Image is everything; everything is image…

The following is from Richard M. Weaver’s 1948 conservative classic, Ideas Have Consequences (pp. 24-35). I read the following passages almost literally only moments after reading a striking, and strikingly congruent, passage in a recent First Things article, which I shall cite after quoting Weaver.

According to Weaver:

“[The modernist] threat [of barbarism] is best described as the desire of immediacy, for its desire is to dissolve the formal aspects of everything and to get to the suppositious reality behind them. It is characteristic of the barbarian … to insist upon seeing a thing “as it is.”… Impatient of the veiling with which the man of higher type gives the world imaginative meaning, the barbarian and the Philistine, who is the barbarian living amid culture, demands the access of immediacy. Where the former wishes representation, the latter insists upon starkness of materiality, suspecting rightly that forms will mean restraint. …

A plebeian distrust of forms, flowering eulogies of plainness, became the characteristic American mentality. … America [broadly understood as the New World] is responsible for the vulgarization of the Old World only in the sense that, like a forcing house, it brought the [barbarian] impulses to fruition sooner. …

Many cannot conceive why form should be allowed to impeded the expression of honest hearts. The reason lies in one of the limitations imposed upon man: unformed [dare we say, off-the-cuff?] expression is ever tending toward ignorance. …

Forms and conventions are the ladder of ascent. And hence the speechlessness of the man of culture when he beholds the barbarian tearing aside some veil which is half adornment, half concealment. He understands what is being done, but he cannot convey the understanding because he cannot convey the idea of sacrilege. His cries of abeste profani [‘be far hence, ye profane’] are not heard by those who in the exhilaration of breaking some restraint feel that they are extending the boundaries [or, peripheries] of power or of knowledge.

Every group regarding itself as emancipated is convinced that its predecessors were fearful of reality. It looks upon euphemisms and all the veils of decency with which things were previously draped as obstructions which it, with superior wisdom and praiseworthy courage [or, audacity, of any kind], will now strip away. …

[O]ne consequence of this debauchery … is that man loses discrimination. … It is our various supposals about a matter which give it meaning, and not some intrinsic property which can be seized in the barehanded fashion of the barbarian. … The desire to get ever closer to the source of physical sensation–this is the downward pull which puts an end to ideational life [and thus also to a rational faith]. …

Our age provides many examples of the ravages of immediacy, the clearest of which is the failure of the modern mind to recognize obscenity. This failure is not connected with the decay of puritanism. The word is employed here in its original sense to describe that should be enacted off-stage because it is unfit for public exhibition. …

This failure of the concept of obscenity has been concurrent with the rise of the institution of publicity which, ever seeking to widen its field in accordance with the canon of progress, makes a virtue of desecration. … Propriety, like other old-fashioned anchorages, was abandoned because it inhibited something. Proud of its shamelessness, the new journalism served up in swaggering style matter which heretofore had been veiled in decent taciturnity. …

All reserve is being sacrificed to titillation. The extremes of passion and suffering [and piety?] are served to enliven the breakfast table or to lighten the boredom of an evening at home. The area of privacy has been abandoned because the definition of person has been lost….

[O]ne of the great conspiracies against philosophy and civilization, a conspiracy aided by technology, is just this substitution of sensation for reflection. … It is inevitable that the decay of [civilized, formal] sentiment should be accompanied by a deterioration of human relationships…, because the passion for immediacy concentrates upon the presently advantageous. … Burke saw this point when he said that those who have no concern for their ancestors [or their predecessors] will, by simple application of the same rule, have none for their descendants. …

[I]t cannot be too often said that society and mass are contradictory terms and that those who seek to do things in the name of the mass are destroyers in our midst. If society [both secular and sacred] is something which can be understood, it must have structure; if it has structure, it must have hierarchy….

I leave it to the reader to recall, or seek out, how my editorial highlights in the above quotation might, perchance, shed light on the Catholic Church’s endless stream of current events. If that method is still too recondite for some, the following passage from Maureen Mullarkey (“Tammany on the Tiber” 12.05.2014) should make the point even clearer:

Devotion to the aura of sanctity and to the machine that produces it makes cult figures out of mere men. Like that talking snake in Eden, it murmurs in the ear. It excites the illusion that every papal opinion—however lacking in prudence or responsible facts—is oracular.

This expedited exercise in saint-making was a premature apotheosis, a pageant of synthetic piety staged for immediate media consumption. With this as a precedent, canonization risks becoming one more pseudo-event, like bread and circus, thrown to a culture besotted with virtual reality.

In our lifetime, we have watched the papacy descend into spectacle. By now, showboating—from kissing feet to a mega-Mass on Copacabana Beach—is an established feature of the modern papacy. As if spectacle itself could cure the malaise that has emptied churches, closed parishes, and turned cathedrals into pay-per-view tourist sites.

It seems that the future, at least for some at the top of the hierarchical heap, can’t happen fast enough.

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About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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14 Responses to Image is everything; everything is image…

  1. Tony Jokin says:

    I guess it is difficult to pinpoint exactly why we see what we see. It could be modernism or it could just be outright ignorance of doctrine. Maybe it is just plain hostility toward the wisdom of our ancestors and the pride it has fosters that has lead us to this mess. Or it could be pharisaic casuistry to use concepts like God’s mercy together with postulated concepts that have not been revealed about the way God thinks and what he wishes to tolerate to allow anything 😀

    At the end of the day, I think what every Catholic should agree on is that there is a problem with the Church prelates. What seems extremely difficult to get across is that “there is a problem!”. It is hard to convince majority of the Catholic faithful because they have embraced ideas of Liberalism/Modernism and the actions and words of Church prelates tend to make it look like they are right in doing so. It is hard to convince the Church prelates because they think not acknowledging a crisis, tolerating grave sins (which is actually injustice toward God and neighbor) and pretending everything is just fine is pastoral.

    As a result, the Catholic faithful are waiting for the Church to finally catchup with the Liberalism and Modernism and officially sanction things like divorce, remarriage, same sex marriage, contraception etc. The Church prelates are trying to find ways to justify tolerating all of this without changing doctrine, and sometimes even trying to use Liberalism to further certain Church interests (religious freedom?) while waiting for the Catholic faithful to come around by themselves to the conclusion that Liberalism is stupid.

    So we are officially in deadlock.

  2. Flambeaux says:

    Or, perhaps the legacy of the Counter-Reformation is part of what needs to die, along with the rest of Modernity. That the Church, as a human institution which interprets Revelation, did get some things wrong for the last few hundred years.

    The Revelation didn’t change. But the emphasis on the implications Revelation has does, in fact, change.

    Five years ago, I wouldn’t have said the above. But I still considered myself a Trad and a Lefevbriste back then. Clearly I’m becoming, by that standard, a Modernist Liberal as a result of spending lots of time among Byzantines and talking through these matters with my spiritual director.

  3. Tony Jokin says:

    Well, I am not so sure it is that simple. I assume you refer to the pastoral approach by “implication of revelation”?

    To say that the Church got things wrong in the past 500 years in her pastoral approach can only be valid if the Church based her decisions without basis. The prudential measures and other traditional elements used in the counter-reformation made sense then as they do today. One can look at the reasoning objectively and see why what was done made and the development of tradition made sense. One also has empirical proof that these methods were effective because it prevented Catholicism from sliding to the heresies of Protestantism and survived through countless revolutions which even directly attacked the Church.

    It is for this same reason that I can look at current state of decisions and lament how bad they are. Why? Because for one thing, they disregard the well reasoned decisions of the past and application of some critical thinking shows that the new policies will cause problems. Empirically speaking, we also see the problems are cropping up today and, dare I say it, slide in to Protestantism.

  4. Flambeaux says:

    My point is that the pastoral initiatives and doctrinal approach of the last 500-odd years are not the only valid approach to conveying the Mysteries. The East, both Catholic and Orthodox, have very different, but no less correct, approach on a lot of these matters. One that isn’t, for better or worse, couched in the experience of the Protestant Revolt and Counter-Reformation response.

    A response that, I’ll note, has utterly failed. It didn’t stop the spread of the Protestant heresies. It didn’t preserve the Church from the depredations of the modern nation states or the revolutions that gave rise to them. And, in many ways, it fostered a Catholic culture that completely collapsed as soon as the peasants were able to get out of the rural parish or the urban ghetto. So I’m no longer convinced by the assumption that the Counter-Reformation, or the period before the Second Vatican Council, were “good old days”.

    All of the major religions seem to have the same problem with the collapse of adherence once people leave the “ghetto”, however defined. So I don’t think it’s a “Catholic problem” or a “post-conciliar problem”. I think it is a human problem. For too long religions have relied on the police power of the state and cultural pressure to compel practice and conformity. Having lost both of those, the solution isn’t, for us at least, to become neo-reactionaries and try to restore lost elements of the past. It is to be saints: joyful and light as a feather. Christ is Risen! And if that fact doesn’t fill us with joy, the Holy Father is right: there is something deeply, deeply wrong.

  5. Flambeaux says:

    I should also be clear, as both Eliot and Dale know but the rest of you may not, I’ve not been “on board” with Francis’ papacy for most of the last year. So I’m not coming at this from a “suck it up, you sourpuss” POV. I completely grok the despair induced by Pope Frankie Goes To Hollywood (RELAX!).

    But I’m finding, through prayer and reflection, that the “dig in and go [more] Trad” solution isn’t viable. The questions that have struck me through most of Francis’ papacy, and that did occur to me during both Benedict’s and JP2’s reigns, are:
    What if the Trads are wrong?
    What if these changes really are the Will of God and the promptings of the Holy Spirit?
    What if we’ve gotten a bunch of stuff bass-ackwards for 50/100/200/500/etc. years?”

    And, looking East, I see a lot of very different expressions of the same Faith.

    It may be that some of this is an effort, obvious in things like the additional Eucharistic Prayers in the current Roman Missal for example, to consciously import Eastern ideas into the Latin Rite West. It may simply be an effort at demolition. I certainly would expect the latter, rather than the former, from Cardinal Kasper.

    It may also be that muany of the patterns we run in, pastorally, theologically, and philosophically, in the Latin Rite West have become ruts that really do separate us from a radical encounter with the Living God who reveals Himself to us in the Person of Jesus Christ.

    And, fundamentally, if the family, parish, diocese, or Church Universal isn’t successfully revealing the Living God to all who thirst for Living Water (whether they know it or not) that organization really has become an obstacle to Faith and should be cut out as a cancer or a diseased limb.

    I’ll concede I may be batcr4p. Perhaps I had a big swig of the Kool-Aide and didn’t realize it. But the Pascha brought an immense amount of peace as I considered that none of this matters, and none of it should be a cause for anxiety, because Christ is Risen, trampling Death by Death and granting Life to those in the Tombs.

    At this point, my anxiety is more along the lines of “How will my Trad friends, especially those who feel betrayed by this papacy, react when I share this?”

    So I’ve done so. zips up flame-retardant suit

  6. Come now, Flambeaux, this is not a place for flaming. Your perspective here is much more tolerable to me than the low-grade nihilism you seemed to have been fostering a few months back. Realize that I very nearly became an Eastern Orthodox when I converted, and that I have often (again last night, in fact) pondered changing my rite to Catholic Byzantine. I am, to put it mildly, extremely sympathetic to the orientale lumen. I do not find your post-Counter-Reformation critique scandalous; I simply do not find it compelling. I would like to say more about that, but the words, and necessary time, fail me at present. In a nutshell, though, I think it’s just as perilous a temptation to reduce all things to their Eastern forms as it is to trivialize the East because it’s insufficiently Romish.

  7. Branch says:

    I’ve witnessed a new low in pretzel logic papal apologetics: insinuating some comparison between the idea that 50% of today’s marriages are invalid with what Our Lady of Fatima meant in saying that there are many marriage which are not good and not pleasing to God.

    I couldn’t believe what I was reading: http://abbey-roads.blogspot.com/2014/05/so-did-pope-really-say-50-of-marriages.html

  8. Sees link. Rolls eyes and grimaces. Clicks anyway. Regrets. Sighs.

  9. Branch says:

    “Having lost both of those, the solution isn’t, for us at least, to become neo-reactionaries and try to restore lost elements of the past. It is to be saints: joyful and light as a feather. Christ is Risen! And if that fact doesn’t fill us with joy, the Holy Father is right: there is something deeply, deeply wrong.”

    He is throwing out the baby with the bathwater without sufficient reason to be doing so. While it’s entirely possible to be a saint with the plausibility structures afforded by state and culture or without them, and granting the mystery that is Divine Providence and everyone’s free will to respond to the grace they’ve been given, who would argue that it’s necessarily better without such plausibility structures? How have people largely responded to the stripped down, opening up to the world approach of the last 50 years? Where has the optimism so characteristic of Vatican II gotten us?

    Isn’t the reality that we are now more riddled with immanentism, materialism, indifferentism, being spiritual without being religious which is to tend toward individualism at the expense of true community and truth, than we were to begin with?

    I don’t think we need to be naïve or nostalgic about the pre-Vatican II days, though I also do not think that the response to whatever was in need of reform then has been anything other that catastrophic. If what has occurred was God’s will, then I can only see that from a permissive perspective, such that God is sifting out and separating, salvaging what He can from the wreckage.

  10. The irony, of course, is that a rejection of the mythical pre-Conciliar “good ol’ days” in favor of a pre-Counter-Reformation golden age is its own species of wishful atavism.

  11. Flambeaux says:

    Branch,
    What are “plausibility structures”? I don’t recall having run across the term before.

    As to more immanentism, etc.: yes, in the post-Christian West. But we should have expected that with or without the Council and the (disastrous) liturgical reforms. So I don’t agree that it’s the result of the Council, or Modernism, or whatever boogeyman people want to point at. It’s the natural, if unintended, consequence of decadence, just as the Reformation/Protestant Revolt was the natural consequence of Christendom’s decadence.

    I’ll suggest that the Eastern Catholics being urged to recover their legitimate patrimony, Papa Ratzinger’s Anglicanorum coetibus, and the growth of Christianity in Africa and SE Asia are all points at which there has been authentic renewal in the wake of the Council and some of the reforms.

    Somewhere between Constantine and the 1960s Christianity stopped making a case for itself either emotionally (through beautiful art and sanctity of living) or intellectually. It became the staus quo for European life. And, once the circumstances changed which led everyone to take it for granted, there was nothing, really, to induce anyone outside of a few intellectual outliers, to take it seriously.

    The Desert Fathers fled to the desert because of the influx of “indifferent Christians” who merely wanted the social benefits of being seen to be Christians in the new social circumstances. We are, perhaps, in an inverse environment: respectable people in the post-Christian West no longer want to be seen as Christians so we are being invited to become a kind of Urban Father, if you’ll permit me the phrase.

    I’ve said many times that Protestantism, like the modern nation state, is going the way of the dodo. The circumstances that fostered its rise have been sufficiently eliminated through success and consequent decadence. A Religion of the Book has nothing to offer an illiterate (by choice) populace.

    By extension, I’ve begun to wonder if the trajectory the Church settled into in response to Protestantism will also pass away. Perhaps all this upheaval is, in fact, a movement by the Holy Spirit. A thought I found utterly horrifying a year ago.

    @Elliot
    By no means am I trying to suggest an “If it’s Eastern it must be Authentic AND Swell” hermeneutic. Nor do I think you are accusing me of such. I just want to be clear.

    But if we’re going to insist, for example, that the Tridentine formulations are somehow universal, that will require further Latinization of the East. Another project over the last few hundred years that bore no good fruit. And it would run counter to the more-or-less constant insistence in the 20th century by various popes and V2 for Eastern Catholics to recover their authentic Eastern-ness.

    I know that, for myself, turning East has brought with it a peace and joy I never found in my nearly 2 decades among Traditionalists. YMMV and all that.

  12. Branch says:

    Flambeaux, I mean the sociocultural institutions or contexts in which the beliefs a certain group profess are reinforced and so can add to their plausibility. I’m thinking, say, of growing up in a large Catholic family in a neighborhood of large Catholic families who worship at a nearby parish together, where there is a shared morality and creed. In itself, such a “structure” does not entail authentic faith or love of God and neighbor. It could just be the status quo or going through the motions, appearance-only Catholicism. But such structures could also help to lay the groundwork for or to reinforce religious belief and morality in an authentic way, such that the Faith is passed on, in part, with the help of said structures. When such structures are lost, in theory, it is easier for authentic belief to be stripped away.

    In a way, you alluded to the idea in referencing the changing circumstances which contributed to it being taken for granted. Scandal and hypocrisy can be catalysts for the decline of plausibility structures.

    As to the idea of decadence being at the root of the problem (pre-Council), it seems that there was also a widespread loss of faith, loss of the sense of the supernatural before the Council. I think what gave rise to a desire for a reformed liturgy was that Masses were being raced through by priests, lay faithful were feeling cut off, etc. I think the decadence and the faithlessness go hand in hand.

    But still, I think the Council did nothing really to take a stand against the immanetism and indifferentism; it actually reinforced it.

    I think Francis may well be on to something in what I understand to be his serious desire for reform, for authenticity, for true witness, etc. But I think he is, unfortunately, going about it in a reductive and minimalistic way, not to mention rash, way.

  13. Branch says:

    That loss of the supernatural I’ve taken from here, among other places: http://www.latinmassmagazine.com/articles/articles_2001_SU_Hildebran.html

  14. Whenever I read, Tammany Hall, I think of George Washington Plunkitt; “I seen my opportunities and I took ’em.”

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