FGF E-Package
The Unrepentant Traditionalist
June 11, 2009

When Scales Fall
by Frank Creel

ARLINGTON, VA — It is natural for God to remain hidden precisely because he places such a premium on faith. He is transcendent, utterly beyond the categories of our minds and unreachable except by his own initiative.

From a different aspect, however, the hiddenness of God is a wrenching reality, the result not of his essential ineffability but of the human inclination to sweep him under the rug. The so-called Enlightenment encapsulates that very tendency. From the violent soil of a Voltaire, hoping to see the last king strangled with the entrails of the last priest, there sprouted the deceptively gentler tendrils of indifference and forgetfulness. Our beloved America (not to mention dying Europe) is today snarled in their deadly embrace.

While the nation shivers in the fear that H1N1 will emerge this fall as a re-enactment of the Great Influenza of 1917-18, C. J. McCloskey III has identified “affluenza” as the greater peril. We have heard the prayer that God will comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, but the truth is that those who wallow in their comforts do not need God to afflict them. In the midst of our affluence, we afflict ourselves with his absence. The consequences of that absence are severe, both to us as individuals and to the country we constitute.

Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), generally regarded as the father of sociology, was preoccupied with the phenomenon he called “anomie,” the gnawing sense of disconnectedness Durkheim attributed to industrialization, urbanization, and family breakdown. Fathers and churches could no longer instill self-discipline and the recognition of limits in their children. “Rulelessness” (the best definition of anomie) led to widespread social pathologies and to personal tragedies such as suicide, another topic that fascinated Durkheim.

When he pondered the psychic mechanism that explains anomie, Durkheim merely rediscovered an ancient truth: Every human being is born with the desire for the infinite, for complete happiness and total satisfaction. Because this innate desire is inherently unattainable, traditional societies developed coping mechanisms to avoid personal despair and social disintegration.

Thus, Buddhism espouses nirvana, a “blowing out” of all desire and emotion so complete that the very substantiality of the “self” is problematic. Pagan Romans and Greeks divinized their rulers, who, no matter how licentious they themselves were, were entitled to the absolute obedience, i.e., self-rule, of their subjects. Christians discovered spiritual equilibrium in the example of their suffering Savior and self-discipline in His admonition that, if we love Him, we must keep His commandments.

Yet, these remain mere coping mechanisms. Something far beyond that, a kind of nirvana without the obliteration of self, was discovered by those few Christians privileged to achieve personal union with the Infinite — Paul of Tarsus, the eremites of the desert, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, and Julian of Norwich, among others. Such union is attained only after terrible suffering borne patiently and many dark nights of the soul endured steadfastly, to be sure, but so deeply penetrates the favored one’s personality that the pathologies of despair and anomie are left behind once and for all.

Were Durkheim here to observe 21st-century America, he would find his theory of anomie largely validated. Certainly, few countries in history have been so atomized as our own by the loss of norms. The “affluenza” from which we suffer disconnects us not only from the hearths and altars of our forebears, but from our own descendants as well, for it is they who will bear the consequences of our profligate pursuit of “the American dream.”

Durkheim would have been honest enough to see, I think, that the enterprise of which he was such an important part also bears responsibility for this sad state of affairs. It has been the march of scientific and technological progress that induced in us the hubris to imagine that, henceforth, mankind had no need of religious restraint, tradition, and what Chesterton called the “democracy of the dead.” It is science, in the main, that tells us that God is dead and that the creation of heaven on earth is within our reach.

There is great irony in this, for it is also science that is disclosing to us the astounding beauty and regularity of the world we inhabit in ways much more stunning than were available to those great forebears who saw nature’s comeliness as proof of God’s own wisdom and beauty. From the electron microscope revealing atomic structures and the pulsating cosmos of the cell to the Hubble telescope painting out the reaches of cosmic arches and vaults, the awesome instruments of scientific progress limn the beard of the face seen and loved in those desert cells.

God hides not only himself but also, sometimes, his blessings. Perhaps we can hope, in this dark night of our soul, that we shall not remain blind much longer to his come-hither glance.

The Unrepentant Traditionalist archives


The Unrepentant Traditionalist is copyright (c) 2009 by Frank Creel and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved.

Frank Creel, Ph.D., has been a columnist for the Potomac News, Woodbridge, Virginia. His op-ed articles have been published in the Northern Virginia Journal, the Washington Examiner, The Washington Times, and the New York City Tribune. In 1992, his A Trilogy of Sonnets was published pseudonymously by Christendom Press.

See a complete biographical sketch.

To subscribe or donate to the FGF E-Package online or send a check to:
P.O. Box 1383
Vienna, VA 22183

© 2009 Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation