A rant for Saint David’s Day

The distinction between how things look, and how things are, was the subject of my column today in Catholic Thing (here). With my accustomed modesty, I began by dismissing all literature, art, music, et cetera, that is not “visionary” in some sense I did not adequately define. Then I proceeded through rhetorical hoops to the conclusion that the same pertains to worship — omitting the thick square book that could have intervened, for I had not the time to write it yesterday morning. The column should of course, like most of my writings, be read backwards. (Some are meant to be read sideways.) The point I was making was itself quite backward.

The foreground question, that has been disturbing me for some time, and obsessing me lately, is whether what we call for shorthand “Western Civ” is salvageable. That it would be worth salvaging (we live in the age of gerunds, don’t we?) I take for granted. We are alive; we have to live somehow; better that it be in the highest of civilizations, than in barbarous filth. Not everyone agrees with me on this. The great majority, even within my Church, would prefer to live in a moral, intellectual, aesthetic, and spiritual pigsty of consumerism, in which the swineherds are provided by Twisted Nanny State.

Now traditionally, pigs had extended sharp tusks, and were death on swineherds. They still have them, but diminished in size by breeding, and sometimes even the wee vestigial bumps are removed, at the risk of cracking our jaws. This does not mean the captive suid is perfectly contented; only that he has been disarmed.

(I have a theory that humans are descended from pigs, not monkeys. I don’t actually believe it, but the argument can be developed in a way that will drive the village Darwinist crazy. Note: the average pig is smarter than a monkey; and can’t be bothered climbing trees.)

But I seem to be distracting myself into zoology, and my purpose was hardly to advance naturalism. Indeed, my self-assigned brief is for supernaturalism. My affection for pigs is just an aside. In the end it must be said there has never been a pig civilization, and the prospect that one may emerge by the ministrations of animal rights activists is, to my mind, dim.

Nor has there been a human civilization without unambiguously religious foundations. There can be no order (for good, or when it fails, for evil) that does not require reference to something higher than itself. This is as true for the headhunters of Borneo (where the pigs are bearded, and ought to be carefully avoided in the mangrove swamps), or the short-statured of the Congo jungle (formerly known as pygmies). Among the definitions of “faith” must be that which holds the tribe or a people together, without tyranny. When it is lost, everything is lost.

(The “red-river hogs” of the Congo swamps are an exceptionally beautiful species, incidentally, with their gorgeous orange fox-like fur, adorable whiskers, decorative black and white facial patches, and thin white stripe along spine and tail. Though as any pigmy could tell you, they are terrible yam thieves, can defend themselves even against leopards, and would not make good family pets.)

Where am I? … Faith. … Our own once unambiguously Christian civilization has been typical in its embrace of a supernatural order. The phenomena of collective worship are not unusual, as civilizations go. What made Christendom unique was the attachment to a God who can actually deliver us from cosmic perils. The hand-held devices we now worship cannot do that for us. Nor will they induce order of any kind.

Even at the most incontestably pragmatic level: it is time we returned to something that was working. Serve God, in Christ, and He will look out for us. Serve some other gods, and He won’t.


BONUS POINT. — From that Thing column: “A prophetic vision is not visual, or necessarily visual: the author could be blind. Nor can it be communicated in language alone.” … I am unsatisfied with the latter sentence. Yes, it can be communicated in words alone, but in words that go beneath and beyond themselves. For space, I cut a paragraph more reasonably explaining that anything worth reading, though it be only words, must participate in a dimension of poetry. Anything that doesn’t, needs to be destroyed. It is of the devil. That which is of God will be poetic of its nature. This is why the introduction of “Novus Ordo” was such an anti-Catholic crime: by desecrating the poetry of the Old Mass, it also undermined the content. Or consider Esperanto, for that matter: the invention of a language in which poetry would be impossible. As Baudelaire said, a man can go without food three days; but without poetry, Never!