Monday, October 17, 2016

God Save Us from the Virtues of the New Civil Religion










"The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered…it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful."- G.K. Chesterton, “Orthodoxy” (1908)


Chesterton was a giant, Even more so in insight than in stature. Though he wrote those words over a century ago, and we have largely transitioned from a modern to a post-modern world, they are still profoundly true today. Humanity does not just need to be saved from our sins, we need to be saved from our virtues. It is our out-of-balance virtues which allow us to self-justify the sins which spring from what our run-away virtues improperly de-emphasize. 

Some examples of these imbalanced virtues: It is good to follow scientific truth as such, but Social Darwinism gives a scientific veneer of truth for the idea that our upper class should forsake charity to our lower class. It is good to be a conscientious steward of the environment. But it becomes a flaw when the young can disregard the often difficult requirement to love their actual and flawed parents so long as they "love the planet." Regard for the feelings of someone whose sexuality is deviant is not wrong, its good. But not at the expense of truth. It becomes a snare if it prompts one to lash out in anger and hatred at people who speak the truth in love about what should be repented of rather than celebrated. 

Today's godless post-modern society is not immoral or without virtue. Rather, it is self-constructing its own false morality and its own contrived lists of sins and virtues to go along with it. The State, in partnership with big business and big religion, is building up a new civil religion which has its own code. This is why those of us who hold to the original Christian morality upon which Western Civilization was built don't understand the self-righteous certainty with which adherents of the new religion revile us. What we see as sin, they see as virtue. It is not that they are lacking virtue, it is that they have redefined virtue un-moored to underlying truth. In their view of things, traditionalists are the sinners. 

Men have gorged themselves with forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Sustained by that fruit they have become "like God", determining for themselves what is good and what is evil. We can not settle the question of which of us is sinning until we answer the question of which of us is operating from a foundation of truth. The question is whether there is a God-ordained moral order to the universe which applies regardless of human desires or whether we can construct our own morality which is as valid as any can be. A morality built on the foundation of the feelings of collective humanity.

The church today cannot speak repentance to the youth because the youth are offended at the idea that they have done anything for which repentance needed. The state controlled media is providing them with a new works-based system of "righteousness". All they have to do is hold the correct viewpoints on whatever issues the popular culture is pushing at the moment and radiate indignation toward those who don't hold them. In the new civil religion that counts for "righteousness." Backed by mass media reassurances, so certain are they of the rightness of their cause that dialogue is weakness. Dissent is disease. Neither is something they are the least bit interested in, other than in shouting them down as a moral good.

But support for their view is not just a PR campaign. They can point to evidence that some things really are getting better. Violent crime is down. Robbery is down. Rape is down. Education is up. Life span is up. People with some kind of health care coverage is up. There is a lot of evidence they can point to which indicates that things are getting better. The new civil religion is, in their view, working. It is building a tomorrow which is better than the past build on the old morality. The new civil religion is "saving" collective mankind.

This is where I must go back to Chesterton. He said that vices are indeed let loose, and they cause damage. But the virtues wrongly applied can cause more damage. It may be that we are less rowdy than we once were, but more venal. Sin has not been eliminated, but rather society has become better at covering up the costs and harm of sin. Has prostitution and rape gone down? Yes, but its not because there is less sexual sin and aggression. We just have access to torrents of pornography now. Objectification of women in our lives may be less because we now have much more access to digital women objectifying themselves. So there is not less sin, but the costs of sin are deflected into areas where the harm is for a time less visible. This will continue to appear to work, until it doesn't.

In the same way, even while we have rejected a view of the poor as created in God's image we have created new ways to care for the poor which masks our growing lack of compassion. We have EBT cards now, so no one has to see soup lines as they did in the Great Depression, We have programs to deal with "those people" now. Just support the programs, and you can consider yourself "moral" even if you have no real affection for any of the real people "served" by them.

Those programs are not even being paid for by ourselves. Instead, we create debt which we pass to the next generation to fund these programs. So we feel no pain in giving. The cost of our "giving" is not felt by us. So things seem to get better, for a time. Someday though, our ability to fund welfare through government debt will vanish. Then we will see how compassionate people are when they actually have to pay for it rather than simply radiate self-righteous indignation at those who challenge the costs and the methods of these programs. Yet as with the other, it will continue to appear to work. Until it doesn't.

Once the professional thief had to go out and take risks to steal. He had to see that he was taking real stuff from real people who were hurt by the loss. The social welfare thief today is not forced to confront any of those risks, and the immorality of his actions is lost in abstraction. He is getting his check from "the government" and they seem to always have money. Or at worst, from "the rich" whom he never has to see as real individual people. Indeed, even if he were to meet a wealthy person in his community which he liked personally, he would not ever have to make the connection that this is who he is stealing from. Voting for the government to rob your neighbor "legally" is a lot less risky, and easier on the decayed conscience, than the old style of theft. It is no wonder the officially measured rates of "theft" have gone down. But this is not because greed, envy, or covetousness has decreased in the least amount. Those things may be worse than ever. But the form of modern society has covered and concealed those sins by interjecting itself between the sinful heart and those hurt by it.

Notice how in all of the examples above the actual condition of the human heart can grow worse while the outward behavior of the human has a less noticeable social impact. It does so because these "solutions" actually weaken our ties to each other and increases our connections to some abstract intermediary such as the state. So we bother each other less because we have less connection to each other, not because our hearts have been made better. Everything in the drive to separate sexuality from commitment and family to separating the generosity of the giver and the gratitude of the receiver does this. And this is not limited to those examples. I sense a repeating pattern in this regard. The new civil religion consistently isolates us from one another so that traditional sin is more effectively covered up rather than repudiated.

For a while, it is going to seem like they have succeeded. Succeeded in building a morality and religion without God. One that reduces outward misconduct compared to the past and produces wealth. But it is all being done on false accounting, even as the pillars of this faith are themselves built on falsehood. Rapidly advancing technology should make life better and produce economic gains. Those advantages are not the results of this new religion, but rather the new religion is garnering credit for momentum built up before it was ascendant.

In the same way the illusion of prosperity is maintained by writing a trillion dollars worth of hot checks on the accounts of the next generation- something past ages of people were less willing to do to the innocent. The present Masters of the World have not invented a system so perfect that no one needs to be good anymore. All they have done is found a way to hide for a time the outward costs of human evil. But the truth will out, and time will tell, what happens to souls and to societies, which are built on the shifting sand of collective consensus rather than the solid rock of transcendent moral truth.





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