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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Love in the Ruins

“Now in these dread latter days of the old violent beloved U.S.A. and the Christ-forgetting Christ-haunted death-dealing Western world I came to myself in a grove of young pines and the question came to me: has it happened at last?”

Such is the beginning of Walker Percy’s darkly comic apocalyptic novel, Love in the Ruins: The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World.

Percy’s satire—published back in 1971 (two years before Roe v. Wade)—dovetails nicely with the prevailing negative mood in our country, and in the West in general:

off-the-wall protests on Wall Street…similarly protesting Italians taking a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary out of a church and smashing it (don’t ask why)…a pervasive sense of malaise even as our economic doldrums drag on…a weariness with institutions at all levels…Europe crumbling…a gross lack of civility and simple good manners everywhere…a general shabbiness and neglect of good craftsmanship…an educational system decades past the point of crisis and in deep decline…

“Undoubtedly something is about to happen.
Or is it that something has stopped happening?

Is it that God has at last removed his blessing from the U.S.A. and what we feel now is just the clank of the old historical machinery, the sudden jerking ahead of the roller-coaster cars as the chain catches hold and carries us back into history with its ordinary catastrophes, carries us out and up toward the brink from that felicitous and privileged siding where even unbelievers admitted that if it was not God who blessed the U.S.A., then at least some great good luck had befallen us, and that now the blessing or the luck is over, the machinery clanks, the chain catches hold, and the cars jerk forward?”

It is hard to know anymore what it means to be an American. In principle, it means being dedicated to the Constitution. But in practice, the Constitution is simply one more battleground in the cultural conflict.

The constitutional crisis however is just one symptom of the deeper cultural crisis. The dystopian scenario depicted by Alasdair MacIntyre in the prologue to his book, After Virtue, seems more definitively to characterize our way of life than when it was written in the early 1980s.

A culture at bottom is a cultus, a way of worshipping. So what are we worshipping, here in the Christ-forgetting Christ-haunted death-dealing Western world? 

(The image at the top was painted by William B. Montgomery)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your post on Percy! Walker Percy has inspired me in so many ways - he was truly "onto something," tapping into the malaise and unrest of the modern world. This article reminds me too of a quote from Message in the Bottle: "Why does man feel so bad in the very age when, more than any other age, he has succeeded in satisfying his own needs and making over the world for his own use?" The answer to this (and to your last question) I'd say comes from David Bentley Hart, who wrote that, in the 21st century, "we turn only towards the god of absolute will, and embrace him under either his most monstrous or his most vapid aspect."