Thursday, October 13, 2016

Consolation of Philosophy & Would Be Catholics

In an ideal world there are no lapsed Catholics who need to revert and every heretic knows that he must convert. Until the Second Coming in glory we are unlikely to live in an ideal world, despite the best efforts of Bernie Sanders, and so we find adult reversions of Catholics who lapsed as students as common if not more common than outright conversion. One of our long time readers, Marco, has blogged about the Bragan use for some time, but about a year ago expanded his writings to encompass non-liturgical aspects of Catholic life, among them the search for illumination in the Fathers after his own reversion. He writes that ten years ago he was "a man searching for meaning, for the meaning of life, and a meaning to my life." Like Saint Augustine of Hippo he dabbled in mystical religions and formulaic philosophies. None of this would be especially remarkable if not for the mention of one name, that of Nietzsche.

Every bad idea in history has come from Germany or resided there for some period of time for devilish refinement: Nazism, Communism, Protestantism, beer, the music of Wagner, sauerkraut, and more. Nietzsche unknowingly bridged the atomistic, bond breaking world created by the Reformation and French Revolution to the movement driven age of Statism and nationalistic ideology. Like the men before him he acknowledged man to be intellectually and morally self-sufficient without cause for social ties or religion, at least in theory. But, the German would say, few have the stamina to break the constraints of religion and custom; only the "super men" could realize a satisfied, individual existence, men like Napoleon Bonaparte and Ayn Rand's John Galt. Nietzsche's philosophy has offered a semi-spiritual consolation to searching for a religious view to life but for whom the leap of faith is a stride too long. It also tantalizes none other than Roger Scruton.

Roger Scruton is a philosopher of aesthetics and one of the rare men who does not read Burke for his Reflections on the Revolution in France. Scruton may well be the most renowned conservative thinker in the world. In Scruton there is something akin to George Santayana, someone who wishes the old things were true, but some hitch prevents an embrace of past ideas. Most today do not seek any truth, just Groupons for restaurants and the mall. The irreligious elect will seek consolation and virtue in philosophy, much like Dr. Scruton, who has always held Christian forgiveness and social values in high regard, despite his hesitancy to embrace them. Instead he has generally turned to Nietzsche in full knowledge that he is not the ├╝bermensch. Yet there is much Catholic in his ideas of musical aesthetics and the influence of beauty on popular culture, popular culture understood as culture for the populace and not kistch. He even once condemned Albino Luciani for replacing the most stunning of all ceremonies, the Mass of Papal Coronation, in a fit of false humility. In reading his more abstract works one sees more than a hint of a religious mind behind felicities of German philosophy.

Recently Scruton has embraced certain aspects of religious community and value. He once quipped that he preferred Christianity among religions if only because it purported to turn his favorite thing, wine, into God. Although he now resides in Virginia, he manages to spend some time as an organist in an Anglican parish when he finds himself on his native soil. While one writer doubts the authenticity of his interest in religion because of his political history, a more serious stumbling block obstructs the professor: he cannot quite bring himself to believe in the Resurrection of Our Lord. Through the Cross and His death for His friends, Scruton reasons, Jesus managed a sort of spiritual, Nietzschean manner of afterlife. Unlike most, Scruton is not scandalized by the Cross; but in the Greek sense of scandal (skandalon meaning "stumbling block"), he is scandalized by the literal Resurrection that the Apostles themselves did not see.

Disillusionment has replaced Coming of Age as the pivot moment in maturation. One discards the creeds and lessons of upbringing without replacing them. Severance from childhood, like any divorce, is a jarring thing, and rather than looking to the Church for guidance a few keen minds who the Church has seemingly failed look to philosophy for consolation. Not always, but often the thoughtful mind who turns to the comfort of philosophy is not someone who was raised in the authentic practice of the faith, not because they would know better, but because they would think differently. Disillusionment follows disappointment and is rarely followed by illumination, just frustration. Philosophy can give comfort, only God can give rest.


  1. "Bad ideas... beer"
    *My clenched German jaw containing my Polish rage*

    Come now, don't insult the monks of Flanders and the excellent sacramentals they brew for the love of the Lord.

    “From man's sweat and God's love, beer came into the world.” – Saint Arnold of Metz

  2. "Philosophy can give comfort, only God can give rest."

    Well said, sir, and one that rings true in me.

  3. My family and their aspirations and frustrations after bad events are a textbook example of those who need to read the Consolation and then go to the traditional rite afterwards.