The Song of All Creation

“The world has been disenchanted.” This is a sentiment first voiced by Max Weber in 1918. Nothing since has been able to convince the world otherwise. There is, however, an increasing awareness that a disenchanted world is less than desirable. We want elves, orcs, wizards, and demons. We want magic.

This is an observation that can easily be made by looking at how we entertain ourselves. Movies, books, gaming, and more point towards a cultural appetite for fantasy. It is well-suited to a world in which much of our time is spent in front of a screen. You’re never more than few clicks away from Middle Earth.

What we fail to understand is that the life of Middle Earth (and any other well-crafted fantasy) is as far-removed from entertainment as possible. In Middle Earth, fighting dragons is not a form of entertainment – it is a matter of life or death. In the well-supplied world of modernity, we take life itself for granted, its only real problem being that it’s boring. All of our dragons are in books, movies, or games. Indeed, such distractions easily serve to help us ignore the true dragons that lurk in the heart.

It is interesting that Lewis and Tolkien, two writers who wrote brilliantly in fantastic fiction, both shared the common experience of the trench warfare of World War I. The brutality and futility of that war are beyond description. Some 20 million perished in its maw. Lewis was grievously wounded by shrapnel in the leg and abdomen. Both men lost their best friends and a large part of their generation in the struggle. At its end, there was no great sense of accomplishment – only a relief that it had ceased. Two decades later, the battles would begin again.

What is quite certain is that neither Lewis nor Tolkien saw themselves as entertainers. I suspect both would have been loath to have seen their work taken up by Hollywood. And though both clearly had children in mind as they wrote, they would have seen such story-telling as a very serious business.

G.K. Chesterton offered this observation:

Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon [G.K. Chesterton, writing the original lines, in Tremendous Trifles, Book XVII: The Red Angel (1909)].

From within Orthodoxy, it is possible to say that the world is more than enchanted. It is magical and wonderful, as well as dangerous and deadly. All of us will die at its hand.

The difficulty with a materialist account of reality is its total indifference to every form and instance of suffering as well as its emptiness of meaning (perhaps the greatest suffering of all). It is little wonder that entertainment (as a form of escape) is such a strong feature of our culture. It assuages the boredom of an empty world.

The classical Christian witness, though, is that the world is not empty. It is filled with a depth of meaning and witness, of presence and signification. As clearly as we are wired for hunger, for fear, for sight and sound, so we are wired for transcendence. Without it, our lives begin to shrink and we fail to thrive.

C.S. Lewis once said that it would be strange to find a creature with an instinctive thirst that lived on a planet without water. It seems clear from the evidence (including the Biblical evidence) that human beings were late in coming to believe in the One God. But we have no evidence of human beings without transcendence. It is only in our very latest years that so many of us have come to despair of anything beyond ourselves. And so we turn to fantasy of the most empty kind. One whose very emptiness and make-believe can only deepen our despair by its lack of substance.

I recall my first exposure to Tolkien and Lewis. The books amazed me, not because they suggested a world of fantasy that I could enjoy. Rather, it was the amazement of realizing that someone else had sensed something that I already knew was true. And I knew that they knew it as well or they could not have written in such a common language.

There has only ever been one door in all of history that truly mattered: the door of Christ’s Empty Tomb. It is that place where that which was hidden beneath and within showed forth into what is present and clear. The meaning of all things (the Logos) revealed Himself and spoke with us. If we saw Him then, or see Him now, then we are not wrong to see Him in every tree, rock, and cloud – in all created things.

St. Paul is among those who saw Him. Of Him, he said this:

All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. (Col. 1:16-17)

St. John who also saw Him, handled Him, and heard Him speak, said this:

All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:4-5)

The world is enchanted, but with a Magic deeper than our fantasies. In every individual, the drama of the Nativity, Holy Week, and Pascha are re-enacted, re-lived. We are baptized “into the death of Christ,” and “raised in the likeness of His resurrection.” Each moment of our existence is the life of Christ. St. Paul described it, “Christ within us, the hope of glory.”

Modern culture may indeed have become “disenchanted.” It represents a cultural amnesia, a forgetting of the fulness of our humanity. When we become lost in our entertainments, we become prisoners of the passions and seemingly immune to true wonder. The passions are an easy mark for a culture lost in commerce. Nonetheless, there remains within us a quiet suspicion that there is more to the world than meets the pocketbook. That suspicion, along and along, can blossom into faith when doors are opened, or we perceive the One Door that truly matters reflected in the world around us.

Within all things, there is the quiet hymn, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life…”

Father Stephen Freeman is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.

Featured: Creation of the World, Stammheim Missal, ca. 1170.

A Philosophy of War by Henri Hude

The English edition of A Philosophy of War, by the French philosopher, Henri-Paul Hude, has just been published. We are happy to bring you an excerpt from this very important and timely book.

What is war today? To answer this question, we can no longer rely on notions of war elaborated in various classic works, because we are faced with a new problem—how to save humankind from annihilation in a total world war involving weapons of mass destruction. The simplest answer is to establish a “Leviathan,” whose promise and project is straight forward: cancel all powers except one, which will be universal and absolute, and start a war without end against all free powers and all liberties. This way eventually you will get peace forever. But can Leviathan actually deliver on this promise? And peace at what cost, because Leviathan demands absolute and unlimited power over the entire human race? It is this problem that Philosophy of War lays out in all its chilling detail. Is there another solution that can bring political and cultural peace to the world? Indeed, there is, and this book next details a very clear path, one that also ensures that we do not become enslaved by Leviathan. Nations, and their “wisdoms” (that is, “religions”) can unite as peace becomes possible. If you love liberty and desire peace, then this book is for you.

Please consider supporting the work of Professor Hude by purchasing a copy of the book.

I was twenty years old and suffocating at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, in Paris, often just called “Ulm” because of its location on the rue d’Ulm. There, Marxism lay heavy and it was oppressive. But there was an exchange program with Amherst College, in Massachusetts. Seizing the opportunity, I fled to America. On the flight over, I listened to Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World.” In America I breathed free. I enrolled in a course on the Cold War (even then!). But I was not a diligent student. I meditated, read, wrote, reflected, contemplated and prayed. I was happy. France is my mother. America was my first love.

I spent a year at Amherst, as a teaching assistant in French, in what was then called the Department of Romance Languages, at the top of the hill, next to the great library, which was so precious to me, since I also had to return to the Sorbonne with a demanding piece of work on the status of logic in William of Ockham.

Next to the library was a memorial, which looked over a particularly beautiful view of the forest below that stretched as far as the eye could see. Nature has never moved me more than in its autumnal glory in New England. Large stone parallelepipeds were arranged in a sober, solemn semicircle. Names of battles were engraved on them. I always sat on the one that read, “Normandy.”

Another memory comes to me, with particular intensity, one day, when we came to revisit the D-Day landing beaches. Our sons were swimming in Omaha Beach. They were playing, splashing and shouting with joy. It was life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness. I kept an eye on them. But I was thinking of your sons of long ago.

When I arrived in the United States, my mind was in a fog. At Ulm, my first “caiman” [slang for a supervising tutor who resembles an allegator because he devours your time, your freedom] had been the philosopher Jacques Derrida, one of the pontiffs of French Theory. From the outset, our relationship was atrocious. I dumped him, but was left with a choice between two other tutors, a half-mad Nietzschean and the famous Marxist theorist Louis Althusser. I made the rational choice, though I soon realized that I had fallen out of the pan and into the fire. Good God! Between French Theory, Marx and the Antichrist, where to go? I went to America, thanks to my English tutor.

I am a citizen, a philosopher of action. The practical is my element. I abhor idle questions. I love knowledge, not sterile erudition. For me, man is the decision-making animal. But to decide, you have to see things clearly and live in the real world. What I encountered in the United States was reality. When I landed in Boston, I was intellectually cataracted. I knew the world existed, but I saw everything through a kind of fog; I could not really see that it existed for real. I knew there was a God, but that was even less clear. Between God and me, a wall. Among you Americans, the veil dissipated, my lens cleared. After much reflection, one winter’s day, at dusk, after the rain, I left Crossett, where I shared an apartment with three truly excellent roommates, and, walking aimlessly, stopping suddenly, in the light of a street lamp, I admired the damp bark of a birch tree, its tender green beneath the brilliant white, hemmed in black. I was finally in the world and the world was here. Later, the wall fell, too.

By the time I left the States, my mind was at rest. There is nothing like a year of freedom, in a free country. For America was then a free country: a well-possessed middle class, powerful industry, a functioning political constitution, a decent culture, both classical and original. Infinitely less ideology than in Europe. A serene harmony between religion and freedom. Common sense and natural fairness. Free discussion between convinced and civilized people. Opportunities for all. A shaken but still substantial moral consensus. You could feel that something was beginning to sour, but the mood was still excellent, compared to the fetid atmosphere I had left behind.

On the plane ride back, I again listened to Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9. But I was now returning, strengthened, to my Europe that was slashed by wars, revolutions, ideologies, totalitarianism and absurd atheism. The America from which I returned was more like the Old World, but not frozen or hardened, rather preserved alive and modernized, like an eighteenth-century Europe that had evolved without trauma, highly civilized, without anti-religious fanaticism. Is it all over? Does that America no longer exist? Must America also be a heartbreak for me?

If it does not find both reason and God, the USA will have a war and it will lose it. It will remain a great nation, like France after Napoleon and his excesses. As for Europe, alas, I wonder if there will be any of it left.


Finally, the question for the USA, which I am taking the liberty of asking, in publishing this book, is quite simply: “Have you decided to be Leviathan?” And the second is its sequel: “Or will you decide, on the contrary, to make us dream again?”


Let us take a closer look at Leviathan’s prerogatives. Leviathan will have at its disposal all national armed forces, which will have become international mobile gendarmerie squadrons; the nations themselves having become mere territorial administrative divisions within the state. This unique and rigorous organization will prevent the proliferation and dissemination of weapons.

Armed groups outside the world’s public forces shall all be classified as terrorists. National independence, local autonomy, freedom of association and individual freedom will no longer be relevant. Given the level of risk, the precautionary principle will demand that all citizens and groups be considered potential terrorists and placed under continual surveillance. Every opponent of Leviathan becomes an irresponsible, reckless person; a madman, an insurgent, a terrorist, a criminal, because mankind can only choose between (1) War or (2) Leviathan politics (Leviathan’s continual, universal and irresistible action of force, constitutive and conservative).

Leviathan is the solution to the problem of real Absolute War, but on condition that all claims to freedom, all claims to natural rights, are repressed. This repression is the essence of Leviathan’s policy. It is indeed a war against any plurality that might be reborn—against peoples and nations, against individuals, groups, families, against all freedoms. Through this heroic, titanic act of force, Leviathan, a single, total state, unjustly threatened by the deaf hatred of all, but indifferent, free and resolute, sure of its right to absolute power, will impose itself on all, not without the consent of all, and truly at the call of all. It thus shall force them all to total disarmament (military, political, legal, technical, physical, moral and intellectual). From what was a chaos of nations and individuals in mortal danger, it shall make a single world people, no longer terrified, but reassured by their partly happy, partly angry submission to absolute world power. Barring a profound cultural change, such is our future.

To preserve humankind’s right to survival, Leviathan will neutralize any threat, even preventively, in a discretionary manner. It will generalize and trivialize the anti-terrorist practice of targeted assassination, but not only against individuals, also against human groups.

The Leviathan State shall remain a Republic, unique and universal. There will still be a social pact. This pact will be made between every terrified individual on Earth and the unique Leviathan, endowed with absolute power, spiritual as well as temporal, whose sole law shall be public salvation. It shall be the very reason and free will of every individual on Earth.

To be strong enough, Leviathan shall remain concentrated. It must include only the wealthy and educated elite—and only them—provided they adhere to Leviathan’s policies. They are the ones who will benefit from medical progress. What will be the relationship between the rich and the rest? “The relationship between humans and animals is the best model we have for the future relationship between superhumans and humans.” No doubt this is why the culture of powerlessness talks so much about animal rights and promotes vegetarian eating. Inferior individuals will be reassured to know that they will not end up as corned beef.

Excluded from sovereignty will be the people, and above all the middle classes, if there are any left. These masses shall be deprived of political and economic rights. This deprivation shall be ensured by biocratic surveillance, repression and prevention—including genetic augmentation or diminution, remote brain control and regular intake of various prescribed drugs/medication. Elections could probably continue without much inconvenience, but we shall need to be sure that their outcome will not endanger Leviathan. The anxious fear of death and war, and the culture of powerlessness, will allow us to associate a reassuring servitude with a happy awareness of security and freedom.

Analysis of the Leviathan inevitably has the whiff of a “conspiracy theory.” Let us say a few words about this. What we call “conspiracism” lies at the crossroads of (i) a hypercritical philosophical tradition, (ii) the new postmodern class struggle and (iii) the historical dynamic tending towards the realization of Leviathan.

A) Philosophical conspiracy is central to the constitution of modern and postmodern critical reason. Marx, Nietzsche and Freud set out to reveal or denounce the occult interests, material or impulsive, unconscious or masked, that pull all the strings in our individual or social lives. More radically, this conspiracism goes back to Descartes. Its major feature is “doubt,” the basis of philosophical modernity, which remains inoperative without the introduction of the “Evil Genius,” a hidden, fictitious or mysterious power which, in its power and malignity “has employed all its industry to deceive me.” But then,

B) why do modern and postmodern elites hate “conspiracy?” For the same reasons that Descartes reserved the use of modern, critical reason for a thinking, conservative elite. If everyone began to doubt everything in morality, law, history, religion and, above all, politics, there would be revolution, communism or anarchy. Postmodern enlightened elites do not hate hypercritical (and therefore conspiratorial, in the philosophical sense of the word) reason, but since they have disrupted certain social equilibria and renewed the class struggle, they do fear revolution, if the use of criticism does not remain their monopoly, or were insufficiently controlled. Globalization, for example, would then be the object of a more or less Marxist critique. Marxism has long accustomed minds to seeing ideologies as the masks of powers and their means of domination. In line with this idea, conspiracy theorists (especially in long-developed countries) see in the praise of globalization an ideology at the service of elites and capital against people and labor. Elements A) and B) converge as follows:

C) with the dynamics of the Leviathan, which unfolds by virtue of a rather impersonal and involuntary logic, which surpasses all those who pride themselves on creating it. The elites believe, often in good faith, that Leviathan is the solution, even if they have reservations about one aspect or another. Leviathan will undoubtedly favor the elites, but their privileges will serve the general interest, and the people are quite irresponsible when they oppose it. Their populist demagogues will be potential terrorists. The people, who do not see it that way, think like George Orwell and attribute historical dynamics to the psychotic will to power of monstrous and perverse elites, from whom it is always legitimate and rational to expect the worst.

In summary, the term “conspiracy” is somewhat contradictory, as it tends to disqualify a political critique of globalization in the name of a modern or postmodern reason that is nonetheless philosophically conspiratorial. It is also a source of confusion, because it mixes relatively classic and timeless political issues (such as the tensions between oligarchy and democracy) with the problematic of Leviathan, specific to the hypertechnical age.Let us now complete our analysis of Leviathan. Under its empire, war can only exist between Power and each individual or group, large or small, potentially delinquent or rebellious. This war, if well waged, will be reduced to a reassuring political and cultural police action, as extensive as necessary, but conducted with discretion—and to a gendarmerie or special forces action, or secret political police, against all attempts at secession or sedition (liberation). This war will be permanent and without end, just as the fight against the underworld is for the police.

The social pact implies adherence to the politics of Leviathan (its constituent war). The freedom of the social pact exists authentically as unconditional adherence to global security totalitarianism, which has become the only reasonable regime imaginable. And all rational liberals have finally rallied to enlightened despotism.

Leviathan will not afford, especially in just a few decades’ time, to let a single lone wolf slip through its net, even for a moment. One would be enough to destroy everything. Universal control shall therefore be preventive. Surveillance shall be continuous, focusing not only on outward appearances, but also on everything that cannot be seen with the naked eye, such as brain waves and hormonal flows. Anything that is not authorized must be prohibited under the most severe penalties.

Leviathan will control everything. Attempt and intent will be punished as much as action. A sci-fi movie like Minority Report is a pretty good approximation. As it is impossible to take the slightest risk of recidivism, extra-judicial elimination is the only conceivable measure against any untimely exercise of freedom. But Leviathan will be worry-free. With technical progress, death is no more than an instantaneous, painless, non-tragic and unannounced obliteration. Public opinion will just believe it to be a natural death.

It is in Leviathan’s interest to make people believe that war is an inevitable effect of the unchecked ecological crisis, since this would be the cause of a global food crisis, leading to a furious struggle by all for the means of subsistence. In the final analysis, this crisis is itself the effect of human proliferation. Peace therefore will require that Leviathan have the right to regulate demographics and impose appropriate morality—libertarian or rigorist as the case may be—to ensure that the set numbers are respected. Aldous Huxley understood that the reproduction of the species is too serious a matter to be left to the freedom of individuals. Here again, a science-fiction film like Gattaca provides a pretty good approximation. “The love of servitude cannot be established except as a result of… a greatly improved technique of suggestion… a foolproof system of eugenics, designed to standardize the human product and so to facilitate the task of the managers.” Demographic and eugenic totalitarianism, as well as the most imperious sexual moralism (lax or rigorous, depending on what social utility requires), will be therefore indispensable to social and political control, barring major cultural change—and this (it should be noted) irrespective of anything one might reasonably think on the subjects of demography and ecology. All growth is incompatible with totalitarianism, without which there can be no true Leviathan, and therefore no guaranteed world peace.


Michel Onfray and the Question of Christ

With his Théorie de Jésus, recently published by Bouquins, Michel Onfray once again returns to the (in)existence of Christ, and aims to dust off the “mythist” arguments. What does this book offer?

The thesis of the old rationalists is simple, and Onfray’s updating of it is not particularly original in its arguments: since there is “no proof” of the historical existence of Jesus, He can only be a conceptual, “paper” figure. Beyond the usual denials concerning the value of the testimonies of the Gospels and Christian writings (subjective and suspect), the “mini-biography” of Christ given by Flavius-Josephus (a forgery), the mentions of Roman historians (which would prove nothing other than the existence of Christianity), not to mention the material traces (shroud, relics…), Onfray indulges in an astonishing rereading of the life of Jesus.

His “theory”—undoubtedly influenced by a certain fascination with pagan myths—is that the character of Jesus is ultimately no more than a fictional construction, devised to fulfill the expectations and prophecies of the Old Testament. The correspondence between the prophecies and their fulfillment in the life of Christ, piously noted by Christian interpreters and apologists, thus became “proof” of His mythical reality.

The bulk of the book is taken up by an astonishing commentary on the Gospels, oscillating between classical interpretations, highlighting numerous Old Testament parallels, Gnostic flights of fancy and murderous remarks. The author’s Gnostic tropism is apparent in his repeated recourse to apocryphal sources and comparisons with pagan legends, as if Christianity were just another mythology—the only one, however, to have succeeded in establishing itself as real.

The figure of the “Onfrayan Christ” that emerges is not without its paradoxes: a “Judeocidal Jew,” a “nihilist,” who “takes God hostage,” distills a teaching that is sometimes universal, sometimes esoteric, who flouts the commandments of Jewish law and ultimately attracts the deserved wrath of the Jerusalem establishment. On the other hand, any literal reading of the Gospel accounts, especially those relating Jesus’ miracles, is discredited as “rationalism” and “positivism.”

Two hundred and fifty-some pages for a Théorie de Jésus is both a little and a lot, from an author who has already said and written so much on the subject. Reading it, one cannot help but wonder about his own positioning and personal biases. If Jesus is a myth, what is the point of these pages designed to deny His Mother’s virginity, to give this “paper character” blood brothers? If the Gospels are pure fiction, why take the time to question their authenticity and the identity of their authors, and why delay writing them?

Some of the arguments Michel Onfray uses seem decidedly crude and worn. The contradictions and clumsiness of the writing of the New Testament have been the object of pagan mockery since Roman times, but are they a sign of inauthenticity? On the contrary, the overall concordance of the accounts, in the midst of discrepancies in detail, reinforces the idea that the Gospels are indeed eyewitness accounts of real events. The numerous references to the Old Testament do not seem to us to be the hallmark of a legendary narrative, but rather the “touch” of the Jewish authors of the New Testament, deeply rooted in their own culture and references (just as Onfray cannot help quoting Flaubert when he speaks of Jesus). Are Scripture quotations the mark of an artificial character? When Jesus, on the cross, begins Psalm 22 (“My God, my God…”), he is simply using one of the fundamental prayers of His religion, learned from childhood and so often recited, just as a Christian recites his Pater or Ave on his deathbed.

We cannot help but arrive at the end of Théorie de Jésus with a taste of unfinished business. The stumbling block on which its author stumbles is indeed that which, rejected by the builders, became the cornerstone: Christ, God made man, Word incarnate. For the Body of Jesus, His concrete historical reality, refers to our own body and to that incarnate nature which our age rejects. Michel Onfray’s book will hopefully have the merit of raising the question of Christ in the spiritual desert of our time. For us Christians, it contrasts the realization that Christ is a concrete figure, flesh and blood, a real body given and real blood shed out of love to redeem our sins.

Father Paul Roy is a priest of the Fraternity of Saint-Pierre, and moderator of the site and training application Claves. This interview comes through the kind courtesy of La Nef.

Featured: Christ on the Mount of Galilee, Siena Cathedral, by Duccio di Buoninsegna; painted ca. 1308-1311.

Well-Being vs. Salvation

Behind a burning red fog
The great mind swims in confusion
Its blood ferments in anger
Honor and wisdom will cower

Your river's flow is damned all to hell
Your river's flow is damned all to hell

Drifting in a current to stagnate
Encircle the vision of rust

Your river's flow is damned all to hell
Your river's flow is damned all to hell
Strong hearts soar through blindness

Tearing the fog, tearing the eyes
To clarity
To a place where truth is seen

Your shell is hollow, your shell is hollow, so am I
The rest will follow, the rest will follow, so will I
So will I
(Neurosis, “Under the Surface”)

“Your will be done, on earth as in heaven” (Mt 6:10)
Lead me, Lord, in the path of your commandments.
Teach me the demands of your precepts
and I will keep them to the end.
Train me to observe your law,
to keep it with my heart.
Guide me in the path of your commands;
for there is my delight.
Bend my heart to your will
and not to love of gain.
Keep my eyes from what is false;
by your word, give me life.
Keep the promise you have made
to the servant who fears you.
Keep me from the scorn I dread,
for your decrees are good.
See, I long for your precepts;
then in your justice, give me life.
(Psalm 118)

There are only two paths in life, the one that leads to heaven and the one that leads to hell. And there are only two modes of living, salvation and well-being. One must live in the mode of salvation to end up in heaven, and the mode of well-being can only lead to hell. Heaven begins on earth when one pursues salvation, and hell is right here for those who pursue well-being. One cannot live in both modes, as they are mutually exclusive, though one can live in one and then another. It is the mode that one persists in unto the end that determines eternity. It is not that well-being is hell per se, for it is a good, though not the ultimate one, and the fruit of living the mode of salvation is true well-being in this life, the most that is possible on earth, a life of sometimes agonizing and unspeakable suffering, surely, but also ineffable peace, supernal joy, and indomitable hope. Living in God’s Divine Will is heaven itself, and it begins now. And it culminates in eternity with the most well-being possible to a creature, complete union with God. So, well-being is good, but if we seek it and not God as our main goal in this life, if it is our primary existential mode, with salvation taking a back seat, we obtain neither well-being nor salvation.

What exactly do I mean by salvation and well-being, and why are they mutually exclusive? In a fascinating 1970s book entitled, Marriage: Dead or Alive, the twentieth-century Swiss Jungian psychiatrist Adolf Guggenbühl-Craig explained that marriage was failing more than ever before because it was mistakenly portrayed and understood in the mode of well-being, where in truth it is a relationship and institution grounded in and ordered to salvation, only succeeding when understood and lived out as such. About well-being vs salvation, he writes:

Clearly not belonging to the state of well-being are tensions, dissatisfactions, painful emotions, anxiety, hatred, difficult and insoluble internal and external conflicts, obsessive searching for an undiscoverable truth, confused struggles about God, and the felt need to come to terms with evil and death. Sickness most certainly does not belong to the state of well-being. It is much easier, at any rate, for physically and psychologically healthy people to enjoy a sense of well-being than it is for the sick. “Give us our daily bread” really implies, “Give us daily our sense of well-being.”. . . As goals, salvation and well-being contradict each other. The path to happiness does not necessarily include suffering. For the sake of our well-being, we are urged to be happy and not to break our heads with questions that have no answer. A happy person sits at the family table among loved ones and enjoys a hearty meal. A person who seeks salvation wrestles with God, the Devil, and the world, and confronts death, even if all of this is not absolutely necessary at that precise moment.

The mode of salvation was modeled perfectly for us in the life of Jesus Christ, and it is only by following His model that we can attain our soul’s salvation, but it is not that the salvation mode of life only became known to us by the Incarnation. It was known to the ancient Jews as well as the pagans, and it is known to today’s Jews, Muslims, pagans, and secular humanists, for it is a fundamental part of natural human consciousness. Those who prefer this mode over the mode of well-being, and live it unto the end, are saved, regardless of what they know or do not know about Jesus Christ, unless, of course, they reject Him knowingly and deliberately. But if they are truly living within the mode of salvation, they will never do that. When Jesus comes to them three times before they die, as St. Faustina said He would, they will recognize Him as the unknown Someone they were looking for, and the reason they rejected the mode of well-being for the much less comfortable mode of salvation.

A good pagan example of the two modes in contrast is found in the two heroes of Homer’s epics, Achilles and Odysseus. Achilles is given a choice to live a long life of well-being or a short life of salvation. The mode of salvation for the warrior was a life of valor on the battlefield, seeking honor and glory more than the mere preservation of one’s life. Achilles fulfilled this mode excellently until he was deprived of the honor he deserved by King Agamemnon. Achilles reacted with a superhuman rage and offense at this affront, and this not mainly because his war-trophy bride, Briseis, was taken from him, but more because he was destined before birth to have been the new Zeus, but was deprived of this by Zeus himself. According to a Pindaric tradition, Thetis, at the behest of Zeus, acceded to marriage with the mortal Peleus instead of Zeus in order to avert the birth of a son who would be stronger than his father. Achilles would have surpassed Zeus if his mother had not consented to a marriage beneath her divine status that neutralized the threat he constituted to Zeus’s order. Achilles knew this, and so harbored in the recesses of his soul an infinite desire for divine power and glory that could never be satisfied, as well as an infinite divine rage at this existential frustration. This is an excellent image of the desire all humans have for divinization, along with the nagging sense that we were all destined for greatness but somehow lost it, and the ineradicable feeling of futility, dissatisfaction, and guilt with a mere life of well-being. Until Jesus came, we had no real ground for hope that our infinite longings could ever be fulfilled, yet some before Christ, such as faithful Hebrews and noble pagans, still chose to live in the mode of salvation, somehow knowing they were obliged to do so even without a grounded hope in an eventual successful end. Getting back to Achilles, when he was dishonored by Agamemnon, a mere mortal, it was as if his whole raison d’etre was destroyed, and he chose to leave the battle and live the mode of well-being in his tent, hanging out with his friends and playing music. When some of the Greek leaders come to his tent to try to convince him to rejoin the battle, Achilles says:

Neither Agamemnon nor any other Greek will change my mind, for it seems there is no gratitude for ceaseless battle with our enemies. He who fights his best and he who stays away earn the same reward, the coward and the brave man win like honor, death comes alike to the idler and to him who toils. No profit to me from my sufferings, endlessly risking my life in war.

Here Achilles reveals the mode of well-being he has recently adopted, with its irrefutable logic of the futility of a life pursuing salvation. For those living at the time of the Trojan War, 1200 BC or so, the afterlife in the underworld was a shadowy thing, neither punishment nor reward but a flittering, ghostlike, and passionless existence, barely alive, with no drama or purpose. In the Odyssey, Odysseus meets Achilles in the underworld and is told by him that it is so lame that it is better to be a slave on the earth than to rule Hades, in other words, that there is no reason to pursue the life of salvation. But somehow, in spite of the nihilistic yet airtight well-being logic he entertains for a moment—what good is it to be a warrior if in death all are equal, and equally half-dead?—Achilles knows that a life of honor and courage and death-defying valor is obligatory for him and that it violates a primordial, cosmic law for him to allow his fellow Greeks to die dishonorably, and so when his best friend Patroclus dies in battle due to his wallowing in well-being despair, he re-establishes himself in salvation mode and kicks much Trojan ass with some bedecked and armed with god-designed armor and a cosmos-wrought shield that contains the whole cosmos, signifying that the way of salvation, and not the way of well-being, is written into the very fabric of things. And he dies soon after by getting shot by an arrow in his heel.

Odysseus lived the salvation mode until, on his way home from Troy, he is waylayed by a nymph goddess, Calypso, who “traps” him on her island for seven years. I put trap in scare quotes because in the less-literal yet more accurate reading, Odysseus was free to leave anytime he wanted, and it was just the case that he did not want to, as he now had a matchless goddess as a very willing wife, one who also shared her immortality with him. But her name means “she who conceals,” and the price he had to pay for his well-being on steroids was never again to be seen and known, and perhaps to have his life up till then never sung by bards to the future generations of Greeks. Somehow he knew (when he got the seven-year itch) that risking abominable suffering in unknown waters populated by horrendous monsters with a very uncertain prospect of ever getting home alive was worth more than an eternity of perfect, earthly well-being. So he put on the helmet of salvation, as it were, built a raft, and eventually sang his own song on the island of the Phaecians, a paradisal mecca of well-being whose king also invited him to renounce his salvation, marry his beautiful daughter, and stay forever with them before sailing him (almost) home on a magic ship.

My last example from the ancient world is Job. According to the theology of his day, which was probably after the Flood but well before Moses, those who followed God’s law were blessed with a life of well-being, and this was a reason as good as any other to do so. If one did not experience well-being—health, long life, wealth, and a big family with lots of land and flocks—it meant that one was not following God too well, and deserved not to have it. But this was a mistaken notion of the economy of God and the true purpose for following Him, as Job was to discover. Satan challenged God by saying, essentially: “The only reason anyone ‘loves’ you and doesn’t curse you is because you reward them with well-being. Take away their well-being, and see what happens. You talk about salvation all the time. Well, they never really choose it, if it even exists. There is only well-being disguised as salvation.” God takes away all the well-being from Job, and his counselors tell him to repent of his sin. They are firmly in the well-being mode. Perhaps Job was as well at some time or another, but he meditated for a while on the dung heap, and he was now in salvation mode, as he cried, “I know my redeemer lives.” How did he know that? Everyone in the salvation mode knows it, for it is somehow knowing it that puts one into that mode. He eventually was given his well-being back, just as Jesus was resurrected, but an intimate meeting with the unknowable God was what he wanted all along, and he got it, in a terrifying whirlwind cross-examination that almost killed him. He didn’t get a comprehensible and satisfying answer to the mystery of suffering, as the mode of well-being would expect. What he got was confirmation that salvation is not at all about human well-being or the lack of it, or even being just or unjust or pious or impious. It’s something way beyond even morality, however essential that is. It’s about God, period. As St. Louis de Montfort often said: “God alone.”

Why not just call these modes religious or non-religious, or even Christian or non-Christian? It is because those who practice religion and identify as such are not necessarily living the mode of salvation, and those who say they are not religious are not necessarily living the mode of well-being. People can say they believe in God and actually practice worship and seem to live for Him while living completely or mainly in the mode of well-being, and people can say that they don’t believe or care about God or spiritual matters, and appear not to, while living completely or mainly in the salvation mode. It seems to me that the well-being/salvation modes are more fundamental and definitive than the religious/non-religious labels, or even the self-identification of Christian or non-Christian. For, they are existential and primary, residing and operating in the deepest recesses of the heart and the will. Before we consciously choose to act at any specific time in any particular way, we have always-already chosen, as it were, one of these modes, and our choices from then on are derivative from and caused by that primordial choice. Why we choose one mode or the other and persist in it is ultimately a mystery, but I would still like to say something about it later on.

We live within a global culture of well-being, an elite-imposed and artificial, totalitarian therapeutic prison, and this means that through an inexorable, ineluctable, and inescapable cultural conditioning process, well-being is the default position of the collective consciousness. Charles Taylor calls it the Immanent Frame. We are meant by our puppeteer conditioners to know of nothing other. If we do not deliberately fight to resist and escape this conditioning, it will mold and poison our souls unconsciously. But even if we somehow become acquainted while within this prison with the salvific mode of consciousness, through, say, encountering traditional religion or reading classic literature or meeting a living saint, we are programmed to translate this experience into the discourse, grammar, and social-imaginary of well-being, thereby turning it into its opposite.

If the reader is still wondering what exactly the modes of well-being and salvation are, that’s ok, for I am as well. It’s not possible to nail them down in precise language. They are too big and deep for language. The particular mode of thought, cast of concepts, and exigency of language we happen now to understand and employ derives from and is constituted by one of these modes or the other. There is no third. If we are in the mode of well-being, we see the world that way, and we will not only not understand the mode of salvation, we will despise it. Furthermore, we will not even recognize that we are in a mode at all—it is just the way things are. One has to be in the mode of salvation to understand that experiential modes even exist, and then to understand the nature of each mode and their radical opposition. For, these two modes determine exhaustively the very contours of the meaning of life itself, as they are the earthly images of the two modes of eternity. Thus, it must not be expected that they can be discretely and definitively defined in this life. They can be described, pointed to, adumbrated, suggested, intuited, exemplified, metaphorized, allegorized, unveiled, demarcated, translated, and cartographed—but never exhaustively grasped. It is these modes, after all, that define us. Nevertheless, I intend to keep describing and attempting to define them as we proceed, hopefully with increasing lucidity.

This is the clearest definition I can think of at the moment: The mode of well-being is a living hell that leads to eternal hell. The mode of salvation is a living heaven that leads to eternal heaven. And here is the most compelling reason I can think of why this is the case: Hell is the choice for the complete absence of God, Who is ultimate reality. Hell is thus the choice for ultimate unreality. Thus, the mode of well-being chosen in this life is a life of perpetual and absolute war with ultimate reality.

Perhaps an example will be helpful. The plandemic of 2020 was a test, a trial run for the Final Judgment deciding the eternity of every human being ever to live, either Heaven or Hell. What was placed before every human being was a stark existential and theological choice, a choice that was also a judgment. For those for whom this trial would be the manifestation and confirmation of their prior existential choice for well-being, or for those for whom it would be the uber-choice of their preferred long-term state, it seemed no choice at all. I mean, there was a deadly virus, you know, the deadliest one, and all you needed to do to avoid your own sickness or death and prevent the sickness and death of others was to do what you were told to do by those authorized to protect you from sickness and death. If you did that, I mean, the curve would be flattened, man. They told you to allow certain others to stick a swab in your nose, wear a mask all day, stay six feet away from other people, stay home, and close your business or school or church. They were so loving and committed to your health that they coerced these directives, rewarding you if you obeyed them and punishing you if you did not. They told you to get the vaccine or else you would most probably die and kill others, and they helped you to make the right choice by making sure that your life would be a living hell if you refused the shot. Choice? What the hell are you talking about?

The problem is that if you chose to do what they told you, you were not choosing to protect yourself and others from a deadly virus, but you were choosing hell. Now, there were some who were genuinely invincibly ignorant to the lies they were believing, at least at first, and so not culpable. But in the weeks and months after, as reality reasserted itself, it became impossible to believe the lies without fault. You were choosing hell because you were choosing unreality, and knowingly so. By choosing to obey these arbitrary and irrational prescriptions—and you knew, didn’t you? that they were arbitrary and irrational—you were choosing to believe in the Big Lie that underlay them, namely, that healthy people with no symptoms of illness are contagious. You, of course, knew this to be untrue. This is a lie, and an insane one. And you knew it was an insane lie, but you believed it anyway and acted accordingly. And you were quite proud of your mendacious insanity. You believed this insane lie because it made you feel good, in both the pleasurable and moral meaning of the word, but in doing so you put yourself under false authority. And you knew that it was false authority, because what they prescribed was all predicated on a manifest lie, and you knew it was a lie. No one thinks that healthy people with no symptoms are contagious, not even you. But you thought it anyway. “Just wear the f$%*in mask”—the first commandment of Hell. You obeyed this commandment with diabolical pleasure and took the same pleasure in torturing those who disobeyed it. Now, not everyone behaved this maliciously, and I am describing the extreme covidiot here, but all of us to some extent participated in this treasonous behavior.

Is putting oneself under false authority really so bad? Yes, it is the worst sin possible. It is the sin against the Holy Spirit, which Jesus said is unforgivable. It is calling good evil and evil good. Salvation comes from putting oneself under the authority of Truth, Who is Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, Who was with God in the beginning and is God. Damnation comes from putting yourself under the authority of untruth, whose father is Satan, the father of lies, who was a liar and murderer from the beginning. And it is this that distinguishes the mode of well-being from the mode of salvation. In well-being, one puts truth second to everything else. Truth is never first. Perhaps it is an authority, but it is never the authority. In salvation, truth is always first. It is Authority, period. One strives for well-being, for we are permitted to do so, but it is always a striving for well-being in the light of and under the authority of truth. And if believing in and obeying the truth means that one’s earthly well-being is sacrificed, then so be it. Salvation comes first. Salvation means eternal well-being, which is all that matters. Earthly well-being is a good, and those who live in the mode of salvation obtain it in its essence, which is joy and peace in union with God in this life, which no one can take away. Sometimes this joy and peace are accompanied by worldly goods, such as financial prosperity and bodily health and good reputation. But sometimes not. And it doesn’t matter one way or the other for the salvation-minded. Obedience to truth is all that matters. For the well-being-minded, a feeling of well-being is all that matters, and knowing and obeying truth is, at best, only a means to this highest end.

I mentioned earlier, and it bears repeating, that “We live within a global culture of well-being, an elite-imposed and artificial, totalitarian therapeutic prison, and this means that through an inexorable, ineluctable, and inescapable cultural conditioning process, well-being is the default position of the collective consciousness.” And this includes those, whether traditional Catholic, fundamentalist Christian, Koranic mystic, alt-right groyper, paleocon-bearded hipster, dark web gnostic, or perennialist blackpiller, all of which would seem quite immune to such conditioning and who would certainly, it seems, reject the default position. I have news for you: not necessarily. The mode of well-being has been firmly in place in the West for centuries, and it has been getting ever more well-being-ish ever since, exponentially since the year 2020. Medieval Christendom was a culture of salvation. Well-being as a legitimate mode of life didn’t exist. People sinned, of course, by choosing for well-being against salvation, but they were ashamed of it, and society let them know. Modernity, on the other hand, is a culture of well-being as The Good, a culture in which the mode of salvation is utterly shameful.

The Catholic Church is the mode of salvation on Earth, for it is the mystical body of the Incarnate Savior. If this mode existed in cultures before Christ and His Church, it was solely due to His providential grace in anticipation of and preparation for His Church, the soul and lifeblood of the world with its various cultures. At the present moment, the human infrastructure and clerical personnel of the Church, in league with her unbaptized external enemies, are at war with her divine core, and Satan is in control of the majority of the clerical human personnel and all of her external enemies. Satan’s hegemony over the Church and thus the world has been building since the 1900s but really in earnest after 1962. Leo XIII and Our Ladies of Akita and Fatima had prophesized it and told us what to do to prevent it, but most didn’t listen.

What this means is that there has never been a time in the history of the human race in which the mode of salvation has been more eclipsed and difficult to live out, and the mode of well-being more pronounced, seductive, irresistible, ubiquitous, and easy to practice, than today. One might think of the time before Christ as comparable or even worse than now, but consider that the corruption of the best is the worst, that nothing could be worse than a counterfeit of salvation replacing the true one, and such could only be possible after the historical manifestation of the full salvific truth of Jesus Christ. What we have today is much worse than paganism, and much worse than even the most corrupt and “dark” of post-Incarnation ages of years past. What we have is a culture of well-being that wears the mask of salvation, with the salvation mode practically counterfeited out of existence. Even the best of the salvation-mode sub-cultures are more or less compromised and tainted by the ubiquitous well-being culture, and they easily end up becoming mirror images of it, appearing to be solidly salvific but surreptitiously and subtly counterfeit. They talk salvation but walk well-being.

This is all I've known
A way to be
True to all
All that inspires

A torch in a black sea
Our stones still stand
To remind us of loss
A loss mirrored on our souls

A watchfire brings strength
Breathe in the heat
In the eternal path
Armoured against life
(Neurosis, "Watchfire")

Human beings were created by God for happiness in the worship of God. For reasons entirely inscrutable to human beings (all of the best reasons that have been offered cannot adequately explain it), God decided to make this happiness a personal choice for which we are responsible. This means that humans can choose not to worship God, that is, choose unhappiness over happiness. Why would a human being choose unhappiness and reject the very reason he was created? No one knows the answer to this question, for it is a mystery, the unfathomable and inscrutable mystery of evil. All we know is that we cannot escape this choice. Whether we obtain eternal happiness in the worship of God or eternal unhappiness in the refusal of this worship is entirely up to us, and any of us is capable of choosing against his own happiness. If you end up in hell for all eternity, it is because you wanted while alive and want now to be there. You refused to worship God, and you did so knowing it would mean eternal hell, and you chose it anyway. Think this is impossible? Think that God would and could never allow anyone to suffer eternal separation from Him? Well, have fun hanging out with know-it-all spiritual morons like David Bentley Hart and engage in gnostic spiritual masturbation, but just know that the Hell you deny awaits you if you persist in rejecting truth.

What does the choice for hell look like? The Catholic Church teaches us that if we die in a state of unrepentance, in a state of mortal sin, we go to hell. What is it to commit a mortal sin, and what does a state of unrepentance look like? Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free,” and “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” At its core, mortal sin is the refusal to know and obey truth, which is to say, to reject reality, for truth is the conformity of our souls with reality. At the core of reality is the Good, which is reality qua desirable. And since Jesus Christ is the truth, reality incarnate, then every refusal of reality, refusal to know and obey truth, is a rejection of Jesus, the Incarnate Good. Unrepentance means that we persist up to the moment of death in this rejection in the knowledge that we are choosing hell because of it. We end in up hell if we persist in our rejection of reality, truth, and Jesus Christ.

Why would anyone reject reality and truth and the Good and Jesus Christ? The obvious answer is due to a mistake. For whatever reason, we are not in a right relationship with reality and so misunderstand the truth about it. We reject what we do not know is truth. This is certainly possible, but why do we not know the truth? We are personally responsible for the relationship we have with reality when we die, and if it is not a right one, it is ultimately our fault. Not knowing something is the truth at one time or another can certainly be the fault of someone else whom we depend on for knowing what is true, such as a parent or a teacher or a culture, but this is a temporary and remediable situation. The injustice done to our souls by false authorities may not be our fault, but we have the ability and responsibility to rectify this injustice. Even though it is the case that reality is mediated to us by human authorities that could be mistaken or lying about the truth, and mediated by our own faculties of knowing that might be, due to ourselves or others, damaged or faulty, this does not excuse us from the personal responsibility of doing all we can to ensure that we are in a correct relationship with reality and thus know what is true. And we have the responsibility of not only knowing what is true, but also loving and obeying it. If we did not have this responsibility, hell would not exist, for we would always have a legitimate excuse that renders us not personally responsible for our not knowing and not loving truth. There would be no real guilt.

How do we overcome the damage done to our souls by others and ourselves that has caused us, right now, not to be in a right relationship with reality and thus not to know or love what is true? If we are dependent on others for knowing certain truths, and even for the development in us, especially when we are young, of the habit of being docile to truth, how do we overcome this dependency when it has led us into a soul-state of untruth? The answer is that we are always able to choose between well-being, in which truth isn’t a priority, and salvation, where it is the only priority, regardless of how badly we might have been damaged. Indeed, if we had always chosen salvation over well-being, we would not be damaged right now in the first place, for when in a state of salvation, we are immune to the damage done to our souls by the truth-treason of others. The problem is, of course, that we were not and are not now fully in a state of salvation, and so have been damaged. But we can begin to undo this damage by choosing, right now, to be in the salvation mode, and we can keep choosing until the moment we die.

Consider the situation of a Pharisee at the time of Christ. He was badly damaged by the Jewish culture in which he was raised, for it was thoroughly corrupt, even though it was given to the Jews by God Himself. Jesus gives a very clear picture of this culture:

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean. . . . Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Imagine being raised as a Pharisee in this culture. It was now a culture of well-being, not salvation, due to the Jewish leaders’ treason against God. No Pharisee was forced to participate in this corrupt culture, for he still had access to uncorrupted scriptures and traditions. He could have resisted the corruption and even called it out, as Jesus did, but this would have required consistently being in and acting from the mode of salvation, which would have been quite difficult with all the pressure to and rewards from being in the mode of well-being masking as the mode of salvation. Who was modeling it for them? No one. It was the opposite. Everyone was modeling Satan, whom Jesus called their father. But Jesus, the perfect embodiment of the uncorrupted scriptures and tradition, was now present in their midst; now they had a model and thus the ability to compare themselves to the Good and see and repent of their evil. He made their evil quite clear to them, and there was no reason not to believe Him, for He had no hypocrisy in Him, and He spoke to them in love and from the mode of salvation. Perhaps before Jesus came they had some excuse for their evil, but not now.

All a Pharisee had to do was to pose one question to himself: “Is He the evil one, or is it I?” This is a question anyone at any time can ask, and it is a question evoked by the existential mode of salvation, a mode anyone at any time can adopt in the deepest recesses of his soul. Saul became Paul when he adopted this mode and asked this question, a question prompted by a shocking mystical encounter with the Risen Lord that knocked him to the ground and left him physically blind. God will always provide the precise experiences we need to get into the salvation mode and begin asking salvific questions, but only if we first desire to exist in the mode by which such questions will be salvific. Saul must have desired this in the core of his being, and Jesus saw this and helped him to fulfill it. Jesus knew how evil was the culture that produced Saul the Christ-hating Pharisee, and He provided him a way out. Of course, the desire and ability to live in the salvific mode is itself a gift of God unmerited by us without which we could never be saved. But it is always offered and made available to us. We must simply choose it.

A good culture is one that forms its denizens to be in a right relationship to reality, causing the mind to know it and the will to love it. A good culture makes it easier to know and love truth, and a bad culture makes it harder. The Pharisee culture of the Jews in Saul’s day was a bad culture, for it disposed its leaders to reject Jesus Christ. The rejection of Jesus Christ is at the very heart of Western culture in our day, and has been so for a long time, though harder to recognize in past centuries. Our present culture makes it very easy not to know and love truth, for it makes it all but impossible and undesirable to ask questions from the mode of salvation, especially this question: “Is it true?” It thus makes it very easy to be, live, and act in the mode of well-being while thinking one is in the mode of salvation, or not even knowing that there is any other mode than well-being, or that one is in any “mode” at all. How can we be saved from this most perilous deception? Alasdair MacIntyre:

We have within our social order few if any social milieus within which reflective and critical enquiry concerning the central issues of human life can be sustained…. This tends to be a culture of answers, not of questions, and those answers, whether secular or religious, liberal or conservative, are generally delivered as though meant to put an end to questioning.

Paul Evdokimov:

The outdated religious person and the modern sophisticated irreligious individual meet back to back in an immanence imprisoned within itself…. The denial of God has thus permitted the affirmation of man. Once this affirmation is effected, there is no longer anything to be denied or subordinated… On this level total man will not be able to ask any questions concerning his own reality, just as God does not put a question to himself

The totalitarians ruling us are satanists, whether officially or not, and they want to abuse us to such an extent that we no longer ask questions in the mode of salvation in obedience to the ultimate authority of Truth and thereby save our souls. Asking questions indicates a soul that is aware of her dignity as a responsible creature, personally responsible to know and obey the authority of truth, not human counterfeits of it. The satanists want us to degrade ourselves by choosing idols over God, and they want us to do so knowingly and deliberately. This is why they hate questions more than anything. Ultimately, they want us to feel we are so worthless and stupid and deserving of nothing but abuse and death that we voluntarily murder ourselves. They’d rather we do it to ourselves, for it would mean more souls in hell. The first step to obtaining their goal is to get us to stop asking questions and caring about the Truth. God is the answer to all questions. They want us to see them as God. If we stop asking questions about the claims and actions of any human being, we are obeying their satanic command. Origen once wrote: “Every true question is like the lance which pierces the side of Christ causing blood and water to flow forth.” It is the blood and water that saved the Centurion, and it will save us if we so desire it. All we need to do is continually ask ourselves these questions: “Is it true? Am I pursuing salvation right now, or well-being?” And God will do the rest.

O divine Redeemer! As a victim of love for the Church and souls, I surrender myself to you and abandon myself to you! Please, I pray, accept favorably my offering, and I will be happy and confident. Alas! It is very little, I know, but I have nothing more, and I give you everything. I love my poverty and weakness because they bring me all your mercy and your most tender concerns. My God, you know my fragility and the bottomless abyss of my misery… If I were ever to be unfaithful to your sovereign will for me; if I were to shrink back from suffering and the cross and desert your sweet path by fleeing the tender support of your arms, oh! I beg and implore you, grant me the grace to die instantly. Hear me, O most loving Heart of my God, hear me by your sweetest name of Jesus, by the love of your Most Holy Mother, by the intercession of Saint Joseph, Saint John the beloved, and all the other saints, and by your divine ardor to fulfill in all things the will of your Father. (Servant of God Marthe Robin).

Thaddeus Kozinski teaches philosophy and humanities at Memoria College. His latest books are Modernity as Apocalypse: Sacred Nihilism and the Counterfeits of Logos, and Words, Concepts, Reality: Aristotelian Logic for Teenagers. He writes here.

Featured: Crucifixion, Basilica di San Marco, Venice, ca., 1200.

Do You Go to Hell if You Commit Suicide?

According to the World Health Organization, over 700,000 people commit suicide per year, and many more attempt it. Alarmingly, it is the fourth leading cause of death for people 15-29 years of age. The situation worsened with widespread lockdowns in 2020 and 2021. Even though suicide has been documented and studied for over 3,000 years, our knowledge of it remains quite tenuous. Although it’s been on the rise in recent years, historically, it’s been a problem since the revolution in human self-awareness that took place around 70,000 B.C.

In his 1942 absurdist philosophical essay The Myth of Sisyphus, journalist and philosopher (a title which he himself denied), Albert Camus, raises one of the most notable existential questions of the twentieth century, one that cuts to the core of human existence: “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” Camus was right about the fact that people who commit suicide, whatever their reasons, deem life not worth living, at least at the moment that the dreadful act occurs. (However, an altruistic suicide may not neatly come under such an understanding.) Sisyphus is a Greek mythological character who appears in Book VI of Homer’s Iliad. In post-Homeric times, a legend developed in which Sisyphus is said to have cheated Death and is punished eternally by having to roll up a boulder to the top of a mountain only to have it roll down each time he pushes it to the top. Camus forcefully uses this illustration to show the absurdity of endless repetition and the ultimate meaninglessness of life.

This unfortunate reality is no better captured than in the 1988 cult classic Permanent Record, starring Keanu Reeves, which, unlike many movies in its genre, poignantly depicts the great tragedy of suicide. Reeves’ character, Chris Townsend, loses his best friend, David Sinclair (played by Alan Boyce), to suicide. Outside of a high school party, David decides to take a walk toward the edge of a cliff that overlooks the ocean. Chris follows David and hides behind a boulder in the dark, to playfully sneak up on him, but when he jumps in front of the boulder, he discovers that his friend has disappeared.

One of the most heart-wrenching scenes of the movie is when Chris shares the suicide note he receives from David after his death (which makes Chris realize that David’s death was not accidental but intentional) with David’s parents; upon reading the note, the parents remain in denial, and that’s when Chris states, in reference to David falling: “There was no sound. He didn’t scream.” To which David’s father replies, “He should’ve screamed. I would’ve screamed, wouldn’t you?” It is shocking and heartbreaking for family and friends to learn that a loved one planned their own death.

Throughout the movie, Chris blames himself for David’s suicide and says he should’ve known there was some sort of crisis in David’s life. Later, Chris comes to the conclusion that he will never know the actual reason why his friend committed suicide. The movie effectively evokes the helplessness and emptiness that one endures when such a loss occurs and the unanswered questions that linger. It also illustrates the permanence and gravity of suicide, for known reasons such as the impact it will have on family, friends, and society, as well for unknown reasons such as the consequences for the afterlife.

Undoubtedly, the subject of suicide provokes many questions, such as: Do we continue to exist after death? Do humans have a soul? Where do our souls go after death? Is life sacred? Is there an ultimate meaning to life? Are there ultimate consequences to our actions? Is life worth living? Is there a heaven? Is there a hell? Where do our souls go if we commit suicide? And what does the Bible say about committing suicide and whether that person goes to hell?

The Question of Ultimate Meaning

Even though Camus was an atheist at the time and believed in the ultimate meaninglessness of life, as illustrated in his illustration of Sisyphus, he argues throughout the book that life is still worth living. Essentially, Camus tells us that life has no real meaning but that we must pretend that it does and trudge forward. Under atheism, there is no possibility for ultimate meaning, only subjective and personal meaning, since two important preconditions are not met: the existence of an all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing God, and immortality. Thus, life is indeed absurd in the absence of God. However, Christianity, provides ultimate meaning since God promises His followers to be delivered from sin and death into everlasting life. The God-man, Jesus, accomplishes this through His death and resurrection, redeeming and delivering humanity from eternal suffering. As Jesus states in the Gospel of John, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish” John 10:27-28. Thus, where a worldview like atheism fails, Christianity triumphs. If there is ultimate meaning, there are also ultimate consequences to our actions. Leaving that aside for the time being, let us probe deeper.

What is Suicide?

So far, we have mentioned characterizations of suicide in literature and cinema, but we haven’t given a proper definition and real-life examples. Most simply put, suicide is the deliberate act of ending one’s own life. But this definition, in and of itself, cannot speak to the moral and ethical issues surrounding each particular instance of suicide since each act of suicide can vary greatly. Consider the following examples, all of which can be considered suicide but differ greatly in intent and circumstances:

  • A young man fears failure and the uncertainty of the future, so he decides to jump off a cliff.
  • A teenage girl who is overwhelmed with bullying at school and on social media, purposely overdoses on Tylenol.
  • A father, foreseeing his own potential death, jumps in front of a spray of bullets to save his children’s lives.
  • A soldier who is captured during a time of war and takes a pill to avoid being tortured and imparting secret information.
  • A Jehovah’s Witness who refuses a blood transfusion and dies as a result of his decision.
  • A serial killer or mass murderer who evades capture by hanging himself.
  • Someone who is part of a mass-suicide, like in the case of the Jonestown Massacre, participates in ingesting cyanide due to mind manipulation.
  • A woman who suffers from medical depression kills herself and harms her husband in the process.

Some may even try, through twisted logic, to claim that the willful deaths of Jesus’ disciples and followers are a form of self-righteous suicide, but this would be best understood as martyrdom. Nevertheless, each of these cases is significantly different and mustn’t be treated equally. Intention is paramount to answering the question of what happens to someone in the afterlife if they commit suicide. (For an excellent resource on the afterlife, see Gary R. Habermas and J.P. Moreland, Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality).

People may commit suicide for a multitude of reasons, including impulsive acts related to extreme stress, trauma from some sort of physical, mental, and sexual abuse, a mental disorder, substance abuse, self-sacrifice to save others, a form to end physical and mental suffering (as is the case with euthanasia and assisted suicide), relationship issues, an existential void, fear of failure, acting on false information, a way to escape justice, and others. Moral theologians and ethicists argue that there must be a distinction between the subjective and objective aspects of suicide’s morality. The subjective aspect deals with the guilt that is felt by the person who commits suicide, whereas the objective aspect refers to the morality of the suicidal act itself. What these touch upon is whether someone is blameworthy for their action or not. Although the action may be wrong, the subjective experience and surrounding circumstances, as listed in the different examples above, do make a profound difference.

The Bible and Suicide

Even though suicide is mentioned on several occasions throughout the Bible (Judges 16:29–30; 1 Samuel 31:4–5; 2 Samuel 17:23; 1 Kings 16:18; Matthew 27:3–5), it does not speak to the issue explicitly. Nevertheless, the Bible is very clear on its stance against murder, as the sixth Commandment unequivocally states: “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13), which was also stated by Jesus (Matthew 19:18). Much in the same way that someone can be blameworthy for an act of murder, so it is with suicide since it is a violation of the sanctity of life; human life is to be treated not as a means to an end but as an end itself. It also violates the natural law and the biological inclination to maintain existence, whether one must endure hardships or not; it is also a moral duty to one’s self, family, community, and to God. Biblical Christianity makes clear that our life is not our own but a gift from God: “We do not live for ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:7-9). Thus, depending on the intention of the suicidal act, it may indeed be an eternally culpable offense. God’s will ultimately determines how and when someone dies as the Owner of life and all of existence; any betrayal of this risks elevating ourselves above God and His will.

What about Hell?

Hell is one of the most frightening concepts in all of Christendom. Traditionally, hell has been viewed as a place of eternal punishment, torment, and suffering. Hell is also described as a place that is devoid of God and, by implication, of all love, joy, and goodness. Throughout the Scriptures, there are many references to hell. In the Book of Daniel, we find the following verse: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). The Gospel of Matthew warns us of hell: “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). The Book of Revelation describes hell in the following way: “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8). Thus, the Scriptures do not paint an alluring picture of hell. It is a place that people should avoid at all costs.

Based on the Scriptures, theologians have offered different interpretations of what hell might entail. Five views are useful in outlining the main theological understandings of hell.

First, the literal view is one of eternal conscious torment in a literal fire. Second, the metaphorical understanding views hell as a place of eternal torment, but one where the authors of the Scriptures are using hyperbole and not meant to be taken literally. Third, the purgatorial view does not deny the existence of hell but advocates for an intermittent place for those who require some temporary cleansing before they are ready for heaven. According to Roman Catholic theology, living people can aid in this cleansing through prayer. Fourth, there is the annihilationist view (similar to the conditionalist), which argues for the annihilation of any soul over eternal conscious torment. Lastly, there is the universalist view of hell. Not all theologians who advocate for this view agree whether there is a hell or not, but if there is, they believe it is temporal and for corrective purposes. Interestingly, the early Christian theologian Origen believed that all rational souls would be saved, including the devil and his demons. Nonetheless, it is all dependent on God’s charity, mercy, and willingness to regenerate these fallen beings.

So, does someone who commits suicide go to hell? The answer is far more complicated than many people believe, as it involves numerous factors. First, we must understand the subjective and objective aspects surrounding the suicidal act. Second, Christian theology allows for various interpretations of hell. And last and most importantly, we must always be reminded that no one is in a position to judge whether someone has gone to hell or not. It could be that the person repented right before the moment of death, which mind-body dualists (substance dualism) view as the separation of the soul from the body. We are also in the dark about a person’s interior life, including their moral conscience and what God has deemed just for their eternal destiny.

Salvation is an incredibly complex theological reality, and in this context, a very personal one. It could be that someone who committed suicide may go to hell for reasons aside from committing suicide, i.e., for rejecting Jesus as their Lord and Saviour throughout their lives and, as a consequence, refusing God’s forgiveness. It is also vital to understand that our conception of forgiveness is infinitely flawed as compared to God’s perfect justice and love. Nevertheless, we should take Camus’ question of suicide very seriously and help prevent the tragedy of suicide. We must also not treat the doctrine of hell lightly or as solely an intellectual endeavour but as one requiring existential action.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, seek professional help and discuss this with someone you trust. It is important to understand that life does have ultimate meaning and that the Creator of all existence wants a loving relationship with you.

Scott Ventureyra is an author, theologian, and philosopher. Further information is found on his website. He also offers full publishing services.

Featured: Melancholy, by Constance Marie Charpentier; painted in 1801.

Abel Bonnard’s Aristocratic Friendship

An immortal figure, except for his political career, Abel Bonnard (1883–1968)  was a member of the Académie française and one of the most popular writers of the interwar period, prompting Céline to call him “one of the finest French minds”. His prolific output includes poetry, travelogues, novels, biographies and a section in the tradition of the French moralists of the Classical Age, including his essay L’Amitié (Friendship), published in 1928.

In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle devotes two chapters to the polysemic meaning of friendship. Philoi thus goes beyond the simply “friendly” concept we are familiar with, to mean sociability and reciprocal affection. It covers the relationships that animals, lovers (as Tristan sings to Isolde at the home of Marie de France: “Bele amie, si est de nus:/ Ne vus sans mei, no je sanz vus“), various family members. Aristotle not only explains these different relationships, but also distinguishes, as Cicero and Montaigne would later do, three types of friendship, which are different in nature and not simply in degree: the first, the most vulgar, is that based on interest and therefore usefulness; next comes that which is akin to pleasant companionship, but which is only the image of true friendship; the third, which relates to the good and enables the fulfillment of virtue between good men.

True friendship, which, unlike the accidental character of “familiar relations formed by some circumstance or utility” (Montaigne), is immutable and can only be born among virtuous men, “friends by virtue of a certain good and a certain resemblance” (Aristotle). This friendship is that of the absolute choice of a being in whom we recognize our similarity in terms of virtue, which is just as beneficial, whether it emanates from us or from another man of value, the friend being for Aristotle “another self.”

However, if Aristotle’s whole question of friendship is to be placed within the broader framework of a reflection on the Good, this notion may sound barbaric to modern ears. Indeed, the history of philosophy since Antiquity has witnessed a gradual shift away from the idea of a transcendent Good, independent of man and objective, gradually giving way to the notion of freedom. For Hegel, the spirit becomes aware of its own nature through history, and by becoming conscious, by moving from the in-itself to the for-itself, humanity gradually liberates itself: “To make the external world everywhere conform to the concept of freedom once recognized, such is the task of the new times,” were the last words he uttered in his very last lecture. The cardinal value of our time has thus become Freedom, i.e., man’s ability to be an active subject in history, to do good as well as evil, to have “within himself the possibility of both the absolute something and the absolute nothing” (Weininger, Sexe et caractère, 1903).

Abel Bonnard takes note of this change and now understands that the men who can lay claim to friendship are those who are similar in terms of freedom rather than virtue; he writes in Les Modérés: “Those who have really done something must be noble; they cannot be pure.” The author strives to defend an aristocratic conception of humanity, in which only a few great souls can be differentiated, “a small number of beings without any relation to all the rest, noble, superior or charming” (L’Amitié). In this world, where men are abstractly reputed to be free and equal, Abel Bonnard is quick to remind us that an elite does exist, a community of equals among the unequal, of men running the gauntlet with Rimbaldian “free liberty,” i.e., taking it violently in hand. Nobility of soul requires us to be absolutely modern, to act out this passage from Happiness to Freedom: “But why regret an eternal sun, if we are committed to the discovery of divine clarity—far from the people who die in the seasons” (Rimbaud). All men are now free, but only a few know how to make themselves worthy, and those who are worthy can earn that august passion that is friendship. At the exact opposite end of the spectrum are the literal and botanical antipodes, the clumsy onlookers, embarrassed by silly qualities of psychological characterization. As welders of trivialities, they rely on adventitious elements such as occupation, “passions” and habits to compose their relational circles, all of which have nothing to do with a man’s deeper character.

Only true friendship can exist today between men who are fundamentally free, explains Bonnard, between what we will call distinguished men, both by their eminently superior character and by their delicate manners and refined tastes. The character of such men is complex and requires several common traits.

An “intimate richness” must pre-exist friendship between “spirits of the same rank,” for how can one extend oneself into the world without first having delved into oneself, without having plumbed the depths of one’s solitude? Men in the crucible of experience have acquired an autonomy that is the first impulse of freedom, since to be free is to be able to begin to make sovereign decisions about one’s life. It is because a man has differentiated himself from the masses that he can have an original vocation in the world, and it is in this that he can be a regular friend, with whom we can finally find a spirit to our measure that can exalt us, reminding us of Theognis’ words in his Sentences, “Nobility of soul is learned from noble souls.” In this sense, Bonnard sees in leisure the possibility of “completing ourselves” and gaining in subtlety so as to be able to communicate something to our fellow man: without deep inner work, without distinction, without introspective impulse, without radical originality, speech is reduced to impudent chatter. The friend has something of himself to offer, his otherness; and this is where man can begin, Bonnard tells us, echoing Otto Weininger a few years earlier: “Male friendship is a trade based on the sharing of the same idea or the same ideal; in other words of something that unites them without ceasing to belong to each of them in particular.” That said, the beginning of friendship in Bonnard’s work is not essentially a matter of ideas, but takes place well upstream of the “commerce of intelligences.” Beyond mutual sympathy, the two friends must have a similarity of nobility and grandeur, of instincts and tastes: they must be able to sense in each other the nobility of the race. The original potential of friendships thus comes primarily from compatible characters.

Perhaps this is what the quest of our lives here on earth is all about: to find worthy company with men who, among other eminent qualities, share the most incoercible: a taste for the absolute. In Aurélien, Aragon writes unforgettable pages on this taste for the absolute that embraces Berenice, plunging her into a vertigo that “is accompanied by a certain exaltation, which we will recognize at first, and which, always exerting itself at the sharp point, at the center of destruction, risks making unwary eyes mistake the taste for the absolute for the taste for unhappiness.” But above all, those who are pierced by the absolute are in search of “the embodiment of their dreams, [of] living proof of greatness, nobility, the infinite in the finite,” and escape the vicissitudes of the centuries. Distinguished men with a taste for the absolute are the shooting stars of this world: they are men unaffected by the turmoil of the centuries, atemporal men, pilgrims of the Absolute with an imperishable character; these are the monads we must try to grasp if we are to enliven humanity. Let us become demiurges, spewing the lukewarm and the apocryphal whites; let us find the men of our race, with whom we share the same burning fire; let us rummage through the apparent mire without reluctance to “look in the scum for someone rare and exquisite.” Happiness, a backward clown, drags its feet and begs, but what does it matter to us as long as there are still works to freely aspire to.

As we have just seen, the distinguished man, polished by the centuries, is above all a profoundly unique man, but not a lonely one. It is because he has understood the limits of his own monadic finitude that the distinguished man seeks to confront other souls, for “as soon as a man reaches a certain inner richness, he feels that what he has done does not express his whole nature” (L’Amitié); and so he must confront reality. As Simone Weil teaches us in the lines devoted to friendship in Formes de l’amour implicite de Dieu (Forms of God’s Implicit Love), this reality, the place where we encounter exteriority, is synonymous with the materialization of contradictions. “Friendship is a supernatural harmony, a union of opposites,” she tells us, namely “the preservation of the faculty of free consent in oneself and in the other,” leading to equality. To project himself into the world, man must be differentiated, freely disposing of himself. He must be both a stranger to himself and an inhabitant of the world, enriching himself without being distorted by it. Abel Bonnard sprinkles his short essay on friendship with aphorisms and ties these contradictions together laconically: “Friends are loners together,” which should be read with Simone Weil in mind: “There is friendship only where distance is preserved and respected.” As Aristotle was fond of reminding us, man is a sociable being, and so he cannot do without a vital attachment to that other himself: friendship takes on its full meaning when we live together.

For Aristotle, living is initially assimilated to feeling and thinking, but this world of potentiality must be embodied: “Power is conceived by reference to action, and it is in action that the essential lies” (Nicomachean Ethics). Friendship in power must be actualized, that is, man must manifest his inner life through action, by committing his own freedom to the world. Friends are above all men who are ready to compromise themselves, and it is by giving themselves to the world that they can give life to their sensibility and learn: “When someone enchants us with his rich and profound experience, it is not the case to demand from him a spotless neatness. If he had wanted to keep it, he would not have learned so much. The most virtuous follow the straight path, which is, by definition, the one that passes through the fewest places. The purest cannot also be the richest” (L’Amitié).

Friendship between sovereign men unfolds both in space and in time, i.e., within a historical framework. Aristotle places friendship precisely within a communitarian and political reflection (“the deliberate choice of life in common is friendship; the end of the state being therefore the good life, all this exists only for this end”, Politics) on the different types of government, which he structures in a ternary fashion (kingship, aristocracy and republic, with their degenerate forms respectively: tyranny, oligarchy and democracy). The types of friendship differ according to the political regime, with those allowing the most friendship obviously being preferable. Contrary to Aristotle, who suggests that, among decadent forms, democracy is the one that best allows for friendship in that it brings together a priori more equal subjects, and to Derrida, who fantasizes about a future democratic promise in Politiques de l’amitié, Bonnard realizes that democratic egalitarianism does not allow for friendship because it does not understand the differentiation of beings: “In a world without elites, there are no more friendships.” In addition to the egalitarian fad that disregards any qualitative differences between individuals, democracy has given rise to “friendships” based on self-interest.

We find eloquent illustrations of these utilitarian friendships in Barrès’ Romans de l’Énergie Nationale, which depicts the various financial and parliamentary compromises of democracies, and which undoubtedly influenced Bonnard. Thus, in Les Déracinés, an impossible understanding is born, a heartbreak between the seven young men who, freshly landed in Paris, meet in front of Napoleon’s tomb at Les Invalides to seal their destiny: “Destiny, duty, culture; these are the three terms in which Sturel, Saint-Phlin, Rœmerspacher were to sum themselves up. Suret-Lefort, for his part, was thinking of appearances; Racadot and Mouchefrin, of pleasure; Renaudin, of food.” In fact, since “all individuality poses as the enemy of the spirit of community” (Weininger), any true friendship in a democratic regime has to be transgressive: it has to be completely at odds with the established bourgeois order, with the cozy little nest in which it is easy to let oneself snooze comfortably in the middle of winter. Let us go even further: if friendship is automatically corrupted in a democratic regime, as Bonnard argues in Les Modérés, it is precisely because it is the only democracy worth having, being a “differentiated egalitarian social order,” being that of men free and equal in nobility, who, by their height, strike down the bleating voters. In his Éloge de l’ignorance, Bonnard castigates republican, universalist, egalitarian and scientistic (and therefore reasoning and aspermatic) education, which produces a “sinister dearth of men.” Against this, Bonnard aspires to a Nietzschean cultural revolution, which aims to bring passion, instinct and action to the fore rather than cold reason and pure intellectualism, for man is made to “poetically sublimate and transfigure the world and its secrets, not to elucidate them.”

In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche stresses the “fundamental antagonistic relationship” between man and woman. This book was bound to exert some influence on Bonnard’s contradicter, who is adamant about the impossibility of women’s access to friendship. For him, the empire of friendship is unconquerable for them, because the planes of abstraction and conceptualization belong to the male mental universe. Clearly, women’s intelligence does not play a comparative role to that of men; rather, it is used quite differently: women (to be understood here, as with Weininger, as the absolute feminine principle and not as empirical women) are immersed in the world and its intrigues, and do not, unlike men, attempt to abstract themselves from it using their intellectual faculties. The friendship that can be attributed to women between themselves is also a deception and stops at the stage of pleasant companionship, since women do not walk on the crest of ideas and cannot get rid of the specter that love constitutes for them. “Friendship” for women, even when it is a matter of masked rivalry, can only take on, ironically, the finery of intimacy, the discovery of its exposure and sexualization: “Women reduce the other to his sexuality… What interests a woman in a human being is first and foremost his love affairs” (Weininger). This permanent cult of the present, this impossibility of historicization, this subjection to love, is what women lack in order to build a friendship, requiring temporalization, constancy and projection. For Schopenhauer, women are much more frontally in the present than men, “the being of instantaneity, of immediacy,” and “all that is present, visible and immediate, exercises over them an empire against which neither abstractions, nor established maxims, nor energetic resolutions, nor any consideration of the past or the future, of what is distant or absent, can prevail” (Essai sur les femmes).

Friendship between men and women is also a chimera, as this same friend explains, since friendships between the sexes can only be the cover-ups for love, its bastard forms: they “are nothing, or they are the contained, attenuated, weakened, unconscious or, by themselves, modest and quiet expression of a loving feeling.” In this sense, friendship can only be a subtle declension, half-confessed and avowable, which has more to do with pleasant Aristotelian companionship mixed with a fine amorous projection, as is particularly clear with the case of “men who, under the name of friends, are only former suitors, reduced to modesty.” These friendships, while necessary to the flow of a life that occasionally includes moments of entertainment, cannot touch the “deep life,” enriching friends with a consequent contribution. True friendship does not consist in the shameless unveiling of oneself, nor can it accommodate the shenanigans of lies. Worse still, such habitual friendships can provide support for a man’s self-love, as if he were donning “the gaudy garb of the young leading man,” and for the woman, whose power of seduction is always to be tested, among her friends whom she would consciously or unconsciously assimilate to a flock of courtiers. Yet friendship cannot be a place for equivocation: “love has at least that in itself, that one is forced to prove oneself, instead of these so-called friendships being affections without expense.” Bonnard, gathering his thoughts, synthesizes as follows: “Those of our friends whom we love best are perhaps only women we could have loved. By the subtlest of artifices, we delude ourselves into believing that we escape with her from the eternal intrigue of the sexes.”

If friendship between men hovers far above love, friendship between men and women can never fully detach itself from it; in detumescence, it becomes a bastard form of it, while beyond it, an amplification of friendship between a man and a woman can only transmute into love. It is precisely in the bosom of love that friendship between a man and a woman can be fully tasted; so it is no coincidence that, after the developments we have just attempted, Aristotle equates friendship between husband and wife with the aristocratic regime. It is a tribute to love to find friendship in it, for it is a great pity, Bonnard teaches us, that most lovers love each other in order to escape the idea of friendship, and worse still, that most lovers love each other without friendship. Throughout Les Poneys sauvages, Déon portrays “friendly lovers” following a set course: Georges, a traveling journalist, and Sarah, a wandering Jewess, masculine woman, inveterate seductress, delirious soul, eternally elusive. Tenderness is often taken for granted between the lovers, but supreme love cannot do without a deep friendship, woven like a nearby reclining bed around them: “After embracing as if to perish together… after having given each other everything, they were charmed to be able to say everything to each other.” If the human is found at the juncture of man and woman, perhaps the androgynous alone can be resurrected in love, like Tristan finding Isolde, or René and Florence uniting to perfection in Toledo in Comme le temps passe.

Love or friendship, both presuppose an impossible perfect unity, which remains the prerogative of the divine. Bonnard’s conclusion, “true poetry, on the contrary, is to always increase ourselves, without ever being sufficient, and to sink into ourselves without excluding ourselves from the Universe,” echoes Simone Weil’s lines on friendship: “Pure friendship is an image of the original and perfect friendship which is that of the Trinity and which is the very essence of God. It is impossible for two human beings to be one, and yet scrupulously respect the distance that separates them, if God is not present in each of them. The meeting point of parallels is infinity.”

Théo Delestrade writes from France. This articles appears through the kind courtesy of PHILITT.

Featured: Peter Darnell Muilman, Charles Crokatt and William Keable in a Landscape, by Thomas Gainsborough; painted ca. 1750.

Lord of Peace, Give us Your Promised Peace: The Prayer of Father Manuel Musallam

“Lord, may we hear the cry of the victims of conflict, especially today, those voices rising from Gaza. Forgive our deafness, open our ears and hearts to the anguish and distress of our neighbor. And we join in the prayers of our brothers and sisters in Gaza. But you, God, in whom we trust, do not keep your good grace from us. Do not stand so far away”(Psalm 10:1).

Lord Jesus, when You passed through Gaza, fleeing Herod’s threat, we protected You. We fed You. We warmed Your weakened body. Please come back to Gaza and help us. Give us Your promised Peace. Do not forget Your people: 200 Catholics, 3,500 Orthodox, 30 Baptists, 10 Anglicans and a million and a half Muslims.

Have mercy on us, God. Give us peace based on justice, growth and charity. Make us understand these words: “Rejoice in hope. Endure in distress. Devote yourselves assiduously to prayer” (Romans 12:12).

Strengthen us in our distress “so that, through the encouragement we ourselves receive from God, we may encourage those who are in all kinds of distress!” (2 Corinthians 1:4).

Lord, even if we are thirsty for peace and hungry for justice, “who will separate us from the Love of Christ? Shall distress, anguish, persecution, hunger, want, peril, or the sword?” (Romans 8:35).

We are Yours. Save us! Lord of Peace, rain Peace upon us. Lord of Peace, grant Peace to our land. Have mercy, Lord, on all Your people! But do not leave us, Lord, in enmity forever!”


Father Musallam’s message to Gaza and the world…

A Disastrous Decision that will Ruin this Pontificate

The Vatican has just allowed the blessing of irregular couples, homosexuals in particular. A crisis has ensued; and it is only just the beginning. In this short article, I would like to offer a few thoughts on this crisis, as a way of orienting oneself and considering possible options.

I think I am what is known as a staunch Catholic. I do not believe a pope is infallible all the time—but I do believe him (Vatican I) to be infallible when he teaches ex cathedra. I tend to respect his ordinary teaching. With that in mind, the pope’s absolute power is only just, like all absolute power, if it is strictly limited and framed, with absolute respect for the Deposit of Faith and the institutions willed by the Church’s Founder, Holy Scripture and Church tradition as its counterpart. I also understand that we may not always have at the head of the Church a saint who doubles as a genius and triples as a hero. More generally, my piety is not papocentric. And like John-Henry Newman, I like to drink to the Pope, but first to my conscience.

In previous years, I have always had mixed feelings towards Francis, but overall I have tended to defend his positions, attracting the hostility of high-flying Bergogliophobes.

I took the time to read the text carefully, to reflect and to pray. And now, I have to admit, I have lost it. It’s as if I have come to the end of my tether.

Perhaps we are living in one of those exceptional moments in the history of the Church, and its future now depends on the outcome of the discussion, or struggle, that is taking place.

The essential tradition of the Church is concentrated in Scripture, the Word of God. The Bible includes Paul’s epistles. Saint Paul is the major source of all Catholic theology. The most important of these is his letter to the Romans. The first chapter is absolutely fundamental. So, here is how Paul wrote to the Romans to characterize sin in its essence and root:

And they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error (Romans 1:23-27).

These are not very mysterious texts. Even without being a great theologian, or a qualified exegete, one can understand. It is very clear that homosexuality has a particularly close relationship with idolatry and the overthrow of the Glory of God.

With that said, we are all poor sinners whom Christ wants to save. We are all capable of anything. Jesus prefers the lost sheep. He prevents the stoning of an adulteress, but says to her, “Go and sin no more.”

There is nothing of the sort in Cardinal Fernandez’s text.

We understand that there are an infinite number of lost sheep, and it is not a bad idea to try to bring them into the fold with a kind offer, rather than crushing condemnation.

But Saint Paul knew the love of Christ, which surpasses all knowledge, at least as well as we do. And yet, after dwelling on the atrocious mass of sin, he concludes this first chapter with these words:

They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them (Romans 1:32).

Is it contrary to mercy to speak this way? Who are we to judge the Word of God?

Mercy means calling the sinner not to die in sin, not to lose his soul, not to tarnish the glory of God. Is this what Cardinal Fernandez’s text does?

His text is subtle, I agree. But how can we ignore what the simplifying media will say and do with it? Trouble for believers? The scandal for the weakest? How can we ignore the monstrous global LGBT propaganda? That Rome seems to be going along with these perverse, totalitarian monstrosities? What an immense scandal! What an obstacle to the evangelization of the South and East, which can no longer bear the tyranny of a degenerate West!

So, I cannot help but wonder:

Would the author of the 1st chapter of the epistle to the Romans have signed Cardinal Fernandez’s text? Who is Cardinal Fernandez, to tear up the text of Holy Scripture? Does he not understand that the whole world looks on in amazement and wonders: Has Rome lost its faith? Is the Catholic Church still worthy of faith? Is the Pope here to weaken the faith of his brothers? Has Cardinal Fernandez lost all fear of God? Does he have no fear of hell?

A friend told me: “In my doubts, I used to turn to Rome. In my doubts about Rome, where do I turn?”

And he added: “Why stop there? Every criminal association has its values. Mafiosi have a sense of family, loyalty, sacrifice and friendship. They also want, in their own time, to get back on the straight and narrow, and to gently remind themselves that God remains their Father. Eminence, why do you not bless the mafias?”

And he added: “Of course, we do not change the doctrine, but in practice we do the opposite. I cannot express the disgust I feel at this hypocrisy. How can anyone say that this won’t upset anyone? If an educated person like me is troubled, what about the weak-minded person informed by TV?”

And he said in conclusion: “Facts are facts. Either God abandons His Church, or Rome is no longer in Rome.”

What could I say?

And what will I think?

I am told I have a phlegmatic temperament. I tend to consider all hypotheses coldly.

Here are the main hypotheses:

  1. The Pope is super-Christian (A) and his critics are sinister Pharisees (B).
  2. The Pope is ill, slightly senile, not very intelligent, too much of a camarilla, and Fernández has abused his weakness.
  3. The pope is a real pope in full vigor and is joyfully heretical in good faith and freely, although hypocritically.
  4. Bergoglio is not the pope and never has been. He is an antipope, put in place by the powers of this world, who have cunningly organized an orange revolution in the Church. A legitimate pope must therefore be elected without delay.
  5. Bergoglio is a political pope, like Urban II or Julius II, a Machiavellian defender of Church freedom.

That this discussion could even take place at all might seem overwhelming.

If option 3 were true, the question would arise whether to remain Catholic. It is not the most likely.

Option 4 is the most romantic. But conspiracies are not always wrong. However, there are some facts that do not fit the hypothesis.

Option 5 seems the truest, probably, given our current state of knowledge. To be combined with 2 and 1—especially 1 B, because 1 A is not the case. And if Bergoglio is a saint, I have my chances of being canonized, too.

I will now reconstruct the (hypothetical) political reasoning:

The pressure is too great. If we say no to the gays, we will be in trouble, and the clever anti-German maneuvering (we can talk about that later) requires some veering to the left if it is to succeed.

But, of course, we cannot say, yes.

So, Fernandez is asked to give the homos the kiss that kills. He invents an ingenious, theologically-incongruous distinction between first-rate benediction and junk benediction.

And we give homos the junk benediction.

Having thrown them a bone to gnaw on, which the media will turn into a royal feast, they will leave us in peace.

This concoction will go down well, served in a sauce of merciful sentimentality. We cannot rule out the possibility that its aroma will genuinely make the Pope weep with tenderness.

Let us be politicanti. All these LGBT aberrations will soon end along with the power of the West. It is just a matter of time. In the meantime, the power of militant homos to cause trouble must be taken into account. (God knows how much blackmail power they can wield in practice.) The powerful of the world are horribly instrumentalizing poor, grassroots homosexuals. And when the tide of history turns, these unfortunates will be the ideal scapegoats for reaction. So, it is only right to love them, since they will be so much to be pitied tomorrow.

In short, it is worth it to keep our backs to the wall until all these nice people have lost their power. Good Catholics will grumble, but they will stay. There is no explaining it. Intelligent believers must understand that Francis’ word is like Pius XII’s silence.

This kind of analysis may not do Bergoglio any favors, but at least it leaves Peter essentially untouched.

Unless, that is, it is a huge error of governance. This, seen from my window of competence, is indubitable. It ruins the relationship with Islam, bears the seeds of the loss of Africa and the disinterest of Asia, and the bridges will be burned with the Orthodox, while the Evangelicals will have the argument they needed to gain the upper hand in South America. Does Francis want to sink Rome with Washington?

Catholicism needs a pope. Loss of trust now goes hand-in-hand with loss of respect. Tomorrow, the loss of authority will lead to schism, as with the Anglicans.

The Church and the world are decidedly large objects. They do not fit into a too-narrow brain, and global responsibility does not sit well with coffee-shop talk and sub-prefecture Machiavellianism.

We will have to think about that at the next conclave.

In the meantime, it seems clear to me that dismissing Fernandez would be the only way to save this pontificate, which otherwise risks ending in disaster.

Featured: The Vision of Pope Innocent III, by Giotto; painted ca., 1295-1300.

The Synod as Seen by an Ordinary Paris Priest

We don’t know much about the Synod, because we’re not directly involved. We’re out in the field, patiently ploughing through parish life and “smelling the sheep.” We pick up a few scattered rumblings, which are generally met with indifference; but for some they fuel a vague concern, for others the hope of reforms concerning the place of women or the end of a supposedly “rigid” morality. The advent of a “synodal” Church is also presented, at least implicitly, as a response to the crisis of sexual abuse committed by certain clerics. One of the unstated aims of the “synod fathers and mothers” seems to be to deconstruct the authority of the pastor in favor of collective “decision-making processes,” which would destroy the seeds of clericalism, seen as the root of all evil.

To constantly evoke the dangers of clericalism in an almost totally de-Christianized world and a Church bereft of priestly vocations, which has seen a spectacular drop in the last decade (for Paris, the number of seminarians has fallen by over 50%)—isn’t this just shooting point-blank into what’s left of our feet to walk on? We’d like to hear words about the beauty of the priesthood, implore the Lord to send laborers into His harvest, and pray that priests will be good servants of God’s people, rooted in the interior life. ” Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear,” says the Apostle (Eph 4:29). Priests, especially the younger ones, need so much encouragement and consolation in the trials of ministry.

The least we can say is that this synod is not arousing the enthusiasm of fervent young Catholics, who attended very little of the preparatory phase. In Paris, only 14% of participants were between the ages of 20 and 35. The figure speaks for itself. Young people have a thirst for identity and clarity, a desire for formation and a certain flexibility in expressing their sensibilities. They go from the Christian pilgrimage to the Mission Congress, from the Gloria of the Angels to an evening of praise and healing.

In his homily at the opening Mass of the Synod on October 4, which was overshadowed by his responses to the dubia and its many possible interpretations, Pope Francis tried to strike a balance. He wants to avoid making debates over controversial issues too tense, and dismisses both the temptation of “rigidity” and submission to an “agenda dictated by the world.” The Synod is called upon, says the Holy Father, to build “a Church that has God at its center and that, consequently, is not divided internally and is never harsh externally.” He warns against “an immanent gaze, made up of human strategies, political calculations or ideological battles.”

The Church is Not Her own Creator

It’s obvious that behind the scenes at synods and conclaves, worldly strategies, intimidations and seductions are all around us. This is the way of man, and even more so of the ecclesiastical world, which is easily covered by a veneer of Roman charity and unctuousness. We can only agree with the Holy Father’s desire for unity. This does not prevent us from reflecting and offering constructive criticism. “You can take off your hat in church, but not your head,” said Chesterton. Cardinal Fernandez accuses those who criticize the “doctrine of the Holy Father” of heresy and schism (National Catholic Register, Sept. 8, 2023). Strictly speaking, there is no “doctrine of the Holy Father,” but the Catholic faith revealed in Jesus Christ, of which we are the servants and not the masters, whatever the orientations of a pontificate.

Basically, things are simple. Does the truth about faith and morals, the fundamental structure of the Church, the sacramental life, the final ends, emanate from “below,” through a democratic dialogue supposedly “in the Holy Spirit” that finally reaches a consensus? Or is it to be accepted “on our knees” by the Revelation of a demanding love that surpasses us, transmitted in fullness by Christ and borne by the living tradition of the Church, by those who have borne witness to the faith at the price of their blood? The Church is not the creator of herself, and we don’t have to define our own moral criteria, but listen to the Lord’s Law. “Be holy, for I am holy”, says the Lord (1 Pet 1:16).

Nonetheless, it’s true that new issues are constantly arising in the parish, and that they are growing in scope, and that the Church can’t ignore them. For example, the number of “remarried” divorcees, some of whom claim the right to receive Holy Communion, invoking “the spirit of Pope Francis;” homosexual “couples” who ask baptism for an adopted child or a child born through MAR; engaged couples, almost all of whom live in a form of cohabitation; the ignorance, for many who knock on the Church’s door, of the most elementary foundations of catechesis. Priests ordained for a traditionalist community generally have the grace of being surrounded by trained, culturally homogeneous faithful who take care of them and don’t question the Church’s constant teaching. A priest in a de-Christianized parish, following decades of “inclusive” pastoral care based on an unconditional welcome that strives to avoid any “cleavage,” and focused more on the charitable pole than on catechetical formation, doesn’t have the same support. The Church needs all kinds of people. Pastors who take care of families anchored in the faith, and others who are more on the front line in the shifting sands of a “liquid” society where the Church is trying to make its way along a difficult path that rarely avoids trial and error, pitfalls or lapses in judgment.

What Catholic, what bishop, would not be preoccupied by concern for all souls? How much hidden sufferings, buried guilt and wounds we must encounter by listening to and soothing, just as the Good Samaritan poured oil and wine on the man’s wounds and led him to the inn: the image of the Church? But to love all men is also to show them, as they grow, the way to a demanding and holy life in line with the objectivity of goodness.

Don’t Try to Legislate Everything

Rome must leave it up to the pastors in the field to discern the best path to take in the face of the particular cases that arise, and avoid at all costs trying to legislate everything, at the risk of falling into unbearable casuistry and aggravating divisions. The pastoral charity of a parish priest strives to reach out to people in complex or objectively sinful situations, but “love and truth meet” (Ps 84). Giving milk does not mean renouncing solid food, still less maintaining the vagueness of revealed truths, at the risk of creating extreme confusion. Loving all people means recalling their vocation to holiness.

The wisest thing to do is to do good where we are, to keep our spleens in check, and to continue teaching the faith of the Church, taking care of the sheep where they are, with as much pastoral delicacy as possible, but never giving up on leading them to the holy mountain which, as priests, we must climb first in a tireless conversion. Not primarily that of reforming structures by initiating ecclesial “processes,” but that of a heart resolutely turned towards the Lord. Conversion is personal, or it is not. The rest will pass like snow in the sun, and the mountain may simply give birth to a mouse. Let’s hope it doesn’t nibble away at the threads that bind us to the long tradition that comes down to us from the Apostles, and that it leads us to take one more small step towards the Lord of life, who remains eternally, beyond the contradictions of mankind, Master of time and history.

Father Luc de Bellescize is the Curate of Saint Vincent-de-Paul in Paris. This article comes through the kind courtesy of La Nef.

Featured: Fridolin Assists with the Holy Mass, by Peter Fendi; painted in 1833.

Scita Et Scienda: The Dwarfing of Modern Man

Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (1909 – 1999) gave this lecture at Hillsdale College in 1974. He was true Renaissance Man, with expertise in linguistics, theology, history, economics, philosophy, political science and art.

A few years ago a friend of mine, a professor of zoology at an American university, invited several of his colleagues for a little party in my honor. I was curious to know their attitude towards Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, but when I raised that question I received only blank looks. I spelled the name—still no reaction. “Well,” I finally said, “Teilhard was, after all, mainly a paleontologist and his works might not be of direct interest to you, but surely you know those of Pierre Lecomte du Nouy, a biologist. Like Teilhard he also died in this country and his books have been translated into English.” And again the learned assembly shook their heads. I gave up. Now, I do not want to be misunderstood. There was nothing specifically American about this conversation; exactly the same might have happened almost anywhere in the world—nowadays.

When all the guests had left my friend explained. “You must know,” he said, “that these professors are not only unable to coordinate zoology with the neighboring disciplines—paleontology or biology for instance, not to mention philosophy—but neither have they ever acquired a truly comprehensive knowledge of zoology as a whole. Like surgeons at an operation, denuding only a minute part of the patient’s body, they work in their own small, special compartment of science and except for their admittedly very thorough specialized research, nothing really interests them. They watch ball games and TV, read detective stories, play golf and canasta, but that’s about all. Erudition requires an enormous effort, and although it would be of an intellectual interest, it no longer has a practical, least of all a cash value.”

This kind of specialization is found all over the modern world and one of its immediate results is the Hillsdale College Hillsdale, Michigan 49242 Vol. 3 No. 10 October 1974 extinction of the polyhistor, the all-round scholar. Men like William Graham Sumner, or more recently like Roepke and Ruestow, two economists who also were at home in history, sociology, philosophy, theology, geography, politics and the fine arts, are becoming rarer and rarer. As a matter of fact, in many fields of scholarship and research—especially so in the natural sciences—great names appear hardly anymore, since larger tasks can only be accomplished by groups and teams. Prizes and honors are then accredited to an individual merely as a sort of primus inter pares. There still are discoverers, but exceedingly few inventors. The computer gradually takes over large sectors of learning, though not of the humanities, because it is unable to create a new philosophy with a new vocabulary, and so forth. It might be able to replace engineers and chemists, but not Kierkegaard, St. John of the Cross or Rouault. Thus technology, strangely enough, restored a certain hierarchy of knowledge, thought and creative work.

Specialization, however, has other effects as well. While it concentrates a man’s knowledge within restricted areas, it produces in others an increasing ignorance. And this ignorance is growing in an absolute as well as in a relative sense. A theologian-philosopher-scientist on the scale of St. Albert Magnus is quite inconceivable today. Shrinking in width, though gaining in depth, the areas of specialized knowledge are surrounded by fallow wastelands of neglected and abandoned fields of research. This relative ignorance increases inevitably and quite independently of the curse of specialization simply due to the accumulation of “registered” knowledge which the individual mind no longer can cope with.

This applies by no means only to the natural sciences; it occurs in the humanities as well. In theory somebody could develop a new, original philosophy without having gone through either extensive or intensive philosophical studies. The historian, on the other hand, has to deal with the steadily growing volume of stocked knowledge (“on file”). The subject matter grows and grows. Are men like A.J.P. Taylor to be called “historians,” an honorary term formerly bestowed on scholars of the caliber of Macaulay or Trevelyan? However, this decline is not only, nor even mainly due to narrowness, laziness, parochialism, superficiality or to the lack of a universal point of view, but is simply the result of the “practical” and excusable inability to master the Gaurisankar of classified and codified knowledge. Thus today specialization seems—justifiably? unjustifiably?—”realistic” (the great art of limitation!), whereas a universalist outlook unfortunately appears to be amateurish. The alternative seems to lie between “serious limitation” and “irresponsibly unfettered dilettantism.” “Research” today has come to imply narrow specialization.

In order to grasp the fatal proportions of our relative ignorance we have to take another aspect into consideration: the steady “shrinkage” of our globe in regard to subjective distances. In the old days it more or less sufficed to know what went on in one’s own and a few adjoining countries. Before World War I many French professors flatly refused to accept references from foreign sources in the doctorial dissertations of their students. Quotations from “barbarians” were not admitted. An “educated person” (as against a scholar) was judged and evaluated from this rather provincial point of view. But in an age when a jet takes one around the world in less than 24 hours and the daily news contains at least as many items from overseas as from the “home front,” the scholar’s outlook is necessarily directed towards other continents. The American library, the Canadian laboratory, the Australian research center, the badly (or not at all) translated Japanese or Russian periodical—he cannot disregard either of them. In fields of politics and economics, to quote some especially glaring examples, this geographical shrinking process makes even greater, more time-consuming and more expensive efforts necessary. Often we can merely cast a glance at a subject which needs to be studied thoroughly. The abundance of material within the various domains of learning leads or, rather, misleads modern man into a helpless eleaticism, and this in the very age when specialization and “complete” knowledge are trumps.

Thus we are faced with an insoluble dilemma. The desperate attempts on the part of modern medicine not to lose itself in details but to see the patient as an entity to heal, to cure man as a whole, encounters serious difficulties due to the lack of a truly comprehensive knowledge. Here especially the abyss between the scita and the scienda, between what is (generally) known and what should be known, widens from year to year. The result? On the one hand, because it has become indigestible, recorded knowledge is unavoidably more and more neglected and replaced by sheer intuition. One has to guess whenever it has become impossible to know and, therefore, to think rationally. (In medicine the diagnostician often does just that.) On the other hand, authoritarianism grows beyond measure. A layman, even a thoroughly educated one, can only listen in awe to the specialist’s elaborations, just as we listen respectfully to the watchmaker’s verdict about our ailing timepiece and pay grumbling and reluctantly whatever he charges. Gone are the times when an educated person was able to form an opinion on all the subjects that interested him or were necessary for his work. Specialized knowledge can still give strength and freedom in certain instances; thus an otolaryngologist suffering from ulcers still can judge the therapy proposed by a surgeon because, after all, he too has studied medicine. But from a general point of view the increase of accumulated and recorded knowledge also has increased our dependency in so many domains. Our self-confidence is being constantly weakened. Again and again we find ourselves facing a specialist who points out the sanction we incur if we do not follow his—to us, most incomprehensible—orders. Thus a new and outright humiliating fideism is being bred in the very shadow of rationality and scientism.

The result is man’s reduction to a dwarfish slave. The watchmaker who just pronounced a verdict beyond appeal on a customer’s alarm clock trembles before the diagnosis of his ophthalmologist or urologist who again prescribes in “good faith” medications concocted by a team of biochemists. There exist entire chains of “authorities” which, thanks to their individual monopoly of certain fragments within the gigantic complex of accumulated knowledge, exert very definite power in certain areas. This knowledge has become esoteric not only due to an artificial screening, but also due to its colossal volume. For the individual it is available only in part and with great effort. (The time required for a university degree is becoming longer and longer: the average mechanical engineer in Europe is today at least twenty-six, the practicing physician in the United States twenty-eight years old.) School knowledge too is affected by this development. A hundred or a hundred-fifty years ago a boy left school (lycee, Gymnasium) with an adequate fund of “general knowledge.” Today he has managed to grasp only a measly fragment of the scienda, the things he really needs to know in order to rate as an “educated man.” Whoever in the old days understood the working principle of the steam engine or the electromotor today ought to grasp the principles of the atomic reactor or the computer. But does he? Mathematics, philosophy, history and literature also constantly enlarge the body of accumulated knowledge. Homo discens, learning man, is being dwarfed by an immense, if not to say monstrous material.

Only the artist, the man who gives form to ideas and feelings, escapes this process. One can give piano concerts at the age of twelve, write poetry when eighteen and paint pictures not much later. This is possible. But it is interesting to see that today even art has become highly esoteric and subject to Horace’s Odi profanum vulgus. The art of the Middle Ages, of the baroque period, even of the Renaissance was somehow accessible to the average man. But how do most of the contemporary Germans react to the paintings of Marc, Klee, Kandinsky or Feininger? And the average American just managing to comprehend Melville, has he any relations to Robert Lowell or Karl Shapiro? National socialism which must be regarded as a “left” rebellion of the masses, the “regular guys” against all sorts of elites, revolted also against the esoteric character of the so-called “degenerate art” which gave little minds an inferiority complex or filled them with gnawing envy for the “easily earned money” of “infantile paint brush clowns.”

Now, there are two domains which, in theory, should be esoteric due to their great complexity, whereas in practice they are still the layman’s happiest hunting grounds: religion and politics. However, the situation is different in each case because religion has not only intellectual, but also spiritual and psychological aspects. The purely personal element which dominates in religion (as in love, whether we mean Eros or friendship) cannot be rationalized or reduced to mathematical formulas. We all are called to religious life, but not to shoemaking, cooking, race-driving or journalism. Without particular learning we can legitimately hold certain opinions in regard to religion in general, but not on a systematized level, not to theology. We can complain about the pains brought upon us by a serious illness, we can voice our despair or our impatience with the results of the treatment, but this does not give us the right to produce a scientific analysis of our ailment. Most cancer specialists have never suffered from cancer, few ear specialists from deafness. And daily communion does not put one in a position to pontificate about the Eucharistic mystery. In practice, however, the situation is quite different and, curiously enough, theology has. become an intellectual free-for-all. The tendency has always existed, but now the enterprising religious amateur has intrepidly rushed into theology. Atomic scientists will nowadays be pleased to give interviews on theological problems, zoologists lecture about the divinity of Christ and in television we find physicians and biologists dogmatizing about the Immaculate Conception (which they most invariably mix up with Christ’s birth from a virgin). Ignorance does not hamper anybody. On the other hand, a theologian would hardly ever attempt to lecture on nuclear fission, inheritance factors or the origin of thyroid diseases. He knows—or, at least, until recently knew—only too well that in this case scita and scienda are too far apart. (The intrusion of theologians into the fields of sociology, politics and economics, with very little preparation, is a very modern phenomenon.)

Theology, indeed, is a “last frontier,” as D. Riesman conceives this term, but so is politics. Man is doubtless an animal religiosum, but whether he is also a zoon politikon (and not only an animal sociale) is debatable—in spite of Aristotle. He naturally reacts towards political events and decisions and is not indifferent about administrative measures. But whether he has a natural bent to be politically active on the national level is not unequivocally established. On the other hand it is evident that the political systems of our time, either honestly motivated by ideological convictions, or hypocritically and for the sake of propagandistic “managing,” invite or force all adult citizens to go to the polls. Thus one cannot avoid the polls even in a totalitarian dictatorship. In that case, of course, only the most naive voter can harbor the illusion that he has been seriously asked for his opinion.

Things are different in the still free world because there a certain accumulation of votes has usually a decisive impact on the political process. The voter is called upon to consider and judge important questions and to form an opinion about subtle points by voting for or against the advocates of specific viewpoints. He is forced to take sides, to join this or that party, to express preference for one man or the other. This is easily said and often also too easily done.

This procedure was meaningful in the past and still is in narrowly circumscribed areas. The history of democracy in Athens has shown that there the general level of education was perhaps, in a way, sufficient for self-government, but that the passions whipped up by the demagogi (most of all envy!) had disastrous effects. Socrates was condemned to death by the democrats because he ridiculed their system of government and held monarchical views (as we know from contemporary sources). Plato, his disciple, despised democracy, and Aristotle fled from Athens in order to avoid the hemlock cup. On the other hand, direct democracy is successful and impressive even today in certain Swiss Cantons. Thus the citizens gather on the market place of Glarus in order to vote for the various propositions. In this limited framework scita and scienda are still very close. The problems concerning the Canton can be grasped by almost everybody. But this is an exceptional case in the present age.

We have the data of numerous polls in a great variety of countries which prove that the vast majority of the population is utterly baffled by the great problems facing their countries in our day. Their replies to the questionnaires testing their knowledge of current affairs would often be hilariously funny if the implications were not so tragic. However, it must be born in mind that the politics of a larger country (as against a village or small province), not to mention the global ones which directly concern the citizens of large nations, cannot be grasped without thorough preparation. This, in turn, presupposes years of time and money consuming studies far beyond the means of the average voter. True, subconsciously many people begin to suspect that they know less than they should and, in addition, they sometimes have the sinking feeling that their vote is a drop in an ocean. Their votes, as Aristotle a long time ago has stated, are counted and not weighed. The young playboy’s or prostitute’s vote has the same effect as that of a scholar or of an elder statesman. This realization still rarely affects the people in the newer democracies, but does it all the more so in the countries where the voting has been customary for centuries—in the United States and in Switzerland, for example, where now only 68 to 75 percent of the qualified voters go to the polls. In Austria and in Germany participation is way above 90 percent and in the totalitarian tyrannies it is almost one hundred.

The situation is not so very different wherever persons rather than parties are voted for. If the voter’s task facing parties is overtaxing his intellectual equipment, he is humanly helpless when he has to make choices between individual candidates. The demand on his psychological (if not psychiatric) experience is even bigger. In an age of TV and broadcasting a photogenic candidate has a huge advantage over a rather unattractive candidate, the brilliant speaker over a reticent though highly educated and experienced thinker. Undoubtedly a Hitler-type excites the masses far more than a personality like Heinrich Bruning. Here we see the fatal effects of what Ernst Junger once called “the fleeting Eros.” And since the candidates’ wives also appear in television, the male voters too can be emotionally attracted. Here, too, scita and scienda diverge sharply because the intrinsic superficiality of the mass media avoids all depths. “To dislike him properly you have to know him really well,” a disillusioned Republican once said about a Presidential candidate whose main handicap was his shortness.

The discrepancy between scita and scienda appears not only among the voters but also among those who govern. In former times rulers and administrators used to come from those layers who had the tendency to train their male progeny from childhood on for the higher forms of civil service. Promoters of the monarchist system could point out that future monarchs were given a very special education beginning in their infancy and this, together with the initial guidance of their predecessors (often the father or a near relative) enabled them to assume their duties fairly well prepared. In addition, a monarch could learn from experience in the course of many years, whereas in the modern republics a head of government is always suspected of wanting to monoplize all power and when, at long last, he finds his balance and acquires the necessary experience, he is dismissed like an insolent servant and replaced by another amateur who has to start from scratch. Of course, the monarchic system gave no special regard to talent, but is not the ungifted expert preferable to the green amateur? Who will make you a better coat: a bad tailor or a bright endocrinologist? The history of Europe with its steady ascent from 800 to 1918 and its cataclysmic descent from then on gives us without pity the right answer.

Similarly the statesman is more and more frequently replaced by the politician. The Congress of Vienna created a system for Europe which, in spite of certain deficiencies and misconstructions (like the continued partition of Poland), staved off another great war for 99 years. In this connection one also should remember the Paris Peace Treaties of 1919-1920 where rancor, meanness and sheer ignorance celebrated true orgies. At the Congress of Vienna, Talleyrand, the representative of a defeated nation, was allowed to play an important and highly constructive part, whereas in 1919 the German representatives were humiliated and the Austrian ones handled like obnoxious criminals. The Hungarian, Turkish and Bulgar delegates were, of course, given a similar treatment.

What interests us here in the first place, however, is not the purely political or moral aspect of these fateful conferences, but the problem of scita and scienda. At the time of the Vienna Congress the economic factor was not yet generally recognized as of great importance; geopolitical considerations were rare; the psychology of nations was not studied since the masses, the plebs only intermittently became politically active. All nations represented at the Congress of Vienna had more or less only one common ideological enemy: la Revolution, The Revolution, that is to say, nationalistic democracy. This alone united them all in one camp as far as Weltanschauung was concerned. For the statesmen at the Vienna Congress it sufficed to know history, geography, the genealogy of royal families, international law and a few items taken from military science. In addition, one had to be able to move deftly on the slippery parquet of the great salons and to speak French well (the language of the “enemy”), for the mere thought of conducting important and confidential discussions with the help of interpreters would have seemed preposterous (and dangerously inadequate) to everybody.

For a politician of international status today the knowledge held by a Metternich, a Talleyrand, a Castlereah or a Hardenberg would be utterly insufficient. In addition to the informed expertise of the statesmen 150 years ago he ought to be versed in economics, finance, agriculture, mining, religious affairs, nuclear fission, electoral laws, the psychology of nations, party politics and the personal background of his foreign colleagues—a truly encyclopedic volume of information. To all this comes an endless variety of problems due to a shrinking globe! A newly accredited ambassador in Washington now has to call on over 120 heads of foreign missions. And not only the number of politically active countries has increased, international organizations, too, have mushroomed. There is the Red Cross, the UNO, UNICEF, UNESCO, UNIDO, the World Bank, ILO, FAO, NATO, GATT, the European Common Market, Euratom, Comecom, the Warsaw Pact, the OAS, the World Council of Churches, the Council of Europe, the CENTO and SEATO pacts. The world has become immensely complicated and, politically speaking, all information and knowledge pertaining to government must, one way or the other, be integrated. The minister of defense has to know about nuclear fission, the foreign minister about fishing rights, the minister of commerce about gold mining in distant continents, and so forth.

Still, the specific learning of our present-day cabinet ministers and presidents is not greater—although it desperately needs to be so—than that of the statesmen at the end of the Napoleonic Wars: it is, in fact, often vastly inferior. And do not suggest that modern politicians, having been raised to the highest offices through elections or parliamentary procedure, can simply rely on the advice of experts. The effects of such advice on the mood of the electorate has seriously had to be considered, as well as the effects on the coalition partners, if any. But let us, for argument’s sake, assume that a given politician, filled with a sense of genuine moral responsibility, is prepared to proceed according to his best knowledge and without regard to public opinion, perhaps even ready to accept unpopularity and to withdraw into private life after the next elections. If he really wants to listen to the experts, what does he do if the experts disagree? This is frequently the case. How does he get the insight to coordinate the contradicting specialists, to separate the wheat from the chaff? Even the experts are sometimes overwhelmed by the immense material confronting them. How is the politician to cope with the conflicting data offered him by the various experts?

In the case of the peace conferences and treaties one has to add the passions aroused by war (and war propaganda) which render balanced decisions almost impossible. Remember the “Hang the Kaiser!” slogan of a demagogue like Lloyd George who later became a boundless admirer of Hitler. With his catchword he won the Kaaki-Elections of 1918. His ignorance of historic and geographic facts equalled that of Clemenceau and was surpassed by Wilson, a former professor of government at Princeton. Here specialization made itself felt with a vengeance. To this helpless “scholar” with a Messiah-complex, who was thoroughly duped by Italian informants with forged maps, we owe the fact that the South Tyrol is still a political cauldron. (There are some worse contemporary problems too.) After World War II only few formal treaties were signed, but the decisions of Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam are ample proof for the continued decline since 1919-1920. Compared to Roosevelt, Wilson was a sage and a saint, just as the German chancellors in World War I were geniuses when compared to Hitler.

Thus we observe in the present political development twin tendencies which, at first glance, seem paradoxical. On the one hand there is the growing number of experts who, however, are not rarely chosen for all too personal reasons; on the other hand, in democracies as well as in dictatorships, we encounter the rule of the absolute amateur who is at the mercy of experts, provided he does not arrogantly disregard all advice. Thus reason, knowledge and experience are all too frequently neglected. In the desperate dilemma caused by the contradictory suggestions of experts, clear thinking and serious study are rejected in favor of intuition and “prophetic visions.” This leads only very occasionally to the desired goal but in many more cases to disaster. Wilson, Roosevelt and Benes also boasted of their “inspirations,” and we still remember Hitler’s claim to his “inner security of a sleepwalker,” his traumwandlerische Sicherheit. They all had fatally transferred artistic principles to the art of governing. Art, religion and love are generally human, generally accessible, and universal. But, as Goethe already had pointed out, a work of art is complete, perfect in itself, whereas knowledge knows no bounds. Through art (as through religion, through love) man grows, but the realization that knowledge and science are bottomless makes him feel dwarfed. The wise will thus say with Socrates, resigned but calmly: “I know that I know nothing.” Knowledge and science are acquired with enormous efforts, yet they always remain fractionary. One also has to ask oneself whether the dictum that “knowledge renders free” is true to fact or whether it does not rather weigh man down with added responsibilities, make him his brother’s keeper, create a kind of thirst which in this life cannot be quenched. The fulfillment which art, religion or love can give is unknown to mere knowledge.

But—and this is a great “but”—knowledge brings power, or is at least a means to power. And precisely for this reason we have to ask what lies `historically’ beyond the amateurism of the popular intuition-motivated visionaries. Is the rule of experts, who still lack in scienda but represent the scita to a remarkable degree, somewhere in sight? Such a development began in Europe between the 17th and 19th centuries when the monarchs, realizing their limitations (and the increasing importance of the bureaucracies), ruled with the help of specialists. (These, in turn, had to correct subtly the blatant mistakes of diets and parliaments.) Even if today we speak of `statesmen’ we rarely think of truly popular presidents or prime ministers but rather of men who had the confidence of their monarchs and sometimes, to a certain degree, of the elected parliaments, men like Bismarck, Cavour, Witte, Disraeli, Guizot, Metternich, Richeliem, Oxenstjerna, Kaunitz, Pasic, Bratianu, Stolypin, Schwarzenberg.

This phenomenon has largely disappeared in the age of dictatorships because although the dictators need not respect the “will of majorities” they were or are almost all ideologically bound amateurs, which makes them disregard facts) The only exception is the non-ideologic military dictatorship (as in Spain, for instance) which, due to its already basically bureaucratic nature, can enter into a symbiosis with the civil service. What threatens us now in the free world is the premature fading out of our parliaments which frequently resemble low-level debating clubs, the discrepancy between microscopic scita and unassimilated scienda. Power as well as authority is shifted more and more to the ministries—and, of course, also to the trade unions. For the latter the disharmonies between the scita and scienda are not of vital importance. They make things easy for themselves: they are not genuine stewards, they merely claim to represent certain interests; they do not administrate (except if they themselves conduct enterprises); and if they feel no responsibilities toward the common good (which happens), they merely postulate and engage in blackmail.

l When once a student remarked to Hegel, the father of modern ideologies: “But Herr Professor, the facts contradict your theories,” the old gentleman looked down on him through his spectacles. “All the worse for the facts!” was his severe reply.

This growing discrepancy can become—directly or dialectically—a true threat to freedom. The masses might one day lose their self-confidence and their enthusiasm for their amateurish leaders. And the outlook is not much rosier in the case of experts who begin to feel the dormant possibilities for their power and wrangle for positions. Behind the political stages and the still party-oriented cabinets the various braintrusts make themselves more and more felt.

Governments consisting purely of experts would be exceedingly brittle, narrow and merciless. They could rule with ice-cold objectiveness in the name of reason and knowledge. We would thus be ruled “from above” without the patriarchal element and the father-image which characterized the monarchies of old. Against this concept liberal democracy promotes a fatherless “fraternity” and consequently, we only too often get the tyranny of Big Brother. The oligarchy of experts without controls might assume the character of a dictatorship of professors or, at least, of a government of governesses. But eventually it would go to the way of all flesh because of its inability to cope with the abyss between scita and scienda among its own members. Without an effective coordinating center which, I am sure, only a dynasty can provide, it would fall apart into nagging, fighting factions. Only an optimist can manage to regard our political and cultural future with equanimity.

The way to avoid a development which spells catastrophe for our freedom lies in the creation of sacrosanct domains beyond the grasp of power-hungry centralist forces, areas where the individual or limited groups can act freely, because there scita and scienda are still correlated—in the family, the small enterprise, the village, the borough, the county. Yet as far as the big central governments are concerned, we have coldly to face the realities of our technological society, which means an unavoidable increase of the technocratic element and of expertise. Nobody doubts that technocrats must have a high degree of knowledge, experience and even wisdom (which is more than cleverness). It is less realized that they also must have a high degree of character, that they must have virtue, that they have to be good men, which means men capable of love, magnanimity, tolerance, filled with humility in spite of their importance and responsibility. If this is not the case everything will be lost and the most ingenious political design come to naught.

Our freedom, after all, is menaced far more by the totalitarian than by the authoritarian principles. The latter came into being with our first parents, the former was born by the French Revolution. What we must avoid is turning humanity into an ant-heap; instead we ought to create small, individual “kingdoms” which can be governed with reason, understanding and, at least, a modicum of affection. “Where there is no love there is no law.” The tiniest of these kingdoms lies within the four walls of each home. And the thickness of these walls, as Ortega y Gasset has already pointed out, is the measure of our freedom.

This article appears through the kind courtesy of Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.

Featured: Atelierwand (Studio Wall), by Adolph von Menzel; painted in 1852.