The Enlightenment: Stripped and Naked We Die

Only answer to the Enlightenment
With gratitude to BellatorDei

Stripped and naked, we die.

Were you to ask me, Lector, for a five word précis of my last entry at this weblog, I doubt I could do much better than that.

For the point of that entry was that the fruits of the Enlightenment had left us stripped, stripped of the very things needed for our survival.

These include but are not limited to, a realism about the deep brokenness of the human condition and a realism about what is needed for its healing, which involves That Which far transcends Rationalism (or dependence on reason alone, a primary fruit of the Enlightenment).

The Enlightenment – the very name presupposes a certain dismissiveness, does it not, if not outright contempt?

For it presupposes that the age preceding was one of ignorance and darkness. And outright contempt can certainly be seen explicitly in many of the Enlightenment thinkers. One need only think of Voltaire …

Of course, the age of Enlightenment did bring forth a certain scientific light. As reason was used to arrive at many forms of knowledge which have yielded enormous materialistic and utilitarian advantage – at least short-term advantage.

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But what if this kind of Enlightenment is really very, very paltry to the True Enlightenment which was born in Israel? It seems to me that the English Romantic poet William Blake saw very clearly in this regard:

Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau:

Mock on, mock on: ‘tis all in vain!

You throw the sand against the wind,

And the wind blows it back again.

And every sand becomes a Gem,

Reflected in the beam divine;

Blown back they blind the mocking Eye,

But still in Israel’s paths they shine.

The Atoms of Democritus

And Newton’s Particles of Light

Are sands upon the Red Sea shore,

Where Israel’s tents do shine so bright.

Yes, it seems to me that Blake understood indeed that the celebrated gains of the Enlightenment were paltry indeed in comparison to That Which Israel brought forth …

Yet now these paltry grains of sand constitute more than any of us can easily conceive, the very foundations of our society, a society which it seems to many at least, is incapable of ordering itself to any Higher Order other than (short-term) material benefit.

Lacking any Higher Order, I have friends, good friends, who believe we are dying as a society. One of them, as I say, compared us to a Death Cult. From my own Catholic perspective – so different to his! – how redolent his choice of words is. They are redolent indeed of what Ven. John Paul II called “The Culture of Death”.

And more, the very word “Cult” implies Religion. And here my friend´s nomenclature seems apt as well. We are caught in the Cult of Materialistic Religion, with Materialistic Tenets, Materialistic Practices and Materialistic Collective Rituals. (Such as a shopping spree at a gigantic mall, stripped of natural light and beauty and geared to the bottom line …).

Another old friend of mine looked in bemusement at my conversion to Catholicism. Or so it seemed to me. And he said words to the effect that I had joined an “ism” – something which evidently held a pejorative connotation for him.

He was I think surprised, when I retorted that he seemed no less within an “ism” than myself. And I will add here – trapped in an “ism” – for he did not even seem to know he was in an “ism”! And if you do not know you are in an “ism”, there can little hope of choice.

And so it seems to me that there are so few of us who see the dominant “isms” of our society for what they are.

Because they have become all too normal to us, we fail to realise we are buying into secularism, utilitarianism, functionalism, materialism, the many branches of a tree one might do worse than call: Enlightenment-ism.

And if one of us should step outside the gigantic “isms” of our epoch and convert to Catholicism, it is he and not us who has got himself entangled in another of these “isms”.

There is a work I see which must be done. We who belong to this “ism” Catholicism must work to counter the notion that somehow the rest of society is not caught in its own “isms”.

The tenets of the faith in rationalism, utilitarianism, scientism must be made conscious. At least then, when one is conscious one is subscribing to a certain “ism”, one can choose freely and consciously choose that “ism” – or not. But if one is not at least conscious of belonging to the dominant “isms” of our day, there can be no freedom to opt-out.

As a small example of this work to be done, I have started in the section of Reviews to give attention to movies which can serve to generate awareness that the current kind of “ism” dominating the Anglo-American world (which now dominates all the rest, of course) is not the only kind of “ism” we have available to choose.

For a film of Catholic France or even a film of Catholic Ireland of not so very long ago can serve to remind us of different alternative Orders on which to build a society. We need whatever can serve us to break free of the idea that the Current Ordering Principles of materialist society are the only Ordering Principles which we have available to us.

For bereft of alternative ordering principles, stripped and naked, we die.

I hope this little précis also serves to invoke a feeling of pathos. For a feeling of pathos about all of this, we certainly need if we are to have any hope at all.

We must pray to feel this pathos with our hearts what it means for those trapped in the modern “isms” of our day. Feel, really feel and not simply rage or rant. And here I think the spirituality of His Sacred Heart has relevance indeed.

Hope I said. Is there hope? Personally I have hope, even if I have lost any hope at all that an ultimately sustainable civilisation can be built on secularist-Enlightenment foundations.

But yes I have hope and one thinker I have referenced often here gives me hope. I speak of Valentin Tomberg who served to point out most clearly for me, the unsustainable nature of the “isms” at the bedrock of our current structures.

But as I have quoted him here before, he points out so capably while great currents of Western culture were running wild with the Enlightenment, there was another current who held to the world conception which had prevailed before the Enlightenment:

Only one part of divided humanity (divided into states, races, nations and classes) remained loyal to this common conception of the world, however and continues to maintain it across the globe: It is the Catholic Church, as the sole carrier and caretaker of ‘Christianity´s’ tradition in the present and as the most universal representative of humanity’s Christian ideals today.

Valentin Tomberg, The Art of the Good
Books from Roger Buck

Foreword for Monarchy by Roger Buck

Classics from Valentin Tomberg

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2 responses to “The Enlightenment: Stripped and Naked We Die”

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  2. […] again to quote Valentin Tomberg from last time: “only one part of divided humanity … remained loyal to the [previous world] conception. It is […]