December 26, 2008

Essential reading for the serious person in our time...

Macklin Horton has an important post, on reading the book Witness, by Whittaker Chambers.

I haven't quite finished Whittaker Chambers' Witness, but I'm ready to declare that it's essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the 20th century and the spiritual battle being waged in the modern world generally�meaning, by "modern," roughly "post-Enlightenment"...

...At the end of The Lord of the Rings Sauron is defeated and destroyed. But we are given to understand�I can't remember whether it's in the book or in some remark of Tolkien's elsewhere�that his evil does not cease to exist, but rather spreads as a sort of vapor, dispersing itself throughout the world; from this time on, evil will not be so concentrated and easy to identify, but will work subtly and obscurely.

Something like that is the situation we're in after the fall of the great totalitarian ideologies of the 20th century, communism and fascism. Of the two, the evil of fascism has generally been easier to recognize, or at any rate more widely recognized, principally because of the Holocaust but also because its mythos is in general less appealing, especially to those who set the terms and tone of opinion in our society. Communism had a deeper and wider appeal, in part because it spoke, superficially at least, to more benevolent motives. But if it's possible to say that one is worse than the other, I would say that communism takes the prize, in part because it was more successful and thus able to murder more people, and partly because it was more consciously and systematically an assault on God. Communism involved a cold intention to remove from the universe any moral authority external to man, to seize that authority for man�for the handful of men worthy of it, on behalf of all the rest�and to exercise it for the purpose of creating heaven in the only place where it could possibly exist, in this life. (Fascism, in contrast, seems to have been less coherent.)...

...Like the cloud that was Sauron, communism as an all-explanatory philosophy and an all-encompassing program of action, both directed against God, has been dispersed. There is no single ideology or mass movement with both its coherence and its popularity at work today. But the basic idea�there is no God, and we're glad there isn't, because now we can get on with the business of solving our problems without interference from superstition�is everywhere. The intellectual and spiritual presuppositions of much of our political and social discourse are the same as those of communism...

The "debonair nihilism" of our age does not produce the titanic struggles that were going on when I was a boy, though the battle is just as deadly. Now the "vapor of evil" is everywhere and nowhere, as hard to fight against as blowing leaves. The story Chambers tells is a kind of analog of our own story...

I quoted a little bit from Witness here

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Posted by John Weidner at December 26, 2008 9:38 AM
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