Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Young Drummer At Bay

“Why do the Old and New Testaments read like fairy tale books and why does our
Lord speak in parables if we were meant to theorize about God in the manner and
style of the heathen Greeks?”
The late Victor Herman subtitled his autobiography, An Unexpected Life. And indeed to go from an American home to the Russian Gulag is certainly unexpected, but I think most of us would probably tack on Herman’s subtitle to the book of our own lives. I know I would.

The most unexpected aspect of my life involves the Catholic Church. I never, having once entered the Church, would have thought that I could feel such an intense loathing for it some thirty years later. A day never passes in which I fail to ponder the difference between what I imagined the Catholic Church to be and what it turned out to be in reality. The imponderables and the perplexities of the dichotomy whirl through my head day and night. And unfortunately (or fortunately?), I cannot take refuge in the traditional refuge from Catholicism, namely fundamentalist Protestantism.

I once said that Catholicism and Protestantism needed each other because neither was complete without the other. Well, yes, they do need each other because neither is complete without the other, but even if fused together, they still would lack something. Both lack a poetic vision; both have adopted different systems to block out the poetic vision, but both lack that essential element. Let me define what I mean by poetic vision.

The poetic vision is the integral way human beings see reality, a kitchen sink full of passions, intuitions, sentiments, and ratiocinations. It is messy; it seems unnecessary, arduous, and imprecise compared to pure reason, but it is the way we human beings perceive reality.

When organized religion circumvents the poetic process in order (we are told) to clear a path that leads directly to God, we end up losing God. We lose God because we can no longer see Him.

Human beings are wedded to the poetic. We cannot see reality through abstractions. We can see a distorted reality through abstractions, but we cannot see true reality. It is no tragedy when non-Christian religions adopt distorted, abstracted versions of reality and worship their inhuman and debauched abstractions, but it is a tragedy when the true religion of the God-Man becomes an abstracted false religion of debauchery and inhumanity.

The Catholic Church keeps the poetic or the fairy tale mode of perception at bay by encircling its parishioners with Greco/Roman/Babylonian walls. Theoretically there are gates in the walls leading to the God-Man, but at each gate there is a sentinel. The parishioner wishing to pass through the gate is ‘searched’ before he is allowed to pass through the gate. If anything that suggests the poetic is found, it is confiscated. Without the poetic vision, the pilgrim parishioner is blind and unable to see God.

The fundamentalist Protestant seems, at first glance, to have solved the Greco/ Roman/Babylonian problem. He has eliminated the Catholic-Pagan walls and sentinels, but there is still a wall and there are still sentinels that keep the poetic vision at bay.

The new wall is the mystical ‘Born-Again’ wall. Unless one can show evidence of having had a ‘blessed assurance’ experience with the living God, one is not allowed through the gates by the new sentinels. This is certainly a bit of a contradiction because if one has had the ‘Blessed Assurance’ experience, why is it necessary to pass through the gates? Nevertheless, those who wish to pass through the gates are still, as in the Catholic-Pagan system, searched for evidence of the poetic. The pilgrim found with poetic contraband is not allowed through the gate. By insisting on the direct infusion of divine grace, the Protestant eliminates the myriad human encounters that authors like Thomas Hughes[i] have written about, which constitute the real divine grace that allows us to be born again. Even St. Paul, who had a genuine born again experience of the kind fundamentalists tell us we all must have to be saved, had other preparatory moments of grace before his road-to-Damascus experience. How do I know that? I know that because St. Paul tells us so in his letter to the Corinthians. Implicit in his “and have not charity” letter is an understanding of the divine-human connection. He reveals in 2nd Corinthians that he understands how the love of one human being for another can lead to a moment of grace in which the lover “can see His blood upon the rose.”

If there are good Christians in the Catholic Church, which most certainly there are, and if there are good Christians in the Protestant churches, which most certainly there are, why make all this fuss about their respective systems? I make the fuss because both systems seem designed to eliminate Christianity. While theoretically holding to the Christian creed, they encourage one to abandon one’s humanity, one’s vision, and thus one’s faith. Without a poetic understanding of the creed, faith becomes a problem in geometry instead of a living, vital faith. Some Catholics manage to smuggle contraband bits and pieces of the poetic past the sentinels and thus manage to get a glimpse of the living God. And an even greater number of Protestants, because their system is not as efficient as the Catholic system, manage to smuggle elements of the poetic past the sentinels. But the systems are designed (and the Catholic one maniacally so) to kill the poetic vision of man and hence, kill his faith in the God-Man.

In the stories of her poets and in the faces of her people, the old Europe reflects the true Christianity. Heart responds to heart and vision to vision. How does a Catholic Christian know that a Feeneyite’s doctrine is straight from hell even though he can back it up with quotes from 17 different church councils? Because the Catholic Christian’s heart rebels against it. He has seen the face of Christ in Christians outside the Church, and no narrow sectarian Catholic heathen can convince him otherwise. And how does a Christian know that he is born again despite the fact that he has not had the proscribed formulaic born-again experience? Because he has had his white moments when he sees, in the many facets of the human experience, the face of Jesus Christ.

The cultural back door is the front door. The European cultural heritage represents the attempt of the faithful to wrest Christ from the sentinels and to hold His pure image aloft for all the world to see. The image of Christ has not disappeared from the world because the Christian churches have failed; it has disappeared because the churches have succeeded: they have succeeded in killing the poetic vision of European man.

The fight for the old Europe is the fight for the faith. Anthony Burgess advised college students to forget relevance and find out who Nausikaa[ii] was. That’s not good enough. We must forget relevance and find out who Maud Ruthyn[iii] was.

[i] Tom Brown’s Schooldays (Puffin: UK, 1984), p. 288: “And let us not be hard on him, if at that moment his soul is fuller of the tomb and him who lies there, than of the altar and Him of whom it speaks. Such stages have to be gone through, I believe, by all young and brave souls, who must win their way through hero-worship, to the worship of Him who is the King and Lord of heroes. For it is only through our mysterious human relationships, through the love and tenderness and purity of mothers, and sisters, and wives, through the strength and courage and wisdom of fathers, and brothers, and teachers, that we can come to the knowledge of Him, in whom alone the love, and the tenderness, and the purity, and the strength, and the courage, and the wisdom of all these dwell for ever and ever in perfect fulness.”

[ii] Nausikaa: a Greek maiden who aids Odysseus in his travels

[iii] The Christian heroine of J. S. LeFanu’s novel, Uncle Silas

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