Modernity & Great Religious Fiction

But I don’t believe that we shall have great religious fiction until we have again that happy combination of believing artist and believing society. Until that time, the novelist will have to do the best he can in travail with the world he has. He may find in the end that instead of reflecting the image at the heart of things, he has only reflected our broken condition and, through it, the face of the devil we are possessed by. This is a modest achievement, but perhaps a necessary one. — Flannery O’Connor

Come, Hang man! Come, Vulture!

Lewis Mumford on Roman Decadence in his 1961 book ‘The City in History’:

“From the standpoint of both politics and urbanism, Rome remains a significant lesson of what to avoid: its history presents a series of classic danger signals to warn one when life is moving in the wrong direction. Wherever crowds gather in suffocating numbers, wherever rents rise steeply and housing conditions deteriorate, wherever a one-sided exploitation of distant territories removes the pressure to achieve balance and harmony nearer at hand, there the precedents of Roman building almost automatically revive, as they have come back today: the arena, the tall tenement, the mass contests and exhibitions, the football matches, the international beauty contests, the strip-tease made ubiquitous by advertisement, the constant titillation of the senses by sex, liquor and violence—all in true Roman style. So, too, the multiplication of bathrooms and the over-expenditure on broadly paved motor roads, and above all, the massive collective concentration on glib ephemeralities of all kinds, performed with supreme technical audacity. These are symptoms of the end: magnifications of demoralized power, minifications of life. When these signs multiply, Necropolis is near, though not a stone has yet crumbled. For the barbarian has already captured the city from within. Come, hangman! Come, vulture!”

The Collapse of Authority

Over at The Thinking Housewife,

TEXANNE writes:

As Mrs. H. points out in your recent post:  ”Students have no respect for teachers; teachers have no authority over students, and in fact fear them. “

The same can be said for the feminist dad in your recent post.  He seems to believe that it is somehow manly to allow his child to make the decisions, while his role is simply to support her choices — with force if necessary.

The tragic fact of “feminist fathers” (and teachers as buddies) is that so many of them were raised by fathers who themselves had lost moral authority in their own families — having lost connection with their only source of authority, namely The Father.  It is likely that their parents were loving and dutiful and generous, and as children they were raised “correctly”, according to cultural expectations and with a certain degree of respect for parental authority and elders in general.

However, so many fathers (and mothers, too) had been relying on cultural norms of order in the family and the community, and had essentially forgotten how that order came about in the first place.  Thus they were ignorant about what was necessary to maintain it.  Perhaps they had come to believe that mere bonds of affection hold happy, successful families and generations together.  They had completely forgotten where the expectation of honoring father and mother comes from — that it is part of the larger scheme of authority which imposes on the parents a duty of love and obedience to God, that would make them worthy of the honor that their children would then owe to them.

When the adolescent Boomers rose up and questioned authority, their  parents and teachers (those of the “greatest generation”) in positions of authority, had no answer.  All the grown-ups could fall back on was their inherited  power (“because I said so!”) or appeals to tradition (“It’s always been this way!”), neither of which could withstand the challenge:  ”Says who?!”  At that point  the older generation came to recognize that they would have to position themselves “on the right side of history” — so as at least to try to hold on to their children’s affection, if nothing else.

So who has any moral authority today?  Not parents. Parents worry about their children and help them.  They do not lead them — or they train and point them towards some abstract “success”.  Adults use children (as accessories and as human shields) and woo them, and teach them that autonomy and power are the keys to happiness and recognition.

As Mrs. H. points out, teachers and professors have no authority.  Just like the parents, their ability to hold the class together rests tenuously on the consent and affection of the students.  After all, the curriculum reflects and reinforces the culture:  Equality and autonomy are both the medium and message in the relentless pursuit of utopian democracy.

So it goes with all in whom authority at one time resided.  Politicians and entertainers gain power through seduction, the government, through seduction and force.  The so-called Rule of Law?  As Justice Scalia has noted, this authority has been eaten by the idle musings of Justice Kennedy in the infamous “sweet-mystery-of-life” passage — dicta which now serves as basis for arguments before the highest court in the land:

“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” (Planned Parenthood v. Casey)

And with that, Justice Kennedy rendered himself and his court meaningless. If each man has (or IS) his own god — then who is Justice Kennedy to judge?  We are now living in the moral vacuum where ideology and sentimentality rush in — the consequences of which Dostoevsky was urging us to see:

“If there is no God, then everything is permitted.”