My most recent article in this series advanced a rather grim argument: that modern man, having rejected the Cross and having pathologized obedience, has thereby not merely renounced his own humanity, but has even begun to make war openly upon it. The traditional Christian understanding of what it means to be human — to be formed in the image and likeness of God — is now considered by our culture to be not merely incorrect but actively oppressive.
To believe as Christians (and indeed, as all traditional religions) do — that human beings have a higher calling and a greater destiny than the mere gratification of personal desire — is now no longer seen as ennobling, but rather as intrinsically bigoted. Urged on by the insidious and ubiquitous propaganda of consumerism, we identify with our impulses, preferences, and whims to such an overwhelming extent that any call to master our desires is perceived as nothing less than a hate-filled assault upon our very selves.
But by no means must we make the fatal mistake of believing that this new anthropology is fundamentally amoral. While it is true that moral relativism was a crucial tool in the destruction of the old order of Christendom, it was never an end in itself. Recall the passage I quoted previously from C. S. Lewis’ book, The Abolition of Man:
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.
Note carefully that last line: “it is from them that the content of these words is henceforward to be derived.” The true goal of modernity is not to abolish morality, but rather to define it, to make mankind into the giver of the law rather than the receiver of it. The first step in achieving this goal was to discredit and overthrow the old morality, and in this task moral relativism was indeed invaluable. But now that the old morality has been swept away, the new morality is being set in its place, upheld by doctrines and precepts every bit as dogmatic and absolute as those which once upheld the old. Indeed, in this respect it is quite possible that we live in the most “moral” age the world has ever known. Even buying gourmet ice cream is now being branded as an act of virtue.
And although this new morality is misguided, by no means does this entail that its adherents are therefore simply self-serving or insincere. As Lewis emphasized, the problem is not that this new morality is wicked, duplicitous, or unjust. The problem is that it antihuman: it seeks to replace our humanity with something else, with the übermensch of Nietzsche, or the “man-god” of Kirillov in the novel Demons by Dostoevsky:
“They’re not good,” he [Kirillov] suddenly began again, “because they don’t know they’re good. When they find out, they won’t violate the girl. They must find out that they’re good, then they’ll all become good at once, all, to a man.”
“Well, you did find out, so you must be good?”
“I am good.”
“With that I agree, incidentally,” Stavrogin muttered frowningly.
“He who teaches that all are good, will end the world.”
“He who taught it was crucified.”
“He will come, and his name is the man-god.”
“The man-god—that’s the whole difference.”
And it is indeed “the whole difference.” What does it mean to be a good person? And what does it mean to sin? Because despite the protestations of many modern sages, it is undeniably evident that everyone really does believe in both goodness and in sin. For all that it has rejected “Christian phraseology” (to quote once again our old friend Sir James Stephen), there can be no doubt at all that our society believes in sin now more than ever — one need only pick up the newspaper and read the latest stories on Harvey Weinstein, Brett Kavanaugh, or Megyn Kelly to discover that fact.
We cannot, it would seem, escape from our Puritanical heritage. As Dan McLaughlin points out:
…what is striking is the fact that the sorts of people most eager to exact punishment… are precisely the same folks who would lecture us to no end about how terrible it is to be morally judgmental and how backward the world of the Puritans was. What we see today in the moral furies… is that the human need to enforce social norms against sin remains, and still extends beyond just the letter of the law. People who say they don’t want to judge sin invariably just want to judge different sins.
What sins are most loudly and most vociferously judged today? Racism, misogyny, bigotry, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia (notice too how even our language itself engages shamelessly in Bulverism: if one dares to believe, for example, that men are not women, it must be because one is in the grip of an irrational fear). In other words, they are sins against the Creed of Antichristianity: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.
Let us recall once again the whole of Sir James Stephen’s opening paragraph in his book of the same name:
“The object of this work is to examine the doctrines which are rather hinted at than expressed by the phrase ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.’ This phrase has been the motto of more than one Republic. It is indeed something more than a motto. It is the creed of a religion, less definite than any one of the forms of Christianity, which are in part its rivals, in part its antagonists, and in part its associates, but not on that account the less powerful. It is, on the contrary, one of the most penetrating influences of the day. It shows itself now and then in definite forms… but its special manifestations give no adequate measure of its depth or width. It penetrates other creeds. It has often transformed Christianity into a system of optimism, which has in some cases retained and in others rejected Christian phraseology. It deeply influences politics and legislation. It has its solemn festivals, its sober adherents, its enthusiasts, its Anabaptists and Antinomians. The Religion of Humanity is perhaps as good a name as could be found for it… It is one of the commonest beliefs of the day that the human race collectively has before it splendid destinies of various kinds, and that the road to them is to be found in the removal of all restraints on human conduct, in the recognition of a substantial equality between all human creatures, and in fraternity or general love. These doctrines are in very many cases held as a religious faith. They are regarded not merely as truths, but as truths for which those who believe in them are ready to do battle, and for the establishment of which they are prepared to sacrifice all merely personal ends.
Such, stated of course in the most general terms, is the religion of which I take ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ to be the creed.
“These doctrines… are regarded not merely as truths, but as truths for which those who believe in them are ready to do battle, and for the establishment of which they are prepared to sacrifice all merely personal ends.” Who can read these words and not immediately see in them the political activists of our day? And who then can deny the statement of John Gray: “Modern politics is a chapter in the history of religion”? Even The Atlantic — hardly a fringe publication — is beginning to notice the same thing.
And to once more reiterate: the real tragedy here is that the doctrines of this new religion are not even, in themselves, bad or wrong. As Stephen continues on to say: “I am not the advocate of Slavery, Caste, and Hatred, nor do I deny that a sense may be given to the words, Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, in which they may be regarded as good.”
It is shortly afterward that Stephen gets to the heart of the matter:
This is the vital question of all. It is the true centre… of all the great discussions of our generation. Upon this hang all religion, all morals, all politics, all legislation—everything which interests men as men. Is there or not a God and a future state? Is this world all?
“Is this world all?” The great lie of modernity is that this question can — and indeed must — be avoided or put off, to the profit of everyone involved. The great promise of modernity is that by putting this question aside, we can all get along and work together for the common good. And who doesn’t want the common good? Who among us does not desire freedom and fairness and love? And who among us does not despise oppression and bigotry and hate?
But let us turn once again to the relevant passage in Lewis’ The Abolition of Man:
“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, 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.
Yet the Conditioners will act. When I said just now that all motives fail them, I should have said all motives except one. All motives that claim any validity other than that of their felt emotional weight at a given moment have failed them. Everything except the sic volo, sic jubeo [thus I wish, thus I command] has been explained away. But what never claimed objectivity cannot be destroyed by subjectivism. The impulse to scratch when I itch or to pull to pieces when I am inquisitive is immune from the solvent which is fatal to my justice, or honour, or care for posterity. When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains. It cannot be exploded or ‘seen through’ because it never had any pretentions. The Conditioners, therefore, must come to be motivated simply by their own pleasure. I am not here speaking of the corrupting influence of power nor expressing the fear that under it our Conditioners will degenerate. The very words corrupt and degenerate imply a doctrine of value and are therefore meaningless in this context. My point is that those who stand outside all judgements of value cannot have any ground for preferring one of their own impulses to another except the emotional strength of that impulse.
Sic volo, sic jubeo. We are our desires.
I think it is difficult to argue that we have not already reached this point. As Lewis put it in the aforementioned article We Have No Right to Happiness: we have reached “a state of society in which not only each man but every impulse in each man claims carte blanche.” Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in the transgender ideology which has so rapidly overwhelmed our society. Having no longer any objective standard of who or what a human being is or ought to be, the only logical conclusion is that we ought to be whatever we want to be: sic volo, sic jubeo. And this is not merely allowed but even mandated by our society, due to nothing other than the unchecked emotional force of our compassion.
And this is truly the most tragic thing of all: that even our love, our mercy, and our compassion — the highest and most God-like qualities which a human being can possibly possess — have been so subtly and insidiously twisted as to become the very instruments of our destruction. Because the fact is that once we have accepted a new anthropology — the anthropology of Antichristianity — we have also thereby accepted a new definition of what it means to love, of what it means to have mercy and compassion on another human being.
We have chosen the “love” of the Devil over the love of God. For the Devil, too, spoke of freedom. The Devil, too, made God out to be a petty tyrant, trying to keep His children down. The Devil, too, promised us that we would be as gods, and that the path to godhood lies precisely in rejecting the law, in seizing for ourselves anything and everything which we desire.
And we have believed the devil’s lie so thoroughly that we think his promise has come true. We really believe that we have become as gods, that we are the makers of our own destiny, that this earth of thorns and thistles is (or shall shortly become) Paradise, and that slavery to our own fallen flesh is the heavenly inheritance and birthright which God for so long had wickedly and unjustly withheld.
And in our madness and our delusion, we really believe that to be left in such a condition is the very essence both of freedom and of love. We really believe that every human being has an inalienable right to build their own personal Babel. And more than this, we really believe that if we love someone, then we will never ever suggest that what they have created for themselves is only a hollow imitation of Heaven. We believe that if we really love someone, then we must bless their own personal Babel, and we must do everything in our power to make them feel that it truly is their home.
But true Christian love for others does not require us to build or bless Babel on their behalf. Quite the contrary: it requires us to point them away from this perishing world, toward the Paradise which we all truly seek.
So often we interpret the Golden Rule handed down to us by Christ in a shallow, superficial, and worldly way. We don’t like to feel bad about ourselves, and so we don’t want to say or do anything that could possibly make others feel bad about themselves. We even allow ourselves to believe that this is the essence of true Christian love and mercy.
But the love and mercy of Christ is not given in order to make us feel good about ourselves. It is given in order to bring us to saving repentance and humility, and thus to true spiritual health, peace, freedom, and joy. The love and mercy of Christ does not wish us to perish in bondage to our passions, but rather to free us from delusion and bring us into the light of the knowledge of God. “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
It is therefore this love and mercy — this and no other — which every Christian must strive to acquire. It does not come easily nor quickly, nor in accordance with the wisdom and precepts of this world. It is founded upon prayer, as well as upon deep and sincere personal repentance, in accordance with the words of St. Paul: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” Because without such repentance, we would only be moralizing hypocrites.
And without such repentance, the world itself would have no reason at all to believe a word that we say. If we are to claim that what the world calls freedom is actually slavery, and that what the world calls love is actually a misguided pity which can only bring further misery to the one beloved, then we had better first make absolutely certain that the true freedom and the true love of Christ can be seen shining in our every word and deed and thought.
It is no good fighting the Devil on our own, without God. It is no good denouncing Antichristianity if we have not ourselves first become truly Christian. It is no good rejecting the man-god, if we do not also set the God-man back in His rightful place — and above all, that means His rightful place in our own hearts.
This is not about being correct. This is not even about being good. This is about being Christian. This is about becoming ourselves truly free, and thereby showing to the world what love truly means.
And love has only ever truly meant one thing: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Love has only ever meant the Cross.
Father, I would be interested in reading your assessment of how evolutionary theory has impacted the modernist anthropology. Like so many other ideas, it is part of the air we breathe, and even finds acceptance in Orthodox circles. Most recently it motivates the quest to merge humanity with technology, to become “transhuman.” One wonders if this is ultimately the path to the Antichrist.
I intend to discuss the centrality of evolution to modernity in a dedicated post (or more likely series of posts) in the future. In the meantime, I highly recommend “Genesis, Creation, and Early Man” by Fr. Seraphim Rose, if you haven’t already read it. You are right, it is virtually impossible to understate the significance of evolutionary theory and philosophy, and it most certainly is one of the chief bulwarks of Antichristianity.
Yes, I read it several years ago, and it had a profound impact on my worldview. I look forward to your future posts on this subject.