Vapid GirodynesThe Catholic Thing
R.J. Snell: Many modern people light candles in the face of terror, but will not offer the worship due to God. Ours is a moment of vapid goodyness.
In his diagnosis of the “malaises of modernity,” the philosopher Charles Taylor claims that our disenchanted culture suffers from a lack of depth, particularly obvious “in what should be the crucial moments of life: birth, marriage, death.” Since these moments are important to us we mark their distinctiveness in some way, solemnizing them in ritual, symbol, and sense of the sacred.
When religious belief declines, or, alternatively, when religion is demythologized and tamed, the felt need for ritual continues, but becomes kitsch, wan and feeble, little able to stir us to wonder, awe, or dread. Sometimes the form remains, but with the substance evacuated – as in many contemporary marriage ceremonies – while sometimes the form itself is rendered a dull simulacra of the older rites.
Theodore Dalrymple illustrates such emptying when he sardonically defines a “moment” as the amount of time passing “between a terrorist attack in a Western city and the first public appearance of a candle.” As he observes, “it is almost as if the population keeps a store of them ready to hand for this very purpose.”
One could also point to the profusion of stuffed animals, hashtags, or the playing of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” following similar attacks.
These are not votive candles offered in supplication or repentance. For while they evidence a vague desire for spirituality, they are not imbued with religious sense. Dalrymple notes that “being spiritual imposes no discipline” whereas religion “implies an obligation to observe rules and rituals that may interfere awkwardly with daily life.” These gestures may provide a “warm, inner feeling” but “like many highly diluted solutions, it has no taste.”
There is no substance present in the form, and the form itself is without transcendent intention, and so is vacuous and nihilistic. Pushing the point, Dalrymple suggests that all those candles merely confirm our enemies’ judgment that the people of the West are “feeble, weak, soft, enervated, vulnerable, defenseless, cowardly, whimpering, decadent.”
Click here to read the rest of Professor Snell’s column . . .
Image: Paris vigil, November 12, 2015
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