Thursday, 13 December 2018

Dawson 7, part a.

In every age religion has expressed man’s dominant attitude to life and to the understanding of reality. It is also the greatest dynamic in social life. The secularisation of society is a sign of social decay. In the West, religious tradition and culture are not identical but express a dualism; both seek to bring order and intelligibility into life and thought.
Today science is regarded as the true European tradition, and Christianity is seen as alien – a tradition that has temporarily deflected the normal development of our culture. But neither science nor Christianity are the result of a natural process of development.
The West was unified by Christianity and, as a consequence, it was able to assimilate Greek thought. Science was never able to be a substitute for religion. Science is an intellectual method, not a dynamic impulse from within the person.
Science and religion are distinct in origin, and so today, a new synthesis may in fact be achieved. This will happen through the integration of science and a non-rational yet naturalistic doctrine, and with the abandonment of Christianity.
Science arose from the ritual of ancient religion, and so a modern ‘religion of science’ would be perfectly in order – provided that it be recognized as belonging to the realm of religion and not to that of science. For instance, Plato regarded science as a religious discipline, and in this way he substituted astronomy for mythology.
Today, such an attitude would be out of tune, particularly with regard to bringing any element of metaphysics into the frame. Today’s religion will have to be based in the here and now.
In this analysis we can see the way that ‘faith’ is understood by the secular mind – ‘faith’ is a quality that can belong to any person, rather than to a religion. And that, as a consequence, there is a new relationship between society and ‘faith’; society welcomes people of ‘faith’, one amongst equals. Society however, will not now be formed and guided by Faith, as it was in the previous Christian age.
Today it is commonly accepted that the development of religion since classical times was a ‘blind alley’ for humanity, and that we need to return to the older attitude to nature and life, which was abandoned by developing civilisations about 3000 ago. This will allow us to have a new paganism, where we can again worship the vital forces of nature in place of having a participation in a transcendent divinity. In this new religion, scientific law will replace religious ritual. Even so, this new form of religion will not be a return to the primitive. Now that man has a certain control over his environment, the attitude of awe and wonder is no longer strong, nor can he now admit the supremacy of a non-rational power – which is just as well, because for 3000 years much of humanity has grown and developed precisely through its relationship with a transcendent divinity.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Dawson 6, part d.

Liberal idealism is an unsubstantiated shadow projected from Christianity. In its wake science created an ephemeral culture. So, today’s society has no hierarchy of values, no intellectual authority, no social or religious tradition, only fleeting feelings.
We should not forget the cities of the Roman Empire, which lived for the amphitheater and the circus; the only future for such a civilization is social disintegration. However, in such a time, even if religions cannot find a place within social life, the religious instinct of human beings does not disappear.
We have seen how the secularization of Europe was accompanied by social unrest and upheaval. This has always happened. But never before have we seen a complete re-modeling of society be envisaged as an ideal. This movement is a religious, rather than a political type. Examples from our history are the Anabaptists and the Levellers. Behind Marx’s interpretation of history there burns an apocalyptic vision; a Nineteenth Century version of the Day of the Lord, in which the rich and the powerful should be consumed, and the poor and disinherited should reign in a regenerated universe, according to that Eternal Cycle which human will and effort are powerless to change or stop.
What lies behind social movements is a religious impulse not a political one. Once its victory is gained and the phase of destruction is ended, its inspiration fades and realism steps in. Revolution is a symptom of the divorce between religion and social life.
We can see today how the great energies of life are being consumed by the ‘social’ movements, whereas, when aligned to Christ, those energies could build a wonderfully human society.
The revolutions of Nineteenth Century Europe (anarchists, socialists, liberals) were all driven by the sense that European society was the embodiment of ‘material force’. They were not then, based upon a genuine sense of justice, nor in the pursuit of an ideal. They came instead from a dis-illusionment with the structures of society, which caught the religious impulse and then attacked society itself.
In Russia this attitude is endemic, springing perhaps from the inheritance of Byzantine religious tradition; an attitude that does not seek to reform or improve things, but to escape. “To wreck the great guilty temple, and give us Rest”, wrote Francis Adams.
The First World War expressed the failure of mechanistic civilization, but the world view that inspired it has become more common. We are still therefore, in danger, because the root problem is the separation of social life from religious impulse.
The great example of this is the Roman Empire and its vehicle, Hellenistic civilization. Once the Religious basis of this Empire became separated, nothing else could maintain the reality of that civilization, and it became hateful in the eyes of its subjects; Babylon the great fell. But from within the catastrophe a new civilization was already growing, one that appeared as weak, poor and naked.
At that time, St Augustine summed up the Roman Empire in this way: “They have reached their reward; vain men, vain reward.”
Human beings become spiritually alienated when they lose their religious foundations and focus on purely material success. The religious impulse is the cement that unifies a society and a culture. Religion is not a by-product of civilization, but its foundation. A society that loses its religion will also, one day, loose its culture.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Dawson 6, part c.

Europe has never been united by a material culture, but only by a moral and spiritual one. Christianity, which had united Europe, haunted the Eighteenth Century, suggesting that a new union was at hand. Yet the Industrial Era did not achieve what Christianity once had done. There was now no common conception of reality that could unite people and, while physical science progressed, philosophy lost its foothold.
The world, seen as a closed, material order, left no room for moral values or spiritual forces. Nonetheless, this environment gave rise to semi-theological Deism; that beyond the physical mechanism of the Universe there existed the Divine engineer.
Although a conflict existed between science and religion, the opposition between science and philosophy was greater. The mechanistic hypothesis is more easily reconcilable with faith, than it is with metaphysical system. Deism broke down precisely because of its religious and philosophical weakness, and as it did so the mechanistic hypothesis entered into every aspect of existence – man became part of the machine. Morality and spirituality were excluded, and humanitarian ideals were excluded from ordinary life. Science lost its optimism. If everything is a part of an eternal cosmic process, then everything, including human beings, must ultimately remain the same.
Luther’s notion that the human person redeemed by grace was merely ‘a manure heap covered with snow’, had entered deeply into the human psyche.
The ancient doctrine of an eternal cycle was once again part of philosophy, but now it postulated the gradual running down of the process to an absolute end. Science could never accept this repugnant world view, but instead sought to provide new justification for the theory of an eternal process. Yet the only progress that it could conceive of was the progress to an eternal death. Moreover, without a God metaphysics – the mathematics behind material substance – is vapid. Science is nothing more than the measurement of the material world; science cannot explain the cause of things. Even so, the more that the parameters of science became delineated, the more pressing became the need for metaphysics.
You can see in this history of the Enlightenment the various human movements by which man wrestled with his lot, exploring within, seeking without, struggling with his condition, in any way except the relationship of grace that was his proper call. The New Evangelisation is thus the way of calling to man in his desperate and anxious search, and helping him to trust again in grace and not in his own resourcefulness.
Science cannot replace philosophy, nor can it act as a religion, nor can it unite societies. Science is an intellectual technique, not a moral system. If you know how to use it, then it can become a tool for you. Good science has been led by a humanitarian spirit, a spirit which has been born of science but of religion.
If the Eighteenth Century could manage without dogmatic religion, could the Twentieth Century manage without Liberalism?

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Honouring Aske.

Yesterday, by Clifford's Tower in the centre of York a plaque was unveiled which honours the memory of Robert Aske, the leader of the Pilgrimage of Grace, who was put to death by King Henry VIII on 12th July 1537. Here are some of the photos that I took:
This new plaque was unveiled under the auspices of the Civic Trust of York, by the Bishop of Middlesborough, in the presence of the Lord Mayor of York and the Sheriff of Yorkshire. The project as a whole had been led by that marvellous apostolate, The Knights of St Columba, many of whom were present. 
Of Robert Aske we know only the broad historical details, but enough to know that he was a good man living under a terrible tyranny. What is noteworthy is the desire, within our society, to honour the person. The genuine 'honouring of persons' is something that persists in our secular society, and the words that were spoken at this unveiling expressed a deep longing - this land is Catholic, although it's State is protestant.
Particular thanks to the Knights of St Columba for carrying this project through.

Friday, 30 November 2018

Dawson VI, part b.

In this age Europe ceased to lead the world, and its own civilization was weakened through national rivalry and dis-union. This instability reached down to the structure of society. No longer did changing, urban, society have as its foundation the stability of rural society, with its natural rhythm and traditional human culture. That which had fed the new urban culture was now exhausted by the strain which urban, artificial culture put upon it. And so, rural society becomes a small minority. The powers of the State and public opinion acted to streamline and bring conformity to the entire population.
In the new “civilization” the conditions of life became more and more artificial as it moved away from the natural rhythm, making increasing demands on people’s energies. The change was not just material but also biological, a change which will affect the future of mankind. Can human beings adapt themselves successfully to these conditions? Can people maintain the energy that these conditions require of them? Will people become exhausted, and an era of social degeneration follow? Will a new form of social equilibrium be scientifically engendered?
Let us remember that the Roman Empire fell because of a sudden change of material conditions. These conditions, the foundation of her power, were the agrarian, peasant life of the soldier citizen. Once the Mediterranean world had been conquered by Rome, a new, sophisticated elite arose who lived by war and plunder, exhausting Rome’s strength. Rome killed Rome; a vast, useless burden broke the back of the Empire.
Yet the Church was in the midst of this, as the Prophets had foretold; and her foundation was neither power, science nor the natural rhythm, but the mystical union of her human faculties with the Son of God.
Today, urban development does not have the parasitic character of the ancient world. Moreover, science has helped to nurture the material conditions of life. But the social changes carry more weight. What our civilization needs today is social and moral unification – a profound human fellowship and sharing in our common lot. The Church’s contribution to this is precisely the New Evangelisation.
Actually, the world, which was a European creation, needs Europe. Neither politicians nor politics appear to offer the remedy. Europe today is waiting for a new Augustus; the emperor who converted the selfish forces of the Empire into agents of peace and world order.
Europe needs to be a place of social and economic co-operation. However, Liberalism, in its project to secularise Europe, has undermined its own foundations and has destroyed the spiritual tradition upon which Europe was built.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Dawson VI, part a.

The Age of Science and Industry.
As we progress through these chapters of Dawson’s magnificent book, “Religion and Progress”, the changes that took place during the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries can seem very depressing from a Catholic point of view; I’m sure that they will indeed have depressed many! However, the Church has already lived these events and circumstances, and that is why there is today a call for a New Evangelisation. Now that doesn’t seem so depressing, does it! It is a world subject to these influences, and not a utopia, that we are called to evangelise.
So far Dawson has principally discussed philosophical movements and political trends. Economic methods were also in play during this era. On the European continent the two great movements of the age were science and reason, and theology and faith. In England there existed a via media between the two. This was the search for a practical approach to the building of civilization: the Industrial Revolution.
The social movement of activism, which was already underway in England since the Reformation, enabled the development of industry and thrift. In this context, work was like a religious vocation. The Industrial Revolution was led by the new moral force and asceticism that served the ideals of duty and of economic power. However, the reality was that economic freedom was sacrificed to economic conquest and exploitation, paving the way for a new, vast, process of managing and forming society.
As the new Industrial empire spread, traditional culture, customs, and economy were broken down. The world became a single community with an international economic life and ideals.
Modern Europe and America are the heirs of the old Roman Empire; achieved not now by military force, but through Liberal ideas and political democracy. Material progress led to a social crisis. But, even though industrialization raised the general standard of life, it degraded the position of the ordinary worker.
Socialism also grew out of Liberalism. The Marxist interpretation of history actually expresses the failure of material progress to satisfy the human condition, on whose labour the whole new enterprise had come into being. Marxism is in reality a dis-affection with the modern social order and a demand for another one.
The exploitation of the world by the newly industrialised Europe was too rapid and could not be maintained. Today, those factors are reversed, and now non-Western countries are taking their share of the world market. In England the heavy industries declined sharply, whilst its need for imported foods increased.