There is a theme running through many intellectuals and wanna-be intellectuals – those who at least see that without Christian values and culture the West is headed to some version of hell. It’s something like: good religion is important for other people and society, but I don’t need to really believe it. Anyway, I am too smart for that.
People like this really don’t get the reality that to get (or keep) the society they think they want they will have to quit standing on the sidelines, merely cheering on those who have placed themselves in the game. It is as if they are saying, “It’s important that people dumber than me believe Christianity to be true, such that I can get the society I want.”
Jordan Peterson offers a version of this: “I act as if it’s true.” This rings equally hollow…and shallow. Nothing was built or changed by playing games of pretend. Very few people die for make-believe. Well, maybe other than Peterson. He may be the exception that proves the rule, given that his “acting as if it’s true” nearly cost him his life. (And here, I am assuming he is acting – as opposed to hiding his conversion. A reasonably safe assumption.)
Some people look at our current state and pine: it kind of worked even just a few decades ago – this “acting as if it’s true” stuff, this hoping that enough dumb people believed – such that society held together. In other words, we didn’t need to overtly hold to Christian truth and, see, we were doing just fine! On the one hand, yes. On the other hand, the cards were dealt well before Obama became president and well before the pill.
We cannot really say "it worked" until just the last couple of decades. The twentieth century was a catastrophe for the West, all the way around. Communism was born in the West, as was Naziism, as was critical theory, as whatever it is that you want to say about the monstrosity of the American state, etc.
Jacques Barzun describes World War One as the suicide of the West. Now, no one wakes up one day going from well-adjusted to suicide. The collective “West” didn’t do this either. The motive power behind the depression and aimlessness was in place well before the suicide occurred.
So, then. What was it that drove the West to this suicide? Solzhenitsyn suggested that the reason the West fell into WWI was that men have forgotten God. It is the best explanation for that otherwise unexplainable war that I have heard.
When did men forget God? This can be found in the Enlightenment. The roots of the suicide of the West can be found here, when men forgot God. Sure, in different parts of the West God lived on in the fumes of memory longer than in others. But even early on, He was pushed out of polite society, to be kept in the attic bedroom like some crazy uncle.
Some will say it was earlier than the Enlightenment. It was the Renaissance, or the Reformation, or the Great Schism. Or, later: It was Marx, or Gramsci, or Marcuse. But, in the former, there was still God. And in the latter, there was not God. It was in the Enlightenment that men forgot God.
What does this mean for us individually? I believe that this picture that I painted (or some other such version of our historical reality) should make clear that we, individually, are impotent to fight against this massive flood. The current is much too strong.
Many are trying to work this out, finding a way to bring more people into the fight – mindfulness practices, Neo-Platonism, Buddhism, a religion that is not a religion, estuaries. There are problems with each. In some cases, these foundations built nothing like the freedoms and wealth that the West has enjoyed. In others, critical mass will never form. None of these will build the foundation necessary for stopping the floodwaters we are facing. Yet, an institution is needed.
I see two possibilities for just such an institution: the university, or the Church. I toss out the university – besides being too far gone, there is no true, foundational, narrative behind these – no story by which to bind. In any case, the universities were built on a foundation the Church set. The Church came first, as it had to.
The only institution large enough to stop this flood will be the Church. It has a history of doing just this. It has a history of developing and sustaining ideas around liberty. Through the Church, we individually gain the means by which to withstand the flood. And for the society it is only through the Church that the flood will be held back.
Once held back, the floodwaters will even reverse. After all, in the face of the storm Jesus didn't merely bring a larger boat - He stopped the storm.
Of course, there is a place for the university. It is a place that the Church – especially and specifically the Catholic branch of the Church – abandoned, and has since even fought against: natural law. I get it – true Christian faith isn’t for everyone. But the teaching and understanding of natural law ethics is – well, at least if we want to regain some form of liberty.
And this is where the university – and, by tradition and scholarship, this means Catholic universities – can play a role.
College applicants are abandoning the so-called elite universities. Places like Hillsdale College are seeing a record number of applicants, as many are fleeing from the nonsense found in most other universities – and as these same universities are abandoning the most capable students in favor of woke admission practices.
Imagine the same for Catholic Universities as is happening at places like Hillsdale if these universities would do the one higher-education task for which this tradition is best suited: that is, to teach natural law.