When the Lord was taken down from the Cross, the Cross remained on Golgotha, and then it was thrown into the pit that was in that place, where this instrument of execution was usually thrown, together with other refuse. Soon Jerusalem was razed and all of its edifices were leveled to the ground. The pit containing the Cross of Christ was also filled over. When the pagans rebuilt the city (the Jews were forbidden to come near the place where it was), it happened that on the place where the Cross of Christ was hidden, they placed an idol of Venus, the pagan Goddess of fornication and all manner of lusts. This is what the enemy suggested to them. This is how it is with our inner cross. When the enemy destroys the spiritual order in the soul, this is our mental Jerusalem, and then the spiritual cross is thrown down from the Golgotha of the heart and is covered over with the garbage of the affections and lusts. Lustful self-pleasure then rises like a tower over all our inner peace, and everything in us bows down to it and fulfills its commands until grace shines upon us, inspiring us to cast down the idol and lift up the cross of self-crucifixion.
-St. Theophan the Recluse
As I argued in the my previous two articles, at the heart of modernity lies the rejection of the Cross . There is nothing which this world hates more than the Cross. There is nothing which is more wholly antithetical to everything which this world believes and holds dear. Thus it has always been, thus it is now, and thus it shall remain until that time comes when there “will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn.” Let us be attentive to the words of Scripture: at the end of history, they will mourn… but up until that time, all the tribes of the earth will jeer and mock, just as they jeered and mocked when they first crucified the Lord of Glory.
We Christians know (at least we ought to know) that the Cross means death — our death, as St. Paul wrote: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” But how often do we forget that the Cross also means the scorn and ridicule of an uncomprehending world! Let us recall the further exhortation of St. Paul: since Christ “endured the Cross, despising the shame,” he urges each one of us to “consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” And in another place: “For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.”
Not without reason did the Apostle Paul write that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.” What could be more foolish, nay rather, what could be more offensive in the eyes of the world — a world fixated upon finding micro-aggressions in every glance or word or pause, and whose universal truths are dictated by the professors (or should I say prophets?) in the Grievance Studies departments — than to champion a way of life which not merely endures but even embraces one’s own suffering, humiliation, abuse, degradation, persecution, torture, and death?
Let us make no mistake: it is precisely to this — and to nothing else whatsoever — that each and every Christian is called in this life.
For many long centuries, the West (at least superficially) honored the Cross, and Him Who was crucified upon it. And so for many long centuries, it was easy for Christians to forget that “friendship with the world is enmity with God,” and that “whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” It was easy to forget that it is absolutely impossible to be a Christian anywhere in the world except upon the Cross. It was easy to believe that it was possible to have the best of both worlds: to lead a happy and respectable life in this world, and then to waltz comfortably into eternal bliss in the Kingdom of Heaven.
It was easy to believe in a Christianity without the Cross.
It is possible to discern the beginnings of such “Christianity” in the development of Western theology: Anselm and his followers (Aquinas and Calvin being among the most prominent) held to a theory of satisfactory atonement, wherein Christ endured the Cross principally in order to satisfy the demands of divine justice. But in such a theological framework, there is no longer any particular need for Christians to take up their own Cross as well: God’s justice having been already satisfied, there remains nothing left to accomplish other than our individual assent to being forgiven. Salvation is not a matter of personal participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (nor of participation in His Precious Body and Most Pure Blood), but rather a mere legal proceeding, effected by means of intellectual assent to a set of certain propositions.
This is not to say that all Western Christians immediately left off any attempt to live a life of piety as soon as Anselm put down his pen — far from it. But nevertheless, the seeds of another Gospel had been sown. Gradually the Cross became not a way of life, but rather a lifeless symbol, a mere reminder of a historical event long since passed. Over the course of many centuries, the Cross became unnecessary, and thus forgotten. It was again left somewhere in a pit in Palestine, covered over with years of dust and dirt and soil and grime.
And slowly — but inexorably — the world built anew the foul temple of Venus, on top of the hill at the center of the universe, over the place where Christ gave life to the dead and deification to mankind.
Her temples are everywhere now: on every billboard, every magazine rack, every commercial, and especially on the screens that we each carry everywhere in our pockets, every single day of our lives (in 2016, the average age for a child to own their first smartphone was 10… and, coincidentally, the average age at which a child was first exposed to pornography was 11).
And just as it was no accident that the Romans built a temple to Venus on top of Golgotha, so also it is no accident that nearly every attack on Christianity in today’s culture has something to do with sex. There is no more powerful goddess than Venus; she brought down Troy, and she brought down Christendom. That, at least, is the conclusion some scholars have begun to reach: after examining the data, sociology professor Mark Regnerus put it quite simply: “It’s not science that’s secularizing Americans — it’s sex.” Mary Eberstadt has argued convincingly for the same conclusion.
In the last article ever published before his death (coincidentally, on the topic of our “rights”), C. S. Lewis made the following observation:
It is part of the nature of a strong erotic passion—as distinct from a transient fit of appetite—that makes more towering promises than any other emotion. No doubt all our desires makes promises, but not so impressively. To be in love involves the almost irresistible conviction that one will go on being in love until one dies, and that possession of the beloved will confer, not merely frequent ecstasies, but settled, fruitful, deep-rooted, lifelong happiness. Hence all seems to be at stake. If we miss this chance we shall have lived in vain.
Another British thinker, Malcolm Muggeridge, put it this way: “Sex is the only mysticism materialism offers, and so to sex the pursuers of happiness address themselves with an avidity and dedication seldom, if ever, surpassed.”
The power and promise of sex is only amplified by the modern epidemic of loneliness which has been brought about by the near-universal triumph of the Revolution over all traditional institutions and communities. Not only do we live in an age of materialism, as Muggeridge noted, but we also live in an age of individualism, of consumerism… and of romanticism. From our earliest childhood, we are raised with fairy tales of romance and love — and even if we no longer insist upon the “happily ever after” part, nevertheless we are inculcated with the belief to which Lewis gave voice in his article: “all seems to be at stake. If we miss this chance we shall have lived in vain.” We ought not underestimate the power of these stories which surround us on every side, and which we hear in every song; as Francois La Rochefoucald once remarked, “there are some people who would never have fallen in love if they had not heard there was such a thing.”
Due in large part to our unshakeable faith in such stories, any insistence on traditional sexual morality seems to be not merely arbitrary, but even cruel. To put any restraint at all upon a person’s sexual desire (other than the stipulation of consensuality — and even that restraint has been called into question) is seen as tantamount to condemning that person to a life of misery and loneliness. The cult of Venus, and the precepts thereof, are rarely blasphemed in today’s culture.
But something even more insidious has also happened: adherence to traditional sexual morality is seen as not only cruel, but also hateful. The condemnation of certain desires, or behavior based upon those desires, is seen by our culture as no different than the condemnation of each person who experiences such desires (although it must be admitted that the attitudes and behaviors of some of us Christians, the extremes of which are typified by Westboro Baptist Church, have by no means been blameless in this, and must surely be repented of). To put it plainly, to say that one disapproves of homosexuality is translated by our culture to mean: “I hate all homosexuals.” Though true Christianity disapproves of homosexuality precisely out of love for those who experience that temptation and who bear that cross, the fact that our culture is unable (or unwilling) to grasp this distinction is a clear sign of the widespread adoption of the new anthropology of Antichristianity which I previously identified: that, in essence, we are our desires.
Take, for example, the common sentiment of Christians who seek to reconcile their faith with modern sexual dogma: “God made us just the way we are, and He loves us just the way we are, therefore we should accept and embrace ourselves just the way we are.” Even leaving aside the fact that such a line of reasoning could be used to justify literally any passion or sinful desire imaginable, it is obvious that there is an implicit identification between the “us” which God loves and therefore approves, and the specific desire which has been called into question.
Here the Devil has won his ultimate victory: mankind no longer believes that his true self, his fundamental identity, is the image of God within him, but rather identifies his true self merely with his appetitive faculty — and moreover, his appetitive faculty as it exists in his present fallen condition. This anthropological vision — essentially defining man as consumer — has been deliberately and insidiously inculcated in us by the demons, and by our society (in large part using the principles of Freudian psychology, as documented by Adam Curtis in his astounding series The Century of Self).
To put it more starkly: mankind has now been deceived into believing that his passions are his very self. On such a view, salvation is not merely extraordinarily difficult, but even intrinsically oppressive. The Christian vision of life has been diabolically transformed from the voluntary laying down of one’s own life out of love (thus leading mystically to our resurrection, in union with Christ), into a bigoted and narrow-minded worldview which desires nothing other than the enslavement of all humanity by a petty and tyrannical God.
Lewis himself predicted just such a result at the conclusion of his aforementioned article, first published in 1963:
Though the “right to happiness” is chiefly claimed for the sexual impulse, it seems to be impossible that the matter should stay there. The fatal principle, once allowed in that department, must sooner or later seep through our whole lives. We thus advance toward a state of society in which not only each man but every impulse in each man claims carte blanche. And then, though our technological skill may help us survive a little longer, our civilization will have died at heart, and will—one dare not even add “unfortunately”—be swept away.
Those are the last words he ever published in his life.
“Our civilization will have died at heart.” What did he mean? To answer this, it is necessary to turn to what is perhaps his most significant work, The Abolition of Man:
“I am… making clear what Man’s conquest of Nature really means and especially that final stage in the conquest, which, perhaps, is not far off. The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself. Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man. The battle will then be won. We shall have ‘taken the thread of life out of the hand of Clotho’ and be henceforth free to make our species whatever we wish it to be. The battle will indeed be won. But who, precisely, will have won it?…
To some it will appear that I am inventing a factitious difficulty for my Conditioners. Other, more simple-minded, critics may ask, ‘Why should you suppose they will be such bad men?’ But I am not supposing them to be bad men. They are, rather, not men (in the old sense) at all. They are, if you like, men who have sacrificed their own share in traditional humanity in order to devote themselves to the task of deciding what ‘Humanity’ shall henceforth mean. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’, applied to them, are words without content: for it is from them that the content of these words is henceforward to be derived. Nor is their difficulty factitious. We might suppose that it was possible to say ‘After all, most of us want more or less the same things—food and drink and sexual intercourse, amusement, art, science, and the longest possible life for individuals and for the species. Let them simply say, This is what we happen to like, and go on to condition men in the way most likely to produce it. Where’s the trouble?’ But this will not answer. In the first place, it is false that we all really like the same things. But even if we did, what motive is to impel the Conditioners to scorn delights and live laborious days in order that we, and posterity, may have what we like? Their duty? But that is only the Tao [Lewis’ term for the law of nature], which they may decide to impose on us, but which cannot be valid for them. If they accept it, then they are no longer the makers of conscience but still its subjects, and their final conquest over Nature has not really happened. The preservation of the species? But why should the species be preserved? One of the questions before them is whether this feeling for posterity (they know well how it is produced) shall be continued or not. However far they go back, or down, they can find no ground to stand on. Every motive they try to act on becomes at once a petitio. It is not that they are bad men. They are not men at all. Stepping outside the Tao, they have stepped into the void. Nor are their subjects necessarily unhappy men. They are not men at all: they are artefacts. Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man.”
We are indeed witnessing today this final stage in mankind’s war against nature, against the givenness of God’s reality. If you think I’m exaggerating, just read the New York Times. Recall the words of Justice Anthony Kennedy in Planned Parenthood v. Casey: “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.”
In other words, truth and reality themselves are now believed to be merely oppressive power structures, unlawfully abrogating our inherent right to freedom, if they do not bend and acquiesce to our every whim.
In such an Orwellian world, truth is the only heresy; the only sin in which the modern world believes is to assert that there is anything or anyone to whom a human being ought to bow down. In such a world, obedience is inherently pathological, a betrayal of one’s authenticity and even of one’s very self.
But for the Christian, obedience is life. The one who is not obedient is not yet truly human, as it is written: Christ “being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
Having stretched out our hands to seize the forbidden fruit which we desired, we fell from grace and lost the Paradise which we have ever afterward sought to build again for ourselves.
But no merely earthly paradise can ever satisfy our hearts. Only through obedience can we find freedom. Only through death can we find life. Only through the Cross can we find resurrection. And only through asceticism can we ever find that which we all truly desire: deification, theosis, union with God Himself through Christ Jesus our Lord, to Whom be honor and worship, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Thank you for another enlightening commentary on this subject matter Father Gabriel.
I’m having trouble understanding the extract you quoted from C.S. Lewis ‘The Abolition of Man’. If it isn’t too much trouble, can you please elaborate in more simplified words the part on the Conditioners and their agenda? I fear that part when straight over my head of comprehension. Note: I have not read Abolition of Man but have of it in passing in various talks/blogs.
Thank you Fr.
I think that what Lewis is saying amounts to this: the modern elites of our culture are claiming the power to define (or rather redefine) humanity as they see fit, totally unconstrained by any sort of object truth or nature or anything of the sort. As Lewis says, they say we are “free to make our species whatever we wish it to be.”
But once we have thrown out all standards for what human beings are or ought to be, Lewis is arguing that we have ceased to be human beings at all. We are something else. It’s like the difference between an angel and a demon: once they stepped away from God, the fallen spirits were no longer angels at all. Similarly, if human beings were actually to eradicate the image of God from within themselves, they would no longer be human, because that’s what a human being actually is: a man or woman made in the image of God.
Does that make sense?
Absolutely makes sense, thank you Fr.