Here at What’s Wrong with the World, we have recently endured the spectacle, not without its amusements, of conventional freethinking arguments. We have not neglected to laugh at the absurdities into which these poor men have cast their minds. But we have sometimes neglected, perhaps, to pray that they would be freed from this bondage. And we should not make light of the oppression of this bondage, yoked upon both the minds of individual men, and through them upon the public life of the Republic. As our won Daniel Larison sharply puts it, Freethinking ruins all things.
Old Russell Kirk was a man who bent is supple and penetrating mind over this oppression, especially in the latter part of his career, after he returned to the Church of Rome.
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So it has come to pass, here in the closing years of the twentieth century. With the weakening of the moral order, “Things fall apart; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. . . .” The Hellenic and the Roman cultures went down to dusty death after this fashion. What may be done to achieve reinvigoration?
Some well-meaning folk talk of a “civil religion,” a kind of cult of patriotism, founded upon a myth of national virtue and upon veneration of certain historic documents, together with a utilitarian morality. But such experiments of a secular character never have functioned satisfactorily; . . . nor can attempts at persuading people that religion is “useful” meet with much genuine success. No man sincerely goes down on his knees to the divine because he has been told that such rituals lead to the beneficial consequences of tolerably honest behavior in commerce. People will conform their actions to the precepts of religion only when they earnestly believe the doctrines of that religion to be true. [. . .]
In short, the culture can be renewed only if the cult is renewed; and faith in divine power cannot be summoned up merely when that is found expedient. Faith no longer works wonders among us: one has but to glance at the typical church built nowadays, ugly and shoddy, to discern how architecture no longer is nurtured by the religious imagination. It is so in nearly all the works of twentieth century civilization: the modern mind has been secularized so thoroughly that “culture” is assumed by most people to have no connection with the love of God.
How are we to account for this widespread decay of the religious impulse? It appears that the principal cause of the loss of the idea of the holy is the attitude called “scientism” — that is, the popular notion that the revelations of natural science, over the past century and a half or two centuries, somehow have proved that men and women are naked apes; that the ends of existence are production and consumption; that happiness is the gratification of sensual impulses; and that concepts of the resurrection of the flesh and the life everlasting are mere exploded superstitions. Upon these scientistic assumptions, public schooling in America is founded nowadays, implicitly.
This view of the human condition has been called — by C. S. Lewis, in particular — reductionism: it reduces human beings almost to mindlessness; it denies the existence of the soul. Reductionism has become almost an ideology. It is scientistic, but not scientific: for it is a far cry from the understanding of matter and energy that one finds in the addresses of Nobel prize winners in physics, say. Popular notions of “what science says” are archaic, reflecting the assertions of the scientists of the middle of the nineteenth century.
— Kirk, “Civilization without Religion?” Modern Age, Summer 1990.