About time I contribute something here, lest you guys forget about me. The posts here are as excellent as I hoped they would be, and I hope I can hold my own. That said, I’m back only a few hours from Pennsylvania, and not much that I write at the moment is likely to be coherent.
But I reran a post this week on Nebraska Energy Observer combining some of Jessica’s excerpting of Solzenytsin’s 1978 Harvard Commencement Address, and applying it to the very sad case of Alfie Evans, whom I expect most of us remember. I too was a contributor at All along the Watchtower, and the reason was the camaraderie that existed amongst us. For more on this see Phillip’s About post. And yes, Jessica was also my co-blogger on NEO. And so, a reblog, but an important subject.
Well, it’s been a bit over a day since Alfie went home, [written on 29 April 2018] and perhaps we can start to draw some lessons. For me, personally, it has been a long time since I have been called both ignorant and stupid, within two sentences. I found it rather funny, in truth, since I know what I believe and why. It has been built up over many years and does not change with the wind. And besides, I understand that some Britons believe the state to be god, and the NHS its religion, so I’m an apostate. I’ve learned better, as has anybody that has studied American history.
Over Christmas in 2013, Jessica undertook to analyze in part Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Commencement Address at Harvard in 1978. Applying it to Alfie’s ordeal is illuminating, I think. As Jess indicated, many expected it to be a paean to the west from a man who escaped from the Soviet system. It was anything but. He deplored the Soviet system, but he saw very clearly the flaws in the west, those cracks have widened considerably since 1978, and now threaten to tear us asunder.
In her post entitled The Exhausted West?, she quoted this:
Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, the misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. It is considered to be part of freedom and theoretically counterbalanced by the young people’s right not to look or not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil.
It’s a theme I hit hard and often on NEO, libertinism opposed to liberty with its duties.
The West was, he said, ‘spiritually exhausted’. The ‘human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by today’s mass living habits, introduced by the revolting invasion of publicity, by TV stupor, and by intolerable music.’
The origin of this decadence lay, Solzhenitsyn suggested, in the anthropocentric views of man’s destiny which came in with the secular thinking of the Enlightenment. Man was at the centre of all things, and the ends for which he was meant were material ones:
As an aside, I believe and Melanie Phillips wrote convincingly that:
Some of this hostility is being driven by the perceived threat from Islamic terrorism and the Islamisation of Western culture. However, this animus against religion has far deeper roots and can be traced back to what is considered the birthplace of Western reason, the 18th-century Enlightenment.
Actually, it goes back specifically to the French Enlightenment. In England and Scotland, the Enlightenment developed reason and political liberty within the framework of Biblical belief. In France, by contrast, anti-clericalism morphed into fundamental hostility to Christianity and to religion itself.
“Ecrasez l’infame,” said Voltaire (crush infamy) — the infamy to which he referred being not just the Church but Christianity, which he wanted to replace with the religion of reason, virtue and liberty, “drawn from the bosom of nature”.
Returning to Jessica’s point.
Everything beyond physical well-being and accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any superior sense. That provided access for evil, of which in our day there is a free and constant flow. Mere freedom does not in the least solve all the problems of human life and it even adds a number of new ones.
All very very true, and phrased better than I could have then or can now. In her next post, Light from the East?, she continued the thinking with this:
in early democracies, as in American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted because man is God’s creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility.
When America’s Founding Fathers separated Church and State they did not do so because they were atheists or thought Christianity wrong, they did so because they did not want one Church to dominate in their society; they do, indeed, seem to have assumed that man would be bound by the responsibilities which the Christian faith laid upon him; realists, they did not think man would always live up to these, but they did not see freedom as license; can we now say that of ourselves and our leaders? What is it which binds us? […]
Solzhenitsyn’s critique is a Christian one:
There is a disaster, however, that has already been under way for quite some time. I am referring to the calamity of a despiritualized and irreligious humanistic consciousness.
Of such consciousness man is the touchstone, in judging everything on earth. Imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects. We are now experiencing the consequences of mistakes that were not noticed at the beginning of the journey. On the way from the Renaissance to our day we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity, which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility.
I don’t mean to drag politics in here, but I think a real-world example can be illuminating.
I doubt that I am the only one to see this applying to the NHS certainly, but also to the lawyers, and judges of the British legal system. My question for them is this, “What besides self-pride, drove you to remove Alfie’s parent’s God-given responsibility for their son, even to prevent them from choosing another caregiver, futile though it may well have been. What were they so afraid of that they were willing to risk a storm from Europe, especially Italy and Poland, and the United States? I think it was exactly that exacerbated by the fact that the Italian hospital is supported by the Vatican. How shameful if Christians could help this little boy when the minor god-emperors of the NHS could not. Remember this is the health care system that was hubristic enough to proclaim themselves, at the 2012 Olympic games, as the best in the world. While providing 2d world, at best, care to their inmates.
For a true understanding of man’s real destiny, God is essential:
If humanism were right in declaring that man is born only to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature.
But if we refuse to recognise this, or think it of no importance, then we shan’t see any reasons for exercising any self-restraint save for that imposed by the law – and if the law is the only guide we have, then we have become a society without a spirit of self-sacrifice or restraint:
People in the West have acquired considerable skill in using, interpreting, and manipulating law. Any conflict is solved according to the letter of the law, and this is considered to be the supreme solution. If one is right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required. Nobody may mention that one could still not be entirely right, and urge self-restraint, a willingness to renounce such legal rights, sacrifice, and selfless risk: it would sound simply absurd. One almost never sees voluntary self-restraint. Everybody operates at the extreme limit of those legal frames.
And that is the root of the decadence in our societies, and why they will not last as they are. How they will change, is not in sight, perhaps they will reform, under duress, as they have before, perhaps our societies will be subsumed in Islam, perhaps something else, but what cannot continue, won’t. And that is the lesson Alfie has for us.