Selections from The Unbroken Thread

“The great benefit to be derived from reading pre-modern authors is to come to realise that after all we [moderns] might have been mistaken.” – C.F.J. Martin 

[C.S. Lewis] argued that instinct, science’s go-to answer to our central question, just isn’t enough. For one thing, we have many instincts, and they “are at war.” The instinct to preserve our own lives battles with the instinct to protect our loved ones and communities. Which, Lewis asked, should we listen to? 

If God left an imprint of rationality in every mind, and if human reasoning is analogous to the divine Logos, then the Christian philosopher must be prepared, Aquinas thought, to seek and to accept truth wherever it may lie, including among representatives of rival religions and worldviews. 

“Nothing is as hard to suppress as the will to be a slave to one’s own pettiness. Gallantly, ceaselessly, quietly, man must fight for inner liberty. Inner liberty depends upon being exempt from domination of things as well as from domination of people. There are many who have acquired a high degree of political and social liberty, but only very few are not enslaved to things. This is our constant problem—how to live with people and remain free, how to live with things and remain independent. “ – Abraham Joshua Heschel 

Privatized rites are perfectly suited to thoroughly privatized societies like ours. But then is it any wonder that one in ten Baby Boomers is aging without any family members around? Or that one in five millennials has no friends?61 That racial and class antagonism are at a fever pitch, fueling the rise of angry identity politics and backlash movements? Where can the isolated and privatized modern subject begin to access true liminality and communitas, to appreciate the humankindness of his fellows? Where can we participate in a visible principle of unity and fellowship that transcends social and political divisions? Could it be that our angry online politics, with their ritual shaming and confession, simulate some aspects of traditional liturgies—only without the authentic redemption and community-building of the genuine articles? 

Jesus rejected hatred. It was not because he lacked the vitality or the strength. It was not because he lacked the incentive. Jesus rejected hatred because he saw that hatred meant death to the mind, death to the spirit, death to communion with his Father. He affirmed life; and hatred was the great denial. 

[…] the notion that we can’t know, much less legislate, humanity’s highest end is itself a metaphysical, even spiritual claim, and it stands at the heart of the modern project. Its god is the unbound self. And the worship of such a god will inevitably have political consequences: vast accumulations of capital, much of it concentrated in very few hands; a ceaselessly disruptive culture offering kaleidoscopic lifestyles; a heavily armed commercial empire. These are the conditions fueling popular discontent across the developed world in our century. And, all else being equal, this predicament would have been familiar to Augustine. 

Conspiracy theorists make a killing in our marketplace of ideas. The loudest, most outrageous voices are rewarded. We don’t know whom to believe. Yet few wonder if the habitual distrust for authority bred by liberalism has anything to do with any of this. 

We like to tell ourselves that thinking for yourself and questioning authority will make Oskar Schindlers out of all of us. But if we discard all the old, inconvenient authorities that restrained the beastly side of our natures, isn’t it more likely that we will end up becoming beastly people? 

We know that most people sway, feather-like, to the prevailing winds of news and social media, fashion and faddism, public and “expert” opinion, P.R. and propaganda. Large corporations especially, want nothing more than for our minds to be independent—that is, unmoored from absolute, unbendable moral authorities that might challenge corporate agendas. And how much the better for the powers-that-be if pliant consumers and docile workers fancy themselves rebels and radicals. 

The general tendency of modern life is to defeat or circumvent the inconvenient material realities standing between us and our desires. 

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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4 Responses to Selections from The Unbroken Thread

  1. Wow! Great musings. I believe that people are only as good as social boundaries make them. I’ve been reading Confucious and Taoism (even though I’m a Christian) and one believes man is inherently good and outside conditions make him evil, while the other says that man is inherently evil and it is only an outside source that can make us good.

    Of course I believe the latter and the outside source is, of course, Jesus Christ.

    • I don’t believe we’re inherently evil (nor does Christian doctrine), just…broken. Limited. We’re like a broken pot….capable of doing well, but in need of mending. I don’t know much about either of those systems, other than Confucian emphasis on law/order, and the Tao’s allegedly more….relaxed, subtle way.

      • Cyberkitten says:

        I think we’re just….. human….. you know, primates that woke up one day and are still figuring things out. Not evil, not broken, just human………

      • OK I looked up the word “inherent” and I realize I did not know the correct definition of the word. I meant our natures are inclined toward selfishness. I like discussions like these. I always end up a little smarter.

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