If, in the course of human events, we face threats on either side, how are we to avoid them both? How, if one is simply the consequence of existence, and the other is the consequence of striving to go on existing?
The next big idea: Religion is our salvation.
This idea is reflexively rejected by some, particularly in light of hyper-current events. Religious extremism – namely radical Islam – is on the rise, and it is hard to see how massacres in the name of Allah can be associated with the common good.
We are going to have to re-establish our removed perspective. Remember, you are an alien from another planet, or you are from the future. Observe the world as though it does not immediately threaten you, a state of fear which always distorts reality. Rather, view it as an art critic, or an economist.
Now: Even if a religion is false, it can be a net-benefit as long as it is properly ordered. What does this mean?
It means that, after some distance traveled to the left, in the name of buffering society from the natural order – that is, after a population has become civilized – a powerful social force is needed to prevent further drifting to the left.
It is needed because endless drifting to the left is the road to perdition. It eventually leads to destruction not by nature, but by man. It must be avoided just as arduously as destruction by nature.
That is why religion often appears to be a conservative force, because it is restraining the leftist impulse of civilized people. The paradox is that religion itself is a civilizing force on populations that are far to the right, still close to the natural order. In that way, it is also liberal.
One of the complaints today is that Christianity is outdated, regressive; one of the complaints about early Christians is that they cared about the pagan poor more than the pagans did.
That is essentially the same Christianity, appearing on both the right and the left of two given cultures. And this is why I have been fond of saying that Catholicism is neither conservative nor liberal – it is both, in exactly the right places.
So a properly ordered religion is that which will restrain a culture from going too far to the left, or the right, to the point of destruction. There is one other thing, which separates religion from ideology.
That is, that religion admits a realm beyond the natural. Ideology is a funny business, because it ostensibly is focused on this world, and the proper values and order that a society should have…but its promises are always unrealistic. Quite literally.
Religion, on the other hand, does not restrain itself with the natural realm. Religion sees through it, beyond it, to the essence of reality.
Yes, there is a world all around you – but where did it come from? Ideology hardly cares. Mythology barely cares. Religion cares deeply, out of all proportion to the natural or synthetic order.
That is precisely why it is vital to civilization. For a society to be sustainable, it must perceive its object as something bigger and better than mere survival, so that the effort of resisting the left and the right is worthwhile. Don’t believe me?
Take away religion, and all quasi-religions. This includes the Carl Sagan brand of scientism.
Do that, and you have nothing but nihilism. You have utter despair, loss of meaning and purpose, on a massive scale. Mere survival is not enough for the nihilist – indeed, they sometimes take their lives as a result of their nihilism.
With religion, society can achieve a kind of balance in tension between the two forces. It can even rotate after a fashion, so that it becomes more leftist in certain ways and more rightist in other ways. It may be that there is no permanent balance – but all that is needed is some balance.*
Further proof – GK Chesterton’s saying that unless man believes in God, he will believe anything. The critical point is that man must always believe something, because he cannot possibly know everything. We are always drawing lines of best fit. Even this series skips over a lot of details in order to present a working model…which itself is a map.
And that is enough to tie off that thread. From here, we will consider some of the ways in which Catholicism might participate in modern politics, as compared with the present status and view of religion in politics. Furthermore, I will attempt to offer a few applications of the big ideas in this series, which may be of some use.
**It occurs to me – and surely to the reader – that we could get into some geometrical imaging here. Perhaps a triangle…a trinity!
No, I’m not ready for that. Neither is the world.