Sunday, April 17, 2005

Transcendence or Brass?

George Will hefts weighty questions with a mason's grace.Suicide by Secularism? (

Carrying stone for him, George Weigel, biographer of John Paul the Great.

"What," Weigel asks, "is happening when an entire continent, wealthier and healthier than ever before, declines to create the human future in the most elemental sense, by creating a next generation?" His diagnosis is that Europe's deepening anemia is a consequence of living on what he considers the thin gruel of secular humanism that excludes transcendent reference points for cultural and political life. Such reference points are, he thinks,
prerequisites for freedom understood as "the capacity to choose wisely and act well as a matter of habit."

And, (italics mine):

Weigel doubts it is possible to "sustain a democratic political community absent the transcendent moral reference points for ordering public life that Christianity offers the political community." Absent a reconversion of the continent, Europeans, who -- like many Americans -- find the injection of transcendence into politics frightening, are going to find out whether Weigel is right.

That course needs repeating. "Transcendent moral references." I watched self-conscious altar boys bow awkwardly, light candles, bow again, and escape off the stage of the altar this morning. Did they hit anything solid? Or just feel foolish bowing to Host in its brass box? How might we stir up a little reverence, aim them towards supplication or respect? Did someone tell them where to dig, find the mysterious water in the rock? A bit of earnest faking by the altar boys might tease them deeper. To him who hath, more shall be given. "It's not in the brass", I'd tell them, "that's only a marker. A place to begin." So if, as George Will suggests, "WWI catalyzed Europe's retreat from religion", then Europe's course, laid down on the tailings of that war, is badly off level. Suffocated in hospital tunnels, burrowed into the six week vacation, shored up unsustainably, the braces are caving in on them. Will Europe be up to some earnest faking, and some hard digging? Or without signposts, be left with only brass?

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