For those living at the end of the Roman Empire in the 5th Century, it must have seemed like the sky was falling. Once the seat of a mighty empire, the richest and most populous city on Earth, Rome had been sacked by the Vandals as other Germanic tribes were running roughshod over the borderlands of the empire. Centuries of civil war had weakened the Roman Legions, the campaigns of Attila had laid much of both the Eastern and Western empires to ruin, and thus it seemed that all of civilization would soon fall to the unlearned barbarians and their lust for plunder.
A few, insulated by their wealth and comfort, never saw the apocalyptic destruction of the old order coming. Others were forced to confront the death of a once mighty empire face-to-face. They had seen the military defeats, the fractious civil wars, the decadence and incompetence of the elite, and the many thousands of foreigners that had been brought into the heart of the Empire as slaves and mercenaries. Rome was far from the ideals of Aeneas, the Senate, or even the strength and vitality of the Caesars. For many, I'm sure, it was a cause for great despair.
And yet we all know the story. Rome fell, but was not forgotten. The patrimony of pagan Rome and Greece was preserved, not by the proud Roman aristocrats or the great scholars of the last age, but by strange, funny little men with a mystical desert religion. The radical thing about this religion, the thing that had finally converted dying Rome after centuries of persecution, was hope. Despite having been fed to lions, crucified, flayed, and raked over hot coals, the Christian communities of the Roman Empire held hope in an eternal kingdom in which, by their gruesome deaths, they were attaining ranks of prestige and majesty far superior to their tormentors.
The 5th Century Christians, too far removed from the events of the Gospels to have seen Jesus or even to have met someone who saw Jesus, and yet similarly a newly-ascendant religious community with little idea of the grandeur that Christian civilization would possess at its zenith, could have been forgiven for thinking that the end of Rome (that fixture of the ancient world by which all achievement was to be measured) would also have spelled the end of the world.
But they didn't, for they had hope in the Risen Christ, and all the slings of the enemy, all the rapaciousness of the hordes of the north, and all the decadence of the late Imperial patricians could not shake their hope. Contained in the seeds of their Christian faith was a hope that things would be better tomorrow, even if it were the End Times, for on the other side of Judgement Day there awaited a blessed reunion with their Heavenly Father.
The Conflicted Mind of the Christian Today
Let us compare then, these holy men to their modern day counterparts. The Christian communities of the West in our times are ravaged by heterodoxy, complacency, and in no small part - despair. Not despair in the sense that many refuse to believe God will forgive us for our sins, after all if there is any theological vice in the West, it is most certainly an overstatement of God's mercy and forgiveness and not an understatement. The despair of our age is rather born out of the heresies of our age: materialism, modernism, and so forth.
Many Christians now believe with two minds. With their "superstitious" mind they believe in the forgiveness of sins, the communion of the saints, the resurrection of the dead, and life everlasting. With their "rational" or their "worldly" mind, they believe in the Origin of Species by Natural Selection, General Relativity, psychology, sociology, the meaninglessness of life, and the eternal dialectic flux. They espouse the doctrines of the faith on Sunday, but fail to believe them on Monday - not because they have truly rejected either the doctrines of the Church or the doctrines of the World - but because one cannot hold these two contradictory frames of reference simultaneously. This double think forces the modern Christian to choose to believe in eternal life one day, and cease believing in it in the next.
I think, for example, of myself in this regard. I used to be quite fond of watching television programs about astronomy and cosmology. Learning about the strange phenomena of space, or as C.S. Lewis refers to it in his science fiction trilogy, 'deep heaven', was and still is one of my fondest passions. But, as one watches these programs, one is ultimately catechized into a non-Christian understanding of the universe. I would nod along absent-mindedly as the narrator talked of the eventual heat death of the Universe, the collapse into nothingness, and the emergence of the Universe out of nothingness.
All planets in the Universe capable of sustaining life, Earth included, are doomed to be destroyed as their stars run out of hydrogen to fuse into helium, expand, engulf the ancient worlds, and then die spectacularly. Later on, someone might have asked me about the life cycle of a star, and I would posit nonchalantly that even the Sun would destroy the solar system one day. When asked, for example, if this would occur before or after the return of Christ, I would’ve realized the rift between my two held beliefs about the Universe. I might have muttered something like, "Well if it weren't for the return of Christ, humanity would all be burned up by the Sun in a billion years."
This is a mild example. After all, there is nothing wrong in keeping up with the latest in academic research and comparing this new information to prior held beliefs. That is, after all, a mark of someone who displays a healthy intellectual curiosity, isn't it?
The Persistence of Conflicting Eschatologies
At this point, it is probably appropriate for the reader to ask why I am going through so much trouble to illustrate such a banal observation. We all know that the World and the Church have differing opinions on eschatology. Nothing controversial is being said here. Well, that is true. My contention, however, is that Christians have largely adopted this new eschatology - or, to put it in simpler words, modern Christians, for the most part, regard the intercession of God and a spiritual significance for worldly events as remote possibilities. Of the two modes of thinking - the worldly and the heavenly - the former is the most dominant in the minds of all.
This is most perceptible in matters relating to history and the ultimate destiny of the human race. The worldly insist that the tides of history either have no perceptible meaning or are always marching ever on to a technological utopia. All distinctions will die away, the Singularity will come and sweep up mankind in a supposed bliss of wires and silicon. Or, alternatively, a social revolution will sweep the world and the oppressed will finally be at the levers of oppression. For some, this is akin to striving for Heaven - a Promethean undertaking in a world devoid of meaning. For others, traditionalists and conservative Christians more generally, this is a premonition of Hell. The problem seems to be that, in the minds of many of these reactionaries, these scenarios of upheaval seem more dominant in their conceptions of the future than the promises of Revelation.
What has this led to? Well, as you may have noticed, while the situation of the Late American Empire is similar in many regards to the late Roman Empire (though I do not pretend to know for how long the star-spangled hegemon will stand, whether for ten years or a hundred years), Christians are not particularly prepared or motivated for the upcoming task of reconstructing order. Perhaps the relative favor which the West has given to Christianity for the last few centuries that is just now falling away has made the modern Christian soft through lack of persecution, or perhaps they are soft for lack of conviction.
What, then, do those who have lost hope, who see the enemies at the gates, cling to? While they may still believe the faith and fear for the extinguishing of the light of Christ among the people, this fear is attached to the material symbols which they associate with the goodness of Christ and his Church. For many of the older demographic, it is 'the Constitution,' 'freedom,' and 'the American Way of Life.' For some of the younger doomers, it is 'the white race,' 'trad culture,' or esoteric theories about relations between the sexes and sexual market value.
There is a tendency, among both Boomers and Doomers, to use these symbols as proxies for the spiritual warfare that is sweeping the Western world. They have staked the eternal upon the momentary, and the infinite upon the finite. When such symbols are inevitably destroyed or co-opted by the forces of modernity, it is then tantamount to saying that Christ has failed, the Church has failed, and this serves to deepen the despair which is palpable across both the liberal and post-liberal right wing.
And up until this point, I have spoken only of Christians, the people who could be expected to have hope beyond hope. If you truly believe that God himself took on human form, scourged himself for your sins, and resurrected from the dead, how can you possibly believe that such a God is not in complete control of both matter and form? How could a follower of such a God lack hope? If this be the case for the diminishing contingent of Christians in the West, how deep are the depths of the despair which the modern pagan finds himself in?
In a word, unfathomable. Recent events have demonstrated that, in the face of the gaping maw of modernity, many men who would once have been stalwart and virtuous in the face of such evil are increasingly reduced to social isolation, hedonism, narcissism, and ineffectual attempts to lash out at the many-headed demon, trusting only in the strength of their own hand. They have, like many Christians, lashed their hopes of order, stability, and a well-ordered homeland to fleeting symbols which are everywhere under siege, everywhere being toppled. It is clear to everyone at this stage that as Yeats wrote,
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned
And Yet Amidst the Rubble, Providence Prevails
But what of it? Are we to sink into the tar pits of our vices? Are we to lash out in one final, violent, dying gasp for sanity in a world of increasing insanity? No, no, and a million times no. The simple man of a certain time, when he sees his idols reduced to ruin, his household gods smashed, his sacred fires extinguished, and victorious armies of the enemy carrying away the spoils of the temple, may have cause for despair, for the gods themselves are against him and have ordained his destruction. But the Christian? The fellow traveler of Christendom? The virtuous pagan who, by right reason, aspires to what is true, good, and beautiful?
Their holy places can be laid to rubble, their relics desecrated, their bodies pierced with arrows, and yet they will survive. Why? Because we, as in all ages, uphold the generative principles of mankind. We defend the forces that rebuild and reconstitute civilizations: charity, repentance, family, humility, etcetera etcetera. These are features of mankind which can be dimmed for long years, but never entirely stamped out. If the situation is truly as dire as we suspect, we must constitute the embers of a civilization of whose founding we will never see within our lives, that our children may never see in their lives.
The new kingdom yet to come will have its own challenges. The forces of the Enemy never sleep, and evil constantly assaults the good. Sometimes in the open, sometimes in secret. The increasing drive of automation and technology will, if allowed, deepen the common man's alienation. The birth of artificial intelligence will mean an all-out attack on human governance, free will, and the mere idea of the immortal soul. Life extension technologies and increasingly destructive and extractive means of gathering resources will strain the fragile earth.
Unfathomable new technologies will allow for greater control over the population, their actions and their thoughts. The future of mankind seems destined to be bleak, spiritually impoverished, and socially dead. What is there left to do but to regroup, to shore up our defenses, and to go on the offensive. Let us gain our courage, and not be dissuaded. If our fathers in faith could not be turned away by the threat of the arena, the rack, or the headsman's ax, how can we stand uselessly aside for fear of mean names? Fear of economic reprisal?
I am reminded of the young man in Poland back in 2019 who, upon seeing a blasphemed image of the Blessed Virgin, stood in the path of a Pride March with a crucifix and a rosary held high. Political theatre? Maybe. Or, potentially, the opening of a new offensive. When you are tired of getting punched in the mouth, it might be prudent to roll up your sleeves and give your assailant what for - in the metaphorical sense, I might clarify. The challenges of the future require the post-liberal right, broadly the defenders of humanity, family, and spirituality, not to be cowed, shaken from its course, or averse to conflict. For that end to come about, we require hope. And to establish hope, we must banish despair.
This essay was originally published at Hidebound Press, which is the publishing arm of the Hidebound Convivium YouTube channel, and has been republished with the permission of the site's owner. Please help support independent content creators and "Like" and subscribe to these sites.
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