The secular West has got a bad case of the staggers. And if I might engage in a little bit of cultural appropriation of my own—which is almost as bad as selling burritos in Portland while white—I would like to take a comment by Chesterton, jigger it just a bit, and then apply it to our current malaise. Chesterton said something to the effect that if you do not stand for something, then you will fall for anything. Applied to societies like ours, societies with the soul sucked out, I would say that a culture that doesn’t stand for something will fall to anything.
A Culture with AIDS
The recent attacks in London were breathlessly reported on one news channel as a monumental problem. “Saturday attack in London a tipping point in a campaign to destroy the West.” To this one commenter said, in effect, really? The West has gone through a couple world wars, worse terrorism than this in the 70’s, not to mention the Cold War, and now we have reached the tipping point? After all that, we somehow cannot handle “a van and two guys with machetes”?
And of course the commenter has a point if he is comparing threat to threat, attacker to attacker, and danger to danger. But if he has missed the point entirely—as he has—he fails to compare the cultures under attack. He is not comparing the culture that fought the Second World War to the culture that is responding to these current threats. The residents of London withstood a withering bombing campaign by the Nazis with courage and aplomb; we answer the terrorists with teary candlelight vigils, mounds of Teddy Bears propped up against gates, and blathering PC nonsense from our elected officials.
A man whose immune system has collapsed can’t laugh off what years before—back in his robust days—would have been just a minor infection. The fact that he blew through a bout of pneumonia thirty years ago is irrelevant. What his immune system was like thirty years ago is not to the purpose. We need to know what his immune system is like now. This is because the threat is not the threat. The state of the immune system is the threat.
So the issue is not whether the West has ever faced greater threats. Of course we have—much greater threats. But that is a different question from whether we have ever been in as great a danger. We are in great peril, not because the threat is so much greater, but rather because we are so much weaker.
The Optical Illusion
But what do I mean by weaker? I am talking about our spiritual weakness. When it comes to understanding the meaning of our lives, the meaning of society, we are a worldview stretcher case. When it comes to teleology, purpose, direction, focus, we are a couple of toddlers lost in the middle of a Mirkwood straight out of a Grimm brothers’ nightmare.
So I am not referring to the throw weight of our missiles. I am not talking about how many aircraft carriers we have. This is not a reference to our scientific achievements, which have been remarkable. Our economy in the West is a colossus, and the American economy is bigger than that. We are certainly richer than all get out, but as someone once asked, what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? A man cannot live on bread alone, and neither can the nations of men.
So when people lose their soul, they lose the thread. They lose the point. They lose it. Because man was created to have a purpose, he cannot function without it. Trying to function without it—as we are currently trying to do—is an exercise in trying to lose our minds.
Now all this has happened because we have extracted Christianity from our body politic—we have sought to remove all traces of the Lordship of Christ from any kind of public recognition. And the bills are coming due. We are starting to face the stark reality that it is Christ or chaos, Christ or the void. Our collective will doesn’t like this very much, but as Flannery O’Connor once put it, quite trenchantly, “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”
Such an operation of Christianity extraction is no small thing, like we got a haircut, or trimmed our nails or something. No, the removal of Christianity from the laws, customs, standards, constitutions, and foundational narrative of the West has been more like the removal of the skeleton. All the bones have been taken out, and although the mass of our flesh is still there, it is a quivering, shapeless mass, resembling a bean bag chair that is trying to get away from a nameless predator.
We have no structure any more. We have no shared creed. We do not know what we are here for. It makes no sense to speak of our inherited “shared values,” or better yet, “core values.” If they are arbitrary, shared values are worthless. If they are arbitrary, core values are simply located where our intestines are, and are full of the same thing.
So a culture that does not stand for something will fall to anything. And this is because somebody else with a different brand of “shared values” will come along and say that they like blowing up little girls at concerts. They like driving vans into pedestrians. They like watching the candlelight vigils afterward. They like measuring how bloodless and desiccated and lame our responses are. They like watching us not having a clue. Why wouldn’t they?
Collectively, we have no God. The ramifications of this are simple. We have absolutely no way to answer the most basic questions. Why are their “shared values” inferior to ours? They prize suicide bombings. We prize sex change operations. They prize one kind of genital mutilation and we prize another another. Tomato, tomahto. So we need to answer the questions.
But do not give us any crap about “the West.” Without Christ, the West is just a datum in geography. And without Christ, it will not be long before the secularists are saying that the West is whatever self-identifies as West, and this even includes the East, which means that Kipling was wrong. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Meaningless Is as Meaningless Does
So what is the official line? What is the foundation of our social order? Why should we organize ourselves in the way we do? Why should our values be obligatory for anyone? What gives us the right to call our values values? Isn’t that imperialistic?
We are, according to the toffs who run everything these days, the end product of so many millions of years of mindless evolution. We are a blind concatenation of countless atoms, cascading down through endless years, to no particular end or purpose. Nothing has a point. There is no telos, no shared purpose. Human life is just another device—which evolved in the days before refrigeration—for keeping meat fresh.
Imagine there’s no heaven—easy if you try. Above us, only sky. And if the only thing above us is sky, this means that Macbeth was right—history is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. If there is no arche, no integration point for all things, then nothing ties together. And if nothing ties together, then—follow me closely here—it can’t be tied together. If nothing coheres, then individuals and groups are absolutely free to come up with their own ad hoc approaches, however destructive others might feel their approach to be. And feel is the right word. One set of chemical reactions occur when other chemical reactions disturb the equilibrium. So what? It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t signify.
So when some troubled kids in some Agnostic Factory go “off the rails,” and shoot a bunch of their classmates, this should not be taken as a signal for everyone to start wailing about the need to hunt for “root causes.” The root causes are to be found in the curriculum of the damned school. Who taught these kids? Who taught them that there is no God or, failing that, if there happens to be some kind of a god, his existence is irrelevant to whatever we might be doing here in the classroom. And if this petty-god’s existence is irrelevant to what we say or do in the classroom, a dismayed society is going to rapidly discover that the boundaries of propriety are far more elastic than they had assumed going into this new regime. They thought that banishing God from the classroom would result in a free exchange of ideas, not to mention the freedom to have the kids read Catcher in the Rye. Liberal nostrums from a generation ago are so cute. Little did we anticipate the penchant many would show for Lord of the Flies instead. What banishing God from the classroom has actually resulted in has been murderous rampages in the cafeteria and the English teacher bonking her students after hours.
I am not saying that back before we banished God from our public discourse there were no outrageous crimes. There certainly were. But when they occurred, we all knew what we thought about them, and more importantly, why. We knew that the God of Abraham had prohibited such things, and that was the end of the story. We did not spiral down into epistemic confusion, muttering things about “different perspectives.”
So the next time some meaningless bits of protoplasm cause some other meaningless bits of protoplasm to reassume an earlier stage in the meaningless cycle of life, perhaps we should not rush to condemn them. Perhaps we should award them for their murder/suicide performance art. Give them a posthumous diploma—here were the only students in the entire school to pick up on the ramifications of what the school is actually teaching. Finally, someone following the arguments.
A Hot Knife through Butter
And this brings us back to the threats of radical Islam. The issue is not whether a van and two guys with machetes are stronger than all of our assembled might. Of course they are not. But the point is that our society does not have a unified direction or point, and on top of that, we have all of us pretty much noticed this fact. And what that means is that our enervated society has no real reason to rise to its own defense. We cannot articulate to ourselves what we do not possess. And if we do rise to our own defense, we manage to make our displays of strength just as pointless as everything else is. If we send our ships far enough east in the Mediterranean, we could fire our Tomahawks in pretty much any direction. Whatever else it is, that should count as a show of strength. Flexing on the lip of the Void is no more impressive than wailing on the lip of the Void.
We have no direction, no eschatology. Our politicians do promise to build bridges to “the future” (as though there were anywhere else to go), but the nature of that promised future is shapeless and ill-defined. This is all done under the banner of progress (with that word undefined as well), but maybe it means that we will build machines with sharper blades that can chop babies up into smaller pieces faster. Maybe we can continue to develop this promising new religion that worships the weather gods of the next century.
You say there is no God. Deal with it.
If the official line of the West is that there is no transcendent reality that defines our lives for us—and that is our official line—then Muslim radicals will continue to feel free to dash about among us, running a real time reductio that illustrates just how LAME we are. How lame are we? If the theology of the secular West were any lamer, it would take about thirty Benny Hinn assistants to get us up to the stage for our show healing.
There is no salvation for us without a Savior. It is Jesus or nothing. It is Christ or more of the same. It is Christ or the Abyss. It is Christ or damnation. And shoot, we are so far gone that this paragraph is controversial to the Christians.
We are a busy place, with a lot going on. We have malaise, and we have ennui. We have our advanced stages of decrepitude. The paint is peeling off. To say “a lot is going on” is to say that the deterioration is proceeding apace. But underneath all of it, we find that the bottom layer is the fundamental fact that we don’t know who or what we are, we don’t know why we are here, and we don’t know where we are going. Other than that, everything is fine.
The bedrock reality for modern man is ultimate meaninglessness—and what an awful thing to have that for bedrock. Bedrock that is vapory, watery, unstable, and prone to random disappearances. In fact, bedrock is the wrong word. When we get down to the bottom layer of our lives, we find that there is no bottom layer—because, as the prophet of Patmos taught us, the pit is bottomless.
If every human being were a little bit of confetti, and we threw billions of them into the bottomless pit—why that image? oh, I don’t know. Maybe we swept them up after a gay pride parade or something, and needed a place to put them—each bit of confetti could float downward forever and ever. They are all floating the same direction. Let that serve for the bedrock. Let that direction be your constant.
Some, like Sartre, want us to roll our own meaning. The abyss is yawning in front of us, so we should just choose to act “in good faith.” Why should we? What the hell does he mean by good? Whatever else might be done while prancing along the rim of an infinite Void, casting your anchor in there is not one of them.
The Hand of God on Us
None of this is happening by accident. God sees exactly what we are doing.
“Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord; how much more the hearts of the children of man!” (Proverbs 15:11, ESV).
Not only does He see what we are doing, He sees what He is doing.
“Stay yourselves, and wonder; Cry ye out, and cry: They are drunken, but not with wine; They stagger, but not with strong drink. For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, And hath closed your eyes: The prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered” (Is. 29:9–10).
And we also need to see what we need to ask for.
“Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; Renew our days as of old” (Lam. 5:21).