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renewalLet’s get straight to the point. We no longer live in a culturally Christian state. We do not live in a robust pagan state, such as Rome was during the Pax Romana. We live in a sickly sub-pagan state, or metastate, a monstrous thing, all-meddlesome, all-ambitious. The natural virtues are scorned. Temperance is for prigs, prudence for sticks in the mud who worry about people who don’t yet exist. A man who fathers six children upon three women and now wants to turn himself into a “woman” attracted to other women—he is praised for his courage. Justice means that a handful of narrowly educated and egotistical judges get to overturn human culture and biology, at their caprice.

We are not in partibus infidelibus. We are in partibus insanibus.

What shall we do now? The answer is both daunting and liberating. We do everything.
 That doesn’t mean that I do everything, or that you do everything. Suppose you find yourself in a bombed out city. There are all kinds of things to do, and all of them have to be done. Some needs are more pressing than others, and some things can be done only after other things are in order. But everywhere you turn, there’s work to do. You have to find clean water. You have to find food. You have to tend to the wounded and bury the dead. You have to erect shelters. You have to see which of the few buildings left standing are actually safe. You have to demolish those that are ruined beyond repair. You have to organize work teams. Someone has to prepare the meals. Someone has to keep the children out of trouble. In such a situation, it’s almost absurd to ask whether it’s more important to build a latrine than to gather together some undamaged books. All of it has to be done. So you do what you can do—the work that is ready to your hand.

In no order, then, as I survey the ruins:

Build new schools, reform old schools, and abandon irreformable ones.
Edward-Lamson-Henry-xx-A-Country-School-xx-Yale-University-Art-GalleryAre your children attending the sub-pagan schools? Get them the hell out of there. What are you waiting for? It’s not as if the sub-pagan schools actually teach children English grammar and give them facility with numbers and make them familiar with the lands and rivers and seas of our world, let alone introduce them to the great works of western civilization. If your children are in the sub-pagan schools, it will require almost a miracle of God to keep them from becoming sub-pagan themselves. They too will learn to worship the three-poisoned god of our times, self, sex, State. Take for granted that everything in their classes will be sexuality and politics; even in science classes. Shakespeare? Sexuality and politics and nothing else. Get them out. Begin, if necessary, with one room and one teacher and ten children. Begin.

Restore your parish church and bring reverence back to the liturgy.
Was your church denuded during the Decade that Taste Forgot? Bring art back in. Is there an ugly sculpture of Jesus the Helicopter, or a pseudo-primitive stained glass window of the Baptist dropping a rock on Jesus’ head? Replace them. Are you using hymnals filled with bad poetry expressing hippy-dippy theology to treacly or unsingable tunes? Why? If you know a little about sacred music, learn more. It’s never been easier to do that. Become more familiar with O Salutaris Hostia than with Table of Plenty. You don’t have to be allergic to the great Christian hymns arranged by Bach or written by the Wesleys. Accustom yourself to real poetry, to melodies that can be sung by a congregation, and to thoughtful meditation upon Scripture. Learn Gregorian chant. Will it take a while? It will take longer if you complain about how long it takes. Begin.

Acquaint yourself with the proper use of the zipper.
No pretending here. We’ve all been scorched by the sexual revolution. The ancient Christians knew they were living among hedonists, but plenty of the pagans, especially those who lived outside of the cities (Latin paganus = hayseed), were old-fashioned in their mores. The Christians could say that they honored the virtue of chastity, which the pagans recognized but often violated. We cannot say that now. We have to tell ourselves and our children the truth. There is no way to make it sound nice.

We are Christians, they are not. How God judges them is not ours to know. Our first task is to follow God’s law ourselves, before we can witness to them. We do not fornicate. We do not divorce. We do not engage in sodomy. We do not use porn. We do not flood women’s bodies with synthetic and carcinogenic hormones. We do not care for obscenities in film. We do believe in marriage according to the evident design of God, imprinted upon our bodies male and female. We encourage boys to be boys and girls to be girls.

And then—where are the chaperoned dances? Where are the concerts? Where are the matchmakers? Where are the healthy customs whereby the older generation made sure that the younger generation would, ahem, get on with the great and innocent business of new life? Establish them. Begin.

Be social.
Be human. I’ve heard all my life long that the Church, before Vatican II, had nothing at all for the laity. Really? What then were all those ecclesial fraternities and sororities? So laymen did not potter about the altar during Mass. They certainly pottered about everything else before and after Mass. They played basketball, they put on shows, they sang, they maintained the church grounds, they gathered for communal prayer, they fed the hungry, they taught the ignorant, they celebrated, they paraded down the main street. The official organs of public opinion hate us, and would like nothing better than to have us hang about empty churches like bats in a cave. Let them have more obvious opportunities for their hatred—or their embarrassment, perhaps their conversion. Saint Ignatius had for a long time only two or three followers. He persisted, and the Jesuits became the greatest force for education and human culture and the propagation of the faith that the world had ever known. Begin.

Read good books.
Our Lord has granted us one of the most precious blessings in war. Our enemies are ignorant. They are clever—they have brains, as all human beings do, but imagine a rickety fence against a cannon: That’s our contemporary journalist against Chesterton. Imagine a squirt gun against a battering ram: That’s our contemporary educator against Pope Benedict. Imagine a flea against an elephant: That’s our contemporary advertiser against the Catechism. Imagine a dented bugle against a cordon of trumpeters: That’s our contemporary artist against Dante. When Saint Paul said that he must be all things to all men, he did not mean that he would be stupid for the stupid. Put on the full panoply of God. Those arms may well include the weapons of natural law and natural wisdom that our sub-pagan neighbors have never mastered: Cicero, Aristotle, Plato, Confucius. Don’t know where to begin? It hardly matters where. Begin.

025188d4f5268eade8514bc84291d4a3Recover the human things.
You remember them? The things that human beings used to do. They are not to be underestimated. Let’s not pretend here. We’ve all lost a great deal of what once made up whatever sweetness that human life had to offer. People used to dress becomingly, play cards, talk to others, take long walks, sing songs, play ball, grow peas and beans, strum on the guitar, drop in on friends, and have friends to drop in on. Boys used to ask girls to do innocent things with them, like go bowling, or attend a concert, or dance. There’s an idea—learn how to dance again. The world, besides being quite mad, is now an unspeakably drab, tawdry, and lonely place. Build outposts of normality. It will take time. Begin.

Pray like the pilgrim you are.
That goes without saying. If you pray for ten minutes a day, pray for fifteen. But pray with a clearer aim. Remember that you are going somewhere. Its name, in one sense, is the grave. The whole world is in mad denial of that plain fact. It turns to the garish and obscene, lest it have to consider the quiet grassy mound and the stone with a few words on it. Be different. You are on the way. Take heart, and don the hat of the pilgrim. Do not be like those who have no hope. Jesus has gone before us to prepare a place. Will you have to repent of having sometimes gotten on the carousel of the world? Repent of it then. Begin.

Whatever you do, do it as if everything depends on just that.
It does, after all. Let no one say to you, “What difference does it make if you sing beautiful hymns at Mass?” That’s the way the world thinks. For the world, despite all its pretense of love for every individual, considers men to be mere stuff, an accumulation or amalgamation. Do not believe it. The next person you greet may be on the verge of sainthood or damnation. Every moral choice we make repeats the drama of Eden. No one can do everything. Everyone can do something. Begin.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. Republished with gracious permission of Crisis Magazine (July 2015).

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7 replies to this post
  1. “A Hobbes replaces the summum Bonum by the summum malum as the ordering force of man’s existence….” EV, “Reason.”

  2. All of Mr. Esolen’s advice applies to those in the Protestant traditions, as well as the Roman Catholic. Obviously, the non-liturgical advice makes sense regardless of one’s theology, but even the liturgical recommendations apply. As I former Episcopalian, I saw the rot on the theological side progress hand in hand with the abandonment of traditional hymns for “hymnals filled with bad poetry expressing hippy-dippy theology to treacly or unsingable tunes” (it was actually a Roman Catholic hymnal), with the erosion of reverence before and after the actual liturgy, or even within the liturgy. It was manifested in an “exchange of the peace” which became an opportunity for socializing, in homilies which had to be entertaining before they were enlightening, and in a host of other travesties.

  3. Punchy, provocative call to action! Let’s get on with it, brick by brick, rebuilding the City of God.

  4. Let’s get on with voting. If there are no life-affirming, turn in a blank ballot (don’t write anything on it) is a clear “none of the above” statement. And let’ not blame and stereotype others.

  5. Some of the best, kindest, most charitable, and most humane counsel that I have heard in years. When people talk about the Benedict Option, I agree. But that option should be to hark back to St. Benedict of Nursia. Or Cassiodorus and Boethius. In the words of the author, ‘let’s begin’.

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