

Americans are suffering from the severest form of intellectual anorexia. We are told we are intellectually too fat; we are not, we are too thin. We have enslaved our minds, our hearts, and our spirits on a diet of free and easy. It was once said of America that its people cast a big shadow. No more. We have become too thin to cast any shadow at all. The worst of it is no one cares. And that is the surest sign of death and the onset of a new age of barbarism.

Deacon Chuck Lanham is a Catholic author, theologian and philosopher, a jack-of-all-trades like his father (though far from a master of anything) and a servant of God. He is the author of The Voices of God: Hearing God in the Silence, Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories, and four volumes of Collected Essays on religion, faith, morality, theology, and philosophy.

The featured image shows, “TV Sport,” by Pawel Kuczynski; painted in 2017.